Pulp Stiction: Pisgah National Forest

By Montana Miller

The Basics

Town: Brevard, North Carolina (4 miles from trailhead)

Brevard is an arty little town. It has a good bakery, plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and white squirrels. It’s a pretty excellent place to stage a mountain bike trip.

Beers: The Pisgah Tavern (2 miles from trailhead)

The Pisgah Tavern is inside the Hub bike shop, and is right outside of the forest. They have six beers on tap, but close at 6 most nights. We started our rides late, so we had to hit the grocery store for beer a few times.

Eats: Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que (2 miles from trailhead)

Hawg Wild Bar-B-Que is night next to the entrance to the forest. A big mound of barbecued pork meat with a side of fries is only $6. We ate there after every ride. It was awesome.

Bikes: The Hub and Sycamore Cycles (2 miles from trailhead)

The Hub and Sycamore Cycles are close to the entrance of the forest, and are really well stocked. And they have reason to be. Pisgah eats bike parts. Both shops carry good maps of the trails, which are completely necessary if you aren’t from the area.

Sleep: Davidson River Campground (Half mile from trailhead)

The Davidson River Campground is right at the base of Black Mountain Trail, so it’s easy to start a ride right from the tent. The campsites are nice, but unfortunately there weren’t enough bathrooms. And North Carolinians seem to use the toilets at a relaxed pace, which led to some uncomfortable mornings.

The Ride

“2,134 feet!” says Powers.

“2,103,” says Joe.

“I have 2,225,” says Tim.

We’re almost on top of Black Mountain in Pisgah, North Carolina. It’s pretty clear by looking around that we’re almost on top of a mountain. But Powers, Joe and Tim are staring at the elevation gain on their tiny black and white GPS screens. If they shout out numbers all day, I might lose my mind.

Photo by Derek Bissett

We spent almost all of the last hour climbing, pushing our bikes up a trail so steep that my front wheel was level with my head. We’re probably less than three miles into the 40ish mile loop I mapped out. It’ll be a long day. I pop a few drugstore white chocolate macadamia cookies into my mouth.

“I like Tim’s elevation the best,” Powers says, “We’ll go with 2,225.”

“Wonderful. We good?” I say.

Everybody nods. I get back on my bike, and turn onto Turkey Pen Trail. I hop over a few downed trees, then I’m ripping straight down a hillside, overgrown mountain laurel thrashing at my face, arms and legs. There’s some cursing behind me. I squeeze my brakes and lean way back. Then the trail pitches back up. Off and hiking again.

The trail shoots up and down for miles. I know we’ve got to be getting close to the end of this thing. We stop on top of one of the crests.

“Hey Derek, you want to take it?” I say to East Coast Enduro superstar Derek Bissett. I don’t need to hold him up anymore while I pick my way down these scrumbley hillsides on my rigid bike.

He starts down the hill, picks up speed, then pops off a root ball, gracefully flicking his back wheel to the side. Man, I wish I had style like that. I ram the root ball and rattle down the hill. Down forever, then into a long section of steep steps. My hands were hurting a lot, but now they’re numb. I bump down the steps, and into a parking lot. Shake my hands out.

An hour later, I hit the bottom of another long descent and splash into a little creek. Tim rolls down the hill.

“Derek was stuck upside down in a tree,” Tim says. “I had to stop and help him back up to the trail.”

Derek appears a few minutes later, covered in mud.

“You alright man?”

“My head hurts pretty bad,” he says. Hitting a tree can do that. He’s probably a little concussed. But there’s nothing we can do about it out here. We keep rolling.

The next stream is too big to ride through, so we have to find another way across.

A while later, we’re at the end of a long double track climb.

“6,472!” says Powers.

“6,524,” says Joe.

“I have 6,367,” says Tim.

“We’ll go with Joe’s,” says Powers.

I try to ignore the number-nerding and eat some more drugstore white chocolate macadamia cookies.

We start up Laurel Mountain trail. It’s a beautiful single track climb, the perfect grade, some fun rocks, and a great view.

“6,689!” shouts Powers. Damn statistically minded meathead.

I hop off to hike up some steps, and Joe powers past me. Powers powers past to chase down Joe. The race is on, and I didn’t enter. Guess I’ll see them at the top.

When I get to the top where we were supposed to turn onto Pilot Mountain, they aren’t around. Some tracks in the snow are headed the wrong direction. That’s what they get for dropping the guy with the map. I should probably call them. But first I should probably eat some cookies. I sit down on a log and take off my pack. We’ve been out here close to five hours.

Cider Bloch rolls up the hill.

“Derek and Tim look like they’re dead,” he says.

“Sweet. Joe and Powers look like they will be if there’s no cell service,” I say.

After a few cookies, I pull out my phone. Surprisingly, I have service. I guess that’s good news. I call Powers and tell him to turn around.

Tim and Derek catch up and we finish the push to the top of Pilot. Then we start the descent. I skitter around a rocky switchback, then another, then another. Root drop, rock garden, big slab, water bar. Down and down. The numbness from my hands spreads to my arms, but as long as I can work a brake lever I don’t care. This is awesome.

Finally get to the bottom. That’s such a great trail. Tim and Derek are toasted. Since we probably have two hours of single track left, they split off to ride the road back.

We start the climb up Buckhorn Gap, and Cinder Bloch, who’s been riding easy all day, sets a fast pace. Then we’re off, hiking over the back side of Black Mountain. Half an hour later, we’re on top again. We’re way high up.

Photo by Joe Malone

Blue ridges crinkle out into the horizon, the huge lump of Looking Glass Rock bulges out of one mountain.

“7,380!” says Powers.

"7,320,” says Joe.

“I have 7,234,” says Tim.

“We’ll go with mine,” says Powers, “I can’t wait to load this into Strava. If the elevation correction takes away some of our climbing, I’ll un-correct it.”

“I’m going to smash those stupid goddamn computers with a rock if you guys don’t shut up,” I say.

“I have 7,382,” says Cinder Bloch.

“We’ll go with that one!” says Powers.

I give up. I start down Black Mountain. The trail turns into a deep drainage ditch, with huge water bar drops. I thump over drop after drop. My whole upper body is going numb now. Just hang onto the bars.

Finally, the bottom of the first section. We stop at a fire pit, climb a little rise, then start the rest of the descent. It’s steep, covered in roots and the trees are tight. Then it opens up, the turns sweeping wide. I ride way up on the banks, pump over the rollers, no brakes now. This is perfect. My eyes are watering from the speed. Swoop another high wall, through some more rollers, then into the parking lot.

I set my bike down and take off my sweaty helmet. Everybody else coasts in with a huge smile. That was the best ride I’ve been on in a long time, number-nerding aside.

Some stats

Mileage: Enough

Climbing: A lot

Hours: All day

Drugstore white chocolate macadamia cookies: 16


From the Pisgah Ranger Station parking lot:

  1. Up Black Moutain,
  2. Right on Turkey Pen,
  3. Left on Mullinax,
  4. Left on Squirrel Gap,
  5. Right on Laurel Creek,
  6. Right on 5015 Road,
  7. Left to Laurel Mountain,
  8. Left on Pilot Rock,
  9. Right on 1206 Road,
  10. Left on 476 Road,
  11. Straight on South Mills River,
  12. Right on Buckhorn Gap,
  13. Left on Black Mountain,
  14. Left to food and beer.

Things that should make the universe explode

Brevard has a Waffle House. It’s clean inside.