In 1827, a stone stack cold blast furnace 30 feet square and 30 feet high named "Lucy Selina" was constructed at Longdale, nestled in the valley formed by North and Brushy Mountain. Iron ore, limestone, and charcoal were fed in through the top. Combustion and smelting was caused by a cold air blast from the water-powered bellows (Cappon 1957:33).
The Lucy Selina, and her sister blast furnaces, were used to produce Confederate iron in the Civil War. Immediately after the war, in 1865, the furnaces were abandoned.
But Lucy wasn't quite dead yet! In 1874, the Lucy Selina, updated and renamed Longdale No. 1, produced Virginia's first coke smelted iron. The furnace continued pumping out heavy metal until 1911. Today, we enjoy the byproducts of ore production by playing in the woods on bikes, horses, and foot in the Longdale Furnace Recreation Area.
The Longdale ride starts on state route 770, a mile or so down road from the actual Longdale Recreation Area. 770 turns off route 60, 8 miles from 220 east of Clifton Forge. The road starts out paved, then turns dirt just before the parking area on right. The loop begins there.
Climb 770 by turning right out of parking area. You'll savor a serene forest service road for 3 miles, or 40 minutes, without any breaks whatsoever. Not too steep, just incessant. The major landmark signaling your arrival to North Mountain's ridge is a good-sized tower. You'll see it, along with the arc of your remaining 400 vertical left of climbing, about a half-mile before the summit.
Once there, you'll turn right at the intersection, going a short way to the right turn at the singletrack. The trail is obvious, taking off short and steep. From there, the views, the trail, the experience is simply amazing. In about 2/10ths, you'll arrive at a major rock overlook that exposes all of God's glory looking eastward over Lake Robertson, Big House Mountain, and much too much to convey in words. This is premium living atop North Mountain.
The trail stays prominent and rocky for a bit more before changing character entirely. The oft narrow ridge takes on a leafy, hardwood character, and remains mostly so for the 3 miles until the descent. Mostly ride-able, with a few kicker dismounts, the trail is outstanding and wild. A few areas will remind you of another North Mountain, aka Dragon's Back, although far less rocky overall. That is, until, Pete's Cave, an altogether different section that must be experienced.
It's a boulder convention, big boulders. The staircase through the rock walls yields to a narrow crevasse... yes, that's the trail. This steep limestone hallway is a challenge to navigate while huffing, grunting an somehow stuffing the bike through. Once to the top, park your machine and go the the stacks on the right for the vista you bought your ticket to see. Interstate 64 lies below, with Mill Mountain along with all the Alleghenies best work laid out before you in a display that would make Rembrandt melt. The boulder is cracked with crevasses, some deep. The main slice held snow 15 feet below on this 82 degree day! Jump gingerly across, it's a little freaky.
Back on the trail, you've got about a half mile left, with one short kicker, and some nice rolling fun stuff. You'll finally get an excellent descent section just before the turn (wished the ridge went on a bit longer!). A sign To Longdale shows your path. The downhill is often incredible, sidehill, off camber, sometimes without much bench. The woods are big and open as you drop, finally arriving at a stream cutting the hollow. A few dismounts are required to negotiate the small creek. I imagine it's not too flowy most of the summer, but on this day, there was a little extra water in the mountains.
You arrive at the intersection with the sign To FDR 334. This is your path. The fire road rolls about 2.5 miles before depositing you safely at the parking lot. Ride complete.
The deceptive 12 mile distance requires excellent fitness. This one makes up for distance by working over the full-body. Ride time, and a slow pace, was 2:20. 5 mph! Gotta love these tough Appalachian Mountains!