Country Roads Take Me Home: West Virginia
In July of 2006 a few of my friends joined me on an inaugural bike tour of West Virginia. I spent that winter planning a variety of routes through the Monongahela National Forest, and this would be our first of many weekend tours in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
An early morning departure from the Pittsburgh area had us loading up the trailers high atop Spruce Knob. The starting point for this 60-mile mixed-touring loop was the Big Run/Allegheny trailhead off Route 112. Heading clockwise, we utilized forest roads, rail-trails, and paved roads.
The reality of pulling our belongings behind us set in as we headed down the dusty and rolling forest road, quickly understanding why West Virginia is known as "The Mountain State." Soon we were treated to one of many mountain vistas. After rolling onto pavement (Route 28), we climbed over Allegheny Mountain and coasted into our campsite for the evening -- Island Campground, situated on the banks of the East Fork of the Greenbrier River. The fishing looked spectacular.
A short pedal farther along on day two dropped us into the town of Durbin, whose railroad depot station was completed in 1902 and restored a century later, in 2002. It was the center of action on this Saturday morning. The Durbin Rocket was firing up for another scenic 10-mile round-trip. As we approached the station, I heard banjo music; what I thought was a recording turned out to be an Appalachian musician picking away in his rocking chair while passengers prepared to board the train.
Before I knew it, my friend had snuck his way onto the engine and was posing for a picture. Durbin is also the southern terminus of the West Fork Trail, which would serve as our exodus from the world of pavement. Named after a branch of the Greenbrier River, this rail-trail passes in and out of meadows and forests, and could be considered monotonous if it weren't for the remote and relaxing setting.
We departed the trail in Wildell, a lumber boom-town from decades ago, and began a 4-mile, 800-foot climb on Middle Mountain Road. The top of the mountain had us rolling on either side of the ridge for a few miles before dropping us 800 feet back down into the heart of Laurel Fork. We opted to bypass the Laurel Fork Campground and stay a half mile east at a dispersed site along Forest Road 423.
We awoke on day three to muggy conditions. We left the Laurel Fork wilds quickly, breaking out into a high mountain farm setting. Here we would encounter the steepest grades of the trip. Our next encounter, besides some bear scat (did I mention this is bear country?), was the 3/4-mile underground flow of Gandy Creek through Yokum Knob, known as the Sinks of Gandy. A topo map will help you locate this area, and you'll want to read about the history of the place before visiting. Although located on private property, public access is allowed (please respect the property owner and treat the land with care).
Soon we climbed past Spruce Knob Lake, the van appeared, and we celebrated the success of our first trip!
Tips for this adventure: Check out the town of Durbin and the Durbin Rocket. Bring your fishing gear; you won't be disappointed. Also carry a headlamp and spare clothes for exploring the Sinks of Gandy. The Spruce Knob area has a lake, great singletrack riding, and happens to be the highest point in West Virginia. (For West Virginia trips I use, as a starting point, the mountain-biking map Adventure Cycling created for the Monongahela National Forest back in the mid-1990s. It is a great map for planning.)