Bearly A Trail (part 1)

For twenty years, I have dedicated at least one vacation a year to hauling my bike to a far away trail for a new and exciting trail riding experience. I enjoy reminiscing about past trail riding trips almost as much as taking new ones.   I have vivid memories of each and every trip. It will be a sad day when memories fade and I can no longer relive the adventures I enjoyed so much.

One of my favorite trips to recall was my 2008 vacation to the Greenbrier River Trail in the hills of West Virginia. My riding companion says we were lucky to survive that trip. For me it was a wonderful adventure that I have revisited in my mind on many occasions.

We spent an evening at REI buying mountain biking attire; cute little mountain biking shorts , long sleeved shirts to match, monogrammed backpacks, and expensive fruity bars; everything we could possibly need on a trip to an established trail that ends at the Greenbrier Inn. It wasn’t paved like the Silver Comet but on the website, there were images of scenic rivers, large rock outcroppings, and lots of people enjoying the trail. We would look great in our new outfits on our shiny new bikes eating our fruity bars.

We arrived in Lewisburg near the southern end of the trail on Friday afternoon and spent the night at a little B&B not too far from the trailhead. The following morning, we gorged ourselves on Waffle House breakfast, parked the car at the trailhead and gathered our gear in anticipation of the 78 mile trip to Cass with the outfitter.  At 6:30AM an old Dodge Challenger towing a makeshift trailer rolled into the lot and parked beside us. The driver got out, introduced himself and started loading our bikes onto a massive bike rack mounted to a trailer. We loaded our backpacks into the trunk and climbed in. I remember the Challenger was a bit smelly and sort of leaned to the driver side corner. After securing our bikes, the driver hopped in, and away we went.

As we traveled north I noticed there were no cars on the road and very few houses along the highway.  Miles and miles of lush, green countryside where no one seemed to live.  I looked forward to arriving at the trail and enjoying the company of other riding enthusiasts as we all made our journey back to Lewisburg. A beautiful Saturday just a few days before July 4th should make for a sizable crowd on the trail.

After winding through the hills of West Virginia for two hours, we rolled into the little town of Cass. The outfitter offered to stop at a convenience store for last minute supplies. We grabbed a few snacks and water and hopped back in the car. A few minutes later, we arrived at the trailhead; a tiny, desolate, gravel lot besieged by a sea of invasive vines. The outfitter quickly unloaded our bikes and gear, wished us a safe trip and drove away. Dead silence followed. We strapped on our backpacks, gloves, and cleats and pushed our water bottles into their holders.  We were only forty miles from the B&B where we would stay the night; a short trip for such well seasoned cyclists as ourselves we thought.

The trail itself was about ten feet wide with a smooth, crushed gravel base. The scenery was spectacular. Along with the lush vegetative shoulders, we soon were joined by a rushing mountain stream below and to our left. Our tires crackled through the gravel as we picked up the pace and settled into the ride. The half-a-bar cell service in Cass quickly disappeared. It was us, god, and the crackling gravel trail for now. Only 39 more miles to rejoin civilization.

A couple of miles down the trail, grass began to appear down the center of the trail. Soon, we each had a two foot wide gravel trail with a four foot wide grassy median between us. The scenery was still beautiful, the gravel still crackling, the stream still rushing, but we both felt increasingly vulnerable to whatever lives in very rural West Virginia. We were thankful for the noise our tires were making since it would likely mask any growls or Deliverance music that might otherwise be heard. Maybe there would be a store around the bend where we could buy a GUN!

An hour into the ride, we began to notice the Greenbrier River was getting closer and the rock cliff was creeping in on the right. Our twin gravel trails were occupying a narrow shelf that seemed to be coming to a point! We rounded a curve and there it was: a big, black hole in the rock!

The entrance to the tunnel was covered in spider webs and vines. A faded out sign hanging by a single nail said “Beware of Falling Rock.”  I crept to the entrance straining for any sign of light from the other end. There was none. IT WAS A CURVED TUNNEL! At this point I would have given all my snacks and my REI outfit for a flashlight to shine in the tunnel.  Maybe I was better off NOT having a light. We had to go through it no matter what was in there. Maybe “it” would keep sleeping as we passed quietly by.

My partner said he just couldn’t walk his bike into the blackness and hope he came out the other end. I reasoned the alternative of going back to the kudzu-covered trailhead was not a good option either so I started walking into the tunnel beside my bike, making lots of noise, and pushing my front wheel as far in front of me as I could. Coming in second was OK I guess because I had company about two inches behind me.

After about twenty or thirty steps I could begin to see a glow at the other end. I picked up the pace as the beam of light began to define the walls and floor of the cave ahead. As we approached the opening we heard voices!  When we emerged, we saw a man and woman standing with their bikes obviously having the same discussion we had had at the other end of the tunnel. Being experienced tunnel travelers now, we told them there was nothing to it. Anything to fear would have eaten us during our pass through, we reasoned.

We chatted for a few minutes about all sorts of stuff. As we peeled away, the lady just had to say, “save those raspberries back there for the bears.” … and our journey continued….