For the second straight year, a year of great riding was marred by the passing of a friend. I reached 5,000 miles in October but slowed towards the end due to tendonitis or a torn meniscus or both. But then found the will to suffer through a cold December to reach 6,000 miles.
In order of chronology, here are my top ten rides:
(1) Riding in Pennsylvania – Abandoned Turnpike and Ligonier – Riding with the college kids has been fun the past three years and this year’s adventure through the tunnels at Breezewood and on to Ligonier would be no exception. On both days I rode in small groups with Jamie Roberts who would die on the road in Kentucky 10 days later.
(2) Ride the Rockies (Multiple Entries) – My second time and it is a blast riding in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I missed the first day due to a wedding then extended by a day to ride over Berthoud Pass to Winter Green, Colorado, with Bradley Allen. But it was a somber ride as we had just received the news of Jamie’s death.
(3) Stelvio Pass – I went to Italy with Trek Travel to ride in the Dolomites. I did not know much about these Italian climbs and I loved them all, none more than the 48 switchbacks one must navigate to climb over Stelvio Pass.
(5) Crater Lake and Alex – I planned to ride around Crater Lake, Oregon, and to ride with 12 year-old, Alex Shepherd. I achieved one of those. I rode around Crater Lake (it was awesome) but was at least able to visit with the Shepherd family even if we didn’t ride.
(6) Home Sweet Home – I’m about as native Pennsylvanian as one can be except that my grandmother was born in Oregon in 1907 (and then moved back to Pa.). She never returned but I did, doing a 50 mile ride in and around Sweet Home, Oregon.
(7) Washington – I promised Chey Hillsgrove that if he biked across the country again I would meet him at the finish. On their next-to-last day, I met him in Port Townsend, Washington, and rode 45 miles with him as part of a 70-mile day. And I went over 24,906 miles cancer-free (should that be a separate entry?).
24,906.25 miles – Cancer-free
(8) Mt Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb – My seventh straight year up the mountain, I came that close to not going. But I was encouraged by my daughter, Ashley. I didn’t push myself, we had the worst weather in seven years, but I can’t say that I really suffered. All that riding in Colorado and Italy must have been good for something. And we saw a moose. Or two.
(9) Livestrong Challenge – Great weather and great company, I didn’t ride 100 miles but it wasn’t about the miles. It was about riding for Jake The Hero Grecco and Alex Shepherd.
I am thankful for every ride, for every day of health. I don’t know what 2015 holds outside trying to organize a ride for to raise money for children’s cancer research. This I do know: the rides that become my “Top Ten” are rarely expected, rather something happens on the ride that makes them so memorable.
There’s not a Top Ten ride in here. There’s no great performance rides in here although the day after Christmas I had a personal best in D.C. And I had one on the W&OD near Leesburg. But riding this month wasn’t about performance.
Ashburn, Va. To left turn or not to left turn.
December should be a slow month. It is a cold month and this month was cold.
Train Station in Benson (Holsopple) Pa.
On June 2 I rode with Jamie Roberts near Bedford, Pa. We were talking about many things. She asked me how far I normally ride (year). I told her I like to get around 6,000 miles. But I was off to a slow start (then on pace for less than 3,500 miles). I expressed my doubt. She said “I think you can do it.”
W&OD decorated for Christmas, Herndon, Va.
I didn’t promise Jamie I would get to 6,000 miles. I sort of shrugged and we talked about eating at Panera in Altoona.
The Grinch, Vienna, Va.
Going into December I was far off pace when I remembered that conversation. So I rode. And rode.
David Vito, Barry Sherry
In one stretch of 11 days I covered 400 miles. I fought the winds but mostly the cold. December miles are tough miles. But I covered more in December than in January, February, March, April or November. I rode the same distance (592 miles) that I rode in May.
Early morning on W&OD, Dunn Lorring, Va.
The day after Christmas, inspired by our conversation of six months ago, I reached that “goal” that I never really set out to achieve.
Four Mile Run Trail, Alexandria, Va.
It took a lot to ride long miles in December. An hour in the cold is OK. But two to three (or longer) and it’s just cold. Fingers freeze. You think about being cold.
Union Station, Washington, D.C.
Many people ask me how far do I normally ride. I never know what to say. My average ride this year was 27 miles. In other years I think I was around 26 miles. But I don’t ride every day.
Can you guess what this is?
In December my average ride was 33 miles. That’s two hours, without stops, being outside in the cold. But I stopped. I took a lot of photos. By contrast, my average November ride was 21 miles. June was my best month, 39 miles per ride, but that was bolstered by six days of Ride the Rockies in which the average daily ride was 71 miles.
Stoney Creek, Hooversville, Pa.
Many of my descriptions of my December rides include the word “cold.” Yet I kept riding. I am sure it was my “best” December ever and if November through February constitute cold-weather months, it was my best cold weather month ever.
Almost 600 miles. Had I known today I was only eight miles short of 600 for the month I would have … parked the bike anyhow. I was freezing.
Built 1813, Stoystown, Pa.
My “6000” mile day was memorable in that I rode to Catholic University to honor Jamie. And my Pennsylvania ride on December 27 was pretty good. I forgot leg warmers and rode in the cold Pennsylvania air – planning to ride 10 but rode 27 miles – just an average ride in 2014.
It was my first cruise discounting the overnight ferries between Finland and Sweden. We flew into Orlando on Thursday and stayed at Walt Disney World’s All Star Music Resort.
Swimming Pool at All Star Music Resort
On Friday morning, we met Ashley and Bryan, Annabelle and Sonora, for breakfast. We then boarded a bus for Port Canaveral to meet our ship, the Disney Dream.
Disney Cruise Line bus
Everything on board the ship was taken care of. Food and soft drinks were free and unlimited. There were three swimming pools and a couple of water slides. I even utilized the fitness center Sunday morning but there was one thing missing. No where to ride.
In the fitness center were recumbent bikes but no upright bikes. I needed to ride.
Deck 11 aboard Disney Dream
Castaway Cay is a private island leased by the Disney Cruise Line for use by their guests. After swimming for a while in the crystal-clear turquoise water I needed to go for a bike ride.
Beach at Castaway Cay
They had bike rentals on the island – $10 for one hour. All they had were “cruisers,” many seemed to have rusted chains. I looked for one that had the best drive train and inflated tires.
There weren’t a lot of places to ride. I followed a path to an old (inactive) runway to a special bike trail that was a one mile loop. At the end of the loop, back on the runway, I turned and followed the road as far as it would take me to the ocean.
No longer an active runway. I hope.
I turned around and went back to the loop. I rode it again. And again. Then took the road
back to the beach. And back to the loop.
Part of the Bike Loop
I didn’t ride fast but I was faster than anyone on a bike. (Or foot.) Many people haven’t heard “on your left” or “passing” as they took up the entire road with their parties of two or three or four. I smiled. I was having fun. No big deal.
After an hour I returned the bike. Apparently I was charged $10 for an hour but I sensed an hour could have been 240 minutes. But I don’t know if I could have ridden that long on a cruiser. But regardless, it was a good day to be on a bike.
On June 14 I was riding on Berthoud Pass with Bradley Allen, climbing on the lower section, tears in my eyes. Then I knew I had to have a Ride of Silence for Jamie Roberts. She had been killed the day before and I was numbed by the news.
The logistics were relatively simple. We weren’t going to Kentucky so I made a decision to host it in Rockville. I had to wait for the 4K for Cancer to finish on August 9 so I was thinking mid-August. But Jamie’s team, Team Portland, suggested a date near her birthday and, working with her family, we settled on this day.
I sought permission from Ride of Silence and they told me there is the one event every May 3 but we could have a Tribute Ride. And so it was that today was the Ride of Silence Tribute Ride for Jamie Roberts.
I had no idea how many to expect. I first thought we would have a dedication circle, 4K style, but upon seeing all the people, roughly 60, we instead brought everyone into a circle, with their bikes. I welcomed the group and gave instructions on the ride (keep silent and ride on!). Jamie’s father, Bob Roberts, also thanked people and gave us more details on the route.
Although Team Portland brought more than half of their team, I asked Shelby Perkins to read a modified version of the Ride of Silence Poem. Shelby was also a 4K alum, Team Seattle, but was a college classmate and teammate of Jamie’s as well.
Barry Sherry, Anthony Venida
Today we number many but we’ll ride as one To remember Jamie whose ride is done
Our helmets on tight and heads down low, We ride in silence, cautious and slow
The dark sunglasses cover our tears Remembering her we held so dear
Today’s ride is to make others aware The road is there for all to share
To Jamie — not with us or by our side, May God be your partner on your final ride
(Credit/paraphrased from Ride of Silence Poem, by Mike Murgas)
Rock Creek Park
And then – I forgot to add a moment of silence! I suppose it wasn’t necessary since we would ride for the next hour in silence but I still wanted to do that.
We started on Bauer Drive then rode towards Rock Creek Park. It was beautiful looking back and not seeing the end of the riders.
Passing Jamie’s house
We reached Rock Creek Park and tried to maintain double file on the path since going to single file may cause a traffic jam. As we came upon a walker, Bob, who was riding side by side with me, coughed loudly to get their attention. Later, as we came upon a couple stretched across the path I announced we were coming by with a funeral procession on bikes. The guy laughed! I imagine he was embarrassed when he saw our silent procession, with black arm bands and lights flashing.
As we entered Jamie’s neighborhood there were a couple of hearts drawn on the street with Jamie’s name. As we passed her house we saw a 4K Flag and signs for 4K JR and Jamie Love.
Ariana Staffen, Julia Roberts
We rode at 10 mph and complete the 10 mile loop in one hour. Back at the school we gathered once more. Bob spoke and hugged every single rider. He asked for anyone to talk and called on me – and I was deep in personal thoughts to share with him, so I declined. But Shelby spoke and then we started saying our goodbyes.
Jackie Weiss, Shelby Perkins, Rachael Callahan, Eric Tien
Both Team Seattle and Team Portland asked me to meet them for lunch. Team Seattle was first which is the one I accepted but wish I could have gone with both groups.
It was an amazing day honoring Jamie. Friends, especially her Team Portland teammates, some “strangers” (other 4K alumni that had not met her), some of the Key to Keys riders, and total strangers joined her family in riding for her today.
4K Alimni Front – Caitlyn Epps, Katie O’Rourke Middle – Walt Drennan, Ashley Arnold, Mitchell William Parrish, Emily Lipsitz, Shelby Perkins, Chelsea Johnson Back – Taylor Mulkerin, Ariana Staffen, Anthony Venida, Margreteh Williams, Dan Johnson, Jackie Weiss, Adam Wedekind, Rachael Callahan, Chey Hillsgrove, Eric Tien, Joanna Wang, Chris Blazer, Emily Lake
I could feel Jamie’s presence in the wind and how the leaves fell. Complete silence except for the crunching of leaves under the wheels. I wish we didn’t have to have this ride but since the events of June 13 were tragically real, it was great to honor her.
This was about the LIVESTRONG weekend. Saturday morning I went to Mellow Johnny’s, Lance Armstrong’s bicycle shop, where I had reserved a bike for the Challenge. Reservation was simple and efficient. I recommend working with Peter Finklea, the Rentals Manager and I’d gladly rent there again.
I went over and met Will Swetnam and six other riders from Cyclists Combating Cancer at the Grand Hyatt. We rode five or six miles to Rudy’s, a country store / gas station / BBQ. That was a good lunch. As a first-timer they let me sample their “three main food groups:” Juicy beefy brisket, lean brisket, or turkey. I went with the lean brisket.
After lunch at Rudy’s we went over to the LIVESTRONG headquarters for packet pickup. As part of Cyclists Combating Cancer I was happy to find the room dedicated to our CCC group.
In the evening I attended the LIVESTRONG Awards dinner since I was part of Cyclists Combating Cancer, the top fundraising team. Unlike past dinners, I wouldn’t say there were headline speakers (no Lance Armstrong) but everyone, especially the award recipients, moved the audience.
After dinner I spoke with outgoing President/CEO, Doug Ulman. He was kind enough to pose with my new Team Alex jersey, in honor of Alex Shepherd.
It was a late night, a short night, and a very early morning. I was out of the hotel at 6:00 a.m. At check-in Saturday, the volunteer had encouraged me to get to the $500 threshold. I was at $240 at the time and he told me to come back Sunday. I have some wonderful friends who donated and thus I had earned a backpack overnight. I needed to get there early and pick it up before the event.
At the Challenge I was joined by Vanessa Beltran. She refereed for me five years ago and rode in the Texas 4000 from Austin to Anchorage this summer. We signed up to ride 100 miles.
Or maybe I should say I signed up for 100 miles. I love distance riding and there’s something about going the distance in a cancer ride. But Vanessa hadn’t ridden her bike since August 8, the day she finished her ride in Anchorage.
At the first rest, Vanessa saw a rider go through and pointed her out to me as I might be interested in talking with her. Once we were on the road, we first caught Kathryn Flowers, a staffer with the Texas 4000. After riding a while with them, I excused myself and went ahead to catch the rider who Vanessa told me was up the road.
I caught the rider and as I pulled up beside her I said “Seattle 2013 — that would be Bradley Allen’s group.” Alaknanda Renukuntla, who went by “Lucky,” looked at me in surprise. After chatting for a few minutes she told me that Bradley said “if you don’t already know Barry Sherry, you will one day.”
We rode into Rest Stop #2 which was a Texas 4000 Rest Stop. We met a number of the 2015 team. Vanessa was having a great time meeting them. Vanessa loved the rest stops and she took every opportunity to ask volunteers and riders their stories. And that is what the ride is really about. It’s not about the miles.
The weather was great. It was about 70° with a cloud cover as we rolled out. It didn’t burn off until more than halfway through the ride and even then, only reached the mid-80s.
I like this course. Two years ago I averaged almost 18 mph on the 100 miles including 22 mph for the last hour. And today I felt good. I certainly had 100-120 miles in my legs. I was enjoying reminding Vanessa of that. And she reminded me she hadn’t been on a bike in two months.
The final time for a reminder was at the “Biker Bar” rest stop, Dell’s Angels. There was a sign there announcing we had to be at the 4th stop by 10:30 a.m. to ride the 100-mile course. It was six miles away, the time was 10:06 a.m . By averaging 15 mph for 24 minutes, we could make it. It wouldn’t be that hard to make the cut.
“Lucky” would spend more time at this stop and we would leave her here.
Vanessa and I rolled ahead to the 4th stop and I counted down the seconds to the 10:30 cutoff. We missed it by a minute. At the stop, we met students from the Hispanic Student Association at the University of Texas. We talked to them about why we are riding. We talked about JakeGrecco and AlexShepherd. The students seemed surprised that kids would have cancer.
Although we had missed the cutoff I was already resigned that 65 miles would be enough. Actually, a volunteer offered to let me continue but I wasn’t to go on without Vanessa. I was enjoying the company and she needed a ride partner. It’s not about the miles.
Talking about the battles was more important than cranking out the miles. At the rest stop, we talked to the Grassroots winner who talked about his wife, Brianne. We also decided that it’s not about the miles and decided to ride 65 instead of 100.
Until Thursday’s ride which I unexpectedly rode 55 miles, I thought I would need 100 miles to reach 5,000 for the year. But I came in needing just 46 miles and would get it no matter which route we would ride. So my Livestrong ride would make 5,000 for the year whether I rode 65 or 100 miles.
Before cancer I didn’t track mileage other than look at the odometer on my bike. Unless the battery died, the odometer method worked great and I never had to record anything. But using a Garmin it became necessary to use a log.* When I returned from treatment in 2010 I started tracking mileage. And while mileage was never a goal, 5000 miles just seemed to be the right number for me. In 2010 I reached it on the LIVESTRONG Challenge course – Philly. It wasn’t during the August event but I drove there in late November to reach 5,000. And today it would be during an actual LIVESTRONG event.
I did not wear a Survivor’s bib. Five years ago in Philly I wore the bib. I needed to be a survivor. I needed to let the world know I was going to be a survivor. But today was about Alex Shepherd. And Jake Grecco. And a ton of other friends.
At the finish line the survivors are recognized. It was the only time on this day I allowed myself to be a survivor.
Five years ago I was choked with emotion. Today I was all smiles.
Waiting for me at the finish was a volunteer, Haley Gold. She was at the dinner with us, she’s an intern at LIVESTRONG, and also rode with the Texas 4000 this summer in Vanessa’s group. We saw her this morning as we rolled out at 7:30 and she waited for us, for me, to finish. It was very meaningful that she was the one the presented me with a rose.
It was a day I felt good. If I didn’t have the rental bike which needed to be returned by 5:00 p.m., I may have ridden 20 miles back to Buda, turned around, and finished with 100.
But instead we went to the LIVESTRONG lunch in the tent. And met other riders.
It was a day to remember my friends who passed. I lost a good friend, Joe Petrucelli, this past year. And to honor those who are battling. Good thoughts for Marilyn Chiodo and George Born. Katie Bugge. Brad Lawmaster. Ned Lowmaster. Patricia Lawmaster. Elaine B. And so many more…
And today was especially for Alex. Twelve years old and battling. I can’t imagine. I am hoping that next year he can come here, or to Davis**, and get his own yellow flower.
And I’ll be riding with him.
EDIT/EPILOGUE ___ *The evolution of tracking. I had a Trek bike computer that tracked distance and speed and had a built-in odometer. It was an upgrade to go to a GPS device (Garmin) but it did not have an odometer, thus it was necessary to use a log or a spreadsheet. Garmin also offered their website, Garmin Connect, where one could upload their rides which eliminated the need for a log. Later, RideWithGPS and Strava would offer their services as well. In those early days, that also meant using a USB cord and connecting the device to your computer for upload. Very clunky so I simply used a spreadsheet most of the time. Later, the devices became wireless and a ride is uploaded automatically once a ride is completed.
Unless I misremembered, prior editions of this event went off at 9:00 a.m. so I planned on getting up by 5:30 a.m. to drive to Harrisonburg. Late last night I checked the website and discovered we had an 8:00 a.m. roll out. Crap! That meant a 4:20 a.m. wake up alarm. But I did it.
Heaters at Registration
I arrived for check-in and saw Robert Hess, of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. I had enough time to get ready but I didn’t have time to waste. At check-in there were heaters running as it was pretty chilly.
I earned this Around The World Club jersey surpassing 24,901 miles on August 8
Before the race a number of riders’ names were read out as “call ups.” Not sure what more was going to happen. I heard my name – either as a donor or survivor, or both. At this event, cancer survivors do get front row privileges and I used mine, up front with Joe Dombrowski of Team Sky and Ben King of Team Garmin-Sharp.
Ben King, Joe Domsbrowski, Barry Sherry
We rolled out through Harrisonburg with a police escort. Ben King was at the front and I was not by his side but in the second or third row. Joe Dombrowski took a spot much farther back.
We rolled out in one massive group and I maintained this for the first nine miles. As we rode further I became less comfortable in the group as I spotted some questionable riding. I decided I’d rather not be part of this massive peleton as we rolled fast to the first timed climb. I found a pull off spot and let the group roll on.
Once there was a break in the group I jumped back onto the road – by myself. Of course there were riders all over the place. As I came to the timed climb on US 33 I had just been passed by three riders although two may have been together and one was a wheel sucker.
I stayed with one of those riders in blue
At first I thought they were going too fast for me to join them then realized I should. Once I latched on I realized that we were going at a pedestrian pace. A couple of guys went by like they were “racing.” I decided not to race anyone, at least not yet, and just stayed with them. I thought they may be going at a reasonable pace.
Ben King and Joe Dombrowski relaxing at the start
On the climb I stayed with them wheel for wheel. We passed many riders and I thought I was saving myself and doing much better than prior years. I had decided if I stayed with them to the finish I would not to try and race them to the line as they had been doing all the work but as we approached the summit they did not pick up the pace one bit as the grade flattened out. So I went.
Plenty of Salty Snacks
My time on the climb was 35:31 – about the same as two years ago and one minute slower than last year. I know I could have gone much harder on the bottom portion but don’t regret not doing it. Maybe next time I find faster guys to hang with.
First Rest Stop
It was a gorgeous day. My phone didn’t want to take pictures because it was full. So I didn’t stop on the descent down US 33. But it was beautiful. The vistas on this side (West Virginia) are especially stunning.
At the second rest stop, and the base of the climb up Reddish Knob, I started seeing familiar faces. Mariette Vanderzon. Dee Reeb. Allon Shiff. Rich McAfee. And I saw the drink of SanPellegrino, the one climb that kicked my butt this year.
And today’s climb would come close. Mariette caught me. She is a strong rider but not feeling so well. Although she eventually pulled away, she was always about 50-75 yards ahead of me. The climb has extended sections (2-3 miles) of 10-12% grade. This is really hard.
Allon Shiff, Rich McAfee
I rode my new bike which is not set up for climbing big long mountains. Without the right gearing, I would say this was the second hardest climb of the season for me – behind Pellegrino.
After the rest stop at Mile 59 (or so) I headed out on my own. And saw no one – up ahead or behind. When I came to the gravel section I stopped and talked to six Mennonite children. I explained to them my great-great-great-grandmother was Mary Wenger – the same name they had. They seemed excited by this.
With Robert Hess
Once back on the road I was “caught” by a rider. I had actually spent five minutes with the kids and saw the rider coming so waited for him. He was a first-timer and was not up to my pace. I slowed. When he cramped and walked I soft-pedaled and waited. We enjoyed each others’ company and rode together to the end.
Arriving back I was welcomed by Erin Bishop
and met with Robert Hess again. A quick bite to eat and some chocolate
milk, and I was headed home — needed to get to bed early after that
4:20 a.m. start.
Erin Bishop, Barry Sherry, Robert Hess Credit: Joe Foley Photohgraphy
It’s local. I ride on portions of it all the time so I never write about it. It is the Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail, which runs from Arlington Co., near Shirlington, to Purcellville in Loudoun Co.
Sign for motorists as they enter Virginia from the Key Bridge in Georgetown
Sign is in Rosslyn next to the Marriott
I could do it more justice by writing about its history. I won’t. But it runs 45 miles from Arlington to Purcellville, most of the way on the right of way of the old Washington & Old Dominion, or W&OD, or simply WOD (Wad).
Not this section but the same boardwalk on the Mount Vernon Trail
I crashed on this on July 3, 2013
I wanted to do a double, out and back, but wasn’t sure where I would start. I also knew that a double would give me 90 miles and I might as well go for 100, it being so close and all.
Passing under the Roosevelt Bridge into D.C.
Ideally, I’d like to start at the terminus near Shirlington. That is the low point on the trail. And I would head west to Clarkes Gap, the high point, which is between Leesburg and Purcellville. After a turn around it would be all downhill, right?
Potomac River looking at Memorial Bridge across to D.C.
Well, not exactly. But that’s the rough way to head. And for the extra 10 miles I would add the “Airport Loop” that goes by Washington Reagan National Airport. That uses the Custis and Mount Vernon trails.
W&OD between Purcellville and Hamilton
Parking was simple near Gallows Road in Dunn Loring. I started with the Airport Loop. At MP 9, I headed east and picked up the Custis Trail which goes along I-66 into Rosslyn. From there I connected to the Mount Vernon Trail which runs past the airport.
Lime Kilns in Leesburg
I was thinking of taking pictures along the way. It was at the end of the Custis Trail or the beginning of the Mount Vernon Trail where I crashed five years ago and broke my wrist and discovered cancer. Then, no more than 1/2 mile further, on the boardwalk was where I crashed July 3 last year and broke my collarbone. This route has not been good to me.
Four Mile Run Trail under I-395 Shirley Highway
The Mount Vernon Trail connects to the Four Mile Run Trail which connects to the beginning/end of the W&OD. Then the first eight miles are uphill. A gradual uphill, mostly, except where a railroad grade is not possible and the trail moves onto or next to a street.
Start/Finish at Shirlington
From Gallows Road through Vienna, Reston, Herndon, out past Dulles through Ashburn to Lessburg, the trail is mostly flat. There are sections of 1-2% grade, either uphill or downhill, in both directions, but I wouldn’t call one direction harder than the other.
Bridge on W&OD over Rte 7 in Falls Church
At Leesburg the trail climbs up to Clarkes Gap, through a heavily wooded section which is arguably the nicest on the trail. At Clarkes Gap it goes through Hamilton to Purcellville which is the turnaround point.
Caboose in Vienna
That is it. I started at MP 9 and did a loop which made it 26 miles. Purcellville was 63 miles and from there it was another 35 miles or so back to the car. I diverted, both ways, to The Bike Lane, at Reston Town Center to say hello to the guys and fill my bottles with water.
Stone Bridge at Clarkes Gap
The W&OD is traffic-free but there are also many intersections with stop signs or even traffic lights (usually very long lights). But if one wants 100 miles on a bike and no traffic – this is it. You are never far from a bike shop or restaurant. In fact, I forgot my saddle bag with tubes and CO2 and never ever worried about it – confident that other riders could help me if need me (I did carry an extra tube so I wasn’t a complete jerk).
I remember my first group ride. I got dropped. Everyone got dropped. The ride blew up. I finished last. Sometimes that happens.
This was a Potomac Pedalers group ride, rated BB (which is B+, better than B, not quite A). Sometimes, especially when the BB ride is the fastest ride available, some A riders slip in and the speed creeps up. And the ride blows up.
There were 15 of us at start but someone mentioned a second group was following at a CC pace. So eight of us rolled out at a BB pace. It was a beautiful early Fall day although it is still summer.
This was the three of us
As we rode there were three of us who stayed together on the climbs while the other five dropped back. Still, we tried to soft pedal on the flats to keep everyone together.
We stopped in Warrenton at the Great Harvest Bread Co. I had been talking to a rider, John, who was an XTERRA rider and knew Scott Scudamore. It was good to reminisce about Scott. As we rolled out of town three riders moved to the front and I was on the back. A 100 yard gap opened up so I left my position as 8th wheel and bridged up to the lead group.
Three of us, and I don’t know their names, rode ahead of the others but stayed, and worked together. As we approached Marshall we sat up, no, we stopped, and waited for the other five.
One guy I really like was from Great Britain. I will call him Mick because it sounds British. He had brought a friend, who was on just his fourth ride. Mick’s friend was a spin instructor but this ride, with its rolling hills, was too much for him. Mick asked me if he should double back and ride with him. I told him that, yes, WE should.
And it was then I had the realization. Even though I had been in the front group of three, this was a ride, not a race – why be in a hurry to be first in a group ride (I know, I have before. Sigh). We doubled back.
As the group went ahead we came back to Rte 55 near The Plains. Mick asked which way and I told him right. Then I pointed to the rider up the road about 1/2 mile. Mick said “let’s catch him.”
Mick started out and I was tight on his wheel. Then I passed him to take my turn. We closed the gap in no time. That was fun.
We headed on the back roads to Antioch Road. Here it trends downhill and Mick left his friend behind for good. I doubled back. I rode with Mick’s friend to the end for which he expressed many thanks.
I could have had a higher averaged speed (17 mph). But it was fun being on a group ride and actually being part of a group. Even if I finished last.
It was hot. And I was worried. Last year I cramped by Mile 9. I did go out hard last year and posted my best time on the seven mile “warmup” climb from Thurmont up through the Catoctin Mountains. But today it was already humid and I wanted to pedal slowly.
It worked. By worked I mean I posted my worst time of six efforts. Although it was only 53 seconds slower than three years ago when I must have tried to go hard. But I didn’t cramp so I was pleased and thought I was on a good day.
South Mountain Creamery
On course I came to the unmarked hill where I have hit 50 on the descent. I held some back and only hit 48.3 mph. I’m never quite sure I’m on the right descent until it’s too late.
Rest Stop at Gapland on South Mountain
New this year was a reroute which took us up a challenging little climb. It was on Mt. Tabor Road just beyond Myersville, which we did not ride this year. It was a little more than 1/4 mile but much was at 14% grade. That was quite a surprise. I had been side by side with a rider from California who complained about “east coast roads.” I never saw him again once we started climbing. He quickly fell off the back.
Peaches – Fresh Peaches
It was a different route this year. Some of it was due to construction including the tarring (and chipping) of some roads which makes for messy bikes. And some of it was rerouted because communities complained – I am assuming Myersville and Boonesboro – two towns the route historically has gone through but today did not.
Rest Stop at Gapland
After the first rest area on South Mountain the Burnside Bridge Road was closed and we went up Porterstown Road instead. This climb was just nasty. Hot and humid, there were sections at 17% grade. It took us just past the battlefield at Antietam which was not on course this year due to road construction on the Burnside Bridge Road.
Near Boonesboro, Maryland
Arriving at the second rest stop I filled my bottles and drank one on the spot. And promptly filled it again. I was going through water faster than I could replenish it. I was out of water by the first rest stop, out by the second, and just could not keep enough on the bike.
One of the volunteers looked at me and said “today, you’d be best to take the bailout.” It’s hard enough fighting those voices from within but when a volunteer tells you to bail out I have to admit it became a thought.
The neat thing about this ride is the full century ride features a “bailout” option at Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. If after 65 miles of riding you’re just not feeling it, or you are dehydrating, or storms are coming, one can descend nine miles back to the start in Thurmont.
At the rest stop I heard some riders talking about the bailout and they checked the maps. On the climb one could go up a shaded road or out in the sun. I’ve done both. As I rode up Raven Rock Road I came to the turn to Richie Road. There must have been 10-15 riders there contemplating which way to go. Some were already going straight, which, IMHO, is not where they wanted to go. Richie Road is shaded and it’s the same climb up the same ridge.
Thunder and Lightning – Storms moving in
Up and over the top, the last major climb of the day, I descended to Fort Ritchie and Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. I saw a man changing a tire and went back to “help” (really, I was just curious – I wasn’t really going to help). It was my friend, Sean Walker. I was hoping to see him today and now got to ride with him.
Sean had been coaching a client and we were talking about the heat. I was already out of water and the next stop would be another 15 miles in Fairfield, Pa. He suggested the bailout. Had he been riding to Gettysburg, I would have too, but there’s strength in numbers. Sean took the bailout and I started to head to Gettysburg. I had been lifted by an adrenaline rush from seeing him. But it wore off and I realized I would be suffering for no good reason. I find the alternative bailout route.
Back in Thurmont, we got our ice cream and watched the storms roll in. They were pretty strong. We were thankful we made the right decision, heat or not. And very thankful not to be caught in the storms.
It’s not often I make good decisions on the bike. I am willing to finish, no matter what. So it’s hard to make a decision not to finish. But many were caught in bad storms plus I was on my brand new bike and wasn’t ready to subject it to bad weather. Not yet. So maybe if it wasn’t about me today, it was about the bike.
Well, it’s not really the Trexlertown Turnpike. I began the day hoping that my sister, Betsy, and I would take our dad to the Great Allegheny Passage at Rockwood and ride about 12 miles to Fort Hill. But he said he was too tired to ride (he is 85) and I had kept him out late past midnight at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game.
Pumping Station Road Entrance
Betsy previously had expressed interest in riding the Abandoned Turnpike at Breezewood. Fresh off buying lights for her bike last week at the 25 Hours of Booty, we both drove to Breezewood.
Entrance off Pumping Station Road It is not marked
I had my Trek Domane and a Trek MTB with me. The pavement on the Pike2Bike ranges from average to poor, with a lot of poor. All things being equal, I would choose a mountain bike over a road bike but it’s not bad on a road bike. It’s just better on fatter tires. However, since I had both with me it meant I had to leave one in the car so I chose to leave the MTB in the car instead of the road bike.
Entrance off Pumping Station Road
Entering from Breezewood, and after climbing the steep trail up to the start, you have your choice of four lanes of pavement, although it is often hard to tell. You start out in the left “lane” – that is where the entrance puts you. My experience is to ride the left lane to the Rays Hill (first) Tunnel. After exiting the tunnel, ride the left lane for a couple of miles but then switch over to the right lane before reaching the Sideling Hill (second) tunnel. After exiting the second tunnel, stay left. These are my suggestions only and know and there is no perfect line to follow.
Eastern entrance to Sideling Hill (second) Tunnel
I flatted after exiting the Sideling Hill Tunnel. I couldn’t find any glass in the tire but there is a little bit of glass on the trail. I think it was probably a pinch flat from the rough pavement.
Closest intersection to Pike 2 Bike
Once out at the far end, we rode another mile just to see where the roads lead. Then we
turned around and went back.
Exit of Sideling Hill Tunnel, looking west
After our ride I drove to Trexlertown. The last couple of years, the cancer support group, Spokes of Hope, was at Trexlertown to honor pediatric cancer survivors. This year, the invitation did not come until Wednesday, so we scrambled to get participants, both big and small.
Valley Preferred Velodrome Trexlertown, Pa.
I arrived at 3:30, we took some practice rides on the track at 4:00 p.m., coached by Cindi Hart. The kids stayed down (on the track). The grownups stayed up. Cindi ran us through some drills but in the end I think it was just the two of us.
After the practice ride I went on to over to the Bob Rodale fitness track. Three lanes: slow bikes on left, roller bladers in the middle, fast bikes on the right. What a great track to ride.
Cancer Survivors and Warriors
At 7:00 p.m. (scheduled) or 7:15 or 7:20 (actual) we were introduced to the crowd at the Valley Preferred Velodrome. We took 3-4 laps and the crowd cheered the entire time for the survivors and cancer warriors. It warmed my heart.
The races are a blast to watch, especially the Madison where teammates take turns and sling their partners ahead when they make the exchange. The German-Austrian duo of Marcel Kalz and Andreas Graf killed the field, lapping them in both the 50 and 100 lap races although American and local favorite, Bobby Lea, was not there.
My dear cousins, Stacey and Gary Gravina, came over from Phillipsburg, New Jersey to see me (or maybe just see the races). It was so great to see them and their boys.
Barry and Stacey
Abandoned tunnels in western Pa., velodrome in eastern Pa. – I’d say it was a good day.