IT FINALLY STOPPED RAINING. Well, at least long enough for a weekend camping trip. There has rarely been more than a day without showers this summer. This is great for things like….I dunno, hydropower, for example, but bad for doing anything else outside (or keeping the lawn mowed). The forecast for last weekend, however, was fantastic. Between the weather and work, if we were going to take a motocamping trip on the Blue Ridge trail, last weekend was our chance.
Aww. Look how clean my bike was at our first pit stop in Meadows of Dan. I can assure you, it does not look like this at the end of the trip.
As I’ve said before, the BRT (Blue Ridge Trail) runs from Damascus to Front Royal, VA, via as much off pavement riding as possible. We’ve ridden about 100 miles of the BRT over two trips earlier this year, and the goal for this trip was to ride from the start in Damascus, to the end of the section we’ve already covered (where the trail crosses VA 460).
Its about 150 miles or so from our house to Damascus, so we left Friday morning with the intention of eating lunch in town, and riding a bit of the trail before finding a place to camp. We probably could have gotten to Damascus around noon if we’d ridden the most direct route, but main roads are never as fun. From our house in NCNC (north-central NC), we took a mixture of back roads, gravel roads, and sections of the lovely and often twisty US58. The winding roads and scenic beauty in western NC and VA never disappoint.
Sometime late in the morning, this scenic rest spot was too good to pass up.
Warming up on a little gravel:
You can’t pick a bad road (other than interstate) in SW VA. Just riding to the trail on the twisty sections of 58 is half the fun. We didn’t even start the trail until mid afternoon, and had already had an awesome day.
After a late lunch in town and topping up fuel, it was time to start the trail.
Kevin had warned me that the very first part of the trail was single track, and might be pretty difficult and worth skipping. We’re both pretty new to off-road, and my skill level specifically isn’t very high. Neither of us had any idea what we were getting into. However, we were here to ride as much of the trail as possible, so what the heck, adventure! (Famous last words?)
Above is the start of the BRT in Damascus, on the Iron Mountain Trail. That picture should have been my first clue to turn around. I don’t know what I was thinking. (It was a nice day and I’d been enjoying a nice ride and wanted to finally get off the paved road?)
The pictures just never do it justice. I’m not going to lie, the next 7 or so miles were the hardest riding I’ve ever done. Despite a lot of the trail being fairly manageable, there are quite a few really tough sections that just wore me out. If I didn’t have a lightweight bike with a nice low first gear and semi-knobby tires, I would not have made it. (Fortunately the trail was fairly dry).
We passed three horseback riders just after the above pic, and I’m pretty sure that’s a much easier way to go.
Just after the creek is a fairly steep rock scramble that you’d just be able to see if the pic wasn’t overexposed. (I didn’t even try it, Kevin came back and got my bike up it for me. I am not ashamed:)
The Iron Mtn trail is pretty, but definitely challenging single track through the woods. It was bumpy, rutted, rocky, tight, steep, muddy, full of roots, and very, very tiring.
Its a little hard to see, but I tried to take pics of the parts that made me the most nervous. Most of the trail involved me learning ride over washes and obstacles, and pick the right line. Nothing especially dangerous, just challenging.
Heights, however, are a different story for me. I was never worried I wouldn’t make it until the parts on the side of the hill, where the trail is a narrow ledge; up against a steep hill on the left, and a steep drop off to the right. I can see how the other parts of the trail might eventually be appealing, but I pretty much just wanted to get through this without mishap.
I tip-toed around these ledges like a complete wuss.
The pics never communicate how steep the grade really is.
This also happened, although I still haven’t figured out how. No worries though, this was a laugh at the situation non-event.
Taking a break. I might have been able to hike this as fast as I rode it. I remember thinking I was a bit over my head at this point, although now I feel like I could do it better if I had another chance. At the time, we were counting the miles until the next intersection where we had a chance to leave the trail for an easier route.
Its possible that I audibly cheered when the trail dumped out on graded gravel forest road. We followed the track along the forest road, until we came to another intersection: The official trail goes that way (below), which looked like more single track.
We went this way instead. Much easier.
Our bypass popped out here, back on 58.
Road speeds felt like flying, and it felt good to get some breeze, and ride with so little effort. This bypass skipped roughly 15 miles of trail, which may or may not be as challenging as the first 5 miles, but I was pretty tired, and it was time to find a place to camp.
Also, if you are driving, and two small displacement dualsports loaded with camping gear on semi-knobby tires catch up to you, you are going too slow. Please pull over and let them pass.
Camp on Friday night was at Racoon Branch in the national forest. This is a pretty nice campground for national forest: indoor bathrooms with running water (flush toilets, no showers, lights with no switch that stay on all night), some RV spots with electric and water hook-ups, and free wi-fi (near the host site only, doesn’t extend very far beyond their spot, and you need to get the password, although its WEP, so…..)
Despite the rough start and only covering a few rough miles on the actual BRT, today ended on a good note. The whole trail would not be that difficult, and despite struggling over rough ground, both people and bikes made it out unscathed. Besides, we’d just had a full day of riding in gorgeous weather on fantastic twisty roads and varied trail terrain in one of the prettiest spots in the country. What’s not to love? Despite feeling vaguely defeated by Iron Mtn, the first day still had everything I was looking for in the trip, and we were still looking forward exploring more of the trail. The campground tonight was cool and quiet, and I had no trouble falling asleep.
8/2/2013 – 185 miles. Roughly 7 miles of the BRT.