The recent honor of Best Town Ever from Outside Magazine should have come as no surprise to those outdoors-minded folks here in Richmond. Whether it’s on the river or the trail, Richmond offers some of the most convenient outdoor recreation in the southeast region. Richmonders are also geographically fortunate enough to live only two hours from both the ocean and the mountains. In order for me to keep ‘the mountain’ in mountain biking, I think it is critical to escape to the high peaks every once in a while. There are many places within just 2 hours of Richmond to get your big mountain fix. Recently my buddy Ryan and I ventured off to an ol’ familiar playground in the George Washington National Forest for some much needed outdoor experience.
The primary goal of our trip was to achieve maximum enjoyment through riding our bikes. Residually, this trip became an outlet for connecting the mind, body, and soul by being immersed in the outdoors. Seems pretty simple…right? Well, we left out of Richmond only to get pulled over after being on the road for ten minutes…not a good start to the trip. We were determined not to let this spoil our mood and soldiered on to Harrisonburg.
After a short two hours in the car, we arrived at Shenandoah Bicycle Company http://www.shenandoahbicycle.com/to talk shop with some locals and pick up a supplementary ride map they sell for $10. I highly recommend stopping in to SBC and getting the ‘skinny’ on the local trail network. The staff is very familiar with the trails in the area and can point you in the right direction to suit your riding style. We became increasingly anxious for a ride before the sun went down so we headed out to Hone Quarry Campsite. This site is easy to locate and has about a dozen established campsites for a small fee. This would be our home for the next three days. There are also a few other camp grounds in the area that are just a short drive from Harrisonburg. Check out Todd Lake and North River Campgrounds as well for other options. Both are located in the North River Ranger District and more primitive camping is also available throughout the area.
Once camp was set up and gear was unpacked, we grabbed the bikes and headed out for a “quick” evening ride. We choose to ride a trail new to us called Narrowback Ridge which consisted of a mix of technical singletrack, fast fire roads, and undulating, wooded doubletrack. The ride supplement we picked up at Shenandoah Bike Shop clearly outlines each ride in detail to ensure that you don’t get lost and you kind of know what you are getting into. The nine-mile “warm up” trail took us almost three hours to tackle and proved to be a bit of a wakeup call. It’s easy to forget just how challenging, steep, fast, and exhausting these trails can be when you don’t ride them often. The payoff is that these are some of the most fun trails in the state! With the adrenaline raging, we headed back to camp before night fall to cook up some dinner and enjoy some post ride beverages.
Day two started with a fresh brewed press of coffee and a huge sausage, potato, and onion omelet. Temperatures were above normal, and we were anxious to get out on the trail again. The first run of the day was 13 miles of Timber Ridge into Wolf Ridge and we had a history with this trail. About a year earlier, this trail had dished out a beating on us and our bikes resulting in eight flat tires and two seriously bruised egos. We ended up having to zip tie a tire that wouldn’t stay seated on the rim in order to get off the mountain before night fell. Needless to say it was time for some redemption with this run and we were ready.
This trail offers such a variety of terrain making it one of the gems in this area. You start at the top of Reddish Knob with 360 degree views and beauty that is awe inspiring. The trail drops off the fire road into a very narrow, off-camber section of trail with bowling ball size rocks. Next up are a few fast and rocky chutes that lead into a giant rock garden that opens up to the valley below. The next few miles are filled with technical saddle work ending in some ‘hike a bike’ uphills before dropping you into the first trail intersection at breakneck speed. The bottom of the trail is called Wolf Ridge and it has recently had a facelift thanks to the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition http://www.svbcoalition.org/.
This section of trail is pure mountain biking bliss! It is a veritable roller coaster of big berms, water bar rollers, s-turns, and fun around every corner that lasts for almost 6 miles…think Forest Hill Park on the side of a mountain with no climbing. Once at the bottom we could hardly contain our excitement from all the adrenaline pumping. We had just ripped this trail and conquered a demon that had haunted us for over a year.
The most interesting part about this particular run was that we are here just one week after the Derecho that blew through Virginia. The remnants of the storm stopped our flow too frequently due to downed trees and limbs. We decided to do as much trail work as was humanly possible with my trusty 14 inch Felco handsaw. By the time we reached the bottom we had cleared close to 15 different downed obstacles blocking the trail. After a quick lunch, we decided to hit this same trail one more time so we could enjoy all the trail clearing we did…AMAZING! Heading back to camp exhausted and satisfied we cooked up some chicken stir fry and sat by the fire sharing old ghost stories and exalting in the day’s ride. The next morning we broke down camp and set out for one last ride on Trimble Mountain to completely destroy our atrophied muscles.
The adventure wasn’t over yet! We ended up stopping on interstate 81 to change a tire that blew out on our car while other cars zipped by…not fun! However, the rest of the drive home gave us both a chance to reminisce on the weekend and the reason why we visit places like the George Washington National Forest. When you are completely enveloped by nature you are at peace. There is a calm and focus that seems innate when you are able to forget your troubles and leave the world behind you. There are no traffic jams, cell phones, or deadlines. There is just you, your bike, and the mountain. The ability to regain clarity through outdoor experience is a therapy that is impossible to imitate. I will always return to the higher elevations to seek out new adventures and big mountain riding. However, I often remind myself how fortunate I am to have places like the James River Park and Pocahontas State Park to find this type of outdoor solace right here at home.
Thanks for taking the time to read this column. Now, go out and ride!!!