50 miles to go. Now, I have ridden down to Mount Vernon and back in 3 hours, but that was fairly un-hilly and un-trafficked. Sunset was around 6:30, so I would really have to rush to get to Front Royal and Spelunkers before Sunset. I knew that I was near the top of Skyline Drive, and that the majority of the route was downhill from here, but as I looked up from Spitler Knoll Overlook, it was uphill.
We were going to stop at Skyland Resort if I needed to use the restroom, but fate was smiling on me, or it was Mr. Sun, but I didn’t need to use the facilities, so I radioed to my wife that I was going to bypass the Resort… But I did briefly stop:
In the middle of that 3 mile stretch, we met up for a refuel at the Pinnacles Picnic Area. What a difference a day makes. Yesterday it was foggy, today clear. My daughter took time to jump on some rocks:
I instead had some more gorp, refilled my Scratch, grabbed another rice ball, stopped at the facilities, and took off again.
I didn’t realize it until afterwards, but at the crest of the next hill, I would get revenge for the nasty long climb up from Lee Highway. 30 minutes of suffering from yesterday was today’s 8 minutes of awesome descent. Unlike the Alpine descents I did in France, coming off of The Pinnacle was wide and sweeping, with little loss of line of sight. Oh it was glorious. But what I couldn’t help but think on the way down was that Jens Voigt rode a time trial bike around a velodrome for an hour near the same speed I was going downhill. That still didn’t spoil the joy of a well earned descent.
After crossing Lee Highway, I was able to take advantage of the momentum and work a time-trial like effort for the relative flats that led up to Elk Hollow Wayside. I was going quite fast on the descent (technically yes, I was speeding; the speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35mph) and on the flats that it took my wife some time to catch up to me.
When we got to Elk Hollow Wayside, because of the speed and little effort (I thought it was little) put in, plus with the ever lengthening shadows, I looped through the parking lot, waved to my wife, told her I’ll see her at the next stop, and hit back out up the road.
To say I was unprepared for the climb up Hogsback would be true, but I knew the top was at mile marker 21, so I grit my teeth and suffered my way up. Strava classifies the climb as a Category 3; 3 miles long, 5% average gradient, with peaks just over 9%. Call it confidence, experience, or mental toughness, I knew that whatever this hill could throw at me, as bad as my legs felt, I would best it. Earlier in my cycling days (consider I just started cycling in July of 2012), I might have doubted, and even have stopped at some point on the climb, but there was nothing today other than a mechanical that could stop me.
At the end of the suffering, at the top of the climb, I stopped to appreciate and give thanks. Thank you God for giving me the chance and abilities to do what I’m doing now, and to appreciate the beauty of the Green Hills of Earth.
There was a car that came up behind me from Texas. Though the hills around Austin provide some really nice views, there’s nothing there that can compete with the northern end of Skyline Drive.
On the downhill and towards the last stop of the day, I was reminded of one of my favourite stories by Robert Heinlein: The Green Hills of Earth. As a grade schooler, every year had at least 3 musical productions put on by the school. Usually a Fall, Christmas, and Spring event. In 6th grade, my music teacher, John Townley (Also the same man responsible for taking me to see my first live concert — The Alarm, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and The Pretenders) wrote a version of the song, using the tune from “Jamestown Homeward Bound” (That’s my mom singing soprano). I had no idea as to the source of the lyrics until I was in highschool, and read the book, and I’ve never been able to thank him for immediately having a tune to the song from the book. It’s different than reading The Hobbit, seeing the lyrics and tune provided by Tolkein. Heinlein never had a tune, but I’ve always had one for that song.
Long story short, I think it was some time of the ride to the Range View Overlook I was singing the song.
The arching sky is calling, Spacemen back to their trade,
All hands stand by! Free Falling! As the lights below us fade.
Out ride the sons of Terra, Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps the race of Earthmen, Out, far and onward yet.
For three long years have passed away, Since we left freedom`s shore,
Our long-felt wish has come at last, And we`re homeward bound once more.
We pray for one last landing on the shores that gate us birth,
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies and the cool Green Hills of earth.
My spirits lifted, we were going to finish before dark, and there was just a lot of downhill between me and the end.
My daughter was in a better mood, and so was mommy, as it was just 6 miles left until we were done.
— Waiting for Daddy
— Daddy’s voice on the FRS Radio.
Mommy’s artful picture of a bird…
And me getting the podium girl kiss:
After the last re-fueling of the day, it was mostly downhill. I wouldn’t make the mistake I made yesterday and made sure I still had some calories in my pocket.
I fell in love with the bit of forest around Low Gap, right before the Goonies… er Gooney Run Overlook. At that time of day, the sun being so low in the sky, and the leaves being yellow/red, it was simply stunning. Also the road was empty, and nature still, and it was one of those re-connecting with nature moments that I have on the back of a bike. John Muir states it more elegantly than I could:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
Yes, that is a 20mph speed limit sign…I had intended to ride into Front Royal as a triumphant victor, but with dwindling visibility and a mass of traffic at the entrance of Skyline Drive, I finished my ride in the 7-11 parking lot from which I started out just a day before.
I changed into some warmer clothing, packed everything up into the truck, and took my wife and daughter out for dinner, to Spelunkers, home of the Cavern Burger.
And so, after 214 miles, Custard.
Again, I’d never have been able to do this without the help and patience of my Wife, especially as she was dealing with some horrible stomach issues.