Chip Adams’ Midnight Ride Around Massanutten

Chip Adams, of the Severna Park group, always looks like he’s barely breaking a sweat. It’s no surprise, then, that Chip saw no problem in taking on the Ride Around Massanutten 200K permanent on Thanksgiving week. To make things extra fun, Chip decided to ride solo and start at 6 p.m. so he could put in a full day at work.

Well, even Chip found the going tough at one point, but he finished in great shape after overcoming a little neck issue. And, he made it to work that same day. So what’s your excuse? Read all of Chip’s story below.

Chip on a Sunnier Day (courtesy Bill Beck)
Chip on a Sunnier Day (courtesy Bill Beck)

Massanutten at Midnight – 200K Permanent
Nov. 25-26, 2008
by Chip Adams

My original plan was to ride this Permanent earlier in the month of November, but my mother-in-law became gravely ill and that delayed all plans. At the start of November, I was sitting with 10 of the 12 Brevets needed for the R12 but as her situation worsened and the hours on the road traveling down to Virginia Beach accumulated, the weekends rolled by and threatened to end my R-12 hope. So on Monday night before Thanksgiving, my wife, Katie, and I were having dinner out and I explained to her that I would attempt the November permanent on Friday, Nov. 28. I knew I was pushing the limit, but what could I have done differently? What an awful feeling to be so close and have possible circumstances beyond my control dash all hopes of completing the R-12 when I
was almost done.

As I developed my plan, Katie suggested that I might want to try to get it done earlier. Earlier? How, earlier? Now, this was Monday night and she thought I should do it sooner? When could I do it? I had to work through Wednesday. So, after going home and giving it considerable thought, it came to me – it had to be a nighttime ride. Wow, I thought, this will be wild! A night time ride around Massanutten – in November. Was I nuts? I believe yes, but I e-mailed Matt Settle, anyway, and he was more than accommodating.

On Tuesday morning, I packed my bike and gear and went to work. Later that afternoon, after work, instead of heading east back to Annapolis, I headed west toward Strasburg, Va. I used my Mom and Dad’s house to change into cycling gear and explained my plan to them. I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I couldn’t hide the fact that I was using their house to launch into some cycling campaign. Needless to say, there was some shock and concern on their part, and admittedly, on mine. I believe it was more like, “you’re doing what?” I think my Dad even offered to follow me all night. Of course I turned him down.

After I assured my Mom everything would be OK and she stopped crying (just kidding), she agreed to let me go. But, she still worried about what might happen out on the road. She reminded me of the spring Fleche and the horrible conditions we rode in when Clint Provenza became hypothermic. She reminded me that that could be me. And, she also worried about me being hit by a car while out on some back road and left in a ditch; or worse, my being accosted out on the road and someone stealing my $500 (!) bike

All very good warnings and advice, but once all that was settled, she fed me and I was safely out the door. I did grab the leftovers to stuff in my jersey. Thanks, Mom! All was good to go, but I sure would have liked to have had my good riding buddy, Clint, with me on this one. We’ve had some great and long rides together.

I got to Matt’s house around 4:45 p.m. with a little light left and wanted to get on the road by 5:00 p.m.,
but Matt had some technical difficulty printing out the Control card, so I left from Matt’s house with the sun already behind the mountain about 5:20pm. I was originally hoping not to have to use a light for a while, that way increasing my chances of having some left at the other end. But, like all good randonneurs, I also planned around that. Besides the lights on my bike, I brought an extra Light & Motion Vega light. I didn’t know what I’d encounter this night but I wanted to go as far as I could on my primary Vega light. I barely made it the four miles into Strasburg before the light went on.

The ride around Massanutten is one of my favorite rides and is a beautiful ride in the daytime, but I had some doubts about seeing much during this ride. The forecast for the evening was a slight chance of snow or rain with temperatures in the mid to low 30’s. No moon. The temperature at the start was 40 degrees, but I dressed for cooler weather knowing it would be cooler very soon. I took back-up layers, glove inserts, arm warmers, toe warmers, and a new untested skull cap, but more on that later.

The ride up Fort Valley Road was what I expected. Dark. There was more traffic than I had expected, but by the time I got to the first control, it was starting to thin out a bit. The temperature had dropped to about 36 degrees, but I was comfortable. I got to the first Control at 6:40 p.m., 22 miles, and making pretty good time. The elevation at the start of the ride was about 60 feet and it gradually increased as the miles clicked off to about 1,000 feet at the control. I spent only enough time at the control to get my card signed and to buy a cold Starbucks from the cooler, thinking that any caffeine would be good caffeine. There would be plenty of road to keep me awake, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Back on the bike, the road continued for another 9 miles before it pointed up for a fairly short climb over to Luray. The climb up the mountain was probably the loneliest part of the ride and incredibly dark and quiet. My mind started wandering and soon locked onto the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” and I started repeating over and over in my head, “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My…,” to a nice cadence that would take me up the 7-8% grade. I had a nice sweat going by the time I got to the top, elevation 1,965 feet. The coldest part of the whole ride was the descent off the mountain.

During the climb, I believe I must have worked up a good layer of sweat and probably should have put a layer on while at the top. By the time I got down, I was having considerable doubts about whether I was properly equipped. The next few miles into Luray were spent planning for the weather for the rest of the night. My thermometer said 34 degrees and the wind was steady from the south at about 10-15 m.p.h. I was moving in that direction and would be for the next 35 miles.

In Luray, at mile 41, 8:40 p.m., I stopped at some outbuilding out of the wind and added another layer, arm warmers, new skull cap, and toe warmers. I grabbed the rest of my dinner, e-caps and Motrin, and got back on the bike. From this point until about mile 55 was the toughest of the whole night.

A few miles out of Luray, I started developing fatigue in my neck. I didn’t think too much about it, the Motrin would kick in and no big deal. But, the Motrin never came. The pain developed gradually until it finally shot up the back of my neck and head like bad cramps. I could hardly look up and pedal at the same time. I was starting to get a little concerned especially since on descents, the road could change pretty quickly and if I was looking down in order to relieve the stress on the neck, I could end up in a ditch and nobody know it – just like my Mom had pointed out.

River Road and Comertown Road have several fairly short and steep climbs and descents. It was during one of these little climbs that the pain was so severe, I almost got off the bike and walked up. I could not recall ever feeling like this and my concern grew deeper. Additionally, due to the neck problem, the slower-than-normal climbs and descents were causing my average speed to fall like a rock. That would mean my estimated 2:30 a.m. arrival time was turning into a much later arrival time. That would also affect available lighting and warmth. The temperature was now at 32 degrees.

Was it going lower? With average speed falling, what would happen to my core temperature? Something had to be done. I would need more Motrin, but what happened to the last one? That one never did anything.

A few miles from the small town of Shenandoah I had a thought as to what the problem may be. Everything was OK up the point where I put on additional layers. It hit me. I had changed out my skull cap for one with thicker material to offset the falling temperatures. I thought that maybe the material in the untested skull cap was too thick and the additional thickness in the material combined with the other layers took more effort to bend the neck, and resulted in muscle stress and cramping. I got to the top of a climb and changed it back out for my original cap – sweat soaked and icy cold. I shoved off and felt a bit better but was not convinced.

Within a couple of miles the pain subsided and I began to feel normal again. What a great thing – to be able to pedal and look at the road at the same time. It was now 9:55 p.m. and only about eight miles from the midway point and the second control. Those miles were uneventful and my average speed was back up and my climbing ability returned to normal.

The next control was at 67 miles and just over halfway. I arrived at 10:35 p.m. with temperatures hovering around freezing and went inside to get my control card signed. My plan was to grab a hot coffee and relax a minute, but due to time lost in average speed, I decided to eat something and hit the road. I did, however, get another Starbucks Energy drink. Again, any caffeine would be good caffeine. I got a sandwich and decided to eat it outside so as to not overheat inside and then come out and freeze.

At one point, I was shivering so badly I could hardly eat it. A few people pulled up in their cars and looked at me like I was some alien life form. A couple of guys asked me what I was doing and how much farther I had to go. I told them what I was doing, how far I’d been, and told them about 60 miles more to go. One of them gestured with a finger in the air, 1-6? No, I said, with finger, 6-0. The look on their faces when I clarified it…! Well, we’ve all seen and know that look!

Literally, 10 minutes after arriving at the control, I was back on my bike, on the road, and starting to feel better. Soon the turn would come that would point me back north to Matt’s house and my car.

Once I made the turn north on the western flank of the Massanutten range, it was pretty good cruising and I started making good time. The wind was now mostly at my back or side. As I traveled farther north, it grew darker and a little bit lonelier. Though there was no moon, the clouds had an interesting pattern that occasionally reflected light from the nearby towns. Where there were no clouds, it just seemed to be a big void in the sky. The temperatures remained around 32 degrees, though it dipped to 31 degrees once or twice.

I picked up a few flurries heading up Mountain Valley Road, but it never collected on the road. Mountain Valley Road has several aspects to it from fairly wide and predictable to very narrow, winding, and unpredictable. I narrowly escaped wiping out on a few 90 degree turns on descent, but managed to stay out of the ditches. The key here was not to go faster than the speed of (my) light.

I came upon a bunch of different animals, including: a cow that was no longer in her pasture, half on and half off the road, a skunk crossing the road, and a cat running down the middle of the road that refused to pull over. This cat was caught in my headlight and just kept running down the middle of the road – running, running – not pulling over. I was afraid he would run so far, he would forget where he lived. We were both chasing my headlight. I didn’t know how much longer he would keep this up, so I backed off a little and let him find the shadows of the roadside trees and brush. It worked.

At 12:30am on the back roads of the Shenandoah Valley, there isn’t a great deal of light anywhere and it’s very quiet. Oh yea, and a lot of rollers with quick turns requiring total concentration. I continued to pick up random flakes, but nothing serious and the temperatures seemed to level out at around freezing. I could see the miles accumulating and knew I was within 2-3 hours of the finish. Soon, I saw the huge lighted sign of the Endless Caverns posted on the mountain and felt like I was making good progress. At 12:55 a.m., I made it out to US11 and I was a little concerned with what I might encounter with traffic.

However, I found the road almost completely empty of traffic. I concluded that most of the north – south trans-valley traffic was using Interstate 81 situated a few miles west. US11 used to be the major highway running north and south, but I guess now it just handles local traffic. But where was the local traffic? Oh yea, in bed. It’s 2 in the morning!

My primary Vega light gave out with about 25 miles to go. I swapped it out and continued on. By the time I made the next turn, 29 miles up the road, perhaps a half-dozen cars had passed me. I’ll never know for sure, but of those half-dozen drivers, I’m thinking at least 6 of them thought I was insane.

Finally, I turned onto Back Road and only five more miles to the finish. I got back to Matt’s house at 3:05 a.m., signed my control card and set off for Severna Park. When I started the bike ride the night before, my goal was to make it back for the 5:45 a.m. group ride, but I’m thinking the two-hour drive back home took it out of me.

I stopped by the rendezvous point and said “Hi” to the group, but I couldn’t bring myself to putting the cold gear back on and doing it again. Besides, I needed to get home for a couple hour nap before going to work. I got home at 6:00 a.m. and slept ‘till 8:00 a.m. I was at my desk by 8:30 a.m. and dead to the world by 7:00 p.m.

Chip Adams

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