There And Back Again ... A Day Trip to Pilot Mountain


The first long ride of the year. Ever, really, if that’s how you care to look at it. With the hopes of biking the 5,000 miles to New Hampshire, and then to Vancouver, Canada, your author had never taken a bike further than the 33.4 miles from Chapel Hill to Raleigh. He was hopelessly naïve, dear friends and readers. He was – and still, likely, is - stupid, and thought this 54 mile loop out to Pilot Mountain as nothing more than a causal cruise. It would be an easy ride on a day when winter has finally broken and spring rides in atop the winds of a warm Sunday afternoon. I won’t go so far as to say he (me) has learned his (my) lesson, but I will tell you a story: more of a recap, really, of the four hour adventure to and from Pilot Mountain, when I learned that (a) Biking is hard, and (b) Food is good. I’m sure there is perhaps more to be gleaned from such an excursion, but I am but a base man, with base needs, and what I found yesterday was simple enough that it took but fifty miles in the saddle to make itself poignantly, painfully clear.

It was nine and I’d been working since seven. We’re moving, you see, and I had enough foresight to get up early and work hard enough to earn a break. How long a break Mother would allow I was unsure, but I decided to make the most of it. The day was warm, and I was antsy, and my bike was calling.

My bike is a pretty bike. I’ve never owned a pretty bike before – I crushed and crashed my way through college with a twenty year old cruiser Pops used to troll the dusty roads of Winston when I was but a pup in the cradle – and since Fatty Lumpkin’s (don’t know Fatty? Know now, dear one: recent assemblage I’d ridden it but five times, all times to work. Such creations are not meant for five mile commutes. They crave more, and call for it, gleaming darkly in the soft shadows of our garage, which had been filling with more cardboard boxes than previously imaginable.

Quite illegible.

I’d thought about the route before but this day seemed right for it. Pilot Mountain it is. Now, I’d been to Pilot plenty of times before – mostly to hike, sometimes to run, sometimes to boulder on that big rock on the side of the Grindstone Trail – but never by bike. I found a route by pretty country roads and printed my cue sheet. I first noticed it was awfully hard to read, ignored such warnings, and pasted it on the shaft of Fatty. I assemble my belongings.

A side note – perhaps the reason I fell in love with running was the ease at which one may step out the door and go. All you need are shoes and shorts and some vague notion of time (I’ve found that watches come in handy when considering this final necessity). Where running has few of the equipment trappings associated with pre and post preparations, biking has them all. Biking, put simply, is very involved. Shoes, shorts, water, pumps, helmet, reflector, extra tube, extra water, snacks, phone, wallet … I feel as if I’m leaving for the month. Pops, who was that long-ago rider I so deftly referred to in the previous paragraphs, laughed at me as I grunted and pumped my tires, bent and stretched my tight little biker shorts to its shear limit, chamois jutting out. I farted, felt the chamois absorb the expulsion, and came into clear understanding as to what exactly a babe with a diaper must feel when it goes oopsie into its shorts.

And thus after twenty minutes of getting ready, I go, and all worries are forgotten. Folks, biking rules. I crushed it through the neighborhood, hit warp speed down Greenhurst, pumped it up to Millhaven, out to Shattalon, and busted ass down into the steep valley leading away from the civilized society which I’ve surrounded myself for these twenty some years. It’s wonderfully bright outside. Birds sang from the trees, perched high in the budding boughs. The sun shone clear and I was struck with crashing waves of happiness. Outside is good.

Three miles in I hit my first hill. Bitch, please. Up we went, pump pump pump, pant pant pant … you call that a hill? Hah! ONWARDS!

Coming to my first turn I looked down at my directions and saw but little black smudges against shock white paper. I should have printed these suckers out bigger. I bend over, peering, and swerved into the other lane. I screamed.

There was no oncoming traffic.

I take the turn onto Yadkinville Road and realize my mistake two miles later.

As much as I hate them, my Smartphone (gahhh!) came in extraordinarily handy this day. Siri, bless her, brought me along an alternate route to the foot of Pilot Mountain. Along the country highways we went, me and this mechanical voice, this woman trapped within computer chip, and we got along just fine. Now, there were a couple of harrowing moments: two dogs chased me at different points, the first a happy beagle-basset, floppy eared and braying bloody murder up the road, tripping on its extra-large paws with every lumbering stride … the second a demon dog with bloodshot eyes, born in the depths of decay, manged and evil, slavering at my back wheel for an uphill mile, aching for a taste of my pedaling heel. No words shook Shelob, as I came to call her, so I saved my breath and pedaled faster and harder up the hill until her panting subsided into quiet. A close call with the devil, a fast mile up a long hill. If anything I found Stephen King’s inspiration for Cujo.

And then I saw it: Pilot Mountain. Haha! I thought. So it begins … to the top!

The nipple hill.

To the top indeed. Ladies and gentlemen - my dear, loving readers – I’ve never hated anything more than the twenty minutes to the top of Nipple Mountain. In those two miles to the top I reached deeper and darker than I’ve reached since the days of cross country racing, when I called people and things names that would make even subhuman ears freeze and crack and explode in a profane fury. Pilot Mountain has a dark hue about it now, a tapestry of obscenities cast over it from my assault on its peak. Lone inspiration came from friend and overall superathlete Abran M. (who is probably reading this, blushing humbly, saying ‘No way man’ and sucking down another batch of Café Latte Perpetuem after a causal 30 mile adventure out along the Sauratown Trail) who was running down the mountain as I thrust myself up it. I would later see Abran biking up the mountain as I descended, looking mightily happier than I surely did that close to the summit.

But I make it. Whoopie. Hooray. Score one for the good guys. I clip off my bike, waddle to the viewing area, am blasted with repeated gusts of cold mountain win, take a couple of halfhearted summit shots, eat a thirty gram protein bar, wish I had another thirty gram protein par, hate myself for one more minute, and then get on my bike, cursing at my sore, chafed asshole. I descend in three minutes, rocketing down at forty miles an hour, wondering whatever behooved me to go up the ugly bugging mountain in the first place.

Lone scenic picture of the view
Lone scenic picture of the view

It’s another twenty miles home. Time slows down. So do I. Pedaling has suddenly become a chore. Short inclines become tiresome and I consider calling Mother, sniffling, whining, and begging for a ride. Pride aside, I figure this wouldn’t do me any good. It’s a moving day, and unless I’m stuck I best suck it up and get home. There are boxes to be moved. So I put my head down, shift my gear up, and spin baby spin through the tiresome town of King.

It’s hard to realize that just ten miles from my home lives a community revolving around competing Hardees and McDonald’s but there you have it. I assume that the Baptists all go to the Hardees for a Whopper after service, the Methodists stick to McDonald’s because of the salads. But what do I know? Only this - that my favorite church sign (and there were plenty to chose from, mind you) read Don’t leave home unpreprayered. Duly noted dear King citizens. Consider myself preprayered. I hit a wall at mile forty. There’s little keeping me in my saddle. I’m hungry, tired, and sore. My butt hurts a tremendous amount. I pull off at a small two-pump gas station at the corner of Tobaccoville and Doral Road, lock my bike, and toddle inside. My chamois squeaks a little, and I draw a bemused and perhaps hostile stare from the cashier. Howdy, I say, hoping to strike home with working stiff. His eyes squint, lips thin, and a deep scowl stretches from jowl to jowl. I shut up, grab some Chex Mix, a Coke, and get out of there.

Out of sight and out of mind from the cashier I sit on the curb, open my bag of Peanut Butter Munchies Chex Mix, crack my soda, and sigh happily as the sugar rushes slams me hard. A warmth spreads from belly to head, and I feel the cheap energy course through these tired bones. This brings me to my second point of the day: Food is good. I like it. Food, that is. Biking perhaps not so much. I sit and watch the cars roll by, wondering at this course I’ve chosen for my summer. 5,000 miles in four months … it’s a shudder-worthy thought. 5,000 miles and here I am, forty miles in, quivering at my Coke.

Oh well. Things to think about the last leg home.

It’s a straight shot in. More or less. I take a turn onto Reynolda Road, catch Shattalon, and then from there it’s all smooth sailing back home. I run out of water with ten miles to go, pee under a bridge with six miles left, and feel rather proud of myself pedaling hard back into the neighborhood a cool four and a half hours from when I’d left. The day’s grown hot and my face feels burnt. In truth I’ll sport a wicked farmer’s tan - pasty pale chest against beet red arms – for the remainder of the week.

Thus I pull into the driveway, peel myself from my bike, and waddle inside for the remainder of the day. Mom puts me immediately to work, Pops tells me – after my ride – that after his trip out to Pilot Mtn by bike he spent the remainder of his day drinking beer and watching sports. No such luck for your humble narrator … but even through the bending and grunting and general nastiness of observing firsthand lactic acid calcification in one’s lower extremities I take this fine Sunday ride as an extraordinarily positive experience.

Why? Because I learned something. Two somethings, really, if you care to get down to the screws of it.

(1)    Biking is hard: Whatever muscles I thought I might have conditioned from running and yoga, whatever I thought I knew about endurance sports, biking is a different beast. The best way to get used to the many miles, these long hours? More time in the saddle. (2)    Food is good: I am an easy man to please, and food pleases me most. I crashed and burned and hated King because my tank was cranked red. Empty and dry. Fumes defined my existence. Soda and Chex Mix brought me back to reality. Who knows what would have happened if I’d brought something more substantial to munch and crunch … like quinoa. Or turkey. Or whatever bikers eat. I’m still figuring that out. Bottom line – bike to eat, and eat to bike.

I also learned to print out bigger directions, and to wear sunscreen. My tan is ridiculous, and it’s March 3rd.

So there you have it! A day on the road, my first trip out on Fatty Lumpkin, my summer’s companion. Lessons learned, and hours of entertainment wrought. All from a trip to Pilot Mountain, all for this coming summer.