Highland Trilogy, pt 1.

What I've always loved about bicycles is the freedom. They're a gateway to an infinite number of journeys. Every ride can, and almost always does, take you someplace special. At first, it was the freedom to explore beyond where you could reach on foot. See what's on the other side of the creek. Ride over to that cute girls house. Check out the dirt jumps on the other side of town. Then ride out to another cute girl's house. She's down in the Brogue, 25ish round trip on 74 from old D'town on that Kent ten speed, got used to traffic pretty quick. Before that it was day trips w/ Fatboi, me on the bmx, him borrowing the ten speeder. Load up the rucksacks, put down some miles, flip off some cars, just out exploring the landscape for the day.

I was always sorta drawn to the grizzled road tourer type rider, the greybeards who either don't hold 'jobs' or have managed to retire into the lifestyle...what a great way to see the countryside! But those panniers, trailers, orange flags and all that gear and general bike dorkiness....just looked, well, slow, inefficient, burdened. So, that scene never really grabbed me. Got hooked on the racin', obviously. Roadiness was fun in colledge days, young arrogant punk breakaway crit racer or team workhorse on the road days. That was an intense fun, but the mountain biking, every race was an adventure! Always learning, always seeing new sights, getting intimate with the mountains. Not sterile homoginized hotel room sharing city racing, but out in it. Sleeping on the ground, out in the weather, campfires, learning the patterns of the environment....blah blah blah, twenty years go by...

And so, here we are today, taking it all in, all of it, and combining it into one hudge bike whore experience. Well, minus the crit racin', although that is handy for steeling the nerves against tight drivers, assholes. Yeah..here we are today. On the backside of a sorta impromptu into the deep end self support tour. I got thru it, obviously. Swung into SBC on the way home yesterday, decompressed, shot the shit w/ Kyle. "Was it fun?" he eventually asked.

I delayed in my answer, had to actually think about it. I mean, yeah, of course it was fun. Sort of, I guess. It was rewarding. Very rewarding to finish the fucking thing, and there were many many many good times along the way. But overall, fun? Let's say that right now, I wouldn't recommend this as something to go out and do and expect to have a rippin' good time of blasting single track all day with your best buds. It's not that kind of fun. It's fun in the payoffs, the pieces and portions of trail that allow the miles to float by underneath your magic carpet ride. And you get a good bit of that each day, but you work like hell to earn it, like a fucking dog.

That said, threw this plan together kinda quick by my standards. Had the vacation to burn, had the opportunity, hoped I still had the legs, picked up some fresh gadgetry with bigger pictures in mind, time to pull it all together. Decided on the VA/WV terrain for familiarity. Have done each of the major portions previously as solid one day classiques, a few times each for Spruce and the Gnarly. The SMT, it's been awhile since I'd been on some sections. So, put the plan in motion, blogged the progress and departed for Rocktown Friday after work. Hit up Carp's garage workshop for last minute bench vise access, got the 20t broken loose off the Jabber wheel, swapped out the 19t. Gonna pay this route some respect and put the 'big mtn' gear on, 32:20.

Relaxing bite to eat and happy hour cocktails w/ the Carpong family and Mumbles & Misty, then drive further south to the SDS Cowpasture lunchspot. 1am, time to sleep, 5am, time to wake. snooze, snooze, snooze...finally rolling 6:45am. Saturday morning, the excuse was to avoid spinning foggy witching hour 6am roads w/ just the red blinky, wait for some fer sure daylight before hungover Bubba comes wide around the blind corner... Roll across the bridge, boot up the GPS....shit, knew I forgot something. Didn't doublecheck, didn't load the GPS route tracks into the gizmo, so no cue to follow. Could be a problem, but I pretty much have the route memorized from all the tinkering, and I have a Nat'lGeo map of the SMT for the only grey areas in the mental data base. I'll be fine.

Head north, follow sweet country mtn roads. Rt 678 is a nice tempo spin climb up thru a shallow gap, then valley road cruisin' thru history up to 250. First hurdle heads up and up over Jack's Mtn then on to Monterey. Reset the GPS elevation on the summit of Jacks, suspected it was reading low, turns out by about 1000ft. Took a longer than anticipated break in Monterey, first at Ernie's to replenish the three hours of ride fuel, then across the street to look at an actual map. Coordinate memory w/ map w/ GPS markers and work on connecting the dots. Head north on 220.

It begins to rain leaving Monterey, swell. Pedal north for a bit, then find the left up along Dry Run, east branch. Turns into a steady climb that gets steadier, watch the data, watch the clock. What's this thing top out on the map?how high am I right now?how much vert is that?how much vert is Meeshow? ok, 30ish more minutes of this, just pedal, then eat. Pedal, then eat. Reach the summity saddle, and look the west. hmmm, is that Spruce up over there? must be, wonder how far that is? 5, 10? 20?? Fun swooping mtn road descent, then more creek spinnin' and a bit of route finding frustration. GPS topo shows a road or something sneaking up into the SpruceKnob area, following the property boundry. But it's not here. No road, no gate, no trailhead. Shit. There's a faint bench up there above this road in the woods, but it sure doesn't look travelled, at all. Well, I'm off the Nat'l Geo map, time to fiddle with the leetle GPS screen, looking for nearby options..time to go against the grain and head south I guess. Heading north to Judy Gap isn't an option, for aesthetic reasons.

Head south on 28, towards Sawmill Branch. Find a sweet little store/grill/icecream stand shortly before the right turn to Spruce, make mental note for future excursions. Stopped in to verify directions, shoulda grabbed a big old sub to go, but didn't. Had it in my head, thanks Carp, that Seneca was reachable in a day, which it is, but daylight was burning. So, I got somewhat coherent Appalachia drawl verifying that my hunch was correct, and continued on towards Sawmill Branch. Find signage, turn right as now planned, next sign says 17miles to SpruceKnob, neat. Had estimated this at 55-60 to the top, it's gonna be a nice round 70, now I know. Find the climbing mood as the rain relents and get to it. Shortly after, the asphalt finally gives! I'm on dirt!!! Granted it's fireroad, but it ain't knobby wirrwirrwirr slum anymore, it's crunchy. Nice loooong 2.5 hrs later, and I'm atop the highest point in WV. Yeah baby! Relax, consider eating a hot meal, look at the clock, 3:30ish. Snack up instead and decide to keep rolling after celebrating the moment.
Drop into Huckleberry, and find the day's sweet reward. Couple fumbles then realize I'm still running road pressure in the tires. Pssst, psssst, pssssssssssst, ahhhh, much better. Pick my way across, choosing battles and getting it where I can, bike rides great loaded, but that rack is mechanically affixed. And that shit can break. Roll steady across the rocks and roots and reach the iconic sprucey campsite, dinner time. Break out the cook kit, turkey tettrazini meal in a bag, then repack and roll thru the evening light into the meadows and on down to the swim hole. Hit the base of the hike a bike and push on up to the Allegheny. Race the sunset until the legs complain just enough when a fire ring appears right along the trail. This looks flat enough, let's build a fire and get some sleep. Allegheny descent will be much nicer in the morning light. Would rather hit it then instead of slumming down it in the minimally lit darkness.78ish covered, didn't quite reach Seneca, which I'm estimating is another 10ish, which could be another 1.5 hours, which is 9:15pm arrivee, which is matches I'd rather not burn on day one. Begin to regret not getting an earlier start, or futzing around in Monterey, or route finding along 28, or, or ,or...relax, you'll get thru this. Good night's sleep, hit it early, restock in Seneca, hit Gnarly earlier rather than later and still have a buffer for the SMT. Relax, breath, tend the little fire and drift into lullaby land.

1 comment:

Dave Harris said...

It's funny, bikepacking always tends to be quite challenging. Not too many folks out there doing it every week, it's something that requires a long anticipation period beforehand. The challenges involved sure do make for bigger payoffs though.

Having ridden a good bit in WV (Gauley river guide in former life) I'm pretty sure you started off the deep end. Nice work man. Sounds like this route has some serious race potential too.