Trip Report: Shadow of Skyline + VA4wdA Earth Day Trail Maintenance Day.

A few weeks ago I received two things that when combined turned out to be one epic adventure.  The first was a route called the “Shadow of Skyline.”  It was developed by Greg (aka @greghenle) and he was excited to share it with me and get my thoughts on it.  The second was an invite to attend a trail cleanup and maintenance day with the Virginia Four-wheel-drive Association for Earth Day.  John (aka @uscggm) had attended one of my classes at Expo East last year.  He’s stayed in touch and we’ve been talking about doing a trip together ever since.

Loaded up and ready to roll.
Virginia here I come!

The more we talked about the VA4wdA cleanup and the “Shadow of Skyline” route the more we realized the two overlapped perfectly.  The plan was spend a night camping before the cleanup, a night or two camping with the cleanup crew, then another night camping before going our separate ways and heading home.  Read on to see how the trip went…

Pre-trip Stop: Blue Ridge Overland Gear

Heading to BROG via some tight twisty backroads and the Blue Ridge Parkway

A few days before I was ready to leave for Virginia Blue Ridge Overland Gear posted up a meet-n-greet/social at their shop in Bedford Wednesday night.

Saw some familiar faces, met some new people, and enjoyed some fun stories.

My plan was to head to VA Thursday but the BROG shop was only about an hour further than my rendezvous location with John.  I quickly did the math and realized I could hit up the social, hang out with some cool people, and add another day to an epic weekend.

Got hooked up by Mountain State Overland with a PA Overlander emblem.

SQUIRREL! 

Day 1: Shadow of Brush Mountain

Rise and shine!

After a quick breakfast, a swim at the Bedford YMCA, a stop back at the BROG shop and lunch at a local restaurant (and by quick I mean spread slowly over a five hour period) I started my slow journey north from the BROG shop to the RiverView General Store.

Sister’s right across from BROG has the best lunch you can get for under $6.
I would have taken a picture of the brownie for desert… but I ate it too quick.

Making my way north from Bedford to Lowesville to rendezvous with John.

Sadly John was delayed (it happens) so I sat outside the general store and chatted Josh from Bomber Products (more from him in a later post) about overland podcasts (more on that later too) while a thunderstorm rolled through.

Love the smell just after a thunderstorm rolls through.
Got to watch the far off lightening which was cool.
Wasn’t as cool while it was RIGHT ON TOP OF ME… but it was cool after it passed.

Once the storm passed, and John showed up (finally) we snaked our way into George Washington National Forest to find a campsite for the night.  This was a road he was familiar with so I let him take the lead and it was nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery without worrying too much about navigation.

#overlandersdoingoverlandthings

I say it every time… but one of these trips I’m going to remember a fishing rod.

Only a few miles in and this trip is blowing my mind.

Making camp.

With a killer campsite selected we went through the fun process of jockeying our trailers around to combine our resources into a home-away-from-home.  Once camp was made and a fire was started it was time to break out his TemboTusk Skottle and do some camp cooking.  We split up the nights and first up was some marinated pork chops, veggies, and some mac-and-cheese (which, by the way, taste fine when made with water and not milk).

Campfire beer.

Fireside dinner.
Marinated pork chops, vegetable medley, and mac-and-cheese.
Stay tuned for a camp-cooking article with more details on meals from this trip.

“It’s not camping with Dean unless there’s JiffyPop!”
FYI – This was a perfect pop.
Great way to wrap up day #1.

Day 2: Shadow of Blue Ridge Parkway

Once camp was packed up we resumed our accent up the mountain and over the Appalachian Trail.
Met two through-hikers and offered them some water.

The language of love… at least for me.

In 2015 I ran the entirety of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was a bucket list item but it meant a lot more pavement pounding than I wanted.  That said, I knew someday I’d go back and hit the VA/NC area and log some dirt – now was my chance!

Stopped to see some cool waterfalls.

Hello beautiful.

Uh oh…
A key to a successful overland trip is preparation.
With a BROG tool bag full of hand tools, and a bag of zip-ties it was a quick fix.

Over the mountain, through the woods, and under the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It was my turn to lead since I had the route file for the “Shadow of Skyline” route.  We checked out a few cool spots on the way and slowly worked our way north to Sherando Lake Campground which was the host location for the Virginia Four-wheel-drive Association trail cleanup day with the US Forestry Service.  The plan was to cleanup some trash along Coal Road in the Big Levels Game Management Unit and Refuge (aka just “Big Levels”) and put up some new signs along the Bald Mountain Jeep Trail.  Before all that it was time for another campsite, another camp dinner, and lots of socializing.

Enter the USFS “Big Levels” management area.

Home for the night in Shreando Lake Recreation Area

Creeks.  Creeks everywhere.  Seems to be the theme of this part of Virginia.
That and wineries.

Camp dinner #2.
Teriyaki chicken, broccoli, and fried rice.

Day 3: Shadow of Bald Mountain

Assemble the troops!

Saturday was the cleanup day.  VA4wdA took charge in the morning marshaling the group of volunteers for a morning briefing.  That was quickly followed by the USFS doing their thing and breaking us into two teams.  One team would be taking care of trash pickup along Coal Road the the Bald Mountain Jeep Trail.  The other team would be on sign duty digging holes and setting posts.  John and I opted for the sign job (not sure my back liked that choice though).

USFS Briefing

Convoy out of camp and up the mountain.

The word of the day was rain.  It rained pretty much all day while we were on the mountain.  Not a heavy drenching rain (thank god) but more of a “100% humidity; life inside a cloud” kind of rain.  The work was hard and tedious which meant working up a sweat so not only were we moist on the outside, we were moist on the inside too (eww).  Luckily everyone was in it together and we made short work of the signs and were done by mid-afternoon.

Trailhead for the Bald Mountain Jeep Trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
So, um, yeah, didn’t know about this when I went down the BRP in 2015.
What else did I miss?

Digging holes and setting signs.

Working on another trail sign as well as hanging new informational posters.

Once done with the “work hard” part of the day it was time to “play hard” and we continued down the Bald Mountain Jeep Trail.  I played passenger and let John’s AEV clone JKU do all the work.  It’s not that I didn’t want to wheel the trail in my LJ it’s just I didn’t want to risk doing something stupid (this *IS* me we’re talking about) and break a newly fixed Jeep right before I have to leave for Expo.  I will go back someday and run the trail… hopefully with a lot less rain.

One last chat with the USFS before they pealed off for the day.
Job well done!

Crawling over some rocks.

Build it right and a Jeep can make this look easy.

These rocks make 35’s look small.
I still would have tried it with my 33″ Coopers!
Next time.

Burgers, brats, dogs, chilli, and beans… and that’s just what was on the grill.
We ate well after a long day of work on the mountain.

Relaxing and warming up by the fire while socializing with VA4wdA members from all across Virginia.

Day 4: Shadow of Skyline

By no means a “much needed shower”… but it was a welcome shower none-the-less.

Word of advice, never pass up the opportunity for a hot share.  I don’t care how seasoned, grizzled, or hard-core you think you are – if you can take a hot shower, do it!  So refreshing and so much better for morale.

Once camp was packed, showers were had, it was time for breakfast at a local gas station (yup, that good) and then rolling northward toward Shenandoah National Park.  The route doesn’t go into the NP but in fact flirts with the eastern border snaking in and out of the mountains along the way.  At one point we could actually see Skyline Drive through the budding trees.  Once the leaves come in you’d never know it was there.

Pretty fun set of switchbacks going up the mountain.

The entire route also snakes in and out of cell reception.  As such we had kind of lost touch with the outside world.  That’s fine and all because that’s the point after all.  However we were unaware of an impending storm that was on our heels.  While stopped for lunch, we talked with a local, walking her dogs, who said there was a storm coming in <cue weather radar app> that was stretching down most of the southeastern part of the country.

Coming down. Just as twisty and just as fun.

With this on our tail it was high-gear and throttle down till we hit Front Royal.

This is when John and I called an audible.  Our gear was *mostly* dry.  We were mostly dry as well.  He had to be back to work Tuesday and I had Expo and NHT prep to do.  As much as we wanted one more night of camping in the mountains there was little to be gained by bunkering down in our respective trailers and then dealing with drenched gear the following morning.  With that in mind the goal was to finish as much of the route as we could and press on to Front Royal for a quick dinner before heading our respective ways.

As much as I love cooking, it’s nice when someone else does it.
Also nice to support local restaurants in a town like Front Royal.

And seriously.  It’s in an old mill.  How cool is that?

Conclusion: A great weekend!

The “Shadow of Skyline” route is by no means a finished product.  Greg has been working on it for a while and I’m sure he will continue to refine and polish it.  The upper section (that actually parallels Skyline Drive) is probably more pavement than anything.  That said, it’s a really fun route of narrow paved roads that weave, wind, dip, and dive their way in and out of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The stretches of dirt are super fun with some pretty sweet switchbacks and you carve your way up a few thousand feet.

The more southern section (from Afton,VA south of I-64) parallels and overlaps the Blue Ridge Parkway.  There are lots of long dirt sections which weave the way under the parkway at times.  There are also lots of great remote campsites along the way within the pockets of National Forest.  I’m sure as the route continues to develop this section will only get better.

A little bit more pavement than I hoped.
But the vast majority of the paved sections were fun back roads!
Very scenic.

From my own experience I know overland routes are like fine wines.  They only get better with time. That said, the Shadow of Skyline route is already one heck of an adventure.  If you’re looking for an excuse to visit central VA, make sure to add this to your list!

It was also nice to be a part of the Earth Day service project with VA4wdA.  It’s a great group of people invest in keeping public land in VA open to the public.  This was the third year they have done a cleanup on Bald Mountain and it really shows.  The USFS was very appreciative to have such a willing and eager team of volunteers.  In total over four heaping truckloads of trash was hauled off the mountain.  A dozen new signs were also put up along the Bald Mountain Jeep Trail.  Some were for the Jeep trail itself, others were informational signs and hiking/biking/horse trail signs.  Events like this go a long way into build a healthy community of outdoor enthusiasts and help build bridges between offroad enthusiasts and government groups like the Forest Service.  I am glad to be part of the fun not just as ECOA but as an individual as well.

Caught a great sunset as I crossed back into PA.
A great ending to a great adventure.

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