Campers in attendance were:
- Don Watts
- Collin Papke
- Luke Farrow
- Ken Michalak
- Ken Kirchner
- Shawn Mehaffey
- Steve Jolly
- Mike Hobson
- Joel Watson
I, "joel", rode up with the "Kens" in the Kirchner "expedition" shuttle. The ride was smooth and nicely uneventful. The weather was freakishly perfect. I already knew this weekend was going to be sublime. We arrive at Tsali campground amidst a smackload of other campers also coming in and filling spots. It was a madhouse! Tsali campground is first come, first served, so you gotta hustle to get your gear in place. Collin had already landed one and I ended up putting my gear in Collin's massive tent for the first night until the others arrived. The "Kens" ended up camping up the road a bit from us at a different campsite, which looked great for family camping in the future. The Tsali campground was definitely all about the mountain bikers. There were SOO many bikes here! It was mountain bike eyecandy heaven! Being a slight gearhead myself, I rode around a bit to see all the different bikes, components, and setups people were riding on. I calculated close to half a million dollars in just bikes alone. This did not take into account extra gear! Thats insane!
The campsite was very accomodating with clean bathrooms and hot showers! No sooner had we setup camp, that we realized we had arrived early enough to hit the trails! We immediately suited up and took off like a pack of wild kids who had been in the car traveling for way too long! Upon paying the trail entry fee, we immediately hit right loop since it is open on Friday. Smooth moderate climbs, nice breezy descents, incredible views, so much fun! The primary consensus was to just do a little bit of right loop since it was getting close to dark and it is always typical to be overly cautious upon first entering the mountains when trail riding. That notion flew right out and over the lake after about 2 miles since this trail was flowing so nicely! We finished all 13.9 miles of right loop in a great time with tons of energy left on reserve for the remainder of the weekend. Back to camp, time to eat! Chef Collin had already taken the liberty of precooking our first night's meal of some kind of pasta alfredo which really hit the spot when warmed up. Good beer, good food, and lots of relaxed smiles everywhere you turned. oh yeah!
Saturday was a classic slow wake, no hurries type day with many miles of trail left to explore. Upon eating one heck of a delicious hungry man's breakfast made by Chef Collin, we discussed the order of trails to be ridden that day. Steve, Mike and Shawn arrived sometime this day. Today's agenda revolved around Mouse Branch and Thompson Loop of which both were moderate and open on Saturdays. Collin had taken the extra effort to bring along his extra bike, the Caffeine 29er. After some chatting about it, Collin offered to let me take it for the day on the trails. I was reluctant at first because I was truly trying to focus on enjoying the trails up here with no worries about my handling skills based on a different bike setup, but this apprehension dissapeared after about 5 minutes riding along on this bike. My eyes were opened to 29ers on this weekend after riding every trail effortlessly and with little or no problems climbing. Thanks Collin! You've made a believer out of me. Ok, Mouse loop, wonderful descents, slightly rocky, moderate climbs, lots of people on the trail, but manageable. This trail was certainly the most technical I can recall. Thompson Loop was kind of more of the same with a bit more gumption in the climbs than Mouse Branch. The reward for climbing Thompson Loop was a fast Pisgah-like downhill which sends you screaming down straight into our campsite. Lunch, then Thompson loop again! oh yeah! Afterwards, I was back in camp and setup on a nearby hill for the night. Perfectly seasoned steaks and creative work with our current leftovers were on the agenda for that night's dinner. It was an excellent meal once again. Great campfires were everywhere! Rest settled in and one too many beers with way too many pounds of food sent everyone right off to bed.
Sunday was a hazy start. Breakfast was pancakes by Don Watts and fried buckeye walnuts cooked by myself since they seemed to be abundant everywhere! I believe Buckeye walnuts could be the answer to our energy shortage. After another excellent breakfast, we decided on hitting Left Loop since the talk is this is one tough hair raising trail. After a heated debate of whether we should hit right loop first or left loop, we go forth on left loop and plunge right into the fun. Left loop has a little bit of everything; whoops crossings, switchbacks, rocks, smooth fast forest loam, peek through views of the lake, wide open cliff hanger views of the lake, as well as a scenic option with a nice climb to a breathtaking view of Fontana Lake and the Smokies! This was truly a treat. I think I rode this loop twice today...We then rode a half loop on right loop before calling it a day. Night was coming up fast and it was soon time for our night ride! We left out of the camp with lights ablaze towards right loop. The weather felt cold until you hit the woods. It was warm and comfortable. We ended up shedding lots of our layers throughout the ride and had a blast while catching glimpses of the lake simmering in the moonlight. What a great last night's ride!
Monday was breakdown and pack up day. But our riding was not over. Collin had mentioned attempting to meet up with John Lackey and Andy Campbell who had chosen to challenge themselves at Pisgah Forest this weekend. Our meeting point was Dupont. Dupont was also a last minute treat with our special tour guide, Shrimper, leading the way up and over burnt mountain, cedar rock and a few trails whose names I still cannot remember, but such excellent riding! Shrimper had previously ridden at Marrington and had offered to show us some of his favorite spots when possible. He met up with us at Dupont with a smile and an eagerness to ride. Thanks Shrimper for your time! It was unforgettable!
So many showed up this time around! It was really cool!
Special thanks Luke Farrow for the AWESOME photos he took!
Click on the picture jump to the massive slideshow: