Words and Photos (Olympus OMD E-10) by Rad Baron
6 members of the Great Eskape gravel and endurance squad went up to the highlands of West Virginia to race the Gravel Race Up Spuce Knob over July 4th weekend, but this post isn’t really about all that. Really the idea that we’d go up for the race which, by the way, was excellent and we all highly recommend… was more of an excuse to get out and adventure in a to us, mostly foreign and magical land of Appalachian High Country. Sure we brought bikes, and we raced, but that’s not really the purpose of why we spent several nights sleeping in tents and hammocks at at 4,000 feet.
I call the foothills of Appalachia my native home, though I come from the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont some 400 miles away from our weekend campsite, but the terrain and weather of the Monongahela felt otherworldly - more like the Scottish Trossachs than anything I’d experienced stateside.
Dolly (a regional term for an alpine-like mountain meadow) Sods (the phonetic spelling of some early German homesteaders named the Dahles) the highest plateau east of the Mississippi. It is home to Alpine-like plant life only otherwise found much further north in Canada. It’s a magical place where blueberries and huckleberries cover the ground and a mile long cranberry bog co-exists with a tundra like heath barren at 4k’’ of elevation.
The weather, too, was never short of providing epic skylines and equally epic thunderstorms and rain every bit as fierce and violent as they were fleeting. We had several days before the race with no agenda other than to simply exist in this magical place - no cell phone connections, no laptop computers, no GPS routes, nothing. As much fun as we had racing on the final day of our trip we were mostly just thankful the race gave us an excuse to get together and travel the three hours across the 1863 border to enjoy the endless blueberry heaths and cool breeze atop the Dolly Sods Wilderness.
Bikes and bike racing are of course what it seems like we are all about here, but we have to remind ourselves with trips like this it isn’t really all about the bike, its about unlocking the opportunity for adventures that our cycling-created love for the outdoors has given us and for that we are as grateful as we are grateful to the Nature Conservancy for preserving this magical place for us to experience and enjoy.