Emilia and the Red Caboose

Yetserday, I rode the Great Pumpkin Ride in Fauquier County, Virginia with my friend Emilia. This was our fourth ride together. Our first ride together was the 2014 50 States Ride. She had a rough time. We did it again in 2017 and this time I had a rough time and she, despite missing several climbing gears, flew up the hills. She weighs about half what I do so it was reasonable to assume would bury my sorry old ass on a sod farm in the hilly Virginia Piedmont.

Lucky for me, the last ride she did was the New York City Century back in early September. Unlike me she skipped breakfast. So on an empty stomach and with legs that hadn’t spun a pedal in seven weeks, she insisted on riding the long, 67-mile route yesterday. She’s pretty tough.

We lined up next to the red caboose at the start/finish line. Soon we were off down a rail trail then onto country roads where we were treated to rolling hills, 60 degrees, calm winds, cloudy skies, and the occasional sprinkle as we cruised through the rolling terrain at between 12 and 13 miles per hour. The foliage was close to peak and every so often we oohed and aahed at natures show. The lifestock in the fields seemed utterly (pun intended) uninterested in our passing. I explained that during my ride across the northern plains last year, I could get cattle and horses to stampede. Their Virginia cousins were having nothing of it.

The police warned us not to ride side by side so Emilia followed close behind me for most of the ride. She rides a bit closer to the edge of the road than I prefer so there was little chance that we’d overlap wheels.

Emilia’s native language is Spanish. I take advantage by quizzing her about useful phrases that I typically forget. Mostly we just rode and listened to the voices inside our heads. It’s nice to have a riding partner who appreciates that.

Just trees and hills and fresh air


Thanks to her layoff, we rode at exactly the same pace for nearly the entire ride. She’s a vegetarian and needed no prodding when we came to the first rest stop 19 miles into the ride. There she gorged herself on a thin slice of cinnamon bread and half of a banana. I noticed she had barely touched her water bottle. I thought “no bueno” but she was perfectly happy with her food and water intake.


We rode another 22 hilly miles before finding the next rest stop.  She was laboring a bit at this point so she gorged herself with a thin slice of pumpkin pie and a wee bag of potato chips. Then off we went.

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Emilia after pumpkin pie

The next thirteen miles were a bit hillier. I noticed at mile 50 she was laboring up a hill. Her thigh muscles were cramping. Her water bottle remained nearly untouched. No bueno. We slowed a bit and forged ahead. At an intersection with a busy highway she had trouble unclipping from her pedals and wobbled into the cross road. Fortunately no cars were coming but she knew that the little incident could have been bad news. I could see on her face that the layoff since early September was taking its toll. She was pretty tired.

The route to the final rest stop is out-and-back for about 2 1/2 miles. We saw riders returning from the rest stop turning toward the finish. Emilia did not have a cue sheet in front of her and got rather animated about following them. I briefly considered skipping the rest stop. That would have risked seeing her bonk all the way to the finish so I explained we needed to get some food in her and forged ahead to the rest stop at the Old Bust Head brewery.

Once there, she had pie, three small cheese quesadillas, a small portion of tater tots, a cup of pumpkin soup, and two cups of Gatorade. Smiles.

“Ok, John, I’m ready.”

Crisis averted. As we rode I counted down the next few miles.



Only tell me the single digits.

How do you say nine in Spanish?



She fell back on a hill, caught up, then fell back again.

Are we at seven?

No. Cinco!

You’re kidding.


Big smile.

A few more hills and we found ourselves on the rail trail back into town. It always seems longer that it actually is. Emilia started looking for the caboose.

And there it was after 67 hilly miles.

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Emilia, her steed, and the caboose

Tired but todo sonrisas.

We hope to ride again next Saturday at the shorter and flatter Cider Ride in DC. There will be no caboose but the donuts and cider and pie will make up for it.

Blowin’ in the Wind

Bob Dylan is getting a Nobel. He wrote the theme song to the 2016 Great Pumpkin Ride. It’s called Blowin’ in the Wind.

We had a nice Indian summer this week. Temperatures were in the 80s during the day. Then a front came through and autumn was back. In force.

The ride continued nonetheless. Apparently the 20 -30 mile per hour winds and the 40 mile per hour gusts turned some people off. I signed up for this ride when Ultrarunnergirl asked me about it. She planned to ride with another friend. She ended up spending the day at a vineyard not far away. Can’t say I blame her.

I met up with some other friends, Paul, Amy, and Jody, at the start. We were going to ride the 48 mile route. Slowly. We left a little after the official 9:30 start.

Adding to the fun was the fact that I have a sore throat and a pretty nasty cold. I was shivering when we started and my energy levels were very low. I ate an energy bar left over from my June bike tour.


The wind seemed to be mostly at our backs for the first 15 miles, with the occasional crosswind to nearly blow us off the road. We mostly had protection from trees. One cool aspect of this was the fact that leaves were falling like rain. Every so often they’d dance in the air pocket in front of my body. As if to tip their caps to the end of warm weather.

The scenery could not have been better. It took my mind off the random blast. Jody led the way for the start. Paul and Amy rode together. I played shutterbug.


This was Amy’s first long ride. The conditions not being ideal, we decided to stop and give her a chance to chop off 10 miles of the route. Amy didn’t take the bait. We rode on to the first rest stop. It was at a church. Warm apple cider. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread. Even Paul’s favorite: pumpkin whoopie pies.

I said hello to Dave and Jean who were riding the 60+ mile route. They had been contending with lots of headwinds.

Leaving the rest stop, we encountered open farm land. No trees to protect us. And we were getting blasted. Not surprisingly this broke our group of four up. I was just plugging along keeping my heart rate where it likes to be kept. I ended up being way out in front. Probably has something to do with riding 6,500 miles already this year.

I stopped at the top of a hill. Riders struggled with the headwind as they climbed. Then came Jody. And we waited. After many minutes, Paul and Amy arrived. Dang. We may be old, but we are slow.

I told Amy the next rest stop at Old Bust Head brewery was four miles away. Jody corrected me and said it was six. “Amy, I rounded up.”

And away we rode. More pretty country stuff. Leaves. Farms. Dessicated corn stalks. A pony being trained.

The brewery was a welcome retreat. I had two pints. The bubbles felt good on my throat.

We set out for the last ten or so miles back to the start. I became separated from the three. I fell in with an old guy. (As Jody later pointed out, “We’re all old!”) He told me he had only recently started biking again. He said he was old and fat. He didn’t look it.We played leap frog.He actually rode faster than me on the flats but the hills were really challenging for him. He walked a few, huffing and puffing, but never gave up.

For most of the time I was riding I was in my usual meditative trance. When I rode past a turn early in the ride, Jody had to yell at me to get me back on course. Be one with the cue sheet.

I zoned out for the last few uphill miles. I have no idea how fast I was going. The scenery, the hills, the wind. As Robbie Robertson once said, “The wind just sort of took me there.”

At the end of the ride, I watched as the after party closed up shop. I waited and watched old guy finish. Then Jody. Then some others. Where were Paul and Amy. Worry began to set in. They finally arrived having been escorted by the police. Amy was la lanterne rouge. But she finished.

I rode to my car. I was the last car in the vast horse show grounds.

I drove off. Into the wind.

Here are some pix on my Flickr page.

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.




Solo, Surly, Cider

About eight years ago, I bought a Bike Friday New World Tourist after listening to my friend Charmaine talk about how much she loved her Bike Friday. It took me about four years before I could get comfortable on what I came to call Little Nellie.

My only complaint about Little Nellie these days is that her little wheels transmit enough road shock to my lower back to make it somewhat uncomfortable to ride day in and day out. Of course, that didn’t stop me from riding it for 150 miles worth of commuting this week. And, predictably, my back was not real happy Friday night.

Little Nellie was custom made to mimic the geometry on The Mule, my old touring bike. I like both these bikes a lot but they are rather tank like in their weight and their ride qualities. I really wanted a bike I could take for long rides that was nimbler without beating my back up.

I have been hearing about Surly bikes now from several people. After hanging out with Katie Lee earlier this year, I heard an earful about her beloved Arrow, a Surly Cross Check. Arrow and Katie are a match made in heaven. After weeks of procrastination and test riding, I bought one.

It took me about 450 miles to get it set up to my satisfaction. The final tweak was a new higher rise stem. I’d done 30 mile easy rides with the bike set up this way with no ill effects on my body. It was time to put it to a more rigorous test.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I mounted my Cross Check on my car and drove to Warrenton, a town in the Virginia Piedmont, for the annual Great Pumpkin Ride. As luck would have it, this year the weather turned out to be pretty good: overcast with temperatures rising from the high 40s into the low 60s, with mostly light winds.

It has been a long time since I rode fast for an extended period of time. With fingers in lobster gloves crossed I headed out about 45 minutes before the official start on the 67 mile route.

I was rolling along without too much effort when I noticed I was going an unheard of (for me at least) 18 miles per hour. Hmmm.

I settled in to a groove mindful of the possibility that at any moment my legs would wake up and turn into stone. Thankfully the foliage was at its peak giving me something to take my mind off the burning sensation in my knees.

After a while faster people on faster bikes started to pass me. No worries. I let them go. I had no hope of keeping up with the carbon fiber crowd. I just settled into my little meditative trance and cruised along among the oranges and yellows and reds.

At 18 miles I had some hot apple cider and a scone with sweet icing on top. Off came my long wind pants and the t-shirt over my base layer. I tucked them in my Carradice saddlebag and hit the road.

I normally hate drinking cider but hot apple cider tastes wonderful in the middle of a bike ride on a cool fall day.

More miles went by. Every so often a decent sized hill would present itself. I stayed in the saddle. I shocked myself by actually passing some folks on the uphill. If I pass you on a hill, you suck at hill climbing. At one point I rolled past an alpaca farm. Somebody forgot to cue the Peruvian flute music so I rode on.

The second rest stop came about three miles later than I recalled. I kept at the pace. I had slowed since the first ten miles but I was still mostly riding over 15 miles per hour, about four miles per hour above my commuting speed. And the Cross Check and my Brooks Champion saddle (with springs) were eating up the bumps.

At the second stop, I had the same food as at the first. It works. I said hello to Steve, whom I met at Friday Coffee Clubs and Third Thursday Happy Hours, as I rolled out.

For the next 15 or so miles, the bike traffic was much heavier. The 67 mile route had merged with the 48 mile route. I figured I’d soon start to see some other friends.

No dice.

Roll on,

I started thinking that i could go leaf blind from all the foliage. At times the road went through a tunnel of oranges and yellows and reds.

After another 15 or so miles I rolled into the final rest stop at Old Bust Head brewery. I had some more cider and some potato chips for the salt. I met up with Paul, Amy, and Jody. They were doing the 30 mile route. We went into the brewery for a glass of the Octoberfest Marzen. I’m not saying it tasted good but I am looking to buy a home in the neighborhood.

Knowing my pace would be faster, I took off for the finish. The next ten miles are the hilliest part of the ride. There were several long false flats. These are roads that look level but go gradually uphill. These can be very discouraging: you pedal hard but your speed keeps dropping.

I kept on keeping on and soon I rolled into the finish. My knees were a little sore (not unusual) but my back felt fine. The Cross Check passed the test with flying colors.

My thanks go out to the volunteers and police who helped make this such an enjoyable ride. I’m already looking forward to next year.

A Truly Great Pumpkin Ride

I don’t much care for pumpkin pie.

Each year just before Halloween, the folks at the Fauquier Trails Coalition in Fauquier County, VIrginia put on their Great Pumpkin Ride. I’ve done this ride a few times before and it has always been a fun challenge. Last year’s ride, for instance, included cool temperatures and a constant headwind despite the fact that the route was a 45-ish mile circuit. The ride always gives back though. The scenery is classic Virginia Piedmont countryside and the food at the rest stops is always great. This year didn’t disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations.

I began by picking my long-time riding buddy Lisa up in Hyattsville, Maryland. I managed to get lost going to and from her house which takes some doing, I suppose. We made it to Warrenton, Virginia where the ride starts and ends at around 8:45. The 68-mile riders were already heading out. We took our time getting ready. Chatted with Kirstin and Betsy, a.k.a Boots. They decided to ride the 68-mile course while Lisa and I were doing the 47-miler. While waiting I decided to shed my wind pants as the temperature was climbing into the high 50s.

Lisa and I went to get our shirts and maps and such. I was standing in line looking all about for familar faces when I realized that Reba and her husband Robert were standing directly in front of me. Doh!

Robert, Lisa, and Reba at the start

The four of us decided to ride together and we were soon on the road. We seemed to be a well-matched quartet rolling along at 15 miles per hour give or take. My legs were not happy with me since I had not had a day of rest from biking or hiking in over two weeks. In prior years the sky was gray and the foliage seemed past peak. This year we had beautiful blue skies with some pretty decent foliage to delight our eyes. At our first big intersection I took a wrong turn which is pretty much my new thing these days. Reba and Robert corrected me and we were soon in pursuit of Lisa who actually knows how to read a cue sheet. Ironically, Kirstin and Boots managed to miss this turn and screw up their route. They ended up doing the 47 miler about 30 minutes ahead of us. Considering the fact that I took Kirstin off route in this same area a couple of months ago, I felt a certain amount of vindication or, perhaps, camaraderie. There is comfort in shared stupidity.

This year’s route was slightly different than last year’s. For a start it was counter clockwise. For another there was a rest stop at 10 miles and it was a doozy. The stop was at the Old Bust Head craft brewery. They had (and I am not exagerating) pumpkin pie, Peanut butter and jelly sammiches, roasted soft pretzels, banana bread, coffee, hot apple cider, hot pumpkin soup, cookies, bananas, samples of pumpkin ale, and indoor bathrooms!!!  We ate and drank and basically didn’t want to leave.

Craft brewery

I appear to be one of the few people I know who doesn’t like pumpkin pie.My wife and kids are pumpkin pie addicts, but it just makes me gag. Last Sunday, after our hike, Flor told me about how pumpkin and apple pie are her Kryptonite.  So I decided to give a slice a try during the ride. It wasn’t half bad. The pie filling was mushy but firm and not overly sweet. The crust was moist. Not half bad. At a later rest stop, I threw caution to the wind and tried the pumpkin soup. Yeah, baby. You could freebase this stuff.


Even better than the soup though were the roasted soft pretzels. Sweet mother of god are they good. Follow them up with some hot apple cider or some pumpkin ale (really pretty tasty) and you have yourself a reason never to get back on the bike.

Somehow we did. We were off and riding and my legs wanted nothing to do with it. I persisted and they came around. Soon we were crusing into rest stop number 2. Here I found a table with brown bags of goodies for people on gluten free diets. This ride is organized!

Speaking of organization, all troublesome intersections were staffed by sherrifs with their lights flashing. These law enforcement officers could not have been more helpful or polite. What a shame Backroads doesn’t have this type of cooperation.

We rolled along past houses, farms, and fields. Then we heard a train whistle blow. Reba entertained us with her version of Johnny Cash railroad songs. During Folsom Prison Blues, she even threw in some air guitar. Somewhere Carl Perkins smiled.

Lisa and me and the road ahead

As we approached the third and final rest stop, Robert started to habe cramps in his legs. This looked painful. He ulled out a tube of cold stuff that was supposed to relax his muscles. After our final stop, we decided that Lisa and I would forge ahead while Reba and Robert would take it slow to the finish.

We alll made it. And wouldn’t you know it there was more food at the finish. And a pretty decent three-piece rock band. And food. We decided to move our party indoors and headed to Molly’s, an Irish-themed pub in the historic center of town. Lo and behold there were Kirstin and Boots doing shots with a motorcycle gang.

Okay, actually they sitting alone having a post-ride lunch. (For the record, the Irish stew that Boots was eating looked amazing!)

We merged our tables and had us a  nice little after party. Since we had been to their brewery, Lisa and  I tried the Bust Head Porter. I found it waaaaay better than pumpkin pie. I do believe we may have to take the Hoppy 100 west next year!

My thanks go to the folks who planned this ride, to the volunteers who seemed to be everywhere, to the sheriff and his staff for doing a terrific and cheerful job of keeping us safe, and to the people of Fauquier County who put up with 1250 bicyclists for a day. I look forward to eating my way through the Piedmont again next year.

As usual my (and some of Reba’s) pix of the ride can be found on my Flickr page.

Lisa writes more better than me. Here‘s her account of the day.