So we finally got around to riding the rest of the Blue Ridge Trail (BRT). We hadn’t actually taken any overnight moto trips since our epic Alaska adventure last summer, so by late summer this year, we were ready to do some riding. As soon as the oppressive and humid summer heat broke for a spell, we impulsively loaded the bikes and headed out for territory just out of reach of our usual day rides. Our timing was excellent; we had beautiful, not-too-hot, sunny, and low humidity weather for a few days of moto-camping and off-road riding at elevation in Jefferson and George Washington National Forests.
8/13/2015 – 209 mi, Home to the BRT, headed north
After riding over 100 mi on pavement to get to the National Forest, we hopped on the trail near New Castle just before lunch.
Look familiar? We had the big bikes up here not too long ago. This time, the road was in worse condition than I remember; the amount of washing, ruts, and rocks was such that I doubt I would have felt as comfortable as I remember in taking the heavier bike up that road with street tires.
Lovely views on the ridge.
(Above, Kevin caught me trying to get out of the shot:)
I think this overlook was mentioned in the Roanoke Area Tag game. We never went this far on the street bikes, but its worth a stop.
“GPS Routing not advised” = motorcycles go this way!
Lots of scenic and easy roads through the woods. This is my kind of trip, none of that hard, technical trail stuff, with rocks and ruts, and mud bogs. This stream crossing even had a bridge, didn’t have to get my boots wet:)
Kevin is pointing out that the metal spikes are not rebar, but are actually drill bits. The clues are the shape and hollow core. The pneumatic hammer drill blows air down the bit to clear the chips from the bore hole. This is apparently very effective at both boring the hole, and causing lung silicosis.
We had the Braley Pond campground to ourselves on Thursday night. We didn’t find a water source (there may be one), so we felt justified in our compulsion to always pack the water filter. We also have no idea why it was worth all the money and effort they spent to build the dam and create the pond there. Its very pretty, and I’m sure the fishing from the stocked pond is nice, but its not obvious to either of us why one would bother.
We had done exactly zero planning before leaving the house, so we were pretty happy to have lucked out and landed at such a nice campground at the right time of day.
8/14/2015 – 147 mi to the end of the BRT
With the possible exception of the first bit north of New Castle, the BRT from New Castle to Reddish Knob (I think that’s what its called?) is all very easy and big bike friendly. Even I would have been comfortable on my TR with street tires; its mostly very scenic and well graded forest road. I loved it.
I think this is about as tough as its gets. As always, having a dry trail makes all the difference.
While we were surprised to find single lane pavement at the very top leading to the peak on Reddish Knob, I think the rafter of turkeys in the road were more surprised to see us. (I got them on camera!). The peak has a paved parking lot covered in graffiti, and has essentially 360 ° views.
We’d had an option to ride up this way, or take another trail, and I’m glad we rode to the top.
Leaving the summit, the road is paved along the narrow ridge.
After Reddish Knob (going north), the trail got significantly more difficult, and our pace slowed. I swore that this time I would get pictures of the more technical stuff, but I didn’t didn’t take many, and pics never seem communicate trail conditions very well. This section was rutted, washed, and rocky. While it rated the most difficult we’d ridden on this trip thus far, it’s certainly no where near the most difficult part of the BRT. I just can’t say I recommend it for a heavy bike.
We took a short break at this lake.
The road from the lake out to Rt33 is well traveled by cars, and then we got to pretend that the dual-sports were sport-bikes for a short bit of excellent twisties on 33, one of our favorite roads. I remember remarking that I was having almost as much fun on my 230 with 50-50 tires as I do on any of my streetbikes. “Its fun to ride a small bike fast, and boring to ride a big bike slow.” The only problem was the 230 has trouble with the some of the hills at road speeds, and I’d have to pin the throttle and wait until I made it to the top.
We didn’t feel like taking the time to ride into a town to find lunch, so we picnicked at the first place we found in the woods that seemed like a nice place to take a break, which turned out to be this public shooting range in the national forest. (Kevin is pushing the button on the remote for my helmet cam to get a pic of our lunch spot. We think this is funny for some reason).
The trail eased up for a little while.
And then we got to the GRAVEL. Of course the pics do not do it justice. I have never seen gravel laid down this deep on a road in my entire life. It must be nice to pay for gravel with other people’s money, because I cannot think of a reason to lay it down this thick. You could tell where one truck ran out, and the next truck started dumping, from the extra thick piles across the road. It was so freshly laid, I swore we would have caught up to the gravel truck if we had been able to travel at any decent pace. There were no indication of tracks where trucks had packed it down yet.
Edit: [Rant Redacted] – Ok so I had an even longer rant about the annoyingly deep gravel here originally, but….after re-reading, it was more fun to write than it is to read. Suffice it to say, I had a hard time riding in and really did not like the ridiculously deep gravel.
The trail eventually provided an option, and we went the direction without gravel.
The “easier” option of the two was another slow, bumpy 2-track through the woods, but it was so much easier than the gravel, I didn’t care. The track went through memorably pretty under-story, and since its been so dry lately, none of the stream crossings were any trouble. If I hadn’t been so thoroughly defeated by the gravel, I would have appreciated the next section even more, as its probably the exact kind of trail I came to ride. Challenging, but not so much that its no longer rewarding.
It was along this section that we spotted this truck off a spur to the main track. We walked up to it, finding that it must have been abandoned there for a little while. It had very street oriented tires, and the driver had clearly mis-judged the trucks ability to clear that mound across the trail. Be careful out there folks.
Leaving this section, we caught up to a logging truck, who graciously let traffic pass. The trail turned into a nice mix of paved and gravel farm roads. I find this part of the country impossibly pretty. The Shenandoah Valley has to be one of my favorite places on earth. We were laughing when we had to stop and then ride past a couple of cows who had gotten out. (Caught them on camera too! The helmet camera was charging when we ran across a rattlesnake in the middle of the trail earlier in the day.)
Riding on easy roads through pretty farm country at the end of a long day is a great way to finish the trail.
Camp this night was also a lucky find at Elizabeth Furnace, which we rode right past on our way into Front Royal, the “official” end of the BRT. Once again, lack of planning didn’t matter. As we reached the end of the day, a campground showed up right on our route. Had to pay $14 for the spot, but they had HOT SHOWERS. Clean, and unlimited; not coin operated, no button to keep pushing when the time runs out. Just turn the valve and wash away the trail in luxury. It was great!
8/15/2015 – 353 mi, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway to Home
In Front Royal in the morning, we debated staying out another day and riding more forest roads further south on the way back, or just putting in a long day on pavement and heading home. (The BRT has options/loops, so you if you are traveling one direction, you have to pick one way or the other; we generally picked the northern routes, thinking we may travel the southern parts of the loop we had missed on the way back).
The choice was made for us. Around 11am we stopped at a rest stop on Skyline Drive, and Kevin noticed his DRZ was leaking just a bit of oil. Oops. Closer inspection revealed it was likely time for a new counter/driveshaft seal. Yeah ok, 11 am on a Saturday, and no cell or data reception. Huh.
So we rode down off the cool ridge and into the urban heat of Charlottesville, hoping to find a moto dealer with the part, or at least some oil. It turns out the rumors are true, and moto shops don’t actually carry parts any more, not that the service departments are open on Saturday anyway. We bought a quart of moto oil, and decided the DRZ was getting a continuous oil change between Charlottesville and home.
Despite the risk of failure, the leak was quite slow, and we decided it was too hot down low. We rode back up on the parkway for a beautiful and cool ride south, and made it home just before dark.
Note to self: 353 miles in one day on a Honda CRF230L is TOO MANY.
Also, I don’t know how people ride the TAT (Trans America Trail, which traverses 4500mi across the US via as much off-pavement as possible). After 700 miles and a day and half of trail riding, I am done. I want to rest (and apparently create blog posts). We both really enjoyed this mini-vacation, but trail riding seems to be the kind of thing best enjoyed in small doses for me.
2015 Blue Ridge Trail – 3 days (700 mi)