I pulled into the Elk River Touring Center parking lot around 1:45 pm. My biking comrades had not yet arrived so I unloaded my gear and checked out the facilities. We were staying in "The Farmhouse," which is very much like a Youth Hostel; eight rooms with 2-3 beds and 3 community bathrooms. It also had a nice sitting room, a hot tub out back, and best of all a free washer and dryer; an unexpected and welcome surprise that would come in VERY handy on this long, muddy weekend.
Another neat thing about the Farmhouse is that there are no keys. The crime rate in West Virginia is low overall, but it's almost non-existent in the rural areas. When I checked in, the clerk, Carrie, said, "Knock on wood, but we've never had a theft problem here." She told me I might want to keep my wallet, cell phone, and anything else of great value in my car, but everything should be safe.
Upon examination, the Farmhouse was indeed "unsecured," which was cool with me. There were several $1,000+ bikes on the porch and a few occupied rooms with assorted biking clothes and equipment strewn about. I put my stuff on one of the beds and headed over to the lodge.
The lodge was very rustic and nice with a small bar, tv room, sitting room, gift/gear shop, and restaurant. The ERTC has been written up in several national magazines and newspapers, so laminated copies of many of the articles lines the wall. As I milled around reading the stories and checking out the trail maps, the owner, Gil sidled up and introduced himself. I told him I was waiting on two friends and we were looking to do a short afternoon ride. He immediately recommended the Gauley Mountain base trail system, which was within riding distance of ERTC and required no shuttle service.
Christopher and Dana arrived shortly so we geared up, mounted our bikes, and headed out around 3pm. I had passed the trailhead on my way to ERTC and estimated it was
½ mile on Rt. 219 to the trails.Wrong! How about 1.7 miles! It was a good warm up. We turned right at Mine Road, aka Gauley Mountain Road, aka US Forest Service Road 24. There are two trail heads right off of 219; one unmarked at the gravel parking lot and Roaring Run, which was directly across from the parking area.
We took Roaring run. Shortly into our ride Christopher had the first of what was to be a fistful of wrecks. He has new, clipless pedals and was still trying to get used to them. Initially, he was quite frustrated with them, trying to keep his momentum and stay clipped in. But inevitably, he would spin out on a root or rock and have to put his foot down. After a while, he started getting the hang of it.
Roaring Run was mostly flat, rolling at first, then uphill. It was heavily rooted and filled with slick rocks. The first bridge was tricky; we rode down an embankment and popped up on two planks, which was about a 12-inch rise from the trail itself. The angle was tricky, too. It was a good indication of what was to come.
The trail began a slow climb that was not readily apparent until you had finished and went back down either FS Road 24 or another trail. After the climb, we emptied out into an area that was either a logging road or clear cut area. Along the way, I got bit by a brier bush; Christopher, meanwhile, fell over INTO the brier patch. I could hear him cursing and muttering behind me but didn't know what had happened until later. We arrived at the end of Roaring Run and were greeted by a nice little descent onto a two-plank wide bridge onto the forest road. After some initial trepidation, Christopher and I rode the drop and bridge. We decided to get some photo-ops, so we all re-rode the drop. Ironically, the most competent rider of the bunch - Mr. Fansworth lost his concentration and whiped out trying to cross the bridge. We all got a laugh out of that.
We then rode down FSR 24 to Powerline trail. Little did we know this was the "exit," not the entrance. When we got back to the lodge at ERTC, we noticed a map of the trails we had just ridden. Written in bold letters was the warning: "Only Ride Down." How were we to know? We were oblivious, giddy, and just happy to be there. What we should have done was make a short jaunt UP FSR 24 and accessed Powerline Trail on the uphill trailhead. We went the reverse direction. Needless to say, there was LOTS of uphill. Surprisingly, we were able to ride most of it. I attribute this more to first day adrenaline and stubbornness than to fitness level.
We weren't on Powerline very long when Dana decided he was going to film one of his patented "From the Saddle" videos on his Sony digital camera. Although the trail was very flat and wide double track at this point, the conditions were still very wet, muddy, sloppy, and slippery with rocks and roots. And, unknown to us at the time, the trail became deceptively steep quickly after the flat section. Christopher and I took off with Dana bringing up the rear. We got to the bottom, crossed a ravine, and turned to look for Dana. We waitedand waited. Finally we yelled out and he answered back. It still took him a long time to catch up. We asked him what happened. "Dudes, I wiped out!" he retorted, oddly happy about the whole thing. He showed us an ugly gash on the back of his leg where he did a complete endover and the bike flipped and got him pretty good. Best of all, the camera filmed the entire thing! We watched it several times right there on the trail, laughing hysterically at Dana's suffering. We ended up watching the video of the wreck at least a dozen times throughout the weekend.
In addition to the strenuous uphills, there were several stream crossings on Powerline with tricky loose rocks as well. On one such crossing, Christopher lossed his momentum and was unable to clip out fast enough. We watched as he fell over in slow motion. It was quite humorous, but not as hysterical as Dana's smashup, which soon became known as "When Dana Ate Shit."
As we huffed and puffed up the last few hundred yards of the Powerline trail, we spooked a couple of deer which darted across the trail just ahead of me and plowed into the woods on the other side. It's always cool to see some wildlife. After we crested the hill, we dropped off the trail and back onto FSR 24. After a quick descent on the gravel, we made a quick ride back to ERTC on 219.
After quick showers, we retired to the lodge for a very nice dinner and beverages. It was an awesome beginning to a great three-day weekend!
Trail(s): Loop consisting of Roaring Run and Powerline Trails. Approximately 5 miles in length. If you ride up and back on Rt. 219 from ERTC, your overall trip will be about 8.5 miles.
Difficulty: This is an intermediate ride. The elevation changes are noticeable but not ridiculously strenuous (Provided, of course, you ride the trail in the correct direction! More on this later). The surface, on the other hand, is very challenging. There are many roots and rocks on the moderate uphill sections. Several bridges, log obstacles, descents, and streams to negotiate.
Outdoor Travels Rating: 3 out of 5 bikes
- Good warmup ride to shake off the rust from a car trip.
- Scenery is beautiful, especially along Roaring Run Creek at the beginning of ride
- Nice little technical sections to test and improve your skills
- Proximity to Elk River Touring Center makes this an ideal ride if you're arriving late.
- If you don't want to ride on Rt. 219, there is a nice little parking area right at the base of Forest Service Road 24.
- Relatively short ride.
- Roots and rocks seem placed at the perfect spot to halt momentum on uphills.
- Several brier patches encroached on the trail. Ouch!
- Christopher lost his dad's ring (not really the trail's fault but still a bummer)
- Add rain to roots and rocks and you're going to have A LOT of trouble negotiating even the most mundane uphill sections of trail
- Unless you're a mountain goat with no worried, always examine the map. Riding a trial clockwise instead of counterclockwise can make a HUGE difference in elevation and difficulty!
- A good warm up or wind down ride, but if you have only limited time, your efforts may be better spent on the numerous other trails in the area
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