Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rolling down the North Bend

Wolf Summit, WV (East Terminus of the North Bend Rail Trail) to North Bend State Park, WV. 42 miles of riding in 4:58 hrs. 

Damn sweet to be on something that resembles trail again. We pushed through the morning up at our Red Roof Inn in Fairmont. Gassed up, got some food at the grocery and ate breakfast at Subway (thanks Sue and Hursh – we still have the people at Subway marveling at how much is on that card). And hell, we haven’t  even touched the Subway cards from my folks from Summa and one of my clients Kathy-Ann. You guys are going to Subway us half way across the United States. Thanks again everyone. So then it was on to where I left off yesterday at Wolf Summit, the eastern end of the North Bend Trail.
         Now let me say two things here about the North Bend Rail Trail: #1 this is NO rec rider’s trail – I was mud soaked, tired and beat up from a mere 42-miler today; and #2, kudos to one of my clients Marshall, because this dude was down here about 4 wks ago and did an out and back 90-100 cyclo cross ride on this trail – no suspension, no big mt bike tires to help cushion the ride. Marshall – awesome job man!! The first 30 miles of this thing is definitely NOT for recreational riding. It’s buffeting, bumpy, and there are some pretty wet sections along the way ( I had to hose my bike off again because it was so caked with mud and black cinder). Then there are the long sections of like just grass…yea grass for miles on end. It’s like riding across an old practice football field. Now it may seem easy, but this stuff if a grunt when you’re doing it for mile after mile. You absolutely cannot do this thing on a hybrid or road bike – you WILL surely get your spine shortened by several inches by the time you’re done! At the very least you’ll need 28C tires, and that’s a bare minimul – I’d recommend 32C or bigger. And suspension is something that you can only appreciate when you’re on a non-suspension bike. This trail will knock your eyeballs out with zero suspension.
         Now add to this the umpteen tunnels that you go through. I had a nice little mini mag light, for these, but a big bright cyclo light would have been the bomb. Nonetheless, some of these tunnels definitely require a light, because they curve so that in the middle you’re in pitch blackness. The first tunnel was like over 1000 ft long, and to make matters worse, there was a small stream running through it today - likely from the rain storm from last evening. Yea, I was riding through about an inch of water in total darkness – except for my mini mag light – freaky shit indeed. I was just constantly expecting a big ass rut or rock in my path that would bounce my sorry butt off the bike. But nary was the case in any of the tunnels.
         So this trail has a pattern to it, and it goes like this: you climb this imperceptible false flat, and you know it’s a false flat because you’re working your ass off and going like 9 mph; then you hit a tunnel and lo and behold once you get to the other side you begin a subtle descent, because all of a sudden it feels easy to do like 12 mph. And this goes on over and over again. Hell, I did 8 tunnels today. If I had to compare this trail to something we have back home in Northeast Ohio, I’d say it’s similar to the section of the Portage bike and hike in Towner’s woods, but wetter and a tad rougher; and then the grassy areas, as I said, are like riding on an old football field.
         I’d say that this is a primitive trail, but compared to the Harrison County Rail Trail from yesterday, this thing was a freaking Sunset Blvd! The area round the North Bend is pretty remote and pretty impoverished. Now what it does have going for it is the gas and oil industry. The gas/oil business down here is just booming big time. I passed 3 major encampments on the trail today that were like mini gas/oil boomtowns un to themselves. One was so big that it obliterated the trail for a quarter mile. I was left to ride around on these access roads trying to figure out the trend of the trail from where it was wiped out. After two failed attempts at relocating the trail I finally found it, but my route was through this quagmire of muck from all the truck traffic. I had to ride as gingerly as possible so as to not get myself clad with lbs and lbs of muck. And nearly everywhere that I crossed roads, I saw oil/gas vehicles. In some of the little “Oil-villes” there were hundreds of trailers for the workers to live in. They had numbers on they’re sides as if they were row houses. In some areas I saw workers just parked on the road to commandeer traffic on these totally remote backroads. They’d have a little tent set up and that’s what they’d do all day long – let traffic through when the construction vehicles were not busy.
         Now I went through this scene on my second and third Trans-American trips, the second through ND, and the third through UT. And I’ll tell you, this is an equal to both of those. Good thing is that I don’t have to travel but a smidge on the roads, so I’m pretty unaffected by this whole thing right now – other than them obliterating one section of trail. And I got to thinking this time through of what’s going on here, like the two different sides of this phenomenon. On the one hand, the Green side of me hates to see all the degradation of the wild lands in all these beautiful places. Then there’s the water and soil pollution, the traffic, the craziness that it causes in small towns and cities. But there’s this other side, the side prior to this trip I just hadn’t really considered – the economic side! Yea, I hate to think of it in those terms, but let me tell you – you drive through WV, through the areas that I’m riding through and look at the state of the economy. It’s deplorable. I mean some places look like they’re Third World for God’s sake.         
         So this gas/oil boom going on is really providing an economic shot in the arm for these folks. After seeing what I’ve seen in the last several days out here in WV, I just couldn’t imagine these folks not having this segment of the economy to provide them with an income. Without it the area would be living in the 19th century for sure. I see a lot of the folks down here driving new pick-up trucks and such and it makes me think that they have viable jobs so that they can live a decent life and raise a family NOT on the government doll.
So anyway, I’m torn in both directions. This is such a hot button issue, not only down here in WV, but also up on Ohio, where we’re only now just feeling the issues of the gas/oil industry come to a head.
         Well, enough of my getting on the pulpit. Needless to say I was stunned by the enormity of the gas/oil industry down here – and the depth with which it has bored way the hell into the backcountry of WV. So I stopped in a little town called Toll Gate to call Judy, and she told me that she had to drive way the heck back up the road to get on the North Bend. And I’m like, what the hell, it’s right on the periphery of North Bend State Park. So suddenly we had this mini crisis going on, with her on some other trail, way the heck away from my day’s destination at North Bend State Park. She decided to ride back to the van and go straight to the campground, get a park map and find out where the North Bend Trail jcn is in the park. I would continue to ride west. The last 10 miles, like mile marker 37 to 27 were the cleanest, driest miles of the ride today. No muck, no crap, no bumps, no heavy gravel, no grass, and glory be, the tunnels were crowned high with lime gravel and dry throughout. Had to be because it was in such close proximity to the state park.
         Met Judy at the TH inside the park, and I was just covered in mud, cinder, and a half gallon of sweat – it was very humid and 88 degrees down here today.  First thing was to hose the bike down, and I did that at a cleaning station for RV’s in the park. Handy little hose device there and I totally sprayed the bike down. Next up we went to the campsite that Judy had secured and I got a great shower and did my wash in the shower with me!! I still have a little of the Mr. Cheapy in me after so many cross country trips! Did dinner on the camp stove, pulled everything inside the van for a spell for a passing thunder storm, and we’re now enjoying a much cooler evening with the sun back out.
         Tomorrow is a short 27 miles on the North Bend Trail and then it’s on to Parkersburg. I’ll likely have to bike hike this section, up and over the Ohio River and into Belpre, Ohio. From there it’s on to the American Discovery Trail and the Buckeye Trail – which could likely take me 10-14 days to do American Dirt style. I’m believing that this could be some of the toughest parts of the trip thus far. I don’t want to dwell too much on what’s to come so I can enjoy what I’m in. So I’ll leave the pondering to another day. Right now it’s just glorious out, and we’re camped at the top of a mt in North Bend State Park with blue sky and sun. Temps have cooled considerably since the storm rolled through. All is good in our little world this eve. Late……..pete

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