Storms on the Mountain


I planned to get to Thurmont early for the Civil War Century because severe storms were forecast to move into the area around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Up at 5:15 a.m., I still got caught in traffic north of Frederick as a “mudder” event with 20,000 participants was also being held and traffic was backed up for miles. I was wheels down at 8:18 a.m. – an hour later than I had hoped.

Ominous looking early morning sky to the west

After a seven-mile warm up climb through Catoctin Mountain Park, ones comes to Wolfsville, Maryland. Just beyond Wolfsville is a hill. It has no name – I just call it “50 mile hill” because two years ago I hit 50 mph on the descent. Like last year, I didn’t recognize it when I descended and only hit 47. So I decided I would double back one mile and try it again. I had a head wind and gave it my all and hit 49.1 mph. Sigh. I decided there would be no third time.

I caught, Jeff, who was wearing a RAGBRAI XL (40 years) jersey. I had talked to him in the parking lot briefly and we would ride together the rest of the day. We chatted about family and RAGBRAI. He attended this year with his 16 year old son. As for RAGBRAI, like me, he was basically one and done unless his son wanted to do it again.


As I rode I didn’t feel particularly well, especially approaching the climb on South Mountain. I never thought about abandoning or sagging back, I just thought it would be a day where I would suffer through. I usually finish what I start.

South Mountain rest stop

The route took us off South Mountain to Sharpsburg and past the battlefield and cemetery at Antietam. I think there’s a 50 mph hill in the park. I’m not entirely certain because when I rode it during Bike Virginia my Garmin was in a pause mode. I thought briefly about riding it today but decided to ride on ahead.

Mount Aetna Rest Stop – Before the Storm

At the second rest stop, halfway at the Mount Aetna fire station, there were some guys with radios and Jeff said they told him the riders should take the bailout route back to start as the storms were very strong. I have no pictures available to share on this blog but looking to our left the sky was already an ominous black color. And it wasn’t yet 1:00 p.m. We knew some massive storms were close.

Quietly it seemed riders massed as though there were safety in numbers although I’m not sure that is the case. Just outside Smithsburg we began the climb to go back over South Mountain. And South Mountain stood between us and Thurmont.

Then the rain came. Hard. And lightning. Thunder. COLD rain. Wind. Although it was a tail wind, it also contained lots of debris, mostly leaves and small twigs although it was certainly knocking down branches and trees too — but we weren’t getting pelted by those. It wasn’t fun being on the road. Pounded by a driving cold rain and being hit by debris, we stayed on the shoulder and hoped any passing motorists would see us.

When we traveled through Boonesboro an hour earlier the temperature hit 90. Now on the mountain the temperature dropped to 66 degrees. This was a massive storm front.

We were guessing the best way back. I know the official bailout route was up ahead in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., but it seemed we could do better. We passed a road marked Md. 77 with a sign towards Thurmont which really was the best way back. That would have connected us to the road we rode out on in the morning.

Instead, we stayed on course and began the climb up Raven Rock Road (491). Two miles up there is a turn on Ritchie Road, a lightly traveled heavily forested road. Jeff and I opted to stay on the main road hoping it was a direct, or least a shorter way to Thurmont. Turns out it wasn’t. In fact, when we reached the top of the mountain we were probably 200 meters from where we would have been had we stayed on Ritchie Road.

Fort Ritchie Road

We turned down Fort Ritchie Road and saw it was littered with tree debris. We were told a power line was down in the other direction.  We found our way through the debris.

Drenched – but safe

Arriving back at Thurmont the rain stopped. Briefly. I started to second guess our decision to abandon but accepted the fact that getting back safely was the most important thing. There were more storms behind this first one and the most important thing was that we made it back safely and can ride another day.

I didn’t get to Gettysburg but this still is one of my favorite routes. But I learned additional roads to ride on. And for the first time, the lines weren’t too long for the Antietam Dairy ice cream.

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