Wild Oak / Lookout Mountain

This past weekend, MS and I headed back out to the GWNF to complete the route we had originally planned to do on the same weekend as the SM100.  I had estimated the route to be about 30 miles but, by comparison, I had also expected it to be “easier” than the Elliot Knob fire tower route.  One of my main goals of this route was to check out the new work on the Wild Oak (FS 716) trail up to Dowell’s Draft (FS 650).

We pedaled out of the Braley Pond Day Use area at 8:37 AM Saturday and headed up FR95 to the Wild Oak trailhead.  It was cool with heavy overcast, drizzle, and everything was wet.  Back home, it was a no-ride day, but as we would soon be reminded the mountains are a great alternative when it’s a little wet out.

The new route up Wild Oak to Dowell’s Draft is amazing.  I’ve only climbed up to Dowell’s Draft one time before, and it was on the old trail that went straight up the fall line.  It was grueling and, unless you are a glutton for punishment, not a whole lot of fun.

After a few miles of beautiful, flowy, bench cut climbing, we arrived at the intersection of the old Wild Oak trail and the Betsy trail.  Turns out the old Wild Oak trail at that point is the “death drop” that was the final push to the Dowell’s summit the last time we did this.  Oh, and it’s also a section that MS wanted to descend last time and for which he has been laying on the guilt trip for a couple of years.

Well, he finally got to cross it off his list.  While I chilled out near the bottom, he pushed up and up and up and then descended the steep and gnarly terrain with a steep and gnarly grin on his face.  Now, can we move on?

(it’s steeper than it looks – and that’s not the steep part)

After the much needed diversion, we took the half-mile, half-track called Betsy trail (aka Magic Moss) up to the top of Dowell’s Draft and hung a left.  New trail work climbed up for another mile or two, but it was more sweet bench cut trail with occasional rock work thrown in for good measure.  As we climbed, I could hardly wait to descend it, but I would have to.


The new trail fizzled out and we transitioned to the old school singletrack, which descended softly toward the Hankey Mountain trail (425).  It leveled off in dense forest socked in with fog which reduced visibility and created an eerily beautiful setting.

We exited into open fields and the singletrack soon turned into fire road.  While fire road sections are usually greeted with disdain (as this was), we would soon find ourselves descending some of the most fun fire road.  Ever!  Of course, we’d pay for it later.

We descended Hankey Mountain Trail to Lookout Mountain.  The beginning of Lookout Mountain is more fire road before turning to singletrack and includes some climbing, but once things get going it is an absolute blast of undulating rocky singletrack with interesting rock features followed by ridgeline riding and ending with an aggressive rocky descent down to the North River.  Wow, that was a long sentence.

The next several miles are, unfortunately, on paved road as we followed FR95 past Todd Lake and around to Leading Ridge Rd.  The road turns to gravel here has you head toward the Staunton Dam.  Just passed the North River Campground is the Hankey Mountain Trail, which is a fire road climb back up to the Lookout Mountain trailhead where we hung a right and started backtracking toward Dowells Draft.

At this point, we were about 30 miles in and the climbing required on the road/fire road section had taken its toll.  And we weren’t done.  Hankey Mountain trail from Lookout to Dowells is a grind, and we found ourselves off the bikes pushing.

Getting to the open fields at the top was another small achievement and good for morale.  We re-entered the dark forest, and took a refueling break before making the short-climb up to the reconnect with the new trail work above Dowells.  Upon making that left-hand turn and seeing the new soil brought huge smiles with the promise of several miles of downhill goodness.

The descent of the new work was as awesome as expected and in just a blur we were at the top of Dowells, where we took out last (planned) break of the day.  The sun was finally out and the beers were still kind of cold.  It was all good.

The beginning of the Dowells descent was a rip-roaring good time, but just a minute or two in I heard a noise from behind me.  Coming to a stop and looking back I saw nothing.  I heard nothing.  Oh no, MS is down!

Hustling back up the trail I was relieved to find that it was only a flat.  Considering this was the first mechanical of any sort in two outings totaling about 60 miles of rocky, backcountry trail, I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky.  After a “quick” change, we surfed down the remainder of Dowell’s.

At 36 miles, my estimate of 30 was on the low side, but I think my estimate that it was not as grueling as the Elliot Knob route was accurate.  That’s not to say we didn’t have our moments.  Unless you are an SM100 type, this route is pretty aggressive but is definitely doable.  All in, it was a 9 hour route.  I’d do it again!


Braley Pond >> FR95 >> Wild Oak Trail >> Betsy Trail (aka Magic Moss) >> Hankey Mountain Trail >> Lookout Mountain >> FR95 >> Leading Ridge Rd >> Hankey Mountain Trail >> Dowells Draft >> Braley Pond.

Min Elevation: 1,616
Max Elevation: 3,379
Elevation Gain: 5,220
Mileage: approximately 36 miles

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

–John Muir

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There is Always Chimney Hollow

A week before Labor Day weekend, MS and I had a loose plan to ride on Sunday.  That led to a plan to get out of town.  Maybe Freedom Park or Walnut Creek.  We initially settled on Walnut Creek, which developed into going further West.

So, the plan ended up being to leave crack of dawn and head to Braley Pond.  From there, we would explore the recent trail improvements around Dowells Draft and then sort of play it by ear from there.

As we approached the Calfpasture River bridge just before Braley Pond Rd., we saw a makeshift sign that read “Caution Bikes”.  MS asked if there was a race today.  I responded, “I have no idea”.

Things were quiet in the day-use area where we parked and started to gear up.  Just before we pedaled out, a guy pulled in behind us, hopped out of his truck, greeted us and asked if we were here for the race.  I replied, “No, there is a race today?”  Turns out he was a volunteer and was working the aid station over in the dispersed camping area.  “Yes”, he said, “the SM100.  There will be about 600 riders out here”.  Oh great.  Apparently, everybody knows the SM100 is on Labor Day weekend.  Everyone except me.

After reviewing the map with our guardian trail angel, we concluded our original plan was toast.  We tossed around a few ideas.  And then the five words that would shape an epic day were spoken by MS:  There is always Chimney Hollow.

Flashback: About a year and a half ago, MS and I set out on a mission to ride from Braley Pond to the Elliot Knob firetower.  We didn’t make it very far.  You can read all about it here.  It was 9:30AM, Plan B was in effect, and we were about to take another shot at it.

As we rolled out toward US Route 250, a sheriff parked at the intersection turned on his lights and got out of his car.  We approached casually in the cool mountain air.  As we neared, he asked if we were in the race.  I replied no, we were trying to get away from the race.  He wished us well and told us to be careful.  Of course, “careful” is our middle name.



30 seconds later, we were at the Chimney Hollow trailhead.  You can read about the Chimney Hollow trail at the link above.  When we got to the top where MS took his siesta last time, we hung a right on Crawford Mountain trail (485) and kept going.  And going.


Initially, the Crawford Mountain trail was very overgrown.  It eventually opened up a little and became more like a fire road in places showing signs of recently being bushwhacked, and we dropped some very steep descents.  They were fun at the time, but we would have a different opinion on the return.  Before we knew it we were at SR 688 and connecting to North Mountain trail (443).  Let the grind begin.  Again.  Destination: Elliot Knob fire tower.  Only the destination was really the mid-point.

some mellow ridgeline

some mellow ridgeline

North Mountain trail worked us pretty good.  Heading south it is mostly ascending, and if that wasn’t enough, there were a lot of extended rocky sections and some ridiculously steep pitches to keep you honest.  The final push was a narrow bench cut, off camber rocky section of which the horses had made a mess in a few places.  I was fatigued and struggling to maintain momentum and keep my balance, so I ended up walking a lot of it to avoid the risk of falling down the mountain side.  Turned out walking only reduced the risk slightly.

I know this fire tower is around here somewhere

I know this fire tower is around here somewhere

The trail finally popped out onto a gravel road underneath several small towers of a transmission station.  Oh, and to add insult to injury, the road up was very steep, loose gravel, in full sunlight.  Seriously?

the approach

the approach

the quest

the quest

fire tower pano: 4,463'

fire tower pano: 4,463′

After five hours of pedaling and pushing, we arrived at the fire tower.  For a short while we relaxed, had lunch, and took in the views before departing the fire tower at about 3PM.  Knowing that we would have gravity to our advantage going back for more of the trail than not, we knew it wouldn’t take us 5 hours to get back. I mean, as long as there are no mechanicals or other issues.  That never happens in the backcountry…

lunch break

lunch break

fixer upper

fixer upper

geo marker

geo marker

Heading north on North Mountain trail was a hoot.  With really only one gradual climb that I can remember, we were making good time.  And having a good time!  Once we reached SR 688 and Crawford Mountain trail, we knew we had some work cut out for us.  But our memory did not do us any favors.  The next 2.6 miles were pretty much miserable.  We were tired and running out of water.  I probably pushed my bike up at least 75% of this section and at times, it was 10-20 steps at a time, rest, and push again.  Miserable, but as I say, it’s all part of the adventure.

over 5,000 elevation gain

over 5,000 elevation gain

With hydration packs dry and a half of a bottle of water between the two of us, we were all smiles when we reached the top of Chimney Hollow trail knowing we had 3.5 miles of downhill left before an easy jaunt back to the Braley Pond parking area.  With that said, there is plenty of fast, narrow, bench cut trail and several extended rocky sections that demand every ounce of your attention, so after a day of hard mountain riding it wasn’t a gimmee.  It was definitely a hoot though.

All in all, it took us 5 hours to get to the fire tower and 3 hours to get back.  We covered 25 miles of steep, rugged, rocky, backcountry.  It was an awesome experience that was equal parts awesomeness and demoralization.  There are parts I would absolutely do again and other parts I will probably never do again, but am so glad that I did it.

Braley Pond to Elliot Knob and back again

Braley Pond to Elliot Knob and back again

Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find

–William Least Heat-Moon


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Just Another Hot Summer Day

Been away at the beach for a week. Lots of surf, beer, food, good times and  living the beach life. I could get used to that, but today I was back on terra firma and on the bike.

MS was my wingman, or I was his, and we hit up Powhite Park. It’s been a while and as it turns out, we were there a year ago to the day. I can’t help but be intrigued by the cyclical coincidence of that fact.

Bad enough how out of shape I am, but the oppressive heat took it to another level.  After a torturously beautiful ride, we dropped by Chesterfield’s own Steam Bell Beer Works.

Beats the hell out of yard work…

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To the Land of Bikes and Beers

Editorial: No updates since January.  Man, where has the time gone?  I can assure you fun has been had.  Without further adieu, here is the beginning of a recap of our most recent mini-adventure. 


Well, we did it again.  Well some of us did.   Ahem.  We went to the Mid-Atlantic Mecca of bikes and brews:  Pisgah!  Agendas varied, but MS, Lucaca and I departed Tuesday night and returned Sunday night.  Five days of riding, breweries and shenanigans makes for a lot to talk about, so I am going to do my best to keep it short.

Part 1 – Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Boone, NC

Boone was a bit of an excursion from our primary destination, but well worth the time.  Arriving late, we enjoyed some Lap Lap of Luxury and awoke with visions of Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park.

Hear that y’all, it’s a mountain bike park.  We were there back in 2012, but it wasn’t quite finished.  It’s a great little trail system that packs a lot of punch, as I would find out the hard way.

Highlights included the nicest La Quinta hotel ever (seriously), Ol’ Hoss trail, me taking a digger on PB&J and visits to Lost Province Brewing and Magic Cycles.

The Ride – in pictures


Post-ride in pictures

It was a great start to our mini-adventure.  In the PM, we departed Boone for South Mills River group campsite in the Pisgah National Forest.  More to come…



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Snow, slush, mud & melt.  65 degrees.  It’s always an adventure.  Get out there!

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Such is Winter

Such is winter.   People hibernate, I guess even when they have no reason to.  This winter has been especially mild though and aside from recent wetness, it’s been a great winter to ride bikes in the woods.


With a wet period upon us now, it’s a great opportunity to give some love back to your trails.  And even riding boring old fire roads can have a sense of adventure if you seek it.  Plus, it’s a great time to practice riding wheelies.



This is a call to get off your duffs and come out and play.  Or work, but our work is more like play, so it counts too.

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First Day Hike

I dragged the family to one of the First Day Hikes at Pocahontas State Park.  We did the Beaver Lake hike with a pretty good sized group of other First Day Hikers.


In all honesty, I would prefer to have done it with just the family, but the guide was great and it was cool to learn about Beaver habitat and behavior.

I’d definitely recommend a First Day Hike though, especially if you are new to the park or are interested in learning more about the park and its inhabitants.


Happy New Year!  No go outside and play.


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Christmas Day Ride

With about four inches of rain over the last few days, riding trails was out of the question, but T and I set out for a little suburban exploration.  Our route was a nice mix of off-road and pavement.  Everything off-road was a soggy mess, and T wore his good shoes, so he was treading lightly.


We left the neighborhood and travelled along a footpath on Old Hundred Rd. until we reached Kelly Green Lane, which led us to Clover Hill H.S.  We spent some time playing on the curbs and ramps enjoying the artificial features provided.

We eventually wandered down along Genito Rd where some more soggy bushwhacking took place before heading toward the homestead.   It was a fun ride and I look forward to future exploration when it is a little drier and T is wearing appropriate footwear!




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North Mountain Trail

The Setup

Recently, the crew and I embarked on our fifth annual DID (Douthat in December).  I’ll have more on the later, but for now I am going to focus on the the Monday following.

By Sunday night, it was just MS and me at the cabin.  On Monday morning, we headed over to the Longdale Furnace area to scratch the North Mountain Trail off our list.


From I-64, take Exit 35 onto Longdale Furnace Rd. heading west.  Keep an eye out for Route 770/Collierstown Rd, which comes up quickly on your left.  Follow 770 for about a mile until you reach a small pull off / parking area on the right.

There is road that continues on the other side of the parking lot.  For the route described here, that is where you will return.  Get on your bike and go back out to 770 and take a right.  Start climbing.


After about a 3 mile grunt, you will come to an intersection of sorts with towers up above you.  Take a hard right and climb a short distance to another small pull-off / parking area.  As the road starts to drop again, the North Mountain trailhead is on your right.

The North Mountain Trail

It starts off tight and rocky.  Almost immediately you will be provided great views of the valley to the east along with Lake Robertson.

There is a slow, steady climb along the ridge for a few miles and eventually you level off with gradual ups and downs typical of a ridgeline ride. There are still plenty of opportunities to take in views, check out rock formations, and just simply enjoy the remoteness of the trail.

The standout feature of this trail is Pete’s Cave — a large, rocky area with steps up to a large crevasse — which sits toward the end of the ridge at one of the highest points of the loop.

See that picture below?  Yup, that’s where the trail goes.  Climbing and pulling yourself through while pushing/carrying your bike is quite a departure from most trails you’ll ride and makes this a truly memorable route.



After reaching the top, take in another great view to the right along with lots of rock formations to explore.

Back on the trail, there is more up and down and narrow (overgrown) sections before a steep pitch up followed by another drop down to a sign that reads “Longdale” to the right.

In theory, you can also go left, but finding the trail on this day would have been a challenge.  Fortunately, even during this time of year and with all the leaf coverage, we did not have issues staying on course.

The initial descent is rocky, narrow, leaf covered bench cut with a few off-camber sections thrown in for good measure.  In other words, pay attention and have fun!

Eventually the descent takes you deep down into the hollow and it’s like a whole other world from the ridgeline above.  This section is also benchcut, fast, and a back-country hoot.  Just watch out for the locals and don’t fall into the ravine.

After 4 or 5 creek crossings at the bottom, you will come to another intersection.  Take a right at the sign that reads “To FDR 334” and it will take you back to your vehicle.


This route is only about 12 miles, but it is a solid 12 miles of remote, backcountry bliss with no bailout points except for jumping off a cliff.  Make sure you are prepared, and go scratch this one off of your own list.


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Our Latest Adventure: Part III

On Friday, we woke with giddy anticipation to get over to Windham, but stopped at the Log Cabin Cafe for breakfast. It’s a great place to eat, but be sure to bring cash.


Upon arriving at Windham, we were greeted almost immediately by the Santa Cruz tent just out front of the main entrance to the park. Syndicate!



We rode up to the top of the mountain on the lift, which was a lot of fun taking in the views and seeing some riders coming down the lower, more open sections of the course.

UCI World Cup DH -- to the right

UCI World Cup DH — to the right

At the top we wandered over to the starting point and began walking down the course. We quickly learned that while a lot of work goes into creating the course, bystanders and pedestrians are on their own. By the end of the weekend, foot trails were very well established, but there were several very steep and sketchy sections to traverse.

As we descended on foot, riders were coming down the course. We would stop at different points to watch. As I already knew, video and pictures can never portray how gnarly and steep some of these courses are. And it wasn’t long before we got a glimpse of Josh “Ratboy” Bryceland zipping by.

Ratboy dropping in

Ratboy dropping in

We made our way slowly to the bottom and got a real good feel for the course. All the while some of the best riders in the world were zipping by. There was a small crowd on hand, which was nice to allow us to get our bearings. The next day was going to bring out the crowds and the full-on festival atmosphere.





road gap

road gap

way gnarlier than it looks...and it looks gnarly

as gnarly as it looks, it’s way gnarlier…and steeper

boosting off the Phattest Lip

boosting off the Phattest Lip

making our way down the last section before Peaty's Plunge...MS claims it

making our way down the last section before Peaty’s Plunge…MS claims it

more wrenching on the V10's

more wrenching on the V10’s

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