Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Allegheny Mountains Loop ITT

The Allegheny Mountains Loop (AML) is a 400 mile self supported ride that begins and ends in Blacksburg, VA. The loop consists of 235 miles of pavement, 100 miles of rail trail, and 65 miles of gravel. The majority of rail trail is seen within the first 200 miles of the route with 80 miles of that being on the Greenbriar Rail Trail. The second half of the course is drastically different being made up of mainly gravel and pavement  while containing 75-80% of the climbing encountered on the route. The one thing that is consistent over the entire route is the abundant wildlife and beautiful landscape.

Elevation Profile of the AML provided by www.trackleaders.com

 Day 1..

I woke up at 4:45 to make the 1:45 drive to Danville, VA where I would meet up with Chris Tompkins. Chris and I met as we carpooled and then rode together for most of the night during the Huracan 300 back in February. It was then that he informed me about the AML. Chris has taken the time to create an Individual Time Trial (ITT) and group start date for the official AML adventure which is to take place on October 5, 2012. Chris and I decided after the Huracan that we would ride the AML at a casual pace together in May to help prepare for ITT attempts in October.

Chris and I arrived in Blacksburg at 9:30 on Tuesday morning. We loaded our bikes and made our way to the War Memorial on the Virginia Tech campus which would serve as the official start and end of the route. By 10:15 we began pedaling a route that would end up far exceeding my expectations.

War Memorial at VA Tech

For the first section of the route, we found ourselves primarily on paved roads. The roads seemed to have a river attached to them at all times which made for great scenery and provided a great distraction from the constant grind. At mile 80, we made our way into the small town of Caldwell, WV to stock up on food and top off the water.


Not long after our stop in Caldwell, our tires made contact with the first rail trail of the route. The Greenbriar Rail Trail is gravel double track with a slight uphill pitch that continues for 80 miles. Being that there are no opportunities to coast, this trail has the potential to wear you down and could potentially wreck havoc on the rear end. Riding the rail trail consisted of several minutes of constant spinning followed with a few minutes out of the saddle cranking in a harder gear. Using this method allowed us to spread the work out over some different muscles and also provided some much needed relief out of the saddle. The scenery on the rail trail was excellent. Constant cover was provided by the trees as we would pedal by layered rock outcroppings and overhangs. The trail followed the contour of a river which provided constant entertainment. Wildlife was everywhere along the route. You name it and we saw it. Along the river, there were lots of waterfowl, deer, turkey, squirrels, snakes, turtles and bears.

Riding on the Greenbriar Rail Trail proved to be harder on me than I would have guessed. My legs had been tight from the start. They were still tight after 100 miles of riding. My knees had been hurting over the past 50 miles, I had a sharp pain in my neck, my hands were sore as was my lower back. It was odd for me to have all of these issues going on at once especially so early on during a ride which included no singletrack. Needless to say, I had already started to question whether or not I would have what it would take to finish out the route.

The day was coming to a close and we were unsure if we would run into any areas where it would be possible to resupply. We knew that there was a small town coming up just off route but we didn't know if there were any stores or if they were still open. We decide to stay on route and bypass a chance to resupply. As we prepared for the final push of the day, we came upon a small store right on the trail. It was 7:30-8:00 pm and we were in luck because they were still open. I took this opportunity to take the shoes off, stretch, and fill up on junk food such as chili dogs, chips and a Pepsi.

The unplanned stop helped energize and motivate us to keep motoring down the trail. As I was riding off of the front, I came around a corner and spotted something black. At first I assumed that it was another turkey but as I got closer I noticed that it had four legs. I stopped and just sat the motionless as I hoped that Chris would come rolling down the trail quick enough to see this cute little fur ball standing in the trail. The cub stayed around long enough for me to take a photo and then it took off into the brush.

As the sun set and darkness set in, the bear sightings became common. In total we saw 9 bears in five separate sightings. Four of those bears were cubs. It seemed like the longer we rode, the more frequent the encounters were. At one point we were cruising at ~15 mph where a group of three darted across the trail. They were close enough that tagging one of them seemed like a real possibility. From that sighting on, Chris started blowing his whistle every few seconds to alert any bears that we were rolling on through. The whistle worked and we didn't see any more bears the rest of the night.

The miles began to drag on and we were both feeling wore down. We realized that with 250 miles to go that it would be a good idea to get some rest. It was around 11:30 pm when we came upon a three sided shelter on the side of the trail. With the bear encounters that we had recently had we felt a bit relieved to be able to bivy in the shelter for the night. We stashed our food in the outhouse just up the trail and tucked in while thinking about what adventures the next day might bring.

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