For those of you who have been following my blog or my social media accounts for a while, you know that the Mid Atlantic Back Country Discovery Route has always been on my short list of trips to go on. Originally, I was going to ride it north to south when I rode my Kawasaki KLR 650 from Minnesota to South Carolina three years ago. I planned to ride across the northern Mid West to the end point in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania and then ride the BDR in reverse south to the start point in Damascus, Virginia, eventually working my way to Charleston. However, three days into my trip I had to divert straight to South Carolina due to Hurricane Dorian and a crazy toddler at home with my wife. The MABDR would have to wait.
The wait was well worth it, three years later an opportunity arose where my work schedule and family life enabled me to take off for ten days. I dusted off my original MABDR plans and maps and went to work planning my trip. Since I already did most of the leg work everything fell into place and after loading up the Tiger and an update to my GPS I was ready to go. Normally I have no issues riding alone however for this trip I was searching for a riding buddy mostly due to terrain and distance considerations. Thanks to the Mid Atlantic BDR’s Facebook group I was able to link up with Charleston based rider Nathan Henigan. As Nathan’s ten year Navy career as a Submariner was winding down he decided to take some of his transition leave and ride his KLR on the MABDR. Nathan had been riding the KLR since 2016 and went on a few overnight trips but this would be his first Back Country Discovery Route. Since Nathan was a lot more limited on time he ended up leaving Charleston and started the MABDR a day before me and we actually wouldn’t meet up until section 4 in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Initially I wanted to leave Charleston at first light however a massive rain storm delayed my morning departure by about two hours. Now, I’m not opposed to riding in the rain but when it’s a torrential downpour that’s where I draw the line. Once things dried up I put the hammer down and pushed 340 miles through the back roads of North and South Carolina before stopping for the night at Backbone Rock National Recreation Area in Shady Valley, Tennessee. This small campground is part of the Cherokee National Forest and located a few miles south of the MABDR’s start point in Damascus, Virginia.
My anxiety got the best of me that night and while I did sleep well I was up early at 5 in the morning ready to go. Within 15 minutes I had everything broken down and packed away as I headed off towards the start point in Damascus. As I was waiting for the sun to come up I grabbed some breakfast and fuel and checked over the Tiger one last time before I started off on section 1. My plan for the day was to ride sections 1 and 2 with a possible push into section 3 depending on daylight.
The difficulty in section 1 was a bit of a surprise due to how steep and rocky some of the inclines were as I started riding up the spine of Virginia into the Appalachian Mountains. As the route meandered its way north through the Jefferson National Forest I was able to stack on the miles fairly easily through out the morning with no issues. The Tiger ran great and it got a really good suspension work out which is something it usually doesn’t get while riding in the Low Country. Section 2 was pretty much the same way with a little more pavement thrown in the mix. Since I was pushing hard to gain some time to meet up with Nathan I skipped some of the sights on section 2 such as the Mountain Lake Lodge which was the filming location for the 1980’s classic movie Dirty Dancing. The overall highlight of the day was on Section 2 when I rode the 20 mile segment called Tub Run Road. This road is a windy two track trail that runs alongside several ridges with some steep hairpin turns. While its not technical Tub Run Road could cause some issues if one wasn’t paying attention with several steep drops into ravine’s.
As I wrapped up section 2 and pulled into Covington, Virginia for fuel I decided to start section 3 and push as far as I could into it before it became to dark. My biggest worry with section 3 was a series of water crossings that can sometimes get really deep and challenging. Personally I didn’t want to ride the water crossings by myself and since I had limited cell phone service with Nathan I really didn’t know to much about there condition. Section 3 started out really well on a series of gravel roads that crossed into the George Washington National Forest. Since I was in a race against the sun I pushed about 50 miles into section 3 before I started to look for a place to stop for the night. Due to a lack of dispersed camp sites I ended up leaving the MABDR in Warm Springs, Virginia and headed towards a National Forest camp ground in Hidden Valley. Despite being fifteen miles off the route Hidden Valley was actually a great place to stop since it wasn’t crowded and I could easily get fuel in the morning when I continued on section 3.
Finishing up my first day on the Mid Atlantic Back Country Discovery Route I had covered roughly 225 miles with no issues. For a larger adventure bike the Tiger was at home on the forest roads and had plenty of power to climb several steep switchbacks and inclines. That night I couldn’t get in touch with Nathan so I decided the next day I would bypass the three water crossings on section 3 and push up US Hwy 220 to the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. This bypass wasn’t only a safety consideration but it would also allow me to make up time and link up with Nathan on section 4 so that we could ride the technical portions of the MABDR through Pennsylvania together.