At the start of the summer a friend said he had a ride we had to do. Travis soon sent me a link to the Steamboat Ramble Ride hosted by New Belgium Brewery. Right from the first descriptive words of bikepacking with a brewery, I said HELLYEAH. Three days of climbing remote roads from Ft. Collins to Steamboat sounded like the prescription for my kind of adventure. It was built around the idea of making bikepacking joyfully painful while adding the most important element for me, meeting new people. I shared the idea with my wife and she seemed almost willing but reluctant at the same time. Needed something to hook her still. As the summer moved on Travis was unable to attend and I was unable to coerce a commitment out the little lady. She harbored thoughts of willingness but she had been to Colorado many times. But she did notice the addition of the Asheville Ramble and inquired if it would be possible. Well, HELLYEAH.
We were a little late to the party as the available slots were filled. I inquired about a waiting list on the website and soon was introduced to the organizer, Peter Discoe (wish he would drop the last 'e' and wear a satin shirt once in awhile). Peter soon replied and optimism was obtained. By weeks end we were in. From this point on, any communication with Peter felt more like I was dealing with a longtime friend than any company or organizer. This was an essential trait that would lead me to believe we were in for the 'not' usual ride and all that would be proven true, pre and post ride, everything in between. The wife doesn't own a gravel/CX bike so we asked if there was a shop we could rent from. Peter did one better, a Niner at no charge. Can't top that. I'll have to add another component that led to my premonition that this event was more my particular brand of ragbag. New Belgium Brewing. I had the pleasure of visiting their facility in Ft. Collins and, well let's put it this way, never before has an atmosphere been more inviting than this brigade of beer lovers. To further understand my affection for NBB, read about my visit.
All that was left to do was get my Surly Cross Check finished and ship out. With the conclusion of the Surly build and the gathering of equipment for the lady's borrowed Niner, we flew to Charlotte and rented a van to Asheville. It was our first time spending time in North Carolina and have to say, both cities were fairly progressive with great dining experiences and lots to do including a variety of breweries to visit. I would highly recommend a visit even for non biking. After lunch in Asheville we headed over to New Belgium's new facility to get signed in and assemble the bikes. The Niner was brand new and more than we could ask for. After a private tour of the brewing facility, we gathered for the prep meeting where Peter set the mood for the event, laid back and fun. The excitement was building but tempered by a body weakness. The flight had aggravated an old broken tooth and the evening prior to the event was a sleepless mess as I searched for relief in the form of Anbesol or an ice skate. With the max toothache medication offering nothing in the form of relief, I stayed in the van the remainder of the early morning till we headed to the start at NBB.
My favorite season did not disappoint as the morning fog and the smell of wet expiring foliage excited my senses for the adventure ahead. The cool air had most huddling inside for hot coffee and it offered a chance to get to know each other. As with many of these types of events, you get a person's name and then introduced to another person soon after, each adding to the difficulty of remembering the prior name. With age, I'm thinking name tags are appropriate more often or maybe Google Glass but that seems creepy for some reason. Anyway we were led out by the NB Crew and set off south along the French Broad River. A quick bit of dirt, some partially semi busy roads and then a long gravel climb. All 3 days had long climbs and semi extended descents with very little flatish sections. Peter claimed that this was probably the toughest of any of the prior courses for that reason but compared to the weather they encountered on the Oregon Ramble, this was a breeze even with the tougher profile. At the lunch stop the wife wanted to keep moving as is her usual MO, she feels she doesn't do well sitting around in the middle of a challenging ride. I believe that's true for all of us. Regardless, we set off and after a bit of heavier traffic, we hit the final STEEP dirt to arrive at camp, the Bike Farm.
As a tour leader and cook, I took interest in Tanesha's set up. I've been contemplating getting a Dutch oven for the arsenal and this event affirmed my thought. Every meal was more than one can expect in a camp environment. As the riders trickled in and the tents assembled along the road of the Bike Farm, exhausted folks gathered around the snacks and beer at the NBB van to share stories and exploits. At this point my tooth was at a heightened state of discomfort and I was thinking that the trip was going to see an early exit. As I was sitting there on the ground cursing the pain away, a Mason jar of moonshine appeared. Not a fan of hard liquor but I also know that opioids have proven useless for me, so why not up the alcohol level. And in the spirit of the Southern Baptists, SWEET JESUS my prayers have been answered. Soon after a few shots of rotgut liquid and a full belly, sleep deprivation settled in and I staggered to my tent for the best night of sleep I can remember in recent memory.
Day 2 was to be the big one, 75 miles and hovering around 7000' of ascent including a 28% gravel section close to the end for an insult. Since we were the early birds the first day we left after most of the riders departed and it was advantageous to be a bit warmer. On this day we were in the company of a yokel bike advocate, Clark, who was quite enjoyable to converse with. We meandered along the roads of Pisgah National Forest till the SAG appeared with liquid and solid refreshments. My wife headed out before me as I enjoyed a morning beer and then shot off with a group of 8, soon laughing it up with Chris and Marcus (who had the quote of the day, "this DOESN'T SUCK" and from Blackburn Design, co sponsor). As we made our way past a dump, a local driver warned of near certain death if we were to proceed any further along the upcoming dirt road. Well hopefully his driving abilities far exceed his psychic competency. The descent was occupied by few vehicles and was quite a pleasure as it soon took us to our lunch spot. I was a bit perplexed that we hadn't caught my wife and a bit concerned when she wasn't at the lunch stop. I had a hunch that she misinterpreted a course marking and made a hard right onto the highway. Turns out a few people did and she soon had other misguided company to help get everyone back on course. There was a RIde with GPS map that could be downloaded but the route was fairly marked with various signs that evolved as signage became scarce closer to the finish. Matter of fact at one point there transformed into paper plates taped to anything that might hold them in a visible spot. As the lovely lady and I set back out we were looking at the toughest part of the day with lots of gravel. This day also opened us up to various cornerstones of Southern life, Baptist churches, hunters and Confederate flags. There was this lone Israeli flag that flew in a farming area which seemed so out of place that we did a triple take and discussed the reasoning of this anomaly. It was bear season and we encountered many pickup trucks with anxious hounds ready to lead men to the demise of the majestic beasts. I guess a head mounted on the wall allows more folks to enjoy nature from a couch. Such a great sacrifice by the bear to give humans hours of enjoyment.
Anyway, the day was about to get real, as though being in this remote area with hunters wasn't real enough. That 28% grade was still to come and I had convinced myself I was going to clear it at all costs. As I came upon two of my fellow riders on mtn bike,s who knew it was just ahead and conserving some energy, I psyched myself into thinking I got this. As the grade made its first appearance I still harbored the confidence and it deflated about 200' into it as the conditions were too soft for my Surly Cross Check. Turns out those 2 gentlemen with the mtbs were the only ones able to step up to the challenge. At the top we were greeted with a view of autumn trees across the Pisgah range, making their final glorious visual display of colors. The dirt descent that led us to our camp was a rough deal for this long day but even though it might have been better suited for a wider tire, I found it exhilarating none the less.
The campground, and that's using the term broadly, was a mix of pre rich Clampetts (Beverly Hillbillies) meets a miniature Camp Crystal Lake (Friday the 13th). Some of the RV residents have been there for a few decades by the estimated date of the additions. All this was made even more perfect by the fact that the owner decided the evenings were too cold to leave the bathrooms operational, so nowhere to leave our internal leftovers. But hats off to the crew as they made off to explore options and returned with a couple of 5 gal buckets in which they fastened, taped, toilet seats to. PERFECT!. These types of incidents are the exact things that morph a trip into an adventure. Once the toilet catastrophe was averted, our tummies were spoiled with a veggie lasagna and garlic bread washed down with what else, BEER. The campfire into the evening warmed the cool bodies and the new friendships warmed the soul.
Our final day would ascend to the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway. A gradual dirt climb was a precursor to a the road climb overrun by leaf peepers. We were warned about high traffic and many found it nerve racking having spent a few days with having to share the road sparingly. For whatever reason, perhaps too much time on SoCal roads, I thought the traffic was fairly subdued as many of the drivers waited till they had a clearing and drove slow enough to not disturb your flow. We jumped on the BRP, after the cliche sign picture, to peak out at Pisgah. After averting any incidents with the fall crowds we turned on Rt 151. This has to go down as one of the greatest descents I've ever had the pleasure of turning wheels on. After a few miles of this bliss we hit the lunch stop where I proclaimed my love for 151. As we were on the homestretch, we gathered a group to share the final miles. It was a blast to keep the group together with many expressing to hit some singletrack. Our local guide, Chris, exclaimed he'd be happy to give us another opportunity to rattle the bikes. He diverted us from the course to a local river trail. A few more short times to muck up the bikes and we hit the final destination, New Belgium. The wife and I ran off to clean up at our local AirBnB, a virtual dump, then shot back over to the festivities and dinner. It was great to sit with others I missed during the 3 days (I'd do this for 7 if it were offered). Peter summarized his attitude of why he does these events. Yes, it's great riding and challenging yourself but more than anything it's about the people. Making new friends and creating lasting memories. He has the same philosophy that has evolved for me and my tours. It's the people above all else.
There isn't any reason to not do another Ramble and I hope to see some old friends and make some new ones on my next go around. Enough thanks cannot be expressed to Peter, New Belgium, Tanesha and the rest of the gang that made for this wonderful memory. Tally Ho