the southern traverse
there are many factors that can make a ride a true epic... sometimes it's long distances, or massive climbs, or extreme terrain... sometimes it's an adventure on unknown trails, or just a great group of friends on the same trails that you ride every weekend.
a couple of years ago IMBA started an epic rides program to highlight outstanding trails around the country, and in that first batch was a ride just south of harrisonburg... the southern traverse, a 17-mile ridge ride along shenandoah mountain. with the MORE spring camping trip based just a just a few miles up the road in stokesville this was the perfect time to try this ride. with all of the riding in the harisonburg area, the fact that the guys out in the shenadoah valley chose this one ride was chosen above all of the other amazing rides says something about the ride.
the ride starts with a fire road climb up to the ridge. the four mile climb starts it's 1300' ascent gently, giving you plenty of time to warm up, but does get steeper as you near the top. people started leaving the cars as they were ready so we started out pretty strung out. i was feeling good and had a strong ride up the fire road - my legs were working well after a quick warmup ride around lookout mountain the previous afternoon - and i ended up passing all but a couple of riders... pooch accelerated around me about 1/2 way up the climb and i sped up to hang on his wheel then managed to get around him on the last section of the climb - he was suffering from the 7-hour ride the day before. at the top we stopped for a quick break then and split into fast, medium, and slow groups for the rest of the ride.
after the turn onto the shenandoah mountain trail the trail keeps climbing pretty steadily for the next couple of miles then transitions into beautiful bench cut singletrack winding along the ridge, winding in and out of hollows, crossing from the east side of the ridge to the west over and over again. the trail climbs and descends, but mostly stays on the sides of the ridge, skirting the knobs on bench cut trail that varies from wide and mellow to narrow and exposed with a couple of loose rocky sections that are mostly rideable, but hard enough that you're not going to clean them every time. what climbing there is along the ridge is in small 100-200' bursts. the only interruption to the flow of the trail came from a number of trees down across the trail, some large enough to require a helping hand to get your bike across. since there are no turns for 10 miles we were all able to ride our own pace, occasionally passing one another, but normally only seeing each other when we bunched up around the downed trees.
after ten and half miles along the ridge you come to the only intersection on the trail: jerkemtight rd. this is only bailout point on the ride, but comes right at the top of the final downhill run from the ridge. from here the trail is almost all downhill, save for one small climb part of the way up south sister knob. we stopped to take a break, get some food, and make sure that the slower riders behind us got the turn right as there are 2 singletrack trails that head down the western side of the ridge. the right hand trail of the pair drops straight to the valley, whereas the left hand trail continues along the ridge and was the trail we wanted.
from here the trail heads downhill - almost uninterupted - for a 5 mile run along the ridge and down to the valley floor... swooping into bermed turns inside the hollows and then out around the ends of small ridges on pine-needle covered turns that keep you on the edge of control. the fun, however, can't last forever and eventually you're dumped out on a gravel road to start the ride back to the cars.
if you want you could leave a shuttle car here and drive back to the trailhead, but most of us planned to finish the full ride so we set out on what we thought was a flat 10 mile spin on the road. the ride turned out to be longer and hillier than expected, but still fun... the valley was beautiful and would be a great place for a road ride in it's own right. the group strung out on the road as we all settled into our own pace and we made it back to the cars in little groups of 2 and 4. once back at the cars a couple of us drove back down to where we had first hit the road to pick up any stragglers that didn't want to finish out the ride.
this really is an epic, both in length - clocking in at 36.7 miles if you ride the road back - and in quality. the downhill is on par with any in the area, along the lines of dowell's draft or braley's pond, and the ridgetop riding is like a 10 mile, slightly more technical, cousin of mountainside at Douthat State Park, just a few miles down the road. the 3000 feet of climbing may seem intimidating, but once you're past the first climb, most of the ascent is scattered along the ridge and while the climbs are noticeable, they're not that long, and mostly not too technical.