Day 2 started with overcast but dry weather as we ate some oatmeal for breakfast and packed up camp. Having no idea what was in front of us, I was hoping for some easier roads and pretty scenery for a few miles before tackling any rough sections for the day.
Fortunately, the BRT delivered. The trail turned right off of the paved Rt 16 (one of the best motorcycling roads in the country by the way, run the section from Marion to Tazewell for curvy road nirvana), onto more smoothly graded gravel forest road, headed generally east.
The well-maintained and nice road conditions in this section made the pretty ride through the woods and rolling hills pass quickly.
The shot up sign says “‘Murica!”
Our favorites were the head shots to the hiker icon. Much better than the random bird shot.
We turned off at the sign for Comer Rock just to check it out.
Moss covered stone steps are bound to lead somewhere cool, so time for a walk.
Just a short climb later at the top of the steps was this:
The 360° view from the platform was breathtaking:
I don’t know what the history of this lookout is, or what the remnants of the stonework used to be, but in the quiet morning air, it was a pretty special place. Enjoying the views from Comers Rock sticks out in my memory as one of the highlights of the trip.
Satisfied that my theory regarding moss covered stone steps was solid, we continued east on the trail.
The road conditions continued to be generally smooth as the trail headed down the hill and crossed Rt. 21. This is clearly a well traveled section of the national forest, as evidenced by the well kept road, and the plethora of occupied campsites. The horseback riders were out in force this weekend. We must have passed 30 campsites with horse trailers, and passed several groups of riders.
The section along CC Camp road between 21 and Cripple Creek especially was horse territory, and the bikes were just guests passing through.
We were polite and stopped and turned off the bikes whenever we saw an oncoming group (we only had to stop twice). I refuse to be the jerk that gets a rider thrown from a spooked horse. This turned out to be a good plan, as a rider in the first group on a young horse thanked us, and remarked that her horse had never seen a motorcycle. I believed her, as the horse’s expression and body language as it passed were comically wide eyed with a mixture of curiosity and anxiety. The horse clearly wanted to come closer and inspect me on my bike, but couldn’t bring itself to get that close. Horse and rider walked gingerly past, and then the rider asked us to start the bikes and ride off with the horse watching. Things seemed to go well as viewed through my mirrors as I rode away, so I hope we helped acclimate that horse to our weird and wonderful world in some small way.
After a few miles of horse camps, the BRT leaves the national forest for a mixture of gravel and paved state roads on the way into Wytheville.
We took short break on the side of the road before heading into town for fuel and lunch.
After Wytheville, the trail heads north through more picturesque farm country, and its not too many miles before the trail leaves the pavement for more gravel.
The ridge in the pic below is Big Walker Mountain. After another short section of pavement, the trail climbs up the mountain and travels the length of the ridge.
The climb up the mountain proved to be the first tough section of the day. We had been warned that Walker Mtn. might be difficult and overgrown, but we didn’t want to skip riding the entire ridge. This turned out to be a good decision, although if you’d asked me 3/4 of the way up I may have answered differently.
The first half (or so) of the climb isn’t too bad, and shows signs of some maintenance. The second half, however, is what prompted me to develop my personal trail difficulty rating system. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = paved, and therefore the easiest, and 5 = the most difficult (expert level, aka iron mountain, or what the hell am I doing in here), Kevin and I decided that the first part of the climb up the east side of Walker Mtn is a 3. The second half, after the maintenance stops, is definitely a 4. (See, its good that we tried Iron Mtn, everything seems more easily navigable by comparison).
The trail is definitely very overgrown, and rocky, and washed out in some places. However, there were signs of some minor maintenance all the way up, (obviously cleared branches), and we occasionally saw another dirt bike track, indicating another bike had been there fairly recently. There was only one spot where we bothered to stop and clear branches away from the trail.
Again, its always hard to tell from the pictures, but the main feature of this trail was the rock bed sections that passed under a low tunnel of branches. For once, being short worked to my advantage, as I had a much easier time ducking and riding through the brush than Kevin did.
Helmet cameras and low branches don’t mix. Actually, its pretty dumb, and I’m a bit surprised the lens isn’t completely scratched up. In the pic below, something obviously dragged across the lens, and you will just have to put up with a few shots with the white streak until I remember to clean it (which isn’t until Burke’s Garden).
Up on the ridge, the trail got easier and much more pleasant. Maybe a difficulty level 3 in places.
The power lines afforded the first view from the ridge.
See this muddy spot in the pic below?
This muddy spot on Walker Mtn road is directly above I-77, which passes through a tunnel in the mountain about 600 ft below where Kevin is standing.
A dirt trail in the woods always feels a bit isolated, as if you are really out there away from it all. The reality of being that close to a major artery of civilization, with cars and trucks going 70 mph somewhere beneath you, but not being able to see or hear it, is a little strange.
Continuing west, after the cell towers on the Mountain, the road is well maintained. Obviously the cell company maintenance trucks access the towers from US52.
After crossing 52, the BRT continues down the mountain on a fantastic paved road going into Ceres.
This (below) is not on the trail. This is a place that will only mean something to those family members that can remember what the house looked like that once stood here.
Time marches on, and the mailbox where you could still make out the family name long after the family left is finally gone.
Back on the trail, the route continued north along “the back way” into Burke’s Garden. I’ve always wanted to take this road, but never felt like attempting it on my street bike (we’re not in the area much, and both times that I can remember have been late in the day, when I wanted to head home directly). Its turns out that the road is very smooth and well graded, and do-able (but probably pretty slow) on just about anything. Plus, there are things like this on the way in:
Obligatory “we were here” photo:
Burke’s Garden is just an incredibly beautiful place. We both appreciated that the farmland is very clearly being actively farmed, but imagined that actually living here in this isolated Garden of Eden is probably terribly inconvenient. The only paved road in and out is fantastically curvy, which is great if you want to have fun on a motorcycle, but is probably less exciting when you just want to get groceries.
The trail leaving Burke’s Garden to the east is not nearly as smooth and well graded as the southern road, but plenty navigable, even by car. The official BRT continues along the ridge following Round Mountain all the way to Bastian, but we diverted early, and took a trail down to the paved road in the valley.
After filling up near I-77 in Bastian, we had a decision to make. It was about 6pm, when we prefer to head into camp. However, all the camps we could locate on the map were 20-30 miles away. The option that required the least diversion from the trail and the least backtracking involved riding another 11 or so miles of trail, and then diverting down Rt 606 to the Walnut Flats campground in the national forest.
Hmm, 11 miles of trail. Its 6pm now. If those 11 miles are like Iron Mtn, we won’t make it. If its like most of today, no problem. Uh adventure? Let’s go.
This 11 miles turned out to be the trail along Hogback Mtn. Hogback Mtn apparently looked at the mud holes on Bailey Gap, and declared them child’s play. (Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not by much). Most importantly, the mud holes were ENDLESS. There were so many of them.
The trail along Hogback Mtn starts off with no trouble. If it weren’t for the mud holes, this would have been one of my favorite sections. We saw tons of wildlife; and by we, I mean Kevin, because he’s in the lead, and any wildlife has fled the scene before I get there. Kevin saw turkey, and more interestingly, a bear. He said it looked like a juvenile (older than a cub, but not an adult) black bear. The bear wasted no time running off into the woods when it noticed Kevin’s bike.
Some of the mud holes allowed a bypass through the woods, and after the umpteenth trip through the water, I started wishing for a bypass every time deep water came into view. Others, however did not. Even with water over the foot pegs, riding through the mud hole wasn’t bad if it had a hard, rocky bottom, which some of them did.
Guess how deep that puddle is in the above pic. Yeah, I didn’t know either until I tried to ride through it. It didn’t have a rocky bottom. The bottom was thick, slippery, greasy, boot trapping mud. I know this, because this is the mud hole that finally got me, and tried to swallow my bike. Over I went, cursing in my helmet, submerging half the bike (and motor) in the mud. Awesome.
Kevin said if I were a guy he would have laughed and taken a picture. However, since he values our marriage, he got off his bike and helped me pick mine up out of the mud.
At this point, I’ve got to give my little Honda some credit for putting up with so much abuse over this weekend. The bike always started and ran great, no matter what I did to it. Dump it on its side with gas pouring out of the carburetor overflow? No problem. Started right up. Slam the skid plate on a large rock? That’s what its there for. Submerge the entire left side (including most of the motor) under water in a mudhole? No problem. Stand it up, thumb the starter, and away we go. I’m not sure about the Suzuki, Kevin didn’t seem as interested in testing his bike as I was.
Needles to say, the mud holes made for some slow going.
We pulled into the Walnut flats campground, only to realize it was technically full. It only seems to have 3 actual spots, with 4 picnic tables. However, there is quite a bit more space with lots of grass, so we just set up in the grass next to the spot with two picnic tables, and made friends with its occupants so we could borrow a little space to eat (and we enjoyed the company, a nice young couple from PA). The campground is fairly primitive, although the pit toilets were clean, and well stocked with TP and hand sanitizer. There is potable water, available from one of those neat, old-style hand pumps.
It was dark by the time we finished setting up camp and eating. I would have slept well, except one group of campers (not our new friends from PA) decided to noisily pack up camp at 2am. I’m not sure why they needed to slam the car door after every item they placed inside, but that’s what they did.
8/3/2013 – 156 mi. Probably about 140 mi of the BRT. Today was AWESOME.