Ryan Petry’s Appalachian Mountains adventure
New territory. New bike. Ryan Petry sets off on a route in the Appalachian Mountains but not everything goes to plan.
I first got into riding because I could not afford a car and I wanted a way to get around. I loved the sense of freedom, adventure and thrill that my bike gave me… or so I assume. Fast forward 26 years and although my life has changed significantly since I was 5, my reasons for riding a bike have mostly stayed the same.
I’m Ryan Petry and I have the privilege of riding my bike and telling stories around this sport for a living. For the past 10 years I have been racing professionally, shifting from triathlon to endurance mountain biking. I have competed at the top level in many of the toughest 1 day mountain bike races in the country and have put together some massive adventures starting from home in Boulder, Colorado as well.
Planning an adventure on the new Neuron
When Canyon first told me about the new Neuron, they asked me if I’d want to plan an adventure to support the launch of the bike. Ummm, YES! I couldn’t help but pinch myself, what a fun opportunity.
“If I could go anywhere with this bike, where would I want to go?”
My whole career, I’ve been focused on exploring Colorado and the states within driving distance. I had always heard about how different and fun east coast riding was, and given that it was wintertime in the US, I began looking at the southeastern states.
I have friends who have raced in the Pisgah Forest outside of Asheville, North Carolina and I remembered hearing how incredible yet technical the riding was. You see, technical riding has never been my strength. I grew up running and building my endurance. I have always shied away from the more technical races because I knew I would lose time, and frankly big drops and rock gardens scared me. I’ve worked hard at improving over the years, but I still get jealous when I see people who rode mountain bikes, dirt bikes, or BMX at an early age effortlessly handle anything the trail throws their way.
Once the Pisgah Forest popped onto my radar, I knew it was where I wanted to ride. This wasn’t a race, and I’d be on a bike that was designed to inspire confidence over more technical terrain. With this decision made, I started researching popular routes and places in the area. I would have 3 days to explore this place I had never been, and I wanted to be sure I saw the best of the best both on and off the bike. I found a route on Bikepacking.com called the Appalachian Beer Trail which was designed as a 4 day route across the region with a similar goal, but an emphasis on breweries. I used this as the backbone for my route building, and leaned on one of my sponsors, Industry Nine, who is based in Asheville to dial in my version of the route.
With the route set in I booked AirBnb’s in the areas that I would be stopping. The plan was to start in Black Mountain, work my way to Asheville, then the town of Pisgah Forest, and finish in Brevard. 140 miles (225km) with 15,000ft (4500m) of climbing in 3 days was no easy task, so the focus now shifted to preparing my body.
Dialing in the new Neuron
In the month or two before the trip, I spent as much time on the new bike as possible, dialing it in on the trails between snowstorms. On days where I couldn’t get out to the trails, I would ride my gravel bike or hammer out a few intervals on the indoor trainer. For cross-training I’d go on hikes while wearing my 10 month old son, trail runs, and strength training in the gym. This was the first time in my life where my motivation to get into good shape was not for competition, but simply to be able to complete and enjoy a big adventure.
This area of North Carolina can be rainy this time of year, and riding on wet, slippery trails covered with rocks and roots made me nervous. Ready or not, it was time to pack the bike, throw all my warmest, waterproof gear into a bag, and head to the airport.
Arriving in North Carolina
I traveled with a couple of filmmakers that I had worked with on my “Best Week Ever” project. Upon landing we grabbed our bags, loaded it into a minivan and headed to the town of Black Mountain where the ride was set to start the next morning. Looking out the window on the drive, I was witnessing this area and the terrain for the first time. The mountains were much bigger than I imagined, although most of the peaks were buried in the misty clouds. I was eager to get onto the trails and unwrap this adventure I had been plotting for months. After building up the Neuron, a quick dinner, FaceTime with my wife Maddie, and laying out my gear for the next day it was time to wind down and get some sleep.
Ready to roll on the trails
With the time change, the next morning came quickly. I popped out of bed to check the weather. It wasn’t raining, but I could tell it wanted to. Today's plan was to ride the Kitsuma trail, which is one of the most famous downhills in the area, and then cruise on some cool side roads working my way to downtown Asheville. I was super excited to ride Kitsuma after scoping it out on YouTube, but was definitely nervous about how it would be soaking wet.
After a quick pedal from the house to the trailhead, I began climbing. The initial climb was steep and semi-technical. It was mostly the wet roots that were difficult to navigate. I had heard that the trails here drain water well, and this was proving true. It wasn’t muddy and besides the rocks and roots, there was great traction. The Neuron handled this climb with ease, and as I made my way up and over unfamiliar terrain, I was gaining the confidence I would need for the downhill.
On big rides like this, I try to ride conservatively. With so many miles to cover and the time and resources that went into making this happen, I wanted to ride well within my limits to be sure I could finish the entire route. With this in mind, I plunged into the famous Kitsuma downhill. Within the first 10 seconds I found myself hooting and hollering. This bike, this trail. This is why I was here. I came around a corner into a big drop and slammed on the brakes. I was having so much fun, but this was a quick reminder to be careful and take it down a notch.
I let Markus, the photographer, jump ahead of me to find a good spot to get some photos. After 3 or 4 passes in a cool looking corner, I was getting pretty confident. He was playing around with his camera setting and angles and asked me to go once more. I hiked up, flipped my bike around, took a few hard pedals, floated through the rocks and focused on leaning my bike as I pushed into the cor…. all I remember seeing is the ground coming at my face, I put my hands out but slammed my face into the dirt, hard.
I screamed in a mix of agony and frustration. In an instant, I knew the trip was in jeopardy. Whenever I crash, the first thing I do is take inventory. Is the bike okay? Do I have any broken bones? Are my teeth all there? Will I need stitches? Blood was dripping off of my face and I still had 4 miles (6km) of descending to get to the car. I took advantage of the adrenaline and did not waste time getting down. I was focused, scared, and frustrated all at the same time. Ever so cautiously I descended the wet and slippery downhill. I was in denial that this crash would have a major impact on my weekend plans, but as the pain in my hands and head set in, I realized this wasn’t good.
I arrived at the car safely and in a lot of pain. As the crew loaded up the bikes, I sat there flooded with emotions. As we drove to the urgent care in Black Mountain I called my Maddie who tried to calm me down. I know that crashes are a part of this sport, and I knew I would be okay, but I couldn’t slow down the thoughts going through my head.
Assessing the damage
At the urgent care the doctor checked my body and head and stitched up a cut on my eyebrow. My hands were both very bruised from impact, but I was most concerned about my head and the possibility that I had a concussion. In 2021 at Unbound Gravel I crashed hard and got a pretty bad concussion. It was a reminder how fragile our brains can be. The doctor told me to continue monitoring my symptoms and after telling him about the ride I had planned, his best advice to me was to lay low for the rest of the day, get a good night's sleep, and see how I was feeling in the morning.
I think a lot of people end up pushing through concussions because generally they aren’t black and white. The symptoms can be very mild, almost unnoticeable. Walking around downtown Asheville that night I was trying to pay attention to anything that felt “off”. I was a bit out of it and noticed a slight sensitivity to light and sound. I wanted so badly to wake up the next morning feeling great and to continue riding, but I knew deep down that would be an irresponsible decision. I woke up and walked around and was surprised how much better my head was feeling. I was so tempted to kit up and jump on my bike, but I couldn’t shake the feeling from the night before.
The emotional costs of crashing
I think the hardest part about stopping the ride was knowing just how much I had put into it, and how grateful I was that Canyon gave me this opportunity. As the day went on and reality set in, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that I wasn’t out on the trail. I found myself in Asheville with 3 days until my flight home, so I decided to make the most of the trip and explore on foot. It wasn’t what I had planned or had hoped for, but it was not a wasted experience. I really enjoyed seeing these towns and was thankful to have had the extra time to get a feel for the area.
Family and future plans
After arriving back in Boulder I gave myself some more time to recover. I went on some easy hikes, spun on the indoor trainer, and let that be time to digest what had played out. I am still upset that I didn’t get the experience that I had trained and planned for, but what I realized is that the process around planning these adventures like this is a meaningful and exciting experience in itself. It’s interesting how the things in life that make us feel most alive often involve a bit of risk. Yeah, me and my new bike hit the ground this time, but knowing the adventures in store I’ll eagerly get up, swing my leg over, and take that chance again and again.
I have been finding myself eager and motivated to plan another big adventure soon, to get a little redemption with this incredible bike. Right now, the trails in Colorado are buried in snow, but you can bet that once it melts, me and my Neuron will be on them. Let the dreaming and planning begin… again.
About Ryan Petry
Ryan Petry is a professional mountain biker and producer who calls Boulder, Colorado home. Over the past decade he has raced at the top level in many of the country’s toughest one day endurance events, and now finds a balance between conquering big adventures of his own while working within the industry to educate and inspire others so they too can dream big and unlock the power of the bicycle.
About the author
Meet Ryan Petry, the professional mountain biker and producer from Boulder, Colorado. With over a decade of experience racing at the highest level in one day endurance events, Ryan now balances his love for big adventures with educating and inspiring others in the cycling industry. Join him on his journey as he continues to dream big and unlock the power of the bicycle.