I'll admit it, I'm hooked. The Massanutten trail loop has gotten under my skin, RiderX & Jay have a new partner in crime.
With a few days left in my vacation and a three day pass, I contacted The Outlaw to see if he wanted to give The Ring another go. Jay couldn't make it this time around and I hoped my company would be enough. Joe & Jay had two previous attempts under their belts and I knew the task was no small feat. The plan gets modified with each new piece of information and there are still some missing pages from the play book.
I guess some background information is in order here. A couple years ago Joe told me about The Ring and his first attempt with Ricky & Jay. They tried it on bikes packed with gear and ran into numerous problems. Joe & Jay tired it again this past Spring (Ricky told them to take a hike....literally)and they ran out time as the weather delayed their start. Valuable knowledge was gained from these attempts and we tried to learn from past mistakes.
The Massanutten Trail, aka "The Ring", is a 71 mile loop that covers two mountain ridges, Massanutten East & West, in the George Washington National Forest. The plan is to complete the loop in two days to reduce the logistical problems of a longer trip. 35 miles a day seems reasonable enough, we have all done much longer rides in the past. However, these are not reasonable trails. With parts that date back to the Revolutionary War, long sections of this gnarled, rocky trail are all but impossible to ride and progress can be seriously impeded. On the other hand, sections that can be ridden are some of the finest pieces of single track I've ever seen.
Starting out from Mudhole Gap we had a little hiking to get to the top of the ridge. From there the terrain flowed as it undulated across the ridge line. The morning was already heating up and we knew it was going to be a scorcher, but, for the time being, on that section of trail, we were in a zone. Flying across the mountain top as we traversed past Woodstock Tower and over towards Green and Powell's Mountains. As I followed Joe through these woods I thought "it just doesn't get any better than this". A ridge line trail that offered everything you could possibly want, fast flowing lines, brief technical sections and views that were simply spectacular. This is mountain biking at its finest and exactly what I was hoping to find on this trip. A quick stop to fix a broken nipple was the only thing that broke up the flow of this trail as we descended into the Edinburg Gap.
Joe was diligent in his part as "expedition leader" and made sure I knew what was coming up. Short Mountain, he informed me, was nothing like what we just rode and had extended sections of hike-a-bike. As the day heated up, so did the terrain. The initial climb wasn't too bad, but, I knew it was only going to get worse. The progress we made on the previous ridge came to a screeching halt as the trail on Short Mountain became broken and gnarled. Sections you could ride were fun and challenged your skills, however, they were brief and followed by extended stretches where you had to portage your bike. The hard plastic soles on my shoes made matters worse as they slid across the rock surface in search of some traction. Somewhere in the middle of this mess we came across a couple equestrians headed in the opposite direction. I couldn't help but feel sorry for their animals as their bloodied legs negotiated the technical terrain. Their steel shoes searching for traction and finding little, like my spd cleats. At least we were there of our own free will, I doubt the horses had the same luxury. Even after we worked our way through the large rock fields, this mountain made you earn your turns. Forward progress was hindered with slow rock crawling that drained your reserves and fried your legs. It was about this time a visual inspection revealed an almost depleted hydration bladder. 3 miles left before our water cache and now I had to ration my remaining water bottle. The onset of a headache made this difficult to say the least. As the trail turned down and gravity became an asset the trail became only slightly less difficult. The seldom used trail was littered with loose boulders that shifted under your wheels. Coupled with over-growth that obscured the tread and made picking a clean line near impossible, I pinballed my way down hoping my wheel didn't find a hidden hole.
Off all the technical trail we rode towards the water cache and a major decision. This was mile 20 and it was 1:30pm. We were closing in on the 6 hour mark and still had at least 8 more miles of hard riding ahead, followed by 7 more that were mostly unknown. We had daylight, but, we really didn't have the legs. Short Mountain saw to that. Across the road from our stop was Jawbone Gap, a heinous section of trail which neither of us have first hand knowledge. This is followed by the Waterfall trail that Joe described as if a dump truck left a load of bowling balls behind. Neither of these sounded very appealing considering our current condition and we decided to pull the plug and try again some other time, when we could borrow Chris Eatough's legs.
Back at camp we filled our bellies and talked about the ride. While listening to the weather we decided to rest a bit and then ride over to Mudhole Gap to retrieve the car. Fridays weather was questionable at best and Joe didn't want another 20 mile ride in the rain like the last time. As with previous attempts, we learned some new things that will be applied the next time we go down there. The water cache was near perfect and I'd probably pack one extra bottle on the bike just to be safe. Summer might afford longer days, but, at what cost? The higher temperatures sap you of energy and increase the amount of water needed for the ride. The hard plastic soles found on racing shoes are great......for racing, but, a little extra traction and a bit more flex would really help on the extended hike-a-bikes. A rubber soled, lugged shoe would provide the sure footed traction required on sections found throughout this trip. Some Lake MX190's have already been ordered. A few more recon trips might be in order as well. First hand knowledge of every section would be invaluable for future trips. Besides, they give us a great excuse to go down and ride the incredible trails throughout this area.