The last time I rode at Clemson was last fall when I RO out of the Equathon after a major boot failure. Prior to moving on this side of town, Clemson was the only place I rode due to the close proximity. Now it is 90 minutes away and that just isn't all that doable that often.
Saturday though, I made it happen. I wanted a solid 20 miles and I knew that if I went back there and did my favorite green (6.5 mile) loop to red (9 mile) loop and back to green (6.5 mile) loop that it would be just right.
I took Karen's advice from my Kings Mountain post and fed Gem pre ride. I fed her at the barn before loading her and hauling the 90 minutes. She ate like a pig, licking the bucket clean and then munched on her hay the entire ride. I offered her some water to start, but she declined. While I waited at the trail head, I let her hand graze on the grass as well as have at her hay net.
My friend Sheree has been bringing her mare back from Lymes disease and met me at the trail head. The day was overcast, cool and threatened to rain, all of which were perfect conditions for a long ride. Gem rides super well with her mare and we hit the ground running.
I didn't take pictures because I was having too much fun and I already have about a thousand pictures of these same trails. The forest floor was a bright green that nearly hurt the eyes after a long colorless winter. The wild wisteria, dogwoods and apple trees were all in bloom overhead creating a dazzling array of colors throughout. We passed several other riders, hikers and mountain bikers along the way.
Once we were on the green loop I remembered why I adore these trails. They are probably my favorite trails I have ever ridden. It is pretty much all single track super technical trail with some stretches of access roads to move out on. The footing is near perfect with some roots and rocks here and there, but is mainly hard pack forest dirt and clay. The best is that the trail is rarely ever flat. It is almost always going up or down. It is the perfect place to condition.
The miles flew by under the mares' hooves and Gem was a saint the entire time. I rode in the side pull again and she seems to have really taken to it now. I'm not sure I trust her enough at race start, but I believe that eventually we will get there.
Green is a nice warm up with less steep climbs and better views of the lake. Once you hit red, you are in for it. The trail never goes straight for more than a few feet and a lot of turns are 90 degree or more. I was grinning as we flew through them and at times even held my arms out like an airplane and said "zoom!" I think Sheree thought I had lost my mind.
Ok...I'm not a cartographer or an artist, so this map kinda sucks but it gives you a general idea of how the loops are set up:
Green takes off going counterclockwise from parking and then about 5.5 miles later you get to a road crossing (the double black lines) and can cross the road and head back to camp a mile later or make a right turn and start on red. Red then loops around and comes back to itself and you can turn right and head back to parking or make a left and follow green the opposite direction to do it backwards.
Once we hit the end of red, Sheree headed back to parking and I pointed Gem left to go do green backwards to get the rest of our miles in.
She wasn't too thrilled with the idea and was pretty pokey and annoyed about parting ways with her friend. It took about a half a mile or so to make her focus again, but once she did she was on fire. She moved out beautifully after already having gone so far over really hard trail and by the time we reached the 20th mile she laid down a 7 mph mile and I was thrilled.
Back at the trailer, I gave her a wet mash (I keep playing around with the consistency of it making it more and less wet and think I have finally found the consistency that she likes) which she ate, but not as ravenously as before so I think feeding her prior to loading her up was a great idea. Thanks Karen!!
She looked awesome at the end. Wasn't tired and could have gone back out and done more. We finished the 20 miles in 3 hours and had just shy of 2,000 feet of elevation gain.