Heroes, Piedmont, and Walking Naked

For 13 days in a row I rode my bike. Sometimes long, sometimes short. Sometimes level, sometimes hilly. Sometimes flat, sometimes pumped up.

Yesterday I pulled another cue sheet from a ride in the Virginia Piedmont, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d done this ride and portions of it before. I know it is hilly but it is also scenic so why not.

The area I rode in is just west and south of the ride I did a few days ago in Hunt country. In fact, there’s a three or four mile overlap. I started in the town of Marshall and rode south on curvy, hilly country roads to Waterloo. Then I turned on to Leeds Manor Road and headed north through Orlean, Hume, and over Naked Mountain.

I rode past Sky Meadows State Park and east on US 50 (can’t get away from the damned thing) to Upperville. The last 10 miles went through Rectortown (part of the Hunt ride) back to Marshall. 55 miles in all.

The ride started with a bike equipment tragedy. My Zefal XP frame pump slipped off the hood of my car in the parking lot in Marshall. After hitting the pavement it would no longer contract enough to fit to the frame of my bike. I think the tensioning spring must have broken. I’ve had this pump for over 20 years. It died a hero.

While I am on the subject of equipment, I want to mention the bicycle computer I recently bought for The Mule. It’s a Cateye Padrone. It meets my two primary requirements for a bike computer. First, it displays 6 digits, allowing me to keep up to 99,999.9 miles on it. (The Mule is currently over 57,000 miles.) Second, it allows me to enter my mileage in from my old odometer.

This would be great if the damned thing was the slightest bit accurate. I have looked down at my computer while rolling and seen 0 mph displayed. I’ve also seen it tick of miles while I am at a stop light. Finally, the Maximum speed function usually displays something above 60 mph. All that said, it’s distance function is accurate withing about 3 percent. It recorded yesterday’s distance at 53.6 when the cue sheet says 55.2. So I upped the diameter of the bike wheel in the computer buy three percent to compensate.

The best part about the ride was the fact that the countryside is totally verdant. Through the winter months I long for green and now I have it. Ahhh.

The low light of the ride was Naked Mountain. I did this beast once on Big Nellie. How I made it to the top I’ll never know. It’s steep and bumpy and lung busting. The last time I did it I had to stop a few times. Yesterday I stopped at the base of the mountain to have a snack and some water. Then I started the long grind. I made it about half way before my lungs were tapped out. After a short rest I started again. In a few hundred yards my lungs were gone. So were my calf muscles.

I walked the rest of the mountain. Even that hurt my legs. Other than last summer’s sufferfest, it’s the first time I’ve walked my bike up a hill in 30 years.

Thankfully, for every climb there is a descent. The Mule abides.

I didn’t take many pictures yesterday bit these will give you an idea of the landscape.

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance
The Mile stops to take in the view near Hume
Near Rectortown at the end of the ride.

I’ve done 462 miles in the last 13 days. There’s one thing I can’t understand: on a bike tour, carrying 40 pounds of gear, I do 462 miles in a week and I’m not tired. Must be the gas station food.

After five miles doing errands, I have put my bikes away and am taking the rest of today off.


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.

IMG_3282 (1)
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.

IMG_3284 (2)
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.

The Third Day of Furloughmas

On the third day of Furloughmas my bicycle gave to me, a ride in Virginia Hunt Country.

I spent my first two days of being unemployed getting caught up on non-biking things. Today I decided to go for a ride. I pulled out my ancient copy of the Washington Area Bicycling Atlas and found a challenging 55-mile ride that I did about 10 years ago. The ride was a big oval running east then south then west then north then east back to the start in the town of Marshall in wine and hunt country.

My recollection from the last time I did this ride is that there is nasty hill at about 30 miles. Much of the ride was on windy two lane country lanes. When I wasn’t gawking at the pretty farms, I was taking in the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the back ground. I could have taken pictures all day but put my camera away after a shot of the road ahead. You wanna see pretty go ride out yonder.

I chose The Mule, my old Specialized Sequoia, for the ride. After missing my first turn, I got back on course and headed for the country. After riding about 10 miles  with a couple of respectable hills included, I rode through the crossroads town of Waterloo. The next ten miles headed west toward the Blue RIdge. I stopped for lunch at a store in Orlean, another crossroads town. I had a bologna sandwich because I haven’t seen a bologna sandwich on a menu in decades.  Bologna is regarded as bad food. You don’t want to know what it is made of. It also happens to be pretty awesomely tasty. I also ate a bag of Route 11 tater chips. I washed it all down with an Arnold Palmer.  I somehow managed to survive the feast.

View from the hip
View from the hip

Back on the bike, I continued west through the town of Hume.  My brain said that the serious climb was only a couple of miles ahead but I recollected the terrain incorrectly. There were hills but none of them were all that steep. After the course turned to the north,  my memory was abruptly refreshed. The road rose and rose past the Naked Mountain Winery and rose some more. I was in my granniest gear but the “hill” was winning. I reached the top, stopped, bent over the handlebars and huffed and puffed for 30 seconds or more. Then I got back on the bike, turned the corner, and discovered that there was still more climbing to be done. Fail. If only I had eaten free range salmon on gluten free flaxseed bread and washed it down with acai berry juice. Of course, then I would have puked my guts out, thereby lightening my load and making it up the mountain robustly (but with fierce dragon breath).

I made it to the top and set in for the 39 mile per hour ride down the other side. I’d have gone faster but for the crappy chip seal road surface. After bouncing around and holding on for dear life, I managed to make it to route 17 where the pavement was smooth and the cars were fast. The shoulder was plenty wide (a rarity in Virginia) and I buzzed along to route 50. This was also a smooth highway but with precious little in the way of a shoulder. The cars passing me gave me lots of room though, including a right hand drive Mini.

The last ten miles involved a bit more climbing (they apparently don’t call one of the towns Upperville for nothing) but after the ride up Naked Mountain I couldn’t complain much.

At the finish, I was, well, finished. Pooped. The ride was just long enough to get me to forget about the mess in DC.

I highly recommend this ride if you like to look at immense estates with horseys and cows. And the Blue RIdge. And dozens of vultures gorging on road kill (not me thankfully).

I suppose you could stop at the dozen or so vineyards I rode past. I seriously doubt you’d make it up Naked Mountain with a belly full of wine. Then, again, I am pretty sure you wouldn’t much care.