In the Hot Seat: Stephen Hersh ‘Sherando Ride’
We would like to say ‘thank you’ to Stephen Hersh for stepping into the Hot Seat and sharing his recap of mtn biking Virginia’s Sherando Lake Recreation Area
Words by Stephen Hersh
Photos Hunter Davis
The weather broke about 30min outside of Richmond. It had been raining all morning and the forecast showed no signs of slowing down. Like clockwork we drove through the northernmost band of rain, just as the radars predicted. A hint of sunshine began to burn through the clouds as Chris checked the sunroof to make sure that our bikes were still attached to the roof. We had escaped the rain and the predictability of Richmond in search of a breath of fresh air in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After a quick stop through Charlottesville to relieve some post-coffee excitement, we continued on to our destination. With Hunter, nose buried deep in his topo map, his brother Zach’s in a turkey sandwich, and Chris behind the wheel, our group was beginning to take shape. We met Sean and Tate at the next exit and David at the parking area off Coal Rd. It felt good to step out of the car and breathe the crisp, cool mountain air. Before long, with the intended ride mapped out and everyone accounted for, we began our ride on the rolling gravel road.
The plan was to ride out 4 miles down Coal Rd, and begin our climb up towards Torry Ridge via the Kennedy Ridge Trail. After about 6 miles of Coal Rd it seemed that we might have missed our turn. Sherando Lake State Park is a maze of poorly marked and mostly abandoned four wheeler trails. Having never ridden there before, it was reassuring to have companions that knew their way around.
Based upon the notion that all roads must lead to the top, we started up a great 5-mile/1400ft climb towards Torry Ridge on the Stony Run Jeep Trail. The gradient wasn’t too steep and the mix of red clay, shale, bedrock and even ice banks kept the effort engaging.
It was great not knowing what the next turn was going to bring. About halfway to the top of the ridge, the amount of snow on the trail was starting to increase. The all too familiar crunching of white stuff under your tires was a quick reminder that it’s still mid-January in Virginia. The snow also reaffirmed that we are never alone when we venture outdoors. Small footprints, maybe a fox or mountain lion, were revealed in the snow. We did our best to chase them up the path towards the summit.
Our effort was rewarded with a view at the top of the ridge. Maybe it’s the soft sprawling ridges, the faint shadows of a cornice, the uniform regiment of pines; something about these mountains allows them to be gazed at for hours. But not today, the wind was howling and it was getting cold. Hunter snapped some quick photos and we all hurried a snack before hopping back on the saddle.
The Stony Run Jeep Trail is mostly even with one or two climbs to keep the blood flowing. The most interesting part of this section was the frozen puddles spanning the entire with of the trail. The gamble was to find out if the thin layer of ice across the top would be enough to hold a grown man and his bicycle. Sometimes it was, but more often than not, it wasn’t. About half way through the puddle, you and your bike dropped 6 inches into the mud, effectively splattering yourself and anyone so fortunate to be on your tail.
After a while, we reached the Torry Ridge Trail – this is where we began our single track descent.
Hunter raced ahead of us to prepare his camera. The six of us waited impatiently at the top, eager to let it rip. “Oh, don’t crash.” Chris told us. “It’s really hard to get a helicopter out here.”
With that, we dropped in one by one. Loose shale along narrow single track, pine needles and moss covered bedrock. The rock gardens became more frequent all the while increasing in intensity. Small rocks turned to 3-foot tall derailleur shredders in a matter of seconds. Hiking was inevitable and foot placement was critical on the snowy, icy boulders.
Down the ridge and turning on the Upper Slacks Trail & White Rock Gap Trail, we found rolling rhythm sections peppered with roots and rocks; a true ‘grinner’ trail (one that can’t keep you from smiling).
The sun was now over the backside of the mountain and in the cool shade, we really started to fly. Over 8 miles we descended 1665 feet. With the sun now well over the far side of the mountain, it was time to finish our loop.
Out of the lake we traveled 5 miles of two-lane road that guided us down to a local convenience store. With a 12 pack under his arm, Hunter rode up to meet everyone by the cars. Beer-in-hand and cold smiles from cheek–to-cheek we had finished the day without incident. There is something to be said about the allure of the long ride. Maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment, taking a destination and turning it into an experience, sharing a day with new and familiar friends. Its days like these that remind us why we ride. For me it’s the attraction to the unknown, the need to find out what’s around the next bend that keeps me wanting more. I’m sure it won’t be long before we all pile into someone’s car and go do it again.