Ladies Gravel Shred
SWVA BRP Ladies Gravel Tour
Day 1: Day Creek Trailhead to Peaks of Otter (Strava Link)
The original weekend plan was to ride a 120-mile route called the chamois shredder. The name alone should have given us fair warning of what to expect. We started off around 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning at the Day Creek trailhead in Bedford County.
This was the first overnight bike packing trip for Rachel and me, but Megan is a seasoned bike packer with a handful of multi-day tours under her belt. I had decided to go with a seat-post bag, half frame bag and I fashioned a Watershed dry bag to my handlebars. I didn’t weigh my bike before the trip, but imagined it was around 45+ lbs.
We started off down a gravel road, giddy with excitement for what lay ahead. The gravel road soon turned into a steep ascent of 1,200 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles. After redistributing some weight on our bikes and shedding layers, we huffed up the chunky climb to the top of the Parkway.
We zoomed across the road for a rolling gravel descent, where I immediately got a flat on my front tire. We fixed the tire and continued down to a strange little area and were greeted by a wooden Sasquatch wearing a mask at the entrance of 3 dirt roads. Our GPS indicated for us to take a road on the right with a Beware of the Dog sign. If you look closely below, we found out later were were supposed to take the gated-off overgrown double track to the far right. We proceeded cautiously and decided to turn around when we saw that the road went directly to an uninviting private home. A quick look at the route and we decided to take another country road to bypass this whole section.
We found a nice patch of grass at the end of a driveway for a yummy lunch. The landowner drove slowly past us, curious about the ladies picnic happening at the end of his driveway. We continued the climb on gravel roads for the next several hours, talking about all the things in our lives. I wondered, what do guys talk about on their bike adventures?
We arrived at one of the Hellgate aid stations, underneath the BRP and began a chunky descent down. After about a mile, we had a team powwow in the middle of a switchback to discuss the plan. If we followed this so-called chamois shredder route, we would still have an additional 30+ miles to go and our bodies already felt wrecked. We decided to bike back up to the Parkway and head north towards the Peaks of Otter. Except … Megan’s GPS directed us the wrong way for a bit of a detour. After a quick huddle in the shade on the AT, I convinced the crew to bike the Parkway to the Peaks of Otter lodge to indulge on much needed drinks and snacks to decompress.
We continued on the Parkway, soaking in the rays, listening to music and grinning ear to ear. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a yellow lady slipper! In that moment, there is no place I would rather be than adventuring through the mountains with my friends. I felt so free and everything we needed was on on our bikes.
We finally arrived at Peaks of Otter! We bought a bottle of white wine, split 3 ways in our safe sippy cups. Time to figure out our sleeping arrangements. Luckily, we found a spot near Peaks of Otter. We decided to not pack tents to save weight since there was a 0% of rain. After yummy meals of backpacker pantry’s, we all snuggled into our bags, exhausted from the day. Owls hooted and screeched as darkness settled in. A curious deer circled our camp. Hey deer. My ears stayed tuned in to every branch that snapped in the darkness. I peered up at the stars and tried to remember the last time I’ve done something like this. Never. I’ve never cowboy camped while bike packing. What a special experience! Rachel and I tossed and turned, jealous of Megan’s cute squirrel snores.
Day 2: Peaks of Otter - Arcadia - Blackhorse Gap (Strava link)
About 3 a.m., the rain started. Hmm, this isn’t good. Megan snored on as Rachel and I decided to crawl deep in our bags and hide from the rain. The rain eased about 6 a.m., and we crawled out of our soggy beds, laughing about the situation. We put on every layer of clothing, made breakfast, and drank instant expresso out of Mr. Crumples, a Starbucks cup I decided to pack to save weight.
After a brief stop at Peaks of Otter for water refills, we continued on the Parkway, heading towards the “golf” ball, a water tower near Onion Mountain above Apple Orchard Falls. Finally, we were at Sunset Fields and it was time for a long gravel downhill! We let loose, flying down the mountain for miles and miles. We stopped at a pretty waterfall for a quick calendar photo shoot.
We made our way down to North Creek weaving along on familiar roads. Megan was a pro with navigation the 2nd day as we made our way back up a gravel road towards the BRP. I was starting to fade fast, but I kept on grinding, telling myself to keep climbing. We popped back onto the pavement and all we had left were “easy” miles on the BRP. Except they weren’t easy at all and I struggled on the hill climbs. As I shifted, my chain jammed itself into my front derailleur. After some teamwork and smart decisions, I was back on my bike.
We were so close to the car but my energy was so low. I demolished a pita pocket stuffed full of cheese, turkey sausage and mashed avocado and we rallied all the way to Blackhorse Gap for the final 2.5 miles of chunky descent back to the car. We picked our lines carefully, until I did a slide out on some rocks that threw me and my bike down to the ground. Adrenaline pumping, I assessed my situation – bike ok, leg was scraped and bloody, but nothing serious.
I learned so much on this trip about my bike and how to pack efficiently.
· Invest in a lighter sleeping bag / bivy sack.
· Apply chamois cream -- often!
· Always pack rain gear.
· Spend $ on the important things. Like that bottle of wine after 6k of vert.
· Be flexible on plans.
· Invest in some bike upgrades.
· Know basic bike maintenance. It was so rewarding for us to fix my bike quickly and efficiently.
· Always carry a paper map of the area.
· Pick quality company. I tend to like adventuring with strong, prepared, low-key, flexible, funny, smart and skilled women.