It started on Twitter although it has been asked many times. Why do cyclists ride on the road or in the street when there’s a perfectly fine bike trail available? This time it was posed by Mark Kaboly, Senior Writer for The Athletic covering the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This could be an honest question wondering what decision-making goes into the process for a cyclist to choose the road. More likely it was a passive-aggressive shot at cyclists for daring to use the road. And it got the desired responses.
I know better than to engage in a “discussion” (argument) on Twitter but wanted to use the forum to answer the question myself. I don’t know the stretch of road in question but there are plenty of road/trail choices in Virginia I have to make every day.
I remember in 2012 when I rode more than 5,000 miles without a crash or fall over except for one. It was on the bike path on Rte 234 when a small dog on a leash crossed my path. I swerved right into the ditch to miss the dog and its owner. The overcrowding, slow traffic, and unpredictability of trail users add to the dangers one encounters.
Like today, on the trail on Va. Rte 123, I came to the shopping center. A car was coming out just as his light had turned red and the ped-head (for the trail) and the traffic light were green. I inched out watching him. His head was turned hard left to see if he could beat that traffic while making a right turn on red. I was in the intersection and he almost hit me without looking. These trail crossings are very dangerous.
And that was my response to Mark and just a couple of the responses. To continue reasons why cyclists may not take the trail:
7. Maintenance on the trails is almost non-existent. They build them once and then forget about them Many develop huge cracks, cracks enough to swallow a skinny tire or cause an inexperienced cyclist to crash. In addition, some trails, especially the Mount Vernon Trail south of Alexandria, are so rooted they are almost impossible to ride but that trail sure looks nice when you’re driving by on the George Washington Parkway.
Maybe the most egregious are the sewer pipes that extend above trail level. These can cause a serious accident yet the county merely paints them.
8. Cyclists may want to take the road because it’s faster than a trail. Bikes are transportation and a cyclist may need to get to an appointment on time – just like a driver.
9. A cyclist may be wanting or need the cardio benefits of riding hard and not easy. Worst are the trails on Hilton Head Island which weave around trees and are popular with our little cyclists. But for exercise value, these offer little compared to the street.
10. Strava. Yes, there is worldwide competition to be the fastest in a certain segment between two points. For many segments, the fastest route is on the road.
So there are 10 reasons a cyclist may choose to ride on the trail. Ultimately the decision is up to the cyclist, not a driver.
Near Little Orleans, Maryland on a backcountry road last week there was one car on the road. Behind me. The driver pulled beside me and yelled for me to go ride on the bike trail. What he didn’t know was the Western Maryland Rail Trail ends at the Indigo Tunnel but drivers see an unconnected segment at Little Orleans and assume it is one contiguous trail. It isn’t.
In my mind, I yelled at him to drive on the Interstate. And he told me he has the right to drive where he wants. Exactly. And we have the right to ride where we want (subject to restrictions such as super-highways). But that was in my mind only. We’re just not at the point that drivers understand that cyclists can choose where to ride. Sometimes it is on a trail and sometimes it is on the road even when the trail is available.
It was 1974 when I first drove National Highway (aka U.S. Rte 40) up and over Sideling Hill. It is a four-mile climb and my little car struggled to go up in 4th gear. Well, it never did. Sometimes third gear and always downshifting to second gear to take the horseshoe curve at the top.
Interstate-68 was constructed and finished, at least parts, by 1991. It which followed some of old US 40. The most impressive feature on I-68 is the cut in the mountain so the highway could go through a gap instead of crossing all the way over the top.
There are only a handful of crossings over this ridge. One of those in Pennsylvania near Breezewwod is now the Abandoned Turnpike. The tunnel is one that I have ridden through probably a dozen or so times.
But today would be about the climb. I parked at the C&O Canal parking lot in Hancock. I began with a short climb and the first four miles of the profile looked like sharks’ teeth. At Mile 4 the climb began.
Although the speed limit was 55 (or was it 50?) mph the very few cars all gave me wide berth. Or often it wasn’t necessary as there was a wide shoulder I could use although it still had some winter dirt in the lane.
This was my first real use of the new display of my Wahoo. As it displayed the profile of the climb each section was color-coded as to grade. That was pretty cool.
I didn’t race up the climb but kept a steady pace. I concentrated on remaining seated as I often pop out of the saddle more than most cyclists. I would say this was relatively easy. I also left room for improvement if I would do this again.
Once over the top and a quick stop at the scenic overlook, I began the descent and squeezed the brakes. It was windy, the road, while straight, wasn’t smooth, and there was a sharp turn-off just one mile down the mountain. Once on McFarland Road, I needed to squeeze the brakes a bit tighter. The road was steeper, 10% in many parts, and technical (lots of curves).
I had mapped out a Pennsylvania portion and followed High Germany Road. It was only two miles to the state line but it was more climbing to the Mason-Dixon Line. The border was not marked other than by a Fulton County sign.
I turned onto a gravel country road which was okay because I expected some gravel. I did not know this road was not it. A review of the map shows this wasn’t supposed to be gravel. It should have been paved (according to the map).
And then things started to unravel. I followed Buck Valley Road and my computer indicated to bear left which was a gravel road. I chose to stay on pavement until Wahoo was determined for me to make a hard left up a gravel road.
It was sketchy and I was going deeper into the woods. I came to Sideling Hill Creek and there was no bridge. No crossing. Wahoo wanted me to follow a hunting trail but I turned around.
I was a little bit lost and a little bit scared. I was out of food and my water was low. I hoped for a cell signal enough to find a map and was able to get one. I could see the route I needed to get me to Orleans.
When I came to the climb to Town Hill I decided to forgo it. Wahoo said my next turn, here, was in three miles so I knew the climb was 1.5 miles. My legs didn’t have it. I was beat up from 3500’ of gain in 25 miles. Since it was an up and back, or up and down, I decided to skip it and head back to Hancock.
The Orleans Road was delightful. It was six miles but I don’t remember any traffic. The first three miles were rollers followed by a delightful three-mile downhill. It was probably a 4-5% downhill – not too fast where I needed to touch the brakes. It was the most enjoyable part of the ride.
I came to Orleans and passed Bill’s place. I recognized it from my Pittsburgh to D.C. trip in 2004. I had planned my day on stopping here for lunch and I picked the week he took his summer fishing vacation. And it was closed. Today there were two cyclists here, outside. It may have been closed today too although more likely they were just milling around before leaving.
I had mapped to follow New Germany Road and the one-mile climb away from the Potomac River did not look very appealing compared to the alternative. The alternative was the smooth-as-silk Western Maryland Rail Trail extension. I hadn’t been this far and hoped that I would have 18 miles of paved trail back to Hancock.
I jumped on the trail and went the wrong way. Not crazy. I just wanted to see how far it would go in the opposite direction. Not far was the answer. It was less than a mile (0.8) when it came to the Potomac River. There is a beautiful bridge here waiting to be converted to trail use but it looks like it might remain closed forever. Apparently, West Virginia, on the other side of the bridge, is not real thrilled about spending money expanding the trail into the Mountain State.
After turning around I followed the trail a mile and a half where it ended at the Indigo Tunnel. A ramp takes users down to the C&O Canal Towpath where one must ride a little more than two miles to pick up the rail trail again.
Paving the trail and opening it through the tunnel seems like a simple proposition. Except there is a colony of endangered bats that live in the tunnel. So for now the bats win and that’s okay with me.
Except that I was riding a road bike today and the towpath is the towpath. Suggestion to the National Park Service. How about paving the two miles of the twopath so the users of the rail trail will have a paved trail the entire way?
One back on the trail it was familiar territory. When I first started riding this trail the eastern portion was very rooted. This is from Hancock (MP 10) to Big Pool (MP 0). That was the first section completed. The western section, up to MP 22, was newer and the tree roots had not started peeking through the surface of the trail. That has changed in the last few years and today it was very rooted, especially near MP 20.
But it was sure nice to have almost 30 miles of flat after all the climbing. The legs were sore but I avoided any mechanicals or crashes. Life is good!
IF I do this ride again. Pennsylvania is still doable but must stick to all pavement. Skip Schultz road by staying on High Germany Road to Harmonia Road. That probably would add 1.5 miles. Then stay on Buck Valley Road. There are no gravel shortcuts here. Lastly, make the climb to Town Hill B&B for the best views around. And take High Germany Road out of Little Orleans. It is a one-mile climb but followed by great downhills before merging back with the WMRT. It also avoids riding on the canal.
I enjoyed this ride so much last year I wanted to do it again. And this time I invited, Margaret, one of our Roosters Racing, Inc. team to come and join me as well.
In the Everglades, we headed off on the tram trail. I thought that this wasn’t the best season to see alligators but we would make this work. Actually, it was a great time.
I misremembered when I was here last. It was March 2021. In other words, the same time as I rode last year by two weeks. That wouldn’t make much of a difference.
I thought that I rode earlier in the day last year but a check of the GPS file shows I started about the same time on both rides (1:00-1:30 p.m.).
Last year there were some alligators on the side of the trail. This year it seemed they were all hiding. But in the end, it was probably about the same as last year. In reading this is probably the best time of the year. It is still dry season and not overly hot. In the summer the gators are more submerged as they try to escape the hear.
I love this ride. The key is to not go too fast. Slow down and enjoy the roses. Or alligators. I probably saw 15-20 alligators.
We rode and I called out “gator!” I don’t think Margaret was thrilled about seeing them. At least I can say for sure she wasn’t as thrilled as I was about seeing them. I loved seeing the gators.
The ride is a 15-mile loop. Both years I rode in a counter-clockwise direction. Most of the gators can be seen on the portion going out to the observation tower and not much coming back.
I enjoy this ride so much. Will I do it again? I hope so.
About to board a party bus for the 2.5 hour trip from Tampa to Fort Myers. There are six of us on the bus. The others, there were about 35 riders today, got rides from somewhere.
This was Day 2 of a 200-mile charity bike ride. It has been 10 years since I last rode a double century – at RAGBRAI. With no rides longer than 15-20 miles most of the winter, would I even be able to do one century?
Yesterday went well and today went even better. The 100-mile second day was really 106 miles. But at no point were my legs ever hurting me or my energy level low.
The ride started when the A riders left the start line. About a minute later the B riders would go. I had looked at the group of four guys and thought I was in the right group (C). Yet I rode with those guys yesterday until I dropped them so maybe I should be with them. But I let them go.
Another minute or so and then the C group pulled out. There seemed to be 12 of us and I immediately went to the front. The others lined up behind me and I carefully pegged my speed at 16 mph. Our riding speed was supposed to be 15-17 mph and by my calculation, 16 mph was in that range.
“Too fast! You’re going too fast!,” I heard a voice, or maybe two, from within the group. This was not going well. I slowed to 15 then after five minutes decided to give others a chance. I moved to the back and sat behind Mark.
We were going 14 mph. I was not happy. I was also concerned about being in the sun too long today and needed to go faster. I could see about one mile ahead and could barely see some blinking red flashers on the four bikes of the B group.
It was more instinct than thought but I pulled beside Mark and told him that I was going to bridge up to the B group. I’m not sure what Mark may have thought but I only shared my plan with him. What’s the worse that could happen? Try and fail. But at least I had to try.
The line was stretched out on the shoulder or in a bike lane. I was 12th wheel when I took off. When I passed the front rider I was going 24 mph and still increasing my speed. I soon settled in and looked for landmarks up the road. The first was a pole and it took me more than 3:00 from the time I saw the group pass it until I got there. Then it was 2:15. And followed by 1:45 and 0:55.
When I got to 0:30 I caught a support vehicle. The driver asked if I was trying to catch the group and I replied that I was. He then asked me if he should go tell them to slow down. LOL. “No,” I replied. “I will catch them.”
If my numbers are right I had chased them for more than 16 minutes (lap counter on Wahoo). I chased for 5.3 miles. That was probably the most or second-most enjoyable segment on this two-day ride. There’s something very satisfying about doing a chase and being successful.
In retrospect, I probably should have gone right by then to the front of their group. Then I would have had five surprised faces instead of one. But I pulled in behind John who was surprised to see a shadow next to his. It was early morning and going north, we had nice long shadows to our left.
But there were five instead of four that I saw leave the start line. Then a woman peeled off the front. It was Laura who I had ridden with yesterday. She greeted me loudly as I did her.
The winds were strong. Almost exclusively headwinds as we were headed north. At Mile 50 we came to a rest stop and two riders dropped out. One said it wasn’t fun riding in the wind. We were down to a group of four.
However, we also entered more rural roads and we had a support driver who was willing to let us draft off him. I was always willing to hug a bumper but didn’t want to hog a bumper. And we encouraged our weakest link, a rider whom we were always dropping. Once he got the hang of drafting at 15 mph the driver sped up to 17 mph and our rider quit. “I can’t ride at 17 (mph),” he said. This was in the B group – 18-20 mph. The C group, in which I started was 15-17 and we had a rider who couldn’t ride at 17. The more I thought about this the more I thought I was right about my riding speed. It’s just that everybody else was way off.
At a lull on a backcountry road, I worked on getting our group to do a rotating pace line. After 3-4 minutes one of our riders said “good luck with your chain gang” and quit cooperating. That was very unusual. After the ride, he said to me, “well this wasn’t my first rodeo.” I guess he was too good to cooperate with us. Oh well.
I asked Christopher why he was on a cancer ride. He told me he lost his mother, Theresa, 60, to brain cancer one year ago this weekend. I asked him what he thought about our two riders quitting. He told me that he was riding in honor of his mother and he was going to finish the ride no matter what.
I shared the same conviction. I was riding for every name on those stem caps I had. As soon as I put a new name on the bike I was riding. There was no way I would jump in a car.
Chris also told me he is a plastic surgeon in Miami and his wife is a surgeon living in Minneapolis. I think she is finishing her residency and they will live in Miami. But she flew down to visit him this weekend and he took off on a two-day cancer ride. This is what love looks like.
I never felt any energy depletion. I wanted to ride. At the last rest stop, I put on the name Jacob. And I knew that “Jake the Hero” would get me home. I would be riding for him but also with him.
We picked up some stragglers and Chris and I went to the front the last five miles. I heard people calling out to go slow so we would all finish together. Okay, I could do that. It didn’t mean anything to me if I was in a group or a group of one.
We finished in a small park. My luggage was there so I changed into casual clothes and out of my riding kit. They had dinner in a picnic shelter catered by Mission BBQ. This was my kind of dinner.
We were to board at 5:00 p.m. but are waiting on one person to finish. We had been told yesterday that anyone out on course at 4:00 p.m. would be SAGged in but I guess that didn’t happen. And I’m okay with that.
Then she finishes. She appears to be one of the oldest participants. What an effort she gave to finish. I don’t mind being delayed so she could complete her ride. What a contrast to the two in our group who just quit at Mile 50.
What a ride. Two Hundred (206) miles fighting cancer. With no real winter training. I like this!
My Uncle Dan became a widower in 2020. My mother was already a widow and the two of them faced the possibility that they would never see each other again. I promised my mother that if she could sit 12-14 hours, one-way, in a car, I’d make a trip from Pennsylvania to Florida so she could visit her brother.
Over the winter I started looking for a cancer charity ride and found the Pan-Florida Challenge. This was a 200-mile ride from Fort Myers to Sebring then Sebring to Tampa.
What follows are my observations. I have no complaints, just observations.
I checked in yesterday at a Brewery in Bonita Springs. Nice volunteers checked my name off a list and handed me a bag that contained stickers for my bike and helmet plus a bib with my number to wear. Also included were an event jersey and bib shorts that I ordered.
The event hotel was the Hyatt Place in Fort Myers. When I checked in I learned their breakfast was not until 7:00 a.m. We were supposed to check-in at the event by 6:30 a.m. I thought I’d pass a fast food restaurant on the way to the event but I was wrong.
My GPS with a saved location took me out in the country and I went by the entrance without realizing it. Mild panic set in as I was thinking I’d miss the start. My bike’s Wahoo computer had the day’s ride on it so I turned it on and answered yes when it asked if it should navigate to the ride start. And that is how I got to the event on time.
My biggest decision was what to wear. I had been given an event jersey but for two days which day should I wear it? If both, then I’d be trying to wash it later tonight. I decided to save it for tomorrow and wore my Rooster Racing Inc. kit today.
At the starting line I could see that only 3-4 other riders were not wearing an event jersey. I was fine with that because I would wear it tomorrow.
I wanted to do something very special for this ride. I had stem caps made for my bike to ride in honor or memory of cancer warriors.
I would begin the ride in memory of my wonderful cousin, Kay Walborn. Kay died in 2018 from brain cancer.
We had to declare a riding speed before the event. The A group was 21-25 mph. The B group was 18-20 mph. The C group was 15-17 mph. I knew I could ride in the B group but for a recreational cancer ride I registered for the C group. I was prepared for riding 100 miles solo and 16-17 was an honest assessment. Honest.
The A riders were sent off first followed by the B riders one minute (or so) later. The C group was sent off and I was somewhere in the middle of maybe 12 riders when we reached the main road. Almost immediately I was in a group with two women, Lucinda and Kristine, and one man. Lucinda took a lengthy pull until I went to the front to take over. The guy dropped off and the three of us rode to rest stop one.
At rest stop one my priorities were change stem cap, refill bottles, grab something to eat, then roll on. But we seemingly grouped up, maybe all of Group C, and rolled out together.
I pulled out of line while on a country road to ride double file. I was next to Dave from Westfield, Indiana, when he asked me if he was riding on a flat. I looked and told him he was. He both called out “flat” and pulled off. No one came with us. I was with him for 10-12 minutes when his flat was fixed. Dave told me he was riding the Metric route and was turning around at that point. I was by myself.
If someone else had stopped at least there would be two of us to “chase.” But I was ok by myself. And sort of enjoyed it. A SAG vehicle came by and the driver must have wondered what I was doing. I was beginning to understand this was a ride where people stayed together, much like the Saturday morning no-drop shop ride. And I was all by myself, through no fault of my own I will add. The driver asked if I was OK and I assured him I was.
At rest stop two the group was resting. I pulled in, changed a stem cap, grabbed some water and a bar, and off we rode. Into the wind. We were going mostly north and there was a strong headwind coming from the north. We stayed together, probably a dozen of us, with me dropping only once for a photo op. I quickly caught back on.
And then the day would change for me. We came to rest stop three.
After quickly refilling bottles, eating half a banana, using the port-a-john, and grabbing a bag of trail mix for the road, I informed Lucinda that I was going to soft pedal until they caught me. I don’t do well standing around as lactic acid builds up and my legs feel like crap.
After 15 minutes and they still hadn’t caught me a vehicle came by and pulled right in front of me. I followed him closely – 18, 20, 22, 25, 28 mph – all into a wicked headwind. We did this for more than five miles until we caught the first group on the road. I went by two men then caught two women who had their own support vehicle. I felt good enough to blow by them and go ahead but was content enough to ride with them.
My ride partners for the final 20 miles were Laura and Kristina. Kristina was from New York City and visiting her parents. I asked her if she ever drafted a vehicle and she hadn’t. I went up to the car and encouraged her to join me. Eventually she did and then she was hooked. It was beautiful to witness. I tried to get Laura to draft but she finally revealed a secret. The driver was her husband.
We finished our 100 (99) and I went back to make sure it was 100. Then I went back again and found some of my group coming in. Lucinda had never ridden a century before and she needed to turn the odometer to 100 so she and I went out again to get the final mile.
At the finish, for the third time, my support driver thanked me for knowing how to draft. He said he offered a couple other guys the same courtesy but no one knew how or would draft off him.
At the hotel I found they did not have a reservation for me. I had inadvertently signed up for the 100-mile ride and not the 200-mile ride which I was doing. Thankfully our event director had an extra room to be used so that worked out ok.
Dinner was provided and was part awards and recognition as well. It was in a building between the Residence Inn and Tru by Hilton, right on Little Lake Jackson. Good food and great location.
I worried most about how my body would respond. Riding every day in preparation is one thing. But doing one-hour ride in winter of 14-15 miles is not the same as riding 50 and 60 mile rides. But I did ok. No twinges of cramps. My big question is how the second day, a hundred after a hundred, would go.
What to wear. I may have missed it but saw no guidance on when to wear the PFC kit. Since I was riding for two days and had one jersey, I made the decision for the second day. I did this in part because I wanted to finish the 200-mile ride in the PFC kit. This is similar to Ride the Rockies where the cool kids know to wait until the last day to wear their RTR jersey for that year.
I would say that today 90% wore a PFC jersey. They were either blue or yellow depending on fundraising level. But there was a special green one – for survivors. I only saw one ride, Lucinda, wearing the green. And tomorrow, I will be in green.
◆ Everyone has a story. Some I made stem caps for. But riding for others empowers me and I talked to someone today about every single donor.
Note: Any names which may appear in this post on riders’ bibs that are similar to the names of people mentioned herein, are purely coincidental.
This started as a review of the Legacy Trail. So I can start there. I stayed overnight in Brandon, Florida, and was headed south to Fort Myers. I wanted to ride the Legacy Trail but did not do my homework as to my starting location.
I told Siri to find the Legacy Trail using both Waze and Apple Maps. Neither succeeded. When I ended up in Venice I made my way over on Venice Ave. to where I thought I would find the trail.
There is parking at the bus terminal in Venice. According to TrailLink.com (which I should have noted) there is additional parking:
Patriots Park (800 Venetia Bay Blvd., Venice)
Nokomis Community Park (234 Nippino Trail East, Nokomis)
Laurel Park (509 Collins Rd., Laurel)
Oscar Scherer State Park (1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey)
Bay Street Park (300 Bay St., Osprey)
Potter Park (8587 Potter Park Dr., Sarasota)
Payne Park (2010 Adams Lane, Sarasota)
I ended up at Nokomis Community Park. I found the trail and then headed north. I intended to head south for 1-2 miles knowing I was close to Venice. I thought I had parked east of the trail so a left turn would take me south. I also learned about the directional arrow on my Wahoo (after two years of using it). The N is not at the top of the map/computer but at the bottom of an arrow pointing up. And so when I was headed north the N was on the bottom of the screen which, in my mind, confirmed I was going south. Confused? I was.
Did you know there is a 15 mph speed limit on the trail? You will as there are signs everywhere. Even this recreational rider, into the wind, had a hard time keeping the speed to 15 mph.
The trail is straight. The trail is flat except for two overpasses. The overpass by the train depot at the southern end might be the coolest fixture on the trail.
Being a Friday morning I can’t judge whether the trail was crowded by local standards. I saw very few runners/walkers and no dogs. Don’t they like dogs here? I also saw plenty of trikes. Not just three-wheeled bicycles but trikes with Amish.
My initial plan was to ride the length of the Legacy Trail and back. Then I would meet my friend, Darrin, for lunch. But the trail has a reputation as being straight and boring.
But any new trail to me is exciting the first time. The pavement was excellent, perhaps the best I have ever ridden. Smooth pavement and no tree roots.
The trail lacks fixtures. No tunnels and no great trestles. There were a couple of bridges next to the old rail line but that was it is one was looking for rail history.
The trail crosses some busy streets and I stopped and waited for the ped-head light at each. Some seemingly were pretty long which adds to a local complaint of the trail – too many at grade crossings.
When I reached the end of the trail in Sarasota I headed over to the waterfront. I wanted a photo at Unconditional Surrender, the statue that commemorates the kiss in Times Square at the end of World War II.
I had already decided not to return via the Legacy Trail. Was it boring? Or was the coastal route more exciting?
I headed out to Siesta Key. It’s a beautiful strip of land and overly crowded. There was a bike lane for much of it and I almost went down hard on it. At one point it was next to a sidewalk and I had to transition from bike lane to the sidewalk. I did not turn sharply but was going to ease over gradually. There was a lip and my tire caught briefly in it. But I made it and was very thankful I did not crash.
Leaving the island I came to the Tamiami Trail, aka Hwy 41. There was a bike lane on this high-speed highway. I will stop short of recommending any highway riding but for this stretch neither would I discourage it.
I was on the highway for six miles going south then turned on Blackburn Point Road out to Casey Key. I crossed a one-lane steel grate bridge over the waterway and was on Casey Key.
What a joy this ride was. The next four miles were the finest four miles I had in Florida. I regret I could not capture it in photos. On the right side of the narrow road was the Gulf of Mexico. On the left side was the waterway/bay (Gulf Intracoastal Waterway). If there was enough room there was a beautiful home, maybe even a small mansion. This really did look like the most perfect place to live. Or ride.
I rode back over to where I parked and decided I needed to the last mile of the Legacy Trail down to Venice. I was glad I did.
The last mile or first mile features the Venice Train Station which appears to be a city bus and commuter parking center. Here is where the feature fly-over ramp is also.
I finished the ride then drove back up the highway to meet Darrin. Had I known where I was going and where we’d meet, I would have stopped in on my ride. Or if he knew he would have said to stop at Mad Moe’s in Osprey.
But it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed sitting outside.
While this is a cycling blog, this post is a little different. Just a little off the normal track so to speak.
I was headed to Florida with my mother for the Pan-Florida Challenge, a 200-mile cancer charity cycling event. Rather than drive, I decided to try the Auto Train.
The train departs from Lorton, Va., which is about 10 miles from my home and about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. It goes to Sanford, Florida, which is about 80 miles from our first destination. We couldn’t do much better as far as those logistics.
I am not going to do a cost comparison. The Auto Train is more costly than driving. I also think I got nailed with a fare jump from looking the day before. But we paid $1000 for two with a sleeper car.
Driving would have been 800 miles (30 mpg) and gas was averaging $4.15 per gallon. We would have stopped en route and needed a hotel.
We traveled during a time COVID restrictions were in place, the main one was wearing a mask while in the public areas of the train. One doesn’t need a sleeper car (room) as coach seats are available. But I wasn’t going to subject my mother to wear a mask for 16 hours straight. In our room, we did not need a mask.
For rooms, we had a choice of a smaller and cheaper roomette that did not have a private bathroom. Or, as we did, a room that sleeps two or a family room that sleeps four.
The train was scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. Check-in was between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. This is for loading cars. We were in line by 12:30 p.m. I checked in and was not required to show my reservation on the app or an ID. Simply name. My mother never presented herself to the agent. We waited outside, it was a beautiful day, until 2:30 at which time we boarded.
We had to go up steps to the second level of the car. The corridor was small and we found our room – B. Inside, the main “sofa” was two seats side by side that would open down into a bed. There was a rear-facing seat as well. The bathroom was a one-seater and had a shower as well. There was a sign stating that it might be easier to shower seated (on the closed toilet). Maybe if one was traveling 2-3 days but this would be an overnight trip. No shower is necessary.
Our car attendant was Rob, a very nice young man from Fort Washington, Maryland. He came to our car after we were underway to get our food orders. He brought dinner to the car and then came in at 10:00 p.m. to convert the room for sleeping. The dinner was actually very good.
The top portion of the cabin was pulled down and formed a top bunk. The bedding was comfortable enough but we were on a train. There was rock and rolling, not quite violently, but shaking at times.
Breakfast was ala carte and was four cars back from ours. I donned the mask and went for a walk, returning with two hot breakfast sandwiches. There was coffee in our car. Rob came in and removed the bedding and restored the seats to their upright position.
The train pulled out of the station at Lorton around 3:50 p.m. We seemed to be on a siding for 45 minutes before rolling. I imagine that was coupling the cars carrying the automobiles to the train.
The train is non-stop except for a crew change and refueling in Florence, South Carolina, around 11:30 p.m. The train runs on freight train tracks and is at the mercy of freight schedules. It may or may not be on time. We were pretty close, arriving 15 minutes behind schedule.
After we got off the train, and gave a generous trip to Rob, we made our way outside and waited for our car. It cost $75 for priority unloading. They would take up to 30 cars for this service. For everybody else, they announced the cars would be offloaded in completely random order. It did not matter if your car was loaded first or loaded last. It was in one of those six auto carriers all parked side by side.
The first cars rolled off at 9:47. Our car took 52 minutes and was near the end.
So it was expensive. But it was stress-free. The average moving speed (52 mph) wasn’t great. One could drive faster but are subject to weather, road, and traffic delays. If it was free it certainly would be the way to go. But there is a lot to factor in whether it’s right for you or for me the next time.
I took it one way because my return trip was going to be direct to Somerset, Pa. and included bike riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I’m glad to have it as an option.
It was a group ride with Prince William Cycling Club billed as “Shake off the dust and clean off the rust.” The departure location was the Old Bust Head Brewing Company in Warrenton.
I arrived on a cold morning (45º) with plenty of time but fiddled with my contact lenses. By the time I rolled up to the start at 8:59 a.m. (I could have moved quicker.)
There were about 40 cyclists but in two groups leaving at 9:00 a.m. I had to make sure to find the faster/longer group. If there was a division at the start I could certainly tell by the riders in each group. I also figured, correctly, that the faster group (15-16 mph and 40 miles) would be smaller than the 30-mile group. But we were in one large group and I needed to make sure as we rolled out. I also asked as we pedaled away.
There were nine of us. John (Orange Pinarello on Facebook), Charlie, Ed, Jamie, and Louis, three others, and me. I was the oldest.
On a group ride, no one says they check out everyone’s bikes but everybody does. Who’s on the neon carbon bike? Who has the oldest bike? Anyone with a classic bike? And who is riding a gravel bike on a road ride? Uh, that would be me.
I was perfectly dressed. But I guess we all were. Most worse leg or knee warmers. With an expected temperature of 60º, I wore my Roosters Racing kit. I had a light Roosters jacket which meant I was the guy in black/grey on a black/grey bike. I had knee warmers but my screaming color socks from Ridge Supply gave me a little color. And black “cookie” long-fingered gloves. No headcover under my helmet.
Only four of us said they uploaded the route to their computers and I don’t know who they were. I did and my Wahoo was working perfectly.
Well, I wasn’t quite ready to roll. I didn’t have my gloves on. So I stayed at the back to get them adjusted then joined the group. We stayed together for a while. There was a split at the traffic light in Catharpin so the front group pulled over waited for the back group.
As we rolled into the country we gapped two riders. I do believe it was one rider and a sweeper. We were rolling along at 18-19 mph and someone asked us to slow the pace to no more than 16. I went to the front then did nose-breathing riding. Easy pace. After two miles I was told I caused a further split in the group. Damn me. We pulled over and waited for everyone to catch up.
We came to a country store where we caught the slower group. Since they left after us they obviously went a shorter way. They left before us and we caught them again in Cassanova but quickly turned onto our longer route.
It was at the store that John remembered where we had ridden together before. Two years ago I was riding from Manassas to home and he asked if he could ride along. He had remembered my Seinfeld story. At first, I was confused and then we both said “Delores!”
In October 2019, I was at Phil’s Cookie Fondo in Malibu, California. I happened to recognize the actress that plated Delores in the Seinfeld episode where he didn’t know his girlfriend’s name and it went too far that he could no longer ask her. So he had to figure it out. It was a classic episode and the actress, Susan Walters, posed for a photo with me. I talk too much.
At 27 miles in, one of our riders, Bill, hit his wall. I told John I’d sweep and ride with Bill but John dropped back too so both of us did. We lost sight of the group. At Mile 34 we caught them as they had waited. I lost Bill and clawed my way to the front three riders. I guess I wanted everyone to know that I had not been dropped and could be riding at the front if I wanted to. I caught them at Mile 37 then let them go as this was a double left-hand turn. I wasn’t sure who knew the route and felt someone should wait for the stragglers to show them the way.
I counted seven riders then, after five minutes, decided to ride back to find our last two. I went 3/4 of a mile, uphill, before I saw them coming. Briefly, because so much time had elapsed, I had begun to worry that they took their own way back. But once I made contact we rode back down to the Battle of Coffee Hill then toured up Rogues road. Bill had to stop. Cramps. Badly.
Our game plan was for me to ride back to the start/finish (5.5 miles) then check on them. If they needed up I would go back and pick them up. I got back, called, and Bill had stopped completely and John was waiting with him. So I went and picked him up, This was Bill’s first outdoor ride of the year. It was my 60th.
The ride was supposed to be 15-16 mph. I came in at 17 and it would have been higher except for the 3-4 miles I rode sweeping with Bill. John’s ride was 16.5 mph so he lost 0.5 mph sweeping Bill. I may have lost that much too. I could not find someone in the first group to compare to but since we rode together that would have been my average.
But it was a beautiful late-winter day. And it served as a reminder that I have three weeks before my double-century ride in Florida. Need to get in the miles.
John thanked me for helping. If not me, then who? Hopefully, anyone in our group would have stepped up but no one did. I’m sure John would have but we had the luxury of him waiting with Bill for me to come back and pick him up. I had no room for John.
Slowly, many of the events that disappeared in 2020 came back in 2021, most with modifications, and usually to the size of the groups. But I was able to join in some although the signature event, the Livestrong Challenge, in Austin, Texas, was canceled for a second straight year.
MY TOP TEN CYCLING MOMENTS/MEMORIES (In no particular order)
See you later Alligator
Alpine Loop Gran Fondo
Ride to Conquer Caner
Sea Gull Century
1000 Days 1000 Rides
10. Oh Vesuvius. I cramped on this climb in 2007 and then was pulled off my bike by paramedics on the climb to Reid’s Gap. I vowed someday I would get revenge. In December I went and rode these climbs. Vesuvius was no problem but Reid’s Gap – I simply did not remember how hard of climb that is. The last mile is equal to that of Mount Washington. But I made it. Next up is Reid’s Gap revenge.
9. See you later Alligator 🐊 – In March I rode in Shark Valley in the Everglades and had to dodge alligators on the trail. What fun! I would like to ride this one again.
8. Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. So satisfying in many ways. I PR’d on Shenandoah Mountain and Reddish Knob and Mole Hill. I finished second in my age group but my granddaughters were on course and at the finish to see me. This was very satisfying.
7. Texas4000. When Canada closed their border it forced the Texas4000 to reroute. They created a Smokys route which came through Virginia. We gave them a lunch stop in Linden and I rode with them on Skyline Drive.
6. Clingman’s Dome. This was not quite a bucket list climb but in November I was able to ride from the visitors’ center at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Clingman’s Dome. Visibility was near zero at the top and this was the climb only. No descent. But still a great memory.
5. Ride to Conquer Cancer. Enjoyable ride in which I was concentrating on settings PRs (I was riding solo). At Libby Hill I did a PR which appeared good enough for the age group classification. But I don’t think their age groups align with Strava. But a happy ride fighting cancer. ♋️
4. Horrible Hundred. This can be a two-day event and I made it that. We enjoyed a sensible paced group ride on Saturday then John Dockins joined me for the first 30 miles on Sunday’s century ride.
3. Sea Gull Century. A ride I always look forward to each year. Although I rode solo I enjoyed jumping in with some of the many Major Taylor Cycling Club groups. They were awesome people.
2. 1000 Days – 1000 Rides. I started in 2019 to celebrate 10 years of survivorship. I rode at least 10 miles every day. And like a bad cycling Forrest Gump impression, I kept riding and riding. On September 26 I hit 1,000. By year’s end, it was 1,096 days and counting.
1. MWARBH. (Otherwise known as Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb) I walked (rode?) away in 2014 after my eighth hillclimb content to never do this event again. Earlier this year I was drawn to the mountain. My time sucked (my worst ever) but it sure was satisfying to finish.
Not quite a Top Ten but had many other memories as well.
TWO RIDES TO PUNXSY
I have been doing a version of this ride from Somerset to Punxsutawney since 2010. It was always one way to a family reunion and I depended on my parents for a ride back after the reunions. I always looked forward to stopping in Northern Cambria to visit Don & Nancy (both now deceased) and with my dad deceased and my mother getting up in age, I think I probably rode this 70-mile route for the last time.
BEST REPRESENTATION OF UNCLE SAM
DID I MISS THE FERRY?
The Historic White’s Ferry, connecting Loudoun County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, remained closed for the year, denying commuters easy access and this cyclist many good miles in Maryland. Will it finally reopen in 2022?
BEST ROAD RIDING
Joplin Road in Prince William County is a windy two-lane road that connects Quantico with Independent Hill. With no shoulders and blind crests and curves, it is normally too dangerous for cyclists. But a bridge was out and made this road perfect for riding. Unfortunately, the bridge repairs were completed by early April and the road is again, best left not ridden.
I WISH I COULD DO THIS AWARD
These chickens were on the summit of the climb over Shenandoah Mountain, U.S. 33, West Virginia. I love them like they’re family.
PASSED BY THE KID
On July 21 near Ashburn. Va., my radar showed a cyclist was gaining on me. I was surprised when this kid on a motorized skateboard passed me. He told me “these things can go really fast.”
WAIT – OHIO IS TOP TEN TOO
In July I rode from Springfield, O. to Cincinnati and back on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a distance of about 80 miles each way. Paved rail trail the entire way.
Last year I bonked badly on a mountainous birthday ride (one mile for every year) in Altoona, Pa. (they have mountains). I vowed this year I would do my birthday ride in Delaware. I didn’t make Delaware but I did make Ohio and rode from Springfield, O. to Cincinnati (Milford), Ohio.
ALMOST A GONER
Tim and Connor went out on the pier into the Potomac River and Connor almost lost his bike. We would have saved the bike.
THAT’S A LOT OF FLATS
Before I rode on Sept. 24 I had a flat that I changed. At Fosters in Manassas it “blew” a second time so I changed it there. When I got home it flatted again so I gave up. Diagnosed it as a hole in the rim tape and replaced it the next day.
HELPING THE HOMELESS
I passed a woman on the bike path next to the Prince William landfill. I saw she was wearing trash bags so I went home and made a Care package for her. She refused all clothing but accepted the food. I’ve seen her twice since and she no longer makes eye contact.
NEW AND DIFFERENT TRAILS
I rode the Mahoning Shadow Trail in Punxsutawney, Pa., the Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia (partial), and the Withlacoochee State Trail in Florida (partial).
Nah. Didn’t make any.
I rode with Tim more than anyone, although most of my miles are solo. But Tim and I enjoyed the roads in Fauquier County and did a couple of longer day trips. We rode the Abandoned Turnpike in Pa. and from Williamsburg to Richmond.
OLD FRIENDS TOO
I did squeeze in a day in Naples, Fla. and see Joe B. (USPS colleague) and Margaret (Roosters). And rode in Culpeper Co. with Margaret in June.
And rode with John (USPS colleague) at the Horrible Hundred in Clermont, Fla. I did see my friend, Erin, in Ohio (no photo).
There were crap days and I tried to choose my routes carefully. This one in Montclair I messed up. But with no significant snowstorms, I was able to ride every day in 2021.
KOM or King of the Mountains. Two years ago I was very happy when I grabbed four of those. But this year – 121!!!! To be fair, many are “trash” – small segments with 10 or fewer participants. But there were a couple where I was best out of 1,000. However, when I ride on the W&OD and there are 30,000 riders competing for a segment, I typically don’t crack the Top 100 although I always strive for #1 in my age group.
DISTANCE – 10,367 miles (16.684 km). This was my second-highest annual total, second only to 2020 (10,500).
There is a slight difference between the two tracking programs. (10,367 vs 10,369).
DAYS RIDDEN: 365 (1,096 consecutive days since Jan. 1, 2019)
WEIGHT: 172 (just a little bit up from end of last year)
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
I have no goals. The consecutive days ridden streak was specific to 2019 for my cancerversary which kept going to September 26 when I reached 1,000 straight days. It could have ended there but the weather wasn’t awful enough to stop. But it won’t continue in 2022.
The Cookie Gran Fondo in Malibu by Phil Gaimon has been postponed for two years now and I still have my registration fee paid for 2020. Hopefully, that will work out for October. Likewise, the Livestrong Challenge in Austin has also been postponed for two years. And it would be nice to return to Austin.
With the uncertainty of how COVID will be handled by foreign countries, this doesn’t look like a year to travel to Europe. And my biological clock is ticking.
Above all, I hope for a safe year. Some adventures. But above all, safe riding.
Fourteen years ago I first rode this climb as part of the short-lived Blue Ridge Extreme Century. It was at Mile 50 before we encountered this climb and when I saw a friend walking near the top that was enough for me to join in. My memory, which may be wrong, tells me I went back in 2008 for a different route. But I think we climbed this again and I flatted near the top. I was dragging a low tire and had to walk it to the top for a repair.
I had forgotten about this climb completely until July when the Texas4000 came through. Their route included a descent of this climb. I briefly thought about incorporating this climb as training for Mount Washington but never did. With nice December weather upon us, I put together a 50-mile ride which I thought, tracked what I did 14 years ago. It did not.
Vesuvius has a few homes and no parking. But it does have a church – the Vesuvius Baptist Church. I parked there. I sought permission but the door was locked when I knocked on it.
With a start temperature of 45º, I opted for knee warmers, a headcover, gloves, and a jacket. I started from the parking lot and was immediately on the climb. I remembered nothing about this climb. I was getting warm but had no problems going right up it.
Although I had unzipped my jacket, at the top I stopped and zipped it back up. The descent here was fabulous except winds were sustained at 29 mph making bike handling difficult. I stopped briefly at Crabtree Falls and felt and heard problems with my rear brake. I decided not to touch it the rest of the ride. Descending would be with one brake.
I routed myself a bit too far. I ended up on Patrick Henry Highway. While not too busy in Nelson County, it was still named after a Virginia/U.S. Patriot. It was a highway. It was 8.5 miles to the Ski Barn. I was on a gradual climb with a nice one-mile descent. I loved the ride but would not recommend it or plan to ride it again because it was Patrick Henry Highway.
The Ski Barn was Beech Grove was familiar. It was a rest stop twice for the Extreme Century rides. And from there it would be a six-mile climb to the “top” at Reid’s Gap.
While I rode today to prove myself on Vesuvius, equal to that was the climb to Reid’s Gap. Fourteen years ago I was pulled off my bike on this climb. What I remember: I came to a section and saw other people walking. At that point, I decided I would too. I did not walk too far before remounting and continuing. On the right side of the road was a setup. There was a tent. Definitely a tent. There was an ambulance or fire rescue vehicle parked. And a paramedic yelled to another, “you get his bike, I’m going to get him.”
They pulled me off my bike and made me sit in the tent. They had iced towels they put around my neck. They gave me fresh water. After 10 minutes they told me I could leave but offered, and even strongly suggested, that I be SAGged back to the finish. I refused.
I got back on the bike that day and rode a couple of hundred yards then walked a little more before finally remounting and riding to the top. And that is my memory of that August day.
My Wahoo showed the distance to the next turn which was six miles (5.7 actually). I thought how bad could this be as I started up the climb. The road was busier than I thought and I think most drivers in a hurry were headed to Wintergreen Resort. This is a steep climb. The Virginia Hill Climb Championships have been held here, maybe all on the Wintergreen property to avoid the public road.
I remembered the description in 2007 as the “18% grade of Reid’s Gap.” And I remembered the paramedics. And not much else.
The lower slopes of the climb are gentle. The first two miles probably average two percent grade and the third mile averages three percent. It really kicks up at the entrance to Wintergreen. It is 1.1 miles from there to the top and averages 12.4%. That’s steeper than Mount Washington (12%) although it’s for the final mile and not 7.6 miles.
I hurt. I was going slow. But I was going. I rode my standard road bike setup and not my climbing setup for Mt. Washington. At the top, I turned south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I did not realize that my climb simply continued. In all it was a 17-mile climb when I was expecting six.
I bonked. I had two bottles with me and went through both. I had one pack of energy chews. Gone. Depleted. I was pedaling but no longer feeling my body. It was surreal. Maybe worse was that I was thinking one I got to Reid’s Gap my body would catch a break. I didn’t know I had 11 more miles of climbing left, even if it was just 3-4% grade. The Blue Ridge Parkway has a rough surface, a “heavy” road as we say in cycling terms. I was spent.
Normally I love forward to the final descent. What a perfect way to end a ride. But I determined not to use my rear brake which made the descent sketchy. I took it much slower than I normally would have. But I made it. My clothes were a mix of sweat and snot. I quickly changed out before driving home.
The Reid’s Gap climb left me pretty beat. I never remembered that the last mile was 13% with grades even higher in spots. But unlike 14 years ago, I powered, albeit slowly, to the top. And this day left me feeling better about that hot day in August 2007. That was a tough climb then and now.
QUICK THOUGHTS: I last rode this before we had GPS bike computers and therefore, did not have comparison times. Nor was a sure of the exact route that I created to ride today. We definitely did not ride on Patrick Henry Highway. I could have shaved six miles by tracking Rte. 680 at Tyro to Beech Grove. That looks like the road that comes into Beech Grove that we took except it has about one mile of unpaved surface on it. I don’t remember any gravel from 14 years ago. I doubt that I do this ride again but that modification to the route is worth looking at.