Lots of great photos to give you a good idea of what riding here is like!Wolf Summit - Salem (miles 71 - 64.7)
DAY 1 West Virginia is blessed to have two sizeable rail trails within its borders - the Greenbrier River Trail and the North Bend Rail Trail. Both are over 70 miles long. Several years ago, we rode the GRT from one end to the other (Greenbrier River Trail). The mistakes and misadventures that plagued that trip could not take away from the overall enjoyment and sense of accomplishment that came with knowing you rode the entire trail.
With this in mind, we set off to tackle the NBRT. If you have read the other log that accompanies this trip, you’ll know that Dana rode the entire thing in one day and nearly succumbed to heat exhaustion. None of us were interested in that sort of extreme endurance this time around. Having hiked an entire loop in one long, exhausting day at Otter Creek with a full overnight pack on my back, I didn’t want to go down that road again (I was hobbled for several days afterwards due to blisters). Besides, we had wives along for the ride – two of whom were biking neophytes.
Our plan called for starting at the eastern terminus in Wolf Summit near Salem, spending the night near the halfway point in Ellenboro, and then continuing on to the western terminus in Happy Valley near Parkersburg on Sunday. With shuttling assistance from Dana’s dad, Keith, we were able to get all six bikes and riders to Wolf Summit early Saturday morning. It was foggy, overcast, and cold as we set off. Not chilly – COLD. As usual, I was unprepared. I had anticipated temps in the low 60s and therefore packed only fingerless gloves. After a few numbing minutes, my fingers began to throb. Luckily, Dana had some extra clothing. My wife Amber and I rode the rest of that morning with sock puppets on our hands.
It was very clear from the start that we weren’t going to set any land speed records. After one hour, we had managed to cover three miles. Not exactly a blistering pace. At this rate, we calculated we’d be pulling into Ellenboro around 8pm. As slow as we were going, it was still very entertaining. Christopher’s wife, Grace, was born in the Philippines and learned to ride a bike14 years ago. All fine and dandy except for one thing: that was the first and last time she had ridden a bike! Within three miles, Grace had crashed twice and was sporting a nice purplish bruise on her knee. She had a particularly tough time negotiating the narrow openings at the gates. Amber on the other hand, while quite familiar with a bike, was not in the kind of shape that a long distance ride would demand.
As Christopher said later, we had a couple of housewives trying to ride a long, demanding trail. In our zest to involve our mates in our hobbies, we failed to recognize that the undertaking was beyond their ability. At the 4-mile mark, we convinced them both that they should head back to the car. We reasoned that the further we got from the car, the more difficult it would become to opt out. Although they protested a little, I think they were both happy to end the ride and drive to Ellenboro. Far from being disappointed, Christopher and I were proud that they had at least made an effort. Just being outdoors and riding a few miles is more than most people do. In retrospect, we should have planned to let them ride a few miles and head back to the car in the first place. In the end, though, it all worked out.
We eventually caught up with Dana and Kelli (who incidentally copped the nickname “Adventure Wife” for the rest of the trip) as they conversed with an older couple from Maine. We had a short bathroom break then headed off again. The stretch of trail from Wolf Summit to West Union is dominated by small towns and little in the way of pristine wilderness. There were several nice vistas dotted by small farms and livestock, but lots of homes are right alongside the trail; for the most part, you never lose sight of civilization. You will also encounter many barking dogs. One of the first dogs we passed was a three-legged German Shepherd. Curious.
One of the coolest spots was a seemingly abandoned cemetery near the town of Industrial. It was neglected, with high weeds and several toppled gravestones. Fitting for a date so near to Halloween, the whole scene had an eerie quality with the weathered old gravestones, gnarled trees, and remote location. Imagining myself back in the early 1900s, I could picture a lonely train rumbling by in the dead of night, the cemetery lit only by a full moon, a distant owl hooting somewhere off in the pitch dark woods. Spooky. Lost in thought, I leaned against a gravestone – and was startled when the cross on top rocked back and forth! It wasn’t anchored to the rest of the stone. I centered it back where it was and endured the good-natured ribbing of my riding partners who suggested that the ghost of the person who was buried there would now haunt me.
It was now nearing time for lunch. We passed a convenience store that was closed and continued riding on. Kelli’s tummy grew increasingly angry, as did her mood. According to Dana, his wife must eat at regular intervals or low blood sugar brings on a case of the grouchies. As luck would have it, we ended up passing right by a youth football game in West Union and the spectators milling around told us about a pizza place just down the road. We had a chuckle when the PA announcer came on with an odd announcement: “The fans in the parking lot need to put away the shaving cream. That is vandalism and will not be tolerated. The Sheriff will be called. Thank you.”
One of the best things about the western section of the NBRT is you can pack your panniers or backpacks lightly. Other than water, a change of clothes, and maybe a few snacks, riders won’t have to pack much of anything. We passed through several cities -- Salem, Smithburg, West Union, and Pennsboro -- where ample opportunities exist for lunch at several diners and convenience stores. We wanted a cold beer to go with the pizza, but there was a problem – we were not in an establishment that served beer, or had a license to do so. So, after a trip to the adjacent 7-11, Dana, Kelli and Christopher disguised their beers by pouring them into their empty water bottles. Smart. I myself concealed my contraband with a tube sock coozie. Necessity really is the mother of invention!
After pizza and a few prohibition beverages, we resumed our ride and passed through downtown West Union where Dana spotted some interesting architecture and disappeared on a brief photo safari. I’m guessing the town is named after the telegraph company. In any event, it had some neat old buildings surrounding a beautiful and austere brick courthouse. After resuming our ride, it wasn’t long until we passed a house with a fenced in yard. A dog contained inside barked ferociously as we sped by. Oddly enough, it was yet ANOTHER tripod dog. Was it some sort of weird canine birth defect rampant in this part of West Virginia? Pet inbreeding causing a mutation? Or was it some sort of perverted canine amputee fetish? We were left wondering.
As far as wild animal sighting go, oddly enough, we spotted only one deer’s behind during both days. Not to despair, as the circus freak-show animal sightings continued! Still occupied with thoughts of tripod dogs, we came upon a group of freakishly large, double-chinned, free-range pet bunnies hopping around a yard alongside the trail. As we passed, the rabbits scurried under a nearby truck. They were tame, but very skittish. Dana crawled under the truck, snapped a few photos and we were off again. It wasn’t long until we had another strange critter encounter as a wayward cow stood at the edge of the trail and stared us down. As we cautiously passed by, Dana, the ever-present photographer, poked a camera in her white furry face and accidentally spooked the milk wagon. At that point she turned and ran in our direction, literally chasing me down the trail! Dana yelled, “Jeff, the cow’s chasing you!” Finally, she made a sharp left cut into the weeds. I think my riding companions felt as if I was in a two-wheeled version of the running of the bulls!
In addition to the vistas and small towns, the NBRT is dominated by a proliferation of tunnels and bridges that dot the length of the trail. The tunnels are long and dark and it’s not a bad idea to bring some sort of flashlight or head beam. Several of the old railroad crossing lights and strong boxes still stand alongside the trail, and you’ll find many old ties and spikes lying nearby. By this point, we were all starting to lag. Luckily, Christopher and I finally pulled into Ellenboro as we began to poop out. A few minutes later, Dana and Kelli joined us right next to the glass factory where we waited for them. We rendezvoused with Amber and Grace at the Woodland Trails Cabins. Three bedrooms, satellite TV, and a warm shower - what more can you ask for after a hard day on the trail? There were some odd quirks though, like closets without doors and furniture that vibrated when the heat was on. Picture a cozy looking cabin on the outside and Salvation Army Thrift Store on the inside and you’ll have an idea. But for $80 bucks a night for all of us, we weren’t complaining.
We got cleaned up and headed for dinner at the nearby Silver Star diner. It’s only about a half-mile away, an easy ride if you only have your bike available. We were not exactly roughing it on this trip. Dana inadvertently played “Thriller” on the jukebox while the regulars played video poker at the bar. This wasn’t a five-star restaurant, but it was perfectly fine, right down to the particleboard table. Good food and cold beverages at very good prices and enjoyable conversation. Afterwards at the cabin, we enjoyed a bit more conversation (including Dana’s hilarious story about his father’s sedated bike ride) and some college football on TV, before we all hit the sack. Life is good.
DAY 2 “And then there were three” The rein of the "Adventure Wife" was temporarily halted. All three wives head back for Parkersburg on Sunday morning. Kelli would join up with us with Keith and Dana’s nephew on the trail near the Parkersburg end. The three ODT guys were left to finish the ride by themselves.
The stretch from Ellenboro to Parkersburg has much more in the way of wild natural beauty. This portion of the trail veers near its namesake – North Bend State Park. It is also void of the homes (and thus the sense of civilization) that dot the eastern portion of the trail. What it wasn’t void of were the ever-present tunnels and bridges. As we rode over the fourth or fifth bridge, we wondered aloud how many times are we were actually going to cross Goose Creek? If the creek was a snake, the trail was a straight line through its gut. We also passed several cool old abandoned houses and railroad relics, not to mention a rusty old metal chair sitting neglected by itself near some backwater. A forgotten old fishing spot, perhaps.
The sky was perfectly azure, the temperature warming and we were riding what was arguably some of the best trail so far. I found myself wishing we had had this kind of weather on Saturday! After a few miles, we blew into the town of Cairo – the only real civilization we’d encounter until we later approached Parkersburg. As luck would have it, the town was celebrating its annual fall festival - Pioneer Days. There was a small crowd milling about, and several old guys sat on the bench outside the Country Trails Bike Shop, (you can rent bikes there as well as buy parts and food supplies). We were also treated to our second strange public announcement in as many days when a down-home West Virginia accent came twanging over the PA system and loudly told everyone to, “Try the sausage biscuit, they're good, I just had one myself. Also, try the soup beans!” Funny.
There were steam engines, old farming equipment, and people in period costumes lining the streets. Dana found a pioneer girl wandering about, serving pizza samples rather humorous. He thought it an odd juxtaposition. Dana said, “Shouldn’t a pioneer girl be serving beef jerky, quail or some other game animal samples?” Nope, pepperoni pizza was her trophy kill that she shared with the other town folk! After a few samples of “pioneer” pizza, a stop in the bike shop for a Coke and some information, a brief rest and more photo snapping, we were off again. Cairo sure is quaint.
After Christopher climbed a high signal tower that he was quick to exit after finding that it swayed a little too much for his liking, we rode on, encountering more tunnels, a few stray riders and walkers here and there, and more nice scenery than you could shake a stick at. It was at this point that we also decided to hammer it for a little bit. We formed a pace line that Lance Armstrong and his US Mail teammates would have been proud of. We kept this up for three miles before running out of gas. Such good timing, though, because literally around the next bend we could see Keith, Kelli, and Dana’s nephew Aaron making their way towards us. It was mile marker eight and we were in the home stretch.
Keith brought a few cold beverages and snacks, which were quickly consumed. Dana, preoccupied with thoughts of beer (as usual), was quick to point out that I had consumed my third beer in two days and he wondered aloud if it were some sort of record. I’m the guy who doesn’t keep beer in his fridge; basically I’ll drink one if it’s the only cold beverage available, but I don’t seek out beer as my beverage of choice. As we stood around shooting the bull, we quickly set upon trail nicknames for our new riding partners. Keith became “Fireball” due to his red cannonball-style helmet and red jacket. Aaron copped the moniker “ETA” due to his perpetual questioning of "How far are we going?" "How long will it take?" "How long did it take you guys to ride to here?” etc.
We eventually remounted and begin the final stretch. The last few miles are marked by a proliferation of houses and cabins along the Little Kanawha River. It’s a particularly popular spot for fishing, boating, and water skiing enthusiasts to build a summer place to get away for a weekend. We should point out that no matter what kind of “bike condition” your rear end is in, or how often you ride, expect some saddle soreness if you do a long ride. All of our “arses” were aching; Keith had to stop every mile or so to give his particularly bony little senior citizen butt a break. During one of our breaks, a particularly excitable spastic dog joined the fray. As we remounted, the little fella almost took Keith, or, “Fireball” down by nipping at his pant leg.
After the dog followed us for a mile or so, the owner and his daughter came screeching up in their truck, admonishing us for not stopping. “Didn’t you hear us calling for him? What’s wrong with you people?!?!” He was oddly sporting a new pair of jeans complete with all the tags and stickers still attached. He was worked into quite a tizzy. After he calmed down, he apologized for yelling; it was too late though, I didn’t hear the apology. With the end almost in site, I left the dog situation behind, speeding away by myself towards the trailhead. My companions later joked that I “turned tail and ran.” In actuality, I was just in a zone and I wanted to finish the ride before my butt fell off.
Near the trailhead at Happy Valley, there is a rather exclusive neighborhood and some really nice houses. This stretch of the trail is long and straight. Forty-eight hours and 71 miles of trail later, we had finally reached the gravel parking lot where the vehicles were parked. We had thoroughly enjoyed our ride on the NBRT.
(Note: If you plan on riding half the trail, I would definitely recommend the section between Parkersburg and Ellenboro. The entire trail has its pros and cons, but in my opinion, overall this section of the trail is preferable; and the scenery is much nicer. Go ride this great rail trail and make your own opinions and memories; just watch out for those giant bunnies, road hog cows and tripod dogs. Oh, and don’t forget to try the soup beans!
Stretching 72 miles from I-77 near Parkersburg in Wood County to Wolf Summit in Harrison County the North Bend Rail Trail is a multipurpose recreational trail owned by the State of West Virginia and operated as a state park. Formerly an abandoned spur of the CSX system, the trail is also a part of the 5,500-mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. The former rail line was constructed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between 1853 and 1857. The trail's 72 miles pass through wooded areas, rolling hills, farmland and a variety of old Mayberry-like small railroad towns.
Known for its abundance of tunnels, North Bend Rail Trail passes through 13 of them and crosses 36 bridges. The tunnels are by far, its signature feature. Some of the tunnels are constructed of large stones, some brick and at least one is bored from solid rock.
Wood County is the Western Terminus of the trail and features some of its most remote and scenic settings. The section in Ritchie County can is probably the current center of activity. Numerous tunnels, several bridges, well groomed trail surfaces and North Bend State Park are all good reasons to visit this section, if you do not plan a full-length adventure.