Today I rode the 25 mile mountain bike race course in Michaux State Forest. A week ago on Saturday I had ridden the six mile loop from Strohms Hollow over the saddle ridge to Hogshead Hollow along the Pole Bridge Trail. This is a nice run, but where the trail goes through a regenerating clearcut, there are quite a few saplings fallen over and beside the trail, making for some tricky riding. A mile and a half is on dirt road so the average time for this loop is better than a ride with all singletrack. Then I rode this loop again Thursday in a 0:55 time; I panicked about half way through when I thought I wouldn’t make it out of the woods before dark, and really rode. Since that all went off fine, I thought I should be able to pull a 25-miler today.
On this route, there’s no clean water stops when there’s not a race. I started with almost one gallon of water in my pack, along with GU and lots of Clif bars. (Next time I’ll cache lunch and water at the parking lot in the middle of the route.)It’s nearly all technical singletrack. There are rocks, roots, and lots of logs to jump, some of them on nasty angles to the trail. Grave Ridge has many chainring grinding rocks, and is the most technical of all, but is relatively short at a little over a mile, compared to six or more miles for some of the higher trails. Most of the mileage is on trails along Piney Ridge, which is relatively flat and very rough. It’s similar to riding down a stairway, only here the stairs are laid flat. To conquer the rocks and roots demands a lot of speed, and speed takes a tremendous amount of energy on the flat like this. I parked at the Huckleberry Trailhead and rode over Grave Ridge first, then across 233 and up to then across the Woodrow Flat. The first six miles were easy with the most difficult part being the navigation. The Woodrow area has a complicated network of trails, and I have yet to see a map with even half of them on it. Before I left I plotted GPS waypoints of all the turns and intersections from a race map. This helped quite a bit; while not always accurate, at least I had a general vicinity and heading. After crossing Woodrow Road there’s a few miles of really smooth singletrack that I want to go back and ride again. The grades are gradual and easily climbed. There are many banked turns and some good drops on the downhill. Then the route crossed back over 233 and up the Log Sled Trail. This is a fairly unimpressive trail; I could drive my car up it, it is so wide and smooth. It steadily climbs 500 feet to end at the Piney Mountain Parking Lot. The race route is in the shape of a figure eight, with the Piney Lot being the center. I decided I felt strong enough to do the second loop before heading back.
I headed east a few more miles on a rough trail. Piney Ridge is notorious for having trails so rough they are rideable only with lots of strength. Some trails are littered with ATV parts that get hit off by rocks. I didn’t have trouble heading east; I was able to power over the corduroy rocks fast enough to get over them. But on the way back I was more depleted and many times the rocks would abruptly stop me. It’s frustrating to not have the power to ride a high enough gear to overcome them. A few miles out from the parking lot I dropped down the south side of the mountain on a very steep, rough, and leaf covered trail. This was one exhilarating ride, but don’t ever try to come up here. Then I turned too soon and did a wasted mile-long circle that had six stream crossings. I finally just bushwacked back to the trail I had come down on and continued farther until I reached the right turnoff. Most of the time the right trail is easy to follow as there is quite a channel worn in it from all the mountain bikes. But somehow this loop trail had lots of bike tracks in it, too. Maybe they all took the wrong one. Anyway now I was at the bottom of the mountain in Adams County, next to the apple orchards. The trail kept heading away from the mountain and even went partway up the next ridge before turning around and climbing back up Piney. About half way up this trail and 14 miles into my ride, I decided to stop and rest and have a lunch of Clif bars, chocolate, GU, and energy drink. I found a shade tree and propped my legs up to drain some of the lactic acids that sap energy from my leg muscles. I soon felt like riding again and continued back up the mountain to the parking lot on top.
The next trail was the Fender Trail, which runs parallel to Piney Ridge Rd. This trail is incredibly rough; I want to ride it someday when I don’t have 20 miles behind me. Then there was another trail on the other side of the ridge, which wasn’t as rough that took me to a point directly above where I parked. I took the Huckleberry Trail back down the mountain, and did it ever go down. It went straight down for 700 ft. and was one fast ride. I reached the pickup, draped myself over the seats, stuck the Camelbak hose in my mouth, and drove home. I was exhausted. Overall it took me 5:15 to do the 25 miles, breaks and wrong turns included. I won’t do it again tomorrow, but I want to do it soon. It won’t be as bad next time. And then there’s the 50 miler that I will do before fall…