Out to the Blue Ridge for a Big Day in the Hills

The warm winter continues here in Washington, D.C. — today the temperatures reached the upper 50s. Are we complaining? Um, no.

Rather, we tackled our first big hill ride of the year — a 112-mile doozy out at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal, Va. that featured three extended climbs and many, many, many rollers. I guess the bridges at the bottom of the hills were flat but that was about it.

The top of Edith Gap: Lane, MG, Bennett. See all that sun?

Friends Lane G. and Bennett M. joined us on their single bikes, which let them glide away from us on the ascents. That phenomenon has something to do with their climbing skills and the tandem’s pokey 5 m.p.h. pace in the lowest gear. Yes, we went to Grannyville — a lot! Hey, it’s still February.

We used the tandem’s superior downhill speed to close the gaps and managed to stick together the entire day.

My photoset for the day. Click to see them at Flickr.

See Bennett’s photos here and MG’s here. Great shots you two!

Our route was a shortened version of Crista Borras’ “We Can See Clearly Now” 200K RUSA permanent brevet that starts in rural Marshall, Va. Early on we climbed over the ridge to Front Royal, Va., stopped there for coffee, then turned south for a long segment through the rolling Fort Valley, on the west side of famous Skyline Drive.

At the southern end of the valley we crawled up twisty/cruel Edith Gap and then down into Luray, Va. for lunch at mile 63. From there a new-to-us back way out of town led to a short dirt road that connected us to the long, meandering climb over Thornton Gap.

We crossed Skyline Drive at the top and after an exhilarating switchback descent rode through Sperryville, “Little” Washington and Flint Hill before returning to Marshall.

We plugged along but not quite fast enough to beat the sunset, and had a sweet little 45 minute night ride, also the first of the season. We all brought lights and reflective gear, so we were safe.

No jackets, a little goofing around. Spring fever in February!

The first mountainous ride of the year is always tough, and we felt this one in our legs as the day went on. Our knees and lower backs started to stiffen but we didn’t suffer anything more than a little soreness and general fatigue toward the very end.

Certainly it was unusual to ride in the Skyline Drive area this time of year — normally the temperatures would be very cold and we’d freeze on the descents, not to mention finding icy sections. None of that today. We also enjoyed the lower level of auto traffic than we’d see in the spring and summer.

As we plan to ride the Colorado High Country 1200K this July, the chance to start logging the climbing miles was too good to pass up. We’ll need to get in great shape for the long slogs over the Rockies.

Tomorrow we expect rain and maybe some wet snow — allowing us to rest our legs and sleep in! Ahh, the joys of completing a big ride, and the relaxation that follows, can’t be understated.

4 thoughts on “Out to the Blue Ridge for a Big Day in the Hills

  1. Have youe two donw rides out west before? If so, do you find the climbs more difficult, or simply longer than those in the east? I maintain that eastern routes are way steeper than those in the west, making them more difficult in terms of intensity.

    I have never ridden west of Columbus, OH though. So it’s theoretical at best.

    1. I have done a week of touring in Colorado; MG and I rode the Cascade 1200K in 2006. The grades are generally easier in the west, for sure, but go on forever.

      That said, some of the pitches at the base of the western mountains I’ve been on are pretty steep — Independence Pass in Colorado, in particular. We did the 17-mile climb up Loup Loup Pass in the Cascades and the bottom was very steep — we were in the granny for awhile before it slacked off.

  2. I’m looking forward to riding with you guys out west! I went to CO about 10 years ago and rode several of the big climbs and have been itching to get back. Now just need to train…

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