Virginia Mountain Bike Trail Part 1: I am So…Hosed

Please forgive my Canadian, but that was the only thing running through my mind. I was sitting in the middle of a small creek, 12 miles into the first day of the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail (VMBT), exhausted, frustrated, and sweating like a stuck pig. I figured that the VMBT would be difficult, but not like this. Not like this! It had taken me 6 hours to cover those 12 miles, but it felt an eternity. I just sat there numbly while doubt, fear, and frustration swirled in my heat addled brain.

The day started benignly. I bolted awake at 5 am, crawled out of my luxuriously comfortable bed, and made some coffee in my super bougie Chemex, and immediately started packing and repacking my bike. Nerves were running wild, so to calm myself down, I pounded black coffee, just to relax. Nothing quite like getting over caffeinated to take the edge off. I paced the living room, hands trembling from fear and caffeine, excited and scared. I was about to embark on a true adventure, setting off on a near 500 mile mountain bike tour, with little information on what the trails would be like. I had somehow convinced my friend, Neil, to come with me on the first day, under the ruse of “riding with me”. In reality, I just wanted a lift to the start of the trail. I suspect he knew this, but I’ll never tell.

We loaded up my bike and gear (probably at least 90 pounds worth) in the car and set off. The start of the trail is just outside Strasburg, VA, in a little gravel pull off on a rural highway, around two hours from DC. I unpacked and repacked my gear, delaying the inevitable jump off the cliff. I used to be the absolute king of stalling in my youth. You’ve never seen a kid stare at a plate of peas without eating them longer, hoping Mom would relent before I did. I put that finely honed skill to work; I peed four or five times, checked my air pressure twice, and spent fifteen minutes waxing poetic about my dynamo wheel. Neil stood and simply watched, waiting with increasing impatience. Eventually there was no more stalling to be done, I had exhausted all options. There was nothing left to do but get on the bike and attempt to ride. Oh, after taking a few more pictures. To document and whatnot.

Virginia Mountain Bike Trail Start
The parking lot start.

The trail starts on the Tuscarora Trail, and follows that for the majority of the first day. We set off down the trail, and within five minutes, I was pushing my bike uphill. Awesome. The Tuscarora Trail was an overgrown mess of thorns, it was steep, and very rocky. It was slow going, and very tiring. We eventually made it to the shelter five miles in, after nearly 2 hours. Carp, this was going to be tough.

Virginia Mountain Bike Trail Paul Gerhard Shelter
Paul Gerhard Shelter, 4.5 miles in. Took almost 2 hours to get there…
Tuscarora Trail
If the overgrown trails weren’t enough indicator, this is proof that folks don’t come around these here parts often.

We pushed on, Neil riding ahead, me pushing and cursing. I was completely stuck in my own head, zoning out, when I heard a loud yell, and a thud as a bike hit a rock. I looked up, expecting to see a crash, only to see Neil standing there, visibly shaken. I curiously came forward to ask what had happened when I heard the unmistakable rattle that told me I was in immediate danger. We stood there for a few minutes, sweating, my friend needing a fresh pair of undies, wondering what to do. The trail was so overgrown at this point that there was no possible way to go around the thing. So, we starting hurling rocks at him. He was nonplussed, and the rattle simply grew in speed and intensity. So, I picked up something more “boulder” than rock, and tossed it with uncanny accuracy, nailing him right in the stomach. I’m pretty sure I heard a soft “That all you got?” coming from his direction. So my friend, soiled chamois and all, hurled a smaller rock (he doesn’t possess the strength that I do, plus he had just crapped his pants), and tossed it (with less accuracy than the one I threw) and scored a slightly less direct hit than I did. However, my bulls-eye strike with a boulder Atlas himself would have had a hard time hefting had softened the snake enough for this ding from the teeny tiny pebble to cause him to graciously move about 3 feet off the trail, into the densest part of the overgrowth.

My buddy (I almost hesitate to call him a buddy at this point) declared, “There is no way in hell I’m going through there. I’m going home. Later!”, leaving me stranded, with an 85 foot rattlesnake to contend with.

Tuscarora Trail
There’s a rattle snake in there somewhere
Tuscarora Trail
The decision to tun around was made here. I wasn’t so lucky
My options were:
1). Give up 5.5 miles into the trip, turn off my cell phone for two weeks, pretend my camera had broken, and tell everyone that, “Yea…uhh the VMBT was, like, rad and stuff? No pics, sorry. Gotta run!” and be as vague as possible.
2). Take up the mantle of great explorers, such as Lewis, Clark, and Dora, and carry on.

I went with option number 2, and used all of my practice playing ninja as an 8 year old to sneak past the 200 foot, 9,000 pound beast. Success!

Tuscarora Trail
Made it past the rattlesnake. On my own now! Just 450 miles to go!

Although that was short lived, as I promptly lost the trail because it was so overgrown!. This continued for the entire first day. I walked my 90 lb+ bike up and over heinously steep boulder gardens, only to then have to walk down the other side! At one point, I just sat down in the middle of the trail despondent, wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, realizing I was in way over my head.

Tuscarora Trail
Rock garden city. No easing into this thing.

As I sat there, I tried to gather my thoughts.

“Ugh, this suuuuuuuucks. What am I doing?”

“You CHOSE to be out here. You should be thrilled you get this opportunity.”

“Well, yea, but I didn’t sign up for THIS!”

“Dude, Ron. BRO, you did. And this is awesome. Remember, NO PAMFS.”

Attitude defines how we experience adventure. Negative thoughts are a contagious cancer, once formed, they spread and infect the entire group. Being alone, you can be even more susceptible to this contagion, the only way to deal with it is to force it out with positive reinforcement. It sounds corny as shit, but it works. Really well. As I sat there, enjoying a Clif Builder Bar (first of about 350 on the trip, I would not continue to enjoy them), I reminded myself that I chose to come out here. That I had been dying to do this ride. That I was lucky to be here, given the past 3 years of injuries, spent wondering if I would ever be able to ride pain free. That I love this shit.

I carried on, because what the fuck else is there to do? I was in the middle of the woods, no cell service, no one within miles, being a baby. It was time to nut up and push my bike up the damn hill. So I did. And I got to the top. And then I got an awesome downhill, and I was grinning like a kid. “Wow, this is fun!” I had completely forgotten the pain and agony I had just put myself through.

Virginia Mountain Bike Trail
Crying was over, having fun. Light was blazing for some reason. It’s not wasting electricity if you generate it yourself.

That was the way the day(s) went. I made my “goal” for the day of Trout Pond Campground, after more riding, pushing, and fun. I was exhausted, but thrilled. I fired up the SPOT, ate as much as I could, and slept under the stars, satisfied. I made it 26 miles in nearly 6 hours of actual ride time (not counting push time). It was tough. Way tough.

SPOT Tracker
The SPOT, sending out the okay message.

Next up: thorns, nettles, and bears, oh my! Wars with inanimate objects, flat tires, and bonking. Lots of bonking. Thanks for reading.


Every time you share, an angel gets his wings:

2 Comment

  1. 6 hours for 12 miles sounds familiar! Nice writeup …

  2. Adam Stolzberg says: Reply

    You’re likely the only person I know that would’ve manned up the way you did; not becoming a PAMF. Jeez. Already looking fwd to reading more.

Leave a Reply