Virginia Mountain Bike Trail Day 11: The End

This is it, we’ve finally made it the last installment of the most popular and important serial of the year. Catch up on all the previous posts here. Get ready, this one is gonna be a doozy.

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The final day of the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail dawned like any other, the sun slowly cresting over the mountains to the west, the soothing sounds of nature, like a cat eating my bagels, slowly bringing me out of my deep slumber. I yelled at the cat to get him off my food, and leapt up to survey the damage. He had chewed a hole through the bag and munched on two of the bagels, but there was still one left unharmed. Perfect, I only needed one bagel for the day.

bagel cat
Bagel thief. Putting out an APB for this little lady.

It got cold the night before, I had to put on all my clothes and use my emergency blanket to stay warm. Proof:

Big Ron
What a bum.

Yea, not sure how I surprised myself with the self timer, but I did, and I’m looking super pathetic with just the one shoe and long john’s. I packed up for the last time, which was truly bittersweet. At this point, I was ready to be finished with the ride, but it had been so incredible, that I was loath to finish it at the same time. There was somewhere around 30-40 miles to go, what I figured would be an easy ride based on the last few days of good riding. Boy was I ever wrong. The VMBT threw a mélange of it’s greatest hits at me that last day to make sure I had all I could handle. Most of the day would be on the Iron Mountain Trail, which I had heard was a lot of fun, particularly the last few miles, with a long descent into Damascus. There was a long climb to the highest point on the entire trail, but I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. After all, I’m Big Ron and have massive kavs, I can climb anything!

In anticipation of an easy day’s ride, I got rid of any excess food I was carrying, and brought only the bare minimum amount of water. Both turned out to be excellent decisions. As I was throwing away my lifeline of extra calories and liquids, I found some flowers in the garbage, the perfect acoutrement for my cockpit. With the added beauty of plastic flowers, I set off for the last time.

Surly Krampus
It’s all about beautifying your cock(pit).
Big Ron
Ready for the last day! 35ish miles, should be easy, right? Right?

The greatest hits of the VMBT started immediately, with some nice, overgrown riding through a field, and 3-5 downed trees that required some creative portaging to navigate. I continued on the Virginia Highlands Trail for some time, when I came across the Appalachian Trail. Hey! I’d been here before! This particular place did not look familiar (shocking that a random intersection in the woods wasn’t easily recognizable), but it was incredible to come across this place that I had been before.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time in small town America, particularly in the Appalachians, and Virginia in particular. This exact scenario has happened to me on many occasions: I came across a General Store in Bumpass, VA I’d gotten hot chocolate on a cold rainy day on the Trans-Am, I raced a course in Williamsburg that is also part of the Trans-Am, and now this. It is hard to describe the feelings and emotions that these chance crossings bring. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity and desire to take so many trips of this nature, and being back in the woods, seeing reminders of previous adventures and journeys reminds me of this fortune, as well as the good memories of past trips. It also makes me excited for the future, and dream of continued adventures in this and other parts of the world.

Big Ron
Very cool to come across these places in the middle of nowhere that I’ve seen and been to before. Granted, don’t remember this exact spot in the woods, but still.
Trans America Trail
And been here, on the Randonee on the Trans-Am. The 76 sign marks the Trans America Trail throughout the state of Virginia.

No one remembers the bad times of previous journeys, or if they do, those times are remembered through heavily rose tinted glasses. Even now, only a few short months after riding the VMBT, all the pain and suffering I endured has faded, and I am left with fond memories of the adventure. I think that is part of what makes it possible to get back out and continue adventuring, that a willingness and ability to endure and even enjoy the suffering. If I remembered everything totally accurately, I would probably never take another trip like this! Instead, I am already dreaming of bigger and bolder journeys…

And now, back to the grind. Trail gave way to pavement, gave way to gravel, and back to trail. The final trail of the journey would take me all the way into Damascus, the Iron Mountain Trail, which was a multi use trail, including plenty of horse travel. The base of the Iron Mountain Trail is where I began to realize that my easy ride into town might not end up being quite so easy. I was climbing to the highest point of the entire VMBT, and the track before me was made up of loose rocks, the size of softballs. I was at a point where I no longer wanted to walk my bike, so I soldiered on, fighting valiantly up the ever steepening slope.

Iron Mountain Trail
Ah crap. So much for my easy ride into town.
Iron Mountain Trail
I don’t walk anymore. Screw that. Note the flowers, still going strong.

The trail continued to pitch skyward, and the quality of the trail continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. It was evident the trail was a popular horseback riding destination. It wasn’t so much singletrack trail as it was an utterly devastated thoroughfare of hoof prints.

Iron Mountain Trail
You can see my lone tire track through the muck. Lots and lots of this.
Iron Mountain Trail
This may have been one of the hardest, most frustrating parts of the entire trip. But I had flowers!

There was a shelter that was just after the high point of the trail, and I was gunning for it as a lunch spot. I was pushing hard, riding and literally pushing through massive mud pits, unwilling to stop for a snack until I got to the shelter. I was starting to bonk, and the condition of the trail really got to me. For the first time of the trip, I had well and truly had enough. I was beyond frustrated, and let the forest know it, loud strings of expletives escaping my lungs. Until this point, I had been able to keep my cool and roll with punches. Not anymore. I was over it, was tired of pushing so hard and wanted to be done. Once those feelings take over, it is nearly impossible to regain control. I knew I needed some food and a break, but did not want to stop. So I pushed until the shelter, where I took lunch, and tried to regain my composure. Only problem was, I didn’t have much food or water! Perfect. There was a very poor water source at the shelter that I did not trust, so I skipped out on filling my bottles, assuming that I would come across some better water in short order. This was definitely a mistake, as I wouldn’t see another water source for the rest of the day.

I was now in damage control mode. I could afford to arrive in Damascus depleted, but needed to keep my wits about me well enough to actually make it there. I figured I would come across some water before long (common refrain) and had just enough food to make it. I was hopeful the condition of the trail would improve before long (it didn’t).

Iron Mountain Trail
Getting close.
Iron Mountain Trail
Nice! Those are all stinging nettles on the side of the trail, and they got bigger and bigger. Like I said, the VMBT threw every last thing it had at me today!
Iron Mountain Trail
Nice steep, long, climb with softball size loose rocks.

I was only 13 miles from town, but was in a very bad spot. I was weak and woozy, every uphill was becoming a serious battle, and there were still plenty of uphills to navigate, and I was very nearly out of water. After a few more miles, I stopped for a rest and ate one of my final snacks, another Clif Builder Bar. I’d been eating at least two of these every day, they are great, and I generally looked forward to them. But I could barely choke this one down, I wanted nothing to do with it. I washed it down with the last of my water, and forced myself back on the bike towards town.

Big Ron
The middle of a bad bonk. I thought I like Clif Builder bars, but after having 2-3 a day, I did not. Just very, very happy.

I was now out of water, severely dehydrated, low on energy and very low on morale. I had about 11 miles or so to go. I had a handful of almonds and a date or two left for food, and the riding had not gotten any easier. There was nothing to do but keep going. Every pedal stroke was a struggle, I began walking any moderate incline because I just didn’t have the energy to ride. Slowly, the miles passed. I kind of gave up on seeing any water, and didn’t eat because I didn’t have any spare saliva, so my energy levels didn’t improve. There was some nice trail, but I couldn’t really enjoy it. The last five or so miles were all downhill, so I set my sights on that as an interim goal, which helped keep me focused.

I finally made it to the 5 miles to go mark, and was greeted with some smoother trail that pointed straight downhill. As I started the descent, the rear end of the bike felt a bit loose, so I stopped to check it out. Somehow, I was losing air pressure. I went to pump it up so I could limp into town, and the valve core came out, the tire instantly deflating and unseated from the bead. There was no way I was going to get the tire inflated tubeless, so my only choice was to put in a tube. I was in no mood to deal with this setback, and I cursed at the top of my lungs. I put in a tube, letting the world know of my displeasure with the current state of affairs, but before long was back on my way.

Iron Mountain Trail
Final flat of the trip, just outside Damascus.
Dirt Wizard
Tube in, let’s do this.
All the sealant that leaked out of the bead. Note the solitary shoe.

I pumped the tire up hard as a rock, not wanting to risk getting another flat. Luckily, it really was pretty much all downhill from there. I flew, taking a few risks and riding more aggressively than advisable because I wanted to be finished. Finally, I popped out onto a paved road and coasted into the tiny town of Damascus. I immediately went and got three drinks and multiple snacks and basked in the glory of finishing the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail. I was so exhausted, it didn’t really fully sink in at first, but I had done it. All the hard work had paid off. I checked into a hostel and prepared for the 3 day wait until Paige was coming to pick me up.

Big Ron
*grunting noises. Done.

I ate two massive burritos for dinner, and basked in the glory of a job well done. It is hard to describe what I was feeling, but it mostly felt like fatigue. I ended the day at 31.2 miles in 5:30 of moving time. All told, I ended with 440 miles in 62 hours of riding in 11 days total, 10 days of riding, nearly 75,000′ of climbing, a 6.2 mph moving average and 5 flat tires. This was without a doubt the trip of a lifetime, and I am incredibly grateful that I was physically and mentally capable of it. The Virginia Mountain Bike Trail will undoubtedly push you to your limits, constantly testing your mettle as well as your physical stamina and prowess on a mountain bike, and I would have it no other way. Those challenges and setbacks are what make the final victory that much sweeter.

One of the first things that I did the next day was strip the bike down and clean it up. In the process, I threw out that damn growler cage that regular readers know gave me absolute fits. I may not have won the first few battles, but I finally won the war with the Gallon Klean Kanteen (GKK). Once I brought out the nuclear warheads, it gave me no more issues, it submitted to my indomitable will and mental fortitude. That is truly the crowning achievement for me on this journey, outsmarting an inanimate object.

Growler bottle cage
Later bottle cage, smell ya never!

And with that, the saga is complete. I’ve written more words than I ever thought possible, so self indulgent. Thanks for reading!

-BR

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3 Comment

  1. PeggyDonahue says: Reply

    “Good Job” is so totally inadequate to describe the adventure and all your “postings “. I loved reading everything !

  2. Ok, I’m in! I was searching for some prep rides before the Tour Divide and this sounds perfectly miserable (ie “EPIC”). It’s going down on the schedule right after Trail Days this year. If it all goes horribly wrong, I’ll be sure to blame you.

    But really, thanks for the write up. Any chance you have some cue sheets already together or a GPS track to follow?

    1. Big Ron says: Reply

      I’ve got a GPS track, but it’s not very clean. I have been thinking of putting together a bit of a “guide” perhaps, with a little more info on trails and services available. I would definitely get the Nat Geo maps, or contact Chris at Shenandoah Mountain Touring to try and get a set of maps. It’s brutally hard, but equally as rewarding.

      Two pieces of advice: 1). Get the lowest gearing you can. 2). Don’t cross the river where I did, go further up stream.

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