Friday, July 4, 2008

Sperryville and Skyline Drive


In preparation for Mt. Washington, I will not find an 8 mile 12% grade climb with 40 mph winds and near zero visibility. So one must train under lesser conditions.

My Independence Day route took me to Sperryville, in Rappahannock Co., Virginia. Just as I arrived it started raining. I didn't want to ride up the mountain in the rain and hoped to wait it out. I listened to WTOP news and their weather forecast described a storm over Rappahannock Co. which would be breaking up soon. As soon as the rain stopped I started up the mountain.

From Sperryville it would be a seven mile climb to the summit although the first two miles would be only a two percent grade or so. I started up the mountain. After the first two miles it started raining. I didn't avoid it after all but at least it was a light rain.

Until the road reaches Shenandoah National Park it is a two-lane road with no shoulder. I noticed the cars with cargo on their roof racks tended to give me a wide berth while vehicles without cargo often didn't move out of the lane even when no opposing traffic was coming. I figured the tourists were more understanding than locals of cyclists on this road. Maybe I was wrong but it is what I thought.

Once in the park the road widens to three lanes -- two in the up direction so faster drivers can pass those in the slow lane.

There was one courteous driver who passed. He was the driver of an 18-wheeler and my only thought was why an 18-wheeler was even on this road. But I was on the "shoulder" at that point which was about six inches to the right of the road. I heard him behind me and noticed he wasn't going to pass even though he could. He waited until there was no opposing traffic. I gave him a high wave when I heard his engine rev to thank him for waiting until there was more room to pass. He responded with a quick but light reply on his air horn.

I was tapping out a good rhythm and saw a sign that Skyline Drive was two miles away. Then I heard a loud clap of thunder. I hoped not to see lightning. My glasses were keeping the rain out of my eyes but were fogging up a bit. I thought I saw a flash but wasn't sure. But then, I was sure.

There was thunder and lightning all around. I know the safest place on a bike during an electrical storm is not on a bike. If there was an opening one could lay down the bike and sit low away from any trees. But I was in a forest. My choices were to keep going or to turn around. I had come too far to turn around and I thought I might get through the storm quicker by going through it. I continued climbing.

The rain was coming down very hard. The gullies next to the road were running full and flowing across the road. At times I was battling not only gravity but currents too. I continued.

The heaviest part of the storm did not last long, no more than 10 minutes. I was soaked. I wondered what the few riders who passed me thought. I alternated my pedaling in and out of the saddle.

On my rear 10-speed cassette I knew I wasn't in my low gear. And that became intentional. I reasoned that if I am going to climb Mt. Washington I have to make lesser climbs a bit harder. Not using all my gears was part of my plan.

Unlike mountain or hybrid bikes, there is no click shifting with gear numbers on my road bike. It's all done by feel and if one must know, a quick glance back to see where the chain is on the gears.

I approached the summit and the pedaling became easier. I had made it. I biked over the summit to Page Co., and then stopped to check out my gearing. I wasn't even in my second gear. Or third. I had climbed to the summit of Skyline Drive in my fourth sprocket which gave me a great feeling about my fitness level for next weekend.

I turned around for the reward -- a fast descent back down to Sperryville on wet roads.


I had hoped to go back to Skyline Drive to ride. The forecast was for a "carbon copy" of yesterday -- cloudy in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon. I woke up and it was pouring and continued until mid-morning. I bagged riding electing to clean my bike instead. The afternoon thunderstorms never came.


Back to Sperryville for an almost repeat of Friday's ride. It was cool, perhaps 68 degrees. I headed off and only went 200 yards and thought I might need a jacket. I went back to the car. I wasn't worried about climbing as I knew my body heat would be enough. It was the descent I worried about as I didn't want to get too cool.

I headed off this time. I had gone just 200 yards and realized I didn't have my heart monitor. I am learning to play with my Garmin Edge 705 and the heart rate monitor is part of it. I want to see what my body was doing as I was climbing. Back to the car.

The third time was a charm. I headed out for the seven mile climb to the top. The first two to three miles is at two percent grade before the road turns up.

On Friday I never went lower than my 4th sprocket so I figured I had to match that today as well. That has 19 teeth and I can go to my lowest gear which has 27 teeth. I am hoping what the run up to Skyline Drive lacks in grade (6-7% mostly) that going in a higher gear will offset.
I'm hoping.

Unlike Friday I didn't have water running down the road at me and thunder and lightning near me. That actually made it easier to get up the mountain than simply wet roads as it was misty more than rainy. There were no weather distractions so one could think about the ride up the mountain.

As I crested the top a motorcyclist passing in the other direction gave me a huge thumbs up. It is nice to be recognized.

I switched into the big gears for my ride down the mountain to Luray. Technically I didn't go all the way to Luray. Although I was prepared to, when the road passed the National Park Headquarters it flattened out to a four lane divided highway with a speed limit of 55 mph. I didn't need that. I came to climb, not ride another mile or two of flat roads, so I turned around and began my climb back to the summit.

This one was a four mile climb. I didn't have any difficulty but there were times I wanted to switch to a lower gear than 19 teeth. But I didn't.

I reached the summit then paid $8.00 ($8.oo!) to ride on the Skyline Drive. I wanted to go south at least as far as the tunnel which came in a mile or mile and a half. It was very foggy here and I had no lights on me. I was worried about being seen in the tunnel but no cars came behind me while I was in the tunnel.

As with much of my riding, my new goal became ride until the road turns downward. That would be about five miles by my estimate. I just kept climbing. When I finally reached the high point, I turned around for the crazy descent back to Earth.

Not much to see - lost in the fog

I love roller coasters but the thrill of descending at high speeds, around corners and just straight away on a bike is better than ANY coaster I have ever been on. This is the WEEEEEEEE! moment that makes climbing pays off.

In short order I was back to the Skyline Drive entrance and then back on U.S. 211 East to Sperryville. Although I had cars behind me, no one caught me until I had descended four miles and the road flattened out a bit.

It was a great ride. My Garmin unit measured my distance and 32.5 miles over 4,200 hundred vertical feet of climbing.

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