Thunder in the Valley


A beautiful day with temperatures in the 80s brought out thousands of bikers, as in motorcyclists, to the annual Thunder in the Valley event in Johnstown and the surrounding mountain communities including Somerset and Ligonier. I don’t ride a single kilometer without a helmet and my lasting impression of these bikers will be of the hundreds I saw riding care-free without their helmets. That’s not for me.

I started in the village of Waterford and took Nature Run Road to Laughlingtown. One mile on U.S. Rte 30 and three miles on Pa. Rte 381 was the only flat riding of the day. The three miles from Rte 30 to Rector hasn’t changed much in the 42 years since we first drove it when we moved from Ohio to Rector. It is lined alternatively by a canopy of trees and post and rail fence or borders the Loyalhanna Creek. This is “Mellon Country” having been the home of financier Richard King Mellon and the Rolling Rock Farms. There has been one improvement — the road surface is in excellent condition making this a wonderful ride on a bike.

Devil’s Hole – Rector, Pa.

When we were kids each spring we helped dam up a portion of Linn Run, a very cold mountain stream, so we could swim in Devil’s Hole. A natural pool was 3′ deep and we could get the water level up from half-way to 2/3 of the way on the large rock pictured above. Yes, the cold water was over our heads. Sadly, it is now marked No Trespassing.

Coming out of Rector I climbed the one-mile Darlington Road hill up to Rte 711. In the lower sections it has 15% grade and by the top has leveled off to 11-12%. My route took me on Darlington Road where perhaps I could have hit 50 mph on a descent except I didn’t trust the road surface at this point. It was rough with some loose gravel.

I went behind Idlewild Park and found myself on another great road headed to Bolivar. All roads were climbing or descending. When I reached the end of my loop I decided I would continue on Rte 271 towards Johnstown. Well, not all the way to Johnstown although that would have been a fun destination. But to the top of Laurel Hill Summit.

When I drove the climb it seemed to be a 5-6 mile climb and I wanted to see how my legs would respond on a long climb with a fairly steep grade – consistently 8% but at times 10%. I went three miles and emptied my second water bottle of two. I decided not to continue without water. It was a daunting climb and I have been battling but getting over a three-week illness. Unless… …Unless I saw a woman sitting on a porch. Which I did.

This is a climb on a mountain road. There are very few houses on this road. To find a house and had a woman on the porch was close to a small miracle.

I pulled over and pulled out an empty water bottle and pointed to it. I did talk too but the pointing simply illustrated I was friendly and the reason I was approaching her. I asked for and she willingly filled my water bottle. When I asked how far to the summit she told me it takes her more than an hour to walk it. Great. But on I went. The water was just right even though I could taste the iron in the well water.

Two miles up, and when I thought I was nearing the summit, a car waited for me to pass the entrance to his driveway then the driver yelled out some encouragement. “You’re doing an excellent job.” Maybe he’s a cyclist because most people don’t understand how an almost-defeated cyclist magically gets wings to fly when hearing words like those.

It was another mile to the summit and I rode to the Somerset-Westmoreland County border then turned around. On the descent, I wanted to fly. But I was passed by 12 bikers on six bikes just as I started my descent. Probably 2/3 of all bikers had two people on them. (To be certain, these were motorcycles.)

But as I picked up speed, and I was pedaling, I caught them and then had a dilemma. I wanted to hit 50 mph but to do that I needed to pass them. But I touched my brakes instead. I hit 48 mph but there was no way I was going to integrate with this group. They were taking pictures of one another and almost daring me to pull side by side with them. But I was rolling along on wheels that were 3/4″ wide on a bike made of carbon fiber. There was no way I would try anything stupid at this speed.

They certainly didn’t mean any harm. They were having fun too. But it was too dangerous to ride too close to them. I wasn’t happy that I didn’t hit 50 mph but it was a wonderful day with 50 miles in the mountain.

A Father’s Day Ride


This would be a special day — a day I needed on the bike. A 70-mile ride from Woodbridge, Virginia to Charles Town, West Virginia to see my wonderful daughters, Bethany, and Ashley, along with my sons-in-law and grandson.

As I left the house the clouds were very dark with strong winds that would be in my face for all 70 miles. And I am thinking this is a metaphor for my life. I am headed into dark storm clouds. Would the clouds give way to blue skies or would thunder and lightning be in store?

I know my fitness level isn’t where I need it so I decided to take my time. As much as I like to push it on the downhills I decided that I would coast down most hills instead of hammering it. I would enjoy those “whew-hoo” moments. My cadence would show that too as I averaged a lot of zeroes with my 90-100 rpm.

I go the shortest route I know. It also has the least amount of traffic but some roads are still dangerous. I go out through Manassas but Sudley Road past the Manassas Battlefield is a tight squeeze. Gum Springs Road to Braddock Road is okay but Braddock Road is a dirt road in poor shape for about three miles. I ride on U.S. 15 and 50 for a combined four dangerous miles.

After leaving Rte 50, Snickersville Turnpike is a beautiful rolling country road that leads to Airmont and a turn towards Round Hill.

At Airmont, one can see the Blue Ridge Mountains. I take satisfaction looking as far as I can see and knowing that I have crossed all the major road crossings over these summits. Straight ahead is Snickers Gap (Rte 7) and Mount Weather. Further south is Clarks Gap (US Rte 50). To the north is Harpers Ferry and the climb out of the Potomac River Valley. Today’s route connects with a shoulderless Rte 9 over Keyes’ Gap.

I made one rest stop — on Braddock Road where I consumed two energy bars. And that was it. I also consumed one energy bar while on the bike as well as one pack of Sport Beans. When I reached Rte 9 just west of Hillsboro I stopped long enough to down a packet of Hammer Gel.

Eventually, blue skies came out but those gave way to dark rain clouds. Going up Keyes’ Gap I was in a mist which I didn’t mind. It helped me cool off while making it easier to breathe. (There is more oxygen in the air when it is raining.)

The ride was difficult for me. Always a headwind, at times there were wind gusts of 30 mph and no one blocking the wind. These rides are so much easier when others share the lead.

The clouds indeed were dark but nothing bad came of them. Hopefully, that too is a metaphor for my life.

Happy Father’s Day!

Stats and Map

I Don’t Suck — I Have Cancer


It was just one week ago that I rode almost 60 miles up through Catoctin Mountain Park past Camp David. On the return to the starting location, I struggled to keep pace with our group of 12 but did hang on. Then I developed a fever. Again. And I was urinating blood.

This was about the sixth fever in the past three weeks. There was something wrong.
I really thought I sucked and was disappointed that I struggled on the day. My fitness level seemed to drop super fast.

After a few more days of being sick and doctor’s visits and tests, I learned this fact: I Don’t Suck, I Have Cancer.

Racing up Mount Washington last year is but a distant memory. Racing this year has been postponed. I have a bigger mountain to climb now. And I’m scared to death.

At the request of some friends, I have created a CaringBridge Page in which you can follow my journey.

NOTE – AUGUST 18, 2009 — I originally posted this the day I learned I had cancer and it remained up for about one week. Then I began a series of second and third opinions, more tests, and biopsies so I removed the post pending verification of the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the doctor on June 15 was right with his finding and I have decided to make this post visible again.

UPDATE – MARCH 20, 2010 — As a follow-up, the damn cancer wasn’t making me sick, but instead, it was a pretty nasty e.Coli infection. The post should have been I Don’t Suck – I Have an e.Coli Infection. But the testing and diagnosis did lead to the discovery of cancer.

Maybe my last trip – Campground Number 3 – should have been a clue. Outside of my Mount Washington races, my heart rate was the highest it has ever been. I was “in the red” for 17 minutes on that ride as my body struggled to keep up with what should have been an easy ride.

UPDATE – AUGUST 1, 2021 — It has been 12 years since the diagnosis and this post. I learned early on that my first doctor jumped to conclusions in telling me I had prostate cancer. It took a more measured approach before definitely reaching that conclusion.

And for men with my symptoms, i.e., high fevers, urinating blood, severe headaches, and chronic fatigue — see a doctor. If a bike ride doesn’t make it better then you better see a doctor.

Campground Number 3


How quickly the fitness seems to disappear, even while trying to stay in shape by riding on the trainer. There’s nothing like being on the road. Either that or this was a pretty hard climb.

About 60 riders showed up in Frederick for a BB/B ride called Knock Knock Knockin’ on the President’s Door. After leaving Frederick and rolling for about 10 miles we turned into the forest and went through Cunningham Falls State Park and through Catoctin Mountain Park.

My riding was difficult because of a split on my broken wrist. I couldn’t put pressure on the wrist which meant no climbing out of the saddle. Over the next few miles, we had a five-mile climb, followed by a two-mile descent, then a final three-mile climb. The last climb would take us past Campground Number 3.

I was hanging with our group, even while seated until I got a massive cramp in my calf. I sat up, unclipped, and stretched my calf, but never stopped. But I lost time and contact with most of the group and simply had to ride at my own pace. Through most of it, I did keep in contact with one rider and hoped he knew the route. As usual, I didn’t take a cue sheet and had no idea where I was going.

The second climb was sustained at 6% but had grades of 11-14%. I’m just hoping riding in the saddle makes me stronger because it sure didn’t seem that way. I was envious as the other riders all popped out of their saddles for that extra push up the steep inclines.

The two-mile descent was rough on me. The pavement was awful and I am very aware that I can’t go down on a broken wrist. To do so would be risking turning a simple hairline fracture into a compound fracture.

The road was extremely bumpy and it hurt to hold the handlebars with the wrist. I probably lost more time to the group on the descent than on the climbs. I took it slower than most to avoid the vibrations and often just kept my right hand on the handlebars.

On the second climb up Park Central, we passed entrances for Campground Numbers 1 and 2. I had heard about and then saw the entrance on Campground Number 3. It was a much nicer entrance than the other two and had clear signs marked to keep out. This is the presidential retreat, Camp David. But one could only see the entrance road and no structures.

Once I cleared the summit it really was all downhill. I briefly lost contact with everybody at an intersection and just guessed which way to go. I was right. I then caught one rider who told me he designed the route so I stayed with him until the rest stop in Thurmont.

When we left the Sheetz in Thurmont there were 12 of us and we stayed together for most of the ride back to Frederick. At one point, Klara Vrady asked me if I needed to drop off the pace and she would also. A few weeks earlier she struggled and I had met her by riding with her. Now she was offering the same. It was a generous offer and I wondered how bad I looked for her to make the offer. I declined (because I am a man and we decline all offers of help).

All the sitting in the saddle was taking its toll on me and I remember looking at my mileage and thinking there’s no way I can hang with this group for another 15 miles. And then I was told we had 3-4 miles to go. I don’t know why I thought it was a 68-mile route — it was 58. I had it made.

The distance was the same as the Blue Ridger Backwards and Happy Happy Pain Pain and the climbing was slightly less. But sitting in the saddle all day just wiped me out. I can’t wait to get the splint off although there’s a chance it will be re-cast tomorrow. Wish I had never crashed on Bike to Work Day.

Campground Number 3 is located at 21.6 miles on the map.

EDIT/EPILOGUE – I didn’t realize it at the time but I was probably as sick that day as I have ever been with a pretty nasty e.Coli infection.

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