The Rappahannock Rough Ride
13 September 2008
I coasted up the rest stop. ”Wow,” I said after unclipping my right foot. It was as if someone had just turned on a steam bath. I was drenched in sweat.
“This is like Florida heat and humidity,” a woman remarked.
“It sure is,” I answered. I headed for the water and food laid out under a tent. Two young ladies, high school age, I guessed, were seated near the tent.
“Where are your bikes?” I asked with a grin.
"We don’t bike,” they answered together.
“Too bad,” I teased them. They were pretty and looked fresh even in the extreme heat and humidity on this Saturday morning.
It was my first time cycling the Rappahannock Rough Ride. It was a 100k ride through the countryside of Rappahannock County – one of the prettiest places on God’s green earth. I was biking with Stacy, my cycling buddy and friend. We were about 19 miles into the ride and so far it had been fast despite the constant up and down of rollers – hundreds of rollers that taxed the legs and sapped energy in the overbearing heat and humidity.
The mass start was at 10:00 AM. That was late for a bike ride start. Most rides start early -around 7:00- to help avoid the hotter part of the day. We lined up in the street in tiny Washington, Virginia – called Little Washington by most people to distinguish it from the Nation’s Capital 75 miles or so to the north. While waiting to start the ride director gave out the door prizes. Gift certificates for $25 and $50 were awarded. Then the big one came. It was a dinner for two at the world famous Inn at Little Washington. Who would win the coveted prize?
Not I! Not Stacy. So much for that!
Rappahannock County lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the western border of the county lying at the top near Skyline Drive. Page County is to the west, Warren and Fauquier Counties to the north, Culpeper County to the east and Madison County to the south.
The weather forecasts called for a chance of thunderstorms and rain. I hoped for a dry ride. Then the weather could do its thing. I didn’t realize the heat and humidity was going to produce the same effect as rain!
Stacy and I were old hands at cycling in Rappahannock County. One of our regular rides starts at Massies Corner at the intersection of US 211 and US 522. We bike 8 miles to Sperryville and tackle the 7 mile climb to Thornton Gap and to the Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive is the main road, the only road that travels the 105 miles from Font Royal to Rockfish Gap. We go north to Front Royal and pickup US 522 again for the return to Massies Corner for a total of 65 miles with 19 miles of climbing. It is a tough, but great ride with cool mountain views, great descents, and frequent black bears sightings.
But today we crossed numerous streams flowing from the mountain. Each time I flew down a roller I knew a stiff climb waited on the other side. It was suffer like a beaten dog on the climb only to fly down the other side at 40 MPH to repeat the process again and again.
Rappahannock County does not permit cell telephone towers so I left my cell phone in the truck. The county has stringent rules on development and requires either 25 or 50 acre lots for residential permits. Folks here want to keep the country agricultural and small scale.
We crossed US 211 and I finally recognized the area. The roads to this point had been all new to me. Now we were spinning toward Flint Hill and a rendezvous with Crest Hill Road with which I am too familiar. Can you say ROLLERS?
”Who is that woman?” I asked myself when a young woman flew past me on the first climb on Crest Hill Road. It was not an easy climb. Just the opposite! It had grades of 10 -12 percent and this lady mountain goat soon disappeared from sight. Stacy gave chase, but she found the top first. Wow, I thought. She was in a group of eight cyclists and I latched onto the pace line. Stacy was ahead of us since the young lady had slowed at the top.
A pace line is fun if you can tag along. We maintained speeds above 20 MPH on the rolling road except for the short but steep sections. The same man led the line and it became clear he liked the front. Stacy tried to take a pull but the fellow refused to follow Stacy’s wheel. Strange. Another cyclist pointed to numerous road hazards; potholes, tree limbs, and sometimes to blades of grass. It is common for cyclists near the front to point to objects of danger on the road. This guy overused the pointing, in my opinion.
While drafting near the rear of the group I checked out the female mountain goat. She was small with well developed legs, especially thighs and pale skin (I wondered if she biked indoors). She dropped everyone on the rollers. There was no way my legs could keep up with her on the sharp and short climbs.
We turned left on Leeds Manor Road searching for the village of Hume. Stacy went to the front and I followed him to the turn west on Hume Road. Again, I was on familiar territory since Stacy and I bike these roads frequently. Also, I knew the second rest stop was at Marriott Ranch a couple miles west of Hume. Yet more rollers waited us. On the last roller a bee flew into my helmet and started to build a nest. Great! Just what I need now is a couple of bee stings in the head. I took my helmet off- while still riding – and brushed the bee away.
Ah, cold water!
I dripped sweat. It was too humid for sweat to evaporate so we were soaked. But there was shade along the stone wall that lined Hume Road. I ate a banana, an energy bar, drank a bottle of water, refilled, and drank more water. I knew the road and the rollers that waited for Stacy and me. We were at Mile 43 and had 17 miles to complete in the boiling heat and humidity. We spun past two more vineyards. The vines were bare of grapes, but green leaves still waved to us. I wouldn’t mind some tasty rice and lamb rolled in grape leaves and steamed to perfection. It was years ago that I last had them.
At the junction of US 522 and Hume Road we turned south. I knew we turned right before reaching Flint Hill and looked over Stacy’s shoulder. He was pulling me along at 25-28 MPH. After we passed Wakefield School we hung a right on another new road for us.
I was tired, hot, and wet. One last climb tested my legs. Garmin said 12-14 percent grade and I struggled up the twisting road. Ahead I saw pale skin flashing. Ah, the lady mountain goat scampers home.
“It should be illegal to climb hills the way she does,” I exclaimed when I motioned to the blonde lady. We had torn off the soaked jerseys, replaced the hot cycling shoes with sandals, and had a cold drink at my truck.
“She weighs 103 pounds….”
“How does she do it?” I asked of my parking neighbor who was one of the pace line group.
“Michelle started biking two months ago,” he replied.
“What?” I turned to look at Michelle.
“I have been running for 19 years,” she told me.
“Wow,” I replied. “You sure fly up the hills and rollers like a pro.”
She smiled, “It’s the cross training and all the miles I run.”
”Well, whatever it is, keep doing it.”
4,000 feet elevation gain
3,600 calories burned.
17.9 MPH average
130 BPM HR average
158 BPM HR max
It was a good ride, but lousy weather conditions. The start should be moved to 8:30 AM or so. I need to win the big door prize!