One of the most intriguing features about riding the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route is the sheer number of places to ‘discover’ along the way.
There is a lot to see along the entire length of the MABDR. I’m sure that the same can be said of all the BDR’s, however I have only explored the MABDR so I can only speak to it. My advice to anyone planning their vacation time around riding the MABDR is to add a few days if you possible can.
The Snake 421 and The Back of The Dragon are two of the wildest rides you will ever embark upon this side of the Isle of Man.
Antietam, Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg are some of the most historically significant locations on the North American continent.
Seneca Rocks, Bristol and Smoke Hole Caverns are just three of the dozens of hugely popular tourist offerings in the south west Virginia area.
But to see any of these places – I mean really experience them – you’ll have to take some time off of the MABDR. And that is exactly what we did this time around.
I mentioned riding the Snake 421 in the previous post and it bears repeating: take the time to ride it. Go to the Shady Valley Country Store and get your T-shirt and stickers. Chat with the other riders, both locals and adventurers who are all smiling just as widely as you are while laughing and chatting out front, recounting the best of the curves, the scraping of the pegs and every ‘holy crap’ moment.
Live the experience. After all, that’s why you are down here, right?
Picking up where we left off, the first section of the MABDR is everything that you want it to be. The scenery is stunning, the gravel riding is easy-to-intermediate and the asphalt sections are twisty and fast. Having started the day by riding the aforementioned Snake 421 and then having an early lunch at the 7 Trails restaurant in Damascus, we had a short 54-kilometre ride on the MABDR up to Marion, VA where we grabbed a room at the Red Roof Inn.
Our plan, as I mentioned in the previous post was to incorporate the Back of The Dragon into this adventure, and since it runs between Marion and Tazewell it just made sense to call it an early day. Also, the incoming storm clouds made choosing an $85-night room a really easy decision to make. The three of us managed to squeeze in a swim in the pool before the rain hit and then we took care of some of the menial tasks such as washing base-layers and socks in the bathroom.
After the rain stopped I decided that I wanted to ride the Back of The Dragon on a now luggage-free Big Ethel and headed off to do so while Ron and Greg looked over tomorrow’s route and enjoyed a pint or two. I rode the full length of the BoTD from Marion into Tazewell, stopping several times along the way to breathe it all in, snap a few pictures and acknowledge just how fortunate I am. In Tazewell I stopped at the Dragon Headquarters and got my stickers, letting the young lady know that I would be back the next morning with two other riders to get some shirts and other assorted memorabilia.
“And then hang on! The riding and the scenery are about to blow your socks off!”
Back at the motel later that evening I recounted just how spectacular the ride is while also acknowledging that it takes the better part of an hour to ride from Marion to Tazewell, so doubling back would add 2 hours to our MABDR riding the next day. This led us to look at options, and Ron came up with what turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. We have named it the Burkes Garden Loop for very obvious reasons, and I really encourage you to check it out. After completing your purchases at the Dragon Headquarters in Tazewell, ride through to the eastern end of town and hang a right on 61 Gratton road and then follow that until you hang a right on 623.
And then hang on! The riding and the scenery are about to blow your socks off!
Burkes Garden is a tiny little Amish farming community in a basin ringed entirely by the Garden Mountain and the General Store is the absolute picture-perfect spot to take a break and enjoy a Sarsaparilla while sitting on the wooden plank front porch. And a little further on, the 623 goes through an identity crisis and changes from fast, smooth and twisty asphalt to fast, smooth and twisty gravel. Literally the best of both worlds for an adventure rider.
I will say it one more time: check out this little side-route while on your MABDR adventure. I promise that you will be very, very happy.
The route allows you to ride the Back of The Dragon from Marion to Tazewell and then get back to the MABDR at West Blue Grass Trail via 623, well before the Brushy Mountain Outpost, so in effect you will only miss a very short section of the MABDR while experiencing a couple of hidden gems that will leave you with indelible memories.
We stopped at the Brushy Mountain Outpost for lunch, spirits high and smiles wide, before getting back on the MABDR and riding it all the way to the end of section 2 in Covington. It was a long day of mountain gravel riding and the temperatures were up in the nineties so we were well tired and soaked through with sweat by the time we got to town. The riding is not overly technical, but you certainly do have to pay attention. There are washouts on every grade, and some fair-sized rocks that would be happy to bounce you off the trail or bend a rim if you are caught day-dreaming. And bouncing off the trail could find you at the bottom of a 500 foot ravine, so I don’t recommend that, lol.
We three weary riders once again unanimously agreed that a hot shower, laundry facilities and comfortable bed were more appealing than setting up a tent so we headed for the Hampton Inn Covington where we met the two Tom’s, a pair of adventure riders in their 60’s on Royal Enfield’s that were riding the MABDR north to south. Tom, and Tom, gave us a heads-up of some road closures and washouts that we were going to encounter over the next few days while telling us all about their MABDR adventure. Both men had tales of fallen bikes and ‘what have we gotten ourselves into’ moments, yet these were recounted with smiles and gleaming eyes, laughs and pats-on-the-back. The kind of stuff that fond memories are made of.
I hope that I retain their sense of adventure and continue to do the things that my friends call ‘crazy’ when I am in my 60’s!
The next day Ron and I packed our gear back on the bikes and we were on the road before 0900.
Greg’s daughter was celebrating a birthday in a couple of days and it was time for him to start heading back towards home in North Carolina so we said our farewells and hit the trail.
“. . . then the rains hit. And hit hard! What started out as a light drizzle rapidly became a torrential downpour, reducing our visibility to almost nil and removing any traction from the gravel mountain roads.”
It was already hot and muggy, the humidex making 80 degrees feel like 92, and it would only get muggier as the day went on. The first portion of section 3 was really fast gravel through the forest on well maintained fire access roads, however as we climbed into the mountains the gravel became quite loose, making for some sketchy riding and slowing our pace considerably.
Three and a half hours later we had barely covered 100 kilometres, and the section is just over 300 kilometres long. We stopped for snack-and-water breaks as needed and continued on, riding through some of the most beautiful mountain settings you have likely ever seen.
And then the rains hit. And hit hard! What started out as a light drizzle rapidly became a torrential downpour, reducing our visibility to almost nil and removing any traction from the gravel mountain roads. We were riding in a soup of mud and gravel slurry that quite honestly was making the riding too treacherous to be ‘fun’. The previously easier to ride tire tracks on either side of the middle mound of gravel soon became fast flowing streams of water, leaving soft muck and sand for our tires to wallow in as we made our way up, and back down some seriously steep grades.
This was not at all the same kind of experience that I had enjoyed last year on this same section while riding with Claude and Greg. Not even close.
Ron and I came upon a group of 7 or 8 riders heading in the opposite direction at one point and we stopped them to inquire about the route they had just covered. That was when I was reminded that there were several water crossings up ahead, and that they were all still crossable at this point, though that may not be the case for long if the rains kept up. With this thought in mind Ron and I bound our determination and got back to it, both of us having to stop and clear the rain from our glasses far more often than we would have liked.
By 4:30pm we rode down out of the mountains into Brandywine where we stopped to grab a coffee and a sandwich. This was the same spot where Claude had fixed his flat rear tire last year and I couldn’t help but think just how incredibly different the experience can be when the weather throws some rain at you.
Ron and I had no difficulties on any of the water crossings. The largest of them was only about 30 feet across and maybe 18” deep and we prudently walked it, picking a line and spotting large rocks before riding across.
Having lunch at the Brandywine General Store Ron and I agreed that it made sense to simply ride the highway to the end of this section in Moorefield rather than riding back up into the mountains and risking getting caught by mother nature once again.
The clerk at the counter had alerted us to the flash-flood warning that had recently been issued for the area and we both wanted this to remain an adventure, as opposed to an emergency, so we got back on our bikes when the rain let up and followed 33 and 220 into Moorefield in a little over an hour. Though we had only skipped about 27 kilometres of the MABDR it amounted to giving us piece of mind as well as saving us a significant amount of time.
This is one of the saving graces of the Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route: no matter what section you are on, seemingly far removed from any civilization whatsoever, in truth there is an ‘out’ to a main state road or interstate always relatively close by. And in weather like we experienced on section 3, that was a blessing to be sure.
Ron and I got a room at the South Branch Inn Moorefield and proceeded to attend to drying our thoroughly soaked gear. We had both donned our rain jackets just as the rain started to sprinkle on us several hours earlier, however we had not opted to put on our water proof pants. Which of course led to my water proof boots filling with water and turning into miniature swimming pools for my feet. Moorefield is a small town, but I managed to find enough newspaper to dry out our boots overnight and the heat lamp in the bathroom did the trick for the rest of our gear.
We were on a country road in West Virginia for the night. I couldn’t help but fall asleep with John Denver singing in my head
Coming soon – more of the MABDR, a visit to Antietam, and meeting up with Rob.
Up next – A long, lone ride into Northern Ontario brings about change.