Last week I had a text from a friend who was coming to the Burg with some old buddies to ride for a few days. I had not talked with Jesse in years and probably the last time we saw each other in person was during 24 Hours of Moab in the late 90’s. Jesse and his group from North Carolina were coming to the area for 3 days of tasting Harrisonburg trails. The crew planned to hit the lift served trails at Bryce, then spend a day on the Western Slope of Massanutten before taking their final vacation leg west of town. I was super happy that I would be able to give them more than just directions, but actually be their tour guide for a few hours on the last day.
Whenever you take folks you do not know on a mountain bike ride there are always looming clouds of questions in your mind. Mountain biking is such a broad term and folks it can mean so many different things to different folks. I would soon find out what mountain biking would mean to this group of friends.
Not knowing what type of riding the crew of 4 wanted to experience I picked a meeting location with options, Braley Pond. From this part of the forest there are a handful of 3 hour loops that usually do not disappoint. If you are open to letting rides be more of an outdoor experience, an adventure and less of certain ride expectations you have so many more offerings.
After quick introductions the guest stated they were up to anything that had them back to the car in 3 hours so they could hit the road to home and family. I rolled the mental ride dice and it landed on Crawford Knob hike-a-bikes/Chimney Hollow. Knowing this might be a tough roll and even harder ascent I smiled and told the crew the down hill does not disappoint. Note to reader: if your guide ever tells you this it means there will be some tough goings before you get to the “does not disappoint” part.
The first several miles of the ride consisted mostly of paved and gravel roads that slowly tilted upwards, giving me the opportunity to warn them of the Crawford hike-a-bikes. My warnings of the pitches ahead seemed to bounce off them. Their minds were taking in the beauty of the forest, they were only concerned about what we were doing now not what laid ahead. I had now become the student, the client, as these veterans of off road riding were reintroducing me to the full experience of mountain biking. With every pedal stroke this crew was taking in the surrounding forest and enjoying each word of conversation. Mountain biking is more about what is around than what you are on.
When we arrived at the top of the gravel climb we took the left and were immediately greeted by the first Crawford Knob pitch. These pitches are steep and long, soul crushing regardless if you ride or hike the faces. As we topped out of the first pitch I awaited for a barrage of foul language directed towards me, instead I had 4 veteran riders laughing at this experience. Even though each was past their riding prime they still knew what it meant to enjoy the woods, regardless of what the trail brings. Two miles later we finally arrived at the top of the downhill, this is the time for any guide to pump up their crew, tell them they now will be rewarded for all their effort. What came out of their mouth next is something I have never heard at the top of Chimney Hollow, “this is awesome”. We had yet done any descending but this crew was happy, enjoying just being in the woods with each other mountain biking like they have for the past 30 years.
The next three miles of the ride consisted of 1700 vertical feet of loss which was enjoyed by all. Six inches of dirt and rock is what held us onto the mountain, any fall would have been padded by overgrowth that comes in May. The rocks on the upper slopes of Chimney Hollow are not stable, but move under the rider letting you know the mountain is in control. The final gentle slopes of the trail twist through the drainage bringing you down gentle from the down hill high.
The final paved roll back to the car was all smiles with high fives being passed around to all. This tour guide breathed a sense of relief, the clients were happy. “That was a mountain bike ride not a trail ride” was words that came out of one of the crew. This brought discussion for the next 30 minutes about mountain biking and how a mountain bike ride is different from trail riding. Even though their previous 2 days of trail riding was great this they said was their first mountain bike ride of the trip.
A good mountain bike ride does not stop when the wheels quit rolling, it continues for hours if not the days to follow. A mountain bike ride is more about the beauty of forest than the trail which holds your tires. A mountain bike ride is about exploration, the unknown of what lays ahead. As I write these words some 48 after the Crawford Knob pitches the ride is still living in me, like any good mountain bike ride it will last for days if not a lifetime. Take some time this summer to go for a mountain bike ride, explore a new part of the forest and take the time to enjoy it with others.
Happy Summer to each and all.