“I have never felt more alive than at this very moment”
We were on a 4 mile steep descent reaching speeds of 43 mph on silk smooth roads, a small group of 4 riders off the front headed down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. We were pedaling full gas as we descended except when we out ran our gears, then we tucked in a aero formation. We were tightly grouped, going fast, and on the edge… not a time for a miscue.
I had the advantage as I can go faster; simple physics… heavier the rider, the faster you can go down. 🙂 I should have had more donuts! I pedaled past Lester and another rider and tucked in behind Pete; soon the physics were on my side and glided past him on his left going 45mph into a shallow turn.
I felt alive..
This ride was on my bucket list for the last two years. I did not make it last year so when Steve scheduled it for a Wednesday I immediately committed to it. I also put out a call to my cycling partners at work and Adam said he would join us after just getting back from vacation.
Here is the description of the ride:
“This is a 62 mile loop with about 5,500 feet of climbing. There will be long climbs, thrilling descents and panoramic vistas as we climb from Sperryville seven miles and 1600′ to Skyline Drive, and then 2700 ‘ up to Hogback mountain. We’ll traverse to Front Royal and then loop back through Little Washington to Sperryville.”
Seven fit guys took off from “downtown” Sperryville at 9:00am on the first 7 mile climb to Thornton Gap. A group of four at the front was soon reduced to two, Lester and I, and he and I paced ourselves up side by side almost the entire way. My monitor had my heart rate pegged at 174 bpm for the entire climb. There was nothing I could do to get it lower… no matter what gear I tried so i just kept pedaling.
And that is the key – never to let up on your effort once on the pedals during the climb; you do it once for a split second and you are doomed.
I topped out first at 41:43 with Lester 10 secs behind, another rider 20 secs back and the rest 2-4 minutes back. Once on the Skyline Drive after paying our fees, we rode another 7 miles to the first stop at the country store in the park for refills of water.
After the store it was a series of three climbs with long descents in between all of the way to Front Royal where we exited the park, stopped at a local public library for water, and then took off for our return via 522 to Sperryville. Two of our riders had turned back after the store deciding it was more prudent to come back on another day when they were feeling stronger.
As we left the library with our now group of five I said, “let’s try and beat the rain.” Weather guys had said it would not rain until 3:00pm but I could tell we were going to get wet. To say we rode through the valley back to Sperryville does a huge injustice to Rt 522. First we had a huge climb out of Front Royal; not too steep, but it went on for 3-4 miles and then the rest were large rollers up to the 50 mile point where it started spitting rain.
The dark clouds to my right over the mountains did not look good. I knew what was coming and I knew it was not going to be pretty.
As Pete and I made the sharp turn onto Rt 641, a small country road, the rain descended in sheets, complete with thunder and lightning. Soon neither of us could see much through our cycling glasses and we were completely soaked on a hilly country road that was as slick as ice. At one point, I literally went blind down a short steep hill about 25 mph and I could only barely pick out the sides of the roads through the rain. Had there been a hole in the road or anything else, I certainly would have gone down at speed.
We were now 6 miles from the finish, approaching the town of Washington, VA…. we just wanted this ride to be over… as a result, we were going fast in the hard rain. As we topped another hill Pete indicates he has a flat front tire and we pull off and assess the situation. Actually I just stand on the rain and assess the situation while Pete changes out his tire. 🙂
Sometime during that 10 minute stop the rain slacked off and we were able to continue on in just a light rain. Through Washington though, the rain came back with a vengeance and stayed with us to the end.
Epic challenge, epic ride…surely I’ll do this ride again!
62 miles / 45 mph top speed / 15 mph avg / 5000′ elevation gain / Moving time: 4 hour 2 mins / total Time: 5 hours 15 mins (including flat tire) / Temp: 72 (start) 70 (elevation) 80 (Front Royal), 68 in the rain