Sometimes I think that I should not be allowed to come up with ideas, but the beginning of last week, I came up with a great one. A mountain bike ride starting at the Shenandoah River State Park, hitting the trails there, and heading over to Elizabeth Furnace. With a little more research I learned these two places were 15 miles apart. Since I was trying to fill 6 hours of riding time, that was fine, but I figured that there must be a forest road or a trail that I could use instead of the road. I tore apart the house looking for my George Washington National Forest map. I found one, but it appeared to be the wrong one. I kept looking and had my husband helping, but eventually we gave up. Several hours later, I realized that the map I had found had another side to it. On with the planning!
As it turns out, there are in fact several trails I could take that were easy access from the Shenandoah River State Park and head straight to Elizabeth Furnance on the Massanutten trail. My plan was looking promising! My husband wasn’t interested in my idea, so I had to secure at least one other crazy individual to accompany me. Since I know plenty of crazy people, that was fairly easy. My friend Marc quickly agreed.
As the week went on, I started to grow skeptical since I have heard of almost no one doing any such ride. But since Marc did not think it was a terrible idea, neither would I.
Fast forward to Sunday morning and I DO NOT want to get out of bed, or leave the house, or really do anything at all. After a draining week at work and all day Saturday spent catching up on yard work, I’m still tired, I feel terrible, and I doubt my ability to even do a 6 hour ride after last weekend’s calamity on Skyline. I keep thinking I’ll start to feel better, but I don’t really. I feel like a sack of potatoes in the car, with the coffee doing little to help. Last I checked, potatoes are not very good at mountain biking.
We start out our ride going straight up hill, but even that doesn’t really seem to wake me up so I try to ignore it. After a spin around the park we head out to cross the river and begin the adventure. We ride a gravel road to our trail head, and when we arrive, we are faced with a giant TRAIL CLOSED sign. Forest fires. Oh yeah, I forgot about those. I’m pretty sure the fires ended a while a ago, but the trails were still closed. Every possible option in the area was closed. Since I am a bit of a rule follower and I didn’t really want to get arrested by the Forest Service, I suggested my original plan of riding the road over to Elizabeth Furnace. Marc suggested driving. I knew that if I got back in the car, I might just stay there, so I convinced him that riding was the much more practical option.
The road was a combination of gravel and paved sections with some good climbs. The steady ride over almost started to make me feel a little better. It required no concentration like the rocks at the top of the ridge would have required. When we arrived at Elizabeth Furnace, we promptly went through the wrong gate and ended up pretty much no where. We started over, found the right gate, and were on our way. Up, up, uphill.
Towards the top of the fire road climb, we stopped for lunch. Knowing that Marc is one to pull out a turkey sandwich when everyone else is eating Power Bars and gels, I was well prepared with an actual LUNCH. I had 2 sandwiches, potato chips, and blueberries. It was glorious! We continued to grind on, hit the single track section, and were quickly back on fire road.
The last section of trail and its hike a bike was not any better than I remembered it. I had kind of hoped that maybe in the past two years I had become such an awesome mountain biker that it would seem like no big thing. Not so much. I’m not sure how long it took, but I was slow enough that the auto-stop on my Garmin didn’t even think I was moving for most of the time.
Finally, we were back at the main park area and we filled up on fresh water. We still had about 15 miles to ride back to the car. Whose idea was it to RIDE over here anyway? I asked Marc. Yeah, it was mine. The ride back ended up being mostly downhill, so it was actually pretty fun. What made it even better was having Marc’s wheel to pull me back.
We ended up covering 47.5 miles in about 6 hours with around 5,000 feet of climbing. Not bad, and an almost perfect route for an SM100 training ride. I will officially proclaim the experimental mountain bike route a success, with much potential for improvement and variations!