So recently I decided to do my first solo tour in the Potomac Highlands. It was a short 3 day tour and was mainly to do two things. To help me figure out what kind of equipment I needed to add/remove from my pack list. And also to give me more experience and confidence with solo touring. All in all it was a great experience.
After posting on Bike Forums and talking to people in my local club I decided to go from Burlington, WV down to Seneca Rocks. If I felt good the second day I was going to go up to Dolly Sods, then return to Burlington on Sunday. I spent several days before going over my packing list, consulting people on the forums, packing, weighing, unpacking, repacking
I was nervous the night before and did not sleep well. (A common theme with me) So I didn't leave the house until around 7:30, about an hour and a half after I planned to. I decided instead of taking 68 from Morgantown to Frostburg and then cutting down, to take 119 to Grafton and Catch US 50 East. Bad Idea since US 50 East is an awful road, curvy, twist, and what do you know, tons of construction.
I did not get to Burlington until 10:30 in the morning. I looked around for a place to park, and saw a large funeral home with a huge empty parking lot in town. I walked in, talked to a very nice lady named Pat about what I was doing, as she very graciously allowed me to park there for the weekend.
Funeral Home in Burlington
It took me about half an hour to pull all my gear out of the car and get it set up on the bike. So it was a little after 11am by the time I took off. About 2 and a half hours later in the day than I intended.
Ready to Roll!
I double checked everything and went oout onto Route 50 West for about 200 yards, then made a left onto Patterson Creek Road. I started off strong, going down the road at a good clip, and before I knew it I was about 15 miles south in the town of Medley. It was basically about half a dozen houses and a B&B. There was also a really cool looking abandoned post office. So I sat in front of it, grabbed a quick bite to eat and some water. And took a picture.
Post Office In Medley
I continued on down the road towards Lahmansville, I passed by a really cool looking cemetery with a huge set of gates. Right past the town I passed over a bridge with a ton of construction underneath.
Turns out I was passing over the rather controversial soon to be corridor H. It was rather sad to see, you are going through beautiful country and all of a sudden you pass this massive scar on the land, cutting both ways as far as the eye can see. Right after the bridge I had to share the road with several large dump trucks, going both ways. I stuck to my line and kept as far right as I could, but it was very unnerving. After about a mile, they all turned onto an access road to the construction site and I had only light traffic to contend with again.
I continued on down the road until Authur, at which point I noticed it got very dark, very very quickly. I feel the first drop of rain, pop off my bike and barely have my jacket on when the skies open up. The rain is coming down hard and fast and I have nowhere to go, so I continue on down the road. In about half a mile I see a church along the road, and duck under the eves and decide to wait it out. The road is simply a sheet of water now and the lightning is coming down pretty hard. I begin to wonder if this was a good idea. While I am waiting I check my gear, realizing that my panniers are waterproof, but only if I shut them properly (which I did not) So I take inventory of all that is wet and decide to deal with it later. After about half an hour the rain lets up a bit, the lightning is done, so I decide to keep moving. A mile down the road I pass a couple of guys collecting wood along the side of the road, who think a soaking wet guy on a bike is the most amusing thing they have seen all day. I wave, smile and keep going.
I hit Rt. 42 and take a left heading south towards Petersburg. The road becomes much more busy, but the shoulder is wider in most places and most of the drivers are very polite. I roll into the town, realize I am starving, and grab some lunch at mom and pop gas station. 27 miles into the ride and I realize my legs are just a little sore. Up until then I had been zipping up and down hills in my big gear, standing on my climbs, and really pushing it. I realize I can't keep that up for three days so I better ease up.
I continue down 28/55 and encounter fairly heavy traffic for the first time. Including a lot of big truck traffic. It is sightly unnerving at first but I gradually get used to it. A bit out of town I encounter the Cheat-Potomac Ranger Station and figure it would be a good place to get more info on Dolly Sods. Good thing I stopped the first thing I see is a warning about extra Bear activity up at Dolly Sods. Guess I better leave the bratwurst at home I grab a map of the area that I did not have before and talk to the park rangers about the road. They warn me the climb will be tough.
I continue another 10 miles or so down 28/55 and finally hit my first really big hill climb and realized I should have taken it a but more easy earlier in the day. I passed the turn for Dolly Sods and made note, that was where I was going tomorrow. After about 3 miles of generally uphill travel, I realized why all the more experienced tourers told me I had too much gear. There is nothing like a long climb to give you time to think about what you can live without. I briefly considered throwing gear out on the side of the road, but figured that wouldn't be very environmentally minded of me. Guess I would learn the lesson for next trip.
About 10 miles out from Seneca the road flattened out, with just a gradually uphill grade. I took a break, grabbed some water and turned around and saw this view:
Looking over my shoulder on 28/55.
Suddenly that hill climb seemed a lot more worth it. Feeling reinvigorated, I continued on to Seneca Rocks. Stopped and grabbed some pizza for dinner, and rolled into Seneca Campgrounds around 6 in the evening. Still had plenty of daylight left. The caretakers of the campground were very friendly, told me to go to the back and find a nice spot overlooking the rocks. I set up camp, read for a little bit and found myself falling asleep rather early. It was the best nights sleep I have had in weeks.
Camp with a view of the Rocks.
Woke up around 8am. Was really surprised I had slept that late! My legs were a little bit sore but not too bad. I quickly packed everything up and headed out. Stopped at the intersection in Seneca and grabbed some breakfast, then saw a little coffee shop across the street, decided to grab second breakfast. I walked in and first thing I saw on the wall was they had free wireless! Well this excited me, I grabbed a muffin, sat down with my netbook and sent the obligatory "Hey I am alive email out to a couple people". There is now cell service in these valleys and I promised to stay in contact if I could.
I went into the two stores looking for some good foods for touring and was kind of disappointed. You would think stores that catered to hikers/climbers would have more selection. I settled on a couple power bars and some beef jerky. Then I realized I was kind of lallygagging around putting off what I knew was going to be a hard day. So I headed on out, mindful to take it very easy.
I rode about 11 miles North on 28/55 and found Jordon Run Road. As soon as I turned onto the road the climb began. I soon found myself in my lowest gear, breathing heavy, and covered in sweat. After a bit I stopped and took a 5 minute break. This basically continued for the next 3 hours. I took a left onto Forest Road 19 and the road turned to a mixture of gravel, rocks, dirt and potholes. Even though my bike had 35mm tires on, there were quite a few places where it was just easier to get off the bike and walk for a bit. It seemed like forever, and I did whatever I could to pass the time. Including singing to myself loudly. I was passed by maybe half a dozen cars in the three hours, so I grabbed my mp3 player, plugged into one ear and listened to some loud angry music it helped quite a bit. I kept telling myself the top was around the next bend, then the next bend, then the next. Well after a mere 7 miles from the turn onto Jordan Creek, and about 2700 feet of climbing, I finally hit Forest Road 75 at the top.
I rode about 5 miles to the Red Creek Campground to find it was full of people in RVs, I asked the campground manager where I could go with my bike and she said there was a grove of pine about 100 yards in on the blackbird trail that was a popular spot. I found a spot by the side of the road to lock/hude my bike and after a few trips had my gear back in the Pine Grove. By the time I got set up it was only 3:30 in the afternoon and I was ready to fall over. I spent the next 4 hours trying to occupy myself so I wouldn't wake up in the middle of the night, read a little bit, talked to my neighbors, watched a movie on my netbook. I feel asleep around 9 and woke up around 6am. I slept much sounder than even the night before.
I woke up and quickly collected my camp and headed down Forest Road 75. The wind was whipping pretty hard across the road and made riding a bit squirrely. I made it to the outlook before the Forest Road turned to go down the mountain and happened upon a photographer taking pictures of the landscape. I asked him if he could take one of me....and the result:
Morning in Dolly Sods
Then I headed downhill, I thought this would be the fun part but it wasn't. The road was just as bad as the one coming up and I had to constantly veer around stray rocks and deal with ruts in the road. I stopped every mile to allow my brakes to cool down for a bit. Finally I hit the pavement of Jordan Run Road again and flew down the side of the mountain into the rolling farmland north of Dolly Sods. Eventually I came back to Route 42 and decided to try some back roads to get back to my car. I rode north to Greenland Gap Road and came across more construction for corridor H which caused me a lot of confusion as to what road I was on. I stopped and asked a car for directions and continued on Greenland Gap Road, a beautiful shaded back country road:
Greenland Gap Road
I haven't seen a car for about 20 minutes and I come around a corner to see vehicles parked on both sides of the road for about a quarter of a mile. There are no buildings nearby or development of any kind. Thinking this rather odd, I continue down the road and up a hill, with a creek under the edge of the road on my left. Then I hear singing. I look over the edge of the road and see about 50 people standing on the rocks in the creek, all dressed rather well. It sinks in that they are performing baptisms in the creek. I try to be respectful and quietly pedal away when a gentleman walking up the road sees me and waves me down. He tells me they are from a local church and do baptisms here once a month. He asks me where I am going to and from, and then proceeds to give me advice on some backroads that are not on my map.
Thankful for the help, I go to falls and hang a left, and then go down Bell Babb Lane which is the road that was not on my map. It is barely paved with very little traffic and winds it way through some hills back to Patterson Creek Road. I am about 15 miles away from my car and I feel surprisingly good. I finish the last 15 miles strong and get back to my car. Looking at the time it is a little before 2pm. I feel kind of disappointed I didn't explore more that day. I drive back home via Keyser and Cumberland, making a pit stop at Queen City Creamery, and yeah it is every bit as good as they say it is.
Some notes for the next tour:
I definitely will reduce the weight of my gear. Getting rid of all the excess clothing, amenities, etc. etc. I can stand. A few things I am really happy with that a lot of people said to leave out, the towel really helped in drying out panniers, bags, me etc etc. The net book was helpful as well.
There were times, especially on the climb to dolly sods, where I got a little whacky, singing to myself, talking to myself, etc. etc. I think if I went on a month long tour, I would come back a complete loon.
My left ear is HUGE. After staring at it in my helmet mirror for 3 days straight and having it get in the way of my vision, I really need to do something about that thing, maybe like buy a different style of mirror, better than pulling a Van Gogh I guess.
All in all it was great fun, I can't wait to do more touring very very soon. I'd especially like to thank Chip and the rest of guys at Wamsley Cycles for helping me with all the gear, Laurel and the rest of the group from Country Road Cyclists for helping with the route, balto charlie from here at bike forums for his info on biking to dolly sods, and last but not least The Historian for just being inspirational.