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French Broad River
WORDS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | PHOTOS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley
From the gas station town of Dillingham, North Carolina, the road to Craggy Gardens is called Stoney Fork. Strewn with gravel, rocks and forest debris, Stoney Fork is seven miles of off camber turns, washboards and dirt
Less than ten feet from the edge where the road returns to pavement, Ben drops his bike and spins around to face the road. This road has covered him in dirt and pain, taunted him for the better part of an hour. He sits - knees bent, elbows out, hands splayed, head down – to wait for the others. First Steve, then Dan and finally Kevin top-out and do the same. Shoulder to shoulder, covered in sweat they sit together and face the road called Stoney Fork.
Eventually, after water, food, ever-relaxing heart rates, and a few somber minutes of shared silence, someone asks the question on everyone’s minds. “Why have we been riding so many horrible, horrible dirt roads?”
From our current perspective, three years and most of the country later, we now know the Pacific Northwest is home to some of America’s greatest dirt roads. The gravel connector roads in Rapha North America’s backyard are special and joyous. So special in fact that many nearly demand, even beg, for higher speeds than their paved counterparts. After all, the Rapha Continental was born here.
That being said; unimproved roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, are not requirements just variations on a theme. And let’s make it clear, not all unpaved roads are created equal.
Outside of Memphis you will wish you had never started.
In Arkansas, between swamps and along the top of levees, they’re uneven and busted.
North Carolina, in thick humid woods, the backroads are rocky and rutted.
In West Virginia they’re just brutal and wild, and long.
The Midwest sees them sink, slip and slide - absorbing speed, momentum and energy instead of water.
They never end in Lincoln, Nebraska
In California they’re often impassible with double-over-head washboards. Southern California shows promise but sand and breaking bumps are a constant. Northern California’s are cruel and will break wheels.
Though typically meaner and definitely steeper than in the Northwest, the Northeast offers hundreds of miles of wonderful dirt and gravel roads.
In the Rockies the dirt is sublime.
The Continental is for the most part about the path less taken. About putting in more than might necessarily be required. Because at the end of a ride riddled and run with dirt; socks ruined, any exposed skin a mess of sweat and mud, knees bleeding, a layer of sticky dust coating every inch of your bike, the sense of satisfaction is stronger and more palpable than after a ride without dirt.
Unpaved roads are difficult and avoidable, but then again, so is cycling.