SDS 3 Day – Fun in the Forest

One of my 2010 New Year’s resolutions was to make sure that I use at least half of my annual vacation leave during the late spring and early fall seasons when the weather is best for riding. Another resolution was to make sure I did some fun off-road riding weekends that did not center around racing.

This past weekend I participated in Shenandoah Mountain Touring‘s Stokesville-Douthat-Stokesville (SDS) 3 day mountain bike tour. The 3 day event, a slightly more laid back version of the original 2 day version, features some of Virginia’s finest single track.

So Friday night I joined Tony “no fear” Vachino, Andy “the blond giant” Sunderland, “Genuine Innovations” Jimbo Malta, JV squad member and always colorful Dan Oates and on ridged single speed, “big air” Nate Shearer at the Stokesville Campground near Harrisonburg Virginia to get fired up for 3 days of awesome riding that would cover 115 miles with 20,000 ft of climbing.

I opted for the geared Superfly hardtail with a big saddle bag and my GPS. I ran a Jones ACX 29 up font and a 29-3 TLR front on the rear… backwards of course.

SRAM XX Equipped Fisher Superfly

Up at the crack of dawn Sat morning to coffee and french toast prepared by our awesome hosts Chris Scott and Jake Brown. These two guys are a great team with Jake providing most of the logistical support and Chris guiding us through the forest. I can’t tell you how cool it is to finish an incredible ride seemingly hours from any humanity to find a full-on picnic lunch waiting for you next to a gorgeous stream… Awesome!

After the first day of riding and a nice fill of late afternoon burgers we arrived at our temporary home, the Creasy Lodge in Douthat State Park. We were joined by mountain bike super-couple Mike Capraro and Susan Musante who were planning to ride with us Sunday.

SDS 3 Day - Day 1

SDS 3 Day - Day 1

A civilized 9:00am start for the morning ride had us head up the mountain from the lodge to Beards Mountain Trail and the Beards Mountain Spur. It became clear quite early that Capraro had the best legs with skills to match, so we let him lead. He climbed some ridiculously steep pitches. We finished the morning at a cool swinging bridge and had lunch.

SDS 3 day - Day 2 morning

SDS 3 day - Day 2 morning

SDS Swinging Bridge

SDS Swinging Bridge

SDS 3 day - Day 2 afternoon

SDS 3 day - Day 2 afternoon

After lunch we shuttled over to to the start for the ascent up Little Mare. We continue to Brushy Ridge and on to Middle Mountain and Douthat. We descend to the lodge via a sweet single track downhill finish on the south side of Middle Mountain. We finished just as an 8 hour storm front moved in. Tomorrow’s ascent up to Elliot’s Knob was going to be interesting…

SDS 3 day - Day 3

SDS 3 day - Day 3

We got a late 11am start on Day three, mainly to try to wait out the rain that was moving through. We thought it might pass by mid-afternoon. When we started however, it was still raining. The single track was transformed into streams in places and as we would find out, it was really windy and cold at our peak elevation. When we regrouped at the top of the Elliot’s Knob climb, the wind was so strong, we were seeking shelter behind the bases of the larger trees. Another fifteen minutes at the top and we would have all been hypothermic, so we pressed on for our biggest challenge of the weekend, the descent off of Elliot’s on the Crawford Mountain Trail ridgetop. This clattery rock strewn ledge of a descent was made even more treacherous by frozen hands and rocks wet by rain. Think wet rock-garden on a ledge. Chris our ever-present tour guide was constantly warning us about tricky spots including this two foot rock gap with a little six inch wide landing area on the high side. This feature appears quite suddenly since it occurs after a short stretch of a fast moving section. Tony, who rides a new Fisher Hi-Fi, is great on rocks and a fearless descender. He launched over it before he even realized the potential consequences. Nate cleared it as well, opting for the low side lip as a landing area, which although larger, mean’t he had to sail through about 6 feet of air first. Check out the last 30 seconds from this helmet cam video, Chris said he saw sparks from the landing! Keep in mind this is all happening at high speed on a narrow ledge with tons of slippery loose rocks… ridiculous! I’m not ashamed to say I opted to walk that particular feature …better to live to ride another day than to ride above your abilities.

As we got lower in elevation, we turn down Chimney Hollow Trail where the descending finally opens up a bit with the rocks being replaced by fun swoopy single track. The nightmare was ending and the descent down to lunch at the bottom of Dowells Draft trail was fast and fun despite the rain.

When we got to the lunch area at the bottom, I was cold and wet and lacking enthusiasm. After some food my desire to finish was rejuvenated. We ascended up Dowells and finally finished on the long descent down into the Stokesville Campground.

I’m sitting here typing this up after work today pretty tired and still buzzing with thoughts of those awesome 3 days in the forest. The single track descents were incredible. Got to give a shout out to my peeps at Shenandoah Mountain Touring for supporting and guiding us through a great weekend of riding. Can’t wait till next year.

Thanks for reading.



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