Travels with jdrocks-the Blue Ridge

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by jdrocks, Jul 28, 2012.

  1. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    The night was uneventful, if you don’t count the vehicles passing by the campground at 2AM. This campground is a solid twenty miles from pavement in three directions, maybe fourteen miles in a forth, but it’s a tough fourteen on four wheels. Wakes me up every time, eventually getting back to sleep, dreams of bear guns loaded with double-aught, the ones I’d left behind back yonder.

    I had planned on getting up early, an ambitious riding day ahead with lots of ground to cover, and maybe a hundred miles of gravel, once again, condition unknown. I don’t need an alarm clock, but a thoughtful camper down the row a ways provided one anyway when he started his generator at 5AM sharp. He was lucky, often there are a whole bunch of guys here sleeping off a boilermaker induced hangover, which means that his generator could soon be sporting some new holes slam through the damn thing measuring exactly whatever caliber fumbled to hand. Or just a thought, that generator would make a nice early morning bonfire, burning gas and oil reliably takes off the chill.

    Sure, I was awake, that didn’t mean it was necessary to get out of the little mummy bag, sunrise was almost two hours distant, forget it. Ya might say it was a bit chilly, and that cold would come soon enough. The generator dude had shut it down, hopped in his truck, and left with the wheels spinning, foot to the floor. I have no patience with the ill mannered, and I was dozing again until I could see light through the tent, time to get moving.

    The little thermometer clipped to the roll top read 24F, bracing but tolerable, no wind. Signs of a freeze on the bike, ice not frost, the rumor of winter right there.

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    Clear skies and sun beyond the shadows of my camp location, seems like the place to be, and I packed up in a hurry.

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    My chewy granola bar breakfast fare was frozen solid, snapped in half like a dry stick, still edible, and I’ll find coffee down the road when I stop for fuel.

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    There are private holdings within what are considered the National Forest boundaries, it must have taken quite a fight to preserve them when the park was established. Large or small, these scattered properties are found in all our regional National Forests. I admit to being envious of this large tract in the middle of the Monongahela.

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    The Sinks of Gandy are located right here behind a NO TRESPASSING sign on a locked gate, but…some test the owner’s sense of humor regularly.

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    My twisting and turning gravel route brought me to pavement eventually, still at nearly 4,000 feet, and not much left on the trees, the bike leaving a swirl of leaves in the roadway. There were some leaf lookers on the narrow macadam climbing up to another prominent overlook at 4,700 feet, of course, looking at trees meant they weren’t looking for me, and I was chased far right several times. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a few more feet and you, plus bike, are rolling down the side of the mountain.

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    The tree color is so elevation and temperature sensitive that in the course of only several hundred feet change, the leaves go from hardly any on to hardly any off. A colorful cruise indeed, but I wasn’t cruising anymore, coffee and calories on my mind more than leaf peeping.

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    At the highway, I made another of what I always call a defining turn on a trip, long or short, now I was running generally east, and inbound, but someone looking at the first half of the route would never guess this fact…the travel line on the GPS looked like a snake crossing hot rock, nowhere near east.

    I stopped for fuel at a highway intersection, I’ve been here before, including once on the 4th of July when I bought all the gallon containers of diesel rated oil that they had on hand for the slow trip home, damn dealer had screwed up some service work on the pickup engine, and the oil was leaking out just about as fast as I was pouring it in. I had an X-Challenge sitting on the trailer I was towing, imagine what it looked like. The dealer paid me $400 for oil, another $300 to clean the bike and trailer, then went to work fixing the truck…I don’t buy vehicles from them anymore.

    I was reminiscing about that episode while sitting at the duffers bench near the entrance, drinking my coffee, eating junk food, man, I haven’t eaten any Ho-Hos in years. Busy place, mostly locals of all sorts, and many lingered while catching up on the news if they happened on someone they knew. A new pickup parked near me, big lift kit, and an array of driving lights on the grill guard. When the guy shut the truck down and ran into the store, the driving lights stayed on, hmmmm, not the way I would have wired that setup.

    I stuck my head in the store “Hey, your lights are still on”, but the jack-o-lantern headed driver was talking to 200# of cashier girl and was annoyed at the interruption. That gal must have been into the HoHos big time, 200 was just the half I could see, do the freakin’ math. Lucky that dude had a pickup, she might be too big to ride in front. Double date with her BFF standing nearby, play it safe, bring the livestock trailer. Both girls were trying to be flirty, glamorous, and seductive, at least I think they were, kinda hard to tell, ya had to look a little closer than I was willing. Did I mention the “Ladies With Balls” bowling team T-shirt?, Frankenstein makeup?, yeah, there’s that too, but the piece de resistance was the thin section of red thong sitting on the monster muffin top…probably take a federal search warrant to find the rest of it, good freakin’ luck, and I hope that ankle bracelet locator doesn’t get in the way of any upcoming fun.

    Sorry kids, gotta run, a person could start confusing nouns and verbs by hanging around here too long, and I continued east by riding north, intending to cross the second mountain of the day. When I got to my GPS waypoint and the road that was to turn me back northeast, I was staring at a little rarely used two-track running through a big hay field towards what I knew was a good sized river, no damn bridge in sight…recalculating, recalculating, maybe I should zoom these roads on sat view, yeah, I know, what fun is that?


    (to be continued)
  2. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,870
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    Great prose as always.
  3. The Virginian

    The Virginian Long timer

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    Apr 30, 2008
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    Location:
    Spotsylvania, VA
    Good stuff! Love your photos and narrative!

    Eric
  4. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    David, where the heck have you been, my friend?
  5. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    you've probably seen some of those roads.
    MYUMPH and The Virginian like this.
  6. The Virginian

    The Virginian Long timer

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2008
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Spotsylvania, VA
    Yep! And i'm glad to see another sole sharing our best kept secrets!
    MYUMPH likes this.
  7. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,870
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
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    Trying to stay up with the times and learning how to tweet. Selling the vffr and getting one of those BarcaLoungers on wheels. Putting a few miles on the AT. A pickup suddenly showed up in my garage.
  8. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    cool, ya got a hotrod motor in that thing?
  9. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,870
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
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    LS6 from a 2002 vette. The carburetor isn’t from the donor car.
  10. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    good, we got that horsepower question settled, now i'm looking at my calendar, and will need to borrow that truck for the July 4th week. i'm thinking of doing an in-depth writeup on Montana barrel racing girls, so i need appropriate wheels...got the 10 gallon and boots already.

    question, will the snow be off the ground by then, i don't want to get my Lucchese Gators all wet and muddy?
  11. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    I delegated all the turns to the GPS, I know I’m taking a chance, this is the same mapping software that claimed that road and bridge back there, but eventually I’d be on a more familiar road. A few more turns, and I was climbing up another mountain, alternating straight and curvy macadam through pastures and woodlots.

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    I wasn’t sure if I’d been on this road before until I ran up on an old church, a farm truck and two old pickups blocking the road, I guess they hadn’t expected anyone. They were raking leaves and doing some maintenance around the church, and weren’t in any real hurry to move out of the way, peculiar, and I sat there with the motor idling, resisting the impulse to ride around the trucks through the church yard. The pause gave me a minute to think about the road, and I decided that I had been here years earlier, but riding the opposite direction.

    A few short miles farther, and the macadam turned sharply west, gravel straight ahead, and I was on a ridge crossing mountain number two.

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    There had been some property sales here since the last time I’d been on the road, and now there were some small camps built within sight, and rough drives leading farther west.

    I stopped for a drink, some gates were open, but I didn’t see any vehicles.

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    The descent off the mountain is a series of steep grades and switchbacks running nearly four miles east, another road I’d crossed when it was in tough shape, but reasonably graded today, my luck was holding…so far.

    A mile or two south on pavement, then a turn almost due east on gravel, I’d been here not long ago, but riding the opposite direction. This was another road that had seen recent work, and I didn’t anticipate any problems crossing mountain three. I was only a mile in when I ran up on two bikes parked at a pull out before the road started to climb, both new, a 12GSW and KTM Super Duke. I first thought I knew them, nope, mistaken identity, but it became clear that they weren’t going any farther on this road…too rough, so they said. Just then a 2WD Ford Ranger drove past, a used washing machine in the back, see that guys, can’t be too bad in there. In truth, that truck wouldn’t have made it half a mile before the recent work. So long, hammer down, I needed to pass that truck before the road got narrow on the long uphill grades.

    I caught the truck pretty quick, but then had to follow behind before the driver found a place where he could stop while leaving some room for me, thanks buddy, and I was climbing again, mindful of the time if I still wanted to get home before dark. Right now it wasn’t lookin’ real good.

    There are some hay fields on top, another location that seems unlikely for any ag type activity, until you remember that there’s only a limited amount of land in the entire area that isn’t steep side hill or solid rock, gotta take what’s available. These scattered fields are some of the few places where you can point a camera to the horizon.

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    The road gets more use on the east side, still steep and narrow, and I once wrote a few words about trying to get past two big horse trailers stuck on a tight switchback here…there was some roosting involved. Sometimes I think horse people care about horses, the hell with the human race. I like horse power, just more than one at a time.

    Somewhere near here, ya could stand on the road halfway up the mountain and find yourself straddling the Virginia/West Virginia line, so it was surprising to find a Maryland sail boater way the heck off course, call Coast Guard SAR, this dude is lost, and I think he may have run aground for good. Or he could be fully subscribed to global warming and rising oceans, and is just waiting on the opportunity to sail to Colorado. If I ever see the owner, I’ll be sure to ask, should be easy to find, cute tinfoil hat and all.

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    Speaking of current events, the little house movement ain’t nothing new.

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    I had dropped down another 1500 feet to my next turn which would take me almost due south, no, not in a straight line, heck, there must be a thousand turns. This road follows a small river, creek sized in dry weather, and while the land starts out as private for a little over a mile, it transitions to mixed private and National Forest, then all National Forest. There are some camps and small farms along the first stretch, and it took me about that long to realize I’d been here before, but on the WRR from the opposite direction. The road through this private property was poorly maintained despite some traffic, might not be much maintenance on the rest, at least to the next connecting road. Good freakin’ guess, and I had something like twelve miles to go, the road already down to leaf covered double track. A rider could age a bike fast in here, but that was about the only thing happening very fast for me. On the other hand, a rider doesn’t pick this route because it comes with it’s very own safety rating, rather I think you get a miniature rodeo buckle if ya happen to pop out at the other end. I was after the buckle.

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    It was deer season around here, but this road wasn’t being used, it was a clear as a DOT sign, there had to be some unfavorable conditions ahead for 4x4 vehicles, otherwise those guys would be in here. Nary a track, bike, vehicle, horse, hiker…nada.

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    There were plenty of water crossing, not much water, but steep and rough approaches and exits, and I decided that those must be keeping vehicles out. Any vehicle with an overhang front or rear would get hung up in some of these sharp bottomed crossings, it was challenging enough for me, and by the time I figured I was half way, man, I needed a break. I stopped at the only flat section of road for miles. I had been picking my way along, being careful, I needed to get myself and the bike out in operating condition.

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    I think I was hitting every single rock hidden under the leaves, that aired-up 19 front saves the wheel.

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    A few close calls, whew, I was soaked with sweat, my thoughts in a three axis spatial matrix, to most people that translates as lost, and I came to the first of two 3-way intersections. The GPS was pointing one direction, but it sure seemed like it should be the other, better trust the GPS, and I moved ahead a quarter mile to another 3-way, hmmmm, better zoom out, take a look. The damn GPS crashed, black screen, ain’t this dandy. I wanted to ride east, but the GPS had been pointing west pre-failure, too bad the stupid thing was reluctant to boot, let’s give it a minute…before I throw it on the ground and roost it to hell and gone.

    I was badly dehydrated, and pretending that I wasn’t really seeing those flying saucers flitting around didn’t help a bit. Heck, I’m almost out, pick a road, that gurgling quadraphonic exhaust note was a comfort, a sign that all was still well…and the GPS sprang back to life all on it’s own.


    (to be continued)
    WVhillbilly and MYUMPH like this.
  12. MTrider16

    MTrider16 Ridin' in MT

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,870
    Location:
    Eastern Montana
    You better wait till August. lol
  13. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    man, that leaves a tight damn window for my research, everyone knows that Labor Day is the official start of the winter season out there. y'all have snow tires for that truck?
  14. jdrocks

    jdrocks Gravel Runner

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,365
    Ok, Senor GPS, if ya promise not to quit, I promise to ride west, and I made the turn. Half a mile later, here’s some brand new gravel on a spur branching north, not my road, but I could see it through the trees. Now I remembered riders saying that the Forest Service had done a monumental amount of work on a road running from the top of the mountain down to a county road in the next valley west. Thousands of tons of new gravel went into the improvements, except the Forest Service had neglected to get an easement through a small private parcel near the bottom. The landowner promptly threw a locked gate across the road, and now he had a beautiful private access road into a national forest. No trespassing signs sprouted like dandelions, negotiations are ongoing, your tax dollars at work.

    I was in a hurry now, and knew exactly where I was, screw the GPS, although I was still a bit off on my compass points. The road would run generally west for a few more miles, then transition to generally south, and I should see pavement in about twenty miles.

    There’s a long established hunt club on this road, block clubhouse still standing, but I was surprised that there were no tracks on the road. I talked with a club member here about five years ago, and he reported that there’s not much to hunt anymore, between poachers and coyotes, no more deer…or bears. They go up there to drink and play cards, mostly.

    This road can be a muddy mess, and I found mud soon enough when I ran up on some sloppy mud where 4x4s had tried to climb a grade. I was on the gas, and found myself far right when I should have been far left, no room to switch. More throttle is the usual fix, and I rode right on into it, things going well until I hit a big rock buried in the mud, game over, and I was on the ground with the bike on top of my leg, the low guttering exhaust died instantly on the tilt switch.

    Well, this ain’t how I planned to spend the afternoon, but the bike hadn’t crushed my leg, the ground was nice and soft, the sun was shining through the trees…I think I’ll stay put for a minute, so I shut the ignition off, and I lay back down in the leaves. I was in a bit of a pickle, and I could say bad luck, but it was just some piss-poor riding, no excuse, I was overdrawn on my skills account.

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    I dug my leg out from under the bike, then I had to dig the rock out of the mud and pull the front end back around into the rut before i even thought about lifting the bike. Next problem, the right side bar end was buried in the mud nearly to the master, how the heck is this going to work without breaking my back on the lift? Hmmmm, how 'bout that little cinch strap I’ve been carrying. Got it out, found an attachment point that would work without damaging any controls, adjusted it, and with a mighty heave, jumped the damn thing up, then gingerly clutch walked it up the hill and out of the mud.

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    I’d been in 1st gear and on the pegs over 3 hours at that point, and i don't mind saying that this old man was a little tired, but I still had 18 miles of gravel to go to get off the mountain.

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    I didn’t know what was ahead, but I sure wasn’t going to get caught out here after sundown, better roll, and I zipped the camera away, took a gulp of water, and I was riding south before long.

    There’s a 1200ac private holding here, the road roughly following the south property line, and it was here that I ran up on some major road maintenance which would last nearly 14 miles. The road had been widened, shaped, contoured, and compacted, with the first loads of gate spread gravel starting. The new grade breaks were huge, easily the tallest I’ve ever seen on a road of this type, serious whoops ready for launch. No mud, but I was now riding through long sections of deep marbles, damn, it looks like they’re going to dump the entire annual gravel budget for the whole national forest right here. With all the equipment and trucks working on the road, now I was hoping I wouldn’t find a gate on the other end. This had to be the reason for the lack of tracks.

    I had been moving as fast as I dared, a prudent speed for me, and I finally hit the four way intersection I’d been expecting, now only 5 miles down the mountain to pavement. There was an SUV parked off the road, trailer behind, and a middle aged gal with two young boys had just unloaded an ATV, there’s a trail area nearby. The boys were too young to legally operate, but she must have thought enforcement was unlikely, probably so. The boys were racing around in circles, raising dust, saucer-eyed as the bike went past, and ready as could be to ride. I sure ain’t enforcement, but they weren’t wearing the first piece of gear, no helmets in sight either.

    I’d worked hard to get here, and when I dropped my hands from the bars and straightened my arms to relax a little, the sweat that had pooled at my elbows inside the Klim ran out on the ground. Yeah, kinda hard work, sometimes these roads go on for-freakin’-ever, so it seems. I’ve seen way worse, just not today. I wished that drone delivery service was more advanced, I’d be tempted to fly in a large premium, no anchovies, and an extra cold 6-pack of some obscure IPA.

    The road ahead was graded, but potholed, a super highway in comparison to the others, all down hill, dropping about 2000’ through the switchbacks, the road in shadow now.

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    There are some opportunities along the road, so what if I was way behind my tentative schedule.

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    This is beautiful country, and that was my thought on the last frame of the day, I couldn’t spend any more time up here, and I was off the mountain, it had taken hours to cross this last one.

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    I knew the way home from here, a fuel stop, then another quick top off stop so I don’t have to worry about running low the last 50 miles. The sun would already be down by the time I make the second stop, so it would be 80 cruise in the dark for hours. Zip the vents, let’s go.

    There’s so much fuel going through the throttle bodies at that speed, I’ve often wondered if there are actual flames shooting out of the Leo Vince and visible at night, some day I’ll have to slow down and find someone to ask. Right now, I’m flying home aboard the time machine, my magical maneuvers weaving through the zone.

    THE END...of this little report