Unexpected Great Rides Series #2: Point-To-Point Through The Pisgah Wilderness

Most of the time, when I’m riding, I’m only interested in packing as much trail into a loop as possible before heading back to my car and the real world. So it’s easiest, logistically, to just show up and ride instead of planning anything too adventurous. But after talking with one of my riding buddies a couple of years ago about how to spend a long day on the bike, we came up with a great idea to do a point-to-point mountain bike ride through Pisgah National Forest and just kind of see how it went. So 6 hours and 40 miles later, we were sipping beers in Brevard, exhausted but elated that we completed, and perhaps most importantly, we had a ride home.

The great thing about a point-to-point mountain bike ride or a traverse ride is that you are bound to ride a diverse group of surfaces to link the route.

On our ride, we started with gravel, then spent a solid hour climbing up some gnarly singletrack and, at times, hike-a-biking through sections that were barely even trails. We got to ride some of the areas in Pisgah that seemed “off the map,” only faint treads of trail that I have never seen anyone actually ride. We had to deal with downed trees, grades approaching 20%, and loose rock sections on descents that had us skidding out more than actually riding. However, all of this was new terrain, so we were giddy with the excitement of discovery and novelty, which welcomely crowded out our caution.

We eventually spit out onto the Mountains-to-Sea Trail after our single track dead-ended.

So to continue moving up, we had to get off and hike that section with our bikes (riding not allowed) to get to the Blue Ridge Parkway. At this point, we had about 2k of climbing in our exhausted legs. Still, we knew we wouldn’t descend until we peaked near Mt. Pisgah, about 6 miles and another 1.5k of climbing.

We baked in the sun on that road portion, spinning through blinding late-spring sunlight, sweating buckets even at our sluggish pace. It nearly broke both of us, but thank god it was getting cooler as we ascended. We also knew that once we peaked, we had over 18 of the remaining 20 miles of descent or flat roads. So after grabbing some sugar and water at the Mt. Pisgah Country Store, we began our tilt downward, thankful the worst of the ride was over.

The descent ended up being a bit more harrowing than we expected.

We were so exhausted and strung out from climbing that our bodies weren’t quite doing what our minds told them to do. So we went down Pilot Rock Trail in Pisgah, one of the most challenging descents in the whole forest. I remember rounding one corner through an incredibly technical turn and noticing a bike lying in the tree beyond, either left there as a joke or abandoned by a cyclist who wrecked one too many times.

We took our time on the descent and made our way through Pisgah’s eerily flat but lush Pink Beds area. Passing what can only be described as a semi-permanent gypsy campground situation out in the wilderness. First, we had to pump some water from the headwaters of the North Mills River. I always consider the headwaters of any river as sacred, and this sojourn was no different. The water was so clear, cascading and bubbling through dense spring growth of rhododendron and mountain laurel. I could have stayed there for hours but was too drawn to the end-of-the-ride beer to linger long.

We had one more climb and another technical descent ahead of us before finishing.

Fortunately, the climb was gravel and at a pretty generous grade, so we spun freely up to the ridge without hitting any cardiac red lines. The descent was another matter; I was itching to finish and took aggressive turns at the front. Unfortunately, I could not see or hear my riding partner when I exited the trail on a gravel road. I decided to proceed anyway and figured he would regroup at the paved portion of the route. But after waiting 10 minutes, I hadn’t seen him, so I decided to backtrack. Finally, I made it back to the trail exit, and there he was with a flat tire he had suffered at the top of the trail. He had skidded down the gravel, and since I had the repair materials, he couldn’t fix his flat.

I apologized profusely, took charge of fixing his mechanical, and promised him that the first beer was on me. Thirty minutes later, we had made it to the brewery, exhausted but also satisfied that we had made it, beers in hand.

What a ride! The point-to-point didn't disappoint.

We rode every conceivable terrain (several times), suffered, put our bodies and gear to the test, and arrived much fitter and better riders than when we started.

I recommend the point-to-point mountain bike ride for anyone ready for an all-day adventure. Of course, you need to plan, but the best part of the ride is knowing that you will have to adapt to weather, mechanicals, the state of your body, and what the terrain offers. If you have to ditch the trail for pavement only, that’s fine! You’ll still arrive! If you feel like linking up more and more singletrack, then go for it! You may get to your destination later, but you’ll have more trail riding than at any point since your last race or major training ride.

The whole point of the unexpected ride series is to inspire you to make your own stories. Not every ride is great, but every ride can be. So go plan something wild and start building your own series. There’s no limit to how many you can string together with stories that will last a lifetime.

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Matthew Chisholm

Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.

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