An Epic Backpacking Commute
By: Kerry Werner
Editors Note—Kerry Werner is a cyclocross monster riding for the Kona Maxxis Shimano CX team. He’s also one of our Eliel Brand Ambassadors. And he may or may not be who you want in charge of planning the route for an epic multi-day adventure through the Shenandoah Mountain range. Faced with multiple mutinies by multiple unhappy campers, he lead them out of the woods successfully and in one piece. And remarkably, to this day, they’re still friends. Here is his report:
It started the week before with the Rockstar Trail route. Solo, I traversed from Harrisonburg to Roanoke on a route that linked up the best single track between the two cities. Thus, the vehicle I took to Harrisonburg to start that ride was still there, parked at a friend’s house. This was all part of the plan.
You see I am not one for the conventional adventure. The typical day out is nice for some people but over time I had raced up enough of the conventional miles that I continued to spice up your normal adventures in different ways. Whether it be pulling a bike behind an e-bike to start a ride, taking my dog along on a bikepack trip, or riding a bike with skis up to a snow-covered ridge for an xc ski outing.
This adventure was no different. So instead of having someone help me drive another car up to Harrisonburg I figured I would save some gas and bikepack back to Harrisonburg, Rock City, to get my car. Though, this time I would do it via the “Rockstar Gravel” route and I would bring some friends!
After finishing the Rockstar Trail on Wednesday, I took some time over the weekend to recoup and we, my wife Emily, and friends Spencer and Erica set off on Tuesday for day 1 of our Rockstar Gravel bikepack trip.
This route is 250 miles, paralleling the Rockstar Trail route. Conversely, it seeks out the best backcountry, farm roads, and gravel roads from Harrisonburg to Roanoke. While it was designed to be ridden from Harrisonburg to Roanoke we were riding it backwards, with the truck waiting our arrival.
Each day was split into about 60 mile chunks with awesome camp spots scoped out as I worked my way towards Roanoke the week before during the Rockstar Trail.
The first day was mostly pavement as we worked our way out of Roanoke, hitting first the “Mill Mountain Star” in town, through Carvins Cove (a popular MTB trial system), and finally we finished on Wildlife rd. A Cool 63 miles with a camp spot right next to a creek.
Everyone was a bit choked. I reckon their expectations were set too far to the easy side of the spectrum. There was a lot of doubt and within the last hour a lot of salt language pointed in my direction wondering why we hadn’t stopped yet…
Luckily, we woke up Tuesday morning and everyone had a better attitude. That is when I picked up with Eliel and brought you all along for an Instagram Story takeover.
Day 2 had a decent amount of pavement off the start with only one 8-mile section of gravel at the beginning. In hindsight I am glad. We may have had a defector or two if we would have started off with the chunky stuff.
We cruised our way into Covington, VA for some subway and a gas station snack top up before dropping into gravel and the last 18 miles of the day.
Everyone was in high spirits, even though the cracks were getting wider as saddle time wore on. Our end destination was Douthat State Park, a nice flat spot on the ground, hot showers, a camp store to get some food, and best of all a nice lake to swim in before calling it a day.
Day 3 was what I was dubbing the queen stage. It wasn’t the longest day, they were all about the same, but it was looking like it was going to have the most climbing and after we left the campground first thing in the morning there wouldn’t be any gas stations, or civilization for that matter, until the end of the day 60+ miles later.
We grinded gravel right off the start then jumped on 10 miles of paved farm road until we hit the crux move on the north side of the Shenandoah Mountain range. Here we were greeted with an 8-mile climb, a 3-mile climb, a short break, then the final 9-mile climb up and over the Shenandoah Mountain range.
While the miles ticked by everyone more or less maintained a reasonable level of optimism. Spencer having not training much at all, was relying on heritage fitness to get him through, was impressing everyone with his ability to push on even though after every stop we’d find him lying on the ground flat out, as if he was throwing in the towel.
The biggest curve ball that 3rd day was a small 1.5 miles of single track, which was on the map, but I had forgotten about. Everyone was questioning my navigational skills, even though all I had to do was follow a line on my gps unit. With the sun started to drop out of sight and the clouds started rolling in, the anxiety was rising steadily with the moon, and everyone was on edge.
Thankfully it was only a short single track section, otherwise I may have been a victim of mutiny. We hit a gravel road again and not too long after we t’d into hwy 250. Everyone sighed and we coasted down into the general store in West Augusta. We annihilated some food then limped the 1/2 mile to Braley Pond, pitched tents, lit a fire, and called it a night by 9pm!
Despite the state trooper waking us up at 11pm the night before, asking if we had seen or heard a bunch of rambunctious kids causing mayhem, everyone was chipper and eager to get after the last day.
We back tracked to the general store, skipped the instant oats, and had a home cook meal of egg and cheese biscuits, hash browns, and coffee. This was an amazing way to start the last day.
From the general store, over the next 25 miles, we gradually climbed our way up to Reddish Knob, the high point of the day. Then we traversed a ridge line 4x4 road that tested the group once again.
Apparently, I was the only one smart enough to put the .gpx file on my wahoo so everyone else was flying by my advice alone. As you can imagine, by day 4, any time I told everyone we were going downhill and then a climb was thrown into the mix the complaints came at me like sand in a sand storm. I was getting ready to be done as much as everyone else was by this point. We dropped off the ridge, had lunch at a nice creek, and then were treated with the greatest gift of all, we were pushed the last 20 miles to Rock City with a 20-mph tail wind. It was amazing.
We got to the truck by 3:30pm, the earliest finish of day of the trip then b-lined it straight for the hottest burger joint in town. With no more miles to ride everyone was relaxed and we spent the 2-hour drive laughing at each other remembering the stressful and not so stressful moments of the last 4 days. With this being Erica and Spencer’s first bikepack trip I asked if they were keen to go on another… All I got was crickets! Haha