The past couple of days have been unusually warm, with temps rising into the 50s, and sunny skies to boot. And, lucky for me, I had a rare Saturday off due to the holidays. I took full advantage of this fortuitous combination of events and broke out the Willard for some back-road and gravel exploration.
Within a few miles of our house lies Stone Valley Recreation Area and a network of trails and gravel roads that have been, for me, mostly undiscovered. I decided that today was the day to begin familiarizing myself with the area.
I turned off the “main road” onto an inconspicuous, unnamed dirt road that took me up to the top of a funky C-shaped ridge. I saw multiple trails branching off at the summit, and made a mental note to come back and check it out. For now, I continued on my way, back down the little ridge to the sound of distant gunshots (it’s muzzleloader season), past hunting camps, to the hard road.
On the map, I noticed that my route would be taking me past an interesting little knob and a gated road leading to the top. I was intrigued, so I decided to investigate. The road is called Skunk Haul, an intriguing name in itself. Apparently, it was built as a logging road, as the entire top of the knob was devoid of large trees except three enormous evergreens, which were marked “save” on their trunks. These trees stood out like a beacon, and I had seen them from the valley below before even climbing the steep hill to the top of Skunk Haul. The map showed a trail descending the other side of the knob, which I started down, but I was quickly stopped by several large piles of fallen logs. It looked like the trail petered out beyond the log jam, so I decided to turn around and go back down the dirt road from which I came.
From there, I headed to Shaver Creek Road, which I discovered is absolutely beautiful—moss, ferns, sunlight filtering through the trees, the soothing trickle of the stream paralleling the road. And, gated and closed to motorized vehicles for most of the year, except for hunting season.
At the end of Shavers Creek Road, I stopped at a vista for a snack and water break, then continued along Scare Pond and Sassafras Roads into more familiar territory, in the direction of Alan Seeger.
As I casually pedaled along, I noticed a sign for the C. Barton McCann School of Art, which I’d heard a lot about (my good friend Erica teaches there periodically), but had never visited. I took a quick detour through the tree-lined drive to the campus, which was quite scenic.
Back on course, it was time to make a decision—take Broad Mountain Road through Greenwood Furnace or the more direct route home. I chose the roundabout way, not quite ready to end my day of exploration, and then found myself making the decision to take another gamble and head home via trail instead of road.
I’ve only recently discovered the Greenwood Ski Trails, and I had only been on a very small section of the network, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I quickly found myself hike-a-biking over a plethora of downed logs and through swampy pools of water. But enough of the trails were rideable that I didn’t totally question my decision to tackle them on my gravel bike.
However, after crossing the sketchiest wooden bridge I’ve ever seen and noticing the piles of logs further down the trail, I wasn’t sure I would make it home by dark. I had a little less than an hour of daylight left, and I didn’t bring a light. My options were to continue on the trail I was on, which seemed very soggy and obstacle-strewn, or hike straight up a steep hill for a short way and hopefully meet up with Brush Ridge Road, which held the promise of being much more rideable on the Willard. I chose the latter.
It ended up being a good decision, and I was able to make it to the gravel of Brush Ridge and then the asphalt road fairly quickly. I pedaled the last few easy miles home as the sun was just dipping below the mountain, bathing the hills to the east in a vibrant shade of purple.