Appalachian Assault (or Double A)

Routes: Day OneDay Two

Getting up and over and getting up and over again were obvious before start – that and the no turning back feature that has its own potency manifested in the positive by eliminating any creeping bail out notions.  We were riding bikes from Front Royal to RTR and if you did want to go back your gear was still in the support vehicle headed to the Barn.  Not that anyone showed hesitation.  The group was strong and solid and the stakes had already been established prior to depart.

A two day adventure.   We met for breakfast at L’Dees Pancake House in Front Royal and after some hearty grub threw our overnight packs in a jeep and mounted steeds.

The RTR tomato-chicken-vegetable post ride soup was already slow cooking at the Barn while dinner, an Asian style curry stew was in prep mode.  A big bonfire built the day before awaited ignition.  All we had to do was get there.

So, we weren’t exactly going ‘into the wild’ – we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) need to be eating any berries or tracking any game for sustenance yet this particular route or sequence had not been done before and it was clear that once at the Barn the only way back was to pedal.

The idea was to incorporate National Forest and dirt road ridge crossings to move west.  This is the best alternative to connect the two locales besides the busy and direct State Highway 55.  I had been on all of these roads before (many on the Va side prior to RTR when the Pioneer Motel just outside Skyline Drive was my base operations), but had never run the route continuous.

I knew it would be big.  I knew it would be challenging but I didn’t know the extent of either.

Day one delivered the goods.   A ‘mere’ 75 miles that left no one wanting more after.   The climbing feet was 10,000 plus while the pitches and surfaces transacted required maximum effort and concentration.   There were three dirt climbs and ridge ascents.   The first and easiest is the well graded Woodstock Towers section coming off Fort Valley Road.

This was a good way to get our climbing legs loose because it was progressively harder from there.  Pushing west into an all day head wind we crossed route 81 toward the foothills leading to North Mountain which divides Va and WV.   After some steep gnarly dirt road up and down the infamous Crooked Run Road announced itself.

Crooked is one of the more difficult crossings around.  Pure George Washington National Forest, it is something to submit and settle into.   You can’t beat it but you can maybe exist along side it and at best find some harmony while navigating your limits.

The tricky-while-dry descent, which now had shaded ice sections, falls right into Mathias and it could be a straight paved climb to the barn except we had one more dirt road to get home.  That was the plan.   Three dirt climbs.

Helmick Rock Road is the finale.  Not especially long but long enough with a one kilometer section that is easily 20 percent plus and has forced many a rider to dismount.  Helmick and Crooked show up on assorted Barn loops but usually not together.   To do     them both on a big ride day kicked the Double A into a serious notion.

Later that evening, with tired legs tasty beers a full stomach of food and the galvanizing (and at times shape shifting glow of the bonfire) I noticed the ONE car out front.  I have been here before.  Celebrating.  Enjoying.  Reflecting.   On the mountain wherever a mood takes you, but usually there are a bunch of cars out front.  Seeing the one car made the dark sky darker and bright stars brighter.  Quieter.  Everything was sharper.  It reinforced the reality.  A small detail but a reminder of how we arrived and how we would return.  As a unit, on bikes, rolling, drafting, collaborating and motivating to get there smoothly.

Day two was designed as a respite after the big outbound, but still tallied 72 miles and 6,300 feet.  There is one less ridge to climb since we dropped off the Barn ridge.   The National Forest crossing into Va is on Judge Rye Road, which is a parallel dirt road seven miles north of Crooked.

We dropped into Columbia Furnace and after a support vehicle stop of turkey jerky, nutella croissants and turkey feta pita pockets proceeded toward Edinburgh Gap a nice long meandering paved road crossing back into Fort Valley and the relaxing return to our departure point.

Coming near Edinburgh Joe D announced we were on the outskirts of his Marshall based training perimeter.   He knew the roads.  I knew them too but from a long time ago.  He knows them better so he took over and I got to enjoy the last third of the ride with a ‘professional’ ride leader.

Coming in on Fort Valley road we had a lockstep double paceline.  Pastoral scenery and the tired but energized feeling of long rewarding trek.   Even if it was only two days.

The name of the ride had not really been established but it was clear the routes and the migrations deserved a moniker.  I was stuck on Appalachian Ass Buster and that may be still what the initiated resort to but it was wisely by consensus determined that its connotations may deter riders in future versions.  So for now it is the Appalachian Assault or for short the DOUBLE A.

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