First off, I would be remiss not to mention the gentleman I overheard at a gas station on the second day. He was innocently enjoying his cheeseburger and plate of french fries, when one of his teeth chose that moment to fall out. The man was understandably aghast, and the only thing he could manage to say was, “I brushed ’em”. He wore a shocked, incredulous look, as he repeated this phrase ad nauseam, like a yogi attaining nirvana. “I brushed ’em”. Legend has it, if you stand perfectly still in Bergton, VA and the wind is blowing in just the right direction, you can hear a faint, “I brushed ’em” echoing in the distance.
Now, with that housekeeping item out of the way, let’s get back to the story at hand. To recap, I was sleeping under a porch of a possibly abandoned, most definitely haunted house in the middle of absolutely nothing. Rain was looming, I bonked the previous day, and drank trash water. Everyone remember? Caught up? You definitely don’t want to miss the previous posts, you’ll have no idea what is going on if you’ve not read them (just kidding. You’re smart, except for Cletus. He should definitely go back and re-read, for obvious reasons).
Okay, so I’ve done my authorly details of setting the scene (magnificently I might add), getting everyone caught up to speed (like a freakin’ pro) and pimping my previous work (like a total hack). Can we please get back to the story?
Right, so I was sleeping like a champ, when I heard some sort of a loud snort and snarl off in the distance. I bolted upright, a shot of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I quickly reached for my headlamp to see what was making the racket, fearing that perhaps the “homeowners” were returning from a night of heavy drinking and frog gigging. Oooh, or maybe it was one of those sexy forest vixens you always hear about? Either it was one of those very likely scenarios, or it was a bear. I shone my light in the direction of the noise, to see two beady eyes staring back at me, no more than 150 feet away. I heard another snarl and a growl, followed by what sounded like, “Do you want to have a pic-a-nic?”
Shit, no sexy forest vixen for me, just a large, hungry bear. I should mention at this point that I slept with all of my food right next to my head, in case I got hungry, and probably had some chicken sandwich left in my beard, so this was pretty much 100% my fault. It was about 5 in the morning, which is breakfast time for Yogi. I immediately grabbed the GKK and my spork and started banging them together as loudly as possible. This served two purposes. First off, and the main reason, is that it let me get back at the GKK a bit for being such a pain in my ass thus far, and secondly, it scared off Yogi. Well, at least I think it scared him off. I didn’t see him again, though it is entirely possible that he was hanging back watching me for a while longer. I had planned on sleeping until 6 or so, but was fairly wide awake at this point, so decided to just get the day started. I started cooking breakfast (the obvious thing to do with a bear in camp is to prepare more food, bears get very upset at folks that are inhospitable). Once day broke, I became a bit more relaxed, but was still a little on edge. I packed up and set out, and was treated with a really nice downhill of about 8 miles.
The next trail indicated on the map was the Shenandoah Mountain Trail. Keep in mind that I had virtually no intel on what these trails would be like, but I was told before leaving that the Shenandoah Mountain Trail was “really rough. Lot’s of downed trees, and pretty overgrown.” I wasn’t sure if it was this section, but if it was more overgrown than some of the stuff I had already gone through, I was in for a real treat. Nothing to it, but to do it, I suppose. The trail started off quite nicely before taking a drastic turn for the worse. It became incredibly rocky, and went straight uphill. Time to push, drag, and carry. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to push a 90 lb bike up a rocky mountain and over downed trees (why would you have tried that?), but it’s really, really fu**ing hard. After what seemed like forever, I reached a meadow on top of the ridge which continued to go uphill, through grass that was almost as tall as me. There was the faintest essence of a trail I was following.
Once on top of the ridge, the trail devolved into an absolute overgrown mess at an alarming rate. Before I knew it, I was pushing my bike through a veritable jungle, up hills well in excess of a 50% gradient, and climbing up and over downed trees. It was…amazing? I had no choice but to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and carry on. What else was I going to do? Call an Uber? Set up camp in the middle of a stinging nettle patch? I sure as shit wasn’t going to turn around because that would get me back to a hungry bear that was probably pissed at me for not sharing my oatmeal. And that’s the thing, it really didn’t matter what the trail was like. At all. I honestly had no choice but to carry on. The fact that I did not know what was coming made it mentally easier to deal with situations like this, but it still took a certain outlook and mental state to effectively deal.
I got to a small clearing after about an hour and a half of bushwhacking and sat down to rest, eat and gather myself. I was frustrated, there is no doubt about that, but at the same time, I was…actually having fun? This felt like a capital A Adventure. It was, to use a much overused word, EPIC. There is really no other way to describe it, and I considered myself lucky to be in a situation where I was able to be out here, experiencing it. So, after a short respite, and a bit of reflection, I pushed on, back into the overgrown mess. Now, I should mention at this point that I did not leave with very much water in the morning because I didn’t really feel like drinking more trash water, and assumed I would run into some water sooner or later. I took stock of my water supply before I set off, and it was looking a bit grim, to put it nicely. “I’m sure I’ll see water soon!” seemed to become a common refrain I would tell myself on this trip, and I was rarely correct.
As I pushed on, it was more of the same. Then I got to the stinging nettle neighborhood, one of the worst neighborhoods I’ve been in. It was probably at least a 50%, rocky gradient, that was nothing but overgrown stinging nettles. If you’re unaware, stinging nettles are some of the worst plants out there. You know how bees are at least acceptable because they pollinate pretty flowers and spiders earn their keep by eating other bugs? Stinging nettles don’t do any of that. They exist solely to torture and annoy. They give you a ton of tiny little paper cuts, and as you sweat, they sting and burn. There is nothing you can do about it except wait for the burning to subside, which can take 10 minutes. This is what I was pushing my bike through. It was so steep, I had to stop and take a break, but there was only one place to stand: right in the middle of a bunch of stinging nettles. Suhweeet! It was miserable. My veneer of positivity was wearing thin, I was reaching my breaking point. And then, all of a sudden, the trail cleared. Someone had recently come through with a weed whacker, and knocked the brush down! Yesssssssssss!
The trail was still tough, but at least I wasn’t getting destroyed by nettles and thorns. After a short time, I popped out onto a gravel road, tired and thirsty. My water was nearly gone. There was a mud puddle on the gravel road, and I was unsure of where I would next find water. It wasn’t too difficult a decision, really. Out came the pump, purifying tablets, and within fifteen minutes, I was drinking some delicious mud puddle water. So, to recap, my last two water sources were: trash water and mud puddle. Refreshed, I pushed on, with a mix of gravel, pavement, and overgrown forest service road, before getting to the Wild Oak Trail, which was a 7 mile singletrack descent. It was awesome, and exactly what I needed. One of the coolest things about this experience was that I got to see so much amazing wilderness and ride trails that so few others see. I had to put up with so much bullshit to get to these places that the ecstasy was that much higher. My batteries were recharged, and I charged into West Augusta, VA, a tiny town with a gas station and deli.
Exhausted, and on the brink of a full on bonk, I stumbled up to the deli counter. There was a very grandmotherly old woman working the counter, who was as wide as she was tall. I began ordering:
“I’ll have a double bacon cheeseburger.”, I began. Her eyebrow lifted a little, probably doubting that I could finish it.
Undeterred, I pressed on. “Hot ham and cheese sandwich”, I continued, and the eyebrows shifted up slightly more, her gaze still focused on the ordering pad.
“And a large fry.”, I finished.
Finally, she looked up, to see what mountain of a man was ordering so much food, and she was in shock. It was just little ol’ Big Ron.
“What do you want on your burger?” she asked. “Everything” was my reply. “Of course you do. Well, you’re a hungry little fella!” she exclaimed.
Yes, yes I am, ma’am. I scarfed it down, it was amazing. She even came to check on me to see if I had finished it, which of course I had.
Back on the bike, and a few more miles to the Ramsey Draft parking lot to camp for the evening. Ended the day at 47 miles in 7 hours of riding. Next time, more bonking, more lost trail, more stinging nettles, and llamas! Thanks for reading, a few more images below.