I’m so excited! This summer my dad and I are going to camp and ride at Tsali. The past few years, it has become somewhat of a tradition for us to make the trip up to North Carolina to camp and bike for the weekend.
Tsali is one of my favorite places to mountain bike. It is a challenge, but there are also lots of flowy, fast-paced sections in-between, which make riding there a blast! Tsali has four loops, two on either side of the parking lot. Mouse and Thompson on one side and the Right and Left loop on the other. The trails are multi-use for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. However, the bike and horses are separated by alternating trail use. For example, the Mouse and Thompson loops are for mountain bikes on Saturdays and the Right/Left loops can be biked on Sundays. The opposite is true for horseback riding. So, in order to ride all the trails available, you need to stay for two days.
The first year Dad and I camped was the summer before I started grad school. We laughed and laughed as we set up camp. We struggled a bit with the tent, though it actually is very easy to set up. And struggled even more with the big green and white tarp that is featured in all my camping trips. That thing is so old, and such a pain to put up, especially with just two people!
The next day, we rode Mouse and Thompson with Mike, one of Dad’s biking buddies. I had a great time. Mouse and Thompson are my favorite. On the second day, we got off to an odd start riding on the Right/Left loop. We were maybe a mile into the trail, when a giant mud clod slung under my dad’s glasses into his eye! I thought we would have to turn around so my dad could rinse his contact out with contact solution. My dad was determined to NOT turn around. Instead he took out his contact, rinsed his eyes with water, and used our sunglasses as a mirror to put his contact back in. Then we were on our way.
The fun doesn’t stop there. The day before, I had noticed that it was a bit difficult for me to shift gears. Well about half way around the first loop, I could no longer shift my back gear. The cable had snapped! While this is not detrimental to the basic operations of the bike, it meant rather than having multiple gears to help me up hills, I was essentially riding a single speed. Since we were halfway, we opted not to turn around, but to continue along the route. This side of the trail system has some steep climbs. Coupled with the fact that my legs were tired from riding the day before and I no longer had baby gears to help me up the hills, my legs were shot. We decided to cut the ride short and only ride one of the loops, rather than both of them. I don’t think my legs have ever been that sore after biking.
Last year, Dad and I camped just the two of us. When we pulled in, the campground was packed! There were only a few campsites left, none of them in the shade or in a particularly desirable location. It turns out, that weekend they were having a triathlon. We wished we had known, or we would have picked a different weekend to visit! The campground can get crowded on the weekends in the summer, but I think the triathlon is what made it so crowded this time around.
That day we rode the Right and Left loops. It was my first time riding that section of the trail in its entirety. For dinner, we drove into Bryson City for pizza, also somewhat of a tradition. Nom nom nom, I ate some much food! Then we drove back to camp where we sat around for a while till dark. Next to our campsite was a small stump. I didn’t pay it any attention until dusk, when I noticed several tiny toads hopping about. More and more toads kept appearing, so of course I was curious and started poking around. The toads lived in a burrow under the stump. There were so many of them. I think I counted 17 or 18 of them!
That night I slept in my hammock. This is when I decided that perhaps hammock camping is not for me; I sleep too cold. It was the middle of the summer and I was cold sleeping in my hammock that night. I know you can do things to make a hammock warmer, such as underquilts, and I’ve tried, but every time I’ve slept in my hammock I am cold! Because I was cold, I woke up more easily that normal. Tyler can attest that I am usually a very heavy sleeper. Well, I was cold, the light from the bathhouse was shinning into our campsite, and several whip-poor-wills decided to roost what sounded like 10 feet from my head. Ah-hem, needless to say I did not sleep well that night.
The next morning, Dad and I ventured up the hill to see about the triathlon, and when we’d be able to ride the trails. Unfortunately, they were closed to the public for another few hours, so back down the hill we went. Instead Dad and I made a large breakfast to fuel our ride later that day. Finally, we were allowed on the trails, but since there were still the last few stragglers from the triathlon, we had to follow the route that they set, riding Mouse the opposite of our usual way. We got about halfway around the Mouse loop, when it started to sprinkle on and off. We were worried about an incoming storm, but halfway out, there’s not much you can do. About 10 minutes later, the sky fell on our heads.
Big fat drops soaked us within minutes and didn’t seem to be letting up. We had no choice but to keep riding to finish the loop. I’ve never ridden in a down pour before. Usually we avoid riding in the rain or after a heavy rainfall because riding on wet trails can damage them. I will say however, this was the most fun I’ve had riding, I think ever. It was absolutely pouring, so I could hardly see as we bombed down hills. Water and mud were splashing and spraying everywhere. It was epic!
Far less epic, was packing up camp in the rain; predictably, just as we finished packing the rainstorm abated to the occasional drizzle. Although yet again we were not able to ride the whole trail system, I had a wonderful time camping and biking with my dad. We have, of course, had less eventful trips to Tsali, but those were mostly just day trips. I can’t wait to visit this summer and see what other adventures we’ll have!