Kerry Werner: Rockstar Trail to Rockstar Gravel Part 2
A Double Header Bikepacking Trip of Epic Proportions
The Rockstar Trail “Grand Depart” had been on Saturday - That’s right there is a race for this thing! - and the winning time was set by Abe Kaufman. He did it in 1 day 18 hours 50 minutes 15 seconds. That simply boggles my mind. I’d left on Sunday, the day afterwards so the trails were still freshly clear. Due to the blessed work of trail workers, I could see every rock and compression on Little Mtn Mare but the loam sucked all the power from my pedal strokes and made me fight for every bit of forward momentum. After 15 miles I was completely torched!
I ran into a Forest crew performing a controlled burn, which was really cool to see. Then I popped out at Ingalls Field Airport, had one more bonus climb up to a fire tower then dropped down one of the coolest single tracks of the entire route, Sandy Gap. 7 miles of old CC trail, hand built rock wall trail retention, and 6 miles off the top of zero pedal.
At the bottom of one of the coolest downhills on the route – Sandy Gap – I crossed a gravel road then pitch straight back up to Middle Mountain, literally hiking, before a quick traverse on and a the final plunge into Douthat State Park. That’s an official campground, so I purchased a nice flat spot on the ground to sleep, took a hot shower, and cleaned my chamois. That was all seriously needed!
I got to camp too late to hit the store before dinner the previous night, so in the morning I took the precious chance to re-supply and headed straight there after breakfast. I loaded up on chips, a sandwich and plenty of candy bars to see me through the next 30 miles of hard backcountry touring. Then I set my sights on Covington and the “Golden Arches” that awaited just outside the forest!
I’d been in this territory before so the 5 mile climb up to Tuscarora Overlook on Stony Run Trail was nothing new. Doing it with 40-50lbs of gear, however, was a new experience. At the top I was rewarded with an amazing morning view of Douthat Lake and the surrounding valley. It was well worth the trip.
I pointed my trusty Kona Hei Hei east and dropped down Fore Mtn, climbed up through a National Wild Turkey Preserve, and slogged up the Forest Service road. With every pedal stroke I dreamt of the Big Mac’s, vanilla milk shake, and fries to come.
I ripped the final descent into Covington and b-lined to Micky D’s. It was my first “real” food in 3 long days. It’s amazing how hard rides can make food taste!
I stocked up on gas station snacks in Covington, then pounded pavement up over Rich Patch Road and dropped into Roaring Run Day Use Area, where I’d planned myself a special treat.
From there the route goes through Roaring Run on a horseshoe-shaped trail. The Other side of the horseshoe ends just 1 mile down the road. So, I arranged my own shuttle! I dropped my bags where I planned to camp, then ripped the 10 miles of trail and pedaled back up the road to Roaring Run to set up camp.
Climbing up iron Ore trail with 30 pounds less of gear made me feel like a superhero, but I overlooked the fact that I’d set up my suspension for loaded touring. My bike thought I weighed 210 pounds and now I only had 180 pounds onboard. My bike felt absolutely terrible on the down hills, like I was riding a fully ridged bike from 1990! I reckon I’ll have to go back and ride the Hoop Hole National Recreation Trail with a proper set up, because the trail looked great!
I got back to camp in time to watch the sun wane and wished I brought a fishing rod as I watched people meander in and out of fishing holes with fresh trout in tow.
I was drifting off to sleep, thinking of the day ahead when I was struck my a terrifying realization. I had been riding roughly 65 miles per day with each day taking 7-8.5 hrs. With only 1 day left I had 90 miles on go. My last day would be by far my hardest! I reached for my phone, set an early alarm and crossed my fingers. It’d be a push to make it home tomorrow before dark the next day.
My wheels were rolling at 7:30 am and I covered the first 14 miles in 1 hour I kicked myself and thought I should’ve done that yesterday. However, I wouldn’t change those early morning, dew drop, foggy, first light farm field views I saw for anything. Serene and peaceful. I needed that moment of calm. Because from false flat down hill it pitched up on some dense trail to Price Mountain.
The leaves were derailleur deep and if I thought the loam on Little Mtn Mare was bad, the leaves on Price Mtn made me feel like I was wading through the ball pit I’d seen at McDonald’s. Once up at ridgeline the trail meandered on the north and south side, which was sweet! The down side was the trail transitioned from single track to half-track to quarter track and trying to balance my big rig made me feel like Danny MacAskill, except unlike him, I ended up getting off and pushing.