Kerry Werner: Rockstar Trail to Rockstar Gravel Part 1

Astral Team rider and Kona Bikes enduro champion Kerry Werner recently took on the Rockstar Trail and journaled the entire trip. When we say he spared no detail, we mean that the following three-day feature of his journey will make you feel as if he had you packed into his bag like an enduro version of Yoda. So without further rambling let's just dive into one helluva trek and enjoy the ride!

A Double Header Bikepacking Trip of Epic Proportions 

This wasn’t even my idea!

A friend planted a seed in my wife’s mind in early March, and she got the ball rolling. Then she hurt her knee and had to bail, but it was too late for me – I was invested! Without much racing on the calendar, I was ready to sink my teeth into an adventure. Being close to home, this was a perfect option. The planning back in!  

Jumping right back on the MTB would have been too much for my wife’s knee, but I still wanted to spend some time with her, so the Rockstar Gravel route was our target. Since everything is better with friends, we invited some along. 

That left me to do the Rockstar Trail Route on my own. It sounded fun, but I was a little apprehensive never having done more more than 1 night solo. But when the logistics lined up perfectly, I knew I had to do it! 

This is how it would go down; I would drive up to Harrisonburg, park the truck, do the Rockstar Trail, and ride to Roanoke. Then I would swap rigs from MTB to Gravel and our posse would embark on the Rockstar Gravel back to Harrisonburg where the vehicle was waiting for us. Then we’d drive home to Roanoke. One drive; two adventures! With dates set and agreed upon the plan was in place and it was time to execute. 

The Rockstar Trail is the brain child of Rob Issem, a Roanoke local with the nick name “Captain-insane-o”. The first time I met Rob was at a gravel race. He bikepacked to the event, raced it, then bikepacked home. It was in late October, the weather wasn’t cooperating, but that wasn’t stopping him. That’s the sort of guy Rob is and kind of friend I look for. 

The route links up some of the best single track between Harrisonburg and Roanoke, over 280 miles and 34k of vert. Some highlights are timber ridge off of Reddish Knob, look out mtn to Dowell’s Draft, Shanendoah Mtn Trail, Douthat State Park, Hoop Hole Trail (National Recreation Trail), and The Dragon’s Back!

I’d ridden some of those trails but never seen the majority, so I was excited to get out there. Using GPX files and google maps I divided my route into a solid 3 night, 4 day adventure. After completing the Colorado Trail last year, a 4 day trip seemed breezy, but on day one I realized this wouldn’t be the case!

I more or less used the same setup I had for the Colorado Trail, so check out my blog on that adventure for the full kit. Originally, I thought the biggest hurdle for this route was the distance between resupplies and thus the amount of food I’d have to carry. Once I got wheels rolling, I had a whole new list of concerns. The trail included more technical singltrack than I’d ever imagined and it was immediately clear that I was going to have some long days.  

Day 1 was 68 miles from Harrisonburg, Virginia to Braley Pond. The first 20 miles flew by, giving me an inflated sense of ease. The next 48 would set the course for the rest of the trip. A big climb led to a 4x4 ridge, more climbing up to Reddish Knob, and then I hit my first bit of single track. I dropped into Timber Ridge and it was like being thrown into the Octagon! So much rock, no warm up except the 4x4 ridge, which was in it’s own right pretty gnarly.

I got my Witts about me by the bottom and traversed gravel over to the bottom of White Oak Trail. I was fifty-two miles in at that point and the day was starting to wear on me, but the trail didn’t care. White oak was a brute of a climb for almost 10 miles! Relentless rock, I wished I would’ve put a 30t chain ring up front instead of y 32tx51t setup. It would have helped, but I honestly still would’ve cracked. 

I summited that beast and was rewarded for my efforts with an effortless rip down Dowell’s Draft that put me right at my camp spot at Braley Pond. I pitched a tent and took stock of the first day, trying to readjust my perspective and outlook on what was to come. My stress was reduced knowing that 15 miles into the next day I would hit familiar territory on the Shandedoah Mountain Trail. 

I woke up, smashed some instant oats and coffee, packed and hit the trail. I settled into the saddle up Johnson’s Draft and prepared myself for another 7+ hr day of ride time.

I crossed HWY 250 and started climbing gravel up to the Shenandoah Mtn. Trail. When I hit the Southern Traverse portion of the SMT started to relax -until I came across a bear as I dropped off the final section of ridge line. 

The meeting was thankfully uneventful so from there and I enjoyed the cruise on the paved road through Fort Lewis Valley. There, I started climbing Little Mtn. Mare single track towards Warm Springs Mtn. I’ll admit -that section of trail absolutely kicked my ass. 

READ Kerry Werner: Rockstar Trail to Rockstar Gravel Part 2 NEXT!