Shortest Group Ride Ever

GAINESVILLE, VIRGINIA

It was listed as a “CC” ride out of Gainesville. I had hoped that Terry Moran would go and I would shepherd him through the 39 or 49 mile ride. But he was injured so I thought I would go myself, even though the pace was slower than what I normally ride.

Although I had turned the cue sheet into a GPX file and downloaded that to my Garmin, I have ridden everyone of these roads before so directions were no problem. I pulled into the parking lot at 8:55 a.m. (wheels down, 9:00 a.m.) and quickly got ready to roll out.

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Rolling through Gainesville

The first riders took off and I quickly joined them. I was following a couple who were riding two abreast and his Gatorade came flying off the bike, almost causing an accident. We have water bottle cages on our bikes designed to hold water bottles – not Gatorade bottles. I wasn’t sure about riding in this group.

Just two miles from start we passed Antioch Road. As I rolled past I decided to go back and ride solo. I did a U-turn, the last I would see the group. I turned then went up Antioch Road and figured I would add a couple of miles then fall in behind the group at The Plains. The group ride would be fun because I would be in chase mode. Not hammer mode, just casually riding knowing that I would catch the group.

Hopewell Road, near The Plains
Hopewell Road, near The Plains

I miscalculated. The distance from Antioch Road to The Plains via Rte 55, the way the group went, was 7.4 miles. I figured my route was 2-3 miles father. It was actually only one mile farther, and even riding conservatively, it would only add four minutes to my time.

The Plains

On the road joining the route at The Plains, I figured I was behind the last rider and that I would soon catch some riders. I didn’t, but neither did I worry about it because I was just out for my own ride. Approaching Great Meadows I thought I saw a couple of riders ahead which I timed them at two minutes before I stopped to take pictures. I caught them at Marshall where Greg and Jennifer had pulled over with a derailleur issue.

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Greg got the chain back on her big gear which would enable Jennifer to finish the ride. Although she talked of calling a cab, I suggested that she simply turn around and ride back to her car in the big gear. I’m wasn’t sure where they were from but Greg asked if there was a shortcut back and I assured him that staying on Rte 55 was the shortest way. I told them, correctly, that it was about 12 miles.

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They headed back and I headed to Marshall. Then the thought struck me. Even chasing, I really wasn’t having much fun on the bike. I went about a quarter of a mile then turned around. I had remembered Haymarket Bikes is in The Plains. I caught them in The Plains and told Jennifer there was a bike store here.

Jennifer, who was walking her bike up a hill since it was stuck in the big gear, said that she would ride on and take the bike to her local bike shop. This, in my opinion, was not a good decision. The bike shop could have fixed her cable in 20 minutes and she could be on her way. But we often don’t make good decisions on the bike. Or while pushing it.

I turned around then went back Hopewell and Antioch Roads, thinking again I was adding 3-4 miles more than Rte 55. I now know it was just one mile farther.

I made one stop. I passed a wine glass alongside the road. I know people throw out bottles and cans but a wine glass? I stopped and picked it up lest it broke and there was glass on the shoulder.

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I thought I might catch Greg and Jennifer but didn’t. I assumed they were ahead of me and beat me back to my car. They probably weren’t.

It wasn’t the group ride I expected. Only in looking at the route I took do I now realize I only added one mile to my chase and, except for Greg and Jennifer, had probably came in ahead of the group at The Plains. I wasn’t chasing at all. I was still ahead of the group.

When I had caught them they didn’t act as though they were off the back of the group and was surprised to see a rider. In fact, in retrospect, they acted more like a couple of people off the front of a ride and weren’t surprised that I came along when I did.

Gainesville, Va.
Gainesville, Va.

It was fun trying to support them although they really didn’t take my advice. But I had gone into the red yesterday climbing Mount Weather and a recovery ride was in order today.


Blue Ridger

MARSHALL, VIRGINIA

Four hours later and my legs are like Jell-O. Or feel like crap. Take your pick. The last time they felt this way after a ride was 11 months ago on the climb to San Pellegrino (Italy). And this was no San Pellegrino.

Looking back, which I’m good at doing, the signs were all there. My breakfast consisted of a handful of grapes and one banana. I carried no food nor money with me. I had two water bottles on the bike.

Rectortown Road north of Rectortown
Rectortown Road north of Rectortown

The ride started out OK. I was late, very late, to the Park & Ride lot in Marshall. Most cyclists who do this ride start out early in the morning and it was almost noon. One rider was ready to go and I thought he might come over and ask me where I was going. He did not.

One underway I turned on Rectortown Road and headed north. In no time I caught the rider. I asked him where he was headed and he said he had no idea. I asked him if he wanted to do the Blue Ridger with me and he pretty emphatically said no way. I passed him never to see him again.

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Although I have said my Altoona ride in 2010 was my first post-cancer ride, in truth I had come out here a couple of weeks before the Altoona ride, to see if I was ready. So this was my first post-cancer ride five years ago. As I rode I thought about my cancer diagnosis and treatment and where my journey has taken me.

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I didn’t have a goal for the day. Finish. Not stop. Yes, that’s right. Don’t even put a foot down. Don’t ask why. That’s not the smartest goal.

In Bluemont I passed the Bluemont Country Store and started the climb up the north face of Mount Weather. It was not easy. I rode my Trek Domane which is not geared as low as the Trek Pilot.

Bluemont Country Store
Bluemont Country Store

This was my first climb of the year. I struggled. The first section is out of Bluemont to a switch back where one can recover before climbing the final stretch on Rte 7. The climb on Rte 7 was easy. It is graded for cars to cross the mountain and its 6% grade was a recovery section. But then I turned on Blue Ridge Mountain Road and it had sustained sections of 12-14%. As I was climbing I met two hikers come down.

Route 7 near the top of Snickers Gap
Route 7 near the top of Snickers Gap

“How are you,” they asked.

“Tired.”

I asked them how they were and they said they were tired too. But they were going down, I was still climbing.

On top of Mt Weather
On top of Mt Weather

The top of Mount Weather, well, there is no top. The road goes up and down, always teasing the rider into thinking the descent is finally here and then another climb is in the way.

One passes a secret government facility (think X-Files, if you’re old enough) which is now run by FEMA. But for six miles, what seems to be the top of the climb is a series or rollers. Serious rollers.

Ashby Inn, Paris, Va.
Ashby Inn, Paris, Va.

I did reach the top and began my descent. I turned on US 50 and hugged the white line on this busy four lane road. Thankfully, the road from Clarks Gap to Paris is zoned for 45 mph and is downhill so I was able to maintain close to that (my high speed was 44.45).

On this day I felt good until the climb. I knew it took a lot out of me. It felt good to sweat on the bike and I sweated a lot. But now was payback time.

I rolled through Paris (Va.) and came to US 17. Riding on US 17 through Crooked Valley wasn’t bad. There was a small shoulder easy enough to ride. Then I turned on Leeds Manor Road and the pavement was terrible. Uneven. Rough. Lots of holes.

A description of this route is counterclockwise is the hard way up Mount Weather and the easy way up Naked Mountain. My only hope, and what I clung to, was I at least had the easy climb on Naked Mountain.

Naked Mountain Winery
Naked Mountain Winery

It wasn’t easy. It was hard. Damn hard. And I had two or three sweat bees constantly land on me as I tried to swat them off.

I summited the climb then began the descent off Naked Mountain on a real rough road. I felt better when I reached James Madison Highway (aka Rte 55) since the pavement was great. But I was going into a headwind.

Tired at the end
Tired at the end

I suffered the last 10 miles and knew I wasn’t going well. Only later would I discover that that was my worst time ever ride the loop. It was my worst time up Naked Mountain, but astonishingly enough, I had my best time on the climb up Mount Weather. Perhaps pushing a higher gear than I have in the past improved my time at the expense of zapping my energy.


Rockville Ride of Silence

ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND

In October I organized a Tribute Ride for Jamie Roberts. Then I found that Rockville had an annual Ride of Silence. I wrote to the ride’s contact, David Merkin, and proposed that they dedicate this year’s ride to Jamie. They did.

It was a record turnout for the Rockville Ride of Silence. The unofficial count was between 60-70 riders. The one reluctance they expressed in dedicating the ride to Jamie was they were afraid hundreds may show up. I assured them there would be a small bump but it would not be unmanageable. And it wasn’t.

Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts

David welcome the group and introduced Bob Roberts, Jamie’s father. Bob had broke his hip in a bike crash six weeks earlier and was using a walker. On the sidewalk he spoke of Jamie and her life. And he read her summary of why she became a rider to fight cancer.

We rolled out with a police escort. While the ride was supposed to go off at 10-12 mph, there were times we were rolling along at 20 mph. There were some younger, and older, riders who couldn’t quite manage that pace and some gaps developed.

Once we left, we rode in silence. Lights on. Safety colors. Traffic was mostly respectful.

At one intersection there was a gap behind me, and I often road in the gap to drive to protect the second group. As I reached the intersection I stopped in the traffic lane to keep a car from pulling out as there were riders coming. The driver honked – just as a police car came into the intersection. I can only imagine how small he must have felt when he saw the cyclists had the right of way.

The last mile we rode down Md. 355, a six-lane highway, three in each direction. The police rode behind us blocking one lane. The problem was, a couple of riders decided to ride over the lane in the second lane as well. This was not cool. I could not tell if it was intentional defiance of taking another lane or just riding side by side and losing his line.

Arriving back at start, I said goodbye to the Roberts family, not sure when I would see them again. But the next time Jamie will be honored, I’ll be there.


One of Those Clippy Guys

CLARKES GAP, VIRGINIA

I have been doing a series of rides with Terrance Moran, helping coach him to do his first 50 mile ride. We have been going at his speed, which is about 12.0 mph, as he gets comfortable in distance riding with clip in shoes.

Today I was by myself and I wanted to ride to Clarkes Gap and back from Reston. It was warm, around 80 degrees, and I took off. Unlike weekends, when I seemed to get passed by all the hammerheads, today I was only passed once.

Trail at Clarks Gap
Trail at Clarks Gap

After the Luck Stone Quarry a young guy on a Time Trial bike came flying by me, and truth be told, scared me a little. He made no mention of “passing” or “on your left.” Just head down, ear buds in. So I reacted like any sane, somewhat pissed off cyclist would: I jumped on his rear wheel and stayed there for the next seven minutes (two miles). He was annoyed and when we came to the stoplight in Leesburg he asked why I was drafting him. Real answer was “because I could” but I said, “Oh, sorry, I was just waiting to hear ‘on your left.'” Was that wrong?

At the top of Clarkes Gap I turned around into a slight headwind. After rolling through Leesburg I stopped for a candy bar at the Carolina BBQ restaurant on the trail in Ashburn. As I was walking out, making noise coming down the wooden ramp, an older woman, also a cyclist, said “you’re one of those clippy guys.” Laugh out loud. Yes, I guess I am.

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Back on the trail I felt myself slowing down. I was supposed to have a tail wind returning but was going into a head wind. Once finished and uploaded the ride I was surprised I was four seconds faster coming back than going out. I swear I was slower. I averaged almost 17 mph, solo, on a relaxed day, which was a vast improvement over the 12 mph which I have been averaging. With Terry.

 


Three State Ramble

CHARLES TOWN, WEST VIRGINIA

It has been a long time since I have ridden in this area. Rather than spend all day in the pool, I thought I would do a version of the three-state ramble which I have done in the past. This one would be clockwise.

I left Bethany’s place and headed out Old Country Club Road. Crossing U.S. 340 it becomes a Cattail Run Road, a country road. At the end it dead ends into the Old Rte 9 where one crosses the Shenandoah River. At the end of the bridge I followed a road down to the river’s edge which was a perfect place to start the climb.

The road is a “mid-major” road. It used to be the main route over the mountain but it very windy and hilly with no shoulders. The bypass has been in for two years so it was surprising the number of cars still using this road. I assume they’re all locals.

The only decision point on the route was when the road turned for the last 3/4 mile up the mountain. Straight ahead was a road, Hostler Road, which I guessed continued under the bypass. I was right. The road was very “lumpy.” When it was build years ago there was no grading, just paving. And it showed. There were lots of little rises that were like punches to the gut.

Eventually, after a couple miles of teasing, the road turned down. I crossed a crosswalk, a painted crosswalk, out in the woods, which I knew to be the Appalachian Trail. Hostler Road had ended and became Chestnut Hill Road which ended at U.S. 340 across the Shenandoah River from Harpers Ferry.

This stretch of road is not fun. No shoulders and impatient traffic. I was in Virginia for just 0.6 miles but was glad to leave as fast as I entered.

I eyed up the long bridge over the Potomac River on U.S. 340 and decided the only place for a bike was on the road. A two lane road. I think I timed the last of the traffic from the light and took off with no traffic and got 3/4 of the way across before any traffic caught me. I took the middle of the lane so not to allow or encourage someone to try to pass where there was no room.

At the end of the bridge I climbed up towards Brunswick, Maryland, and when I saw Sandy Hook Road, knew I was supposed to follow it. It’s a narrow two lane road which goes down to the river’s edge, separate by the C&O Canal and two tracks of CSX Railroad. I heard a train coming through Harper’s Ferry and waited for it to come out of the tunnel. Then followed the road until I found a bridge over the canal.

Bridge over C&O Towpath
Bridge over C&O Towpath

I rode on the towpath for about 1/4 mile then climbed the stairs up to the railroad bridge. Once in Harpers Ferry there is a half-mile hill, at times pushing 12%. A couple of guys near the top yelled to me “only five miles to the top.” I laughed. “I know this hill well,” I responded. Jerks.

I looked for an alternative to 340, went through Halltown, then found my way back. It was only 27 miles but my legs said it was much longer.