stories from the trail
It was a busy end to 2015, followed by a crazy couple of rides in the first weeks of 16. As a celebration of the end of 2015, I was invited by an intrepid group of 21 other endurance riders to attempt a five-year tradition of assaulting Spruce Knob. Spruce Knob is the highest point in WV at an elevation of 4862 feet. We departed the small town of Whitmer at about 10:00 am, temps were in the mid 30's and a slight breeze was blowing. The sky was threatening all day.
The group of cyclists were from all over the western WV panhandle and as far away as Pittsburg PA. Each packed weighed more than the usual ride of this type as the temps at the top were an uncertainty as well as water and food availability. The ride to the top was uneventful, at several key locations we regrouped and rested and discussed what surprise weather we expected at the top. The mountain did not disappoint us! As we peddled the last several miles into the clouds it became obvious that our stay at the top would be short. The wind was blowing and gusting into the 20's while the temps dropped reportedly into the upper 20's. We sought a break from the wind in a covered picnic shelter while almost everyone changed into dry clothes for the BANZI back down the mountain. We paused long enough to take a few quick group photos and then everyone headed back down.
Happily, the temps a few miles down the road warmed and each began the process of shedding the extra layers added at the top. As we made our way past the Sinks of Gandy, I was reminded of an overnight trip I had completed a few years before. Shane was preparing for his inaugural run at the Tour Divide. We met and rode one last long overnight ride and followed many of the same roads I was now riding. The trip back into town ended without any more excitement. Each of the riders were rewarded with a celebratory glass and we went on our way. Total time on the ride was a scant 4 hours and we covered 44 miles and climbed 3100 feet.
To kick off the new year I was again invited to ride with another group that was advertising a "moderate paced" ride of about 50 miles. Let's just say the term "moderate" has different meanings to different folks. When a group of 100 plus pro and cat 1/2 cyclists do a group ride, well you can just image the resulting pace. Needless to say I dropped off the back and finished the 43 mile ride with a small group of like skilled riders.
Enough of these road rides! I’m ready for some gravel. Saturday the 9th rolls around, the weather is pure CRAP. Fog, freezing temps, and I want to do an adventure ride. When Shane was back east to visit in December we rode in Sleepy Creek. I took him to the power line easement and we pondered what was at the top of the eastern side. Well I later learned that there was a well-marked trail that was accessible at the top, so I mapped out a route that included the as yet unexplored power line climb.
I posted the ride looking for company, but as expected there were no others willing to suffer along with me. I waited until 10:00 am hoping the weather would break a bit, but that wasn’t in the cards today, so I loaded the Fargo and headed to Shanghai Grocery. Since this route was new and there were no stores I picked up two of Shanghai's famous country ham sandwiches for the trip. The planned route kept me mainly off of the busier roads so off I went. As I made the first turn I noted that the front bar end shifter had all but fallen out, roadside repairs made I was off again.......! Only to be stopped by a gate on the road that I was traveling. Two more attempts to find the "road less traveled" and I was back onto the main roads. The five mile climb up Hampshire grade was eerie as the entire mountain was shrouded in a dense foggy mist. All of my gear and clothing had little droplets of condensation formed.
I have hiked and ridden the first double track section a few times, and generally it’s a pretty easy segment. Not today, frozen wheel paths and icy patches made for some hairy riding. At least two times I succumbed to the ice and fell of the Fargo. The downhill section to the lake was not much better. The leaves hid the dangers of sharp rocks and I was getting cold as my clothes were now soaked. I added a second pair of wool gloves to keep my hands warm. As the trail flattened out the fog lifted a bit. The trail was covered in a fluorescent green moss worthy of a picture or two. Pictures taken, I rode off, promptly leaving one of my wool gloves laying on the ground. Well there was no way I was backtracking to get it!
The power line was ahead. Fog covered the pathway. On previous visits I tried to recall the number of towers between the valley and the southern top that I was about to assault. Looking at my GPS It appeared to be about a mile of climbing....no sweat! The grade started out in the mid-teens, the path was well traveled by 4wd vehicles and was easily passable. About half way up at the first tower everything changed. Ahead of me was a vertical wall towering about thirty feet. It was scarred with tracks where adventurous off road vehicles made attempts ate climbing. To the right was a path "around" the wall.... it looked to be the better solution so off I went. The grade was now hitting the mid 20's and topped out at one point at 35%. The rocky path was slippery, take 10 steps rest, take 10 steps rest. Finally, at the top I mounted the Fargo and rode off into the fog. After finding the new trail, 3rd Mountain Trail, I quickly dismounted and began yet another short but steep hike a bike. The GPS assured me that the climbing was over, so back onto the bike I went. The trail was a wide rock strewn pathway rolling along the spine of the mountain, obstacles were everywhere. This was Mountain Bike territory, no "cross" bikes here. Three miles later I emerged back onto the main gravel road leading to the Lake.
As the day was getting late I decided to shorten the ride and BANZAI down the mountain and head back to Shanghai. Good decision, it was 4:00 and I had been on the bike for 5 hours. Total ride was a mere 32 miles with 3500 feet of elevation gained.....why am I so sore?
The decision has been made, I am an adventure cyclist! Looks like a lot more SOLO riding is in my future..............
Glenn "fargo" Murphy