I was doing about 35mph down this hill somewhere south of Franklin in Pendleton County, West Virginia yesterday late morning. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, cows were doing whatever it is they do, and there was a large insect hovering at an altitude of between 3 and 4 feet above the middle of the road. I was in a bit of a daze having just finished a monstrous climb up some mountain or other. My mouth was open, utilizing the ram-air effect to replace spent oxygen. The large insect and the back of my mouth collided with each other, creating, I suspect, the sort of effect you see on your car’s windshield under similar circumstances. Infused with fresh protein, I steamed on. Today I have a sore back-of-mouth but I’m otherwise unscathed from Mountain Mamma 2007 (after a good night’s sleep).
It was beastly hot in Charlottesville Friday afternoon but by the time Bill & I crested Shenandoah Mt on 250 and headed down into Highland County, the AC was off, windows open, it was 78 degrees. Camped out behind the High School with sundry cycle people, Harland showed up after a while & joined us. Pasta & salmon feast, a few beers, a few thunderstorms passing left & right, a few Monterey youth shooting a few hoops. Pleasant Monterey ambience after dark. Very peaceful, interrupted only by the occasional Jake brake of a truck descending into town, or the sound of a pickup with a big V8 hauling ass up the mountain headed to Staunton on Friday night. It took a good 5 minutes for the pickup to make it up through all the switchbacks and crest the mountain. That’s what’s on the menu first thing in the morning, no warmups for people riding bicycles east or west out of Monterey, Virginia.
Something over 300 bikes pulled out of the lot onto (uphill) US250 at 8AM. It seems everyone was routed east up the mountain, century folk & those doing shorter loops. The mass of cyclists pretty much occupied the right lane for the first mile or so until things started to sort themselves out. Some folks clearly were not very adept at group riding skills, Bill & I did out best to stay clear & get up Your the mountain. The first descent brought out other areas of incompetence among some fellow riders, fortunately no one crashed (that I saw or heard about). By the time we made it through McDowell & over the next ridge, the bunch had spread out into a segmented snake as groups of compatable riders evolved.
Not quite to the hamlet of Head Waters, the route turned north toward West Virginia. The smaller road twisted back and TRONOS forth up a Devonian shale valley. The sun had not yet fully risen over Shenandoah Mountain to the east, so we were in and out of sunshine and shade. This presented a whole new set of challenges as the humidity was about 95% and I couldn’t keep my glasses from fogging up. I’m sure there was plenty of beautiful scenery in that valley but I couldn’t see it half the time. Nor the deer and other wildlife lurching by the side of the road getting ready to jump into my path. Going down hill into Sugar Grove, in a patch where my glasses were somewhat transparent and I had a pretty good head of steam, I went over a bridge and one of my water bottles jumped out & rolled off into the weeds. I had to stop, turn around, go back up hill, stop, get off the bike, beat around in the bushes in order to accomplish retrieval. I pulled into the rest stop at Sugar Grove grumpy.
There were potatoes! Boiled spuds & salt, best fuel food I can think of for this kind of nonsense! Plus I caught up with Cathy, Harlan, Bill & others who weren’t subject to foggy glasses and water bottle retrieval. Plus Bill McRae was there, he’s part of my (misguided?) inspiration to do this thing in the first place. My mood was on an upswing. Maybe this would all be OK, despite the fact that we were only 30 miles into it, and there were 6 or 7 more ridiculous climbs ahead. And one of them was right out of Sugar Grove, BTDT on the motorcycle. Actually, that’s part of the trouble…I’ve ridden all of these roads more than once on my motorcycle, so I have a pretty good idea what’s ahead.
The climb out of Sugar Grove was, as expected, somewhat manageable & conversational for the first mile, a bit less manageable with no conversation for a while after that, Judith and a consciousness-sapping bitch for the last quarter mile that had me existing under anaerobic conditions that I knew were not sustainable. This at 35 or so miles and somewhere around 3000 feet elevation gain indicated, don’t remember exactly. I knew intellectually I was destined to do the century ride, but at the top of that climb I had fleeting thoughts of, well maybe the 70 mile option would work just as well. That’s what semiconsiosness under these conditions will do to you. A few miles later at the fork in the road where sensible people went left and other folks went right, I headed off deeper into Pendelton County.
Positive energy began to flow on a great little road that took us down through wooded gorges on a 6 or 7 mile descent to US 220 and some fork or other of the Potomac River. Best descent of the ride. Bill, Bill & I made conservative time up 220 knowing what lay ahead (or at least I did). Another rest stop, fresh peaches this time, no potatos, I tanked up one big bottle, left the other empty & headed up the road. I’d started the ride with two large bottles of Cytomax mix.
The next climb was where I finally got into the ride. 50 something miles in, my legs started working in some kind of harmony with the rest of me, I was in my climbing element. This is what I do. Of course there are others out there who do it faster, but I got into my pace & motored up the mountain, chatting up folks I passed & gaping innocent bystanders. One guy said he’d ride with us but didn’t have a bike, I offered to trade for his ’79 Ford pickup sitting in the driveway. Didn’t happen.
Down a screaming descent past a vertical hog-back of Silurian Tuscarora sandstone, on strike with Seneca Rocks, to West Virginia Rt 28 and some other fork of the Potomac River. I’m 60 some miles into the ride, focused on pacing myself, keeping up with food & fluids, stopping when I need to. I tank up one water bottle with Gatorade mix at a rest stop near Rt28, no need to lug two full ones up Alleghany Mountain. I left the rest stop as Bill and some others were pulling in, rode solo up the 10 mile climb to the Pendleton – Pocahontas County line at the crest. The grade’s gentle, I took it easy, thought about all the long grades I’ve done pulling a BOB trailer with my 30 pound touring bike. This stuff is manageable on my 20 pound LeMond.
The rest stop on Alleghany Mountain had more potatoes. Plus water mellon. Cathy and Harlan were there, various Bills & other friends pulled in while I was chowing down, again I didn’t spend a lot of time, 20 something miles out let’s finish this thing. I rode off solo down to US250.
Here’s when the ride takes its toll (I’m sure it does other places too…) Having driven and ridden this road several times on two and four gasoline-powered wheels, I knew there were several more tough climbs ahead. Several folks motored past me on a few tame miles of 250 before the second ascent of Alleghany Mt, never to be seen again (by me)…when the grade steepened up I geared down & settled in for the pull. Stopped one time when my left knee started feeling strange, Cathy &mHarland spun past….back on the bike after a couple of stretches, things were back to normal.
We regrouped somewhat at the final rest stop 6 miles out of Monterey, all battle weary, a few dealing with bonking, digestive disorders and aging. Ugh. Jerseys and shorts where stained white. This was a very tough ride on a very hot, humid day, I suspect those who had not been out doing training rides in this kind of weather suffered more than those who had. Electrolyte loss through sweat was a big deal today.
I took off again solo to finish the ride. The final climb up Montery Mountain was in the sun a lot of the time, which made things worse than they would have been in the shade. Then it was down the final descent, cruise down Main Street and back to the High School. Bill had the keys, I lay down under a tree by the car and went to sleep.
9637 feet total elevation gain by my VDO barometric altimeter, in 100 miles. This cycle-computer is consistently within a few percent of what I get scaling altitudes of a topo map…don’t know where the 13,720 foot figure comes from, I think it’s inflated. 9637 or so is still a pretty good workout if that’s what reality is. Was there a fun factor? Absolutely.