Spencer, nestled in the foothills of Appalachian Mountains, is a cyclist’s paradise. Countless, virtually empty, tiny, roads that pitch over endlessly rolling terrain form one of the finest menus for route selections that I’ve ever come across. The remote feel (well, ok, maybe not feel, more like actually remote locations) of most of the riding is consistently tempered by small towns, friendly people, and the constant fun of the friendly canine population, which likes nothing more than a good chase. I know, that might sound odd, but am I the only one that relishes a duel?
It’s an almost relieving fact: you do not have to travel to Europe to get that Euro riding experience. West Virginia serves up everything you get across the pond sans the manure in the road. Small roads meander along ridge tops, affording you grand vistas, and just as you start to get nice and comfortable on the ridge, the road falls back down into the valley, flows into small villages, and then heads up yet another climb, all the while carving a path through your very own, real-life postcard.
Creeks, hills, forests, meadows: the area around Spencer has it all.
I’ve ridden in so many cool places over the past year. I can’t say enough how lucky I’ve been, but even in the midst of this banquet right at my fingertips here in Austria, I find myself longing to ride in West Virginia. There’s something about the place that keeps pulling me back year after year. It’s where I go to find that peace and calm and serenity. There’s not too much to do except ride bikes, enjoy the company of friends new and old, relax, and just plain enjoy being a little bit off the beaten path.
Fall is an amazing time for a visit. A late October training camp, no matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, is a perfect way to jumpstart your winter training.
Before and after the riding, the experience is just as pleasant, albeit not nearly as challenging. Spencer offers many comfortable bed and breakfasts and a plethora of dining choices. But let’s be frank: you’re not going to Spencer for the nightlife. Spencer is a town for deep breaths, fresh air, and a more moderate pace.
A trio of dogs and a Dale, Jr. replica truck. That’s a bit better than doing battle with rampaging motorists.
Every morning when I wake up in Spencer, I’m constantly taken aback by the almost unlimited amount of choices on routes that can be taken. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending a fair bit of time in Spencer, but I’ll spare the gushing about every route and try and limit it to one of my favorites: 70 or so miles, hills aplenty, and about 4-5 hours of riding.
The summer foliage is dense. The wooded areas are perpetually shaded and a welcome relief from the summer heat.
Spencer isn’t in the middle of anything save peace and tranquility, but it’s not all that far away from the big bustle either: from most points along the East Coast, it’s about a 4-8 hour drive. That’s a long way by Euro standards, but for us North Americans, we seldom blink at those numbers. The drive from my home down in Athens, Georgia to Spencer takes just under 8 hours if everything goes nicely.
By the time I finish up the drive, I’m ready for a solid night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast at the Cunningham House: really, it’s worth the visit. It’s always such a pleasure to find a pleasant, inviting bed and breakfast. A great bed and breakfast beats out a hotel any day of the week for me.
After filling myself to appropriate standards, which for me is often somewhere near full and uncomfortably full, I rolled out nice and easy through town, digestion taking up most of my energy supply, and turned south on US 119 heading towards Lick Fork Road. Once off of this 2 mile two-lane section of highway it would be a rare occasion to be back on a two-lane for the remainder of the day.
Starting with Lick Fork, a fun theme for the area comes quickly to the fore: the road names throughout the area are all fantastic. If you’re ever feeling the bite of tiredness, just pay more attention to the road signs and town names. They’re well worth the attention. Lick Fork, though still just outside of town, is a quintessential West Virginia road. It rolls and twists through a tight valley and spits you out onto Harmony Road.
This “two-lane” road takes you past farms as you lose yourself thinking that you have gone back to the “Old Country.” Harmony Road rejoins US 119, and I hooked a right here and headed down to Johnson Creek. It was a good thing that I had my directions scrawled on a nice piece of paper for the day. The roads are many, numerous, and never, ever straight, so this is one of those regions where you’re better to be a bit overprepared in the directional sense.
Johnson Creek continues the general theme of tranquil, no traffic riding as this bike path that masquerades as a farm road gradually gains elevation.
At the end of Johnson Creek, a narrow, secluded climb awaits to escort you up to Vineyard Ridge. The climb up to the ridge is typical: narrow, densely forested, steep, and winding. Once you make the top of the ridge though, your pants and pedalstrokes are rewarded with the gift of magnificent views. Don’t go too hard though, you might spend your time on the ridge recovering from the climb only to realize that you’re about to head back down to the valley below: not long after making the ridge, you’re sent down a fast descent with some nice turns to shake the dust off of your bike driving. The roads here are not for absent-minded pedaling: up, down, left, right, good pavement, and bad, there’s always something to pay attention to.
The roads atop the ridges are a pleasure to pedal.
At this point I opted to ride along Sandy Creek and avoid some of the SUPER STEEP climbs that are in the Newton and Left Hand area. If you are feeling froggy you might consider leaping up Grannies Creek or Big Pigeon. I, on the other hand, had to save my frogginess to simply get back home, as many miles and many climbs awaited me. It is part of the beauty of riding in the area though – extending a ride is simple and entertaining. Keep going a little further, ride another ridge, explore another holler, you can’t go wrong. None of the roads look the same, but they all give that feel of: this is a damn fine place to ride a bike.
Getting lost is typical for riding in this area, but this sign, literally in the middle of nowhere, is always a nice help.
Sandy Creek takes you down (or was it up) stream to Newton. Here I hopped on WV 36 and went up a deceptively challenging climb before turning onto Hollywood Road. Make no mistakes — there are no Hollywood Stars on this road. Rather, the stars are the old farm houses speckled along the route leading up to a gut buster of a climb. This short but steep ascent provided a good challenge and eventually yielded the yang to my ying — a technical descent.
The descents are not spine-tingling fast, but rather, they require a deft touch and some bike driving.
If you’re ever on a bridge, you can rest assured there’s a climb waiting for you.
Shortly after the descent I was faced with a Magellan-like course decision and opted for the left hand turn onto Linden-Tariff (also know as Tariff-Linden) Road. This farm road took my aching legs back out to WV 36, where I turned right and headed toward Looneyville. Is it really possible to pass up a visit to a town of Looneyville? Nope. I told you: I’m not lying about the road and town names.
Stopping at the Looneyville post office to take it all I in I decided to venture down the small farm road resting between the ridge tops and forego the 2 lane (although trafficless) WV 36. This road took me into a whole new area loaded with Rhododendrons before it cycled back to silent farm road with cows watching me ease on by.
Crappy fall colors.
This short cut slash long cut took me back to the “good part” of WV 36 which is a twisty, turning, up and down, 4 miles of ridge top riding that mimics a Six Flags ride. I don’t know about you, but those are happy words to read for me. How many times have you been on roads that extend almost infinitely into the distance? How many times has the rubber on your wheels tread a dismal path that made you wonder if it might actually be better to just stay home and ride the trainer? I promise, you’ll never get that feeling here.
You wouldn’t be unwise to bring a compact.
In Clover, I turned down Vandale Fork and cruised through the valley. At the end of Vandale Fork I did a quick right-left set of fancy turning and headed down Slate Road, which would lead me to the last climb of the day — a 1K steep monster on US 33. After this last ascent it’s smooth sailing back into Spencer. The hard work is done, and you can enjoy a gradual descent of about a mile or so into Spencer proper.
If you still have some gas in the tank, you can always give the Spencer proper hills a go. This hill is my nemesis.
Tired and hungry (no surprise there), I stopped at the local sandwich shop, Church Street Deli and indulged myself in a Turkey Club, actually two. Food in my belly with the first twinges of my food induced coma coming, I headed back to the B&B to catch a nap.
The view of Spencer from the hills above town.
I had to rest up a bit, I had a busy night planned: Night At The Museum 2 was playing at the Robey Theater, which I had come to find out is the nation’s longest continually running theater…yes, that’s right: in the nation.
The Robey Theatre.
2500 feet of climbing
Route Map HERE!
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There’s always the trusty JeredGruber.com if you ever get really bored.