By Robert May (the fatbike guy)
We’ve been on our bikes for hours now with the daunting realization that we are nowhere near the end of this journey and will spend days, not hours, out here in George Washington National Forest. Despite the calendar saying it’s April 7th, it has been snowing for hours now and covering our bikes, clothes, gear, and the trail. Everything is wet and now freezing. Temps have fallen through the 30s and by 3 am will settle at 23 degrees. I have now passed a few groups of riders and have found myself completely alone following 2 tire tracks through the snow. I am hungry, wet, cold, and tired. I’ve been warmer at 40 below zero on the Iditarod Trail. My fingers are going numb and the character from Jack London’s To Build a Fire weighs heavy on my mind. In the wilderness, you can’t count on your mind; you must prepare so thoroughly that you count on your instincts. I have no tent, no sleeping pad, or sleeping bag. I packed a 5’ x 8’ Coghlan’s Emergency Blanket which is basically thinner than the tin foil used to wrap your leftovers. My life depends on my ability to strike a match and light a fire with wet, frozen wood. This is what I love and these are the moments I feel most alive.
The RockStar 270 is a bike ride from Harrisonburg, Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia. The trail has never been ridden in full according to Rob Issem from the Virginia Endurance Series, who with the help of his friends concocted this crazy event. The event draws a lot of parallels to the Barkley Marathons in which many attempt but few ever complete. And the RockStar 270, in its first year, hit its mark. At the time of this article, only 1 of the 19 trail registrants (Barry Croker) has completed the course. Two others (Dave Williams and Travis Jones) are still on the course.
The course is mostly singletrack and on some of the most remote land in the United States. It racks up over 50,000 ft of climbing and the climbs are not easy. For every hour-long, rock-littered climb, there is a 20-minute ripping descent. This is the backyard of the Harrisonburg mountain bike legend Jeremiah Bishop and home to the best trails I have ever experienced. Seriously, I toasted my fat bike brakes on day one. There is little to no support, which I think really adds an underappreciated element of solitude to the event. You must purify water when you have the opportunity. You must be careful about what food and gear you carry. You can weigh yourself down with your insecurities, which in the end can be your very undoing. Navigation is tricky as the course is unmarked and some of the trails are, let’s just say, “a bit hard to find.”
In addition to the Trail route, Rob Issem and gang also added a Gravel route and Road Route. Many riders, including the beast of Long Island, Peri Garite, weaved some trail with some roads on his fatbike to salvage a finish while he was quickly depleting his vacation days from work. As we say in Pennsylvania, Peri “found his podium.” I myself rode to about the halfway point and at the mature age of 40 decided I had to call it quits so as to not get fired from the job that feeds my family. But both Peri and I will be back to do the trail next year.