Monday, April 13, 2009

A Windy Blair Witch


Visiting at Ashley's in Ranson, West Virginia, I decided to head out for a ride along the basic route of the South Mountain Loop, a 37 mile route for hybrids or mountain bikes, which originates in Brunswick, Maryland. Only one problem presented itself: I rode the route just once six years ago and would attempt to ride it from memory. I did pretty well, only missing one turn which I would do differently.

The day was cold and windy. Winds were constant at 20-30 mph with higher gusts. Temperatures were in the mid 30s to start and only climbed to near 50 by the end. Everywhere there was a head wind. I don't know how this could be but it was.

Instead of starting in Brunswick, I started in Ranson and followed US 340. When I crossed the Shenandoah River just up river from Harpers Ferry, I turned on Chestnut Hill Road. From 340, Chestnut Hill Road looks almost impossible to drive up and does look impossible to bike up. But on a bike is where magic happens.

I turned the corner and kept climbing higher and higher. The GPS showed 12% then 14% then 18%. When it "leveled" off to 4% I decided to turn around and go back to the route I had planned. I descended at 45 mph. I could have gone faster but there was a stop sign, heavy traffic, guard rail, and the Potomac River at the bottom.

Burkittsville, Md.

I followed US 340 in and out of Virginia and across the Potomac River into Maryland. I passed beautiful farm land to Burkittsville, the location of The Blair Witch Project. It's a lovely little village and I can't say I saw any witches. But who really knows for sure? They don't all look like Elphaba.

Burkittsville, Md.

Out of Burkittsville I climbed a ridge road along South Mountain before being dropped back into the valley then climbing up Reno Monument Road. At the base of Reno Monument Road is a large, slightly unkept house on the left. You know, the kind where a huge dog is lurking ready to attack. Out riding dogs can present its own adrenaline rush but I'm not going to out pedal a dog while going up a 20% hill.

My dogdar was on full alert mainly because when I rode this six years ago I was chased by a big dog at this house. Yea - you remember those things.

I was quietly pedaling, not shifting gears and generally trying to avoid disturbing any creatures who may live there. And then I saw him. A huge dog but I'm not sure of his breed.

And he saw me. Or she saw me. I didn't want to get close enough to check.

The dog came flying across the yard and I dismounted and started being real nice. There was no way I was going to flee and kick in the dog's chase mentality. I was on the right side of the road and the dog was to the left. I hoped that he wouldn't come across the road at me. I walked a little saying stupid things he couldn't understand like "nice puppy." This completely killed my average speed for the day too.I should have paused the Garmin.

My break came when just as the dog was coming out of his yard a car came down the hill and almost hit it. Brakes squealed, the driver stopped and I used the car as a shield to sneak away.

Reno Hill kicked up to 20% but it was a relatively short climb. At the summit there are some Civil War markers and a "Private Road" sign which invited me to ride.

I turned left and was riding the very summit of South Mountain. A one lane paved road with no traffic was great. I wondered where the road would end. I thought it was a U.S. Park Service one-lane road which perhaps made a loop. The grade was great for climbing. A lot of 12% with even higher numbers as well. After two miles I came to a dead end. Some government installation. I smiled for the camera and turned around.

Back to the main road, I descended into the valley on the east side of the mountain. I missed the road that would have taken me to Chestnut Ridge and down to Harpers Ferry. But Rte 67 has a very wide shoulder and was a nice run in to Brunswick.

As I approached Brunswick I saw the last road on the right and thought it would be fun to take it Harpers Ferry if that's where it went. It didn't. It was a heck of a climb and ultimately I realized I was climbing for no reason that the road would not cross the mountain. I was right. I made a loop back to Rte 67.

I was not prepared for the distance with the climbing on this day. Or the wind. I climbed almost 6,000 vertical feet. Other than a small packet of Sport Beans, I had no food and I ran out of water. I bonked and the thought of climbing back out of the river valley was too much. I pulled out my cell phone but no one answered my distress call.

My emergency funds consisted of two dollars in my saddle bag and was used to purchase a Snickers bar. Hunger solved. I made the 2-mile climb up the US 340 past Harpers Ferry to the plateau with ease.

The stats don't show the entire trip because I reset the Garmin 9 miles in but I rode for 66 miles. It was a good day but very tiring.

Garmin Stats and Route Map


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