Tour de Patapsco
Cargo Mike and Darren were a bit late to the start, arriving 15 or so minutes late to Rockburn Branch Park off Landing Rd, just across the street from Patapsco's Rockburn Branch section.
On the trail at about 8:30am at 48 degrees... we were all smiles as the cool air ripped through us as we dropped through Rockburn, across Landing Rd to Rockburn Brach area of Patapsco Valley State Park, the official start of our epic Thru-Trail Expedition. We all hit the skinny log ride, a pre-cursor of many technical challenges that really make this ride an absolute hoot and a chore.
We paralleled Landing Rd on trail as we headed North toward Norris Ln and then linked up with Cascade for the descent down to the swinging bridge. We took the steep chute down to the bridge just south of the bathrooms. Another good iconic trail for what we would see.
After descending all of that trail, we were pretty chilly. The climb up Nun's Run proved to more than warm us up. We got up to the pavement and Darren needed to stop. Why not? We were only 30 minute in, why not stop?
His cleat was in his pedal, he was sitting 15 feet away. Pearce and I tag-teamed the repair, working to free the cleat then re-install it while also checking out the other shoe. This would begin the truly vicious assault that Pearce and I would level against poor Darren almost all day. I'm not saying he deserved it, but it sure was fun.
We bombed the super-rocky section out of the Hilton area to the skinnys over to Charcoal then up to Hilltop Rd. Instead of the usual left to Buzzards Rock, we went right onto 'Not A Trail.'
On the map, that red line took us all the way across the pipeline. Stopped at the top of the field, Jed, Evan and some other supa-fast guys passed us, on the same basic route (although we would find out these guys passed up quite a bit of dirt and fun for pavement). We all remarked how glad we were that we WEREN'T riding with them at their Semi-Pro pace. We were out to have fun.
We had a bit of a bobble when I followed Jed's line around the field instead of following the route I had learned from Poz the week earlier. It was a minor delay and we made the descent to River Rd without much incident. I think Darren got a huge kick out of my need to pull out the map. He laughed rather hard and loud every time I rolled my Camelbak around to pull it out. Pearce was always laughing along...
We dropped onto River Rd and rode up Frederick Rd to Oella Ave past the mill and down onto the Mill Race. There was some sketch as we rode down the stone stairs and onto the bridge. My handlebars are barely above the railing on that thing and dropping off the 2 footer at the end is a skill I haven't tried. There's always next time, yeah?
We took the Mill Race trail toward the first bridge and climbed up the not-a-trail to the old road then dropped down the S K E T C H Y downhill to the Rt 40 bridge. Pearce passed me when I got hung up in a tree (again) and Darren walked. There was a lot of laughing.
We checked out the dam and I walked back to my bike. And a rear flat. After I fixed that, I hiked down to check out the crossing of the river. And Darren broke his chain.
So we fixed that and I determined that we should cross on the dam. I rode down the dam and found a good place to cross. Off came the shoes and the socks and I slid down the face of the dam to the water's edge. With many jokes and much cajoling, Pearce and Darren followed. The water wasn't too cold. It'll be worse later in the year. Darren was very unhappy about the crossing. He likes his feet. Too much, if you ask me...
We rode under the bridge on some grass-covered trail and Pearce slid out right in front of me on a log that was 45 degress to the trail under the grass. I told him to move down the trail 10 feet to wait for Darren. Sure enough, Mr Funnypants came riding toward us, hit the log and went right down onto his side at 2 mph. Pearce and I lost it. He got up with his classic Biggs smirk on while we laughed. Perfect...
We linked up with the railroad tracks for a jarring link up to the Daniels bridge then onto the proper Patapsco Thru Trail. We missed the first turn off the railroad tracks crossing (the sign is backwards and about 30' off and 20' above the trail). We rode down to the next tunnel then turned up the hill on an old atv trail and linked up with the Thru Trail again. We missed a right and ended up at the powerlines a short ride and short steep climb away from the Thru Trail. We got back on it and stayed on it up to McKeldin. We ate a quick lunch about 2 miles south of McKeldin.
We crossed the river into McKeldin then rode up the white trail to descend Plantation trail, which is rad and fast and flowy and fun and totally worth it. We cross the river again, tired, and started our trek south.
We left at 8:30 and started heading out of McKeldin at 1:30. The boys were worried. I was worried. We shrugged it off knowing that there was only one way to get back. More riding.
Could be worse.
We stayed on the Thru Trail and missed the wrong turns that we made on the way north and had some purty sweet descents and climbs. The trail is flat in sections, which we hammered, and the trail has some steep sections that we suffered on and then descended with passion. Much like riding the SM100, we were not going to slow down when the speed came free.
It was awesome. It was fun. We were spent but the trail kept demanding more and we kept sucking it up and moving.
We cut out a bit of railroad tracks and took the Johnnycake bridge across the river back to the railroad tracks back to the Rt 40 bridge with more wet feet. We rode the Mill Race from Rte 40 to Oella the whole way. That's one tough section of straight trail. We cut out a section of steep fireroad for some pavement as we were all feeling pressed for time and estimated a 5pm finish.
We descended on Hilltop Rd to Buzzards Rock, passing our Not-A-Trail turn that originally took us north 7 hours earlier. We dropped into the park to Bloedes Dam, hit the Grist Mill paved trail to the swinging bridge, climbed up Cascade and rode over to Rockburn, crossed Landing Rd and hammered up to Rockburn Branch Park and the cars. We were spent. It was 4:15.
I feel pretty stoked about the trust that Darren and Pearce put in me to lead them around this pretty epic ride on my first shot. I would have done it solo in a heartbeat but I didn't have to. And we had a great time.
I'll be hitting this ride again in November for sure. A lot of people want to rock this section of the park that very few have linked up. The numbers are less than 100, I think. It's not a secret but it ain't exactly easy to link it up. (Joe thinks it's 50).
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the help that Joe and Poz offered me. I spent a few hours looking at maps and asking questions about this ride despite my threats to not do so. It paid off, for sure but I wanted to set expectations low. Darren and Pearce seemed prepared for total chaos... And trust me, I was fully prepared to serve some up.
Alas, we were pretty successful. Put this ride on your list...
I think Darren tried to get a gps track. He didn't. I brought a gps but didn't turn it on. Or it turned itself off. Or whatever. Motionbased.com has a bunch. Search for Patapsco Thru. That link is for Joe's ride. Ours was slightly different.
We did about 50 miles. It took about 7.5 hours of which 1.5 was wasted getting lost, fixing stuff and having too much fun. I don't think I'll have to check the map but once or twice next time. It's REALLY well blazed once you get on the trail north of Johnnycake Rd. There are only a few sections that'll screw you up and there are a lot of trees down all over the place. I think we hopped more than 50 trees total, up and back. Out of the 50 miles, maybe 10 were road or railroad tracks.
I know a few people have the Pickall Area dialed and Joe likes to ride up into Hollofield and bushwhack down to the railroad tracks. With the addition of some trail in those two areas, there is a 100 miler in there. You'd have to do a lot of riding up towards Sykesville (10 additional miles) and ride more in McKeldin and the southern parts of the park but I think it'd doable, especially if you start way down by the aquaduct.
I'm sorry if some of these areas don't mean a lot for you. I don't want to provide a How To for the Thru Trail. If you know where all of the things are in this post, you are ready. If you don't, find some people to ride with and study the Big Map of Patapsco from DNR. It's called the Complete Guide. It's really good.
So, that's it. I'm a member of the Patapsco Park Pilots. I'm stoked.
Darren's impressions and pics here.