I was not expecting things to go smoothly, so at least I set my expectations high.
I did however, expect to complete both legs of the trip, so I had that going for me.
Watching the Weather was forefront on my mind during the week before. I had three tabs open in my browser; Front Royal, Waynesboro, and Home. I kept fretting as it was showing a 35% chance of rain at 8am for Front Royal, with a 50% chance in Waynesboro. Plus the temperature forecast had dropped 10 degrees.
My normal method of pre-big-ride schedule is to spend the night before obsessing over what to wear; which kit I should wear (I brought 6 jerseys… oh boy), what I need to bring nutrition wise, should I bring a bag to store things if it gets too hot or cold, basically all the things you need if you don’t have panniers. But tonight I had two differences: My wife and daughter in the sag wagon (good), but my daughter needed to get to sleep early, so I didn’t get enough time in my mind to obsess over what to do/wear/bring.
After my daughter dropped into unconsciousness, I spend 2 hours prepping. Filling my water bottles, getting Skratch mixed in, setting out my clothing, food, nutrition, etc.
I had two kit bags, so I sorted one as bike parts / gels, the other with clothing. I put my helmet, shoes, bike pump in the first bag, arm warmers, leg warmers, socks, etc, in the second. This way it would be quicker to get kitted out at L’Dees before the ride.
Finally I was able to relax my mind and go to sleep. …And the alarm went off at 5:30am.
Back up and put on the kit – Danny Shane Bellam would be my choice. My $4 Izod base layer would provide me some added warmth. I had other assorted gear that I could wear, it just depended on how warm I felt at the start.
The first trip out to the truck, in the pitch of the pre-morning really dark before the dawn, the fog rolled in. It got thicker on subsequent trips. Oh boy. After a couple more trips back and forth to pack the truck, we checked out and headed for L’Dees Pancake House in downtown Front Royal. I did have promise my wife that if the fog didn’t clear up, we’d start from the 7-11 by the Entrance to Skyline Drive.
L’Dees is a locals place; I felt just a bit out of place. Wearing a blue tartan jersey, and a pair of red/brown coloured shorts, I really stood out like a thumb that had been hit by a big nasty hammer.
It isn’t quite a New Jersey Diner however; the menu was not jam packed with a whole buncha crap. L’Dees knows what it does best: Breakfast. I went for close to the normal; Oatmeal (with raisins, brown sugar, and pecans though) and French Toast made from wonder bread. My wife had Pancakes and Scrambled eggs, and we got the kids pancake for my daughter.
Hoping to start the day off right, we started with the Highlights matching book and stickers.
Though if you go to L’Dees, you need to bring cash, as they don’t take credit cards; this seems to be a function of the clientele. I had a couple of Middle-Class Food Stamps (aka Hamlitons, aka $20 bills), and I didn’t want to give a $1 + change tip, so I got change (10 + 2 5’s.)… Yes, the service was that good.
I went to use the bathroom one last time, and we up and left. The fog was still thick, so we got into the truck. As I turned the keys to start the engine, I remembered; I forgot to tip the waitress! What a maroon! I rushed back in, handed the waitress the Lincoln that was intended, and sheepishly walked back out.
Getting Ready at the Seventy Eleven
Rolling down the 2 miles to the 7-11, the highway traffic was thick, so I didn’t feel so bad about bypassing that part of the ride; Skyline Drive might be just as bad, but I could avoid roads where 18 wheelers were driving and not feel bad about it.
To make sure we didn’t get hassled by the man, I went in to buy a bottle of water, as my wife didn’t want to drink from a spare cycling water bottle.
Then it was finish kitting out time. I eschewed the Castelli jacket, and went for the Danny Shane Long Sleeve Jersey.
After what seemed to be a rather long time (I always stress out at the beginning of a ride). I left out of the 7-11 and headed down the road to Skyline Drive:
Not 500 yards from the entrance:
Once you get past the sign, the climbing starts. It flattens out just a moment at the entrance station. We had to pay for two passes into the park, as they count a bike as a separate vehicle. Since we were coming back north the next day, we opted for the yearly pass, which was $30 a vehicle, versus just getting the daily, which was $18 a vehicle.
The ride up from the entrance station is one of those rides that makes you rejoice in being alive. I pulled the walkie talkie out of my back pocket and told my wife “Thank you. Thank you for sacrificing and allowing me to do this. Thank you for letting me train through the year for this.”
The leaves at this altitude were changing, still more green than yellow or red, but the sun was just right, and though the fog was around, it wasn’t ever that thick.
I did know that the first 4.5 miles of the ride was the climb up to the Dickey Ridge Visitor’s Center. I passed my wife as she had stopped at the center to see what was there; not a lot for a 3 year old however.
I spotted some birders out taking pictures of the local wildlife.
Which was fortuitous, because not 500 yards after passing their cars, a large whitetail deer jumped out of the bushes on the right of the road, and bounded into the forest on the left. A lucky motorcyclist was observant enough to brake before hitting the deer. This got me just a bit paranoid about deer and descents.
The next big hurdle was to get to mile marker 21. This was the top of the initial set of climbs for the day, and really the one Strava challenge I set out on. I wanted to do that in less than 2 hours. I’m not the greatest climber; 83kg is more “puncheur” weight, and though I got down to 80kg during the year, my willpower was destroyed by a 2 week trip to my corporate HQ in Ottawa. Too much Poutine and other good food. So I’ll never be as fast as Leipheimer, Hincapie, Froome or Quintana up a hill, but I make up for it in sheer determination. Heck, climbing hills is 100 times easier than losing weight.
I find that it’s easier to climb a hill than to not eat that extra handful of peanuts, or to not have that extra protein bar, or two, or three. I’ll turn a bend, and look up and see an easy 8-10% grade just up the way, groan, but I still ride it. Saying No to that snack is difficult. Sometimes I don’t know how to say no. My mind screams “You’re an asshole. Why are you doing this?” While my hands take those two slices of bread and spread a thick layer of peanut butter and then pour some honey. “Oh, it’s a healthy snack,” the fat guy in me says. The cyclist complains, “You through healthy out the window 1200 calories an 20 minutes ago, when will you stop?” Fat guy: “If I stop, you’ll never have to climb hills.” Cyclist: “If you ever stopped, climbing hills would be SO MUCH EASIER.” …and so on.
Well, I was determined to get to the top of Little Hogback in less than two hours… Though the slowing down and taking pictures part didn’t help. But what an amazing set of views.
The fog was like an ocean of clouds, and the peaks of the hills and mountains mere islands
Every corner beckoned — the finish is just around here. Of course it wasn’t, but that still didn’t keep them from being stunningly beautiful.
Eventually, 1 hour and 48 minutes from leaving the north gate house, I made it to mile 21.
But my wife was no where to be found. Seems she had missed me passing her at Dickey Ridge (which was understandable), but she didn’t think I could bike that fast, so had driven back down to the entrance gate to find me. About 5 minutes after I stopped, she showed up, with water and more Scratch for the bottles
I grabbed a handful of my modified Gorp, and two Rice Balls, and resumed, not after taking some more shots:
Next stop was Elkwallow Wayside for a quick bathroom break. I know that for some people (Brackie was telling me this back in France), when you’re a cyclist, the world is your rest room, but no way I would risk doing that on park lands. Elkwallow had a nice multi-stall bathroom. I got to play a bit with my daughter while mommy also took a natural break.
After that, it was relatively flat until a long flat into a small decent down to RT 211 at Thorton Gap.
Past Thornton Gap was the climb up to Pinnacles; the hardest climb of the day…