Mountain Bikes and Bluegrass Music

Did you ever daydream while listening to music and think of a place where that music takes you? I am a big fan of bluegrass music and every time I listen to Allison Krauss, the Steel Drivers, Nickel Creek, Rhonda Vincent or a host of other musical talents, I think of the mountains of West Virginia and the fun times I have had there over the years. The first time I ever spent some time there was with Chuck Greenlee when we went for the 24 Hour races in Davis and Timberline. There was no music at that time because Chuck and I BS ed each other the whole trip while trying to beat the Parrot Man and his souped up van all the way down the interstate. We did set the land speed record in Chuck’s pickup but it was a harrowing ride especially when Chuck’s friend, Sam Dyke, would find us along the road just outside of Morgantown and it was a three way race in short order.

After a while, I started to know my way around down there and always drove. Not only for self preservation but it was nice to have all my gear with me in one place. Driving to Davis and Slatyfork was always a long drive on the back roads but really beautiful as I made my way through the mountains listening to bluegrass and kind of getting into the spirit of West Virginia. Through the years I have gone with several groups to races and events like the West Virginia Fat Tire Festival hosted by Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center. The Wild 100 was another event that was a true back country race that Elk River hosted and oftentimes we would stay either at Elk River or The Jerico in Marlinton. At the Jerico, the grandfather of the proprietor would always tell me that they had some Yankee boys buried on the hillside above the cabins and I would always sleep with one eye open down there. All in jest but kind of unnerving,

But all the while in all of the trips, I had my bluegrass on and there have been nights on the deck of the Elk River Touring Center that Gil had some local bluegrass bands play for an event. What a treat after absolutely flogging myself on the rough, rooty, rocky West Virginia trail systems. The one thing you have to remember about riding in West Virginia is that it is the toughest riding you will ever do because the West Virginians want it that way. The locals like Sue Haywood, ( former pro with Trek and many times national short track champion), love to take you out and show you the treasure trove of demanding rock strewn trails. It is their turf and they not only know it well but they ride it even better Sue is a noted local and has raced all over the world but makes Davis home. She is a great teacher and riding those trails in Davis are a real challenge. But watching her makes it look easy. Even on the famous ” Moon Rocks”

But after a ride down there, which can be a whole different ball game when it rains, you are exhausted, beat up, bleeding, and hopefully your bike has remained in workable shape. Otherwise, it is a visit to Blackwater Bikes in Davis for repair. But sitting behind the grocery store at the trail head after the ride and sipping a nice cold IPA with my pals, I quietly turn on some bluegrass in my Jeep and really enjoy the wilds of West Virginia with a musical flair.

I am proud to say, that on the last trip to Davis, I introduced the boys to what I consider a real treat musically speaking. We drove just north to Thomas,WVA. and took in some bluegrass at the Purple Fiddle.

It is a locals place that specializes in good food, beer, and hosting some of the best touring bluegrass bands in the country. I hustled the group along and after a much needed shower, we made our way to one of the front tables and listened to a band from North Carolina named Mipso. Pretty talented and what I thought was a great way to end a Saturday after getting slayed on the wet, demanding trails of Davis. I believe in atmosphere and The Purple Fiddle delivers all the time. After this last trip, I thought maybe Davis was getting to be too tough for the 65 year old kid. But listening to Allison Krauss on the way home, and this week in my car again, the pain has subsided and we probably will make our way to the mountain bike festival in the fall in Davis if the Covid thing doesn’t play havoc with the trip. Look out Sue- here comes the old guy posse again. Laughs for you for sure.

There has been a lot of bluegrass fueled fun down in the mountain state over the years and thinking about all of the trips and riding that I have done down there, I think I have created some really good memories for myself. I will never forget the NORBA races in Snowshoe and after our races, it was fun to watch the pros. Even when they lose like the year Missy Giove lost the dual slalom finals and had a message for the crowd. Hilarious.

Last fall we all made it to the World Cup Finals at Snowshoe and watched the best in the world compete as well as get some miles ridden on the infamous Tea Creek Canyon trails early in the morning before the races.

Another fun trip with another fun loving group who also appreciated the atmosphere and down home hospitality of the Mountain State. Loved listing to the locals in the woods singing “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” while the racers bounded down the course at breakneck speed. Yes, music takes you back to great times and bluegrass always takes me back to West Virginia either in my mind, or planning my next adventure. Thanks for reading.

The Wild 100

fader8IMAGE_1_12022009095949 One of the more interesting events that I have participated in was the Wild 100 Mountain Bike Race in Slatyfork,WVA. This was a point to point event with 6 check in stops in very remote corners of the West Virginia wilderness. The weekend always started with a camp out in the field behind the Elk River Touring Center. Most often the Inn was sold out but it was more fun to camp under the stars anyways. The next morning was a mandatory meeting at 6:45 AM where you were given a map to the 100 K course along with the notation for the check points. You had to make the check points by a certain hour or you were asked to board a pickup truck for the long ride back to the touring center. Only one time did anybody in my group not make the check in point. One of our guys one year was an ultra runner and wanted to try the event. He underestimated the difficulty and the need to ride miles on the bike. He was escorted out. He told us to keep riding.

Most of the years I participated, I had an interesting entourage with me. Maurice Tierney, founder of Dirt Rag Magazine, was our navigator. He was a pretty good map reader as well as being fairly familiar with the area. Some of the other Dirt Rag guys joined us along with my friend Dixon whose energy source on the ride, among other things, was blue bubble gum. At the top of Props Run, which was nothing more than a stream bed that went to the top of the mountain, Dixon could be seen loading up on blue bubble gum and smiling with matching teeth. Dixon is a character and deserves his own blog post. Props was always inluded in the course and some times you went down it, which was a bone rattling descent, or you went up it and pushed your bike for about half the distance. There was a lot of fire road and if you decided that you wanted to shorten the ride, you went into the woods to several places like Bear Meadows, or the infamous Tea Creek Canyon. The streams and water that you encounterd in the canyon were dyed with tannin from the leaves and the image of a cup of tea was very apparent in the color of the streams. But you had to pay attention here because the descent was off camber with a lot of slippery, slimy roots, into the valley where you had a check in point before you began a long climb out of the canyon.

Navigating wilderness trails and fire roads was a true challenge and you had to prepare well with a pack loaded with plenty of water, energy drinks, food, and lights in the event that you had an issue that would push you into the evening hours. Suffice to say I never had that issue but on the final fire road descent I was always bonking badly and jamming the last dust ball infested energy bar into my face to ward off the fatigue and the blue dots appearing before my eyes. The last time I saw the blue dots was when I did a time trial at Halloween on a very hot day dressed in a tuxedo. That was a heinous road climb up into an industrial park and the blue dots of maximum exertion apeared before my exploding eyeballs. Always avoid the blue dots. They are a sign of imminent disaster. I always avoided the big bonk on the last descent to Rt. 219 and successfully avoided he speeding logging and coal trucks which were dangerously close to us as we navigated our way back to the Touring Center. The outdoor shower was welcome but the temperature of the freezing stream water that fed the showers was anything but relaxing. However, all was saved with a great bar-b-que and awards ceremony followed by blue grass music on the deck. One more night in the tent and back to the burg. The Wild 100 was always a great experience.

This years event is not scheduled yet but if you call Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center, they might be able to tell you if they are scheduling the event or not. They are great people and it is definitely worth the ride to Slatyfork just to ride. The Inn is wonderful as well as the food and the hospitality. The riding, the fishing in the Greenbrier River, and the evenings on the deck with a cold beer are also memorable. If the Inn is crowded, you can go down the road a bit to Marlinton and stay at the Jerico Bed and Breakfast. A wonderful place with pre-Civil War cabins that have been restored with pot belly stoves and lofts. Lots of Confederate memorabelia around and the proprietors grandfather always delights in telling us Yankee boys that there are 9 of us buried up above on the hillside. The earlier battles of the Civil War were held in this general area and sleeping under the picture of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson gives you something to think about as you doze off to sleep to the relaxing sound of the stream bed outside your window.

The riding in West Virginia is always challenging but there are hundreds of miles of great trails all accessible from either facility. There are lots of fishing events, music festivals and riding events at Elk River like Women’s Clinics conducted by local heroine Sue Haywood who is a member of the Trek Professional Mountain Bike Team. If nothing else, you might be fortunate enough to ride with Dixon and get some of his prized blue bubble gum on your ride. Thanks for reading.