Shinnston, WV to Wolf Summit (East Terminus of the North Bend Rail Trail) 36 miles of riding and bike-a-hike for 5:15 hrs, but only 25 miles of forward progress.
Probably the toughest technical day yet. Judy and I jammed out of the motel this morning at 8 AM so I could get a quick start to what looked to be a very tough day of bushwacking and off roading. We drove to the Harrison County WV Rail Trail trailhead in Clarksburg. My plan was to ride north to bridge up to Shinnston, and then ride asphalt back to Clarksburg. Then I’d ride south to Wolf Summit to bridge to the North Bend Rail Trail. Now I used Google Earth to find the trailhead in Clarksburg. I mean these trailheads are just impossible to find, and not a bit of signage anywhere to help you out. I zoomed in with Google Earth down to a scale of 1 inch = 500 feet, and boom, there was the Harrison County Rail Trail and the start of the trail on the east side of Clarksburg.
I also scoped out a route last night with the Google Earth to find out if the old rail beds still exist. Now it indicated that the one to Shinnston did not in it’s entirety, and the one to Wolf Summit did. So I jotted down directions for each ride and hoped it would fly. So anyway, we got to the Harrison County RT in Clarksburg, and I’ll tell you: had I tried to find this thing without doing my homework last night – freaking NEVER would we have found this place. It’s a dead end street and no parking area at all. And there’s just this little dilapidated sign telling of the trail. I got out of the car, looked it over, and it was asphalt with chest high weeds on both the earthen berms. Wonderful!! Judy and I checked out phones to make sure we had coverage – we did – and then I packed up and headed out. I was thinking that this would be pure misery riding through high weeds and prickers, shrubbery, and junk. Could even be the day just to make it to Shinnston. But to my luck, I just had to ride the crap for about ¼ mile and then the trail turned to old rail bed.
I wouldn’t even call it rail trail, it’s more like ATV trail, with thumb sized gravel, dips, moguls, mud holes and deadfall. But it was trail nonetheless. I could see some poor rec rider coming here to do some relaxing rail trail ride along the West Fork river and being greeted with this friggin mess. I mean honestly, it was pure ATV track. And the further along I went north, the worse this thing got. It went from bad, to worse to downright gnarly. I dodged several really big mud puddles, and then when I came to one that went all the way across the trail I tried to ride through it very gingerly. But my wheels went so deep into the water and muck that I had to disengage my shoes in knee deep water and lunge for the mud, brush lined shoreline. Got a total soaker in both feet with that one. Problem with the shorelines of these puddles – and there were a series of like 4-5 of them that I had to walk the bike around – was that they were lined with hawthorn trees, with nice big thorns on the branches. So I had to be careful not to get raked on the arms and legs by thorny branches. My right arm looks like it was used for a cat scratcher right now!
At that point I called Judy on the cell and asked her to drive back up to Shinnston because I would be working my ass off on this stretch and didn’t really want to ride back south on Rt 19 to Clarksburg after thrashing my way though the quagmire. Got her on the phone and she said she’d be on her way. About 5 min after that I hit this quicksand area that I had to walk across. It was just a mess. Then I came to a fence across the trail. There were no “No Trespassing” signs. Big decision: do I go around the fence, or do I go WAY, WAY back on the trail – and through all the crap that I was now 1 hr into? Easy choice – around the fence! Don’t know what was being fenced off, but the riding was on a kind of gravel service road. Now I knew that the rail trail ended at a road called Lambert. Crossed Lambert and took a chance on seeing if the trail continued as ATV again, but this was a no-go. Turned into a maze of ATV loops and whoopty do’s over all these hummocks, so I rode back to jcn with Rt 19 and rode about a mile of gravel berm up to a bridge that went over the West Fork River. Saw that there was a barely discernable ATV track along the river, so I crossed the road and rode down this steep gravel, gullied track down to the trail.
And this pup with a total bushwhack mess. Half the time I had to ride huddled forward so branches wouldn’t take my head off. Again, my arms were getting raked by branches and thorn bushes despite my trying to keep them close to my sides. At times I’d one hand the bars so as to not get raked by these massive rose bushes. Stopped too many times to count to walk the bike across these big deadfalls that I couldn’t bunny hop. Were I to try to hop some of these I feared that I’d be on my ass in seconds. Came to a barrier of this pile of trees bulldozed in front of the track, and to my right was this coal depot with bulldozers, steam shovels and dump trucks. Climbed over the first pile, rode like hell for the ¼ mile, and then climbed over a second barrier of trees. Continued on the track and it was just a total jungle and tangle of brush and shrubbery. Went through muck pits and finally came to the end of the line – ahead of me the old track went into a Nuclear Power Plant with “No Trespassing” signs posted.
No messing with that one! No fence hopping, no stealthing around that stuff. Got on berm of Rt 19 and rode that pup the final couple miles to the West Fork Trailhead in Shinnston. Man I was gassed, and that stint took me like 2.5 hrs! Was really looking forward to riding back to where I started in the van with an ice cold coke in my hand. But when I pulled into the Trailhead – no Judy! That had me pretty worried, so I got the phone out and saw she had two messages for me. Just called straight away without listening to the messages. Got her on the phone and she told me that I had both our sets of keys – she couldn’t go anywhere. And that’s when it hit me – I had put her keys in my jersey pocket when I took my bike out of the van that morning. And I forgot to take them out to give back to here. SHIT!!!!!!!
Ok, now I had to ride back on Rt 19 with all the freaking truck traffic. I’d gotten to love not dealing with traffic, and this was a big bummer. For about 10 min I tried to hitchhike, but that was useless. On the bike and back I rode to Clarksbug – 10 miles by way of Rt 19. When I got into town I had a big problem: Judy and I had taken I-50 to get to the trailhead. I could not ride on the interstate, so I had to ride almost all the way around town, ask umpteen people directions to get to West Va Ave, and then ride down to Judy. Made, but that little gaunt took a total of 3.5 hrs. Yup, Judy waited on that little dead end road for nearly 4 hrs. She was totally good with it and with that I’m very grateful. I felt like a total idiot for sure.
Had 2 ice cold cokes and asked her if I could scout out the next mile of two of the second “stage” of the day – Clarksburg to Wolf Summit. She was cool, so off I went on the next gaunt. First I tried to find the old rail line to see if it went under I-50 and over the West Fork River – no luck. It was totally gone. So I had to bike-a-hike up and under I-50 to a set of RR tracks. Got on the tracks and crossed West Fork River, and then took the branch of RR line to the left once I crossed the river. And this was just the track I was looking for. Checked it out with my phone’s GPS, and I was dead on. This was the same old RR line that is the North Bend Trail. It’s just that this was an ATV track that was nothing but RR ballast.
The stuff was like many inches thick, and it was just brutal to try to stay upright on the bike through some of this. Managed to biff it once, but I caught myself as the bike skidded out from under me. Hey, maybe it was all those balance ball squats I did in the winter!!
Washed the front wheel countless times. But I kept chugging away. There were times where I just had to walk the bike through these tunnels of bruch, head down, ducking and bobbing to stay away from the prickers. Finally, I figured that I was just going to finish this thing out for the day rather than ride back on that crap to Judy. Called her in the middle of nowhere and gave her direction out of Clarksburg and to Wolf Summit. Done. Time to finish the day. There were points where the trail actually changed to a more earthen type, which let me pick the pace up to like 9 mph instead of the piddly 5-6 in the deep ballast.
Ran into a couple of surveyors on the track and asked them how far I had to get to Wolf Summit, to which they told me 1.5 miles, with much better track conditions. And they were right. Finished the track right up to the Eastern terminus of the North Bend Trail. Had a slight slip up with Judy on where to meet me, but we got that fixed within a few minutes and I was in the van and done for the day. This morning Judy had secured a motel, Red Roof in Fairmont, at a great price, so we’re doing that tonight. There is just zero camping here, so we’re yet again in a motel. Can’t say I’m bummed seeing that I was a total mess today. My legs were blackened from the cinder and mud. My arms and legs are a bit bloodied from the thorns and prickers, and I was a sweaty stinking mess. Got to the motel, and borrowed a hose to clean my bike, then took a shower and I feel great. It will be a much deserved “beer thirty” in about 1 hr – 6 PM.
On to 1-2 days of easy riding on the North Bend trail. I’ll either split it into 2 days, or jam it for a long one-day ride. We’ll see how we both feel. I’d like Judy to get a chance to ride tomorrow since she blew the whole day doing support for me. So there it is, another day of American Dirt.At this rate I will NEVER reach the west coast, not on 25-30 miles/day. And it won’t get any easier when I reach Ohio – tomorrow or Wed - because I have to ride and bike-a-hike the Buckeye Trail. That could be a major trek. Heck, I’ll worry about that when we get to it. Late………Pete