In October of last year, I was driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, headed for a trailhead, windows down, bike on the roof. The leaves were starting to change; there was no one on the road and there would be no one else on the trail—a perfect day. I started thinking about the Parkway, how it tied the Blue Ridge together, and it occurred to me that it would be really amazing if I could take that perfect day and share it. I thought, “I like bikes, and beer, and playing music, and nice drives in the mountains…maybe other people would join me for this sort of thing.” A few days later I was playing music in Charlottesville, and I got to talking with some friends from Blue Ridge Outdoors about this plan I was hatching: 4 days, 4 breweries, 4 great small towns with world class single track.
Fast forward to late March: the breweries committed, bike clubs engaged, sponsors acquired, and itinerary set. We were ready to roll on the inaugural Bluegrass, Beer & Bikes Tour—four straight days, moving from Brevard to Boone to back home in Nelson County and concluding in Roanoke. I would lead a group ride each day and play a solo show at a local brewery each night.
I enlisted the help of fellow cyclist, logistical genius, and tour manager of my band The Infamous Stringdusters Katrina to come along and keep the train on the tracks. We left Nelson County on a warmWednesday night, arriving in Brevard around midnight. It had been raining, and I had doubts about the group ride the next day but the morning dawned with sunny skies and temps in the low 60’s. Spring had sprung and we were the beneficiaries as about 15 of us rolled out of Oskar Blues Brewery, onto the greenway and into the legendary Pisgah National Forest.
We started making friends immediately, common experience is the ultimate bonding opportunity, and we were in it, stomping the pedals up steady climbs, whooping as we banked down newly tuned trails. After a couple hours we retreated to the brewery, dumped some water over our heads (turns out you can have a shower with just a quart of water) and got down to business. Reps from Keen and Farm to Feet socks were on hand, as well as a contingency from the Asheville Blue Ridge Outdoors offices. I played for about 3 hours; we raffled off some great prize packages; I grabbed a growler to go and headed for the hotel.
The morning dawned cold and we knew it was only going to get colder as we drove north, into the mountains to Boone. There were only six hardy souls out for a mid-day, post-snow group ride at Rocky Knob Bike Park, but what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in enthusiasm. We shot a bunch of footage for a video, lapped a section of kickers/table tops, then retreated to the warmth and safety of the car before catching a quick shower and heading to Appalachian Mountain Brewery. AMB’s business model is built around giving back to the community through fundraising, profit sharing, collaborations, and just good times. Our Yakima rep arrived after a non-stop drive from Texas and he jumped right in, pitching the raffle, talking shop and, most importantly, helping to drink a few beers.
At 7 a.m. I opened the hotel window, two inches of snow on the car and piling up. Rapidly. We had to get to Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nelson County by noon, so escaping the North Carolina High Country weather made for an early morning race to the gig! Upon arrival in Virginia, temps were in the low 40s, but the sun was shining so we stuck to the plan and threw the party outside. I needed hand warmers in my pockets to keep the fingers moving, but the crowd needed no help in raising almost $2,000 for CAMBC (Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club). They sold CAMBC branded Klean Kanteen pints that included beer, and needless to say it was a successful plan.
After the music, about 20 of us got out on the trails around the brewery for a couple laps. Over the last three years, I’ve lived on the property at Devils Backbone (soon to be known as Devils Backbone Basecamp and Meadows) and in that time I’ve (almost) single handedly plotted, cleared, cut and maintained the three miles of beginner-friendly but fun-for-everyone singletrack. Initially commissioned by the brewery to be used as a 5K XC running course, I designed every section with mountain bikes in mind and it’s resulted in a fun and fast trail with some whoops and jumps, twists and turns that leads you on a complete tour of the property. It made me so happy to see so many riders out on the trails. Post ride we convened in the brewery for beers and dinner. It’s rare that a brewery has trails onsite that dump you out at the brewery so we took advantage.
Early to bed, early to rise, and straight south to Roanoke, our final stop. I had a hunch that Sunday at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewery would be the biggest day of the tour and I was right. We had at least 30 riders join us at noon for our group ride, which consisted of a complete tour of Mill Mountain, accessible from downtown. When I planned the tour I’d assumed we’d ride at Carvins Cove, a legendary riding spot west of town, but I also inquired about riding from the brewery. Craig from RIMBA (Roanoke chapter of IMBA) had literally pointed out the window of the brewery toward the giant M and said, “We’re building trails on Mill Mountain as we speak. Let’s earmark the funding for that project and do a tour of those trails.” Perfect.
I’d come to realize that one of the major obstacles or barriers to entry that mountain biking faces is accessibility. When I was growing up, before I had a car, I had a bike and I rode it. Everywhere. 15 miles roundtrip to school then straight out my backdoor into the Pike National Forest. If I had to put a bike in a car and get a ride to and from the trailhead, mountain biking wouldn’t have played the pivotal role in my youth that it did. For mountain biking to continue to grow and reach new participants, it needs trails near population centers, like Mill Mountain. It needs trails near landmarks and in multi-use parks like Devils Backbone. It needs parks specifically built and maintained to bring new mountain bikers into the sport and challenge them as they progress, like at Rocky Knob, and it needs entire communities committed to increasing access to the woods and cultivating a cycling culture, like in Brevard.
The ride in Roanoke ended late. The expert group I was in couldn’t get enough, so I had about 30 minutes to dump some water over my head, eat a grilled cheese, and get to making music. Soaring Ridge has a beautiful tasting room with tall ceilings, floor-to-ceiling glass, and plenty of room. We wedged at least 200 people in there Sunday afternoon and raised nearly $500, entirely donations, for the ongoing work RIMBA is doing in the community. By 7 p.m. there was nothing left to do but finish my last pint, pack up the banners and the sound system, toss them in the completely disorganized rear half of the 4Runner and head for home. As Katrina and I drove north, with the sun setting on our whirlwind tour, content, happy, and reflective, we both agreed, next year cannot come fast enough.
Huge thanks to Blue Ridge Outdoors. Without your enthusiasm and support, this tour wouldn’t have reached a critical mass. Thanks also to the breweries: Oskar Blues in Brevard, Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone, Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers in Roanoke, and Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Roseland. They provided the location and context and put up a substantial part of the sponsorship that made this tour possible. We had 5 great sponsors on board who made product available, sent representatives, and helped spread the word. Yakima, Keen, Klean Kanteen, Farm to Feet, and Ride Solutions were all fantastic partners. Special thanks to Jonny at Yakima who joined us for three dates, took two rides, and stayed at my house one night. Finally, everyone who came out to ride, came out to listen, or just helped spread the word about this tour, without you, it’s all meaningless.
In 2016, we’re putting the bikes first; Bikes, Bluegrass & Beer. Website coming soon!
Check out this Travis Book original preformed for Gondala Sessions in Aspen, CO.