By Jeremiah Bishop
For me, last week was bike mega-week! First, my family hosted our fourth annual Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in our hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia; then I rode the toughest ride of my life in my self-created “SDS1 Mini Munga;” and then I followed it all up with the 70 mile Iron Cross race in Michaux State Forest!
Editor’s Note: Organizers of The Munga in South Africa announced on Tuesday, October 14, the inaugural event set for December 3-8, 2014 has been postponed until 2015 due to a “key investor withdrawing.” Read more about the Munga race here.
Alpine Loop Gran Fondo
The Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is the event I founded in my hometown on one of my favorite training routes. It benefits Prostate Cancer Awareness Project and local bike advocacy projects. We were treated to perfect autumn weather and blazing fall foliage. This year’s party was without a doubt a notch up! We had Joe Jefferson on the mic, Shenandoah Alley’s high-energy blue grass, beer from New Belgium Brewing, killer eats and even Porsche demo cars.
My fast friends were there, too. Ben King (Garmin Sharp) fresh off a week-long break drove the pace up the first KOM section, but after that the pace was mellow. Joe Dombrowski (Sky) was also in cruise mode and chatting it up. This was a nice contrast to last year’s full stick KOM’s. A couple of guys even found a football at the Franklin, West Virginia, Rest Station and started throwing passes to each other – it was hilarious.
It was reported that a small dance party broke out at the summit of the second KOM near the “inner tube toll booth,” as the Mid-Atlantic Timing guys rocked some music and got people fired up on the microphone. The 14-mile “Dark Side” dirt climb toward Reddish Knob was wicked and rocky as ever, “Almost too much,” as Jay Moglia of Raw Talent Ranch says.
It was a festive ride with hundreds of my friends. I already can’t wait until next year.
Photo by Joe Foley Photography
Night Raid on the SDS1
My not-too-well-thought-out plan commenced just two days after the ‘Fondo. I would attempt the first-ever one-shot expedition of a legendary back-country route called Stokesville-Douthat-Stokesville, a.k.a. “SDS.” In 2009, Chris Scott pioneered this rugged, 156 mile singletrack loop with 23,000 feet of climbing, and now his company, Shenandoah Mountain Touring hosts two, three and four-day expeditions on the route. My goal was to bite it all off in one sitting, and see how well I could survive the test.
My arms were still sore from loading and off-loading event supplies, and now I set them on the task of setting up my war bird with my new Radical Lights, bento box and all sorts of emergency supplies like my transponder and space blanket in case shit hit the fan.
This route is not exactly Munga-prep but a bucket-list, hardcore back-country singletrack route. The trail can be wild and overgrown in spots; most of the time on rugged technical trail. The goal here was to put my body and night riding skills to a 20-hour test and continue my search for a Munga partner.
To best achieve the night riding portion, I had to leave in the afternoon in order to maximize nighttime and tackle my first challenge at sleep deprivation. Eleven and a half hours in the dark? I was not looking forward too it! Millions of acres of George Washington National Forest’s steep mountain ridges, singletrack, dirt roads and some paved roads lay before me.
Robert May and Jessie Kelly, the only other riders to accept my SDS1 challenge, started 90 minutes ahead of me from the Stokesville Lodge. I set off with an escort from Cole Oberman for the first three hours: the chase was on!
I got into a rhythm, pushing hard to try to catch up with my riding partners before dark. I knew I could make up five minutes here and there, since navigation of the first part of the route was on my home turf. There was something thrilling about riding out the golden rays of the evening sun. The ridge-top Shenandoah Mountain Trail was aglow with costume-dressed trees along the fine ribbon of side-benched dirt. The SMT is an IMBA Epic for great reasons!
On one rock garden, I came upon Jessie and Robert. “Hello,” I shouted with a smile. I was shocked to see Kelly turn my way revealing a huge, purple, bleeding black eye and a blank expression. He was walking his bike! Uh oh. He had taken a bad header. He seemed to be relatively ok, though.
We stopped and I gave the guys a lecture that you better make wise choices out here, as it was bound to get cold at night and it can be a deadly place. Jessie was eager to push on. I gave him some Advil. Despite his resolve, we noticed his bike had lost a pivot bolt and his rear tire was rubbing the frame
We dropped the final high-speed section of the SMT carving the turns, descending into a lake of darkness. Late evening light on stained glass yellow, orange and red changing leaves became just a memory. Smoky, grey switchback turns greeted us into the land of darkness as we dropped into the tail end of our second of eight major trails.
We lucked out at the intersection with a dirt road. There was a large hunting camp. Some good ole’ boys helped put a car bolt in Jessie’s bike. Plumber’s crack and southern humor made it a memorable moment. Since Robert was having GPS issues, he decided to take the dirt roads back to Stokesville with Jessie instead of getting lost for days. I waved the guys off like a ship leaving port.
As I started into the dark, the realization hit home: their departure meant I was left on my mission alone; riding in the dark in a forest area of almost two million acres.
To Be Continued…
Click here to read previous entries in The Munga Diary and stay tuned to find out what happens next.