BIKEpacking the Appalachian Trail: Why Is Going Solo Like Therapy?

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A solo overnighter on a bucket-list trail that led to playing in the dirt and a conversation with crows.

OK, I didn’t really cycle on the Appalachian Trail. After all, that’s not permitted, but I did ride a former piece of the AT. The Iron Mountain Trail in Virginia was a 24 mile slice of the AT until 1972 when they moved it slightly South. This ridgeline gem has been on my bucket list for a while, so I decided to make an overnight out of it. Although the IMT is now shared with motorcycle riders, horse people and mountain bikers, it is pretty cool biking in trail-space walked by Grandma Gatewood and other storied hikers.

I do have to say that the first five mile section of the IMT is in very rough shape. Not sure whether to blame it on the record rainfall this year or the horses that make their ways along this same path. I may or may not have said, ‘horses suck’ a few times while trudging through 8 inch deep hoof mud, but I was cordial to a couple passing jockeys and their steeds. Luckily the mucky part concluded fairly quickly and the single track began.

For decades people have ventured to solo hike the Appalachian Trail as a means to restore mental fortitude. I once backpacked a chunk of it to overcome some ghosts myself. Although nine and a half times out of ten I’d prefer to be riding with a buddy, I was content going companionless on this one. Bikepacking solo is kind of like therapy. Being completely alone in the middle of nowhere seems to take things that were joggling around your skull and put them back in order. Why is that? Maybe it’s the free pace of things that encourages you to stop and do little meditative meanderings. I found myself lazily sitting on the forest floor a few of times studying tiny bits of flora, frogs and fungi.

It could be the silence that comes with solitude. You really don’t get that very often. I actually carried on a conversation with a small murder of crows for five or ten minutes at one point. It was kind of like they were following me along the ridge for a mile or so.

Or perhaps it’s the instinctual stirring of self-preservation. If you botch a line on a rocky descent, you are the only person who can drag your ass several miles out of the woods. I don’t think the crows would help. Even if you don’t worry about your own mortality, I think just having it in your subconscious tilts your perspective.

On a different level, beating the shit out of oneself is also therapeutic, I guess. The final 6 miles of the IMT dropped over 1,500 feet of rocky, and sometimes flowing, goodness. After spilling out of the trail into the tiny town of Damascus, I started the slow, tedious ride back up 25 miles of Virginia Creeper Trail and pavement. I’ll have to say that my Misery Indexometer was tipping towards a high 10 in the final few miles to my car as my legs were cramping and hunger was gnawing away at my belly. I guess the road broke my body, but a journey through the woods cleared my head.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - insects

I’ll start you off with some Appalachian doodlebug porn.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - Ibis Mojo HD

The Northern bike access entry to the IMT.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

There are a lot of trails that intersect up here. But I only saw one hiker and three people on horseback over 2 days.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - Ibis Mojo HD

A rocky ascent for the first bit.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

A tiny burl.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - Ibis Mojo HD

The start of the horse hoof ponds.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

And a lot of this.

Revelate Handlebar Harness - bikepacking

I am loving my new Revelate handlebar harness, and pocket. This stuff is built super tough. I’ll try and do a review soon.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - shelter

A remnant of the IMT’s former life when it was the Appalachian Trail.

Bikepacking - Anything Cages with hose clamps

My Big Agnes Air Core Sleeping Pad in an Anything cage attached with hose-clamps. Can’t leave home with out it, being a side-sleeper and all. Looking forward to trying their Q-Core SL pad.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Some really cool mushrooms that took over this trailside log.

Box wine bike packing

This stuff is not bad at all. And helps dissuade any fear of the boogey-bear.
Revelate bear bag
The Revelate pocket as a bear-bag.

Hop can stove bikepacking

Cooking a dinner of lentils and rice with a recently fabricated hop-can stove.

Big Agnes Copper Spur - bikepacking

Set up camp in the woods not too far from a shelter.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Morning on the forest floor.

Revelate Viscacha Seat Bag

Trial run of my Viscacha seat bag. This thing is awesome. Even though it seems built like a mule, it’s still super light.

Revelate Pocket

The pocket perfectly holds a map and food.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Start the day with a nice climb.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Another small world.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - Ibis Mojo HD

She’s looking pretty svelte.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

There are a lot of super fast runs on the IMT.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Hey there buddy.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

These little things were sprouting up in patches every so often.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Following the blazes.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia - Ibis Mojo HD

Crossing the real AT.
Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia
Getting toward the end of a big ~4 mile descent.
Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia
Fun creek crossings to clear.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Lots of AT hikers in Damascus. This guy included.

Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia

Tempting, but I still have 24 miles to go.

Trip nerdery

2013-08-06_map

52.48 miles; made camp where noted

2013-08-06_elev

5,449 ft climbing

Notes:

  • Park at the Northeast end (FSR 741 and FSR 4402).
  • There is no water sources after where I made camp until the last 5 mile descent; plenty until then though.
  • There are 2 different 3-walled shelters on the trail. One at about 5miles (Cherry Tree) and one at about 10 (Straight Branch).

For more information on this route, including GPS and logistics, click here. Also, check out our growing list of bikepacking and dirt road touring routes.

Tags

  • http://fenikkusu.tumblr.com/ Eric Davis

    Wow that brings back memories. I hiked that stretch ages ago and loved every inch of it.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hey Eric. Yeah, it is definitely a sweet slice of wilderness…

  • Thomas Robinson

    Hi Logan. I’ve been reading through your posts and have been enjoying them. I am planning my first tour and have a question for you. Would you go on a TransAmer bike tour on a dual suspension bike or should I consider switching to a rigid steel frame?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Thomas. Thanks! What type of riding do you plan on doing on the tour? Unless you are going to be hitting up your favorite downhills all across the US, I would recommend steel. You could use a suspension fork on the front if you plan on doing a lot of offroad. Were you planning on carrying panniers or bikepacking style bags?

  • Pingback: Hop-can Stoves: How to make 5 ultralight bikepacking stoves - Pedaling Nowhere()

  • Yaniv Eliash

    Hey Logan,
    Which camera have you took with you ?

    The photos looks great.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Yaniv. Thanks! For this trip I took the Fuji X100…

  • Yaniv Eliash

    Super, thanks !

  • Joe

    Great to read this post. I have been thinking about doing an overnight or two on these trails. Your write up, map and pictures are a big help.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Should be some good views from the ridge this time of year…

  • Jim

    Awesome write-up! I myself have a Mojo and am exploring the world of bike packing with it. How do you find the saddle bag working with the dropper post? Any worries about damaging it on an extended journey?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Jim. You can’t really use the dropper with the Viscacha seat bag (or any seat bag as far as I know). You may be able to drop it about an inch, but that’s it. For the last trip I took on the Mojo, I installed a regular post. Other than that, the Mojo works well for bikepacking. Put a little extra air in the shocks to eliminate pedal strike. Happy trails!

  • Phil

    Simply awesome. I was searching for hike & bike tips for my 2014 trip in the Chic-Chocs, and I found here great inspiration. Thanks.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Phil. Let me know how the ride works out for you!

  • Tony

    Great write up and excellent photo’s, looks like a great trip!

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks Tony, it was an excellent overnighter!

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