“Pisgah Y’all!” Marin Mountain Bikers Get Snob-Checked in Appalachia

When I heard this year’s Singletracks.com gathering was in North Carolina, three thoughts clanged around between my ears.

1) Excitement that I’d get to meet the crew—after almost a year contributing articles, I’ve never met the esteemed team, as we come from Colorado, Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Alaska and more.

2) A flicker of disappointment that we weren’t meeting in Colorado, and….

3) How can there be good riding in the South? They don’t have any mountains, do they?

Oh, and thought 3.5), was whether I’d need my birth certificate to use the ladies room, but I let that one go.

The drive from the Atlanta airport to Brevard, North Carolina—about three hours—was an opportunity to immerse in the rural south that I was grateful for. Slices of Georgia and South Carolina rolled by, their iridescent greens soothing and soft on the soul, the occasional Confederate flag an exclamation point piercing my reverie. Our first stop was Oskar Blues Brewery. Owner Dale Katechis wanted to expand the flagship operation in Colorado to somewhere on the East Coast. But where? Somewhere with epic mountain biking. That somewhere was Brevard, North Carolina.

Aaron Chamberlain shows us how it’s done on Black Mountain trail in Pisgah

The brewery tour and product testing was delightful, but what left a lasting impression were the cans marked “drinking water” sent to Flint, Michigan in aide of our comrades under siege.

I won’t describe the “house” we stayed in lest the dear reader become convinced that proprietors of and writers for Singletracks.com are of the champagne and caviar set—let’s just say it was… impressive.

We were fortunate to have a guide from Sycamore Cycles for our first day of riding. When we inquired with Megan about the miles planned for our Pisgah National Forest day, she rebuffed our request thusly: “Talking miles in Pisgah is unwise. They are not your average mountain bike miles. There will be hike-a-bike, shoulder-a-bike, wet roots and rocks, technical climbs and descents. Just be ready for a 4-6 hour day.”

It was here that I recalled that our brewery guide from the night before had subtly cringed upon hearing our route and said something like, “Bring lots of food. And water. And maybe lights?”

“Pshaw!” I thought, it’s gonna be a bike path.

It was no bike path.

It was, as promised, a lung-deflating slog of epic proportions. But “slog” denies Pisgah its due. It was hard and it hurt, especially on a bigger, slacker bike than I’m used to (the Diamondback Release vs. my Specialized Epic), but the vast, lush green forest hummed and sang all around us, and miles of singletrack unadorned by the negativity of “no bikes” signs were a salve on my Marin-induced wounds. The descent was a thing of glory at the beautiful edge of my abilities, and I was happy I’d pushed that beefy bike up the mountain. It did in fact Release, as promised, providing much-needed squish for a gnarly descent. At the end of the ride some six hours later, I joked, “So, we got what, about 14 miles?” Ha ha, I thought I was funny.

“Oh no, we’re at 16.5.” Good heavens. Now to be fair, we had lots of snack stops, lots of regrouping, and a nice, long lunch atop a rock outcropping that provided a panoramic view completely devoid of human evidence (but decorated with a small pile of black timber rattlesnakes that Aaron—head of business development—nearly stepped in), but still, they were indeed long, hard miles.

Riding Pisgah National Forest. Steeper than it looks! Swear!
Riding Pisgah National Forest. Steeper than it looks! Swear!

For our next slap upside the snooty California face, we stopped at The Hub Tavern and Bike Shop in Brevard, just outside the gates of Pisgah National Forest. It was Mecca. It glowed in a soft-focused light, ethereal music seeping into our pores. And that was before we saw the bar with its happy taps, equally happy people sidled up along its length, spilling out onto the patio into the southern sunshine. Food trucks in the parking lot were like a touch from Tinkerbell’s wand, spreading a unifying layer of magic over the whole lot. The place has high-end bikes for sale and rent, a vast selection of clothes and accessories, and a small selection of climbing and non-bike-exclusive stuff. My boyfriend, who is the consummate snob (sorry hon, you know it’s true), walked around with his mouth slightly open muttering “Why don’t we have this in the Bay Area? We’re like Fred Flinstone compared to this…”

This is just the beer part. The bikes are to the left.
This is just the beer part. The bikes are to the left.

The next day’s ride at DuPont State Forest, of Hunger Games fame, was a taste of something different. Sweet, swooshy, and crowded versus Pisgah’s rough-n-tumble outback, DuPont showed us what “Flow Trail” means. Ridgeline Trail went on for about nine dreamy days and made me feel like a rock star. Because we had an expert local guide, we got to add onto this adventure a ride up the sloping granite face of a waterfall at Bridal Veil, and what’s more, we got to sneak behind the falls and out the other side! And when I say “sneak,” it only felt sneaky—the gentleman in an official looking suit whom I was leery of lest he tell me “No Bikes!” instead said “Ma’am, you watch your step now,” (as you prepare to ride your bike up a waterfall), “these rocks is slippery!”

As the topper, we stopped at REEB Ranch, a beautiful property owned by the good folks at Oskar Blues Brewery. Described as “a compliment to the ‘beers n’ bikes’ culture that gives the REEB bicycles a place to roam,” it has a pump track, hosts concerts, overnighters, and weddings. And there was a wedding in progress when we stopped by, sweaty and smiley from our ride. While the Singletracks.com folks had inquired ahead of time if we could come, and the answer from the bride and groom was “yes,” we all felt a little weird waltzing into that barn so carefully decorated with love and with decorated loved ones. We sort of milled around out front for a few minutes not knowing what to do. Then, the young, handsome groom came out, and in a heavy southern drawl that washed over us like pecan pie and a night with fireflies, said “Hey! Are y’all from Singletracks? Come here from all over the country to North Car’lina?” A collective smile and sigh of relief passed over us. Not only wouldn’t we be arrested, but we were graciously welcomed to boot.

“Happy ta have ya. Where’d y’all ride today? DuPont? Ridgeline trail?”

His questions tipped his hand as a mountain biker, and we were further put at our ease. Plus, now we’d get to drink the beer we knew was snuggled in ice just inches from our grasp in the industrial-sized white chests lining the entrance. We each grabbed a variety of Oskar Blues Brews, gave our respects to the wedding party as we happened upon them—each more gracious than the last—and headed for the pump track.

Pint-sized pump tracking at Reeb Ranch
Pint-sized pump tracking at Reeb Ranch. “Reeb” is “beer” backwards. Did you know that? It took me a long time.

I didn’t pump, but sitting in the grass watching my newfound friends and some of their offspring ride, skoot, fly, and schlep up and over the mounds in the North Carolina sunshine put the perfect closing quotation around a perfect long weekend. I am proud to be a part of the diverse and creative Singletracks.com team that strives to bring its readers interesting, relevant, amusing, and thought-provoking material about our common love—mountain biking.

Your partial Singletracks.com crew, with some SO’s thrown in for good measure. Left to right: Aaron Chamberlain, Ron Bolds (SO), Alec Cervenka, Libby Kugel (SO), Helena Kotala, Jeff Barber, Michael Paul, and Megan Hutton, our guide from Sycamore Cycles.