My 2012 Ride Report on the Hatfield and McCoy Trails of WV.
How this came about... It all started about 10 yrs. ago, when a production company filmed the NEW Hatfield & McCoy Trail system to promote tourism in WV. They showed ATV/ motorcycles riding these extreme trails, and talked about this new system being the largest and most extreme on the East Coast. That was all it took, since I grew up riding hills & abandoned coal mines. I knew this was an adventure, I couldn't pass up. As with so many things in life, when would I find the time to take a 2 wk. vacation for off road riding? I added it to my bucket list and went on with my life/hobbies. I had traveled the U.S. and Europe extensively in my 20's & 30's being X military, Owner Operator, etc. but not much off road travel. Unless you count Hiking / skiing, places like the Austrian / Swiss Alps, etc. Street bikes, cars, trucks and trains were my mode of transportation back then. I later had a Honda XR650 mounted on the truck for those long weekends. Remember all I did was travel, so when I had a few days off it was sightseeing time in that area. Not planning some iron butt / off road rally on DS motorcycle. So many things to see, so little time.
I started out on dirt bikes at age 10, so it's in my blood. A little racing here and there... I've had a bike most of my life but there is something about the unrestricted nature of off road bikes that always brings me back. The Adventure and ability to ride any where is a strong attraction but I think deep down the thrill / risk involved has just as much to do with it. Normally we experience something new and move on to the next NEW thing because life is short, ya know! Been there done that...BUT something about motorcycles keeps us coming back. If you haven't experienced it for yourself, then I can't explain it. I've crashed off road bikes with many injuries only to come back over and over. Crazy! some would say. Never a single street bike accident in hundreds of thousands of miles. Only on dirt bikes.
Well, let's get on with the HMT report. I wanted to tell you a little about myself so you would understand the man behind the scenes. This isn't my first adventure.
My goal was to ride as much of the HMT system as possible and supermoto the twisties but most of all relax and enjoy my vacation.
Why I traveled alone... Last minute schedule changes at work forced me into a time line of Aug. 2012. Not enough notice for others to take 2 wks. off and although not perfect because of the warmer summer days, it wasn't going to be freezing / snowing either. Compared to FL heat, the upper 80's in the mountains were very nice. I only remember 2 days that I considered warm and the rest was perfect. Make a note if planning to ride HMT, Sept. is a perfect time of year. Oct. starts to cool off and may see freezing temps. You just never know.
I did post info. on several motorcycle forums looking for experienced B riders or better on motocross type bikes but was only able to offer a couple months notice. My past experience has proven not everyone is as motivated or prepared, so we need to set some ground rules. If things don't work out, I'll be riding alone. Turns out my B rider or better requirement was the right decision based on other riders I met who didn't have the ability to ride the tech. trails I could, so we ALL had to turn around. I didn't want MY entire vacation to turn out this way. Some may feel I'm too rigid but it was my vacation too.
When I came across a nice relaxing place and wanted to take a break, it was up to me. It would have been nice to share the experience with others but sometimes that can be more of a burden then it's worth.
My trip would last about 2 wks. leaving FL on Aug. 24 and returning Sept. 6, 2012. I wouldn't have the entire time to ride HMT because of other plans but would spend much of my time covering the trails and twisties on KTM's. The Supermoto was a hoot in the hill country. The 525 exc with supermoto set up and brembo oversized brakes makes for the ultimate toy. Smaller bikes don't have enough HP for the mountains and larger bikes are too much work in the switch backs. Then jump off on a dirt road or dirty paved back road and the light weight 525 really shines when sliding around the corners. Not like a 500+ lb. street bike with little suspension that you fear might get away from you when sliding. Your just willing to push the limits that much more on a lighter dirt bike.
I drove camper van pulling trailer with 2 KTM's so I had a place to sleep when not in hotel rooms. Plus this gave me a back up bike if something went wrong. Prefer mixing it up...couple days in camper and a day here and there in hotel.
Sometimes I would camp at the Trail Head. Arrive that night and ride the next day, then on to the next when ready. Proof I was really ALONE, not a single vehicle at these TH during the week. I had the place to myself. But remember WV has thousands of places to ride besides the HMT if you know the area. Many people use ATV for transportation. You see them driving down the roads and around town.
I started out camping at Ashland resort because you can ride 3 of the trail heads from that area. Ashland resort is very nice if you like camping. There are some other places in the area but I would recommend staying there your first trip.
Make sure you pack a cooler and are prepared to eat there. Not much around Ashland area unless you drive 15 miles ( 45 min.) in the WV mountains. That will get you to a Wal-Mart
I could write a small book telling of all the trails and what I liked about them. They were ALL covered in rocks for the most part and steep. Because of the rocks, they are not for the beginner dirt biker. Yes, you can prob. ride the green trails but some of the trail heads are so steep and rocky a beginner won't make it out of the parking lot. If your a beginner, rent ATV and have fun. Then return next year on dirt bike if you still want to try your luck.
Indian Ridge and Pinnacle Creek were fun. Pocahontas was wet, I didn't set out to have a mud fest ride although that is what happened by the end of day when I had no choice but to cross a pond vs turning around and crossing 10 other mud holes again to get back out of there. I made a run for it and buried the bike in the last 10 ft. where it looked like others had too. Took me 30 min. to get the bike out of there and it was covered with this sludge mud. I loved playing in the mud 30+ yr. ago but now I try to avoid it at all cost. Makes the bike heavy and harder to ride. Oh well! It was late afternoon so I decided to work my way back since this was the last HMT in that system I hadn't rode. When I arrived back at camp and ask where I could wash my bike, they said you can't. What! We don't allow people to wash anything but the radiator. Well, do you know of a pressure wash place around. He said, around here? No, we don't have anything like that here but they might have one in the city. As in 1 hr. drive or more away. O.K. so I went back to my campsite and proceeded to fill gallon jugs to dump over my bike/gear since I couldn't find a hose. About 1 hr. later I had washed everything off and started packing up to head for Matewan just before dark. I know they said you can't but what were they going to do, kick me out? I was leaving any way and for a ATV resort not to have a wash area was unacceptable. They had the best resort in area but find another place to wash your bike. They have very nice Laundry room and shower / bathroom too. The whole place was very nice, Wi-Fi, they sell gas, propane, food, some gear and parts, etc. Just no wash area blew me away. When I arrived in Matewan that was the first thing I asked. They said sure...
The feeling I had while riding in the WV mountains on black diamond extreme trails alone was a feeling of freedom, just me and the mountains. A challenge I've waited years to experience but also a feeling of accomplishment. I was riding the most extreme trails on the East Coast ALONE. Knowing one mistake could be the end, with no one to help or go get help. Mechanical failures and minor injury when nobody was around during the week could be very serious. There wasn't anyone there during the week. The trail heads were empty and if somebody did decide to ride, they may not be on the extreme trails with the highest risk for injury. It takes a certain type of person at age 50 to risk it all to fulfill your dreams and that in itself is a feeling of great accomplishment you have to experience to understand. Our perception of everything is constantly changing... The more adventures & experiences you have, the higher you must raise that bar to achieve the same feeling of accomplishment. We have become so spoiled with our safety nets in every aspect of our lives. Try planning a real adventure with nobody else to rely on but yourself. Just the thought of it scares most people. So dig deep inside and ask yourself if you have what it takes to go it alone because when you're in the back country that looks like the end of the earth where nobody would ever find you if something went wrong, you will need to be ready. There was one place in Pocahontas that looked like something out of a horror movie, which I have heard others refer to as the "swamp of sadness" because it's kind of a wet/damp/cool/dark forest. Now picture yourself riding this area alone about 4PM as the dense forest is getting dark. You start to wonder if the bike broke down...
It's easy to say Ahhhhh! I've been there or rode alone before and didn't have any problems. I talked to a rider that was alone on weekend when the parking area and trails were busy but not a single one during the week. He rides the area and knows it, plus has people close by to call for help. That's all great! But if you would have had a mechanical failure and had to walk out 10 mi. in your motocross boots, could you? Don't fool yourself, you couldn't walk 5 mile in the WV mtn. in those boots with all the rocks and you can't take them off. There is no cell service in many areas and very few houses if in the real back country. Would you spend the night and how would you feel about that with no gear ? What about the Bears, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, etc. Would you still think it was no big deal the next morning? I doubt the average person can say yes. I took all this into consideration, then made the decision to take this journey I've waited 10 yrs. for alone. I'm not getting any younger and nobody knows what the future holds so man up and get prepared. Many things people can't comprehend because they have never been in this type of situation, let alone this environment.
I spent Sat. Sun. Mon. riding southern HMT area and then because of possible rain towards the end of week moved on to Buffalo Mountain instead of Rock House because I was told BM was the best and the longer I put it off the higher my chances of injury or something ending my ride would be. If something happened, I wanted to experience BM.
Karma is a funny thing. I wonder if Karma is Gods way of teaching us right from wrong by making us pay when we don't make the right choices. What? Well, let me tell you... I was riding on the Indian Ridge trail out in the middle of nowhere and came upon a Ford pickup truck sitting along the trail. As I rounded the corner and see this truck I thought what is this guy doing out here ? I don't see any roads and the trail is barely wide enough for a vehicle. I then see a hillbilly looking guy with long stringy hair around 50 yr. old doing something in the bed of truck, he looks up to see me riding towards him. He then quickly walks to the driver's door opening it and reaches his arm in to grab something but never removes it. He keeps the door closed against his arm while watching me approach and I'm thinking this guy is going to pull a gun? I stay on trail riding towards him and I slow and ask if he is O.K. and he says hey good with a wave of the free hand. He was strangely nervous. I then see a pretty young girl around early 20's with blonde hair and white / blue striped shirt squatting down on passenger side floorboard as I'm riding by. I make eye contact with her as I'm passing him. She looks worried and I'm thinking if I stop this nut is going to shoot me because something is very wrong here. I keep riding away slowly speeding up (waiting for the gun to go off) and turn on the next trail wondering if he is alone and what is going on. I mark the spot on my GPS once out of gun range and continue riding. I work my way back to the Ashland resort and tell the office about what I had seen and believe this young girl was not there by choice. They contacted the police and told me later they were prob. going to send somebody out for a statement. I started picturing the cop being this guys cousin and telling me he needed me to show him where I seen the truck, etc. And nobody would ever hear from me again. Great! I've stumbled upon some slave trading deal or something and might not make it out of here alive. All those movies and stories of the WV back country starts running through my mind. (insert hillbilly theme) So I told you that to tell you this...
My new Garmin Montana http://sites.garmin.com/montana/ I invested almost $1k into setting up for these types of rides and have used without any problems for the past 8 mo. decided to crash the next day at Matewan, WV. I contacted Garmin and they overnight a replacement. I spent the next day touring twisties with Don McCoy on KTM supermoto, then setting up new Garmin with maps, etc. so I could ride HMT the next day without getting lost. That big waterproof 4" screen was a life saver in those hills. I had used it enough to know I didn't want any part of navigating with the HMT trail maps.Using the maps and GPS with trail layer was perfect. Without the HMT layer over map the GPS wouldn't have been as helpful but with the layer I would have considered buying another new one and working out the details when I returned if that tells you anything about the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly where you are at all times when your riding alone. Although... What a nightmare that turned out to be in an area with sloooow DSL and Garmin website telling me the connection speed was not high enough, etc. I had to shut down all of Don's computers and set up his router just to get 1.4 Mbps. Then Garmin didn't set up the replacement info like they promised so I had to buy maps again because it was after 5 on Fri. Well, the slow DSL dropped the connection after 2 hrs. Great! I would have to start over and never get this set up but it allowed me to reconnect and chugged along. All was done the next morning when I woke. Threw the HMT layer maps on there and was gone. Was this Karma telling me I should have risk my life for this girl and now it was time for me to suffer? I'll always wonder if she is being held in some back country cabin some place. If one of you would have stepped up and rode with me, we might have saved her. I know, what a story!
Don and I were talking and he said I should move there and start a biz so I could ride the trails. I quickly replied, wouldn't last a week in this electronically challenged area without my gadgets and high speed internet he laughed and said, don't even own a cell phone. I pulled mine out and looked at the no service signal (in town) and laughed. We are so spoiled with our high speed smart phones now days.
I put 100 miles on the dirt bike riding the Buffalo Mtn. trails that day, almost every trail. I didn't ride all the single track since I was alone and worried nobody would ever get to me if I went off a cliff. Not really, some were blocked by down trees and some grown in. But I did ride Trail 97 and must say that was one of the high lights of my trip. I met some other riders that night who have ridden the HMT over the years and just did BM last year. After several stories of all the places they have ridden in the U.S. and diff. technique schools they have attended, etc. I was so happy to have found somebody that knew the area and wanted to ride the single track / black diamond trails. We were staying at the Matewan B & B so planned to meet up at breakfast. Ended up getting started around 9:30am and the best rider of the group crashes on trail head. I'm thinking well it is pretty rocky and maybe he is just rusty. I wait, then go past and wait at the next intersection for everybody. This is when we knew one of the guys wasn't going to make it after taking 15 min. to get up the first TH hill. Him and another split off so the 2 better riders and I can run single track. One starts off and few min. later I start because the other guy wants me to go first. I come up around the corner and here comes the first guy towards me down the hill. I pull over and ask if the trail is blocked ? He says, no I can't make it up the hill. I said, is something blocking the trail? No, I just can't make it. It's too steep. Maybe if I try again now that I know what is there and get a running start I can make it. Just go ahead and wait at next intersection like we planned. I take off and shoot up over hill which was the easiest part of this single track and sit at the top of mountain waiting for 20 min. I don't hear anybody so ride back down. They are still sitting at this hill climb out of breath. I ask what was going on, they said it has taken them that long just to get one bike up the hill. I replied, We need to turn around then because it gets much worse. That was the last single track we rode that day. I thought back to how these guys said they have ridden all the trails last year, etc. I also thought back to my B rider or better requirement and this confirmed it. At end of day I wanted to ride some more extreme stuff and the one guy thought he was up for it. After I rode 97 the best rider tried it and flipped his bike right from the start and then wouldn't ride it down. I had rope and pulley so we used my tackle to lower it down. Once was enough for me on that big tanker and doing it on someone elses bike wasn't going to happen.
I had rode alone with no problems every day prior to this and every day after this covering twice as many miles on more extreme trails. We were riding very easy and they kept wanting to stop, I guess every ones perception of ALL the trails varies based on selective memory. The KTM 500 is heavy in the tight stuff but it will climb like a tractor up anything if you have the traction and back bone. HP is not a concern for the most part unless you're worried about being launched off the trail. You can't tell by the below picture but going off to the right would not be fun and prob. take hours to get your bike out when riding alone. If you were able too. Sometimes these trails get so steep the rocks just get the best of ya and once you lose momentum, it's over. Very hard if at all possible to start over on the hills is why I don't have many pictures. It seemed like I rode 5 miles of this rock to get here and was exhausted after days of riding these kinds of rocky trails. If I stopped to take a picture, I had to use rocks to block the bikes tires so it would stay there plus turn the bike around and ride back down to start over. Pictures don't show how steep these trails are so why bother is what I told myself in most cases. If they look steep, they are very freakin steep.
I liked the BM area for many reasons although they all have their own character. The town of Williamson,WV is nearby if you're looking for Wal-Mart or KTM/Honda Dealer, etc. About all the fast food and many other stores. There are several ways to reach the trails from here and the area is easy to access because of Hwy 119. If you're going for the weekend and only plan to ride the trails it really doesn't matter if you stay here and ride to Matewan for Lunch or other way around but that's what I think most do is start at one TH and ride to the other end of system for lunch and then return on different trails back to motel. The Hatfield & McCoy Inn would be one of my picks in Matewan, they have restaurant, place to wash your bike, shop if you need to work on equipment or want to lock it up. They are very nice people and know the area well. Don gives Hatfield & McCoy tours of the historic sites and DS guided tours. The Matewan house is a very nice B & B but the trains were crazy loud and shook the building. I used ear plugs the 2nd night and managed to get some sleep but wanted to warn ya. Their breakfast was nice buffet style and they always have snacks and drinks out as part of the package. Pro's and Con's to every place I stayed but for the money I liked Don's H&M inn 304-426-4700. http://www.hatfieldmccoyinn.com/
Logan area has a few motels and private inns plus Wal-Mart City with all the fast food, etc. and motorcycle dealers including KTM. I stayed at trail head because Bear Wallow was only 67 miles of trails. I planned to ride it then drive to Rock House and stay at the TH, ride the 89 miles there. Not much of anything around Rock House but a Wendy's and Hardee's, hardware store unless I missed something. If you're driving from Gilbert they claim to have a few eats around there but not like Logan or Williamson. Remember there are an endless supply of places to ride so start off with some place like Buffalo Mountain and explore the area around the trails too. The place is DS heaven...
But throw in some rain and you're in trouble on slippery rocks. The biggest problem was spinning and sliding / bouncing over rocks while floating the front wheel. Then catch traction and front would come up more as I'm controlling with clutch just how much HP I can apply. If I back off just a hair to keep bike from flipping over, then I lose momentum and your done. I slid from where the 2nd tree on left is cut to where picture was taken with both brakes locked when I spun out. And that was only because I laid the bike down and caught a rock. Very slippery! How do you think the ride back down was? Like riding on ICE and picking which rock to deflect off of or berm or whatever keeps you from going off the side of mountain. What a rush!
Some trails were blocked by down trees with no way around and others you could ride under or drag bike under. One black diamond trail I had to go under while going up, then starting on hill but you do what you must if you want to ride ALL the trails. Try dragging a 300+ lb. bike up a hill under a tree with all the protective gear I was wearing and 30 lb. back pack. Not some of my fondest memories but it's part of the challenge and reward.
I found a few trails that still had trees like these on the trail with no way to pass and others you could but lost those pictures.
The HMT trail maker. This was the only trail I had seen without rocks. They must have trucked that dirt in...
Below is a picture of the green trails in some areas. Nice and easy... Big difference from the extreme Black is why some people will tell you they rode a DS and didn't have any problems.
They prob. rode ALL the trails on a DS... :-0
One of many WV towns around the area
After riding about 600 miles off road and slamming some pretty nasty rocks, I only got one flat. ( Very surprised because I NEVER get flasts ) I spent hours truing and balancing my wheels with super heavy duty tubes and new DOT tires before leaving only to bend the rear wheel in the first couple hours. I was flying down this fairly rock free ( for WV) rolling hill trail and topped a hill to find this huge rock where I'm going to land so I clutch it to get a little more launch and manage to clear with the front wheel and throw all my weight forward upon landing trying to unload the rear quickly but it still catches the sharp edge pretty hard. There goes my perfectly straight wheels first day. I have a spare set ready to go but let's wait and see if I can make these worse before changing them over. Turns out I could but never did change the wheels. they weren't noticeable on the trails with so many rocks but was really fun on paved roads. Was nice knowing I had spares. I eventually ended up with psi 18 front / 15 rear and that helped balance things out. You don't want any more air then needed when slamming these rocks all day but you don't want to bend a rim either. Once my brain started picking better rock lines the problem wasn't as bad but rocks are rocks.
A fan wire came loose under rad. and this flat was the only mechanical issues I had the whole trip. I changed the oil twice on 520 because all the clutch use and heat from hill climbs, etc. But other than that they both performed fantastic.
I took many more pictures but something happened to camera SD card. I lost about 50 pic. in the middle of my trip. Prob. from the paint shaker action. Guess you'll have to go there yourself...
Overall I really enjoyed the adventure and have a feeling of accomplishment having done it alone. No accidents or injuries. The HMT consist of 7 different trail heads and I have ridden all but Little Coal River which is the easiest. Figured after covering all the black and double black on the others, why ride the easy trails. I did ride every black and double black and almost every trail on all the systems I visited. Only some of the single track because if something went wrong I was worried nobody would find me hanging off the side of some cliff on the side of a mountain in the middle of the back country. 99% of everybody I talked to said I was CRAZY riding any of the HMT alone. Some on safer ATV's said they have bikes and would never ride this place alone on a bike and very little of it on ATV. Very encouraging to be told this over and over In my defense though I've had lots of experience, ResQlink, 2 cell phones, first aid, flares, survival gear, ropes/ tackle, food, water, etc. My entire body was well covered with armor suit, knee braces, 2 kidney belts, helmet, etc. I looked like something from Mad Max... I walked into a restaurant and heard a couple people gasped in fear. I guess armor was something new to them
All my gear was black except helmet.
Everyone was very nice and polite. The state needs our tourism $$$ which prob. helps. I expected many would feel just the opposite about outsiders but I didn't encounter any. Excluding the girl in pickup truck that I don't know the story behind.
As I write this report and remember the good times, I would consider doing it again but will be riding a lighter bike like the KTM 300 XC-W. It took a lot of extra energy wearing all that gear and 30 lb. back pack to hold up a 300+ lb. bike with over sized tank and 10-15 lb. tank bag.
I thought the KTM 200 XC-W might be the best off road solution for tight trails but after renting one at KTM world for the day ($150) on the way home.
I found the little 2 stroke too buzzy and they said not much you can do to eliminate that but the 300 you have a lot more adjustment and it would prob. be a better bike for you. I struggled getting the 200 spun up on the 5 diamond hill climbs at Highland Park which was another problem. Prob. because I haven't been on 2 stroke in 10 yrs. but that buzz was there to stay according to them. Maybe I've been on thumpers too long or getting too old but couldn't picture myself riding forest roads holding on to those bars all day.
All in all it was a great relaxing vacation and a feeling of accomplishment. Till my next ride report... Imagine how long this would have been if I didn't lose half my pictures and would have talked about trails in detail.
I'm going to plan a long ride for 2013 so stay tuned or contact me if your putting something together.