Easter Ride


Listening to the weather forecast this morning they determined that no prior Easter in Washington, D.C. had ever reached 80 degrees. Today it would. Of course, this was also the latest Easter in recent memory. It was a beautiful day for a ride and to try my new route to Charles Town.

The middle portion of my trip would remain unchanged — that from Aldie to Airmont via Snickersville Turnpike. But those 11 miles would be the only constant. 

Snickersville Turnpike

I had determined that from Airmont to Charles Town was about the same distance whether I cross on Va. 9 at Keyes Gap or took Va. 7 over Snickers Gap. But traffic, not distance, should be the determining factor in finding the best way.

I’m not sure how many times I have crossed on Rte. 9, less than 10, but it’s never a fun proposition. Entering just west of Hillsboro, Rte. 9 is two-lane, 55 mph, with no shoulder, sharp curves, and a two mile climb, although only the second mile is where the road kicks up.

Bluemont, Virginia

My maps showed that if I stayed on Snickersville Turnpike and crossed the mountain at Va. Rte 7 it would be much safer. One doesn’t need to actually get on Rte. 7, which is a major four-lane road over the mountain, until about 1 kilometer, or 0.6 miles, from the top. Plus there is a decent size shoulder, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it real wide. But I knew I didn’t have to ride on Rte 7 except for that mile going over the top and then just over one mile (two kilometers), where I would cross the Shenandoah River.

Snickersville Turnpike

At the southern end of the trip, I had taken the Prince William Parkway to Rte 234/Sudley Road past the Manassas Battlefield to Gum Springs Road. Following Gum Springs I took Braddock Road, which in these sections, is a very rough unpaved road for more than two miles. It connected with U.S. 15 for one mile and U.S. 50 for another 1.7 miles. My goal was to avoid these two major U.S. routes, both of which were two lanes and neither of which had much of a shoulder.

I headed down Bristow Rd which is a two-lane road with no shoulder but most drivers are pretty good about respecting cyclists on this road. It turns into Linton Hall Road which was the only part of the route I did not like. Four lanes, it is curb-to-curb with no shoulder, a 45 mph speed limit which meant most cars were doing 55 mph. The total distance on this portion was 10 kilometers (6 miles).

It was a short trip through Haymarket to Antioch Road at which time I stopped to call home and then was met by another cyclist, “Kenny.” We chatted as we rode off together. It was fun for a while but then I soon realized I was near the red zone. He was setting a pretty fast pace and I was struggling to stay on his wheel. I enjoyed his companionship but was relieved when he turned to ride up Ridge Road. 

The Yellow House on Snickersville near Bluemont

With just one missed turn, I made my way to Aldie and Snickersville Turnpike. The day was gorgeous and the spring blossoms were on the trees. Snickersville is a roller coaster and for every screamin’ downhill section, you pay on the other side with a climb. It softened up the legs for sure.

I stopped at the general store in Bluemont and surveyed the dark clouds on the mountain. I knew I’d be getting wet sometime. Some things you can’t avoid.

Bluemont General Store

With temperatures in the 80s, I really didn’t mind the rain at the top of the mountain and as quickly it came it seemed to leave – or I left it. At the bottom of the hill, I crossed the Shenandoah River and turned on Casselman Road. I followed the Shenandoah River briefly then turned and was surprised to find my route turned to dirt. A gravel road. Oh well. It was 2.5 miles (4 km) over the dirt before I was on Wickcliffe Rd. 

Gravel. I am not a fan.

I came to Kabletown Road and followed this to Old Cave Road to Charles Town. But I saw lightning in the distance. Dark clouds were looming ahead and I knew I was going into it. Again. I looked for shelter but found none and rode through about 10 minutes of the worst of it. Lightning followed by an almost immediate crack of thunder. It was scary.

Bluemont General Store

I was drenched, but I was safe, I made it to Charles Town.

On the day it was an 80 mile ride which was a bit longer than the old route but almost all of it, more than 10 km (6 miles) is because of the Haymarket portion. I traded a couple of miles of dirt roads on Braddock Road for faster traffic on Linton Hall Road. I need to think if that’s a fair tradeoff.

The climb on Rte 7 is more formidable than the mountain crossing on Rte 9 and is safer too so this way is definitely in the books as the route to follow. I have to look for more paved roads and less dirt in Clarke Co., Va. but those 2.5 miles weren’t that bad.

Even with the thunderstorm, it was a great day on the bike.

Going Back to France


It’s a cold and rainy day with temperatures in the high 40s (9 C). Not much better I can do than to plan my trip to France.

When I left France last year I always knew I would return someday – I just didn’t know it would be this year. Initially, I planned to return to Saint-Lary-Soulan in the Pyrenees and meet Adrian Register, who rode with us (our Trek Travel group) our first day last year.

As I am planning this trip it has become obvious that you cant’ get there from here. “There” being Saint-Lary and “here” being Toulouse. No public transportation so I will rent a car.

But the car will also free me to do more riding. Last year we rode the Col d’ Peyersourde and rode the brakes down the entire time, unable to see more than 50 meters in front of us, and not willing to go faster because of the cold and keeping in mind the roads were dangerously wet too.

Peyresourde on a nice day 
(Credit: www.cycling-challenge.com)

I don’t have any of my own pictures from the Peyresourde from last year other than the obligatory photo taken at the top of the peak.

 Peyresourde on a not-so-nice day

It was very cold descending and we could not determine whether the curves ahead were sweeping bends or hairpin killers. We rode slowly on the descent. I would love to ride the Peyresourde again, this time bombing the descent. But I’m not sure that I will.

Last year I was with a group which had an itinerary and always intersected with the Tour de France. This year I won’t be chasing the Tour and will have more time to focus on riding.

IMHO, there aren’t three more famous climbs in the Tour than the Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and Alpe d’Huez. Only once, in 1994, have all three been used in the same Tour.
And I will do all three.

Part of me wants to repeat each and every climb from last year but part of me says to keep those memories and create new ones on new climbs. And so I am planning Superbagnères instead of Pla d’Adet. A different approach over the Col d’Aspin. But the Tourmalet remains. And to the summit this year!

Nokesville to Summerduck


My annual mileage is actually behind where I was one year ago when we had 60″ of snow and I was slow in recovering from cancer surgery. This winter wasn’t severe but we’ve had many days colder than normal.

I was invited to join Joe Penano and some riders from The Bike Lane team on a 70-mile ride out of Middleburg, Va., but was afraid that I wasn’t up to their level of fitness and would slow them down or get dropped. Instead, I opted for a Potomac Pedalers ride where I would know no one.

It was listed as a BB/A ride and I hoped it would be more BB than A. Or that we would have enough for two groups and I could join the BB group. Even then I was worried that I did not have the fitness to keep up with the BB group.

Maybe, even more, was the first time I when I first did a PPTC ride from Nokesville I did a BB ride and got dropped. I learned that A riders sometimes jump in the BB rides and naturally ramp up the pace. I was hoping we’d have enough for two groups, an A and a BB.

There were 10 of us. One group.

Our ride would take us to U.S. 17 to Summerduck in Fauquier County and back to start.

We started fast and went faster. Ten of us were in a paceline although I wouldn’t say we were maximized for speed. Each person as they moved up front took monster pulls instead of my preferred 20-30 seconds at the front. When it was my turn I pulled for about a mile (monster pull) then moved over just as the group was ready to hammer a downhill. My bad. I lost contact although the group did sit up and wait for me to come back.

About five miles from our rest stop we hit a hill and I was in last at the bottom. At the top, I was only 10 meters or so behind but did not have the recovery to hammer the pace. Ten meters grew to 40 and then 100. Then I lost contact. I pulled out my cue sheet and knew I was in trouble. I had switched Garmin to kilometers while the cue sheet was in miles. But a quick math lesson and I found myself back to the group at our rest stop. There was another rider behind me and he came in 3-4 minutes later.

Averaged 18.5 mph, I didn’t think I could continue this pace for the second half of the ride and was content to ride home alone. But we took off and I stayed with them. My mind kept thinking just get to me Sowego Road or Brentstown Road or Fleetwood Drive. Then I would sit up and soft pedal home.

The ten of us stayed together and the pace increased. We eventually dropped a rider and around 80 km. I lost contact and dropped back 30-40 meters but was able to catch the group at Brentstown Road. One or two riders waited for the dropped rider and the rest of us took off. I was still hanging in there until we hit a rise and a felt a sharp twinge in my quad. Cramp! Crap!

I immediately sat up and pulled myself out of the group. I knew then to soft-pedal the rest of the way and be content with what I had accomplished.

Only once did I ride this year as much as 16 mph and that was the Reston Bike Lane ride which always moves. I had hoped for 16, or dare I think, 17 on this ride. I came home at 19.0 mph.

I spent a lot of time in Heart Rate Zones 2 and 3 (two hours 23 minutes), 24 minutes in Zone 4, and two minutes in the red. I worked hard.

Clearly, my fitness is lacking but it was a great ride with an A class group.