WORDS, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND VIDEO // BRICE SHIRBACH
As you're driving across county lines into Pocahontas County, one thing becomes very clear: locals are hoping you're here to play in the mountains. I mean, it literally says pretty much exactly that on an actual welcome sign. There's a lot of open space here and not a lot of people, so the opportunities are damn near endless, particularly if you're here to ride trails. Throughout the county, you'll find a number of epic opportunities to go up and down some of the state's most beautiful landscapes, which include the largest forest service-owned wilderness east of the Mississippi, a world-class bike park, and its adjacent backcountry. This is Appalachia at its best: loamy, dank, and deep.
As one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet, time, wind, and water have whittled once massive, jagged summits into a more modest, tree-covered range of peaks and valleys. It's never been about the size, however, or else the appeal here wouldn't compare to the mountains of the American West or in Europe. It's that primordial impression that for me at least, is the primary appeal of this archaic range that spans from southeastern Canada to the southeastern United States. The climate here is more typically associated with the Pacific Northwest, with no real "dry" season and a fairly narrow scope between average highs and lows. It rains quite a bit, hence the green glow that seems to almost permeate from the valley. It records some of the least severe weather in the United States annually yet sits near the top of the heap when it comes to fog and clouds compared to the national average. Its forests are dense, wildlife diverse, and the recreational opportunities prolific throughout this nebulously shaped territory.
West Virginia, whose state motto is "Wild and Wonderful", is an easy place to get lost in, whether intended or not. In the heart of West Virginia, situated atop the nearly mile-high shelf of the Allegheny Mountains, you'll find a horseshoe-shaped convergence of ridges, the Cheat and Back Allegheny mountains specifically, forming a beautiful confluence that has resulted in one of the finest collections of mountain bike trails anywhere in America. Moss and ferns line the forest floors while dark ribbons of loamy earth slash and wind their way through forests of red spruce, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, American beech, red maple, and black cherry trees. It’s a part of the world with copious amounts of open space and wilderness paired with a decidedly scarce population.
Pocahontas Trails is the local non-profit organization tasked with the advocacy and stewardship of trails throughout the region. Their history dates back to the early nineties, and over the years have developed several strong partnerships with a number of area land managers, tourism bureaus, and Snowshoe Mountain Resort, among others, putting themselves and the rest of the county in a position to develop the Snowshoe-Highlands Ride Center, an IMBA Silver-designated ride center, the first of its kind for the state and second ever on the east coast. Between the bike park and the backcountry throughout the rest of the county, there are upwards of 375 miles of trail available for riders. Anchored by Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center features unlimited single-track adventure at the Snowshoe Bike Park, the Gauley Mountain basin, Tea Creek area, and Mower Tract of the Monongahela National Forest. Fall line trails, deep, luxurious pockets of damp soil, and an evergreen glow that more closely resembles what you might expect to find in the Pacific Northwest than in West-by-God-Virginia.
It's no secret that the state of West Virginia has long been tethered to the extraction industries, most notably coal mining. It's long been a part of the state's heritage, and while most of the world agrees that it's time to look beyond the unsustainable practices associated with that industry, it's been a long and winding road for much of the state to, in fact, do just that. It's also clear that people here are in fact ready to move on, and fortunately for West Virginia and quite honestly the rest of us, there's more than enough world-class terrain and willing people here to lead the way toward a brighter future.
Underexposed is a self-filmed and produced series by Pivot Cycles athlete Brice Shirbach dedicated to showcasing trail advocacy and stewardship while exploring a variety of trails in places that may be unfamiliar to many. Join Brice as he explores the personal motivations behind the effort that goes into mountain bike advocacy while sampling the trails they work so hard for.