East Bound and Down: Davis, West Virginia

Jun 30, 2016
by Brice Shirbach  
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Views: 7,596    Faves: 34    Comments: 6


East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Welcome to Appalachia.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Moss and loam might soften the sound of it, but the brap is alive and well in Davis.

The Appalachian Mountains have long held a firm grip on my imagination. 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. It's all about the nooks and crannies in these mountains and valleys, and the ancient and often stunning secrets they hold. In my estimation, West Virginia is the complete embodiment of Appalachia and its most beautiful representation.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
A small sign directs you to a small town with huge potential.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Davis is a small town, with lots of trails, and plenty of room for you and your pals.

The town of Davis is West Virginia's highest incorporated community, and second only to Beech in North Carolina on the east coast; situated at the top of a plateau 3200' above sea level in Tucker County. To the north is the pointy end of Maryland's panhandle, and to the west, you'll find the state's most popular state park in Blackwater Falls. In virtually every direction you will find some of the most stunning terrain in the country. 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. 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. As I make my way towards the cabin I'll be spending the week at, I struggle to stay on the road as my attention is almost entirely focused on the lush forest around me, as shafts of sunlight illuminate the abundant mounds of moss and loam just waiting to explode beneath my wheels.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Rush hour in downtown.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Life slows down just a bit in Davis.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
The 1,000+ foot deep chasm of the Blackwater Canyon is one of the Earth's oldest wrinkles.

Brian Sarfino cut his teeth building jump lines and big mountain trails in South Lake Tahoe for the better part of a decade before moving back to Davis in 2010. He remembers buying his first ever mountain bike, a decidedly fragile Raleigh in 1988, but credits the South Lake crew for truly igniting his passion for riding. It was there he remembers riding trails originally built, but subsequently abandoned, by Paul Basagoitia. Growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, Sarfino attended Davis and Elkins College, where he would receive a bachelor's degree in recreation management. Despite enjoying his time in the Sierras, Davis was never far from his thoughts, and just a few years after returning to the region, he turned his passion for the West Virginia highlands into his career, becoming the marketing manager for Tucker County tourism. It's a position that suits the passionate rider and West Virginian well.

"It’s amazing to me just how many people don’t know what we have here," he tells me as we gear up for a quick ride shortly after I roll into town. "in West Virginia generally, but specifically here in the Canaan Valley. We’re so close to the DC, Baltimore and Pittsburgh areas. I just want to reintroduce this place to people." He's right. The drive time from any of those three large cities is between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. This place hasn't always flown as far under the radar as it does currently. For a stretch early in the history of mountain biking, Davis and the rest of the Canaan Valley were one of the world's premier destinations for mountain bikers. "The 24 Hours of Canaan is what brought so many people to this place initially. That was a monstrous push for Davis back in the day, 24-hour races just died off, and we've been a bit slow to adjust accordingly."

East Bound and Down Davis WV
There's more than enough top soil to go round.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Jason Cyr, president of the Blackwater Bicycle Association, leads Johnny Martin and Brian Sarfino into a loose and rocky rhododendron tunnel.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
If you ask nicely, you might find yourself riding down near vertical walls of roots, loam, and moss.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
When your county tourism organization has a shredder on staff, mountain biking takes a back seat to no one.

"This town was at the center of a lot of attention," Matt Marcus says with a slight tone of resentment in his voice. "But then competition in the form of new riding areas popping up began to take place, which drew riders away from the area." Matt, 56, moved to Davis from D.C. in 1988 when mountain bike hall of famer Laird Knight offered him a chance to manage the town's mountain bike shop, Blackwater Bikes. The former bike messenger first came to town in 1984 to compete in the Canaan Mountain Bike series, and in his time here has served as president of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association, as well as the IMBA representative for the state.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Matt Marcus' passion is obvious upon the first handshake.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Jeff Melyck has been in Davis for over two decades and has raised two daughters and a brewpub in his time here.

"We came through town here in 1988," Jeff Melnyck remembers. "And we came across that bridge over the Blackwater River. When I came into town, there were like 400 mountain bikers here for a NORBA National event. All of the top pros in the country were here. I was just getting into mountain biking and I stopped to check it out. I came back the next year, became friends with Matt Marcus, and he’s probably the reason why I’m here today." Matt and Jeff are joining Brian and I on our short, late afternoon ride to give me a quick sample of the trails in town, and to help me stretch my legs a bit after the 5-hour drive from Philly. Afterward, we head to the town's newest brewpub, Stumptown Ales, which the two long time friends built and help run. The brewery is actually closed that day, but they have keys and we sit at the bar to discuss the history of the region a bit more over some non-local selections.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Brian, Jeff and Matt heads towards Main Street and some cold beers waiting for us at the end of the ride.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Riding in the mud is awesome, especially when it's encouraged by the locals.

"When I first started, all of the federal lands were all open to bikes." Matt says between sips. "As soon as I moved out of D.C., everything began to shut down. There just weren’t very many places to ride on the east coast. This was one of the locations that was left wide open. It was like the wild west, you could go in any direction from town as far as you wanted to go. People brought bicycles, motorcycles, four wheelers, anything they wanted, and could just go anywhere. I lived here for years and was still going on trails that I’ve never seen before. That was the initial draw."

"The motorcycles and four wheelers made a lot of the trails here." Jeff adds. "They were here long before the mountain bikers."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Happy hour high above the Blackwater Canyon.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Happy hour following the Wednesday night ride.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
This place is a playground, with soft landings aplenty.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Jason Cyr shows us the benefits of sub 750mm wide handlebars.

"Eventually, the lands in the area began to shut down." Matt says. He admits to being a bit jaded when it comes to Davis, with the bitter taste of what could have been still lingering. "Wilderness areas, the wildlife refuge. We supported the wildlife refuge, and they had a plan in place where we would need to find a new location for a race that we held on their lands, but they’d allow us to continue to ride there. But they eventually shut down over 100 miles of trails in their valley. It was bad. We’ve had issues with the power company selling properties to non-profits, who fold and their land gets absorbed by state forest agencies instead of recreation agencies, which restricts our access. Little by little, we lost trail mileage and trail building opportunities. As a result, all of these 'social' trails began to pop up all over the place. We lost a lot of the beginner terrain that was in the valley as well. Things are good now, and certainly on the upswing, but there’s no doubt we experienced a setback as a result of the mismanagement of so much of this land."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Neighboring Thomas, WV is a step ahead of Davis when it comes to encouraging small business development, but the two towns are working together to develop the region into a tourist destination.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Blackwater Bikes has been a staple in this community for decades.

Davis went from being one of the industry's darlings to an under appreciated destination with a growing number of riding options between it and it's closest population centers. "Like a lot of other things," Brian tells me the next morning. "The Tucker County mountain bike scene is 5 years behind most of the world. All of these other places that have been developing trails throughout the region are half the distance to the population centers we’re trying to bring out here." We're joined at his dining room table by Rob Stull, the current owner of Blackwater Bikes and, alongside Brian, one of the at-large board members of the newly organized Blackwater Bicycle Association.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Brian Sarfino has the energy and positive attitude needed to help get Davis and Tucker County on track.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Rob Stull took over Blackwater Bikes a year ago, stepping away from the environmental remediation career that brought him to town initially.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
You won't see flashy kits or a whole lot of super bikes in Davis, but you will see a bit of style and a lot of fun when you make the trip.

"For a while," Rob says, his baritone voice seemingly rattling Brian's kitchen cabinets. "We were the only place to ride in the region. We didn’t have to work hard to bring people in because they just didn’t have a lot of other options. Now, with all of these IMBA ride centers popping up, and stacked loop systems everywhere, we’re seeing that other places are ready and willing to start pumping a lot of money into that kind of stuff. We now see that we’re needing to step our game up. It’s taken a long time, and we’re finally starting to come around. There’s a long history of timber and coal industries in this area. When the coal mines dried up, people began to put their hopes in false expectations. People here are finally starting to see that industry isn’t going to drive things and that tourism is our best bet for the future. It has to be. We don’t have anything else."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Blackwater Bikes offers fantastic service and selection for local pinners and visiting riders alike.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
There are no bad choices at Sirianni's Cafe, but the pizza is amazing by any and all standards.

Jessica Scowcroft is the Director of the Tucker County C.V.B., and believes that the shift from industry to tourism has finally begun to take hold. "Mountain biking is an anchor for the outdoor recreation in this area. Our community wouldn’t see any success without it. We have 3 breweries for a population total of 7,000 people in the county. We’re starting to see younger people come up in the community and embrace it. Tucker County culture has been reshaped from being reliant on coal and timber industries, to finally embracing what the outdoor industry can bring to the table, and the mountain bike community has played a huge role in that."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Every season is a wet season here.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
The Wednesday night rides are the highlight of the working adult's week here.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Sarfino and crew head out for their weekly ride, just minutes from Main Street.

Jessica, who hails from southern New Jersey, originally came to the area to pursue skiing opportunities, has been with the local C.V.B. for over 7 years after attending college at nearby Davis and Elkins College. I ask her about the dichotomy between born and bred Davis residents, and the influx of transplants and the entrepreneurial energy they're bringing to town.

"We have a lot more entrepreneurs in the area," she admits. "Or even people who are willing to work multiple seasonal employment opportunities. But yeah, we do have a lot of people coming into the area to start a business and are also working to develop a solid pay scale. If we train West Virginians in tourism, we can make it so that the pay scale for that industry is comparable to what the coal industry provided for years. They’re realizing that and it’s starting to happen. We have a new group of people who are rooted here and are taking on projects that had been stagnant for a long time. Rob has taken over the bike shop, we just had a $30 million renovation over at Canaan Valley Resort, and Sue has put a ton of energy into the mountain bike festival."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Jessica Scowcroft doesn't try to hide her optimism when it comes to the positive force she believes that mountain biking represents for the region.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Sue Haywood may have retired from World Cup racing a few years ago, but her smile has never been bigger than it is now that she calls Davis home.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Jason, Brian and Sue look across the valley from her backyard to Middle Ridge, an area owned by the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, where Zach Adams is building trails that will once again open up access to mountain bikers.

Sue Haywood, who spent several years as a full-time World Cup athlete, fell in love with Davis over 20 years ago during her first ever mountain bike race while attending West Virginia University in nearby Morgantown. During a highly publicized battle with USA Cycling over her omission from the Olympic team in 2004, the town of Davis was steadfast in its support for her. "I really felt the love here." Sue remarks. "I moved away to Harrisonburg, Virginia for a couple of years, but came back into town 4 years ago because it’s just home to me. There’s a good mix of long-time locals, and a new group of transplants who just love the lifestyle. It just a really beautiful place. I can walk out my door, walk my dog in the woods, go for a bike ride, go XC skiing in the winter, and it’s all right there. That’s the lifestyle I want; I want to be in the mountains, in the forest and on the river. I don’t want to have to drive to get to those things. That’s the sacrifice a lot of people make here in lieu of a better paying job in other places."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
The future is looking bright for Davis.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
True story.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Cyr and Martin stay light on their wheels in the green room.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Johnny Martin gets creative over an off camber rock line.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Rob Stull and Brian Sarfino stay close between a rock and a hard place. Oh, and another rock.

Brian, my guide throughout the week, is excited to move forward as one of the region's biggest champions for mountain biking. It may have taken a while to get back on track, but there's no denying the momentum swing these guys are finally beginning to experience. "The chamber of commerce is pretty astute here, and they get it. They’re behind it. They’re an influential group, and they have the ears of all of these land managers. So having their support helps us enormously. The bike community has proven to be an industrious group, who gets things done around here and we don’t ask for much. A lot of other groups need a lot, we don’t. We’re self-sufficient. They listen to us and they respect what we say."

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Sue knows that when the sun's out in Davis, you get your guns out in Davis.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
As the coal industry continues its inevitable decline, Davis looks to more creative economic opportunities, including microbreweries.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Thomas is considered to be the artsy neighbor to Davis' more unassuming tastes.
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
Sarfino is full throttle through the green glow of this ancient Appalachian wilderness.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
A reshuffling of land managers a few years back was a source of frustration for many Davis riders, but things are most certainly looking up nowadays.

Yes, I have a propensity for east coast riding, but I am also an especially big fan of the trails and terrain found in the northwestern corner of our country. I think that's ultimately what I find so compelling about Davis; the idea that elements from both worlds, that northwest grease and loam coupled with an old world, east coast aesthetic, can and does actually exist. It would seem that northern Vermont and western North Carolina have some company at the top of the "must ride" list east of the Mississippi. In the beginning, the Canaan Valley was one of the country's premier riding destinations, but some of that luster was lost as more and more communities and towns began building trails of their own. But we all know that history repeats itself, and now the town of Davis and the surrounding mountains and valleys are ready to remind everyone just how and wild and wonderful the riding here is and has always been. When you do decide to make the trip, just be sure to find a local and have them show you around. The Appalachian mountains are some of the oldest hills and forests on the planet, and you best believe that there are more than a few surprises hidden away in their nooks and crannies.

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia
East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia

East Bound and Down Davis West Virginia


Davis mountain biking trails

EB&D Travel Information:

For information on the area, including restaurant selections, lodging options, and activities for the whole family, visit out the Tucker County Tourism website.

Here's the website for the Blackwater Bicycle Association.

Looking for a bike shop? Head to Blackwater Bikes. They're currently looking for a full time, experienced bike mechanic. Contact information can be found following the link.

Blackwater Falls State Park is the state's most popular. They have a ton of lodging options, including deluxe cabins, perfect for a large group of riders!

Joining the Wednesday night ride? Be sure to join the group at Hellbender Burritos afterwards!

Sirianni's Cafe doesn't have a website, but they have a phone! 304-259-5454



MENTIONS: @briceshirbach



Must Read This Week

49 Comments

  • + 20
 Great article and excellent pictures. WV is in a state of transition with the coal industry packing its bags. These communities hidden in these hills and hollers are left footing the bill environmentally and economically. Davis and Thomas are incredible examples of how to move forward, leveraging support from a grass-roots movement, fueled by two of the most important things in the world - Beer and Bikes.
  • + 6
 Between Hellbenders, Mutleys, and Sirianni's, some of the best food in the state is right there. Dollar an ounce steak nights, hell yea! All the best beers at Hellbenders too.
  • + 18
 I always love the East Bound and Down articles! The more positive press East coast riding gets the better.
  • + 5
 East coast is my home. I lived on the west coast for a wile. I rode everything I could out west. I like the east coast a lot more. Not that there are not some killer nooks out west. I just like the East hands down. The trail systems just seam endless. I also like that every trail is not lose and dusty most years. When that mud sets in then I'm ready to head out west.
  • + 2
 The mountain state has tonage of terrain. Hoping for a speedy recovery from recent weather events.
  • + 10
 They call it App a Lay Chin up there but in NC it's app uh latch un.
  • + 6
 I have to say, I was able to ride out near Davis for a few days and it was great. I have also seen the evolution of the Pisgah area, and have a plea to the good folks in Davis.

1) Timberline is a little (potential) gem. To have lift-served gravity so close by is a huge plus for having a riding destination. They just need to grow a bit, to at least the point of having a rental fleet...maybe a lift upgrade...or maybe something Blackwater will eventually look into (rentals) if the number of visiting gravity enthusiasts can increase.

2) Please, please, please...keep it natural and gnarly...where chundery fall lines can exist with maintenance, not become extinct through sanitization. It has been heart breaking to see some of our favorite trails/lines reworked down in NC and the result being a completely different character of trail. It looks like Davis has the potential to be the next Brevard...I just hope that if that happens, the quest for sustainablity is balanced with maintaining a full range of the mountain bike experience, including fall line "holy crap" type trails and lines. I see a few in pics above and it makes me want to visit again....for a bit longer to explore more!

For as much as these new ride centers offer, there is so much they do not offer that can only be obtained in the natural gnar of the mountains. Unfortunately, many of these previously natural and raw destinations are starting to go the way of designed flow, and less-and-less places to go to experience the "Wild and Wonderful" aspect of the mountain bike experience, where you have to find the flow through the chunder!
  • + 7
 " Please, please, please...keep it natural and gnarly...where chundery fall lines can exist with maintenance, not become extinct through sanitization."

Amen. Flow trails are fun now and then but nothing beats a natural trail. If you can't ride gnarly up your game instead of dumbing it down!
  • + 2
 race promoters here are kicking rocks off the trails to make them less gnarly for visiting racers, that is direct from the mouth of a race volunteer.
  • + 1
 @ShreddieMercury: kick them in the groin
  • + 6
 Jen and I spent a week their probably ten years ago. Beautiful area, and some gnarled trails. The burritos at Hellbender are awesome!
  • + 4
 Hell Benders is still awesome!
  • + 3
 So glad you guys enjoyed your visit! Davis is an awesome place that deserves more press than what it gets. I grew up just east of there and recently moved back to the area with my family, it's wonderful to see the passion that was there in the 90's in a revival of sorts, the area needs, and deserves the attention it brings...great write-up PB!
  • + 6
 Roots, Rocks, Mud... Thats mountain biking. Thanks. I'm a little saturated on flow trails at the moment.
  • + 6
 amen amen. Flow trails are good for beginnners but rocks and roots is where its at. #wvmtb
  • + 1
 Mud? Not my thing anymore.
  • + 3
 great article! Finally something featured on pinkbike that I have riden. Saw no pictures of moon rocks trail....probably too much to do in such little time....Need to go back and do more riding with the locals to get to know some of these spots.
  • + 2
 Definitely going to try and check this out this season. Sidenote, Trailforks has been unbelievably helpful for navigation and planning rides on my recent trips to western NC. It would be great if the locals could flesh out the trail mapping a little more in trailforks more that just the one trail on there right now.
  • + 3
 EDIT: actually scratch that, looks like mtbproject has lots mapped out. That works too.
  • + 3
 The state of WV has done an incredible job on it themselves:

www.mapwv.gov/trails/
  • + 2
 I can't believe there aren't any pics of the Moonrocks section/trail! That place is really neat.
Took my 9yr old there last year and we had a blast. It is also sort of funny that there aren't any trails on trailforks... I added the Moonrocks / Hoodoo Rocks trail and it wasn't super easy to find, but well worth it.
  • + 3
 Here is a pic of the Moonrocks: www.pinkbike.com/photo/13662199
  • + 2
 Spent a summer living in the area building a wind farm project during college. I didn't have space in my car to bring my mountain bike halfway across the country and couldn't afford a rack at the time. I've always regretted it!
  • + 2
 PS: This place it remote!!!! At one point I literally drove until the highway stopped then had to transfer to miles upon miles of backroads. It was quite the adventure but lots of fun as well.
  • + 4
 Good to see people promote mtb and tourism. Finale ligure started just like that. All the best.
  • + 2
 I did the MTB Fest there a couple weeks ago and it was my first time. I'm going back for the riding, the Hell Bender burritos, the beers, everything about Davis VW and the Canaan area! WOW!
  • + 4
 No mention of Timberline?
  • + 2
 Just recently closed lift access to mountain biking. Bit of a murky situation developing just prior to my visit.
  • + 2
 Place was old school awesome trails.
  • + 6
 Just to correct some language that I am seeing... Timberline has not closed lift access mountain biking, they are having a delayed opening this season due to (ahem) lift concerns. Per a FB post, they are opening the bike park this weekend.

www.facebook.com/OfficialTimberlineWV/photos/a.172178439519747.41402.162195150518076/1073913822679533/?type=3&theater

And, indeed it IS old school awesome trails. Haha!
  • + 2
 @Oinkideas: Thanks for this post.
  • + 3
 man, oh man, THE SOUND on that video clip. Screw MUSIC, that's just BEAUTIFUL.
  • + 1
 I'm sure this article was written prior to the flooding, but I really am curious how F'ed this area go from the flooding that is happening statewide right now.

Cool place. I remember Siranni's "No medium drinks"
  • + 3
 Fortunately all of the flooding occurred south of us, in an entirely separate river drainage, by about 60 miles (as the crow flies). This is a very humble statement, seeing as that most all of us have friends and family that have been severely affected by the flood waters.
  • + 1
 @bsarfino: thanks for the response. the flooding is a tragic event, and I wish the best for the people of WV. This article is an eye opener for what a treasure this area is to bikers. When I was last there in 2001 I had no idea that there was any riding there at all.
  • + 3
 Loving these east coast features. Davis is a hell of a spot.
  • + 4
 johnny blaze
  • + 3
 Excellent article! Thanks to all of those that helped make it happen.
  • + 3
 Hidden treasure right here
  • + 3
 Are the 'Mud Fleas' still there?

#Blackwater100forever
  • + 3
 Great stuff Brice, killer pics!
  • + 3
 I miss WV, NC, and TN mountains so bad...
  • + 2
 I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE AND RIDE MY BIKE!
  • + 2
 My kind of trails. Find your own flow...
  • + 1
 Hit up Mountain State Brewery in Thomas. I can taste the Cold Trail Ale just thinking about it.
  • + 1
 For such a mountainous state, I'm kinda shocked how flattish the terrain in the edit looks. Ledgy, but not steep .
  • + 2
 I got a cabin near snowshoe mountain. Love me some WV shredding
  • + 2
 WV and MTBing go tougher like a dance floor and music.
  • + 1
 Rad

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