4 States & 4 Days: Trip Report and Reflection

Discussion in 'Overlanding / Off-Road' started by R Stowe, Feb 20, 2019.

  1. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    As some of you may know I'm on staff at OutdoorX4 magazine. I've been looking at some old trip reports published there and I decided to repost some slightly different versions here. This was a trip in early 2015 and still one of my favorite offroad adventures. I had known the guys from MSO for about a year at this point, and some of the friends I made on this trip are still some of my favorite folks in the industry, but also close personal friends. I actually want to rerun this route, possibly south to north, sometime in the near future.

    If I was being honest I had my doubts from the start. If you didn't know the team's location you could mistake this trail for a deep jungle stretch or an abandoned logging road through the Pacific Northwest. Outside of the brown dirt we were flanked by green on each side and overhead. As we made our way along this muddy track the mist grew to a steady drizzle and everyone paused. With each passing minute our footsteps and tires sank deeper into the mud. This was concerning to the group since we had been on this section for 3 hours and progress was slow. It felt like we are miles and miles from civilization, but in all reality we could have walked back to the diner where had lunch in Justice, WV. The small town of 500 or so was rather surprised when five heavily equipped trucks arrived within minutes of each other. It's doubtful that the folks we chatted with would have expected us to be just out of sight under the thick green canopy just off of Long Pole Road. As we winched, laid down Max Trax, and constructed trail improvements in order to traverse three consecutive sections of difficult obstacles we became a well-oiled machine. Even though several of us met for the first time that morning there really wasn't any other way to tackle the challenges we faced. The required teamwork and communication skills forged the team and set the tone for the next three days.

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    Even though the trail conditions improved the greenery continued to close in on us. For the next hour the lead truck could only see a wall of green and everyone else focused on the truck in front of them. The Tacoma and the 80 Series faced a more difficult passage through the tighter spots as Jason and Matt A. hoped that nothing was ripped off of the rigs in the tunnel of foliage. Luckily the only casualties were a few bent antennas. That night we set up camp on the site of a reclaimed mining and natural gas area. The wide open field was a welcome respite from the jungle like conditions we endured for most of the day. As the fog settled on the plateau and skittish horses grazed along the treeline the group settled down to enjoy dinner and to rest for the next day.

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    On the morning of day two the team awoke to a stark contrast to day one. The sun was just starting to make its way above the trees as we saw pavement for the first time since we entered the trail the day before. The morning wasn't without excitement as we traveled along a riverside rail bed the train came into view. With a steep river bluff on the left and the train cars rushing by on the right the team slowed and allowed the train cars to pass a few feet from their passengers’ mirrors. After a quick lunch we decided to make a detour from the intended route and make up some miles in order to reach our chosen campsite for the night. As we made our way to Grundy, Virginia the portion of the team that was unfamiliar with the Virginia highlands was shocked by the difference between communities only a few miles apart. Many of the old coal towns that we had passed through during the first 48 hours of the trip had fallen victim to the booms and busts of the industry over the years. While some still had main street businesses and community centers many of the others were composed of mostly empty buildings and deserted homes. However, in Grundy the Levisa Fork River flows through the center of town, with schools of law and pharmacy along its banks. A modern county courthouse is located opposite of a large retail center and the entire town is framed by jagged ridges. With our supplies restocked everyone loaded back into the trucks and planned to put some miles behind us as we headed back into the mountains.

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  2. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    Even though the group was looking forward to the campsite on our second night it was evident that a certain disappointment hung over our convoy as we skipped approximately 60 miles of the route. However, this grey cloud quickly cleared as we turned on to County Road 610. While we expected lots of pavement, and not a lot of fun we were greeted with turn after turn of gravel backroads as we made our way into Clinch Mountain State Wildlife Management Area. After a long ascent along Big Tumbling Creek the road leveled out and a few glimpses of Laurel Bed Lake were able to sneak through the rhododendron. The 330 acre lake has acted as a water source for the prime trout streams that flow through the wildlife area since its impoundment in 1967. Even though the main purpose of Laurel Bed is to augment the flow of the trout streams below, the lake itself offers an excellent destination. The team was lucky enough to score a campsite right along the lake shore. As soon as a bit of firewood was gathered and camp was the whole group went into relaxation mode. Some fished, some started dinner, and some spent some time as stationary as possible. The sunset provided an excellent backdrop as everyone returned to camp and settled in for another delicious meal prepared by Jamie. On this particular night we dined on kabobs as the main course and Matt Errico provided ice cream from his shop in New Jersey. The fantastic dinner provided the perfect end to a full day, and the team turned in and readied ourselves for the second half of our journey.

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    As the sun broke the treeline along the eastern lake shore the sounds of geese and the percolator provided the alarm clock for our morning. With a long 110 mile day ahead everyone hurried to break camp and grab a bagel for the road as a few dedicated fishermen made their way to the lake. Our third day would take us over the Virginia border into Tennessee, but before marking off our third state we made a pit stop in the famous trail town of Damascus. A few AT hikers stood out amongst the families in town to ride the Creeper Trail. The team visited the local outfitter before heading south towards our third state line. As we crossed into Tennessee we were greeted with a truly gorgeous view of Shady Valley. This farming community, as the name implies, lies within a valley hemmed in by the Appalachian mountains. The community's two contrasting claims to fame include the facts that it is both a hub for motorcyclist looking to tame the surrounding curvy mountain roads, and the unique geology of the area allows cranberries to grow much further south than most would expect. As we made our way further south and towards our third campsite the team's CB chatter turned from reasons we could move to Shady Valley to the campsite for the night. While we had several hours to find a stopping point we had very little information about the section of the trail east of Elizabethton, Tennessee. This section of Cherokee National Forest is rugged and remote. After a run in with a locked gate forced us to backtrack we made our way closer to North Carolina and passed through the Roan Mountain area. A few consultations with the locals led the group to a perfect spot along an abandoned logging road that ended with a great view of the mountains to the east. The rooftop tents were set up and ready as Jamie fired up the skottles and prepared custom pizzas for each member of the team. Everyone was in agreement that eating fresh-made pizza around a roaring fire on top of a mountain in Tennessee made for a great Saturday night.

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    As Sunday dawned the group broke camp once again. The great state of North Carolina greeted us almost immediately upon rejoining the main trail. As the coffee kicked in and our mental wheels began to turn the team decided that a swimming hole would be the perfect addition to the day. With a quick search of the internet we had a spot in mind, but poor directions and a willingness to explore led us to a deep spot amongst the boulders of Lost Cove Creek.


    The Pisgah roads were dusty and crowded so everyone focused on the turns and holiday weekend traffic until we finally broke out of the forest. The Blue Ridge Parkway offered wide open vistas and sweeping curves as we returned to the pavement and turned our attention towards civilization. Upon reaching Boone, NC, our final destination,we celebrated with a team dinner, but quickly headed back out to the Blue Ridge Parkway to find a camp. While not as remote as our previous campsites our last night was spent at Julian Price Campground where we shared one last night around the fire and under the stars.


    While the memories that surround this trip across four states in Appalachia will last a lifetime, the friendships that we forged set the bar for an epic adventures still to come.

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    Last edited: Feb 20, 2019
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  3. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall ESEE Knives / Randall's Adventure & Training Staff Member

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    Let's go run it again, Rick.
     
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  4. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm down for it Jeff. Last I heard that first section outside of Justice, WV had to be totally rerouted because the "road" washed completely out, but outside of that I'm sure we could knock it out. Just say when. My only suggestion would be sometime when there's a little less foliage. We didn't see much that wasn't 6 inches away from the truck for a good portion of day 1.
     
  5. Mudman

    Mudman Member

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    Oh my!
     
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  6. shaneadams90

    shaneadams90 ESEE Knives Marketing Director Staff Member

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    Awesome write up Rick!! WV has some great trails up there!
     
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  7. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks man. It was a fun trip and Jason did a great job of putting that route together. We covered a lot of miles.
     
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  8. DYSPHORIC JOY

    DYSPHORIC JOY Moderator Staff Member

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    We need to hit a few weekenders this fall.
     
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  9. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    For sure. The southern end of this route isn’t far from your place. Of course we could head a little further south and hit up a lot of the NF.
     
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  10. Strigidae

    Strigidae Moderator Staff Member

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    EXCELLENT POST!!!!!!!
     
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  11. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks Strig. Bring that Runner back east and we'll get out on some trails.
     
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  12. Hoover77

    Hoover77 Member

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    Hey Rick, how was the camping situation at Laure Bed Lake? I know it’s primitive, just don’t know how much area is campable. I’m wanting to head up there this spring, if they have repaired the road that washed out in Feb. 2018. Thanks for any information.
     
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  13. R Stowe

    R Stowe Moderator Staff Member

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    We were super lucky and got a spot within walking distance of the boat ramp. That shocked me considering it was a holiday weekend. It seemed the spots don’t have a lot of defined borders but there’s plenty of open areas. If memory serves there were several spread out on the final piece of the road. All of them were mowed to passable levels. I had heard about the road but I haven’t looked for any updates.
     
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  14. Hoover77

    Hoover77 Member

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    Thank you for the reply!
     
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