Hinkle Mountain

The search for new roads.  The quest for hidden truths.   The exploration of space.  Looking for the biggest wave or the most challenging rock.   Delving deep into the cave.  Wanting to always know what’s around the next corner and what’s up and over the impending ridge.  All of the above and more, depending on what form your thirst takes, but for the inquisitive cyclist traveling a new lane is a call and a lure.

Pedaling the roads of Hardy and Grant County for over six years has been an adventure but as my reach grows my options, while being satisfied, inevitably shrink.  At the same time, as I expand my radius I look harder for stretches that may have initially been discarded as impassable, or overlooked entirely, as unmarked paths most likely leading to long forgotten homesteads.

Then some local who I have engaged in a detailed road discussion will say “have you ever been on Hinkle Mountain?”, and a back and forth will follow with land marks and cross roads to determine the spot.

While vast forests and meadows of lightly populated grander accent the West Virginia landscape, folks have been settling here for a long time.  They are of determined hearty stock and getting to the mountain top and/or the next valley may be what their initial survival success hinged on.  This would explain the network of old roads that exist.  Places that are steep, rocky and treacherous yet often lead to idyllic rolling, fertile mountain top pastures and settlements.  I have been surprised numerous times and this makes rolling the dice an easier choice.

Hinkle is an offshoot of a valley road 25 miles south west from the Barn.  There are a bunch of dirt roads springing from either direction heading off of South Fork road.  The east bound ones in the towns of Peru and Camp Run Springs link back up to Virginia near Bergton and Criders.  While being steep and difficult often including stream crossings I have had success making my way across.  But the roads that go over the west bound ridge have proven more difficult.  Some are just barely passable and others go magnificently up and up until they get smaller and smaller then disappear.  Fun until the fun ends.

With enough solid options plus a good paved pass further down I hadn’t given Hinkle much look.  On the map it was hard to read.  It may go over but the charting wasn’t clear.

When the guy told me about Hinkle and that it DID go over what follows is the unraveling of what exactly constitutes a dirt road suitable for non motorized two wheel machines with skinny tires.  I first have to establish credibility and a point of reference by name checking other known dirt roads.  I suppose my ultimate criteria is can a car do it or at least a four wheel drive truck (i.e. it’s not an ATV road).  If that is met and it maps out the next move is saddling up with flexible expectations.  Recon mode.

Recon is sensibly done solo or with one other.  There is too much that can go wrong and it is a gamble.  It is one thing to self induce a beat-down but to drag others in with you only shoulders the burden.

On the other hand willing participants who have been fully briefed on the parameters perhaps would suffice.  That was the situation Friday.  I had a small barn group and I could have either done my own thing or just bagged the recon ride but I didn’t want to not include or at least present the option and the Hinkle idea had been with me for a while.   It was time to get it on and the weather for Friday looked promising.  I kind of figured it would be unlikely for the boys to turn down the offer so I really hoped I had explained it enough without sounding too daunting.  The five NCVC riders and I set out from the barn not knowing what’s ahead.  Sigerto documents his own version of the trek at http://sigberto.blogspot.com/2010/04/hinckle-mountain-west-virginia.html.

The roll out is pure rhythm.  A long down hill off the mountain and a beautiful flat stretch in the river valley.  All told about 25 miles to Hinkle.  I had a good sense that once on Hinkle things would change dramatically and quickly but since I really didn’t know exactly, there wasn’t much point in spoiling the smooth roll out and cultivating fear and dread.

Coming off the highway the immediate dirt section was graded and surfaced fair enough but it wasn’t long before the kickers started.  By that I mean steeply pitched and questionably graveled switchbacks.  Tough enough with prior knowledge when you can sure up your effort and blast through but startling when caught unawares and traction is lost in the 39/27!

I guess the first one might have been comical.  It isn’t that we all went down like bowling pins.  Maybe only one or two didn’t unclip before hitting the deck but six reasonably strong cyclists were all of the sudden reduced to walking.

A short stint but reduced none the less.  I think I clipped back in very quickly and came out with renewed fury.  I hate walking and most of the time if you can press through the steep you do get recovery somewhere.

This was a tough one.  Maybe one of the toughest yet.  (Easily there with Crooked Road) My heart rate is blasting off but I am moving.  Rolling.  Upward.  The immediate early ascension from the valley is significant.  With in the pain and intense reading for lines that won’t halt me I am vaguely aware of some incredible boulder and rock formations with stream run off bordering the road and switch back points.

I continue up and see a guy in a truck locking up his gate.  He jokes “Can’t you find a better place to ride?!”  I stop to maybe get some insight into what’s ahead as far as turns go but quickly realize he has no idea.  He is heading down and it doesn’t even sound like he has been up.  He doesn’t even know the town on the other side.  Where we are going is a long way off and we have only started.  I clip back in.

The thing unfolds and paybacks (and pain) continue each validating the other.  The first plateau near some power lines reveals just how high we have gone in a short stretch.  I’m hoping we don’t have to go down at all to go back up.   Sometimes you get ridges and valleys within ridges that can be demoralizing but fortunately not this time.  On the other hand it just keeps going up.  For a distance.  More switch backs.  More pitches.  More vistas.  Somewhere in the middle there is another plateau with more interesting boulders and flowering trees.  Foreign and lunar or I am just maxing.

Shortly after that comes the next wave of walls.  This time there is no gravel or loose soil.  The dirt is hard and traction is good.  The wild card here are BIG rocks built into the road or rather that the road was built into.  Beside the steep grade and the fact that with full effort the bike is just barely moving you have to surge over these rocks.  They are scattered and irregular and there isn’t really a good line around them.  Very tough but it too ends and while continuing steep, becomes more traditionally smooth.  A respite by comparison.

I figure this steepness can’t sustain and use everything I have to not stop.  More then I have really, digging into the reserve with Samurai grunting to gather extra breaths.  It finally does level out and remarkably the top of this beast is smooth flat wide and peaceful.

It is also an unmarked intersection but that is of secondary concern.  I wait on the rest of the crew knowing how much I have just expended and hoping everyone isn’t too wrecked.  I also am questioning if it was smart to drag them into my madness.  One by one they hit the top or what we really hope is the top and under the exhaustion are varied, vague and just below the surface signs of satisfaction and joy.  Maybe the adventure does trump the effort.

‘You may hate me now but you’ll feel honored later.’

If not exactly honored at the least able to say you were in the initial expedition up Hinkle.  It feels like a success but we’re still at 2900 feet and it looks like a valley road.  Strange.   There are two ways to go.  I pick what looks the most inviting and what my map and directional sense lean to.  A toss up.

We roll on with a sense of victory.  I am cautious.  We still have to go down.  How can this road up top be so good, but it is.  People become relaxed but I don’t trust it.  It rolls dead flat for awhile then starts dropping.  Gravelly but smooth and not very sharp.  Straight.   Just down.   Faster but not blistering.  Maybe the first plateau before the descent and the switchbacks.

We hit another meadow with a farm house.  The road becomes pavement.  Odd.  Maybe some wealthy farmer with a road surface sideline.  It can’t last long.  But it does.

The descent is paved.  Smooth.  Some relaxed switchbacks.  There are some more unusual rock gardens and streams bordering the road as we sway down too fast for pictures.

Now it is officially a success.  A link.  A road that connects.  A new loop.  Maybe not for everyone and maybe only for select ‘efforts’ but in the mix and in play.  The rest has already been tracked.  The valley road back to Petersburg.   The climb out of Petersburg and the backside climb to the barn.

The entire thing is a leg burner.  I clock 75 miles and 7080 feet.  Bert has the Garmin stats posted at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/31011758 I think he turned his on a little after we started and missed some of the rollers near the Barn.  The miles and feet are big but not unusual for Lost River.  It is the surface and the pitches which put the ride into the realm of extreme strength training.

With steep pitches and limited recovery you press into the red.  There is really not an option.  Either that or stop.  The backside barn climb contains the same dynamic.  Putting two of these high level climbs in the same ride is stacking the deck.

Concurrently there is the visual aspect.  The images that are gathered and linger.  The pain fades but those grow and expand.  The expedition on the whole takes precedent.  The terrain and the occupants within it.   That the tank was emptied and can be refueled is a side athletic aspect.   That the whole experience can be absorbed and stored is the lasting payback.


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