Day One | Day Two | Day Three
In 1493, Columbus sailed the deep blue sea...or something like that. Regardless, he was a great explorer. What better way to celebrate the day that bears his name than to do some exploring ourselves? Why not make it a whole weekend? That's just what Norma and I did.
Exploring doesn't just mean seeing someplace new. It also means trying out new activities. Norma is a veteran bicycle camper. This was my first time. She would teach me the fine art of bicycling while carrying 35 pounds of gear over a long distance. Oh boy!
Day One: Saturday, October 11, 2008
The last time I went on an overnight trip to West Virginia was on my August 30 to September 1, 2008 Seneca Creek backpacking trip. On the first night of that trip, I set my pack down, only to accidentally rest it on my Platypus water bladder nozzle. All the water leaked out and got on my camera, rendering it useless for most of the next day. One would think I would have learned my lesson. I did not. On the night of October 10, I carelessly and unknowingly put my backpack on the Platypus nozzle and once again, all the water leaked out, this time on my new car upholstery. Thank heavens it was only water and not Gatorade! I vowed to replace the nozzle with one that could be shut off so this would never happen again.
It was a LOOOONG drive to the trail so my car had lots of time to dry out. About 5 and a half hours! Fortunately, Norma and I took turns driving and napping so it wasn't too bad. It was also nice to listen to the bluegrass channel on Sirius satellite radio. Mountain music to get us in the West Virginia mood.
We stopped at Jack Horner's Corner on Seebert Lane in Hillsboro, West Virginia 24946, phone: 304-653-4515. Here, we bought some snacks and paid Jack Horner to shuttle us and our bikes. Next, Norma and I drove to Watoga State Park and selected a site at the Riverside Campground area. Jack followed us to the campsite, loaded up our bikes, then took us to the north trailhead at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. He's quite an interesting fellow who knows how to live life to the fullest. Semper Fi Jack!
The long drive and the shuttle gave us a late start so we didn't start riding until about 1430. Fortunately, we weren't carrying our camping gear on the first day.
We began bicycling on the 79 mile long Greenbrier River Trail. This rail trail was once part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Today it serves walkers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians. It give folks a chance to get outside and enjoy the beauty of West Virginia.
We saw a couple in a horse drawn wagon. See first photo at left. Later, we saw another couple on horses. The man was standing on the ground, holding onto the reigns of both horses. I slowed down and came to a gradual stop about 6 meters away. The horses were quite skittish. Maybe next time I should stop further away.
Norma and I have had many adventures. Oftentimes, certain things remind us of previous trips. For example, we rode through the 500 foot long Sharps Tunnel which was constructed in 1900. See second photo. This brought back memories of us walking through the 3118 foot long aw Paw Tunnel on July 1, 2007. We also crossed Sharps Bridge (third photo).
The trail was covered with lots of walnuts (at least that's what I think they were). There were also many apple trees that lined the trail. The apples looked pretty ripe. The redness of the apples added to the multitude of fall colors (fourth photo) we love so much at this time of year.
We saw 2 kayakers but I think they were more interested in fishing than paddling.
Norma and I saw more deer than I've seen all year. I never cease to be amazed by their athleticism. What costs less, beer nuts or deer nuts? Deer nuts are cheaper. Beer nuts are a buck twenty five while deer nuts are under a buck. But we didn't see any bucks, just does.
We passed through some small towns like Marlinton (fifth photo). Others were so small, I wouldn't have known they were there if the map didn't say so. Don't expect to find a restaurant or store.
The sun was getting low and the bugs came out. I wore sunglasses but I would have preferred clear, non-prescription glasses. Or perhaps better yet, just wear prescription glasses instead of contact lenses. The first wave of bugs were some small black insect. They got all over our clothes and hung on for some of the ride. The second wave were ladybugs. They too got on our clothes but some of them ate the smaller black bugs that latched on earlier. We preferred the ladybug swarm to the other one.
With the summer long gone, the days are getting short and we were pushing to avoid riding in the dark. By the time we made it back to the campsite (about a mile off the trail around mile 43), most of our light came from the full moon. We set up the tent, ate, showered, then visited the sandman. After having rode about 39 miles, our sleep was well deserved.
Sleeping on the ground isn't the most comfortable thing for me but ever since I started doubling up on my foam sleeping cushions, I've slept better and woken with less soreness...or so I thought.
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Day Two: Sunday, October 12, 2008
After about 10 hours of sleep, we were refreshed. Unfortunately, I was quite sore. Not from biking but from doing pullups on Thursday and Friday. I don't usually like to work the same muscle group two days in a row if I'm doing strength conditioning but I figured that if we'd be bicycling three days in a row, I'd have plenty of time to recover. The problem is that it had been at least 2 weeks since I'd done any pullups so I wasn't in the best shape to start. Now I was really hurting.
We took a walk down to the Greenbrier River which was only about 60 meters from our campsite. The morning fog hugged the water. See first photo at left. The water was clean and cool. Many snails clung to the rocks near the shore. I've heard that the river is paddleable before July though you'd never know it if you saw it in October. A good deal of it was extremely shallow. I would love to return with a kayak when the water runs deep.
Once we started riding, my soreness wasn't so bad. It hurt to pull my shoulders or elbows back but the forward leaning position of biking was quite comfortable.
The rail trail has only two tunnels and we passed through the second one, Droop Mountain Tunnel, on our second day. See second photo.
Since we were on a rail trail, our stream crossings were done via heavy duty bridges. Along the way, we passed some bridge foundations that no longer supported any structure. We also saw a swinging bridge that was privately owned. See third photo.
We saw about 3 kayakers (fourth photo). I think 2 were the same ones we saw yesterday. Can you find both of them in the photo? There was a launch site around mile 14.
Norma selected a 5 star campsite at mile 13. It had a fire ring, picnic table, well, heavy duty clean outhouse (with lots of toilet paper), and a waterfront view. The trail is very well maintained and there are numerous campsites, wells, and toilets along the way. In fact, unless it is a hot day, I think a person would do fine carrying one quart of water and just refilling at the wells.
Norma has good endurance but she was feeling a little sore after our 33 mile ride on day 2. Unlike the first day, we were carrying full camping gear. I reckon the two of us carried about 60 pounds between us. Though the north to south route was slightly downhill, it was hardly noticeable. I believe I heard that the elevation change is only about 450 feet over the whole trail! I think our moving average was about 8.5-9 mph.
I had some energy left and wanted to see the southernmost terminus so Norma told me to go ahead while she set up camp.
I carried only minimal weight and took off like a rocket. I could tell I was getting near the end of the trail because I started to see many more people. While from mile 8 and up we saw maybe two people every 2 or 3 miles, I was now seeing lots of walkers...maybe 15 betwen mile 3 and 5.
I saw quite a few wasp nests (or maybe they're bees). See fifth photo at left.
Curiously, the trail ended at mile 3 in Caldwell. I asked a local about it he said that the actual railroad went on to mile zero but the trail ended here.
Sprinting back at 14 mph, I made it back to the campsite in time to eat and walk down to the river before it got dark.
Norma gathered firewood while I was gone so we had a nice roaring fire going.
We heard some animal (I guess it was a bird) that sounded like fleas dropping in the Centipede video game.
The well was a nice touch. No need to purify our water. But it did take a little work. It took at least 10 pumps to get any water and when it did come out, it did so like a schoolyard fountain. Later, we found that if one pulls up on the brass tab, the water will exit from a faucet that makes refilling canteens easy. But that is really a two person job as it is hard to pump, lift the tab, and hold the canteens at the same time.
We hung a bear bag that would have made Mike J. proud. Then we were off to bed.
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Day Three: Columbus Day, Monday, October 13, 2008
One thing I learned that night was that rechargeable batteries just don't cut the mustard when it comes to headlamps. I've noticed this to be the case for a few things. They are good for the environment but if you need a global positioning system (GPS) to last for more than a full day or for a headlamp to produce bright light, then standard batteries might be better. At least they work great for my camera but with the lense repeatedly popping out, I'm afraid its days are numbered.
Once again, there were some nice views of fog on the water near our campsite. See the lovely Norma in the first photo at left. To the south, the fog hung thick against the mountains (second photo). But as the sun rose, the fog lifted (third photo). To the north, the sun shined brightly against the hills (fourth view).
After packing up, we biked north, retracing our steps to get back to my car.
About 200 meters south of mile 24, we came to some small caves, fifth photo. The middle one was the biggest and we had to crawl in on our hands and knees to go in, sixth photo. After a few feet, we were crawling on our elbows and knees, seventh photo. I don't think we got in more than about 6 meters. It appeared to open up past a small opening but I don't know if I could have fit my head through the opening and I wasn't about to try. Some wooly bears (fuzzy catepillars) hung around the entrance.
We stopped once again at Droop Mountain Tunnel near mile 31. There was a wooden structure to prevent loose rocks from hitting people. I climbed up the bottom part of the structure. About 10 feet up, there was a platform that stuck out about 2.5 feet. I had to hold onto the base of the structure with one hand then stretch my body out so I could reach out 2.5 feet then up another foot to grab a rail. From there, I was able to hang 11 feet in the air then pull myself to the top of the platform. I saw lots of fallen rocks on the platform and had a nice view of the tunnel. See eighth photo at left. The sides down below on the trail were lined with reflectors.
The night temperatures were in the 40s and the days were in the 70s. It was sunny and dry with no chance of rain. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
Last night, a dog walker near our campsite told us we might see some beavers near the rope swing on the way back. We stopped and looked for them but found none.
We finished by 1500 after riding 33 miles.
Our next stop was the Arrowhead Trail at the entrance to Riverside Campground Area of Watoga State Park. We hiked one mile on this orange blazed trail up to the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower. Unlike other lookout towers, this appeared to be made out of giant Lincoln Logs. See ninth photo. The view was good but I don't know if it was quite worth the mile long uphill climb (see tenth and eleventh photos). I don't mean to sound like a whiner but after three days of biking, walking uphill wasn't so easy. At least we managed to catch a catnap in the tower.
Driving away from Watoga, we saw a small black bear cross the road then crawl under the guard rail. I don't think it was more than 3 feet tall at the top of the shoulders.
The last outdoor adventure for the weekend was a walk on the Beartown Boardwalk at Beartown State Park. This was a short walk on the way home and well worth the stop. The natural beauty of the area was on par with New Zealand! The droop sandstone, pitted rocks, and rock-cap ferns were truly breathtaking! Norma had been here a few years ago and thought I would appreciate it. She was totally right. See twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth photos at left.
Though it was a long drive, our weekend of biking was well worth it. If anyone is interested in doing the same, I think you won't regret it. Some useful information is listed in the sixteenth and seventeenth photos at left. Enjoy!
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I biked 125 miles, learned the art of bicycle camping, and got to explore some new, interesting, and scenic places. I think Christopher Columbus would have been proud of our sense of exploration and adventure. Special thanks to Norma for organizing this fantastic weekend!
After getting home, I looked at my Platypus nozzle more closely. I fiddled with it a bit and realized that it has a shut off capability. I never used it and didn't know it was there! Sometimes I get so interested in exploring things in another state that I don't bother to explore the things in my own home. Lesson learned...next time, I'll read the directions!