Ah, 2020. No complaints. Just different. For the first time in years, I did not attend an in-person cycling event as the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the events I would normally have or hoped to attend.
My riding became much more localized and I certainly made the best of the opportunity. It was a year I set a personal record for mileage and for days ridden (thanks to being a Leap Year). I just rode locally instead of nationally or internationally. No complaints.
MY TOP TEN MOMENTS/MEMORIES
Two New Bikes
The Bear Whisperer
Strava, Strava, Strava
Pine Creek Trail
A Ride Every Day
KOMs and a Local Legend
TWO NEW BIKES
Everybody likes a new bike, right? Well, except when you don’t want to get rid of the old. But my 2014 Trek Domane and my 2006 Trek Pilot both reached the end of their useful lives. I got some warranty help from Trek and now have a 2020 Domane and a 2021 Checkpoint (gravel bike).
THE BEAR WHISPERER
I suppose if you are outside enough, particularly in the wilderness, you will see a bear. I saw my first near Frostburg, Maryland in 2010. I saw my second while climbing Mount Evans, Colorado in 2016. And then … September. First I was on Rectortown Road in Fauquier Co., Virginia on Sept. 2 when I saw a bear. And then on the 22nd, I was on the Pine Creek Trail near Jersey Shore, Pa. when I saw another one. September was a good month for bears.
A PODIUM VIRTUAL
Ben King’s Ride Home Roads virtual event offered prizes for distance and climbing – categories I think I could have done well in, except this ran during the Tour de France. And I spent four hours per day watching the Tour instead of riding. But I did win a prize for the social media portion of his event.
Jeremiah Bishop‘s Alpine Loop Grand Fondo offered prizes for best times on Zwift – except I don’t do Zwift. They also had category winners and I won the jersey in the 65-69 year group. I had a number of PRs including a couple of KOMs this summer.
STRAVA, STRAVA, STRAVA
Yes, Strava has been around for years. But this is the first year I subscribed to it to get local segments to display on my Wahoo bike computer and it changed the way I ride. A long solo ride at speed may have had me being complacent if not a bit bored but having segments pop up while I ride forced me to go hard in stretches where I otherwise wouldn’t have. It made me a better cyclist and made my rides more fun.
With no events planned I rode my own solo centuries. I did two in August and then in October went to Ocean City, Md. to ride the canceled Sea Gull Century. I rode it solo from Ocean City instead of Salisbury, Md. and I rode it backward, in part to see if other people had come to the beach to ride (they had), and in part, because riding a familiar route backward makes it new to you. Assateague Island
PINE CREEK TRAIL
Not all miles were road miles and in September I went to Jersey Shore, Pa., and rode the 64-mile Pine Creek Trail through the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” Since I was riding solo I had to ride it out-and-back but the “back” was mostly on the road. Trails are nice but the road calls.
A RIDE EVERY DAY
It began last year on January 1. For my 10th Cancerversary year I set a goal of riding at least 10 miles, outside, every day. And it continued this year. In the cold (18°), heat (100°), rain, and snow – I rode. Now I have ridden 731 straight days. Don’t know when it will end but if I continue to September 26, 2021, it will be 1,000 consecutive days.
KOMs AND A LOCAL LEGEND
Strava has segments in which one can try to beat their own times (Personal Records) but also be “King of the Mountain” (KOM), i.e., the best ever. Since everyone is younger and faster than me I never expect to be the KOM for any segment. But it didn’t stop me from trying. And I ended up with four KOMs in 2020, none more satisfying than the two-mile segment on Minnieville Road from Spriggs Road to Rte 234. I was hoping for an age group best but did not know the KOM was in reach. I finished in 4:56 besting the second-place time by 27 seconds. Each time I ride that segment I wonder how in the heck did I do that in under five minutes? (Hint: With light traffic, I never used the bike path and stayed on Minnieville Road the entire time.)
Somewhat easier for me to obtain was the status of ‘Local Legend’ which is awarded to the cyclist who completes the most segments in a 90-day period. And so, quite predictably, I became a local legend on a number of segments because I ride every day and I stayed mostly at home.
In November I went to Marion, North Carolina, and rode up Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain in the eastern U.S. It was a cool day with few people around so from the parking lot I rode up the access trail to the summit to the applause of the few people there.
As I close out the year the scales said I weighed less than I did in high school. Yes, it was planned and yes, it was hard work. But I need to keep it going for a lifetime.
All in all, it was a good year. Sure, I didn’t get to go to events and missed seeing friends, especially in Austin, Texas, and in California. But with 1,000,000 reasons to give up, I did not. 2020, I will miss you.
But there were other moments that defined 2020.
THE BEST AND WORST OF THE REST
BEST SMELL – Balsam firs at the top of Mount Mitchell. How aromatic. I felt sorry for people in their cars driving to the top with their windows closed tight.
BEST SMALL TOWN – Mayberry, of course. I went to Mount Airy, N.C. and rode to Mabry Mill near Meadows of Dan, Va. The ride was great but afterward rode through Mount Airy and it was a ride back in time. I even ate at Barney’s (Fife) Cafe like the locals. But I didn’t see Aunt Bee.
WORST ENDING – White’s Ferry – WTF is that?!? When all else failed and I needed a go-to ride to bring a smile to my face, I would head to Leesburg and to White’s Ferry to cross the Potomac River on a ferry. On December 28 they announced they were closing for good as two entities, Rockland Farms and Whites Ferry, were having a food fight with a touch of Loudoun County thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what the future holds. Is it gone forever? I can’t imagine it so. Will Maryland (Montgomery Co.) and Virginia (Loudoun Co.) governments step in and create a public ferry? I do know that 600 commuters each day depend on the ferry. As does this cyclist.
FUNNIEST COMMENT – “You got skinny!” In September in the parking lot at The Bike Lane in Reston, Va., the owner, Todd Mader, who I have known for 20 years at first walked by me and said “Excuse me, sir.” Then he did a double take and said “Barry, I didn’t recognize you. You got skinny!”
BEST BURGER AND FRIES – In a year in which local riding was necessary, my go-to local ride was the “Manassas Loop” with a stop at Fosters Grille in Manassas. A nice outdoor eating area across from an active passenger train station, it was a perfect stop on my rides.
STUPIDEST DRIVER – On March 9, I turned the blind corner on the W&OD at Leesburg to go under Rte. 15 and almost was hit head-on by a car on the trail. “I was just following my GPS,” the driver said.
COOLEST GRANDKIDS I – We had a week with our granddaughters and during that time got our youngest up and riding on two wheels.
WORST IMPRESSION OF UNCLE SAM – Me. July 4. This photo and a subsequent bonk the next day led me to make a lifestyle change. It’s embarrassing to be here but is a reminder not to repeat the past.
COOLEST GRANDKIDS II – I took our grandsons, ages 10 and 12, to the W&OD Trail and we rode 28 miles of the trail. Although it was over two days, there are not many 10-year-olds out riding 14-15 miles at a time.
WORST DECISION – After a double flat failure I decided to walk home barefooted (to save the cycling shoes) rather than to call for a ride. I tore up both feet after only 1.5 miles.
BEST GOOD SAMARITAN I – Scott Turner, in Montclair, who saw me walking while pushing my bike and asked if he could give me and my bike a ride home. I did not hesitate saying yes and he didn’t mind my bloody feet in his car.
WORST MECHANIC – Me. I rode a new bike (2020 Trek Domane) with deep rims and could never get the right size tube and stem. The valve stems, while working fine for a floor pump, are too short to allow a CO2 cartridge to fully inflate the tire. After five failures on the road, here’s hoping my 60 cc stems will work the next time. I probably should waste a CO2 and test one first.
70,000 MILES CANCER-FREE – And at the end of the year it was 74,378 miles which is just 326 miles short of being three times around the Earth at the equator (74,704 miles)
BEST ROAD RIDES NOT ON THE ROAD – While the Pine Creek Trail was a destination trip, it wasn’t the only rail trail that I rode. Of course, I ride the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) so frequently that I forget it is a rail trail. I also rode the Great Allegheny Passage between Meyersdale and Fort Hill, Pa. and in Pittsburgh; the Hoodlebug in Indiana Co., Pa. the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Hancock, Md.; and the American Tobacco Trail in Durham, N.C. I also rode the Path of the Flood Trail in Johnstown which is part rail-trail as it follows the Allegheny Portage Rail Road and goes through the first railroad tunnel built in the U.S.
WORST ENDING FOR A GOOD CAR – It was nearly the perfect car for my riding. It had a DIY rack and could transport two bikes in the back of my 2002 Toyota RAV4 and two more on top. But it also had 334,000 miles and when a barrel fell off a truck in front of me on US 220 in Williamsport, Pa. in September, the car was totaled. I was uninjured but I was a bit sad losing this car.
BEST GOOD SAMARITAN II – A man named “CW” on Captiva Island, Fla. gave me a ride after a couple of flats (glass through the tire) to Sanibel Island to a bike rental store.
WORST WEATHER WIMP – Me. On Christmas Day I rode in Washington, D.C. to see the Christmas decorations. Only out for one hour and with temperatures about freezing (34°), my hands literally froze. I could not feel the touch screen on my phone to take a photo. I could not remove my key from my pocket. Not could I feel to unbuckle my helmet (and that’s what friends are for). My hands were like numb clubs but this may be a harbinger of things to come.
FALLS – I HAD A FEW – Well, two. I had gone more than 500 days without a crash/fall and then on a foggy day when I tried to cross a grass median on Rte 234 to get to the bike trail, I hit a sunken 2×4 that was in the high grass which caused me to me a have a heavy fall on the asphalt. Please don’t litter.
Less than three weeks later, I was again trying to cross a grass median, this one in Lake Ride, to avoid a couple ahead of me on the path. It looked safe but the grass concealed a hidden ditch. My wheel went into it and I went over the handlebars, ever so slowly. I almost sat down in the grass more than fell, but it was a fall. I laughed.
A MILEAGE RECORD – Having ridden 10,000 miles in 2019, I didn’t think I would repeat that. I didn’t. I bettered it.
BEST GOOD SAMARITAN III – On Sanibel Island at Fennimore’s Cycle Shop, they did not have the right size tube to sell me. Instead, they gave me one of their rental road bikes to ride across the causeway and retrieve my car so I could return for my bike.
BEST ICE CREAM – Just as Fosters Grille gave me purpose to ride my Manassas Loop, so too did Moo-Thru give me purpose to ride in Remington, Va. Tim Casebere and I did a ride in Culpeper, Va. when I realized where Moo-Thru was. So I created a route from nearby Remington which would stop at Moo-Thru. In all, I probably stopped there six times or so.
WORST PAYMENT ON A TOLL ROAD – Having parked on the Fort Myers, Fla. side so I could ride across the causeway to Sanibel Island and also avoid a $6 toll, I accepted the offer of Fennimore’s to take their bike and retrieve my car. Actually, I should have gone to my car and retrieved the right tube and maybe a new tire, which I had with me in the car. Now I’m on the hook for $6 (plus fees).
BEST GOOD SAMARITAN IV – Me. On April 9 I saw a young woman pushing her bike. I offered to help her fix it but I couldn’t fix the dangerous wind she was riding in. So I gave Erin a ride back to her car. We became friends and would ride together a dozen times, often with my friend, Tim. In a year of complete repetition and some boredom, riding with someone new to the area gave me a renewed purpose to look at my routes through the eyes of a first-time rider.
BEST REPLACEMENT FOR A CAR – My new (used, but it’s new to me) 2020 Ford Transit. I didn’t find it, it found me. Can carry my bikes and my DIY rack from the RAV4 moved over with just a slight modification.
With less adventure and no events, I made the best out of 2020. And it was my best year ever. Here’s to a better year in 2021.
MILESTONES – The Strava training calendar said that I set 843 personal records. That will be hard to beat in any year.
WEIGHT (AT START): 212 lbs (Minimum. Complete guess. It could have been 10 pounds higher)
This was farther south than I had planned, some two hours from my hotel in Sarasota. But you’re only here once, or here once to ride, so I came to check it out.
I found a state park nearby where I could park but remembered the one on Amelia Island and there would be a fee. I didn’t want to pay to park and didn’t want to pay to drive across the causeway. And I found the Port Sanibel Marina one mile before the causeway. There was plenty of parking and it was free.
I had read a discussion on whether it’s safe to ride across the causeway. Cyclists generally said yes – there is a bike lane next to the main traffic. People who ride bikes generally said no – there is a bike lane but it’s next to the main traffic. The bottom line depended on what level of risk one was willing to assume.
I went through, or around the toll both and started the climb up the first bridge of the causeway. That too caused some people angst in deciding whether to ride the causeway. “You know the bridge is a hill…”
It was a nice ride across two islands, named A and B, on the causeway. Although Sanibel proudly boasts 20 miles of bike paths away from traffic, once I reached the island I saw slow, helmet-less riders on the trails. And while pretty, the bike paths had a lot of twists and turns. I stayed on the main road and only angered one person – a driver from Indiana laid on his horn as he passed me. Then I caught him.
I had come to an intersection and found a cyclist waiting for his partner. He wore a helmet and a full kit. I asked him about riding on the roads and it said it was legal but then he recommended as I got close to Captiva to take a path because the road narrowed and “the drivers got older.”
I followed his suggestion and found the path was very narrow, perhaps the most narrow path I had ever been on. I crossed a bridge to get on Captiva Island and didn’t realize it.
Things were going well. My speed was up. The temperature was great. And then, the tell-tell sign of a squishy tire. Ugh.
I pulled over not confident in my ability to repair the tire. I pulled the wheel off the bike and was looking at a man who had brought his trash out to a bin. He asked me if I needed anything and I told him a floor pump. He said he’d be right back and did come back with a pump.
While working on the tire I had cut myself. Blood was coming pretty good. I had my repair kit on a small log. I picked it up without realizing it was covered by ants. I saw black spots on my hands and realized the ants attacked me. They were biting and may have been drawn to my blood.
Unfortunately, the pump did work as advertised. But the man, “CW,” also told me if it didn’t work to come to his house because he had a truck and would take me anywhere. I went to his house. I threw the bike in the back and I declined his offer to take me to his car, instead opting for the closest bike shop, Finnimore’s Bike and Beach Rentals.
We pulled in and I was able to borrow a pump while CW and one of the employees, maybe the owner, enjoyed seeing each other. I pumped up the tire and he told me to take it for a spin to make sure it held. CW drove away. I went 20 meters and the tire was squishy.
I removed the tire and tube and found embedded glass in the tire. Being a rental shop they didn’t have much in supplies but sold me a 700×35 (35-42) for my 32 tire. I installed it but the stem was too short to attach a pump. I was screwed.
The shop gave me one of their rentals to ride back to my bike. They had a heck of a time removing the platform pedals so I could put my pedals on the bike since I was wearing Speedplay cleats. But they got them off the bike and I moved my Speedplay pedals over to the Fuji.
It was a nice ride back across the causeway. I got back to my car and then drove through the toll booth that I tried to avoid.
It wasn’t the ride I was hoping for. But I found the goodness of man. CW giving me a ride to the shop. The shop ultimately giving me one of their rentals to ride back to my car. There are good people out there.
It wasn’t the best ride but I did set a new PR for mileage in a year (10,150+ miles / 16,335 kms)
The ride was paused in Captiva and the Wahoo turned off at the bike shop but still shows the airmiles back to the shop. But the data is correct.
DISTANCE: 25 miles SPEED: Almost 18 mph WEIGHT: 168
EPILOGUE – It’s hard to think straight under pressure. With a tube that could not be repaired (but did they have a patch kit to sell? I don’t know), we decided it was best to take their bike, ride it across the causeway to my car, then drive back.
I had everything I needed for a repair in my car. If I could do it over again, I would have ridden to my car, grabbed a new tube (and maybe a new tire as well), returned to Finnimore’s, and then change out the old and ride from there. Oh well, it was getting late in the day and I didn’t arrive in Clermont for the night until 7:00 p.m. so the car option was probably best. It’s just that I never thought of picking up a new tube/tire from my car.
A late fall / early winter getaway to bring my mother to Florida gave me a chance to ride in the Tampa area. I chose Sarasota as it was close to my friend, John’s, place.
I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn – Bradenton-Sarasota Airport. I researched some routes and found a 50-mile loop ride of Sarasota. When John and I discussed routes he said he could meet me at the hotel for a 40-mile loop. I hoped to do the 50-mile ride but would go with the local knowledge.
It was 70° when we were ready to roll out at 10:00 a.m. Sunny, I applied sunscreen and we were off through the campus of the University of South Florida. We took a bike path, briefly, then followed side streets to downtown Sarastoa.
We rolled slowly through the downtown area. John had a Christmas music playlist and a portable speaker and was playing (blasting?) Christmas music and was wishing people a Merry Christmas as we rode.
We crossed the high bridge over the Sarasota Bay. John kept the pace high over the bridge. It wasn’t difficult but I didn’t feel like having a nice easy conversation either. I’m not suggesting he was trying to drop me but no worries, I matched his pace side by side ti the top.
Once over the bridge we visited Lido Key before crossing another bridge to Longboat Key (someone can double check me on this). We slipped into a couple private communities just to ride on quiet streets away from the busy traffic which was on this key.
We crossed another bridge onto Anna Marie Island and Bradenton Beach. John proudly showed me the (Green Bay) Packers Bar. We stopped in briefly at his place. He grabbed me an energy bar from his fridge which was appreciated. With one bottle on the bike – I need to ask for a refill and didn’t, I would need energy today.
We left the island via a causeway back across Sarasota Bay to Bradenton. We tried to avoid the main roads but a couple of times had to jump on US 41 which was very busy. It has a “bike” lane which is a small strip next to the main road’s three lanes separated by 5″ of white paint.
But John and I made it safely back to the hotel. He had asked me the mileage earlier and I wasn’t displaying it. As we got close I looked and asked him if he wanted to know. He agreed and I told him it was a lot more than 40. At that time we were at 52 miles. We arrived back at 54 and change and John wanted to ride to get to 55.
Once he left an headed back to downtown Sarasota. I wasn’t sure how far it was but it was farther than I thought. I turned around knowing I would have finished 100 km and ended with 103 (64 miles).
Sun. Water. Friendship. It doesn’t get better.
DISTANCE: 64 miles SPEED: 14.5 mph (we toured a lot on slow streets) WEIGHT: 165
It was cold. It was 32° (freezing – 0° C) as I rolled out. I trusted my phone app to find parking and a trailhead. It was an open area but there were a few trucks from the Indiana County Parks department working in the area. There was a sign: Property of Devine Destiny Ministries – Park at Your Own Risk.
It was perhaps 50 yards on an access trail to reach the actual Hoodlebug Trail. The trail follows the rail line of the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, an 1850s line that ran from Blairsville to Indiana. Single self-propelled cars ran on this line into the 1940s. Called Doodlebugs, or locally, Hoodlebugs, it became the nickname for this line.
The trail runs 12 miles from Indiana to Black Lick and connects with the Ghost Town Trail. Because of the cold, I planned to ride five miles out and back or 10 miles total.
At the access trail I didn’t see a sign, not that there wasn’t any. There were men working on the trail on their truck may have blocked the view.
It was gray without a hint of sunshine. I had no idea which direction was anything. I headed right which turned out to be south towards Black Lick. The trail is parallel to US 119 so despite a wilderness feel at times, I was never far from the din of the highway.
I crossed the Stoney, Two Lick, and Yellow Creeks. In Homer City the trail ended briefly and followed a two-block work around (not a detour because this is permanent). I had gone a little more than five miles and decided a turnaround was in order. Ten miles would be good enough today.
When I got back to the access trail, at a little more than 10 miles, I decided to continue north to see where the trail would lead. IUP is where. The trail cuts through the Indiana University of Pennyslvania (IUP) on the street. Before reaching IUP the trail was paved with emergency call boxes every 100 yards or so.
I am much more comfortable on a trail with no improvements than I am on an improved trail with emergency call boxes. Nothing says danger more than the need for these call boxes. I imagine this section is also used as a night walk on campus.
I followed the trail on street for a while but wasn’t sure how much farther it went. Nor did I need to find out. I turned around while on the IUP campus and headed back.
The trail is crushed gravel. It was a good riding surface. But there was nothing structural or natural as big attractions. It’s a nice trail and maybe the perfect length for some riders. I would not make this a destination trip but I was already in Indiana so this was the perfect ride on this day. Except for the cold.
Mayberry. The home of Sheriff Andy Taylor. Aunt Bee. Opie. All on the Andy Griffith show. Andy Griffith grew up here in Mount Airy and I came for a bike ride. I had no expectations and had done very little research. I just arrived.
My ride was planned from Mount Airy, Riverside Park, to the famous Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I found a ride on RidewithGPS by user, Adrian, and downloaded it to my Wahoo bike computer. Adrian elected to keep his profile private so I cannot publicly thank him for the suggestion.
Although I was to ride north out of town, I was close to Main Street and started out by going into downtown Mount Airy. That is by going UP into downtown. It was quite a sizeable climb although probably no more than a quarter-mile.
The downtown was only a few blocks long but was very vibrant. Not so much at 9:00 a.m. but by 1:30 p.m. it was teeming with people. It was hard to see an empty parking space. Many of the store fronts had a Mayberry theme from Floyd’s Barber Shop to Barney’s Cafe.
Although I should have headed out of town then I swung by my car to pick up some cycling food (gels) which I had forgotten to put in my pockets. And then I headed north.
It was eight miles on a two-lane road, no shoulders, to the Virginia state line. And then it was about four miles to the turn up the mountain. The course profile was not complicated. Go straight until Rte 614, Squirrel Spur Road. Then turn left and be prepared for climbing. What a great road this was.
It was six miles to Blue Ridge Parkway and three of that was on a steep portion with switchbacks. The pavement was good but there weren’t many great vistas. But at one, on a sharp curve, there was a picnic area. I really enjoyed this climb.
I came to the Blue Ridge Parkway and jumped on it. I left behind the beautiful pavement of Squirrel Spur Road and picked up a very rough chip and seal road on the parkway. It was quite rough. Not potholes, but just a rough-riding surface. Or a “heavy” road in cycling terms.
The parkway is a two-lane road, signed for 45 mph, so no traffic takes it for speed. On a chilly November morning, there were only a handful of cars that passed me in either direction.
Only yesterday in a weak attempt at “research,” I read that Mabry Mill closed for the season five days ago. Was it worth riding to it if it wasn’t open? I decided it was. I could still get a photo op and would not take advantage of the amenities like a gift shop.
After a brief stop, I would have normally just retraced my route since this wasn’t a loop ride but an out-and-back (or an up-and-down). But in the tiny hamlet of Meadows of Dan I followed the Wahoo and took the Squirrel Spur Road which is parallel to the parkway. I was greeted with beautiful pavement instead of the rough chip and seal on the parkway. I was also greeted with screaming downhills and leg-killing uphills. The parkway would have been easier, much easier, but in tourist season this alternative makes sense. Today, I wish I would have stayed on the parkway.
The descent down Squirrel Spur Road through the switchbacks was great. But I was facing a pretty strong headwind. I was also running on empty. The climb up Mount Mitchell yesterday left me a little tired. And while I remembered to stop at the car in Mount Airy for food, I forgot my Skratch drink mix for my water bottle and was only drinking water.
Uncharacteristically, I changed Wahoo to display miles to go on the computer. And I was counting them down. When I reached zero I decided I would go to Barney’s Cafe for a quick bite before my long drive home. It would have so much easier to go through a drive-through anywhere and get food to eat in the car. But I was in Mayberry and that deserved to sample the local cuisine and atmosphere.
It was a good ride. But with yesterday’s effort, I was tired.
Distance: 53 miles Average Speed: 13.2 mph Weight: 167
Our friends from Colorado scoff at the tiny mountains in the east. With 58 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet (4,267 m), they certainly have that right. But it’s not all elevation. Some if it’s elevation gain.
Mount Mitchell stands at 6,683 feet (2,037 m) above sea level. The elevation gain on this 24-mile climb is 6,076 feet. By contrast, Mount Evans, Colorado, which I have ridden up twice, stands at 14,272 feet, climbs 6,772 feet from Idaho Springs (elevation 7,500′) over 28 miles. So scoff if one must, but it’s not much difference. Well, if you ignore altitude (which you can’t).
Mount Washington, New Hampshire is the highest peak in the northeast U.S. at 6,289 feet. Most of the elevation gain on that mountain is on the 7.5-mile auto road giving it an average grade of 12%. Beast!
Mount Mitchell was a bucket list climb for me. Consistently listed as one of the best or hardest in the U.S., I never made it a destination. With 2020 being the year of the Corona Virus and all my cycling events canceled, I decided to make my own adventure.
I had hoped for a mid-October day but that did not work out. So I found myself in November driving to Statesville, North Carolina, where I spent the night then drove to Marion for the climb up the mountain. While on I-40 I crested a hill and had my first look at THOSE mountains. Ugh. It was reminiscent of seeing the White Mountains in New Hampshire and realizing I was signed up to race up Mount Washington.
But I would not be racing up Mount Mitchell. Just a ride. And the first order of the day was to find a place to park. The climb starts at the edge of Lake Tahoma but there is no parking to be found around the lake. So, generally, one must park about four miles away. There is a small area at the intersection of Routes 70 and 80 but I saw a Dollar General nearby and asked them if I could park there. And they agreed.
The first four miles were basically flat. Then I came to the dam at Lake Tahoma. This dam almost failed two years ago and all residents downstream were ordered to evacuate. But thankfully, it held. There are some beautiful homes around the lake.
At the end of the lake where the creek flows into the lake is where the climb to Mount Mitchell begins. This is on Rte 80 which is a narrow road with no shoulders. Today it was lightly traveled and all drivers were respectful.
The views were wonderful if you like a forest view. That is to say, there are no vistas to see for miles because this climb of 10 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway is in a forest. But it sure is pretty. There is a river or creek flowing for part of it and it’s soothing to see it and to hear it. The switchbacks in the last mile are absolutely delicious.
I was thinking “this isn’t so hard.” Then again, I never tried to go fast, and if I saw something of interest I stopped and took a photo. I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped long enough to remove my leg warmers. It was a cool day and I had unzipped my vest and was sweating.
The road kept climbing. I went through three small tunnels. I hadn’t studied the course enough to know where but I knew there was a one-half mile descent and a two-mile descent on the route.
The road to Mount Mitchell State Park is a four-mile climb off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seemed to be harder than the rest of the climb and it was. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was getting tired or if it was steeper. And it was the latter. Maybe the former too.
It was a beautiful sunny day but I also some ice in areas normally shaded from the Fall sun. And as I was climbing the smell of Balsam and I thought sorry for those who drove and missed out on the smells.
When I reached the summit I saw just a few cars in the parking lot. I had been here before – in 1963 – and knew the photo showed my siblings and me in front of a tower at the summit. And it wasn’t here. I circled the lot and saw a trail or walkway to the actual summit.
It looked like a stone walk but was probably pressed concrete. I expected to see a NO BIKES sign but did not. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. And in-season, no sane cyclist would ride on this path crowded with tourists. But I saw no one.
So I started up the path. And it was steep. My guess was 15-18%. Halfway up were some benches and a brief flat section. I looked up and the path kept going. And so did I. I turned the corner and saw the sign. I had made it. And there were seven people at the summit – four by the sign and three walking up the observation deck. And they all starting cheering me. “You made it!”
I probably shouldn’t have ridden my bike up there. Sorry. But I don’t think I could have walked up in cycling shoes and I needed to get there. I’m thankful I went on a November day after all.
Distance: 56 miles Average Speed: 11.8 mph Weight: 167
A search of trails in the area landed me at the American Tobacco Trail. This is a 22-mile trail (15 miles are paved) starting at the American Tobacco Company in Durham, right next to the ballpark for the Durham Bulls. From there the trail heads south to Cary.
The trail loosely follows a rail line that was built in the 1970s for the American Tobacco Company. In the 1980s it was shut down. That wasn’t a good investment.
My first order of business was to find parking. There is parking in Durham at the trailhead as it is a shopping and entertainment district. Despite the offer of free parking for two hours, it necessitated downloading a parking app for my phone which I didn’t want to be bothered with. And I didn’t know if I would take more than two hours.
I looked for locations south of the city and found Solite Park. There was a playground and the parking lot was almost full. It looked safe enough. In preparation for this ride, there seemed to be a lot of safety questions on the reviews on TripAdvisor. Someone smarter than me can research this but this rail line divided neighborhoods, i.e., the wrong side of the tracks. But I was oblivious to that history and just rode my bike.
Solie Park was located at MP 4.5. It ad restrooms and a water fountain. I headed south on the trail. I was expecting rail trail – straight and level. However, as I would soon learn, in this section it was part sidewalk and often turned where one would not expect. Keep the eyes open for turns.
The bridge over Interstate-40 was pretty cool. It had its own contour instead of being a flat bridge. For this user, it was pretty awesome.
Around Mile 8 I seemed to come to the real rail-trail portion of the trail. Straight and flat. Not real sure of the location except it’s the Huntington Ridge section of Durham. It’s really a one-mile section where one is seemingly on sidewalks and has the feeling of an urban trail rather than following a former rail bed. This often happens that development takes place after removal of tracks and before a rail trail is created. These detours are a minor inconvenience compared to having use of a 20-mile trail.
Mile markers were provided every quarter-mile which was very cool. At 14.5 the trail turned to gravel so I turned around.
The city of Cary had a nice lot at New Hope Church Road and if I ever rode this again I would come to this lot. There were also restrooms here as well. The trail has more restrooms and water fountains than any I have been on.
When I arrived back to my car I saw the trail was closed for a detour. It wasn’t a new discovery as I had driven through a construction zone to park there. It was part of the reason I started my ride heading south as I could navigate the detour later. The parking lot was almost empty. I wanted to ride the 4.5 miles into Durham but was concerned this was one of the high crime areas that I had read about (one user said police were making more patrols).
But when I got to the main street (Fayetteville Road) to follow the detour, I was lost. I could not find the detour, and not being from the area, didn’t really know where to go to pick it up. I wasn’t about to set out on a trail that wasn’t well-marked. I put my bike in my car and drove 1/4 mile where I saw the end of the trail detour was. From there I parked and rode the rest of the way into Durham.
As I got close to Durham, I went across at least three, and maybe four, bridges or trestles with great rickety boards. They really made a racket. The closer to Durham the louder the bridge that I rode across. This was awesome, actually.
The downside was around Mile 2 I went through a litter-strewn section. There were some men hanging around. I’d say it looked like a homeless hangout. Nothing wrong with that but it didn’t feel safe although I went through it, twice, with no issues.
Bottom line – very nice trail. For this ride, the detour section was not well-marked but that will be temporary. There was the one-mile section where the trail zigged and zagged but just take it slow and watch for lane markings. The users all seemed courteous and it was surprisingly busy on a November weekday. My recommendation for others or if I am in the area again, is to park at the New Hope Church Road Trailhead.
Distance: 29.3 miles Average Speed: 14.8 mph Weight: 168
Those yellow bracelets. Launched in May 2004 as a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (Livestrong), they took the cycling world by storm. And indeed, a lot of the world. The majority of riders in the peloton in the 2004 Tour de France wore them.
It would be personal what the band meant to each wearer. Generally, it would mean, “I support people with cancer” or “Cancer research” or “Cancer awareness.”
I joined the masses and had one but wore it sporadically. But when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, I slipped it back on and wore it full-time, 24/7. Ironically, over the course of 11 years, the only time it wasn’t on my wrist was when I was fighting cancer. When I was being treated at Johns Hopkins I could not wear anything. Johns Hopkins had their own tubes and wrist bands for me.
In June 2013 I was in Durango, Colorado, where I met Bob Roll. Eight months earlier, Lance Armstrong had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. So by 2013, most users had thrown their yellow bands away.
The yellow band represents Livestrong – the cancer-support organization. It does not represent Lance. But for most people, the yellow bands became a lie. Some believe that it was all a shame. Lance was a fraud. Livestrong was a fraud. And those bands ended up in the trash.
I continued to wear mine. And at Ride the Rockies, where just one year earlier most riders would be wearing one, now they were much less popular. But Bob Roll was still wearing one and I commented to him about it. He said he would never remove his. By last year on the Tour de France broadcasts, I saw Bob was no longer wearing one. (And maybe earlier than that too.)
I posted to our group, Cyclists Combating Cancer. I asked them if they still wear them or when they stopped. Most (who responded) still wear them. But two answers stood out.
Peter Collins stopped wearing them as they broke. But he added that (cancer) “no longer defines me. I am always ware of it but it is no longer in the forefront of my life.”
And a couple feel like the organization is a fraud. Jerry Kelly summed it up:
Jerry alleged that the CEO (Doug Ulman) and the Board lied about what they were doing with donations.
I hold no animus towards Lance Armstrong. Only he knows in his heart what was behind the creation of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (the nickname became Livestrong and the organization later took that name, erasing Lance’s name from the organization). And only Lance knows what was behind the creation of the yellow bracelet. It was alleged that this was to take pressure off him for doping allegations. One great big yellow distraction.
In June 2016 I was in the audience at Ride the Rockies in Aspen as Lance addressed the crowd. Moderator, Ron Kiefel, was selecting people to ask questions. He just called on raised hands with no idea what the question would be. I was not picked.
I wanted to have everyone stand if they ever wore the Livestrong bracelet. And then have everyone remain standing if they were still wearing it. And then ask Lance to address all those people who just sat down.
I would like to know. And what does Lance think of those of us who still wear that yellow band?
I hate cancer. I wish I never had cancer. I am a survivor. But I will not let cancer define me. And after 11 years of wearing this, I began to think I was being defined by cancer. My grandchildren have never seen me without the yellow band.
Today was to be the Livestrong Challenge in Austin. It was changed to a virtual event. And when the event went virtual, my band just went virtual.
I support cancer research. I support Livestrong and a number of other cancer-fighting organizations. But it’s time to turn a new leaf. I will wear my virtual band. You just can’t see it.
All my events and rides for 2020 have been canceled. When the Sea Gull Century announced their cancellation about three months ago, I decided I would do the ride anyway.
I came down yesterday and met Chey Hillsgrove in Bethany Beach. We went for a nice 25-mile late afternoon ride.
My plan was to stay in an Ocean City hotel rather than Salisbury. I checked in and no mention was made that the sign which stated “Breakfast Served Daily 6:30 – 9:30” didn’t actually apply. I would discover that in the morning when the nice young lady said they don’t serve breakfast “because COVID.” She handed me a bag with a mini-muffin.
This was not good. I needed those hotcakes or waffles. A muffin would not hack it but it would have to.
There would be two major differences about today’s route. First, I was starting and finishing in Ocean City rather than Salisbury. And second, I decided to ride the normal route backwards. I did that to see the route from a different perspective and it would also let me see who was on course today. Was I the only one or would there be groups of riders today?
Some allowances would have to be made on my ride because this was not an official event with SAG support and rest stops. There would be no water or Gatorade on course. No fruit or cookies. No port-a-johns.
I decided that because I knew where most of the country stores or gas stations were, I could stop and get water and food on the route. As far as port-a-johns, the route traveled through lots of forests. I could do this.
It was gray when I rolled out at 7:38 a.m. And it was windy too. I never did get a handle on the wind direction. Being a loop course, sometimes it was a headwind, sometimes it was a tailwind, and the rest of the time it was a crosswind. But there was always wind. Always. And the sun shone for about 15 minutes.
In Newark, I passed what was normally one of our rest stops and saw a group had set up a tent. I passed and said hello then went back to talk to them. Although the tent was for Mid-Shore, from Salisbury, the volunteers were from Virginia Beach. I asked them who they were supporting and one guy said “any cyclist who comes by.” They offered me something but I was only 17 miles in and hadn’t really started drinking so had nothing to replenish. I declined.
I was expecting hundred of riders but probably didn’t see more than 100. I saw some women yesterday from the Major Taylor Cycling Club which I assumed was Columbus or Dayton. But I see there are Major Taylor Cycling Clubs all across the country so dang me for not asking them where they were from.
It was perhaps a mistake by me not to carefully retrace the route backward. In building my course RideWithGPS seemed to follow some previous routes that I had done. I never checked the details. The first instance where I went off-course was in Newark. I recognized I was going to cross the dangerous tracks the course used 3-4 years ago where there were lots of falls. I made it through OK but there wasn’t a legal way to cross US 113. But I’m on a bike and I can do anything.
I had made myself a deal that I would stop near Snow Hill at the Assateague Bay. Except the route I was following never took me there. I knew there was a port-a-john in the park there so having missed it, I would have to improvise. I also hoped that I would follow the perimeter of the Salisbury Airport but rode past the entrance. There may have been a detour in place though so it worked out.
But the biggest change was in the town of Berlin. In the regular route the ride returns through Berlin. It is routed through a residential area before hitting the country roads. Going backwards today, my Wahoo took me right into the downtown. And what a charming, beautiful place Berlin, Maryland is. What a great discovery. And I also understand why the organizers would not want to send 8,000 cyclists through here.
In Salisbury, I stopped very briefly at a Royal Farms, store and gas station. Should I replenish or not? I check my water levels. I had eaten just one of my gels at that point and was 57 miles in. I ate the second and through away the wrapper. I decided I was good to go, and if not, could stop near Assateague.
The winds were brutal at times. Approaching Berlin I was overtaken by a tractor. I was riding at 21-22 mph and wasn’t sure he could go much faster. But her did. Once he passed I sped up to 28 mph and was sitting in his draft. I thought I could ride all day at 28 mph in his draft but probably only got a half-mile of draft before he turned off.
The groups never really materialized. I did see a peleton of about 40 irdes going in the opposite directions outside of Berlin. And turning onto Assateague Road I was passed, then integrated, with a group of cyclists. They were a group from D.C. (or near D.C.). We only had three miles to the Assateague parks and they went into the state park and I went to the National Park.
I have a lifetime pass to U.S. National Parks. I thought my chance of spotting a wild horse on Assategaue Island was better in the National Park. I saw lots of horse poop but no horses. I don’t remember seeing a seagull either.
The line to enter the park was enourmous. Seemed to be at least one mile long. But there was a bike path so I rode on the path. As I approached the ranger station the path went away from the station and into the park. Although I have my pass there was not place to present it. Not sure if it’s intended but it looks like you can bike into the national park for free.
I wanted to do a six-hour century. I never checked my time but figured that I would get back to my car around 2:00 p.m. A six-hour century requires one to average 16.7 mph. I wasn’t sure if I could but needed only to look at my past rides here. In 2016 I averaged 17.1 mph. In 2018 I averaged 17.3 mph. In both of those I was pulling for some slower riders.
I was pretty excited to see that I averaged 17.9 mph today. While it was my best ever, it wasn’t appreciably better. But what was different was I was solo the entire ride today, except for a brief interlude behind a tractor and with a cycling group. So I am pretty happy with this ride. Very happy.
Distance: 105.4 miles Average: 17.9 mph Weight: 174
I have really mixed feelings about my performance on this ride. At first I was pretty happy with the average but upon review, it’s in the ballpark with other rides I’ve done here. It was only 0.2 faster than last year and I didn’t ride in any groups last year although sometimes just being around others and you pick up the speed.
The wind? In a loop course, if the wind remains steady all day then some is headwind and some is tailwind. Then just a little protection by riding with others is helpful. But does it even out? I suspect not, much like a flat ride over 50 miles will be faster than a mountainous ride of 5,000′ of gain and 5’000′ of descent. There is something about the energy used in climbing that you don’t get back with the descent. And maybe riding into the wind takes more out of you than riding with a tailwind gives back.
Losing 35 pounds has been very helpful on rolling or hilly courses. But maybe it makes not difference on the flats, especially when it’s windy. I felt at times I was getting shredded by the wind yesterday – maybe a bigger me wouldn’t have been as bad.
It wasn’t going to be a day of PRs because I rode the course backward. No baseline to measure me by. But I did PR on the one “climb” of the day – the Assateague Bridge Climb. So maybe shedding weight helped there. I could have gone faster – much faster – but would have to be a jerk and pass riders on that narrow bridge. Still, 4th all-time age group.
Total time was 6:14 with just 20 minutes stopped. There was a chat with the tri-guys in Newark and offloading trash in Salisbury. A few photo ops. A couple of stoplights. One break au natural. Last year I was stopped for 1:14. In 2018 it was one hour even. In 2017 it was a more reasonable 35 minutes (and also a 17.9 average). In 2016 it was a ridiculous 1:33 (I joined with three riders from Blair Cycling Club – one had a flat which we stopped and waited to repair).
My other decent time – 17.9 – was three years ago. On that day I did form up with some others and was in a group a lot. So today was a solo effort.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, there was nutrition. Or lack thereof. The hotel did not offer breakfast as advertised. No rest stops meant no snacking on the ride. And no water. I rode with two water bottles and three gels. Surely a little more fuel would have helped.
In early 2008 Bicycling magazine published an article about the toughest climbs in each state. Maybe not the toughest but most iconic in each state. For Pennsylvania, Horseshoe Curve was listed with a description of a “Three lakes, a 200′ tunnel and an 18% wall, what could be better?”
It was then I knew I had to ride it. And it has become my go-to ride. My happy place. So let me tell you in my words what is so special here.
I first came here after I read the description. And I keep coming back.
I call the climb Horseshoe Curve. Technically, I suppose, Horseshoe Curve is really the engineering marvel completed in 1854 which got trains over the Allegheny Mountains. The New York Central could run a train from New York to Chicago in 16 hours but it took four days to travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh using canals, horses, train cars, and the Allegheny Portage Railroad. One can read about the history anywhere, I will link to an article at Uncovering PA.
Typically, I park at the Logan Valley Mall to begin a ride. Although gradual, one begins climbing the minutes you push down on the first pedal. It’s about 2.5 miles up 58th Street to Kittanning Point Road. Make a left here and it’s an easy three more miles to the Curve.
If you are lucky, there will be a passing train or two and you can hear the clickety-clack clickety-clack of the train. If it is climbing you can race it although eventually, the sound will pull away.
You will pass three lakes – all reservoirs with the Altoona Water System. The first is Lake Altoona, the largest and prettiest of the three. The second is the Kittanning Reservoir. The third is at the Curve itself. It is smaller than the first two and I’m not sure that it is named.
The water in these lakes is pristine. But that is because of a unique water-diversion system. There is a lot of mine drainage in the area marked by the bright orange color of the acid water. There is a canal next to the lakes which carries this water safely past the lakes. I do not know where the orange water goes after bypassing Altoona’s water supply.
These three miles (3.2) are pretty easy. Yes, one is climbing but a lot of it is flat beside one of the three lakes. I calculate this portion to be 1.9% grade.
At the Curve itself are the attractions. The Curve itself is the main attraction. This is a pay-attraction area. As of 2020, admission was $8 but one would need to check to be certain. At the Curve, one can climb 194 steps or take a funicular (Inclined plane) to reach the viewing platform. I come here to ride a bike and not watch trains so I cannot comment any further about the Curve.
For years the Curve was covered in heavy forest. Around 2018 they cut down acres of trees which was both disappointing but also pretty cool. Now as you approach the Curve you can see the trains on the tracks. And the passengers on the Pennsylvanian (Amtrak, twice daily) surely must enjoy the view.
Traffic on Kittanning Point Road to the Curve is generally light and always courteous. In the three miles to the Curve one might get passed by 5-6 cars. Most of the traffic seems to be going to visit the Curve.
And then the fun begins. There is a 200-foot tunnel that goes under the Curve. Look carefully because there are two tunnels. One is for car traffic and the second is for water – that disgusting orange mine water that bypasses the drinking supply.
Go through the tunnel and everything changes. First, the road turns up. Second, one is in a deep forest. Nothing to see but trees and water of the Glenwhite Run. It is absolutely beautiful here. (And I typically do not have photos from this area as I don’t want to stop then have to restart.)
The legs may slow down as the body notices, even if the eyes do not, it is getting harder to pedal. By my calculation, it is 3.3 miles from the tunnel to Coupon-Gallitzin Road. And the grade works out to be 5.3% which doesn’t sound like much. But that also includes a downhill section near the top.
There is a half-mile section that averages more than 12%. The “Wall” is 18% or 19%. Two things always happen when I go up this road. First, I always battle myself and wonder if this will be the first time I have to get off and push my bike. And second, there is an immense feeling of satisfaction and pride from having made it.
I am almost always alone on this stretch. Traffic is light – often only 1-2 cars will come up the road. Today, there was a logging truck followed closely by a car. And that was it.
I’ve had my moments with others too. In 2009, I met Richard and Stacey Fiore riding up the road. Stacey had never made it before without walking and I sent her husband up the road while I rode with and encouraged her. I thought we had it but she dismounted only about 50′ from the top of the Wall.
For my first post-cancer ride in 2010, I brought some friends here from Northern Virginia. None was more special than my good friend, Scott Scudamore. I am sure glad he got to experience this climb and we had a blast twice bombing the descent on Sugar Run Road.
Kelley Vito said she understood why I find peace here because “you only think about dying while climbing that hill.” In 2017, I was with Chey Hillsgrove and Chelsea Johnson. Chelsea would see a curve ahead and then ask – “Oh my God, is that where it begins?!” I laughed and told her the truth – “Oh no, that’s not the Wall – the Wall is much worse.”
I would have bet against Chelsea that day but she found her inner strength and made it. I was so proud of her.
But Kelley was right. When I come to these mountains, all I can think about is the next pedal stroke. Pushing up that hill. Or descending at crazy fun speeds but 100% focus on the descent. There is no time for cancer in my life when I am in these mountains and on this climb.
I was feeling quite down this morning. And I looked on my bike and the stem cap says “I am a Survivor – 10 Years.” And my bad feelings went away. Let’s enjoy this day!
I didn’t have any segments starred in Strava so none displayed as I was riding. But at the end of the ride, I saw I was averaging more than a 15 mph pace. And I don’t think I ever did a ride with this climb that I averaged 15 mph.
I looked at Strava. I averaged 15.4 mph. And I had PRs on all the segments. Most of those I am #1 in my age group as well. Although my times are nowhere near the best times – I can’t compete with the young guns. But in competing against myself (PRs) and in my age group, I did pretty well.
My earliest rides were not recorded. The first record ride I can find of Horseshoe Curve was August 2, 2009. I had lost a lot of weight prior to my cancer diagnosis. In addition, I was “training” for the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. And on the same route as today, I averaged 14.2 mph. Of course I was 11 years YOUNGER!
For one day, I felt strong(er) in the mountains. My times pale in comparison to the young riders but I was better today than 11 years ago. And only in the last five years have my rides been uploaded to Strava for those comparisons – and I broke every personal record there too. On a heavy gravel bile.
This mountain is where I come to get away. And this is where I find peace on a bike.
Distance: 20.4 miles Average: 15.4 mph Max Speed: 41.8 mph Weight: 179