Friday, March 31, 2006


Sherando and the Gap - in Quest of VF

This is a long post about the ride I did after the Jeff Cup almost a week ago. It's best enjoyed while you're at work and have some time to day dream.

Living at sea level in the flatlands of eastern Virginia leaves a cyclist pining for mountains. Even big hills. Anything other than man made bridges for elevation changes. We live in a land devoid of VF(vertical feet), so when the opportunity presents itself .... it's time to carpe diem. The day after the race I went out to Sherando Lake to test my legs on some of the miles and miles of MTB trails. Sherando is in the valley to the east of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in the morning shadow of Wintergreen Ski Resort. Never having been there before, I'd done some serious map recon, as well as getting insight from some locals that had ridden there before.

The map showed the western entrance to Reed's Gap was just down the road, should I give it a go? I'd ridden up Reed's from the other side many, many years ago and remember how hard it was. Oh well, nothing to loose, I can always turn around and ride back. On the road bike for some warmup around the park, then a few miles up the road to the gap. 1100 vertical feet in 3.5 miles. Grades of 15%, but at least they weren't continuous. It was a low speed, heart pounding, balancing test in a 39/25, but well worth it.

Turn's out the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed north of there. I rolled across and looked down at the east side of the gap. A nicer road but tougher climb. I thought about riding down for a very brief second ................. nah, then I'd have to ride back up.

Time to roll on some fat tires. If you've ridden Sherando before I hope you enjoy the photos. Click on the trail titles to go to a slide show of each. If you haven't ridden there, you should go, soon! Debate rages between what's the best - Sherando, Douthat, or Walnut Creek. Now that I've ridden each of them once (wow) I'd say they're all great, but Sherando is the place I'll return to first. The reasons being - I've got many more trails to explore there, and it "feels" like more of an adventure in the wilderness than Douthat. The riding is more technical than Douthat too. I also like the close proximity to some of the best road riding around. I'm NOT saying any one is any better, but I'll be going to Sherando again before the others.

I opted to park in the park rather than the other spots (Coal Road) just 'cause it felt safer. There is a slot to collect money, but no envelopes. I threw 4 bucks in there anyway, the days adventure was worth at least that much. Aside from a few fisherman and some loggers, there was no one else in the parking lots. I never even saw another cyclist or hiker all day, and only one fresh set of bicycle tracks. I wanted to get all the climbing out of the way early as my legs were tired. Here's a map of the route. Follow the yellow highlight. I GPS'd it, but haven't loaded the track yet.

Up White Rock Gap Trail to the Parkway

Pick up the trail behind and above the upper lake. A great workout. Moderately technical climbing up 1100 vertical feet to the Parkway. Only one or two dismounts necessary. Bear left (straight) at the split to Slacks. Part of the way up I had to stop to take off a jacket and jersey. It was a beautiful sunny day and the climbing was buildin' up too much heat. Saw some interesting stuff toward the end of the trail. Try and figure THAT one out!?

Once up to the Parkway, I wasn't sure where to go. Directly across the road was a sign to White Rock Falls. It wasn't on my map, but hmmmmm, "seemed" like a good idea at the time. That would prove to be a regretful decision.

White Rock Falls Trail to the Falls and back up to the Parkway and Slacks Overlook

I started dropping hard earned VF quickly once on this trail. All the while thinking - "What goes down must come up". But hey - it was an ear to ear grin downhill, with one "forced" bailout (whoops), and one tough rock garden before the falls. At the falls I snapped some photos, looked around, slammed a gu or two before trying to ride out. It was all uphill from there. 1.1 miles, 600VF and all but a very small stretch was unridable. Heck most of it was almost unwalkable. I mean almost unwalkable without a bike. With a bike it was a real struggle. Too steep, narrow, and rocky, to push the bike up. The only way up was to shoulder the steed and put a hand on the ground. Hiking boots with no bike woulda been a good workout. Not sure how long that 1.1 miles took, but I was sure glad when it was done.

From Slacks Overlook down Lower Slacks and back up White Rock Gap. Nice trail - some rocks, but pretty much all rideable. I took the Parkway back up to the Overlook. Looking across the valley from Slacks Overlook you can see the high peak of Devil's Knob where Wintergreen Ski Resort in located. The lower peak to the right is Black Rock Mountain.

Upper Slacks to Bald Mountain Overlook

Just another 800 VF on tired legs. The rocks were fierce on upper Slacks. Then got worse on the way up to Bald Mountain. The cool thing was the snow on/around the trail. Up over 2900 feet all the snow hadn't melted yet. I was still riding in a long sleeve underlayer with a short sleeve Craft T-Shirt. Some tights over my shorts. I hit a loose rock on the way up that ever so gently laid me over on my side. It felt so comfortable laying there that I just didn't want to get up. BUT, like Everest, I had a 4:00PM summit turn around time. Had to make sure I would be back before dark. It was hard to believe I'd been riding/carrying my MTB for over 3.5 hours. Time to get a move on.

Finely at the top, I looked around for an observation tower that was supposed to be there, but all I found was an outhouse. I looked around there for some bear tracks, and saw none. Proving once and for all that, at least in this part of Virginia, bears do $hite in the woods!

Jeep Road to the Switchbacks Mills Creek and Home

Almost missed the turn as the sign to Switchbacks/Mills Creek Trail was torn down. Once on it. I knew this was what I'd heard about. What a scream! Had to force myself off the bike to get photos 'cause it was too much fun riding. The trail was already covered in the afternoon shadow as the sun was setting behind the mountain. Switchbacks is everything it was made out to be. Fast, fun, a sweet reward for all the climbing to get to it.

Mills Creek Trail crosses over Mills Creek many times. I found it hard to follow toward the end. The sun was setting and I felt an urgency to get back. Any significant mechanical at this point and I'd of been forced to stumble through the unknown forest at night. Glad I had the GPS - I don't leave home without it.

Finally got to the Coal Rd. Yee-haaaaw. Even better - it was gravel! The sun was low and the shadows long.

A 5 mile road ride past the Torry Furnace, a pack of yappin' dogs, back into the Park, and I was done for the day. Over 7 hours in the saddle(s), with lots of VF. It would be my last ride for a while as surgery was the next day.

Can't wait to get back to Sherando to get my



PS - This sore, achin', healin', throat is getting old.

Hope you're feeling better. That hole was nasty. Hope to see you soon. J
I agree, sherando is probably my favorite with Douthat a close second. I'm taking some friends up this weekend, we're going to stay at wintergreen and have 5 days of riding the road and exploring Sherando. I think I missed what you are having surgery for, but i hope all is well.

Hi Lee,

We have a TriPower group going up there this weekend also. They'll be staying up on Wintergreen too, so if you see the blue and orange flames yell hey.
Everyones getting ready for the Wintergreen TT. I'll prolly miss it this year as it's just after Trans-Iowa, and the same day as the 12 hours of Lodi Farms.
A camping trip (or 3) to Sherando is definately in my future.

Have a great weekend riding up there,
Yeah, we'll be doing Wintergreen and Lodi that weekend. It'll be tough, but fun. I'll look for the TriPower people this weekend.
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