Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 3: Front Royal/Cedarville, VA (79.5 miles)

(First things first: as promised a picture of the hill Gussie's folks' house sits on:)
Yesterday wound up being a good day in many ways. As I said, it was shorter ride and done by 1 p.m., giving me the opportunity to get more rest. In the evening, Gussie made a great salmon and pasta dinner for me, her, and her mom (the proteins and the carbs were much appreciated) and then I was treated to an impromptu visit from Melissa Levy who I hadn't seen in years and was fortuitously not far away. We were all able to have dinner out on the deck because the temperature had dropped significantly. So, the second day ended on a very relaxing note and it had been a confidence builder in my ability to finish the trip.

And so today I got an early start and it was much cooler weather as I headed out. Looking at the map I had, I made a plan to stop in Madison, as it appeared to be about 30 miles away and would make a good place for a first stage stop. The terrain heading up US-29 was relativey easy to tackle, composed mostly of long gradual inclines and equally long downhills. When I got to Madison, I got there in only 2 hours and 20 minutes and was ready to stop. And so I had "Second Breakfast" there, gorging on more breakfast carbs and proteins. While I was there, I checked to see how far I'd traveled, and the map program on my phone said that I'd traveled only 19 miles. I was deflated. I guess I hadn't been making that great of time after all. Looking ahead at the map, I knew the next stop was about 20 miles away so I figured that following that, the trip would be about 28 miles.

The second stage after Madison was wonderful. The same rolling hills but this time running along side the mountains of the Shenandoah. The weather was perfect: partly cloudy, letting sunshine through but not bearing down on me. I was able to make pretty good time along this road and take some wonderful pictures. It turns out that this road (N Blue Ridge Turnpike) runs right past Joe Eldridge's cabin where the UMSA has its retreat every fall. In fact, I've been on this road many times, only now I was approaching it from a different direction.

The scenery alongside this road is so wonderful, I found myself stopping a lot to take pictures. At the end of this road is the town of Sperryville, Virginia where I made my second stop. (In the town of Sperryville is a United Methodist Church that but for the color scheme looks so much like the church in Center Brunswick, NY I grew up in that I knew it had to be Methodist the first time I saw it years ago.) I bought some food and drink from the local store and sat under a tree down near the river for about an hour, resting up and fueling up.

From Sperryville, I headed east on US-522/211. This road was also familiar as it is the way we come from D.C. to Joe's, but it was also more wide open than the roads I'd been on. And the clouds had pretty much vanished and the sun was bearing down pretty hard. I turned north on 522 toward Front Royal. The signs said it was only 15 miles away so I was feeling pretty good. But then suddenly, I could feel my strength begin to flag. A few miles down the road in the town of Flint Hill I saw a Methodist Church on the left side of the road with a shady front stoop. So I pulled over and sat in the shade for about 20 minutes. I headed off down the road, but was not feeling much better. My legs were just so tired and I was having to bike in progressively lower gears.

I wound up stopping at yet another Methodist church down the road and sat for about half an hour. I thought I might actually run into some Methodists and maybe get some water. I knew that Front Royal was about 6 miles away and knew it was on the Shenandoah, so I figured that it would be mostly downhill to the river. As I pulled away to get back on the road, I said, "Logically it has to be downhill from here and logic is never wrong."

Famous last words. Right around the corner I noticed an incline. Well, I was feeling a little refreshed so I pedaled up (albeit in a pretty low gear). I saw a little roadside store a bit ahead and stopped there to buy some water and Gatorade. The proprietor asked me where I was coming from and when I said, "Charlottesville" he was surprised. He said, "Well, don't worry", it's only a mile and a half more uphill." Knowing how slowly the miles had been going I started to deflate a little, when he continued, "After that it's all downhill all the way." Hearing that was really encouraging. I bike up a mile and a half 3% grade every day to work so all I had to do was remind myself of that and commit to it. This turned out to be a 5% grade and a 500 foot climb. (See elevation chart below.) When I got to the top of the hill there was a wonderful sign saying that the next four miles were downhill. It was wonderful.

By the time I got into Front Royal, my legs were rested up and I was able to bike the next few miles across the Shenandoah to my hotel with little problem.

Once I mapped out the route on ( I realized that the first leg of the journey was in fact 29 miles. So the reason I was tired was that I had actually traveled ten miles further than I'd thought. Today was by far the longest segment of the trip at 79.5 miles, but compared to that, tomorrow's 51 miles or so should be a fair amount easier.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 2: Charlottesville, VA (42 miles)

Today was much better. Coming off of an exhausting and demoralizing day yesterday, today was exactly what I needed and allowed me to feel better about the entire trip.

First, I slept like a rock. Wait, is that it? Or did I sleep like a log? Either way, when I lay down in bed, I was out. When I woke up this morning, I actually felt rested and ready to head out.

I got an earlier start this morning. I won't say it was cool out, and the humidity was already pretty bad, but manageable. I used the air pump at the neighboring 7-Eleven to make sure my back tire was properly inflated and headed out.

Right away I was much happier with the terrain. These were the roads I'd been hoping to ride all day yesterday. Two-lane country roads with plenty of trees on either side. The shadows would often cover the whole roadway, providing these wonderful tunnels of cool and shade along the route. Add to that, the terrain was rolling hills, not so steep that they were difficult to climb, but steep enough to give you a little boost on the way down.

And the scenery was gorgeous. I realized that I had spent the first half of yesterday navigating through the D.C. suburban sprawl and had only gotten to the rural parts of Virginia in the hottest part of the day. But here I was getting a chance to experience the Virginia countryside and it did not disappoint. In many ways it reminded me of my beloved Upstate New York and this portion of the trip was reminiscent of Day Four of my trip to Albany last year (scroll down in this blog to see that one). Particularly some of the farmland and the small country lane (Tatums School Road) that I wound up taking for a few miles.

Tatums School Lane eventually brought me onto the South Blue Ridge Turnpike, a portion of which I will wind up biking tomorrow (not the same portion, though, which suits me fine: I always prefer taking new road and hate backtracking). I stopped for a break about 24 miles into the trip at a little gas station/deli in Old Somerset. I sat out at a picnic table in the shade and rested for a good 45 minutes before continuing on.

The second leg of the trip was just as beautiful as the first and the mountains were coming more and more into view. This too reminded me of the valley I biked through in Upstate New York last summer, as the terrain was broad, flat farmland at the foot of the mountains. Following this, the terrain began to get a little steeper, though perhaps it just seemed that way. It was starting to get hotter and the boost in energy from my break was starting to wane. But all things told I was making really good time.

In fact, after only an hour and a half I was at the intersection of the James Madison highway and the road my friend Gussie lives on. (It was she, along with Laura Arico) who gave me the idea for the destinations on this trip throughout the Virginias (Laura's was to go to the spa town of Berkeley Springs, where I'll be Monday night to Wednesday). Only a little bit over a mile to go. And right on time, too. It was around this point that I would have probably made my second stop of the day for a break.

But, as I turned onto the road I was immediately faced with an incline and suddenly, I felt all the energy go right out of my legs. I wound up downshifting to a ridiculously low gear to get up this initial incline, an incline not terribly steep, merely demoralizingly so. The rest of this road had some nice downhills and the occasional uphill, that probably wouldn't have been so bad had my legs been fresh. When I got to the driveway, I noticed that Gussie's folks' place was a beautiful house... at the end of a long, steep driveway. (I'll post a picture of the house tomorrow.) I got about half way up the driveway and needed to take a break. I hopped off and even thought about walking up the rest of the way, but with packs, my bike is pretty heavy and that wasn't really any better. So, taking one last gulp of Gatorade, I made it to the top.

I am glad that this was such a quick day, all told. It will give me a chance to rest that much more and it looks like it's about to storm out there. (With any luck, it will cut the humidity somewhat for tomorrow).

Today was a success in many ways in that it restored my confidence greatly. I wasn't really enjoying the trip yesterday, it was something I was just trying to get through. But today, surrounded by the beautiful countryside, I was reinvigorated. And given that I had been on a really good pace, it made me much more confident about the days ahead and let me know that the measures I was taking in light of yesterday's experience were bearing fruit.

A restful evening ahead and then on to Front Royal tomorrow!

(For a map of this route, visit

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 1: Culpepper, VA (68 miles)

So, today began the second of my bike trip vacations. Last year's trip to Albany was a success and I'd learned a lot on that trip, both about my own abilities and about how to do a long distance bike trip. Curiously, as the trip approached, I could feel my anxiety level rising, almost to the level of the year before. I began to get more and more nervous about this trip, even though I'd been through this before and was better prepared.

As it turned out, I wasn't prepared for a day like today.

I got a much later start than last year, partially owing to being at work late the night before attempting to get everything done before I went away, and partially owing to just having been really wiped out lately and needing sleep. But I got up around 8 and was ready to get going at 8:45. In fact, I was in the lobby of my building at 8:45 all set to head out when I noticed that my iPod was completely empty. Now, this may seem like a small thing, but music helps me in my biking a lot. I read an article a while ago that said that listening to music you like actually helps you to cope with pain. And the music helps me keep a pace when riding, so this was something of a minor crisis. So, I headed back upstairs, reset the iPod ad reloaded all my music onto it. This cost me about 35 minutes in time. But finally, everything was ready, I headed out the building and down M Street to Rush's "Finding My Way" (appropriately enough).

Just as with last year, once I got on the road, my anxiety about the trip began to disappear. So much the more so since I had that previous experience to draw on. And so, heading out on a long trip was easy to remember, like, uh, riding a bike.

There was something different about this day, however. I found that I was travelling at a slower pace than I was expecting. Fortunately the hills were not terribly bad and I wasn't having too much trouble handling them. But I noticed that I felt hotter than usual. Now, before I'd left, I ran into my neighbor Mr. Herman in the hallway and he'd said, "You're going for a ride in this heat, huh?" Now, I've biked in 90-degree weather before, which is what the weather forecast had said for today when I had checked it earlier in the week.

I was being really careful with hydrating. Having recently suffered a bout of kidney stones (with at least one more in the kidney), I knew to stay well hydrated and made sure to keep my water bottles filled. I had learned from last year not to try too hard on the first day (last year I'd made it to Baltimore in 3 hours but only rested for about 15 minutes having done so). And so, this year, at the 30 mile mark, I stopped, bought a large bottle of water, some chocolate milk (it's good for replenishing muscle), and some more Gatorade. I sat for more than 45 minutes in the shade of a tree near, drinking more water, and resting up a bit.

But the trip only became more difficult after that. The roads I was on were wide open with very little tree cover on the sides of the road. The sun was just bearing down on me. Every once in a while, a cloud would come over and there would be a moment of shade, but whenever that happened, the breeze that had been blowing all day would suddenly become stronger, turning into a demoralizing headwind. It reminded me of the "sultry east wind" from the Book of Jonah that caused Jonah so much grief. But as the day wore on and my energy level was dropping, that wind only served to rob me of even the advantages of passing clouds or downhills.

I found myself having to stop again, this time, much sooner than I had before. I was still hydrating as much as I could, but I was also sweating a lot, too. Rounding the corner on Route 28 south, I spied a large tree along the side of the road with a wide grassy area underneath. That strong wind that had been blowing provided a nice breeze as I sat there cooling off. That's when I checked the weather using my phone and discovered that it was 104 degrees with a heat index of 117. I was stunned. I had expected it to be hot, but this was nuts.

In a way, I was actually relieved. I had been worried that I wasn't up to making a trip like this. That somehow, I hadn't been as prepared this time around. Knowing that the heat was far worse than it had been the previous year and that that likely accounted for my slower pace and the general lack of energy was encouraging. It also meant that I had a way to cope: stop more frequently, keep hydrating. So, that's what I did.

I started to feel as if every time I was stopping, I was doing so in half the distance as the previous stop. I began to wonder if I were in that logical puzzle about someone taking a journey and every day they travel half the distance to the goal and never actually arriving.

The final 15 miles of the trip seemed to go on forever. Suddenly, each mile seemed to stretch on forever. The day seemed to be getting hotter and the wind stronger. About three miles away from my destination in Culpepper, I heard a strange sound whhit-whhit-whhit-whitt. As I looked down, I saw my rear tire begin to deflate. I was a little disappointed, I didn't want to have to make any repairs, but on another note, the flat happened right near a row of shade trees near a shopping mall. And so, taking advantage of the forced time-out, I got to practice my tire-patching skills while resting up some more.

Finally, I made it to my hotel. Exhausted and overheated, I was pleased when the front desk gave me a complimentary bottle of water. I drank half of it while standing there as they checked me in. I headed straight for the shower and washed 67 miles of road grime off. Feeling cleaner and more human, I headed off to the restaurant next door for dinner, where I ate a ton. Burning a few thousand calories on a bike trip will do that do you.

Tomorrow will be better. At least, that's the thinking. I'll get an earlier start (aided, no doubt by my passing out asleep fairly soon) and be sure to take judicious breaks. I've also got my ibuprofen and bananas (a recommendation that Laura Arico gave me last year that works wonders on restoring tired muscle) from the 7-Eleven next door. And tomorrow's leg is only 45 miles and the forecast is for somewhat cooler weather. If everything goes well, I should be in Charlottesville by early/mid-afternoon.

(For a map of this route visit

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Bike Trip I'm Planning

Because last year's 364 mile journey wasn't difficult enough, I thought I'd try again, this time adding in a few more mountains.

Click here for the complete route