About two months ago, I wrote a blog post about our annual mountain biking trip to Tsali. If you haven’t read that yet, you should check it out (Coming soon: our annual(ish) trip to Tsali). About a month ago, we visited Tsali and had a blast. Now, I am finally writing a blog post about it!
Tyler and I woke up super early to drive to my parents’ house. It was early so that Dad and I could get a ride in at Tsali Friday afternoon, and Tyler drove so that he was not carless for the weekend.
By the time I got to my parents’ house, my dad had the car almost packed. I admit, I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to biking with my dad! I helped finish packing the cooler, and then we were off! Well, first we had a short stop at the grocery store to pick up some extra food, then we were really on our way.
It took us about three hours to get to Bryson City, which is a small town close to Tsali. There we stopped for lunch. We ate at a tasty little sandwich shop in downtown Bryson City. Dad and I managed to get there just before the lunch rush. The sandwiches were good and filling. What caught my eye most, were their dessert sandwhiches. They were ice cream sandwiches with cookies, but with all sorts of flavor combinations rather than the usual chocolate and vanilla. I was full from lunch and knew that we were going to be mountain biking soon, so I passed on dessert. That just means I will have to go back to visit sometime to try them.
After lunch, Dad and I finished the drive to Tsali. There we met up with Andre and some of the other members of the Zombie Camels Mountain Bike Club. I’ve ridden with the Zombie Camels a few times, and my dad rides with them pretty regularly. They are a fun group and I met a lot of members on this trip that I hadn’t met before.
Thanks to the somewhat dismal rain forecast there were plenty of campsites open. Dad and I snagged one near the rest of the group and set up our tent. I really like our two person tent. It’s a little backpacking tent, so room is tight. A queen size air mattress fills the entire tent and presses against the walls. However, it is super easy to set up if you know what you are doing. The poles are color coordinated and the tent attaches via plastic clips. This is a nice feature because then the poles are in between the tent and the rainfly, which keeps the rainfly from touching the tent and letting water soak through. Having a good rainfly is a must if camping at Tsali in the summer. Scattered thunderstorms are typical. Every time we’ve camped here, we’ve been rained on at some point in our trip. Luckily, it takes sustained rain or a heavy downpour for the trails to get wet, and they tend to dry out quickly.
Dad and I set up camp in record time. Unlike the first camping trip to Tsali, we actually knew the proper positioning of poles for the tent. And, we managed to set up the green and white tarp without it falling over once. Score! We have good system figured out now. The green and white tarp is used to keep the picnic table area dry. It functions like those pop-up shade tarps people use for tailgating, except that it doesn’t pop-up. There are four corner poles each with two guide lines and a middle pole that hold it up. The poles are not like tent poles in that there is not a string to hold the pieces together. They pieces just stack on top of each others, so if you try to pick up the pole at the top piece, the rest of the pole falls apart. You’d think knowing that the poles have the propensity to fall apart would prevent you from grasping the top of the pole to move it about, but alas that is not the case.
After setting up camp, a big group of us decided to hit the trails to ride the Left and Right loops. Just as we were ready to roll out, it started sprinkling. Thankfully, it never turned into a full rain-shower and by the time we actually started riding on the trails it stopped. Until this trip, I had only ridden the Right loop twice and the Left loop one other time. I had forgotten how fast and flowy the trails are. What I remembered the most about previous trips were the couple of steep difficult hills. There is one hill that I can never make it up on the Right loop that is super rocky. Even just walking up the hill makes my legs burn.
Dad and I started out riding with the group. Unfortunately, Dad’s eyes and contacts started bothering him whenever we would stop to regroup. I even had to help him reposition his contact in his eye when he had to take it out to clean it! Fortunately, as long as he is riding, his eyes are okay(ish). So we rode ahead and didn’t stop with the rest of the group. Since I am rather slow, they caught up to us several times.
We opted not to ride the overlook trails on Friday. I was a-okay with this decision because my legs were tired enough as it was! And we planned on a long day of riding for Saturday. Even though we didn’t ride to any of the official overlooks, there a plenty of pretty views just from the regular trail, especially on the left loop. For a while the trail goes right along the shoreline, providing an up close look at the beautiful green blue water of Fontana Lake.
After our ride, Dad and I grilled turkey burgers for dinner. Word of warning, if you camp at Tsali and are planning on grilling, pick your campsite wisely. The ones with the newer grill have the grate that swings away and over the coals rather than allowing you to raise and lower the grate. This means that our food was too far away from the coals. Our burgers were taking a long time to cook, so we borrowed an older grill at the campsite of another Zombie Camel to finish them off.
After dinner we sat around the campfire with a big group. It was fun talking with new people and listening to conversations. The campfire was kept strong and lively, fed by lighter fluid, and the people were fed by tasty things. Mom had made cowboy cookies, which we brought out to share with everyone. They made it two times around the campfire before they were all gone. Johnathan had brewed homemade beer which he shared with everyone too. Dad and I stayed out until around eleven, before we decided to turn in for the night. Everyone else made fun of us for going to bed so early, but it was past my bedtime!
Crawling into the tent that night was lovely. I was tired and just wanted to snuggle into my sleeping bag. The air had cooled off so it wasn’t too hot, and there were no predictions of rain that night, so Dad and I left the flaps of the rain fly open. This time there was not an incessant whip-poor-will to keep me awake, and for that, I was glad.
Dad and I woke up about 7:30 Saturday morning. I laid in bed for a while being lazy, while Dad started cooking breakfast: eggs and bacon. After breakfast, I helped Dad wash dishes as he lamented on forgetting buckets for washing and rinsing. Ah well, we always seem to forget something; our first time camping at Tsali, we forgot plates!
The day before I had seen a pair of ducks walking around the campground. At first they seemed interested in us, but then I accidentally scared them off because I moved towards them to take a picture. Well, it turns out that the pair of ducks live in the little creek that borders the campground. I found them the next morning resting in the grass. So cute! and their quack was just adorable!
Next up, morning bike ride. Dad and I rode out just as the rest of camp was getting up. We wanted to get a ride in before it got too hot. Since the trails alternate days, we rode Mouse and Thompson. The first part of the trail is a slow uphill on a gravel road. At the end of the road Thompson and Mouse split. Our preferred route is to ride Mouse first, since the end of Thompson spits you out at the bottom of the gravel hill. No need to pedal up that hill twice!
Again, these trails are fast, flowly, and mostly smooth. There are some sections that have more roots or rocks. This side doesn’t have as many steep uphills as the Right and Left loops, but there are certainly sections close to the end of each loop where you are climbing the bed of an old forestry road as it winds up the ridge. Thompson is probably my favorite trail. It is just plain fun!
During our morning ride, I had the GoPro on the chest mount that I had tested out at Vickery Creek. What I didn’t account for was that on the mountain bike I am bent over the handlebars, so I actually need to tilt the GoPro up a good bit in order to fully see the trail. I got a bit more bike in the frame than intended, but oh well. I made a video anyways, because why not?
If you would like everything to not just be a giant blurred out mess, please click the settings icon by hovering over the video and change it to high definition. Of course it will still be slightly blurry because I am movin’ (sometimes, really I’m not that fast), but HD makes the video significantly better.
Down at the campground, Dad and I ate some lunch. Shortly after, the rest of the group finished their (later) morning ride. We chatted a bit before the majority left to go rafting down the Nantahala River. Originally, Dad and I were going to bring our raft for a trip down the river, but the weather forecast when we left home was calling for thunderstorms in the afternoon. Being on the river is the last place you want to be in a thunderstorm.
Instead, Dad and I relaxed in our hammocks for a couple of hours. I think Dad took a nap, but I read my book. It was so lovely sitting outside, enjoying the weather, and actually being able to relax. I didn’t have a constant list of all the chores I ought to be doing running through my mind like I do at home. It reminded me of why I love camping so much.
Feeling rested, Dad and I decided to go for an afternoon ride. This time we just rode Thompson. Resting after lunch helped a lot, because I rode Thompson much stronger the second time around. I think it was a combination of resting and not riding Thompson immediately after riding Mouse.
Along the way we spied a cute little turtle! He was making his way across the trail. If we had come up on him when we was just starting across the trail, I would have moved him to the other side. That way he wouldn’t get crushed by a passing bike. When you are riding fast, a turtle shell looks an awful lot like a rock until you are right up on it! Be careful, Mr. Turtle.
Dad and I finished our ride just as it started raining. I high tailed it to the showers to escape the rain. I may have taken longer than necessary when I heard it storming outside. The rain had mostly let up when I emerged. Dad and I sat around with the other Zombie Camels that didn’t go rafting down the Nantahala. We ate some snacks and some bratwursts that Gary was kind enough to bring and cook for everyone.
That evening around the campfire was much the same as the night before. Good company and good food. This time we shared Mom’s banana bread. Mmmm so tasty. Around 10 o’clock the rain returned. I could hear it coming through the trees before it hit us. Dad and I said goodnight to everyone and scurried to our tent, where we stayed nice and dry as the rain continued through the night.
The next morning we woke up, unsure of our riding prospects. With all the rain last night, we were concerned that the trails would be too wet, even though they tend to stay dry and dry out very quickly here. Finally someone was able to get enough signal with their phone to check the weather forecast. Rain all day. That sealed our decision: no riding.
Still we enjoyed tasty breakfast burritos with bacon, eggs, and avocado thanks to the generosity of the group. We sat around the fire for a little while, taking advantage of the momentary lapse in rain for our gear to dry out a bit. When it started to sprinkle on us, we knew we had waited too long. Dad and I quickly packed up camp.
We finished just in time. It started pouring so we sat under one of the few remaining tarps, chatting with other Zombie Camels who had also packed up quickly. Eventually the tarp too was packed away and it was time to say goodbye.
Dad and I decided to stop in Bryson City for lunch. Going to Anthony’s for pizza at some point in our trip is a bit of a tradition. Typically, we go one evening, and since it is the weekend, Anthony’s is usually packed. This time though, we went for lunch. I think the pouring rain drove people away because we didn’t have to wait for a table. We opted to eat outside. It was nice listening to the raindrops pinging on the metal roof. Just as out food came out, Mike and Lara showed up. They had decided to join us after all! We sat around and talked for a while. Too soon, it was time to go. As Dad and I drove home, I saw first hand why the mountains in this region are called the Smoky Mountains. Mist disguised the peaks and hung over the valleys, creating a beautiful vista.