Canaan Valley Mountain Biking Trip Report
November 24, 2005
I invited some friends up to the Valley for a weekend of mountain biking - West Virginia style. Our plan was for 2 days of biking pleasure - unconstrained by family and work obligations. We settled on an "epic" ride for Saturday, followed by a shorter one on Sunday. For Saturday's ride I kicked around some possibilities - Dolly Sods traverse, exploring the NWF and/or CVI property, or the Plantation trail. All of the hype surrounding Plantation (especially given its recent selection as one of the 10 top trails in the US by BIKE magazine) was too much to ignore - so we were determined to see how difficult the trail my guidebook called "Most Difficult" really could be.
What we found is that it could be pretty darned difficult! Everything I read about Plantation proved to be true in spades - rocks, roots, bogs, rhododendren. Big rocks, little rocks, boulders. Wet roots, dry roots, slippery steep root covered climbs. Mud, bogs, more mud. What a ride! I guess calling it a ride is a stretch. There was a good share of bike-hiking, and when we weren't hiking we were picking our way through the long stretches of very technical terrain. I learned that Rhododendren are useful allies - I found myself constantly leaning into the bushes that close in on both sides to maintain my balance as I was bounced down the trail.
This was by far the most technical trail I have ridden in the 7 years or so I've been mountain biking. I struggled ahead - and like a kid on a long car trip, every time we stopped I asked "how far have we gone?" 1.2 miles... 1.7 miles.... 2.1 miles... 2.4 miles.... Man that trail is tough.
A little over 2/3rds through we got sidetracked onto Trail 110 a former railgrade that offered a slightly easier route back out to the Canaan Loop Road -leaving the final third of the Plantation Trail for another day's conquest.
As rough as the trail was, I finished with the desire to go back again and ride it better. I learned a lot in the 2 hours or so we labored along the trail and could feel my skills building as we progressed. Indeed, on the final stretch of Trail 110 we hit a pretty rough rock garden section that all of us were able to clean. I don't think I could have made it through that section without the hard lessons learned on the Plantation Trail earlier in the day. Finishing that ride still feels like a real accomplishment.
We celebrated with pizza and pitchers of Sam Adams at Sirrianos and then headed back to my house at Timberline to drink more and prepare for the next day.
I settled on a shorter and less technical loop for Sunday at Canaan Valley State Park. There is a nice 9 mile loop in the park following the Back Hollow, Middle Ridge, and Club Run trails. It has 800' of pretty technical climbing combined with some fun downhills and smooth singletrack that satisfies my need for speed. It serves up a mix of fields, woods, hills, and meadows to provide a good sample of typical Canaan Valley scenery. I think my friends enjoyed this trail more than Plantation; however, I think everyone is ready to take another shot at the beast.
Overall, we only scratched the surface of the great mountain biking that still exists in the Valley. I spoke with Roger Lilly at Blackwater Bikes while we were there about the state of riding in Canaan. Even with the advent of the Wildlife refuge there are still hundreds of miles of worthwhile riding in or very near the Valley. Roger spoke very highly of the trails recently reopened on the CVI property. They hosted a race there about a month ago - some of the course is still marked for the race, though they are working on mapping the trail network for riders. He told me about work going on at Timberline to put some new trails together for the upcoming Timber Crit race this Saturday. I hope to check these trails out when I'm back in the Valley in 2 weeks. I told him I was amazed at how many people I run into in person and on forums like DCSKi who believe that there is no good riding left in Canaan Valley since the Wildlife Refuge was opened! Well that is definately untrue. There is truly plenty of great riding - and great riders - in the Valley. I'm looking forward to exploring the area by bike more now than ever.
I haven't done plantation yet, and after reading your report (and a few similar comments on this board) I'm not sure I want to any time soon. I love technical riding but that trail sounds like a mess! Bike mag really named it one of the top 10 US trails??
I actually enjoyed Plantation. It was a real challenge for me, and I had a great feeling of accomplishment when we finished our ride. The trail is by far the most technical I've ever been on, but I'm pretty sure there are a number of riders up in the Valley (and probably a couple on this board) who can ride most if not all of it without putting a foot down! The only part I would characterize as truly a mess is one fairly long boggy part of the trail. This seemed pretty much unrideable to me for maybe 1/2 mile over a 3/4-1 mile long stretch. Other than that there was mud - but all the trails in WVA seem pretty muddy to me. I've kind of gotten used to it.
If you like technical riding, you should give Plantation a try. I wouldn't go alone though - we went on a beautiful Saturday and saw only one other rider - and he was lost! 2 of my buddies ride older Stumpjumper hardtails. After they found their groove, both of them were way off the front leaving me to bring up the rear on my super plush DS bike!
As I stated in my initial post, that trail really pushed my bikehandling skills. I confirmed that this past Sunday when I rode at Lake Accotink, one of our local MTB loops here in Fairfax. My legs felt so strong that I was just flying over the hills with no strain! All the trails felt like buff singletrack and seemed a lot easier for me than the last time I'd ridden there.
As for the Bike magazine rating. Well, I haven't ridden any trails outside the mid-Atlantic, but the top 10 rating seems inflated to me. I think that Bike was really just writing an article about 10 great trails (not necessarily the 10 greatest). Plantation is pretty famous though - a lot of folks around the MTB sub-culture have heard of it even if they've never ridden it. Davis WV also has a pretty impressive cast of mountain biking celebrities and luminaries - being home to Sue Haywood (US Champion, NORBA, World Cup Trek Pro Rider), Nick Waite (USA Cycling U23 mens MTB and Road teams - good shot at the Olympics in 3 years), and Laird Knight (inventer of the 24 hour MTB Race concept). They really put the mountain biking in Canaan Valley on the map, and Plantiation is pretty much the classic mountain biking trail in the Valley.
I'm heading up to the Valley again this weekend. I thought I would check out Timberline - one more time - and see how the trails are on the race course they set up for last weekend's Timber Crit. I'll file a new ride report when I get back.
Cool, you talked me into it. I'm heading out late September for a bit of biking in the valley, and will give Plantation a go. Technical but "passable" is fine by me, I just don't want to end up walking half the trail!
I knew Sue Haywood & Nick Waite were from the Davis area, but not Laird Knight...very cool. Somehow Canaan should be using this to do a better job promoting riding opportunities in the valley. Maybe the hardcore are familiar, but the masses generally don't seem to be. Even looking at the trail info on mtbr.com, which ostensibly has a good chunk of serious riders, there isn't much said about Canaan.
If you can make it into Plantation on one of the fire trails, then you can ride Plantation. That's the real test.
And if you ever want to ride a supposedly easy trail that turns into a (literally) pain the butt... go ride the Dobbin House trail at Blackwater Falls SP. Nothing says fun like cruising through a meadow with a beautiful view while smacking huge roots every few feet that you can't even see.