Today, for the second year in a row, I woke up at 5:30 and drove over an hour. To do a bike ride. In 50 degree temps. Am I nuts? Well, yes, but that’s beside the point. The occasion for my early rumblings was the Potomac Pedalers’ Backroads Century in the Shenandoah Valley. Since I am a bit of a weenie, I rode the metric century, a 65-miler squeezed in between Berryville, Wincester and Front Royal, Virginia.
As I drove my car over the crest of the Blue Ridge, I could see a layer of thick fog covering the valley below. A half-hour later I was riding through the fog with my red blinky light on. Not that it was necessary. Most of the local drivers were still sleeping off their Saturday night. 2,000 participants rode one of five different courses. You could choose between 25, 30, 50, 65 and 100 miles. 65 miles is just the right balance between pleasure and pain for me.
The course takes you through rolling farmland. Other than starting and stopping in Berryville, you never actually ride through a town. The course designers cleverly keep riders outside the mean streets of the northern Shenandoah Valley’s metropolises. And they also avoid riding on major highways of which there are a few. It’s really nothing but backroads past farms and fields in the weeks just before the trees start their colorful fall display. Early in the ride there are no cars to speak of. Later the church-going crowd appears followed by the late rising heathens of the valley. Mostly drivers are patient with the rolling hoards. Today’s ride actually had two rolling hoards. A Ride to Recovery group was riding into Berryville as we were leaving, Apparently, this is a group involved with re-habbing disabled veterans. Many riders wore red, white, and blue outfits. Some bikes and trikes had pole on the back for other riders to push. (I could have used a push or two on some of the steeper climbs.)
After the waves of R2R riders, it was just the 2,000 of us banging out the miles. For the most part, the hills were nice rollers, allowing hill hopping. To hill hop, you ride fast down one hill and use your momentum to cruise up the next. In my younger days, I could do this for hours. Still it’s fun to defy the climbing gods for a morning.
There were a few challenging hills to climb. This is only fair since they almost always were followed by a screaming downhill. I topped out at a little over 40 miles per hour. I don’t know which hill that was on, because, frankly, I think it makes more sense to watch the road than my speedometer.
And of course there were many miles with nothing but flat easy riding. Most of my riding is to and from work on a narrow bike bath, so I rarely get my speed going above 13 miles per hour. On this ride I could easy bring my cruising speed up to 18 miles per hour. This may not sound like much but my 1993 Specialized Sequoia is quite a tank (and I make a weighty turret).
The cool temps lasted for about half the ride. I hate to see the summer heat go but I was comfortable wearing my commuting vest over a long t-shirt. My only real discomfort was cold toes caused by my wet shoes and socks. That fogs settles into dew and I walked through wet grass every time I got off my bike.
Eventually, the fog and clouds burned off and we were left with a final ten miles in the 70s, a very comfortable climate for pounding my way toward the finish. I did skip the rest stop at mile 48 but only because I had a flat at 55 and it sucked up 20 minutes of my ride. (It was my second flat all summer so no complaints here.)
Sorry about the paucity of pictures. If I took a shot of everything I found interesting or scenic, I’d still be out on the course. I didn’t even take a shot of a cow and there were hundreds along the route, cheering us on with their vigorous chewing. And I passed up beaucoups barns too. You didn’t expect me to stop on a downhill for that, did you?
This is my favorite ride in the mid-Atlantic. It’s right up there with the Erie Canal west of Rochester, the Great Allegheny Passage through Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania, the Maui downhill ride from the rim of Haleakala to the sea, and the ride through the Presidio across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, If you live in the DC area, you really owe it to yourself to do this ride at least once.