There's a little kid with a frog backpack crawling around next to the podiums. Bishop picks him up. That must be Jeremiah's kid. Jeremiah's bullfrog.
"Hey Birdman, look, it's Jeremiah's bullfrog," I say. The Birdman starts laughing. Then he stops. A chipmunk freezes next to his foot and looks up pleadingly. He lashes out with his talon, spears the chipmunk, and snaps it's neck with his beak. Then he continues laughing. I stare at him.
The next morning is foggy. We ride over to the start and load our bikes on to a truck. There are two trolleys parked in the gravel. That's our ride to the start line.
We load up on the trolley. The lady on the speaker system is giving us a tour of Brevard. Five minutes into the ride I feel like my bladder is going to explode. The woman is talking about white squirrels and paper mills, and I really want to listen, but I can't think of anything other than peeing on the floor.
30 minutes later we stop in the forest. I sprint off the trolley and hide behind a tree. We wait a while for the second truck load of bikes, then ride up to a field to start the stage.
We pile our bikes in the grass and line up for a LeMan's start. The Pflug starts sneaking forward. I yell at him. Todd raises the starter gun and starts counting down. Somebody moves, then we all start sprinting. Todd points the gun at the guy who started running and fires. We're half way to the bikes by the time he gets the shot off.
I jump on my bike and get behind Garth. We shoot down the gravel road and ford a wide stream. There's a short section of pace-lining, and I get dropped. I start the nine mile climb. I can see the groups splitting up ahead. The pro men are gone and the elite elderly men aren't far behind.
The road keeps winding and winding around the ridge. Up higher and higher. I'm sitting and spinning up the mountain. It's not a bad grade. Steep enough to be interesting, but not too hard to ride. I fill a bottle at the first aid.
Almost an hour into the stage I hit the top of the climb. I start ripping down Farlow Gap. It's fast at first, lots of roots, a couple sharp corners. I think they said we would have to walk this, but it doesn't seem too bad.
Then I see the man in the white squirrel suit. He yells some squirrelly cheer and shakes his nut staff.
The trail drops straight down. This is bad. There are huge sharp rocks everywhere, and they're shifting around under my wheels. There's one chick walking her bike on the left and a dude walking down the right. I've gotta plow right through the middle of this thing or I'm gonna die.
I get my ass as far back as I can and drop over rock after rock. This is terrifying. I'm going too fast to pick out any sort of line. Then the rock garden ends. I made it. My leg starts twitching.
Then there's a huge root drop. A slab with a big drop off the end. More root chutes. Both legs are twitching now. This is the sketchiest thing I've ever ridden. If I think about it, I'm going to drop right over that hill side and break myself. I start singing a Kesha song out loud. I hope nobody can hear me over all the noise my bike is making.
I come to the top of a huge steep staircase thing. That's my limit. I'm walking this part. I scramble down it and hike over a stream. Thom Parsons heckles me from a rock. The single track turns back up hill. That was the coolest and most horrifying descent I've ever ridden. Goddamn that was rad. I love this place.
I ride down a super fast root covered hill that goes forever, then into Aid 2. Grab some bottles and head back out. I start another gravel climb. This is probably going to be long.
There's a white land cruiser at the bottom of a little gap in the trees. There are no skid-marks on the road, and the car doesn't look crushed. That's weird. How'd such a nice Land Cruiser get way down below this road?
I finish the climb. That was excessively long. My legs are feeling a little beat. Down some gravel, up some pavement, up some more gravel, and into Aid 3.
Turn onto some single track. I ride it for a while, then it pitches straight up. Looks like I'm taking my bike for another walk. I push up through the rocks. My freewheel clicks loudly. Left onto Black Mountain trail. I know we finish on Black Mountain, but I'm sure there's going to be a lot of walking between here and there.
The trail drops down and I can ride again. Another sweet downhill. Roots and big ruts all over the place. This is great. I plop down a stair case at the end and rip down some smooth single track. Back onto gravel, more fast descending, then I turn onto a climb. I recognize this from our pre-ride on Monday. Sweet. This is it. Last climb before the descent to the finish.
It takes forever. I really want this thing to end. Finally it does, and stop to lower my non-dropper post. I shred the grar all the way down Black Mountain and cross the finish line. That was a really long stage.
There's only a few guys back so far. So that probably put me in the top ten. Nice. And tomorrow we get to sleep in, then do a short 25 mile stage. Extra nice.