On Friday, October 3rd riders will toe the line once again in Blacksburg, Virginia for the 3rd grand depart of the Allegheny Mountains Loop. The 400 mile route created by the Adventure Cycling Association pedals an even mix of gravel and pavement, in some very remote sections along the Virginia and West Virginia border. In order to work itself onto the calendar of east coast bikepacking adventures, a mass start of individual time trials is proposed the first Friday in October each year. The AML 400 is ideally spaced between two great bikepacking adventures, the TNGA and HuRaCaN 300. The route is open year-round and ITTs of the route are welcome anytime.
Allegheny Mountains Loop 400
2012 start
In the spring of 2012, Tour Divide veterans Markley Anderson and Cricket Butler were the first two riders to attempt the route solo and self-supported. Their attempts were made on mountain bikes loaded similarly to their previous TD rides. Markley’s time of 45:31:00 put him in Blacksburg just shy of 2 days’ time, and his effort has not yet been beaten on a mountain bike. Cricket Butler’s time of 56:45:00 is the best women’s finish on a mountain bike to date. Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 In 2012, Chris Arndt and Taylor Kruse pedaled cyclocross bikes on their AML attempts and finished the route nearly 6 hours faster with a time of 38:50:00. Returning a year later, the veteran duo improved the men’s course record by 32 minutes with a finishing time of 38:18:00. Though drafting is not an option in the AML 400, Chris and Taylor explained that they are training partners who sparred with each other (from a distance) during many sections of the route but never drafted. In 2013, after 2 previous mountain bike finishes, Ruth Cunningham took dead aim on the women’s record pedaling her cyclocross bike to a solid finish. Ruth’s finish time of 52:41:00 improved upon her previous finishes by more than 12 hours, leaving many to wonder if either the men’s or women’s times could be beaten on the more traditional bikepacking, mountain bike set-up in the future. The record holders agree that the cyclocross set-up has its advantages and disadvantages. Novice bikepackers should be very careful attempting AML on a cyclocross bike due to many of the sketchy sections encountered on the back half of the route. The gravel climbs and descents require experienced bike handling skills. A consistent threat of road hazards in the form of wet leaves and loose gravel can be expected most anywhere along the second half of the route, and back to the finish. The route has very similar characteristics to that of the Tour Divide. Many have commented that the second half of the route heading southward back to Blacksburg has an uncanny resemblance to the Canada and Montana sections of TD. Based upon my experience on Tour Divide, I couldn’t agree more. During my Tour Divide attempt in 2012, I remember thinking many times to myself about how fortunate it was to have been able to train on AML. The gravel climbs and the remote sections require intense preparation and planning to prevent off-route excursions for food and water. After passing Marlinton, WV at mile 130, services are non-existent until mile 310. Many veterans agree that this stretch of AML is easy to underestimate and is certainly the most challenging stretch of the route. Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 Markley Anderson described it best after his attempt saying that it’s like two races in one and the course takes on a considerably different attitude after Glady, WV (the northern-most point). Prior to Glady the total climbing amounts to around 8,000 feet and a great route for sprinters , but the second 200 miles ascends more than 18,000 feet prior to the finish and commands the respect of climbers. With four major gravel climbs and two paved climbs, the back half of the route is filled with switchback after switchback, climbing to elevations approaching and exceeding 4,000 feet time after time. The views along the ridges and the descents that follow are more than enough reward for the effort and energy demanded by the climbs. Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 After the never-ending gravel climb up to and along the ridge that pedals past the Mountain Lake Lodge, the super-smooth paved 2,000’ descent is an absolute rush. Less than 10 miles later, however, riders are left with the daunting challenge of pedaling from the lower elevations along the New River back into Blacksburg. Constant barrages of steeply paved climbs throw one last dose of suffering into those who have spent their reserves mistakenly believing they might coast into the finish.   Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 The start and the finish couldn’t happen at a more solemn place. On the north end of the drill field of the Virginia Tech campus, the War Memorial Chapel commemorates the veterans of past wars. Positioned on top of the chapel are great pillars engraved with the names of many veterans who served our country and lost their lives protecting and preserving the great freedoms we enjoy today. As we contemplate the suffering we experience along a path we “choose”, we realize that many of the men and women walked a very different path in their lives. Their sacrifices enable us to pedal a much different path back here at home. This is a ride of gratitude… a small adventure called the Allegheny Mountains Loop. Tracking can be found here: http://trackleaders.com/allegheny14 Check out the MTBCast.com pre race podcast: http://mtbcast.com/site2/2014/10/02/mtbcast-oct-2nd-aml14-pre-show/ Allegheny Mountains Loop 400

One Comment

  1. On a terrain view, the Allegheny Mountains don’t look as brutal as the southern Apps, but there is big climbing up there, for sure. This one looks like it crosses paths with the VMBT in a place or two: http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/routes/bikepacking-virginia-mountain-bike-trail-part-1/

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