Mark Vinette recently rode Crista Borras’ Devil’s Wicked Stepmother 400K Permanent from Middletown, Va. and wrote up all the fun. From Mark’s writeup and Crista’s ride description, this one is best done with low gears for all the climbing and a camera to capture the amazing Blue Grass Valley views.
Devil’s Wicked Stepmother 400K Permanent
by Mark Vinette
Aug. 1, 2008
Photoset from this ride at Mark’s Flickr page.
Looking over the local Permanent choices, Crista’ Borras’ The Devil’s Wicked Stepmother Permanent promised beautiful West Virginia roads with little traffic which I had never ridden before. Much of it was previewed on Crista’s Appalachian Adventure Tour in photosets by Ed Felker and Eduardo Ruchelli. The promised 20,000 feet of climbing, most all of it in the first 149 miles, would require an early start and several hours of riding in the dark at the end.
The remote West Virginia roads and no chance of support from home would require carrying additional tools and clothes — less than ideal with all the climbing coming. The weather forecast was good, with typical summer heat of around 90 degrees in D.C., southwest winds under 10 m.p.h. and a slight chance of afternoon rain. I figured I could average between 12 and 15 m.p.h. while riding, with at least 2 hours of stop time, for a total time between 20 and 24 hrs.
My main goal was to get out of the West Virginia mountains and back to the Shenandoah Valley town of Bridgewater at mile 178 before dark. The route from Bridgewater follows the return of the D.C. Randonneurs Middletown 600k and other familiar valley roads back to the start in Middletown, Va.
I decided to start from Middletown at 4 a.m. drove there that morning. The route starts out over familiar terrain leaving Middletown to Lebanon Church where it picks up VA55 westbound to Wardensville, W.V.
I was wearing a summer jersey and no jacket on the extended climb to the West Virginia state line and was feeling a little cold with temperatures as low as 59 degrees. I began wishing for sunrise and warming temps, but also was wondering how warm it might get in the West Virginia backcountry later in the day. I was nearly to the top when I could begin to see a distinct brightening of the eastern sky. The descent down to Wardensville was cold but light enough to see clearly. I was using the new Edelux LED headlight with my SON generator wheel and found it was significantly brighter than the two E6s I have used previously. More on the Edelux below.
Once past Wardensville I headed out onto new roads for me. The new interstate-quality WV55 was nearly deserted at 6 a.m. If you’ve ever dreamed of riding the interstate without automobile traffic this road is for you. I saw maybe a dozen cars in two hours, all but a couple heading east. The good news is that the new road is always at a moderate grade on high interstate style bridges and through land cuts. The bad news is long 2-4 percent grades that go on for miles.
Like the interstate, the road has lost most of its interest and character when it got large graded side buffers eliminating of all the roadside items you see on normal biking roads. If you think the interstate gets boring at 65 m.p.h., try it at 10 m.p.h.! Also, there is a LOT of junk on the shoulder of the road. If this much hardware fell off your bike in 25 miles, you would have nothing left. The beauty of this road is that it gets you over some serious hills to the start of the pretty riding roads fairly easily.
I was having my first doubts about my 12 m.p.h. minimum speed as I climbed a long 4-5 mile grade at mile 45 looking at almost 4 hours on the road. As I crested this hill I saw that the last 5 miles into Moorefield, W.V. on the “interstate” would be all downhill.
I reached the Moorefield Sheetz control, mile 50, at 8:05 a.m., with an hour to spare on the time limit. I was out in 15 minutes heading southwest down a “flat” road toward Brandywine at mile 88. This was a very nice road between tall parallel ridges, with lots of shade, nice houses and farms following the S Fork of the Potomac river. I planned to recover on this leg and build a little time cushion for the hills to come. The slight southwet head wind could be felt at times and I noticed the river was running back toward Moorefield, meaning only one thing. The elevation profile reveals the ugly truth about this leg: it’s uphill – 1000 feet of climbing from Moorefield to Sugar Grove at mile 100.
Brandywine arrived on US33 at around 11 a.m. and I didn’t feel as recovered as I would have hoped. It was getting warm, in the mid-80s, and I knew the next leg was all uphill to the Blue Grass Valley and Highland County, Va. A sign on US33 beckoned me back to Harrisonburg in just 31 miles but strangely I wasn’t tempted.
I started up “flat” CR21 to Sugar Grove, which arrived in 10 miles. The turn west on Moyers Gap Road toward the big ridge on my right started a stretch of 19 miles climbing up to Blue Grass. Temperatures peaked in the low 90s here, but the humidity was much lower than in D.C. and by the time I climbed to Blue Grass, it was back to the mid-80s for the rest of the day. This road has a double summit, with a downhill in the middle and a second climb to get over the ridge to US 220 — another “flat” road heading southwest.
After five more slightly uphill “recovery” miles on US220, the route climbed west and then south on Snowy Mountain and Wimmer Mountain roads to the Blue Grass Valley. The valley is hilly on the northern end, but the road runs around these bumps and heads downhill all the way to the control at the old country store at mile 119. I arrived at 2:20 p.m. and a local informed me that the only way out of the valley was to climb uphill.
I had hoped that this was a high point of the route with a mostly downhill to Monterey, Va. before I’d reach the many ridges I’d have to climb to return to Virginia on US250. I figured the next leg of 58 miles to Bridgewater would be the hardest and take around 5 hours, so I had enough time to stop for awhile and still make Bridgewater before dark at 9 p.m. I grabbed some food and noticed that my register receipt from the old style register did not include the time — just the date. So I snapped a picture of my bike in front of the store, just in case.
I got rolling at 3 p.m. and immediately starting climbing out of the valley with beautiful views to the south and west, where the valley dropped away. Of course, there was a giant ridge on my left to the east which turned out to be Monterey Mountain. I climbed several hundred feet along the east slope to reach US250 and finally turned to the east. I immediately started the 800-foot climb, which crested at 3,880 feet — the high point of the route — and then switch-backed directly down into Monterey.
I climbed the ridge to the east of Monterey and then enjoyed a long low-grade descent into McDowell at mile 140 where I stopped for water and ice. The store clerk told me it was only 10 minutes by car to the Virginia state line at mile 149, and that there were several ridges to cross first, but then it straightened out and dropped pretty much all the way to Churchville on US250. I remembered the Virginia portion of US250 was a low grade downhill going east, a fact that kept me motivated to get the upcoming climbing over with.
The climb was pretty shaded and not steep so I actually don’t have any bad memories of this stretch. I reached the state line and enjoyed the long downhill to Jennings Gap Road, which itself cut over to VA42 for another mostly downhill stretch to Bridgewater at mile 178.
I arrived at the Quarles Store control at 7:15 p.m. feeling pretty recovered due to all the miles of downhill. I decided to keep moving to the next control in Broadway at mile 205 since I still had 1:45 of daylight left. I got past Singers Glen before full darkness and arrived in Broadway around 9:25 pm.
The next leg to Edinburg was 20 miles down VA42 and Route 614, and I arrived around 11:10 pm. I was now uncomfortably cold from the wind chill even though temps were in the low 70s. My jersey was saturated from not having the sun to dry it and also from the 5 pounds of body insulation I had lost with the flu. Now I know why those skinny pros are always bundled up when it’s still warm out! I stuffed an Autotrader newspaper under the front of my jersey and put on my jacket for the remainder of the ride.
The route then followed US11 to the finish in Middletown, which I have ridden many times before, so I just pedaled the bike and ignored the mileage until I arrived at the finish around 1:10 a.m. Sunday morning. Happily, I had no incidents from the Saturday night crowd, and actually, traffic was very light on US11 all the way to the finish.
This is a very nice ride, with very little traffic. I clocked 15,960 feet of vertical ascent on my always-low Ciclosport HAC4. Most people would equate this to at least 20,000 feet on their altimeters and probably 50,000 feet on Motionbased.
The weather is significantly cooler and drier in the summer compared to the D.C. area due to the elevation and the shade, particularly on the climbs. The amount of climbing in the first 150 miles of 12,770 feet (same as my total for the Lost River 300k) could be a problem in making the controls if you are not a particularly fast rider or strong climber. Once you have crossed back into Virginia on US250 at mile 149, you have nearly 30 miles of mostly downhill riding to Bridgewater. I averaged 19.7 m.p.h. for this section, followed by 70 miles of pretty mellow valley roads to the finish. I averaged 12.8 m.p.h. for the first 150 miles and 15.6 m.p.h. for the last 100 miles, giving me 13.8 m.p.h. overall.
On to the Edelux: I was really happy with the light output. The beam is 3x wider (full width of the road) and the output is 3x brighter than 2 E6 lights. The beam is slightly taller than a single E6, enough to illuminate close-in and well down the road like a pair of E6s, but without the hassle of switching a second high beam light on and off. With mine aimed to see down the road, there is still plenty of light to see all the details of the road directly in front of the bike.
This nearly horizontal aiming of the upper light cut-off also threw enough stray light to also allow me to read street signs without a helmet light. I was running full speed downhill (35+ mph) with no problems seeing details on the road and where the road was going in the distance. Most cars were dimming their headlights, from OVER the hill ahead BEFORE they could see me directly! A couple cars gave me the high beam flash to tell me to dim my light when they could see me directly and before they got close enough to see I was a bike. It’s up to full brightness at 3-4 mph, too, so climbing is also at full brightness. The light also has a useful standlight for 3-4 minutes after you stop. Finally, it’s very visible during the day.