One other rider and I left central Ohio (with the bikes loaded in his truck) at 3:30am Wednesday. That's right! 3:30 in the morning! We met the rest of the group around 6am in Southern Ohio, and rolled out as a big caravan shortly thereafter. A stop a Walmart in the middle of WV for some essentials, and we arrived at our rental around 11am. We unloaded the bikes and gear, and paid for our trail permits and lodging.
We stayed in Unit 3 of the Browning Fork Trailhouse. It was a very clean single-wide trailer, with three bedrooms, 6 beds, a pull out couch, and all the essentials (coffee maker, washer/dryer, heat/ac, tv/cable). It served our needs perfectly. It was also only 2 miles from the Rock House Trail Section.
Soon enough, we were suited up and we hit the trails. 2 miles up the tiny back road, and a whopping one mile in on the trails and we had our first 'incident'... and it was a freaking good one.
We're blasting up an easy trail. Fairly wide, fast paced, and one shallow water hole after another to blast across. I was in the middle of the pack, with two guys ahead of me and three behind. Blasting along, when all of a sudden I had no power. It felt like the bike had most likely stalled. It's quickly coasting to a stop, I'm looking down at the speedo, and decide to hit the starter. About that time... POW! Full on impact to my left side. I'm instantly running up the trail trying to keep from falling on my face. I recover, and turn to see a pile of three bikes and two riders in a water hole about 15 feet behind me. Apparently, as I was looking down and restarting my bike, I had drifted left across the trail. The next rider had come up and, with fully locked brakes, T-boned me. The third bike also slid into the wreckage. I haven't a clue how I went from sitting on my motorcycle, to running forward up the trail after impact. It seems like the handlebars, or something, would have kept me entangled, or sent me flying. I never saw or heard the next bike coming.
We picked up the bikes, and evaluated everything. I hit my knee into my tank, but had large knee guards on, so didn't feel too bad at all. The other guys had a couple sore spots, but also, nothing worrisome. The bikes looked, amazingly, completely unscathed, with the exception of my foot peg which was folding in half. Using a Tire Iron, I was easily able to bend it back.
We rode on!
We eventually tackled about 50 miles of trails this day, including some Green (easy), Blue (medium), and Black (difficult), as well as some medium single-track. I went down fairly hard once more, when my front tire instantaneously washed out. There was no warning at all, and it threw me down pretty good onto my right side. It must've been the perfect combination of wet/slimey rock surface and a hard compound tire, because I never even felt it slide; everything was going normal, and then I was body-slamming the ground. Bruised but not hurt, we moved on once more! A couple other guys had run-ins with gravity, but we ended the day without any injuries or bike issues.
We learned that the green trails are fast paced and fun, but the blue trails seemed to be our collective favorites. They are very doable, but come with some challenging sections. The occasional black trail is great fun, in that sort of, if we work together, we can tackle this obstacle, sort of way.
We threw some burgers on the grill, and eventually called it a night.
The next day, one rider had to leave to get home, so we were down to 5. We set off to tackle every remaining blue trail in the network, and whatever greens and blacks we may run into. My front tire threw me down once more; same thing, slick wet rock, with no warning whatsoever. This time at a good 30 or so miles per hour. I vividly remember sliding across the ground on my stomach/face as if on a rough and ugly slip-n-slide. The bike and I both ended our separate slides in about 6 inch deep water. I was a muddy mess, and my left thigh was stinging a bit, but no bike damage, so we moved on. Worst part about this one was nobody was close enough to see it. To bad, I'm quite confident it would've been spectacular. (About this time, I'm seriously questioning my front tire. It looks aggressive, it's wearing fantastic, and it works great on pavement, but it has let me down, hard, twice now. IRC TR8 Battle Rally for what it's worth).
One bike in our group, an older Yamaha 2-stroke, was only pulling around 10 miles per gallon, which meant, it would burn through it's fuel supply in a record 30 miles. This started out as a major concern, since ever other bike would get about 3 times that (or more) out of a tank of fuel, but we only had to transfer gas between bikes once, it simply wasn't an issue.
We were all waiting patiently for the racer of our group, a 16 year old on a 150cc, to go down. He was the last holdout to hit the ground, and generally, the better the rider, the better the crash. Finally he gave in on a black trail, when he loop the bike trying to climb a rock face. It was spectacular, and worth the wait. He seemed fine afterwards, but apparently bent the monster rear sprocket on his bike so it promptly threw the chain, which became wedged by the motor. After about an hour of fighting it, we free the chain and bend the sprocket back. We push, pull, and drag the rest of the bikes over the rock face, and continue up the rocky hill.
We had lunch at the house this day so we opted to have dinner out. We ended our day of trails in Gilbert after about 100 miles. Gilbert's food selection was quite poor, and we ended up at the only non-fast-food place we could find open, a small Mexican restaurant. Without getting into too much detail here, lets just say, the refried beans that 4 of the 5 of us ate, did not sit well, and we all had an almost instantaneous response of... TIME TO GET BACK HOME! It was not good... not good at all.
But we worked through it.
The house had a washer and coin dryer ($1 per load), that became well worth it at the end of each day, It was nice starting each day with fresh riding gear and socks, even though our boots remained soaked the entire time. The Rockhouse trails were full of water holes, but overall remained fairly dry. There was almost no mud, although we found a few slimy sections. The trails were full of loose, rocky hills, challenging, but doable. We investigated a couple of the double black diamond trails, as well as the most difficult single track trails. It was extremely impressive to see what, apparently, good riders can tackle, because, these trails were insane. Absolutely nuts.
The next day we were set to head home, but not without another half day or so of trail riding. Having rode everything we wanted to at Rock House, we headed up to Bear Wallow, which was on the way home anyway. Bear Wallow introduced some muddy trails, and even a bit of sand (in addition to the rocky trails similar to Rock House). We were able to ride all of the Blue they had to offer, along with several green trails and a black in our half a day here. It was another 50 mile day. I dropped the bike once on a rocky uphill, but overall, nobody hit the ground in a significant way.
A hundred miles towards home we stop for gas in Ravenswood WV, and discover it would be about an hour less time for me to head home from here, rather than our planned departure location. We pull my bike off the middle of the trailer, and throw all my stuff into a pile for some reorganizing before loading it on my bike. Eventually the rest of the group hits the road, and I finish sorting my stuff. About this time, I decide it would be a good idea to check the oil level, since I've put 200 very hard miles on it. I find the oil level is still adequate, but there is noticeable oily slime/residue on the bottom of the motor. I hit the road. About halfway home I stop for gas and find oil covering a significant amount of the bottom of my bike. I fill up, and put a half a quart of fresh oil in it, and hit the road again. Home was about 60 miles away, and I stopped half way once again to check the oil level. It had dropped, but was still fine, so I blasted the rest of the way home.
On numerous occasions, I could hear rocks smacking the bottom of the bike while riding the trails. Occasionally they would even hit the bottom of the footpegs and my boots. I do have a large metal bash guard to protect the bottom of the motor, but it doesn't cover the sides well, and a large flying rock could still have managed to hurt something. I make it home fine, and clean the area with degreaser, hoping to spot the crack. Nothing was obvious, but the plastic engine case guard had some interesting scratches on it. I popped it off to find a fairly significant crack in the engine side case cover. I assume it had to have happened when I dropped it on the rocky uphill earlier this day (which is the only reason I mentioned it above you see!). If it happened on a previous day, I'm fairly sure we would have noticed (or I would have run out of oil). I cleaned the area, scuffed it, and applied a couple layers of Quick-Steel metal epoxy (which I had in my tool kit, so I could have repaired this on the trail/road if needed). It appears to have sealed the crack, and after a brief test-ride, I'll put the plastic cover back on and call it good.
The Hatfield McCoy trail system is fantastic. Since I now have a year permit, I will head back. The two closest section are less than three hours from my house, near Charleston WV. The trails are well marked and maintained, and the rating system is very helpful. The easiest trails are equivalent to the Wayne National Forest trails here in Ohio, so WV most definitely offers more challenging terrain, as well as 5 times more mileage.
I'm quite bruised up and have a couple strawberries, despite wearing substantial gear. This is not a place to ride in lax armor. My heavy dual sport (with mediocre tires) was adequate on the Green and Blue trails, but a lighter more purpose built machine would've been a bit more enjoyable, especially on the black trails and single track.
I will be back! Hopefully sooner rather than later!