At this point, details are getting a little fuzzy. However, I can tell you that we decided descending Dowell’s Draft was the primary mission for Monday. We ate breakfast, drank some coffee, and broke down camp before we rode out to the entrance of Braley Pond and took a left on SR 715. The road starts off paved and is relatively flat as you roll through old farm land and pass a few homes and hunting lodges.
Eventually, state maintenance ends, the road turns to gravel, and then it starts to steepen. There’s a pretty good climb up to where the road intersects with FS Trail 716 (Wild Oak). Taking 716 to the left would lead you to the east side of the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness Area. Going south upon reaching FS 496 would take you back down to Bald Knob (see more about that here). Perhaps some other day. Our mission had us taking 716 to the right (east).
The fact that we pushed our bikes onto the trail kind of set the tone for the first part of our ride. Dowell’s Draft was only a short distance away, but it involved some serious climbing. There are two access points for Dowell’s Draft. Upon reaching the first one, we decided to keep going with the intention of continuing along Hankey Mountain toward Lookout Mountain and then backtracking to Dowell’s.
The distance between the two Dowell’s access points is very close on the map, but it turned out to be some of the steepest trail I have ever pushed my bike up. And not only was it steep, but it was loose and rocky. We finally reached the 2nd Dowell’s access, and decided to take a break. It was an awesome area with a fire ring (probably the third or fourth we had seen on this route) and tall green grass covering the ground.
We ate some lunch, checked emails and messages (one of the few spots with service), and enjoyed brilliant conversation. At one point, a lone deer crossed the path ahead of us and then wandered down to lower elevations.
We scrapped the idea of continuing toward Lookout Mountain and after refueling and recharging, we geared up and started our descent. For the record, I owe MS a descent back down the loose, rocky, steep gnarl one day. I think I’ll take a full face helmet for that mission. I’m pretty sure that MS was pleased with the Dowell’s Draft descent though. Chris Scott of Shenandoah Mountain Touring and organizer of the SM100 describes it as, “…surfing sidehill for five miles”. I couldn’t agree more.
Along the way we stirred up some turkeys, and we had to stop several times to rest the arms and legs and wipe the shizeatin’ grin off of our faces. The last section before connecting with fire road 449 served up several whoops that allowed for some awesomely fast downhill air. I have to admit, rolling out onto the fire road was a bit of a buzzkill, but I am so glad we had the experience.
I look forward to continuing exploration of the GWNF and hope to one day piece together a multi-day bikepacking trip right in our own backyard.
Getting back to logistics, if you hang a right on 449 and follow it for a short distance, it spits you back out on 751. Take a left and roll back to Braley Pond on your right. The total loop was only about 10 miles, but you could easily add more mileage if you choose.
After starting down Dowell’s Draft I only took video, and hope to post some of it here soon. Stay tuned.