The Hills of Ellicott City


Advertised as “I hate hills!” on the Potomac Pedalers’ website, this ride was to be from Savage or Jessup, Maryland (I couldn’t tell which) to Ellicott City. Ellicott City is a quaint historical railroad town set down in a forested river valley not far from Baltimore.

But it was more than just a routine group ride. My third cousin, Susan Richards, whom I had never met before, was also on the ride. Her schedule would not permit her to ride the entire route but she rode the first 13 miles.

We left the starting parking lot and had an enjoyable 10 miles which took us on a two-mile descent down a wooded country road right into Ellicott City. Here we lost contact with the group briefly but I did have a cue sheet if I wanted to follow along. We briefly made contact with them in Ellicott City and rode together on River Road before Susan said goodbye and turned around.

Ellicott City (Source:

I was about a half-mile behind and had to catch the group. I did on the first big climb of the day. This was on Ilchester road which was a two-mile climb with grades of 15-18%. Sweet!

I caught and passed three riders on the climb which certainly made me feel good. The rest of the day featured descending back to Ellicott City then climbing another route out of the valley. Repeat.

We had a group of five stop at a bakery where the other four sat down for a much-longer-than-I-would-want sit down break. I enjoyed riding with them and loved the route but excused myself to take off and finish on my own.

Note: The above photograph is used without permission and may be subject to copyright infringement. I may go to jail. Source:

The BlueRidger Proper


Subtitle: — A Group of One. Again.  

When I rode the BlueRidger in April it was 95°. Today it was in the high 60s. Global warming indeed.   The only difference was the direction. In April we rode in a clockwise direction, riding up Naked Mountain and then Mount Weather before descending to Bluemont and our planned rest stop.

Today it was counterclockwise. This is the BlueRidger Proper. The difference in the two routes is less the climbing but more the safety factor. If we ride in clockwise we have the harder way up Naked Mountain but the easier climb up Mount Weather. But it’s not just a matter of pick your poison because counter-clockwise is harder up Mount Weather but easier up Naked Mountain.

At Paris, Virginia, there is a half-mile stretch on U.S. 50 which can be heavily traveled. There are no shoulders here. If we do the clockwise direction, we are on the road climbing at 10 mph or so. If we do the “proper,” then we come off Mount Weather at Ashby’s Gap and have a one-half mile downhill in which one can easily maintain 40 mph on a road signed at 45 mph. IMHO, it is much safer to ride the proper direction just for this section.

Today’s ride was advertised as a B ride and was the best ride on the list that I could find. I counted 28 riders at the start and I started in the first third. Within the first five miles there were just five of us at the front setting a pretty good pace. “A” riders I figured. Probably the best ride they could find too.  

I took my turns at the front and had the misfortune of doing a “pull” on an incline. When I dropped off I could not match the pace of the group and I was toast. I rode solo but not for long. I was caught by two other riders and the three of us stayed together for a while until we came to another long incline.  

Didn’t anyone know it was my birthday and they were supposed to be nice to me? I wanted to do a birthday ride of at least one mile per year and this one worked.   After 3-4 miles I got dropped again and thought I’m OK watching them 100 yards up the road. After a mile or two of this nonsense, I was surprised by a group of six riders passing me.

Funny, riding solo I didn’t think I could ride any faster but it was easy latching on to the rear of their group and riding faster. Some of it is physics — it is easier to draft behind other riders but some of it’s just mental too — having a pacer in front.   Our group caught my other two up front and we rode together to Bluemont to our rest stop.

Without measuring it I would have told you that we were pulling a 1% grade the entire way but the stats say otherwise. For the 23.5 miles to the General Store, it is rolling but there is no real elevation gain or loss. We averaged 18.2 mph, That’s the advantage of staying in a group.  

After a 15-20 minute rest, while other riders straggled in, a group of 14-15 of us all departed for the climb out of Bluemont up to Mount Weather. I passed those who I was going to pass on the climb out of Bluemont, which was maybe half the group. Then I settled into my own pace. I hate that.   My own pace had me between groups of riders. I couldn’t catch the riders upfront and I was too stubborn to allow myself to be caught by those behind me. Mostly it’s the fear of being caught and then not being able to stay with the new group.

The summit of Mount Weather is rolling with some additional climbs and some descents before reaching the two-mile descent to Ashby’s Gap and U.S. Rte 50. I could see the riders behind me about 300-400 meters but I was staying out in front. And I did.   By the time I got to Naked Mountain I saw but one rider behind me. And I wasn’t going to let him catch me.

After I came off the mountain I did sit up and wait for him. Part of it was being nice but part of it was I was first to a stop sign and there was traffic on the road. I had to wait for him.   It was raining and we were soaked. We stayed together for all but the final two miles. I have to rethink drafting in the rain. All it did was get me a face full of water when I sat behind his wheel.  

At times I thought he should go on without me as I was sure he was stronger after 50 miles in the saddle. But when we turned back on Rte 55 with four miles to go I set a pace that dropped him. Oops. My bad. But I had to. I could see about 100 yards behind him was a group coming on and I didn’t want to get caught by them.

So I opened a gap that kept growing. But the chasers were organized and overtook my friend and eventually overtook me too. Had they caught me on a flat I could have integrated with them but they were flying up a grade when they passed. I had nothing left to join them.

I was 20 seconds behind them to the lot and appeared to be the seventh rider returning. It is not a race but when you do well you pretend that it is. It was a pretty good finish.  

On the day I averaged two mph faster than in April. I can think of three reasons none of which I will claim that I am in better shape. I’m not. (1) It was 95° in April. (2) For the first part of the ride today I was in with a group that ramped up the speed whereas in April I basically was a group of one. (3) In April I dropped back and rode the final 23 miles with another rider who was struggling due to the heat.  

A final note: According to the ride table the “A” rides are 16-18 mph on Hilly Terrain. My final average was 15.9 — 0.1 away from an A pace. I can dream. Happy Birthday to Me!