Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

I did not have a good feeling about this weekend. Tires, like most bike parts, have been in short supply since last year. It caught up to me on Monday when I had a flat on my front wheel.

Rocktown Bicycles, Harrisonburg, Va.

I bought replacement Schwalbe tires and installed them on Thursday. On Friday I rode to Fosters in Manassas. While I was eating the rear tire went PFFFFFFT. That was strange for a new tire but I pulled out my repair kit, put in a new tube, and was ready to roll.

Rocktown Bicycles, Harrisonburg, Va.

The tire held well despite only 40 psi. I stopped at home, brought the pressure up to 90 psi, then finished my ride. After I put the bike back the rear tire went PFFFFFFT. I changed the tire and one hour later the third new tube went PFFFFFFT. Well, it was time to learn my lesson. I inspected the wheel and saw there was a hole in the rim tape. It was 7:00 p.m. on Friday and no place for repair. I would travel to Harrisonburg with a wheel needing repair.

James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Yesterday I went Rocktown Bicycles in Harrisonburg. This is a very nice shop and Sean greeted me. I told him what I needed and in 10 minutes I was out the door and ready to roll.

Maybe move the post two feet? Harrisonburg, Va.

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Early morning registration

My alternative was that I went to Brothers Craft Brewing and then the Hotel Madison, two locations we had used in the past. No ride. Since registration was at 2:00 p.m. and I decided to ride around town. And that was OK because I did not need a 30-mile ride before the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.

Robert Hess and Barry Sherry line up first for the roll out

I stayed in town at Tru by Hilton. Who uses alarm clocks? Well, the guest before me, that’s who. At 5:00 a.m. the alarm went off. I was not ready to get up. And I didn’t know how to turn off the alarm. I unplugged the clock and started my day with one less hour of sleep than planned.

The starting line – my vest was in my back pocket for the photo

I drove to the venue after thinking I would ride there. But U.S. Rte 11 looked sketchy (curb to curb, no shoulder). Once I arrived I got my timing chip and then heard my name being announced as the top fundraiser. I went to the mic and told my “secret” to raising money. “You have to ASK people.”

The choice today was 78 or 100 miles. These are the same routes except for the addition of a 22-mile loop. At the start I wasn’t “feeling” 100 miles. I got my bottles ready, grabbed some food, and went to the starting area. It was 48º. I put on a vest and arm warmers.

Robert are you in there?

We rolled out of town. Once we turned on Switchboard Road I let people pass me. The road is crowded and it’s tight. I just don’t trust the big group. And I had a bigger goal. At 10 miles into the ride I would “celebrate” 1,000 consecutive days of riding at least 10 miles. I didn’t want to be taken down in a crash which almost happened beside me when a rider clunked his gears, came to a start, and was almost rear-ended.

Our fan section

Also, further back was Robert Hess. I pulled over to wait for him. I didn’t see him so I continued. But when we came to At Whitmore Shop Road I waited for him to arrive. We chatted for a few minutes and then he went left and I went right. I already let the main group gain 4-5 minutes on me.

Proud Grandfather

I told Ashley and Bryan they could expect me to roll by at 9:00 a.m. And at 9:00, I saw them up ahead on a pull-off area just before George Washington National Forest. They had signs cheering me on. I stopped for about five minutes, gave the girls a hug, and told them I would see them at the top.

Chickens on High Point

I hit the climb which is a timed KOM segment. After four or five minutes I looked at my Wahoo computer. I was only eight seconds behind my all-time best which was 10 years ago. I had no idea.

Another minute or so and I was only down six seconds. I started to think that maybe I could get a PR. I was 10-12 minutes in when I saw I was ahead by two seconds. And I was catching people. I was feeling good. Every previous attempt I was trying to count the distance to the top. Today I didn’t even notice. Everyone up the road was just a new target to reel in.

Volunteer at the rest stop in Brandywine, WV

In all, I caught and passed 11 people on the climb and did not get passed by anyone. Of course, I was almost dead last when I started so who was left to pass me? I was up 1:02 when I reached the top. A PR! I was very excited.

Rest stop at Sugar Grove, WV. Rocktown Bicycles provided the bike support.

At the top, the girls were waiting for me. My day was made. No matter what else happened I PR’d Shenandoah Mountain and I saw the girls on course. It would be a great day. When they told me that they would be in town in the afternoon I decided I would do the 78-mile ride so they could see me finish.

Sugar Grove, WV

I bombed the descent on Rte 33 to Brandywine. I made it over to the rest stop which is at the base of the climb up Reddish Knob. After a short break and a small can of Coke, the climb began. I don’t know what happened but almost immediately I was 40 seconds behind my best time. But the time began to come down. And I was catching and passing people. The Live Tracking on my Wahoo stopped working and I would have to wait to find out if I set another PR. (I did.)

Start of the climb up Reddish Knob

I passed two girls from the Miller School of Albermarle. I had been chatting with them at the rest stop and they were pulled over. I really admire these young kids. Since they weren’t in immediate distress I continued on but decided when I reached the top I would turn around and go back to shepherd them up the climb. I passed the KOM finish but realized it was about a half-mile short of the Strava segment. So I had to keep going to the end when I could turn around. In all, I passed 10 riders on this climb. I was passed by no one.

Flying down the mountain

Going back down I met the girls then turned around. One of them had to stop to take on a gel. But other than that they were riding well. When we reached the summit we started down Reddish Knob. I warned them the pavement was crap but they did not heed the warning. They flew! At first, they gapped me but I eventually caught on. They were taking too many risks for my liking as I hung on.

Flying down the mountain

As the road started to level out, we slowed down and just chatted. As we left the steeper part of the mountain which was mostly traffic-free, I went to the front and they stayed on my wheel until we reached the next rest stop together. They told me they were riding the 78-mile route.

The Amish near Dayton, Va.

Actually, I was feeling good enough now to ride the 100 but had the granddaughters waiting for me in town. I texted them that I would finish between 2:30 and 2:35.

Beaver Creek

In the valley I saw lots of Amish, at one point maybe more than 30 buggies pulled by horses. I passed one buggy, announcing my presence as loud as I could so I did not spook the horse. I waved at very single one that passed me in the opposite direction and almost all waved back – and smiled too. The time was 1:45 and they appeared to all be headed to a 2:00 gathering.

Near Dayton, Va.

Most surprising to me was a young Amish man passing me in the opposite direction. I waved but he couldn’t wave back as he had one hand on his handlebars and one hand holding a cell phone to his ear. It appeared to be a flip phone, not a smart phone.

Jeremiah Bishop and Barry Sherry

The last timed climb was Mole Hill. I wasn’t sure I would have anything left but saw that I got a PR on it too. And there were three more segments on the way back into town. I PR’d them all.

1000 Days 1000 Rides

At 2:32 p.m. I came to the finish. The grandkids were waiting. I was introduced to the crowd but without anything that I had written on my application. We took a family photo and I hung out for a while.

My riding partners down the mountain

After they left I checked Strava. PRs on the three timed climbs and all three I was in the Top Ten Age Group. Then I checked to see if there were any times better than mine in that list for today. And there was one. I found a guy who beat me by 2:00 on Shenandoah; 1:00 on Reddish, and I beat him by a minute on Mole Hill. So he got me by 2:00 total and I knew I was not the KOM for my age group. But I did finish second in my age group in the climb. And this year a sprint was added. I finished second there too. Maybe there were only two of us.

High Knob 33 is Shenandoah Mountain

But I was happy. My best times were 10 years ago and who would have thought I could PR at my age? I am not a climber and this improvement was very satisfying. I accept that there are better climbers. I had a great day on the bike and a better one off the bike with my granddaughters.

Everyone (that knew the Tour de France) loved this sign Ashley carried

Note: At the beginning, I was right behind a safety bump and was not clipped in to start. I awkwardly pushed off with my feet losing a couple of places and forgetting to start my Wahoo. This file is missing the first 0.4 miles.

Alpine Loop Gran Fondo – Virtual

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

An annual event that I look forward to attending is the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Harrisonburg. But with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in full force, the Gran Fondo was canceled as an outdoor event but it was still run as a virtual event.

The event itself would normally feature a ride, some friendly climbing competition, and food. The outdoor ride was off. The food was out. But the friendly competition was on.

Unfortunately (for me), it was a Zwift competition. If you had an indoor trainer and the Zwift app, you could compete on certain courses and post your time versus others. The problem for me is I do not have a trainer. I ride outdoors – period. Outdoors is free.

But they also introduced a quasi-outdoor competition. It involved Strava and local KOMs or PRs. And I was on a roll. I had snagged some KOMs in northern Va. after going years with none. And, not to be underestimated, I had changed age groups. Moving on up.

Bib 1 – Alpine Loop

September was a good riding month. I had snagged a couple of KOMs and lots of PRs. And to be sure, I was certainly aided by weak participation. While I embraced the outdoor competition, I am sure many did not and some may have participated only in the Zwift competition.

The Minnieville KOM. I am most proud of this one.
Former had been 5:23 and I smoked it in 4:56. No one has been close since.

One thing going in my favor is that Strava KOMs including climbing and sprinting or sprint/climbing. I will never be a great climber. I am built more like a sprinter. But this competition fit my strengths whereas being first up Shenahdoah Mountain or Reddish Knob never will.

Polka-dot jersey for the 65-69 year age group, Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

At the end of the competition, I was announced as the KOM for the 65-69 age group. And that earned me a polka-dot jersey. A virtual polka-dot jersey. Wait, the jersey is real.

The Awards Ceremony. I am recognized at 21:40 in this video.

California Dreamin

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA

Having just returned from California from the Phil Gaimon Cookie Gran Fondo weekend, I need to revisit my planning – for next time, you know.

What went right – what went wrong.

All in all, it was a great trip.

Bike packed in Thule case

In 2019 I am celebrating my 10-year Cancversary and will ride 10 miles (at least) every day. That affected the flights that I could take. If I fly out early it has to be real early so I have time to ride when I arrive. Or I can ride in the morning and travel late – but that one isn’t for me.

Barry and Ernie Rodriguez

I left home by 4:30 a.m. for Washington-Dulles. I parked in the long-term Economy lot and was still at my gate by 5:43 a.m. – two hours before scheduled take-off.

In Terminal B is a Five Guys that served breakfast sandwiches. I had the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. And it was good.

The flight arrived LAX on-time. My only checked bag was my bike and despite the luggage arriving at Terminal 6, mine was an Oversized bag and arrived in Terminal 4 at the Oversize Baggage.

Building the bike at the hotel

I took the hotel shuttle to the Fairfield Inn and Suites – El Segundo. Arrived by noon. No room was ready but I built my bike in the pool area (only a few funny looks). I jumped on my bike and visited – In-N-Out Burger which was right next door. Then I rode west – towards the ocean.

El Segundo at the beach
Bike path El Segundo

I had texted Robert Hess and he offered to pick me up at the hotel for a ride. I told him I already found the bike path and could ride to meet him. That was better. We met close to Manhattan Beach then rode north towards (but not to) Venice Beach. We found a straight section used for KOMs and both went moderately fast.

Manhattan Beach
Bike Path in Hermosa Beach
Robert and Barry

RIGHT: By taking the hotel shuttle from the airport I avoided one day of car rental charges.

RIGHT: By renting in El Segundo, I avoided the LAX fees on rental cars. In addition, a much higher rate.

I drove to Thousand Oaks where I stayed at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott. I was going to stay at the official hotel of the Fondo, the Hyatt, but the rooms were $60/night more.

TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Thousand Oaks. The pool wasn’t so nice.

I was 10 miles from the venue on Saturday and decided to ride there instead of drive. That also made my decision to choose the 40-mile ride over the 50-mile ride.

The official Cookiemobile

One problem was I was riding directly into a low sun on Thousand Oaks Blvd. Even with two rear lights, I was worried about the traffic seeing me.

The hotel was only about 15 miles from Sunday’s venue so I could not complain. Plus it was very close to an In-N-Out Burger and a Chili’s.

I was initially going to ride in Santa Barbara on Monday but decided to ride again in Manhattan Beach. I did not explore the southern end of the trail before and I could save a day’s rental charge.

RIGHT: By getting the car back before 11 a.m. I would have three days’ rental and not four.

Wildfire on the 101

One problem was there were wildfires including one I went by one Hwy 101. Waze found a better way but that meant hundreds of drivers all used the same side streets. I got in a little late but within tolerance.

Wildfire on the 101

Once packed, their driver took me back over to the Fairfield Suites where I boarded the Fairfield airport shuttle, the one that dropped me there four days earlier. I don’t know if this was cool or not but when I checked out on Friday I asked Scott Trexler at the hotel and he said it would be no problem. Of course, he wasn’t working when I returned.

Near Manhattan Beach

I rode south to Redondo Beach then one last time to In-N-Out Burger. I went back to the car rental location where I had left my luggage. I think they were more bemused than annoyed that I tore down the bike in their office and packed it in the case.

At the airport, I found a restaurant and watched the Steelers-Dolphins on Monday Night Football (Steelers won 27-14). About one hour later I boarded the redeye flight to Dulles.

Watching the Steelers at LAX

Arriving Dulles, I had to figure out where my bike would arrive. It came in on the Oversize Baggage belt. It has come down the regular belt before (ugh) so I have to figure out by airport where it will arrive.

I went back to my car in the Economy lot then to Chick-Fil-A, Ashburn, for breakfast before getting the Trek Pilot out for a ride on the W&OD. I had packed the Domane for California but also brought the Pilot and left it in the car. It was on its side covered by a blanket in the car. Then when arriving back, rather than trying to rebuild my Domane, I could just jump on the Pilot and ride.

After riding and dropping the Domane at the bike shop (broken front derailleur), I found myself fighting drowsiness on the 30-mile trip home. That redeye took it out of me but was necessary if I was to ride today. The other option on American was 10:30 a.m. arriving at 6:30 p.m. It would be hard to ride in the morning, tear down the bike, and get to the airport on time. And it arrived too late for an evening ride.

I am comfortable with almost all the decisions I made for this trip. I like the hotel shuttle and the first night near the airport. It worked out renting off-site. And getting back to the hotel. Keep this in mind if I do this one again.

Everyone is Walking

CAMARILLO, CALIFORNIA

This was Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo and I had decided to ride the 50-mile “Sugar Cookie” route. I was to meet Anthony Venida and waited at the starting chute with Robert Hess who was riding the family route which departed a little later.

Entrance between two hangers. Start/Finish is on the other side.

I didn’t see Anthony and let everyone roll through ahead of me before starting last. Once on course, I received a text from Anthony that he started with the “Chocolate Chip” route as some of his friends were riding the 80-mile route.

Start/Finish line


I rolled out, although I could not go fast, and the first seven miles were pancake flat. I was chatting with a rider wearing a Mont Ventoux jersey. Although much younger than me, I still had to secretly question his equipment when I saw it looked like his lowest gear was about a 17t cassette. I was running 32t.

“Are you OK?” – “Yes, just getting pictures of peppers”


The climb, which I remembered as a three-mile climb, had a much different profile than I remembered. The first 1/3 mile kicks up and then it appears to level off. It’s still a climb but much more gradual for the next two miles. And then, it whacks you in the face full force.

Cookies everywhere

My friend, with the Ventoux jersey, sat on my wheel and I didn’t mind. As we got to the wall, there were people pushing their bikes. And they were all over the place. The road kicked up – more than 15% (and maybe 20%). I was counting but lost track of the walkers but was over 100.

He had passed me on the climb – until he had to walk too

 

Part of me wanted to join them. And I wondered what I would have done had this been a normal Sunday ride with nobody watching. But they were watching. And I kept climbing although it was a real effort.

West Protero Road in Lake Sherwood


When I reached the summit, I turned around to look for Mr. Ventoux. He was nowhere to be found. It would have taken a super-human effort to push his gear up that climb. I don’t know when he got off to walk.

FAll horse farms up here – Lake Sherwood


There was a second intermediate climb of two miles which was also considerable. The Fondo made no mention of it, maybe because it wasn’t a timed KOM. It was also on Pretero Road, two miles after the summit of the first climb. At the bottom of the second hill, I stopped and visited the VeloFix mechanic who was finishing up changing a tire for a woman. We mentioned the climb on Pretero Road and he said, “everybody is walking up that hill.”

Mulholland Road

Although there was a rest stop at the base of the last climb, I did not stop because it was a rest stop at the base of a climb. The time off the bike would cause lactic acid to build up and my climbing would be crap. More crap than usual, that is.

Mulholland Road – this is nice!

I continued past and started up the climb of Westlake Blvd. This one was tough with sections of the lower portion pushing 20% grade. About one mile up it gets easier – 10-12% grade.

Westlake is particularly steep at the bottom portion and very windy. As we would discover, owners of fast cars love driving this road on Sunday mornings. It was almost a constant din of revved engines and occasional squealed tires.

PCH
Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)


At the top, we transitioned onto Mulholland Highway for a trip to the ocean. The road was closed to vehicles as much reconstruction is going on due to fires one year ago. Not having a big ring available because my front derailleur had failed yesterday meant that I gave up some speed here although it wouldn’t hurt me much. That would come later.

This woman, walking away, had stopped and I borrowed a floor pump from her to change my flat.
This woman had a floor pump which I could use

 

My recollection of Mulholland before today was that it was downhill the entire way. That is not true. There are some uphill sections even while the road trends downhill. Once on Pacific Coast Highway, I was treated to a delight – a tail wind. It was here that I would really miss my big ring.

Lunch inside an airport hanger
Lunch inside an airport hanger


I was quickly out pedaling my gears. Oh how I needed the big ring to take advantage of the wind. Instead, I was spinning and getting passed by others. And then I flatted. As it happened, I pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway next to a woman who was running SAG for her family. She had a floor pump which made it easier to change. And asked for my used tube so her husband could repair it. Deal.

Barry Sherry, Phil Gaimon, Anthony Venida


Anthony texted me. Although he had finished 30 minutes (or more) earlier, he had come back to an intersection to ride in with me. Robert met us and we all enjoyed a delicious gourmet cycling lunch.

This is not just your typical cycling lunch. There were chefs from L.A. competing with their dishes. This is the best ever. Superb.

Robert Hess, Barry Sherry, Phil Gaimon, and Anthony Venida

 



Alpine Loop Grand Fondo

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

The weekend began yesterday with an invitation-only ride out of Harrisonburg with Jeremiah Bishop and The Vegan Cyclist. Jeremiah took us off-road where he may have been the only one comfortable going down dirt roads. But no one fell and we made it back to registration at Craft Brothers Brewing in one piece.

The Saturday Ride

In summarizing today, one only needs to look at last year’s post. I sucked on the first mountain climb. I sucked more on Reddish Knob. Cramped. I decided it was best not to do the 20-mile loop making a century ride.

Three prostate cancer survivors: Mike, Robert, Barry

Of my eight times doing this event, this started out the most perfect. The temperature was just right (mid 60s). I was at the start line plenty early to say hello to friends.

Rollout thru Harrisonburg
Barry is front and center in yellow
Source: Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Facebook Page (Erin Bishop)

One thing I did not do was to pick up a timing chip to be timed on the climbs. I finished dead last in the WORLD last year at the World Hillclimbs Championship so who am I fooling thinking I would win anything? Plus, without a chip, I may be free to stop and take pictures.

Passing the Amish. She asked us if we were all local.

At the start line, we were called out or recognized. As a prostate cancer survivor, I am always recognized. I’m sort of like a mascot. A big cancer-surviving mascot.

Sunday morning group ride

At 8:00 a.m. we rolled out. I was in the front row and stayed there for the first couple of miles. When we turned off the road I dropped back four or five places. But we were often doing 20-25 mph in tight quarters. Except for Jeremiah Bishop, these are not professionals. I am not a professional. I am just uncomfortable riding that close to that many strangers. I pulled off at a Mennonite Church and let 100-150 riders go by before jumping back in.

The climb on U.S. Rte 33

A century ride should be ridden as easy; medium; hard. That is, ride the first third easy. And I wasn’t. Maybe they were riding easy but it was more effort than I wanted to use at that point. It was foolish for me to ride hard to stay with the group. I backed off.

Top of the Shenandoah – Camera lens blurred with sweat

I was seemingly passed by everyone on the road. Many times I thought I was dead last but often 4-5 minutes later someone else would pass me. Sometimes groups of 3-4 riders went flying by. Where were they hiding?

Volunteers at Rest 1

We got to the first mountain climb, Shenandoah Mountain on U.S. Rte. 33. I was passed by 22 riders and passed no one. I was having a bad day. I briefly talked to 16-year-old Ben, who I helped last year. He had passed me but then I caught him and asked him if he was going for another jersey. He told me he was but didn’t think he had a chance. I hope he made it. We both stopped briefly at the summit but I had a good fast descent and didn’t see him after that.

At Reddish Knob Road I started the climb. It is tough. It begins with a one-mile climb followed by a one-mile descent. Then the fun begins. It’s a five-mile climb with 1,635′ of gain. That averages to 6.2% but that is skewed by the last half mile or so which flattens out. By contrast, the seven-mile climb at Horseshoe Curve (Altoona, Pa.) averages about 4%. That one does have a very tough section of 20% though. But Reddish Knob is harder.

Barry at start of Reddish Knob

I was passed by five riders going up Reddish. But three of those I eventually passed back as they were pushing their bikes. It is tough. One guy was paperboying all over the road and still passed me. Until he walked.

Welcome, Gran Fonda. Henry, I hope.

It took everything I had not to stop. Not to walk. I dug deep then went deeper. My right knee was hurting. I made the decision to do the 80-mile route and forgo the century. I also tried to make plans for dinner with the granddaughters in Martinsburg and I couldn’t do both.

One-lane bridge

The last 20 miles went fine. The last 40 may not have. Occasionally I was passed by a rider or two. I was always amazed at the pop they still had in their pedals while I struggled.

Back roads of the Alpine Loop

And like last year, Katie Yates came over from JMU to meet me. Unlike last year, a storm moved in which would have caught me on course had I not ended early.

Barry at finish (holding an ice-cold towel)

This ride gets harder every year. I have to either get younger or lose weight. I am carrying too much weight up these mountains (although the downhill portion is fun).

Katie and Barry

Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

I need to rethink the sleepover component of this event. I stayed at home and got up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to Harrisonburg. Four hours of sleep is not enough.

Bib 19 – pretty cool

I arrived at 7:20 a.m. thinking I had plenty of time. I did not. Registration was slower than expected (efficient but there were a lot of people checking in at 7:30 a.m.). Each time I was ready to roll out from the car I seemed to be missing something. Glasses. A spare rear light. Arm warmers.

We were given timing chips to attach to the fork. I took mine to the start then wrapped it around the fork. Around the fork and a spoke. I didn’t notice. There was two minutes before the start. A rider next to me said, “Do you know you have that wrapped around a spoke?” Damn. I had nail clippers to trim the zip ties and cut them off. I simply put the guy in my pocket and off we went through downtown Harrisonburg.

South Fork South Branch Potomac River (WV)

We circled the block then as the group was headed out of town I went back to start and picked up two new zip ties. I then headed through town and saw the tail of the group up the road. I quickly made my way to the end of the group and found Robert Hess. Once I caught Robert we pedaled a little faster and we moved up through the group.

Kathy Mitchell

I caught a woman wearing a Spokes of Hope cycling jacket. I told her my other kit was Spokes of Hope and asked her what she knew about Spokes of Hope. She told me the jacket belonged to her father-in-law and “we’re from Pittsburgh.” I asked her if her father-in-law was Dave Mitchell. She was blown away that I knew, or knew of, her father-in-law. We stopped for a photo before the routes would split.

Welcome to West Virginia

Robert and I rode ahead to the split (Mile 8) where he would turn left (35 miles route) and I would turn right (100 miles route). Because I had to ride to catch the back of the group I was pretty certain I was the last on the road headed to the century route. I wondered if I would catch anyone.

I did catch a few riders before U.S. 33 and the climb over the mountain. I still had not stopped to properly attach my timing chip and decided it wasn’t worth it.* I am still recovering fitness from my knee replacement surgery and I wasn’t going for any KOM (King of the Mountain) segments. Still, I moved the chip from my jersey pocket to the seam in my shorts just above the knee. Maybe it would work.

Looking back at the climb out of Virginia

The descent off the mountain was fast. I made up for my slow ride up with a quick descent. Still, I felt I was more cautious than I had been before May 16. The risk/reward of a couple extra MPH wasn’t worth it.

My shoe didn’t feel right and at the second rest stop, also the base of the Reddish Knob, Kelly, from Rocktown BIcycles in Harrisonburg, fixed my cleat the best she could. She also took a photo of me going up the 18% climb.

As I pulled out of the rest stop, I was side by side with a 15 year old, Ben, from Winchester. He asked me about the climb, having been told it’s not has hard as the climb we did on U.S. 33. I told him it was much harder. Someone lied to him.

Kelly from Rocktown Bicycles and a young volunteer

We kept talking and stayed together for much of the climb. Perhaps two-thirds of the way up I was going faster and did not want to stop. I didn’t know if he stopped or was going slower but eventually I did not see him any longer.

And I felt cramping coming on. This is where a lack of serious riding since my knee surgery was catching up to me. I shouldn’t be cramping and yet I was. When I reached the summit I looked down the road and so no one. There was another rider waiting and he asked if I knew about a scenic overlook. I did not but decided to go up a narrow access road that might lead to one. I had gone about 1/4 mile and was cramping worse. I turned around.

View from WV/VA state line

The descent off the mountain was sketchy, Soaked with sweat, I had nothing to clean my glasses. They were foggy and with the rough pavement, I took the descent cautiously.

Reaching the next rest stop, I had a decision to make. Head on home or do a 20-mile loop to finish the century ride. Cramping is a sign of body fatigue and I thought on a day I was cramping it would be dumb to add what was now an optional loop. If I had 40 miles to finish I would suffer but I was 20 miles from the finish and didn’t need to add the loop. Also, Ben was doing the 80 (or 75, whatever it was) and we would stay together.

Barry and Event Director, Erin Bishop

At the finish, we were greeted by cheerleaders from JMU. Katie Yates, one of my referees who attends JMU, came over and joined us for a post-ride meal. A real surprise was Robert called Ben up to the podium. He had won the KOM for his age group. Since I took him over the mountains I think he owes me one of his polka dots.

Youth KOM winner, Ben

After our dinner, I went to stand up. Ouch. The legs hurt. It was a hard day on the bike and without a good fitness base, I made the right decision not to finish the century. Next year!

With Katie Yates

*Perhaps not the exact measured climb but on RideWithGPS my time in the past has been 30 or 31 minutes. Yesterday it was 40 minutes. Reddish Knob I’ve done in 45 minutes, today was 1:02. I was right. It was not worth race timing.


Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

I am sore and hurting. Not from a crash but from being so out of shape for an event. Including the time I stayed in Pennsylvania after my father died, I was two weeks without a bike ride leading up to the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. If that wasn’t bad enough, yesterday I refereed a couple of soccer matches – something I haven’t done since April or May. My legs were sore going in.

Maybe it was a culmination of things. During my dad’s final days I did three all-nighter’s with him, one time staying awake 42 straight hours and sleeping just two in 62 hours. Last night we went to Andrew’s hockey game and I didn’t get to sleep until 1:30 a.m. and was up at 4:45 a.m. Clearly I was suffering from not enough rest.

Joe Dombrowski and Barry Sherry
Joe Dombrowski and Barry Sherry

I arrived in Harrisonburg and went to the front of the line as a prostate cancer survivor and supporter of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. There I met Joe Dombrowski, of Cannondale-Drapec for perhaps, the fourth straight year. I was able to ask him about contracts for next year for Ben King and Phil Gaimon. He said Ben has (or will have) a contract. He doesn’t know about Phil. It’s a tough business.

Joe Dombrowski and Barry Sherry
Joe Dombrowski and Barry Sherry

I also met Jeremiah Bishop at the start. His wife, Erin, came over and gave me a hug. Neither of us knew if I would make the start today. Robert Hess, of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project, also came over to greet me.

We rolled out at 8:00 a.m. It was a ceremonial roll out. Two miles in as we turned off US 33 onto Eversole Road I was briefly at the front. I did not position myself here and did not want to be here. My legs felt like crap and I wanted to ride easy with no pressure, certainly not wheel to wheel with the main peleton. When I saw a safe place to exit I bailed out and let the main group pass.

Rider headed up Reddish Knob
Rider headed up Reddish Knob

I also had a reason to doing that. My heart rate monitor wasn’t reading and I wanted to see how high it was as I was pushing it. I adjusted it and it was recorded 35. Then it was zero. Guess the battery is shot.

al16-11

When I jumped on I was pretty much at the end of the Alpine Loop and Century riders. The timed section of the Shenandoah mountain climb seemed to start at a different location than in the past (I didn’t ride this route last year). When I passed the bridge over Dry Run I started my timer.

Two riders headed up Reddish Knob
Two riders headed up Reddish Knob

On the climb I passed some (eight) and was passed by some (seven). In the past in this position (near the end of the main group) I did much better. Crossing the top I looked at my time and knew it was bad. RidewithGPS has a segment for this climb and confirmed what I knew: This was the worst of my five timed climbs on this route.

Mole Hill KOM
Mole Hill KOM

Going over the top was sweet. I can still get down the mountain pretty fast. I passed many and was passed by no one. My top speed was 46 mph. Would have liked higher but it was a technical descent. I blew by the first aid station and joined up with a line of riders in the valley. It wasn’t really a pace line because one guy was doing all the pulling and there were six or seven of us getting a free ride. And he didn’t mind.

Big Rock Dairy on the "Loop"
Big Rock Dairy on the “Loop”

The second climb was Reddish Knob. Like the first, it was my worst time recorded except for the first year when it was a dirt climb. So worst on pavement. But a good descent.

Leaving the third aid station I came to the moment of truth. I had been thinking all day I would skip the 27 mile loop and ride on home making it a 77 mile day. I came to the loop. I turned onto it.

Near Stokesville Lodge - I think
Near Stokesville Lodge – I think

The loop was nice but I was all alone. I stopped for a picture then was passed by three women. I first thought about joining them but that may have been creepy and I was worried I would not keep up. I let them go. I was passed by a guy who told me to grab his wheel. I declined and then as he pulled away I caught up to him I told him my dad died last week and this was a day for me to just ride by myself. He understood.

Bridge over North River
Bridge over North River

Then I came to it. The John Deere tractor. My dad’s favorite. He loved his Chevrolet, John Deere, and Arnold Palmer. And I would learn later that Arnie died today.

al16-03

The loop ended at the same aid station (#3). A brief stop and I was off to ride the last segment. And there was a timed climb on Mole Hill. I told the guy at the timing station I hated him. (I was kidding, of course. I think.)

Robert Hess and Barry Sherry
Robert Hess and Barry Sherry

The day was cloudy and cool, around 60 degrees, all day. It never warmed up. I wore arm warmers and needed them, except for the climbs in which I sweated my butt off. At the end, I saw Robert again, but still not feeling great, headed for home. I even skipped the meal.

Finish
Finish

It was a day of suffering. I think the circumstances leading up to it made it much worse than it should have been. But a bad day on a bike is better than a good day on the couch.


Scaring the Amish

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

Since its inception, the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Gran Fondo has been a staple of my cycling season. The reason is because it supports fighting prostate cancer. Since being introduced by my late friend, Scott Scudamore, I have also become friends with Jeremiah and Erin Bishop, plus Robert Hess of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project.

GF10

There was one problem this year. The world championships of professional cycling were being held in Richmond. This was the first time in 30 years the “Worlds” were here. Today was the only day to see the “trade” teams, Garmin, BMC, etc., in the team time trial. I wanted to do both.

GF1

I knew I could not do 100 miles and get to Richmond so I signed up for the “Valley View Challenge.” I know Erin was surprised when she saw my application but I explained that I was going to Richmond and wanted to support their ride. She understood.

GF2

We rolled out of town and I was at the front. As the peleton rolled on I was comfortably in the pack but new there was a turn coming up eventually. I pulled over, took some photos, then jumped back in the group and rode up to the turn.

GF3

I was on the road by myself then sat up and saw a rider from UVA coming. He joined me and we rolled to the first, and only rest stop. After a while we rolled out with a third. We were clearly in front when we came upon a young Amish couple on their bikes going to church. While Matthew and Luca* rode ahead, I slowed down to talk to the couple.

GF4

They were very personable. I introduced myself and they told me they were Keith and Julie Zimmerman and their young son. Somehow I happen to mention the Wenger name and Julie looked at me and said “that’s my maiden name.”

GF6

We came to a turn. The Fondo route was to the left. Keith and Julie turned right. I turned right with them. Matthew and Luca were up ahead and looked back and saw me going the other way. They turned around to follow me. One mile later we were at the church and I bid Keith and Julie a good day.

GF5

Matt and Luca weren’t sure where they were going and I laughed. “Well, you were going right until you decided to follow me.” I told them we would go exploring.

GF7

We went into Dayton and then did some trailblazing, getting back to Harrisonburg. We were first on the day.

GF8

It wasn’t the classic Grand Fondo right but it was just right. I spent a little time with Robert and Julie before heading on to Richmond for Worlds. And I thought how lucky I was to choose the short route on this day or I wouldn’t have been able to meet, and well, scare, the Amish.

When I got home, I contacted my 5th cousin, Daniel Wenger, who is the preeminent Wenger historian. I pieced together my information with what he knew and quickly proved she was a descendant of Christian Wenger (b. 1698). In Lancaster Co., Pa., we have two known Wenger lines. The other is Hans Wenger (1705), which is my line. It is presumed they are related, perhaps as close as first cousins, but no historian has been able to document that. DNA shows the lines are connected but we can’t yet say that we’re 5th cousins. Definitely my Amish cousins in name. I’m claiming them!

____
*Not their real names.

 


Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

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.

Sarah Gran

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

Shenandoah Mountain Adventure

HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA

When it came time to sign up for the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo I decided to go for the Medio Route (76 miles) instead of the full 100. Since I always sign up for the most difficult challenge this marked a big departure for me. And a little guilt.

 

But last year, my friend and a very good cyclist, Mike Reyes, went the Medio route which made me think I didn’t always have to do the biggest challenge. Besides the 30 mile difference the big difference for me is gravel. There are two sections of nasty gravel on the Gran Fondo full route which, frankly, aren’t fun and aren’t good for my bike. Many people bring cyclocross bikes or change their tires to 28cc. I wasn’t prepared to do either and didn’t want to subject me or my bike to miles of gravel.

 

Joe Dombrowski

 

At the start line I was next to pro riders Jeremiah Bishop (host), Cameron Cogburn (winner of Mt Washington Auto Road Hill Climb), Steven Cozza (I think), Joe Dombrowski (Team Sky), and Ben King (Radio Shack but soon to be Garmin). There are two ways to be on the start line at the Gran Fondo. One is to be a pro. The other is to be a Prostate Cancer Survivor. I highly recommend becoming a pro.

 

Start line: Steven Cozza, Joe Dombrowski (back turned), Ben King

 

One minute before the starting gun and I looked down and noticed a bubble sized bulge in the sidewall of my front tire. I was screwed. Maybe that explained the two blowouts on the Civil War Century, the last time I used that wheel.

I did the prudent thing. I rolled out with the pros for two blocks then peeled off and went back to my car. There I switched wheels and rode back into the group.

It was a chilly start. While it may have been close to 60 in Harrisonburg, out on the road my Garmin showed 52 degrees in the wooded section approaching Shenandoah Mountain.

The climb went OK. I passed more than I was passed by, many more, and initially was pleased. The first year I did it in 48 minutes. Last year it was 35. Today it was 34 and change. A personal best but not a great improvement.

 

Honey Baked Ham Sandwiches

When I came to the Medio/Gran split I was glad I was not headed up the gravel road. And I was rewarded with a new view. The Medio route was called the Shenandoah Mountain Adventure which differentiates from the Gran Fondo.

The second rest stop was at the base of the Reddish Knob Climb. Not good. Well, the food was great! Ham sandwiches along with fruit, drinks, energy bars. But after 10-12 minutes of standing around, the lactic acid built up. The start of the climb was painful. But once I settled in it got better until there was a downhill and no pedaling. Then it was like starting over.

This climb is beautiful. The paved road is so much better than the dirt road of two years ago. It was also much harder than I remembered from last year.

 

Robert Hess of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project

After the last rest stop I was following familiar roads, until I wasn’t. Somehow I managed to miss a turn. Usually there are enough cyclists in front that one doesn’t need to rely on the painted road markings. But I messed up. When I saw the open road and it wasn’t familiar from the past two years and no cyclists ahead, I knew I messed up. I decided not to go back but keep going. I would find my way. And I did.

 

Near Bridgewater

It was a good day. It was fun. I don’t regret giving up the gravel and doubt that I would sign up for that option again. I hope they pave all those roads.