Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sherando/Big Levels

There is really some great biking in Virginia.
Spectacular may be a better way to describe it. There's a little bit of everything: long climbs, grand vistas, tight singletrack, rocky tech XC, streams, laurels, etc. If I had to name that one thing that makes Virginia different than my old PA and current MD stomping grounds it would be magnitude or scale of the mountains. They really don't look that different as you approach in your car.  You see the usual ridges, valleys, and knobs; but these hills are big. After climbing for over 9 miles, you begin to understand that things are a little different here. Reaching the top, you are almost always rewarded with a panoramic vista that sufficiently compensates for the pain you are feeling in your legs. Whether it's Elizabeth Furnace, Reddish Knob, or Sherando - all three feature big world climbing and magnificent vistas.

Where to start?

I left my office late on a weekday for a developmental meeting in Charlottesville. It is early December and as I cruise down 81, the temps are pushing 70 degrees - 70 degrees and sunny. I have my Moots on the roof - just in case. I swing by the Shenandoah Bicycle Company in Harrisonburg for a few things. The folks at SBC are the real deal: knowledgeable, approachable, and genuinely interested in people who ride bikes. I trade in a couple of bottle cages I purchased months ago (no receipt-no hassle) for a map, ride beta, an acai bowl, two tubes, and some Peanut Butter GU.

Back on the highway, it quickly became clear that even if I jetted straight for the meeting - I would be horribly late. As I make the turn onto 64 East towards Charlottesville, the memory of my failed solo ride at Sherando begins to gnaw at me. About a month ago, I double flatted four miles into a solo night ride. I had one tube, two CO2s, no inflator, and no pump. That ride turned into a trail run and only served to whet my appetite for what lay beyond that four miles.

I hate Camelbacks.

It really isn't a brand thing. It could be a Deuter, Dakine, or Osprey and it would be the same - carrying any kind of pack while riding just rubs me the wrong way. So I roll with water bottles and stuff the jersey pockets full. However, with solo wilderness mt biking you really need to be self-sufficient and I was frankly embarrased by my double flat fail at Sherando. Determined to not repeat that debacle I was loaded for bear: two tubes, four CO2s, a patch kit and a mini-pump complemented the normal tools, map, I-pod, camera, food, and arm warmers. Anticipating a later start I also had my fully-charged Serfas True 1500 battery and my decidedly lower power back-up light. Unfortunately, I had left the head unit for my Serfas at home so I had... my back-up light.

Undaunted, I left the parking area off of Coal Rd. amidst the crackling of two-way radios, pick-up trucks with dog kennels in the bed milling around, and dead deer carcasses just off the parking area. The carcasses I was used to from Michaux, but what the hell are these people hunting on a warm, sunny, day in Virginia with dogs?

I was ready for a 18 mile loop with some climbing, but since I hadn't really ever been here before, hadn't talked to anyone who'd ridden there, and only had hand-drawn map of the trails - I was open to some additional adversity. After a sustained climb slightly over 11 miles featuring some amazing, climbable singletrack, I found myself on Skyline Drive where I snapped this photo.
Foolishly, thinking that most of the climbing must be over, I chatted up a couple of fellas in one of the aforemetioned pick-ups with dogs who were also at the overlook. Turns out that they were all hunting black bears. Now I'm feeling kinda fooolish, in my black shorts and black jersey. I offer a "by golly" I woulda worn my black fur jacket too if I woulda known it was bear season. They chuckle a bit and the younger one says: "you're ok, the boys usually don't shoot until they're treed".


That's a verb for your pack of dogs having chased a bear up into a tree. After that the dogs change the pitch of their bark to let the hunter know, the hunters then check the GPS location of their dogs who are wearing GPS collars, call their buddies on the walkie-talkies, and then drive their trucks over as close to the tree as possible and then the younger guys get out and walk over to the tree to dispatch said bear with a lever action 30-30.

It's pretty up there. The Shenandoah offers up nice spreads: wilderness, knobs, wind-driven pines, and rocky ridges - there's a grandness to it.
The older fella is wiping blood off of his hand with a neckerchief, which is curious as they haven't seen a bear today although they do offer that their group has already killed 11 this season. Some chit chat about grouse hunting in PA and the virtues of a shorter rifle/gun in the thick brush, and I'm off.

Skyline Drive ramps up from here.  Several broad sweeping bends, reminiscient of road climbs out West, lead me up another mile and a half to a fire tower access road.  This road is dirt and yep, it goes up too.
No joke. 

After 13.5 miles of climbing, I turn onto Torrey Ridge. In VA, Ridge is a word that implies that you will be going downhill, but in reality it a up and down affair.   I learned this on Timber Ridge near Reddish Knob.  After a long climb, one usually expects a long downhill, but these VA ridges can really work you.
True, there's more downhill in the beginning, often steep rocky and technical goodness, but then there are these little humps that you ride over,and over, and over, and over. You get the point. It's getting dark. I'm getting tired. Up and down, around and down, and up: repeat. As I cross the 20 mile barrier, it's pitch black out and I'm done. One more downhill and a little road ride and I'll be finished, but this light isn't my True 1500 more it's like a True 15 - so I go slow. Back at Coal Rd. it seems like alot of riding for 3 hours, no mechanicals, no crashing, pretty spent, but a great ride.
Photo of the disappearing light.
Gotta get back here again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great write-up but how was the meeting ?