Cycling in the USA and Canada Part 2: In which I learn an important lesson about brakes

One of the things that appealed to me most about joining this camping and riding expedition was the opportunity to see a part of the US that I probably never would have encountered otherwise. With all due respect to the great state of North Carolina, it's just never been on my radar as a holiday destination. So I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer number of things I got to do for the first time on this trip.

In the spirit of cultural exchange I did bring a couple of uniquely Australian treats to share with my camping companions. These being the Tim Tam - a chocolate covered biscuit (cookie) of some repute in Australia, and a bag of Chicos - as I described them "the hilariously racist chocolate flavoured gummi-bear style confection". [Sidenote - I describe them as hilariously racist because Australia exists in some kind of backwards bubble in which we can name a top brand of cheese "Coon" and have "Chicos" in the shape of brown babies and yet most people would be absolutely stunned to hear either of these things described as racist.]*

Following our assault by Mt. Mitchell I think nearly all of us self-medicated with medicinal beer and there was some quality time enjoyed around the campfire as we shared the various stories of the ride, from those who'd left early and finished quickly to those who'd run out of water and had to abandon. Poor Megabeth had an exciting encounter with a bee and can offer the following ProTip: When a bee enters your jersey on a ride, DO NOT zip it up. Unfortunately the sting left her with a migraine and needing to get some serious rest.

We'd finished dinner and been sitting around the fire drinking and chatting for a little while when one of the guys pulls out an honest-to-god jar of moonshine. I couldn't ever have hoped to be this lucky! As everyone else ducked for cover when the lid was removed (the jar was within 3 metres of the fire and I assume they feared the fumes may ignite), I happily agreed to have some, having no real regard for preserving my vision for the following day's ride or for my ability to actually watch races in Canada.

The first thing I did was an instinctive and terrible mistake. I sniffed the jar. Sure, with a nice wine or a good whisky you want to enjoy the aroma. I found out the hard way that when it comes to moonshine you want to give your body as little warning as possible with respect to what you're about to do to it. After my stomach finished lurching, I took a cautious sip. Honestly I was surprised that I could still see/breathe following that, but it was reasonably decent hooch. Sure it's way more alcohol concentrated in one dose than I expected but I guess the best way I can explain it is that I went back for a second, larger sip pretty much straight away. On reflection, I can't say moonshine is something I'd be chasing up again, but damn I'm glad I've added it to the list of unusual things I've done. Also sampled that night was an excellent drop of rye that ant1 brought with him. I've sadly forgotten the name but am hoping he'll drop it in the comments so that we can all track it down.

Back on the topic of ant1 I've previously mentioned how cool he is but if I had to sum the man up in one word it'd have to be "badass". He is a total badass, it's just in his nature. This applies to everything from "carb-loading" before a ride to his description of rides. ProTip: when ant1 tells you that a mountain bike descent isn't that technical and that he's riding it on a rigid, what he really means is that of all the rides he's done in the immediate area this is the least technical one with only the first 4 miles being difficult and that mere mortals probably want to use a dual-suspension with 15inches of travel.

And that is how we find ourselves on Sunday, Sui and I waiting on the Blue Ridge Parkway because we'd decided to exercise the better part of valour (discretion) and not ride the climb up as well as the downhill. ant1 and his good buddy who I'll call Mr T were riding up while Sui and I hope fervently that the hurricane induced storm we'd seen at the summit of Mt Mitchell didn't cross the ridge and soak us and the trail on the ride down. Once we met up with the guys we were on our way, 18 miles of joyous descending ahead of us. We got to the trail head and started rolling along. I was getting familiar with my ride (also a rigid) and coming to grips with the trail being a lot more narrow and overgrown in parts than I was expecting when I learned a really important lesson about brakes.

I was coming up to a reasonable drop from a series of rocks and was getting set to ride through it when my rear wheel snagged on a stone in the ground. Not a problem, I've dealt with this before. I grabbed the rear brake tightly to slow things down and shifted my weight back so that when I released I'd just roll neatly through the thing. This is when I learned that for some reason back home they cable the brakes the other way around. So I instinctively clamped down on the left brake, which on this bike happened to be the FRONT brake. All that lovely motive force I was carrying transferred beautifully through my rigid frame and rolled me very nicely arse-over-tit around the circumference of the front wheel. Fortunately I didn't go over the side and only got some awesome cuts and bruises, but I did slow down a bit for the rest of this part of the ride as I was now paranoid about remembering which brake was which. Sadly, this wasn't the big incident in our descent.

Our friend Mr T loves to descend. He's mad for it, and when I say mad I mean absolutely batshit crazy. He was leading our merry group this day so that he had free reign as he went. Truthfully none of us know what actually happened. There are only 2 versions of the story and they form an incomplete picture. Mr T's account is "something locked up and then I was flying". Being a trained legal professional, Sui's account is more informationally rich and no more helpful, "I came around the corner and Mr T was lying on his back while his bike was hanging upside down from a tree about 6 feet in the air".

Nobody can work out what happened or how but Mr T's chain ended up wrapped around the inside of the cassete and bent in the strangest way I've ever seen. Sui and ant1 can provide more detail on it. Short version was that the chain had to be cut off and now Mr T was facing about 11 miles of riding without a chain. On a mostly downhill ride, but just like in The Princess Bride, MOSTLY downhill isn't the same as ALL downhill. Suddenly we were in a race against the setting of the sun. We had about 2 and a half hours of daylight left and none of us wanted to be walking the last few miles back to the truck.

It was around this time that Sui found out that Megabeth had sabotaged the car and "was stranded" in town with a friend with no way of getting back to camp. Now we're racing against the dying of the light and Sui's trying to arrange holiday weekend diagnosis and repairs to his vehicle from the side of a mountain. As we were locked in the battle of our lives I can only assume that after checking into a hotel Megabeth and friend were busily enjoying makeovers, lingerie pillow fights, re-runs of Titanic on hotel movies and ordering up a storm from room-service.

Remember how I said ant1 is a badass? He's also a really cool guy, who spent a large part of Sunday afternoon working his way up and down our little group making sure everyone was ok and offering words of encouragement as we descended. Sui was also a paragon of virtue, regularly offering to switch out with Mr T so that the poor guy could take a break from having to, you know, climb the climbs while carrying or pushing his bike. Mr T is an awesomely stubborn man though and he steadfastly refused. I can also verify that after those first 4 miles, the trail opens up beautifully and is some really fun and awesome riding. Actually, that's true from about 2 and a half miles. It's fucking good riding there.

After all of this, we managed to make it back to the truck with about 15 minutes to spare. ant1 had medicinal donuts waiting for us and I don't care what anyone else thinks, there is no better donut than the one you're having at the end of 18 miles like that. We decided that while we were excited about chicken wing night back at camp, the odds were good that everybody was waiting for us before they got started. This is how at 8pm I went to Wendys for the first time. RandomFact: after an 18 mile downhill and a I-don't-know-how-long-but-roughly-the-same-height-as-mt-mitchell climb ant1 can eat a Wendys triple in about a minute and a half. Dude is BADASS, that's all I'm saying.

Later that night around the campfire I was treated to two kinds of bbq wings. Personally I preferred the more vinegar infused flavour of the Carolina sauce. Nothing wrong with the more traditional one, that's just how it played. I also had my first ever Smore.

As great as those experiences were, the whole things was topped for me by waking up at around 4 or 5am to the snuffling and shuffling sounds of something big (and in my mind definitely bear-shaped) working its way along the ridge above our camp. ProTip: when you're camping in bear country and you weren't raised with the risk of bears (I guess nature decided the snakes, spiders, lizards, crocodiles, pterodactyls, kangaroos, koalas and platypi were enough), you should probably ask about what to do when you wake up in your tent and you think there's a bear outside. Seeing as I hadn't obtained this information (still haven't actually), I just lay there and figured as long as I was quiet I'd be ok.

In part 3 we'll ponder the age-old question "What the fuck's up with Philadelphia anyway?", learn why I drove to Montreal via Delaware and if time permits we'll also look at those Canadian pro races.

*Racism is in no way funny and I do not endorse it**
**Except in the case of New Zealanders, Australians (especially Tasmanians), Swedes, Norwegians, the English, the Irish, the Scottish, the French, the Spanish, the Italians, Belgians, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Luxembourgish, Canadians, Americans, etc. For a complete list of exceptions, click here.

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