About three years ago, life caught up to me, and I found myself desperately trying to sequester time to fulfill my obsession with rock climbing to no real avail. There was no way I could sustain my climbing level and obsessive psyche AND balance my family life at the same time. So, I did what any good man would do, and chose to prioritize my family over my passion. Needless to say, it was a hard pill to swallow and one that put me into a desperate tailspin with the ground fast approaching. 

Looking back on it now, I was having a serious identity crisis. You see, I’d been a climber since I was 18. I’d spent entire summers in Yosemite climbing some of the best routes in the Valley and some of the most beautiful and difficult alpine routes in the Sierras. I’d climbed all over the Rockies, the desert, and up and down the East Coast. I even moved to my current home of West Virginia for the amazing climbing found in the New River Gorge. My entire being was wrapped around climbing and now I found myself completely and utterly lost. I tried to wrap my head around things and thought to myself, “Was I destined to become that pudgy dad who got his kicks coaching his son’s soccer team? Arghhh!”
Tour de WV photo dump 1364

It was during this time that I began to get to know a few of the bikers around town and began to explore the local trails. I’d done a fair share of mountain biking in my past but it was always a secondary sport for me. I rarely rode for more than an hour and a half and I never really planned adventures around biking. But that changed fast. I realized pretty quickly that biking checked all the boxes to fit into my life as a family man; I didn’t need a partner, 2 hours after work was more than enough time to keep daddy happy, and biking was both adventurous, as well as, required a new set of skills that I was quickly beginning to get stoked on. Not to get all Darwinian here, but I was slowly evolving into a cyclist.

During this period, I became acquainted with Andy, a local rider who was cut from a different cloth than the rest of the local gang. His bikes were always decked out with some sort of storage system and often times were adorned with a peregrine feather. He would drop lines about riding out to such and such and camping at such and such. It became clear to me that biking to him was an extension of exploring. That’s how I always felt about climbing and what I loved the most about it. The bigger, further, most adventurous routes were always my favorite. It didn’t take long before I realized that I could merge mountain biking with my passion for backcountry adventure.

Andy armed me with just enough help to get me moving in the right direction, but knowing very well that if I was truly going to become a member of the “amateur homeless personing” tribe; I was going to have be self-sufficient and learn the ropes of bikepacking on my own.

Fast forward to 2016 with backstory in tow, I now had a few tours under my belt and was ready for something bigger, something that allowed me to really see all the beauty and ruggedness of the “Wild and Wonderful” state.  By this time, my main riding partner was my friend Alex, who was 10 years younger than me and was always ready to kick my butt anytime the trails turned gnarly.

Tour de WV photo dump 1481

Alex and I made a good team. He is everything I am not. He is a damn good technical rider who attacks the downhills with reckless abandon. He is quieter and more reserved than me, but when he says something he speaks with maturity and intelligence beyond his age. His small town West Virginian upbringing is completely the opposite of my suburban childhood. Somehow though, the rift of differences between us was something we both always gravitated towards, and in that sociological canyon of exploration we found friendship and a growing love of exploration by bike. I never told Alex this, but there was never any question in my mind that Alex would be my partner for what I began to call the Tour de WV.

After many hours of geeking-out over multiple online and hard copy maps, and gaining local beta from Andy and others; I had engineered a route that had become a 700-plus mile circumnavigation of the state. The route connects the best sections of trail riding, around Wilderness Areas, thru Wildlife Management areas and national forests by utilizing the hundreds of miles of backcountry singletrack, double track, four-wheeler paths, dirt and gravel roads, rail trails, and country roads that characterize our landscape. By linking outdoorsy hubs such as Fayetteville, Davis, and Seneca with the urban environments of Morgantown, Clarkesburg, and Charleston; you get to clearly see both the vast and stark dichotomies of West Virginia. Along the route, you travel through the New River Gorge National Park, Cranberry Wildlife Management Area, Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Ski Resort, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, around the Roaring Plains Wilderness Area and Dolly Sods Wilderness, Blackwater Falls State Park, Cathedral State Park, North Bend State Park, Charles Fork Lake, Kanawha Falls State Forest, and Plum Orchard Lake. The route uses many classic mountain bike trails of WV such as Kennison Mountain Trail, Propp’s Ridge, Huckleberry Trail, Seneca Creek Trail, the North Fork Mountain Trail, Plantation Trail, and the Kaymoor Trail, among many lesser-known others. The route uses the West Fork “rail trail” from Durbin to Glady, the entire Decker Creek rail trail, and the entire North Bend rail trail.

All in all, the route was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Traveling and living off the bike for 10 days with a good friend was an experience that I will never forget and one that has stuck with me and has me yearning for a whole lot more of it. Climbing is still a part of me and one layer that will probably never be shed, but it’s safe to say that I’ve re-emerged as an adventure cyclist and because of that I’m both invigorated and excited about my future. The great Edward Abbey once wrote, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile, than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles”. It is in that spirit that the Tour de West Virginia was born and lives on today.

A few notes about the route:

  • The route is a loop and could be started anywhere, but the most logical places to start or end are Fayetteville, Davis, Morgantown, and Charleston.
  • The section from Fayetteville to Davis (~300 miles) is very mountainous and contains the majority of the elevation found within the route.
  • Approximately 60% (435 miles) of the route is off-road riding.
  • There are many sections along the route where you will not have cell signal or have any services. Expect multiple 50 miles stretches of backcountry riding. Study the route, bring maps, and plan accordingly. With that said, there’s just enough resupply points to allow for not carrying multiple days’ worth of provisions.
  • Water is rarely an issue and can be found all over the route.
  • This route includes some very rugged trails that many would argue are full-suspension territory. With that said, a hardtail or even a rigid mountain bike is suitable and preferred for most of the route.
  • Quality bike shops can be found in Fayetteville, Snowshoe Ski Resort, Davis, Morgantown, and Charleston.
  • We did this route in 10 days in touring style. In this style, I’d say plan for anywhere from 9-14 days to finish it. Racing this route would be proud and I’d imagine some could finish it in just under 4 days with very little sleep. The challenge has been set.

Our Gear List:

Bikes: Salsa El Mariachi and Trek Stache 29+

Bags: Both bikes were equipped with Revelate bags

Maps: GPX file- https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14442501


Both of us had the route loaded onto a GPS app on our phones. I used the Gaia app and Alex used Strava. We didn’t carry any maps except the Cranberry Wilderness Trails map but it wouldn’t hurt to bring along any or all of the following:

Camera gear: Crappy old Iphone5s

Our Camping gear:

  • Big Agnes Ranger sleeping bag 20 degree rated bag and North Face Furnace sleeping bag 30 degree
  • Thermarest Neoair X-lite sleeping pad, Klymit static V sleeping pad
  • Old ground sheet from a Mountain Hardware tent
  • Lightweight Outdoor Research rain shell and a Patagonia Houdini shell
  • Iodine tablets and Aqua tabs
  • Etekcity ultralight stove and one cooking pan (hot coffee is a must!)
  • Each of us had a change of clothes for nighttime, a clean shirt for towns, one extra pair of boxers, and a buff. Alex had a light puffy also.
  • Lots of trail food/drinks- jerky, trail mix, peanut/almond/cashew butter, chocolate bars, candy, coffee, Nuun tablets, Emergen-C powder, tuna fish packets, fig newtons, etc. Lots of pizza, burritos, hearty classic breakfasts, and BEER in town.
tour de west virginia
Look at that fresh jersey and early morning fog on day 1 as we leave our hometown of Fayetteville, WV and cross the New River Gorge Bridge.

 

tour de west virigina
Richwood WV, like many towns in WV, have a long storied history of resource extraction such as mining and logging. Hopefully, WV can re-invent itself and instead of exploiting its natural resources, exploit its natural beauty and become a state focused on outdoor recreation.

 

tour de west virginia
Riding through the gnome forest of Kennison Mountain Trail nearby the Cranberry Wilderness is a full sensory experience.

 

tour de west virginia
Because much of West Virginian is a mid-latitude rainforest, like most of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Appalachian region, water is never an issue.

 

tour de west virginia
Looking down into the Cranberry glades, a region of the vast Cranberry Wilderness that contains many bogs and unique plants.

 

tour de west virginia
On Cowpasture Trail you get a few long range views of the nearly 50,000-acre Cranberry Wilderness backcountry. It is frighteningly beautiful.

 

Tour de west virginia
The stoke was high after descending off trails from Snowshoe Ski Resort and crossing the Cass Scenic Railroad.


 

Tour de west virginia
Man, how does this timer thing work again? Things get weird in the woods.

 

Tour de west virginia
Nothing to see here- just a normal run of the mill picnic shelter in the middle of nowhere Glady, WV where someone decided to make an offering to Jesus. Pine cones are cool, snake handling on the other hand, hmmm… not so much. 

 

tour de west virginia
Dignified and refined, that’s how we roll. Stopping for a mandatory coffee break before the last steep climb up to the top of Spruce Knob. We asked a chipmunk to take this photo and he happily obliged.

 

tour de west virginia

After climbing to the top of Spruce Knob, the highest point of WV, we were rewarded with 360 degree views of the surrounding area and some of the most rowdy trails of the entire trip.

 

Tour de west virginia
Paying our respects to these old timers on the Spruce Knob summit trail.

 

tour de west virginia
The opening act of Huckleberry Trail before the headlining punk ROCK ensemble began to get rowdy.

 

Tour de west virginia
Moshing with rocks. Fully loaded down and charging on Huckleberry Trail was rad.



tour de west virginia
Sometimes the surface of a trail feels just right-Seneca Creek Trail, near Spruce Knob Wilderness



tour de west virginia
This is a no-brainer- you should always take the “Road Less Traveled”.

 

tour de west virginia
While eating breakfast at the Gateway Inn Restaurant down the mountain in the small town of Judy Gap, a man asked us where we were heading. We told him we had to take Rt. 33 to the top of the pass to access the North Fork Mountain Trail. He just shook his head and without even being able to look us in eye, said “that’s a hell of a pull boys, hell of pull. Even in a car.” It became one of our many rallying cries throughout the trip. “Hell of pull, hell of pull.”

 

tour de west virginia
Stopping to soak up the IMBA Epic, North Fork Mountain Ridge Trail.



tour de west virignia
Fueling up at the Front Porch Restaurant in Seneca Rocks, WV and readying ourselves for a slow ride at dusk to reach camp. Pizza, salad, and beer for the win.

 

tour de west virginia
“This is your land, this is my land…”. Heading back on the trail with full bellies and a slight buzz.

 

tour de west virgina
The gateway to the wild, open vistas. Climbing up here was some of the most brutal climbing and hike-a-biking I’ve ever done. It took us around 3 hours to go 8 miles.

 

tour de west virgina
In the thick of it. The Roaring Plains Wilderness butts right up against the Dolly Sods Wilderness. We managed to find a legal mountain bike friendly route through both of them for a long stretch of uninterrupted backcountry riding.

 

Tour de west virgina
One of many picturesque gravel roads found on the route. This one helps to link you to the ski and mountain biking mecca of Davis, WV.

 

Tour de west virginia
There are many river and creek crossings on the route. No portages are necessary and most water crossings have bridges.

 

tour de west virginia
Big Sky Country was found around the agricultural towns of Terra Alta and Albright.



tour de west virgina
We picked up a few hitchhikers along the way. This little fella jumped on top of my helmet around Cheat Canyon.

 

tour de west virgina
Coming down the Deckers Creek Rail Trail to enter the college, urban environment of Morgantown, WV was a bit of shock. After 6 days of living basically off the radar, your senses are inundated with all kinds of things when you hit civilization again.

 

tour de west virginia
From Morgantown you go through the post-industrial towns of Fairmont and Clarksburg where you reach the North Bend Rail Trail.

 

tour de west virginia
There are lots of bridges and tunnels on the North Bend Rail Trail. Rumor has it that a few of these tunnels are haunted.

 

Tour de west virginia
More water crossings.



tour de west virginia
It’s bewitching hour now. Within striking distance of home. Keep your eyes on the prize.



tour de west virginia
Home sweet home, the beautiful New River Gorge. It is safe to say that after our last night of the tour, a night filled with reckless debauchery in Charleston, and a full-day’s ride back home; that I’ve never been happier to see this bridge and ancient river valley. After a few days of soaking up some much need time with my wife and kids, I was already hatching plans for the next tour.

 

16 Comments

  1. Awesome story!! I’m with you on the state needing a reinvention. I grew up here then left for 35 years for a career in the military. Now we are back and want to help the state move in a positive direction. Did you hit Mountwood Park while you were in the North Bend area?

  2. Joe DeGaetano

    Thanks Rodney and welcome back. We didn’t make it to Mountwood but we did ride a little bit of singletrack in North Bend State park and then a bunch at Charles Fork Lake in Spencer.

  3. Very inspiring!!
    Over the course of 20 odd years I have had the opportunity to ride several of the rides that you pieced together for your route. I would love to do the complete loop although I’ll need my soft tail and two full weeks. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  4. Jake Current

    What an awesome route! As an Ohio native and frequent visitor to WV, I would love to ride this whole thing someday. So many cool WV riding areas tied together. I really can relate to your story too. The shift away from climbing after the college years completely obsessing over it was a huge one for me too. Luckily fell down this same rabbit hole, and the time spent spinning pedals and looking for adventure really does seem to kindle the same spirit! Best of luck on all your adventures. Thanks for sharing such an awesome story!

  5. I love it!
    I want to ride the route one day. I am an “old” rock climber. I know how you feel when you stopped climbing frequently. I still feel rock on my palms from time to time. Bikepacking opened new options for me. I am hooked! Especially I can pack and leave alone. No more cancelling trip on Friday afternoon by my rock climbing buddies. 🙂

  6. Drew Cumings

    Awesome read and an awesome route!

  7. GOLD. There is gold in those mountains and you just gave us a nugget, Joe. Nice story and great pictures. But…the ride with gps route and cue sheet and links to maps (some hard to find) THANK YOU

  8. Mike Wilander

    Joe this was a great read! I still have moments when I question the transition from climbing to biking that has happened for the same reasons you mention. The first few paragraphs of your piece, along with Jake’s comment above, help me to realize that changing your identity does not need to be a bad thing. Having climbed at the New and Seneca several times, I would love to see WV clipped in rather than tied in. My hardtail has 2.4s and 100mm travel in the front fork. Do you think it could handle this loop?

    • Joseph F DeGaetano

      Hey Mike,
      Sorry I missed your question. I just reread these comments and I’m now seeing it. I rode the route on a bike just like yours (hardtail with a 100mm fork and 2.4s) and I’d say it’s just about perfect. Any more suspension or bigger tires and I think you’d be dragging more weight than needed. You get away without having the fork and running your ride rigid but some of the trails might make you suffer without suspension. Go do the route, you’ll love it.

  9. Great to see a good article about my home state. Like others, I had left the state for military service, but now that I’m out I live close by in Pennsylvania. Glad WV is getting some good coverage. Kudos, and keep up the good work.

  10. What time of year did u GO and what was your title cost- if u don’t mind me asking-

  11. Joe DeGaetano

    Hi James, we did this tour in early June. You could obviously do this anytime but winters in WV can be brutal with single digit temps, freezing rain, and potential for a lot of snow. Fall and early summer would be the best times in my opinion to do this tour. As far as cost goes, I didn’t keep a tally of what I spent but in all reality I probably lived off of less than I would if I was back at home. I already had everything I needed going into the trip, except I did splurge and bought a new lightweight and small pack size sleeping pad. That cost me a little over $100. I’d say on average we spent $35 on food and drinks. And that’s taking into consideration that most days we ate a hearty breakfast and a big dinner with a beer or three at a restaurant/diner. Some great food also. Can’t say enough about the restaurant we ate on top of Snowshoe, the Gateway Inn diner in Judy Gap, the pizza in Seneca, the burritos and beer in Davis and Thomas, the diner just across from Cathedral State Park, Mountain State Brewery and Pizza in Morgantown, and the WAY TOO MUCH beer and whiskey we drank at Fishy Fish and Aldephia in Charleston. I’d say all in all we each spent about $400 total for the trip.

  12. Gatan Waddell

    Did you guys hike straight up the pipeline there off of Smith Mt. Rd.? I bet that was fun! I’ve ridden down that wall- haven’t gone up it yet- awesome! Great article, I live here in Seneca and it’s great to hear about the hometown. Gateway and the Front Porch restaurants- can’t beat this largely unknown area. Osceola, Huckleberry, North Fork and linking via Smith Mt. and the pipeline up to the Plains, how’d you put it…,” Punk Rock Rowdy”!?

  13. Joe DeGaetano

    Hey Gatan,

    We initially climbed up some double track off of Smith Mtn. Rd. Evenutally, it became a mixture of 4 wheeler track, grass and dirt trail, maybe a farmer’s tractor route, and then we had a bunch of rolling fields that were AWESOME. We finally intersected the pipeline and hiked up that loose rocky hill to reach the top. It was sort of a blur in there. LOTS OF CLIMBING. We rode maybe 75% of it and the rest hiked. We’re SO LUCKY to live out here.

    See ya out there,
    Joe

  14. Great story thank you SO MUCH for sharing this.

  15. KIMBERLY ADKINS

    So proud of my handsome and talented Nephew Alex Wilson!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *