Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo


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. rollout. 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 Dombrowski, 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 San Pellegrino, 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 San 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

Double WOD


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.
Potomac River

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).

Purcellville, Va.

Last in the Group Ride


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.

Civil War Bailout


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 Walker

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.

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