Well, I made it back from North Carolina / Virginia, and boy o boy did I have a great time! I only got to hit one established trail in NC, but it was sweet! I find it interesting every time I visit a new trail and see how the parking/park/etc is set up. The trail we visited, Lake Crabtree (just outside Raleigh, NC), was minutes from town, and it had a fishing pier, boat ramp, kid's playground, and paved "loop." The trail was listed as good for beginners, so Nancy and I brought my sister and her boyfriend (he rented a Specialized hardtail). Although listed as a "novice" trail, there were some tight turns, extended descents (not too steep), rooty sections, and ridges. It was strange to see so many people walking on the trail with kids - I was pushing myself a bit in some of the areas, and at times I would find that a family was casually making it up on of the sections I was trying to climb. I wasn't upset - just surprised! I probably passed 7 - 8 families / couples out walking.
Anyway, the biggest challenge happened in Virginia (about an hour north of Charlottesville in the Eastern fringe of the Shenandoahs). My friend lives on a farm that is biking distance from a couple mountainside loops.
The leaves were rich golds and reds as we made our way to the trails, and the air was crisp and chilly to my exposed Floridian arms and legs (note to self: purchase leg warmers!). We planned to do two rides a 10-mile ride with Nancy on an "easy" loop, and a 12-mile loop that "might be" a bit tougher. Well, the first loop crushed us on the ascent! I didn't realize how difficult it is to mount your bike while on the side of a mountain! The trail looked beautiful due to the carpet of colorful leaves - but this beautiful trail was littered with hidden rocks. So not only was it difficult to get going on the uphill, but we were bouncing all over the place and losing traction which made it challenging to stay on. The steepest section of loop 1 was about 275 feet in half a mile. The downhill was pretty exciting - I have never experienced anything quite like it. Nancy flew down with me trying to maintain control behind her. I felt an interesting blend of abject terror and total bliss! The fear came in to the picture about every hundred or so meters where drainage ruts lined with stones were cut into the trail. These "curbs" were barely visible due to the leaves.
Loop 2 was impossible. There, I said it. I keep telling myself that I was riding more than climbing with my bike, but I don't know. Don't get me wrong - I loved the experience, and I have a new goal to work up to - I just had no idea that I would be this challenged. Our steepest climb on loop 2 was about 475 feet in half a mile. The entire ascent was over 1300 feet for about 3 miles. Although I was totally exhausted, I still had energy to relish the view from the top. It was then that I realized that my right knee was really sore (most likely due to an IT band strain). Fortunately, it was all downhill from there... I took things easier due to my knee, but the trail wasn't giving me any breaks. I started to crack about 2/3rds of the way down. My knee was hurting every time I turned my pedals, the rocks were trying to shake my body apart, and my muscles were sore from the hardest riding of my life - so I just started laughing hysterically. I was laughing so hard, my buddy thought I was crying - he kept asking me from ahead, "what's wrong? are you hurt?" Needless to say, this just made me laugh harder! We finally made it out of there and back to the farm. What a day! According to my GPS, I burned somwhere in the vicinity of 3300 calories in about 6 hours despite many, many, many breaks.
I can't wait to do it again!!!!