Timeline: June 11-18
Throughout the first days of the tour I had pretty much ridden by myself, setting my own pace, riding as hard or fast as my body told me it could go. This day though, with a shade over 60 miles to go and 6,330 feet of climbing, I approached innocently enough, with a different style. I’d spent time in camp and on the bike speaking to Rick, a fellow from Georgia and we rode out of camp together. And that is how we spent the day, riding side by side most of the time, chatting as we went along. Here is the day’s description from the brochure:
Waynesboro to Big Meadows, 61 miles. We begin our day with a steep three-mile climb back up to the entrance to Shenandoah National Park at the Rockfish Gap South Entrance. Skyline Drive begins at Rockfish Gap and continues 105 miles north, but for the time being your climb continues another 500 feet over three miles to McCormick Gap (2455’). The ride will twist and turn—and climb and coast—along Skyline Drive through a pastoral landscape of endless mountain views, with the added colorful June touches of blooming Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel. As on other days, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for a variety of birds and wild critters. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a black bear or a mountain lion. We’ll spend our last night camped at the Big Meadows Campground on Skyline Drive, where you are likely see dozens of deer grazing in the high meadows.
The good thing about having a riding companion is it makes the miles melt away, the conversation distracting you from each pedal stroke. The bad thing is that it can sometimes make you ride beyond your capacity that day. And this is what happened to me. It’s not like we went that much faster than I wanted to, indeed it didn’t feel like it at the time. But that incremental amount more, say one or two tenths of a mile per hour, took its toll on me over the course of the day, such that I struggled up the last couple of climbs; I’m not sure I’ve ever been as glad as I was that day to see the turnoff into the Big Meadows Lodge and Campground.
Just a couple of the other riders had beat us in and after consuming a re-hydrating beer or two, Joanna and I set up our tent and were getting ready to head to the showers when a long predicted but late arriving cloudburst blew through camp. Much of the luggage of the other participants was out of the trucks and on the ground without a tarp to cover the pile (the storm had come up that fast) and those of us in camp scrambled to get the bags under cover.
Later, dried out and fed, we walked over to the lodge to join those who weren’t camping and to spend the rest of the night enjoying this historic facility. As we sat in the lounge with fellow travelers, an incredible storm came up from the valley below, with rain, wind, thunder and lightning of such intensity we thought the panes of glass in the large picture window would break. Water poured off the roof like a rushing river and when it had died down, one of our group went over to the campsites and reported back that our tents had all survived the storm intact.
Oddly enough, we slept well that night, the tent weather tight, the best feeling in the world to know you’ll be dry while the elements are raging. We weren’t sure what to expect the next day and were prepared to break camp wet and have to ride in the rain, our last day a payback for the great weather we’d enjoyed to that time. Here is the day’s journey from the brochure:
Big Meadows to Front Royal, 58 miles. Your ride today will take you to the highest point on Skyline Drive (3,680’) as well as past such descriptive overlooks as Skyland, Pinnacles, Hawksbill, Stony Man, Panorama, Hogback, and Signal Knob. On this, our final day of Blue Ridge Bliss, we’ll finish up with a thrilling twelve mile downhill from Compton Gap to the Front Royal North Entrance (Milepost 0) and a short jaunt to our campground for the final night.
The rain stopped in the early morning and although the tent was pretty wet, at least it wasn’t actively raining, a blessing. We ate breakfast, threw our gear in the truck and prepared to ride, our moment of truth. It was incredibly foggy, so dense you could barely see fifteen feet in front of you. Joanna was reluctant to ride, as a few others had opted to go in the sag wagon for some portion of the day citing safety concerns.
I was pretty determined that I was going to at least start out, fog be damned. When it comes to cycling, or any other form of exercise, once you start making excuses for not participating (in this case riding) pretty soon you’re making more excuses than you are riding. I’ve found many times that the ride I least wanted to do at the start of the day ended up being one of my most memorable.
And so we set out to see what kind of day we would have. Remarkably, after only going a short distance, maybe a mile or so, the fog began to lift and we would be presented with a ride I will always remember. We found ourselves moving in and out of different weather conditions, one minute cold and with the jackets on, the next a partially sunny sky requiring us to take them off. It got foggy again at the lunch stop, but we heard from staff down the road that it cleared and so pushed on.
At a final optional stop I waited for Joanna and another rider, Anna, to catch up, then to our delight encountered a last downhill section of 12 miles, all of it on dry pavement, a gently curving stretch of road that allowed one to pretty much coast at speed without the need to apply the brakes. At the bottom we turned off onto a two lane country road and pushed through the last few miles to camp, welcomed with a warm afternoon, all of the gear laid out to dry, a perfect way to end the day and the tour.
Dinner that night was great, steak and shrimp and some last conversations with folks who’d be departing from camp instead of shuttling back to Fancy Gap with us. Joanna and I were recognized for our friendliness and the size of our tent, a chateau compared to the two and three man tents the rest of the participants used.
We broke camp the next morning and departed in two shuttles back to the Fancy Gap KOA. It was a pleasant two plus hour ride, the van full of folks we’d come to know and like. We’d made sandwiches and wraps prior to leaving and those were consumed as we drove, yet another thoughtful example of how Adventure Cycling took care of our needs throughout the week.
We volunteered to drive Randy, a doctor living in Hawaii, down to his sister’s house in Mint Hill, not that far from our house. It made for an interesting ride as he had much to talk about and the time passed quickly. As we pulled up to our house, we were glad to be home and yet ready to get out and do another fifty-mile day, to keep the tour going. Now we just have to figure out where we will go with Adventure Cycling next year.
Big Meadows: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Meadows
Big Meadows Lodge: http://www.goshenandoah.com/lodging/big-meadows-lodge