Four days and 180 miles along the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia
August 13-16, 2002
As reported by: Phyllis Laufer
Miguel was looking to go on a bike tour and The Greenbrier Trail promotional brochure found its way via some mailing list to his house. It sounded great, with promises of spectacular beauty, picking apples along the way, and crossing 35 bridges along 80 miles of picturesque rail-trail. M. was planning to go alone, with BOB as his companion, until I invited myself, wanting to test my muster on a long biking-camping trip. The plan was to bike the trail up and back for a total of about 160 miles, starting at the bottom since the 1% trail grade went up-hill north, then the return trip south, which would provide a new view of the trail, and would be down-hill.
Planning for this trip included a few short meetings one week prior to departure. M. was going to pack the cooking equipment, as he has serious camping experience, and I was going to bring the snacks. We both had one-man tents, mine a more traditional tent with a fly, and M. a waterproof cocoon. We brought very little clothes and just figured we could put up with any strange odors since we were going to be outdoors. My compost pile outdoors in my backyard doesn't smell, so I figured we'd be okay. M. was going to haul saddlebags, and I was supposed to haul BOB. That's our Beast of Burden trailer, in case you are not familiar with that acronym.
Day 1- August 13 - 25 miles
We left the Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, August 13, 2002 at about 9 AM and had an uneventful six hour ride to White Sulphur Springs, WV where the trail begins. We found the trail parking lot at mile marker 3, loaded up our bikes and were ready to take off by about 4:00 PM. With BOB fully loaded and hooked up to my full suspension mountain bike, it took on a Gumby-like feel and I went crashing to the ground even before leaving the parking lot. BOB ended up on M's bike, along with the saddle bags. Talk about guilt! I eventually took more of the load on my back and my rack, but M. was the real BOB.
At 4:30 PM we set off on our first day and biked 25 miles to a campsite that had water and a bathroom. The Greenbrier Trail map has all of the camping sites clearly marked by mile-posts. Some have water, some have a bathroom, and some have both. We camped only at sites that had both. About halfway through that first leg of the trail, we both came to the realization that the return trip, which was supposed to offer a new perspective of the trail, was going to look exactly the same in either direction. The view was either the Monongahela River on the right and green woods or fields on the left, or green woods and fields on the right and the left. The trail itself consisted of different sized rocks, mostly too big, which made for a very bumpy ride.
The weather was great, the scenery was new, and the mood was exciting just being on the trail. The campsite was perfect, with a fancy outhouse, and what became our daily, evening swim in the Monongahela River, was simply wonderful. Dinner was great thanks to M., and a clear night with a cacophony of noisy bugs put this first day to rest.
Day 2- August 14 - 60 miles
After a morning of riding on large bumpy gravel with much of the same scenery, M.'s idea of getting off the trail and taking a parallel route north was very inviting. The north route was not without its altitude, but you won't hear me complaining as I wasn't pulling BOB. M. is one heck of an athlete. It was hard to keep up with him on mammoth hills even with BOB in tow. After a long day of riding 60 miles, we headed back to the Greenbrier trail and with 1/2 mile to our final destination for that night, we ended up behind the unbelievable site of a wagon train with two covered wagons pulled by two prehistorically big draft horses. We had joined the procession of a family trip up and back on the Greenbrier trail. With 4 generations onboard, they poked along the trail for over a week at about 2 miles/hour. Eventually, we got around them and to our campsite and once again had great accommodations under the stars, a wonderful meal, and a refreshing swim in the River before settling in for the night.
Day 3- August 15 - 70 miles
We start out about ten miles from the far northern end of the trail. By this point, the hope of crossing over 35 amazing bridges was dashed because there were actually only 2 bridges of any length that crossed the River. The other 33 bridges were barely noticeable and crossed little creeks. The best bonus were two amazing tunnels, long, cool and very dark, that were a welcome place to stop along the way.
By brunch, we were feasting at Cass, WV at the northern end of the trail, in one of 2 dining establishments in town. The one with the fried junk food had all the business. At the other little cafe, we had spinach and creamed cheese wraps and the best, freshest chicken salad I've ever eaten. After a short rest, we headed south. The following 70 bumpy miles, with not a lick of novelty in the scenery, didn't seem to be downhill. If it is physically possible, I'd say it was uphill in both directions. We made a short detour to a little town that had, to our excitement, a traffic light, and about 2 miles of smooth road. A significant characteristic of the trail is that you want to keep moving because even for short stops, like to fix a broken toe clip or flat tire, the bugs use you like a giant salt lick. In the River, the fish also seemed to nibble on us, also probably for our salt. Somehow, before we were done riding on Day 3, we rode all the way back to the same 25 mile-post campsite that we camped at on Day 1. Again, a great dinner and even better swim in the River.
Day 4 - August 16 - 25 miles
The final 25 miles was an easy chug along the all familiar trail. We did eat one apple along the way. Because of a warm spring which caused the apple blossoms to bloom early, and then a freak frost, most of the apple crop was lost. In a normal weather season, you probably would be eating apples all along the way. Wildlife along the trail included many deer crossing our path, as did wild turkeys. We hung our food at night, but there didn't seem to be any hungry visitors. All in all, the trip was definitely worth the ride. It is a pristine setting, the River is very clean, folks were very nice, and if you have good company and good food, it's a great way to spend a long weekend.