Backroads – More Better since 2015

I have done various distances at the Potomac Pedalers’ Backroads Century event for several years. Until last year, the ride was based in Berryville VA. The people, and sheriff, of the greater Berryville area were not very receptive to having 1,500 bicyclists invade their little corner of the planet, however. After much frustration and many complaints, Potomac Pedalers moved the ride in 2015 to Shepherdstown in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. I was out of town for last year’s event and have been eager to check out the new routes.

Pre-ride nutrition is important. I had Italian food for dinner with a massive American pale ale. In fact the glass was so big that I could barely get my hand around it. The food was meh but the beer was yay. So after dinner I walked to a gas station convenience store in the dark to get me some more. The area of Martinsburg where I stayed may be a pedestrian nightmare but the beer selection was not half bad.

After a drive to the ride start in the dark, Deets and I were on the road by 7:15. It was barely light out. The route took us along the Potomac River for several easy miles before climbing a bit until we were riding along the Shenandoah River. The eastern panhandle is not mountainous like most of West Virginia, but it does have small hills. We rode up most of them. And down. And up. Etc.

Only a couple of the hills during the day made me consider walking. But I didn’t. I just ground them out. One by one. In between there were fields of corn and soybeans and apple orchards and cows and horses. Sweet.

My 100 mile jaunt exposed some inescapable truths:

  • I am old
  • I suck at hill climbing
  • I am kind of dumb for signing up for so many tough rides this fall
  • When breathing is difficult, an albuterol inhaler is a godsend
  • I am old

I saw several people from #bikedc. Michael (the co-leader of our 50 States 2014 ride group), lawyer Mike, Dave and Jean aboard their monster tandem, Felkerino, and several people from the previous two event ride I’ve done this month.

Mostly we chatted at rest stops. They humored me for various lengths of time while riding.

Some highlights of the ride:

  • Riding alongside a scared fawn is always exciting
  • Daybreak in the eastern panhandle is really beautiful
  • On the steepest downhill, a ride immediately in front of lawyer Mike crashed. Mike stopped and went to his aid. I joked later that he offered legal advice. This is not true. He offered reassurance and found a rider in the throng who happened to be an MD. Bike Crash had first aid withing a minute of crashing.
  • Jean is very fit but can put away an impressive number of tomato and cucumber sammiches
  • Tomato and cucumber sammiches are to die for. So are baked potatoes with salt and butter.
  • Young fawns are awkward runners. I rode alongside one for a few hundred yards today.
  • Even strong riders get cramps on hot, humid days. Dave was dogged by them for most of the ride. I saw another rider stopped in the road massaging the backs of her thighs. I offered to help but she hit me with her pump.
  • The volunteers who put up signs, marked the route with arrows and danger warnings, staffed the rest stops, and marshalled the ride did a wonderful job.
  • The packs of riders did not rudely buzz past me once today. Good on you!
  • It was supposed to rain and thunder during the afternoon. It didn’t

Some lowlights from the ride:

  • Instead of rain we got heat and humidity.
  • I missed some #bikedc peeps who were riding today including Rudy and Linel
  • Everyone loves the baked potatoes but having hot food at the last rest stop on a hot and muggy day didn’t work. They should be at the first rest stop. Or it should be cooler. Or something. (They are still delicious.)
  • Eating popcorn the night before a ride is a bad idea.
  • Clueless, chatty people who block your way while riding up a steep hill when you have a ton of momentum going deserve really hot food at the last rest stop.
  • People who yell “CAR BACK!” when the noise from the car is already deafening need to chill
  • A rider near me was not wearing a helmet. A course marshall yelled at him for his infraction from about 50 yards away. This was obnoxious and spoiled the mood for solitary riders(i.e.me) who like to zone out. What exactly was the marshall going to do about it anyway?
  • When I have an annoying but innocuous shifting problem that I resolve on the fly, I do not need to be told how to shift by a course marshall. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive, bucko. (I actually soft pedaled for a quarter mile to get away from this marshall.
  • The after party is a great idea. It’s an even better idea to have liquids. Water, tea, and milk were the choices. They were all gone when I got there.
  • Being unable to find your car after the event is not good. I had given up and was riding in search of campus security when I rode passed by car right where I left it. All the lots looked the same to me.
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View from the edge of the road
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Deets makes a friend
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Felkerino rode with me for a while
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Desiccated corn
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Pre-ride nutrition

All in all, it was a pretty darn good day on the bike. I liked this ride much better than the Berryville version.

 

Some Ride/Hike Ideas for 2016

About a year ago I was admonished by a friend for sounding wishy washy regarding my 2015 vacation plans. “Stop planning. All we have is today” was her way of saying don’t plan, DO!  Irony alert: in January 2014 she told me of her plans to obtain certification to teach in DC schools and to open a business. She followed through on none of it, eventually leaving town. Even so, she had a point.

I suck at advance planning. Somehow I managed to do a bike tour, a non-bike trip around the world, nearly a dozen day hikes, half a dozen bicycling events, and take in a bunch of Nationals games. So with that in mind I began thinking about things to do in 2016.

I anticipate one non-biking vacation (to Sweden and thereabouts) to visit my daughter.  (A return to Thailand in the dry season would be nice but I can’t face the 18 hours of flying right now. Maybe 2017.) That will leave plenty of vacation time. So here are some ideas I am tossing around in my head.

Hiking: there are still many, many hikes to do in the Shenandoah National Park. Also, I have barely scratched the surface of hiking in nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail. One possibility is to gear up and do some overnights. I have never done this and it would be an interesting extension of my day hikes (not to mention save on driving home after a day’s worth of hiking).

Biking Events: WABA swears that it’s going to offer a century ride this year.  If it works into my schedule, I’ll definitely do it. Then there are the usual events: Vasa, Cider, 50 States, Backroads, and Great Pumpkin. I’ve done all of these several times, but the Backroads course was moved to West Virginia this year. I was in Australia and missed it. I can’t wait to do the new version. Two more that I keep threatening to do are RAGBRAI and the Five Boro Ride in New York City. Both of them are cattle drives. Both offer logistical challenges. Some of what follows are a lot easier to do.

Bike Trails: There are all kinds of cool trails around here that I haven’t ridden. Here’s a list of Virginia trails:

  • The Virginia Capital Trail goes between Williamsburg and Richmond. This could be a fun 2-day deal or a long single day ride.
  • High Bridge State Park down near Farmville and Appomattox looks really cool with a long, high bridge.
  • The Virginia Creeper Trail is a bit of a drive from DC. It’s only 34 miles but could be a beast of an out and back ride.
  • The New River Trail is a 57-mile trail that looks really promising with 30 trestles and bridges and two tunnels. This is a two-day ride with camping I think.

In Pennsylvania the Pine Creek Rail Trail runs 63 miles through the Grand Canyon of the East. Looks like a good overnight camping round trip to me.

Bike Tours: Right now I have eight possibilities on my list. All in the Eastern U.S.

  • Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway: This is a monster tour, 578 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. How the hell I’d get back is anybody’s guess. It’s also super hilly so I figure I’d be lucky to average 45 miles per day, 13  days of riding. This could be beyond my physical abilities. (Never stopped me before.)
  • The Natchez Trace: This 444 mile road is truck free. Tack on another 90 miles or so and the route would go from Nashville to New Orleans. Logistics on this one is a bit pricey (two bike flights). Bike Friday to the rescue?
  • Figure 8 in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York: Adventure Cycling has two routes that form a figure 8. One loops around Lake Champlain, the other does a lap of the Adirondack Park. This one would be logistically pretty easy as I have family in the Albany area where the Adirondack route begins. The total distance exceeds 700 miles. The riding in Vermont and upstate New York is incredibly nice. Also weather up yonder is pretty much perfect for cycling in June – August.
  • La Route Verte: There are over 5,000 kilometers of marked bike routes in Quebec. The possibilities are endless. Then there is the interesting prospect of conversing in my horrid, mostly forgotten high school French. The idea of cycling to Quebec City, which I have never seen, or around Montreal is pretty intriguing. Getting there is a bit of a haul, but c’est la vie.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – North: Amtrak now has roll on bike service on the East Coast. Theoretically (relying on Amtrak is always an iffy proposition) I could take my bike on a trail and ride to Brunswick Maine, then ride up to Acadia National Park and ride all or part way home.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – South: Alternatively, I could take the train to Florida, ride to Key West, ferry to Tampa and ride across the state to Amtrak in Miami. Or just ride home.
  • Around Lake Michigan: This one starts in Monroeville, Indiana, one of the most bike touring friendly small towns in the US. It heads north through lower Michigan into the Upper Peninsula. Then across to Wisconsin and returns by crossing Lake Michigan on a ferry.  It’s 1,100 miles. Logistics would be simplified by using my in-laws house in north central IN as an alternative starting point.

In the increasingly likely (yet still somewhat improbable) possibility that I retire there is this:

  • The Trans Am/Western Express/Northern Tier Cross Country Ride: There remains a faint possibility that I might retire this year. If so, adios, amigos! I don’t know which route I’d take but the possibilities are numerous. The Trans Am is the classic route from Yorktown to the Oregon coast through Yellowstone. The Western Express shortens the Trans Am by taking a b-line across Utah and Nevada for California. The Northern Tier goes close to the US-Canada border.

Once I find out when the WABA Century and the Sweden trip will happen, I’ll pick two of the tours and as many events and hikes as my aging bones can handle.

 

 

 

Ultracenturygirl Goes Long

I’ve signed up for the Backroads Century three or four times before this year. I have always ended up riding the metric century, 100 kilometers or 62 miles, instead of the 100-mile version. Kirstin, aka Ultrarunnergirl, persuaded me to ride the 100 miles this year. So we did.

Backroads is the annual big event of the Potomac Pedalers riding club. The ride starts and stops in Berryville Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. To say that this area is pretty is to do it a gross disservice. Numerous times during the ride my jaw dropped open at the beauty of the hills and farms (I am a sucker for a field filled with big rolls of hay). The terrain is also damned near perfect. The hills, at least for most of the ride, are perfect for hill hopping, speeding down one hill and using the momentum to ride up the next. The narrow roads curve around farms and through corn fields and, well words don’t do them justice.

The Relentless Ultrarunnergirl
The Relentless Ultrarunnergirl

The weather was damned near perfect. I wore arm wamers and a vest for the first 25 miles, then put them away for the rest of the day. Temperatures rose throughout the day. Just as they seemed to get oppressive, the skies opened up for a two-minute cool down at mile 95. The weather gods could not have timed it better.

I’d never ridden most of the first 50 miles which wind their way north from Berryville into Jefferson County West Virginia in the eastern panhandle. The ride was hilly but I had fresh legs so they didn’t bother me in the least. Kirstin wore the teeth off her granny gear spinning like a fiend. Once, much later in the ride,  in a burst of insanity she actually got out of the saddle and attacked a hill. For a few brief moments she was flying. Lordy!

For much of the time we rode separately, but I’d soft pedal or wait at a turn on the top of the hill to bring us back together. She had a light on the front of her bike which helped me pick her out among the long line of cyclists.

On the way to the first rest stop at mile 25, we were past by Rudi, a Friday Coffee Clubber. Rudi broke his femur earlier in the year so it was great to see him zipping along. He had a huge smile as he greeted me in passing. Joy. Next came Lawyer Mike, another Friday Coffee Clubber, resplendent in his Dartmouth kit. Lawyer Mike was all business, all sweat and determination. Not messin’ ’round, dude.

We rode back to the start to finish the first half. Kirstin went to her car to get her lunch; I went to mine to get new batteries for my camera. We reconvened at the rest stop across the street where we ran into Elizabeth, fresh off her rookie triumph in the 50 States Ride. She somehow had ridden the same 50 miles as us but we never saw her on the road.

After lunch Kirstin and I went back out for another 50, this time south of Berryville. We had both ridden this course before in previous years. I recalled it as hillier than the first 50 and I was right. The hills and the increasing temperature made for more determined work but we were up to the task at hand. Bigger hills meant less hill hopping and more grinding it out.

Never Be Afraid to Look Silly When You're Going the Distance
Never Be Afraid to Look Silly When You’re Going the Distance

The second half has three rest stops. One had potatos boiled in salty water. Another had tomato and cucumber sammiches. Ride? Do I have to?

We were plodding along, feeling pretty confident of completing the ride despite the now uncomfortable heat. I spotted a sprinkler on the side of the road and then heard a popping sound all along the road. Enormous raindrops were falling from the only cloud in the sky. Big sloppy drops going splat on the road. What a perfect cool down! I was comfortably wet as I rode under a leavy canopy across the road when the road began an upbrupt ride. It was the steepest, hardest hill of the day. Riders up the road struggled. Been here, done this, got this. No problemo. I waited for Kirstin at the top. When you have infinite cardiovascular capacity, you smile as you crest the hilly beast!

Our reward was a fast glide down to the Shenandoah for a brief riverside cruise. Every down has its up and we climbed away headed for the finish. Once clear of the hill a tailwind pushed us home. My guess is that we rode our fastest miles of the day from mile 96 to mile 98.

We finished after 90 percent of the riders had left. Kirstin somehow found some chips and quac. I found my ride t-shirt and all was right with the world.

If you are thinking about doing this ride, I’d recommend it with one reservation. The people of Clark County,Virginia clearly do not welcome this event. They scowl at you. They drive agressively past you well within the legally required three feet. The sheriff all but declared war on cyclists rolling through stop signs. (Yes, it’s illegal but he could just as easily have directed traffic to allow participants’ safe passage.) It’s surprising to me that they don’t raise a banner in town that says “Cyclist go home!” The contrast with the people in Jefferson County, West Virginia was obvious. They waved and seemed genuinely happy to see us out on the road.

Congratulations to Ultrarunnergirl for completing her first century.

Here are some pix I took.