Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Adventure Begins...

I have never kept much of a journal ever... but "The Bike Pedaler" has a few stories to tell. 

I hope you enjoy my blog.  In my first-ever entry, I share the stories of my first two "bikepacking" adventures and more.  In future posts, I'll share the many twists and turns along the path that got me to this point and the ones that are yet to come.  Perhaps you'll join me for the ride... and be inspired to seek adventures of your own.

If you're wondering "What is bikepacking?"... simply split the word apart and you'll begin to imagine backpacking via bicycle and that pretty much sums it up.   On the bike, I'm averaging 8 to 12 mph for 10+ hours a day while pulling a Burley trailer loaded with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food, drinks and tools.

It's "trippin' on LSD" as one friend laughs... Long Slow Distance. 

Trust me, slow is a relative term when you're pulling 40+ pounds of gear behind your bike :)

And, it's an adventure worth telling...

My first overnight adventure...

For a simple first overnight trip I rode the full length of the New River Trail out and back.   Racking up 117 miles and pulling a Burley trailer filled with way more than I needed (intentionally).   I pedalled almost the entire time on a crush and run rock surface so, not much coasting (or climbing) for that matter.   The last 40 miles was a gradual uphill climb and I was very relieved at the end of my 90 mile second day !!!

There is so much more to this first trip that I plan to write a full entry at some point later... stay tuned.

New River Trail - 117 miles


A misty morning at Double Shoals Campground where campsites are right on the river


Bridges are so cool !!!  I love this picture ...


My second overnight bikepacking trip...

My second trip was more ambitious...

Greenbrier River Trail - 250+ miles - 35 hours


I purchased the ACA (Adventure Cycling Association) maps for the 400 mile Allegheny Mountains Loop and decided that I wanted to cycle as many of the unpaved sections as I could.

I started in Caldwell, WV and was determined to make it to the northern-most point on the loop in Glady, WV. 

At the end of my 11.5 hour, 105 mile day (20 miles short of Glady, WV), I spent the night on Burner Mtn. at 4000 feet, surrounded by whispering pines and a setting moon ... and, a full moon at that.

Greenbrier River looking south


Greenbrier River riding north


Cass, WV


The next morning, I had a big decision to make. I still had NOT made it to Glady. I would have to pedal 150 more miles on "day 2" to check Glady off my list AND make it back to the truck.   I figured I would be on and off the bike for more than 15 hours that day.

Could I even DO that?  

I HAD to "know"... so I decided I HAD to "do" it.

After 5 hours of sleep, I woke up to slightly warmer, more comfortable temperatures (an inversion) and packed up my gear. I remembered to eat first thing and vaporized two Lara Bars and half a bottle of water... and I was off.

Pedaling into a rising sun, watching the clouds moving quickly above me and headed northbound, I felt better and began to loosen up as the miles passed by. The ridge stayed just below 4000 feet for almost 16 miles, with ups and downs through the Laurel Fork Wilderness.

Sunrise on Burner Mtn


Laurel Fork Wilderness

I descended into Glady, made a call home and headed south along the West Fork Trail.   This was an old rail-trail that sees very little traffic and doesn't get mowed very often.   To boot, the grass was 5 to 6 inches deep and many times there was no discernible tread.   The ground was soft and progress was slow and I was beginning to "feel" the trailer behind me.   But, the views made up for most of that.

I knew I had to have more food, so 40 miles into the day, I side-tracked through Durbin into Bartow and went on a tear through two convenience marts in Bartow and bought a ton of food.   The second store had "fountain drinks" and they gave me free ice for my Camelbak... NICE !!!   They even told me to bring all my stuff inside and sit down at a table by the grill and eat my lunch... SUPER NICE !!!

When I laid everything out on the table in Bartow, the clerk walked by shaking her head.   She took one look at everything on my table and said, "All that food... and it's all FATTENING".   I laughed and replied, "And I'm gonna eat it all by the end of the day".   I literally had a "table full" of food... it was impressive !!!

Sticking to a wheat-free, dairy-free, vegetarian diet while stockpiling calories at any convenience mart was not as difficult as it might seem.   I found lots of stuff to eat ...

I bought Gatorade, Coke, water, V8 juice, peanut crunch bars, cashews, Wavy Lays potato chips, and Munchos.   I ate chips and salsa just turning up the salsa jar and munching on chips out of the bag.   My favorite drink was a V8.   Oh, I slammed that thing... a V8 shot !!!   I should've had a few more.

As I suspected, I couldn't possibly eat it all at once, so I just tossed what was left into the Burley and I was off.

To get from Durbin to Cass, I would have to re-trace a 15 mile stretch of pave called Back Mountain Road. At around 3000 feet, the roads elevation was just all the more challenging.   The road was a roller coaster of pain the day before, so I was not looking forward to it at all.   Fortunately, the experience was much better on Day 2 after only 45 miles and a belly full of salsa, chips, nuts, Coke and V8.

As I pedalled the last 80 miles along the Greenbrier River Trail, I knew that I would gradually descend less than 800 feet over the final 80 miles ... talk about flat.   The trail surface is somewhat firm, but I knew there would be no coasting.

Conveniently, the trail has mile markers and my truck was parked just beyond the end of the GRT.  The "real-time" mile-marker countdown lifted my spirits as 60s became 50s and 20's eventually gave way to single digit numbers.

With 56 miles to go, I stopped in Marlinton and had a sweet tea with lemon at the Dirty Bean Cafe and Bike Shop (cool place). The Dirty Bean is home of the "Super Cookie", but the chocolate chips smelled of dairy so I had to resist.

Marlinton, WV

With 50 miles to go, I realized that I had just completed back-to-back centuries... (2) 100+ mile rides.  However, the excitement was fleeting and I knew I had to stay focused.

With 40 miles to go, I considered ditching the trailer to get to the truck quicker :)   It made sense that I could just drive back up the trail to pick up my Burley at the end of the ride.  But that seemed like cheating ... I needed to focus MORE !!!

With 32 miles to go, I pedalled through my second of two tunnels along the GRT.   They were both very cool, damp and spooky !!!

Light at the end of the tunnel !!!


With 25 miles to go, daylight fading and 14 hours into my day, I stopped to eat, drink and focus on what I was trying to achieve.   I began to think about the Tour Divide racers out West who were pedalling at that very moment and what they must be thinking and feeling.  I decided that I would just keep pedalling onward... just like them.   I also remembered a tweet from Cricket Butler (Tour Divide veteran) saying she had just finished pedalling (2) one hundred-mile days in the mountains near Boone, NC and I drew motivation from that as well.

After 225 miles of riding, my knees were beginning to hurt just below my knee caps and I figured out something amazing ... if I stood up, I could pedal for miles, go faster and zero pain!!!   I would sit down for one mile then stand up for three miles, and I did it again.   The third time, I dared myself to stand up for four miles... and I did.   I sat down for another mile and then stood for another three miles.  You get the idea :)

 With 8 miles to go... it was pitch black.   I couldn't see my hand in front of my face it was so dark.   No light through the trees, no horizon... it was a virtual black hole.   I was very glad to have a source of light, a small Petzel LED headlamp.

Standing up, talking to myself, and counting out loud (to make sure the critters knew I was there),  I pressed on and pedaled my bike and trailer through those dark woods.  It was now almost 10:00 pm as I stamped out the 5 remaining miles of my 250+ mile day.

With my Petzl Tikka lighting the way, I began wondering if a big mountain lion might be on the ledge of one of the trail walls waiting to pounce on a lone weary bikepacker.   I wondered if I might even see a bear?   I just kept looking for glowing eyes and passed by a few deer ghostly blue eyes that hovered in the darkness.   One stubborn deer just wouldn't move... it just stood there.   Frustrated, I said, "you just gotta move deer" (not completely certain it even WAS a deer).   And it finally moved !!!
I pedaled the last mile of the GRT and one more mile on a paved road (sitting down) and arrived back at my truck in West Caldwell, WV at the Caldwell Country Store.   I was very happy to see my truck and I was grateful that the store employees were willing to let me leave my truck in their parking lot.

250+ miles in just under 35 hours !!!

When I reflected on my journey, I realized that it was a far cry from the many challenges of my ultimate goal of pedalling the 2700 mile Tour Divide.  How one manages to pedal 150+ miles per day for 20 to 30 days straight is another puzzle I will have to solve over time.   Lots more "steps" I suppose ...

But, I was quick to also remember that every journey begins with a single step.   This was one of many small steps towards my dream and I'm convinced that my experiences are preparing me for that journey.  I'm left wanting more and looking forward to my next adventures.

After more reflection, I began to imagine that the Allegheny Mountains Loop would be a fantastic Fall adventure as cooler temperatures and changing leaves proclaim the arrival of Autumn.   The idea of an early October bikepacking adventure race began to take shape in my mind and I began making plans to spread the word to bikepackers everywhere...