Monday, September 2, 2013

Gravel Grinding in Preston County

Start of a morning ride
Gravel grinding, dirt road it what you want.  But, the popularity of riding on dirt, gravel, and low maintenance roads has been growing over the past few years with the help of ultracross events such as ABRA and JR Petsko's Hilly Billy Roubaix.  Grinding up steep climbs, navigating steep descents of loose gravel, and occasionally plunging through deep ATV-developed swamp holes for 50+ miles has given riders from road cycling and mountain biking backgrounds, and of all ages and abilities, a new avenue to test their mettle.  

Sure there are risks involved--crashing in loose gravel at high speeds tops the list and going through a lot of pinch-flatted tubes.  But, the benefits that outweigh the risks become very apparent after a few dirt road rides--very minimal if not any automobile traffic, less angry-motorist harrassment, the lack of exhaust/pollution, the adventure of exploring rural and scenic areas that can't always be seen and appreciated from a road bike (side note: this could also be considered a risk in some areas), and no fancy high-end road specific machines are required.  Mountain bikes (hard tail, full suspension, fully rigid and single speed), cyclocross bikes, fat bikes, touring bikes, and "endurance road" bikes, such as the Cannondale Synapse, are fully capable of tackling the terrain involved in a good ole' WV dirt road ride.  

JR has introduced most of us to the dirt road riding Monongalia County, WV has to offer.  Until recently, with the winding down of the ABRA road racing and mountain biking series, I have begun to explore the dirt-road riding potential that awaits in Preston County, WV.  I don't live on a smooth road. In fact, I have 600ft of gravel driveway and a 1.5 mile multi-level-pot-hole-patched road just to reach smooth asphalt.  Therefore, my road bike does not see nearly as much riding as it had before I moved to Preston least not without a beater set of wheels and some wide, puncture-resistant tires.   Quite possibly the best bike I have purchase thus far has been my Cannondale cyclocross bike, with 700x42 Kenda Happy Medium tires (aids in cornering control, softening the ride, and reducing pinch-flat risks, and a set of mini-V brakes (for added control and stopping power) from the fine folks at PathfinderWV in Morgantown.

a great means of exercise in the winter
slower speeds = less wind chill

Honey Stinger Waffles...
The go-to fuel for all rides...

While Preston Co. is a relatively large county at 651 square miles, I have only explored a fraction of the 'undeveloped' county roads in the northern aspect of the county from Bruceton Mills south to Albright, and east to Hazelton (and at an average of 53 people and 23 homes per square mile, relatively traffic free).  But, I have been able to link many of the mostly dirt/gravel county roads with the help of Preston Co. native-cycling-legend and teammate Derek Clarke as a guide, and a GPS smartphone app.   Most of these rides hit the dirt/gravel within a half mile of the house and can lead me to locally popular areas such as Wonder Falls on and Sovereign Falls near the Big Sandy River,  Blue Hole on the Cheat River, Cooper's Rock State Forest, Lake of the Woods, and Big Bear Lake.  While many of these areas offer scenic views all to their own, the 'undeveloped' county roads have seemed to invite my rides to scenic waterfalls that only serious white-water kayakers and ridge top views that only the local residents of the roads will usually experience.

Rockville Bridge over the Big Sandy River

Apparently deaf animals are dangerous in Preston Co.

Summer kayaking

Sovereign Falls 

ridgetop views from Pisgah

Winter kayaking...brrr
Makes winter riding seem much less crazy.

Sunset near the finish of a ride.
Reminder of why it's called Almost Heaven WV

Now, excuse me while I try to quickly get the cross bike cleaned up before it gets too dark.....

                                       .... Thanks ProGold for allowing the speedy clean and lube of the cross bike.