Monday 14 May 2007

Weekend Cycling: Virginia and Maryland

Virginia Hunt Country: a friendly horse

Saturday, May 12, 2007

One of the great benefits of living in the Washington, DC area is the excellent access it gives me to wonderful cycling adventures in both Virginia and Maryland. Most weekends the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club offers rides in each state of varying lengths. All of them feature quiet, well-maintained streets, charming villages. A few of them boast fearsome climbs: Virginia's tend to be long and gradual, while Maryland has ones that are short and sharp. Most of the ride starts are within an hour's drive of downtown Washington.

On Saturday I returned to Marshall, VA, one of my favourite jumping-off points in the state. From here you can head west into the Blue Ridge Mountains, or north into the Hunt Country, with its rolling hills and beautiful horse farms. I was here with Sigi and Don, who had won my United Way auction prize of a bicycle ride in Virginia Horse Country. We had settled on a reasonable route beforehand--I did not want to frighten any newcomers to cycling in Virginia with tales of 16 per cent grades and 100 km rides--and met at the VDOT parking lot at 8:30 am. There were a lot of other cyclists driving in as well since there were several PPTC rides starting at the lot that day too. One of the leaders was my friend Melinda, who had recently ridden up on Skyline Drive with us.

Getting ready to roll

Sigi and Don had made a weekend of it and were staying at a nice bed and breakfast place in Middletown, VA, which I pointed out is also the home of Route 11 Potato Chips. You can even visit the factory to see the chips being made. They offer the usual varieties, as well as things like Sweet Potato chips and Mama Zuma's Revenge, a seriously spiced version. Anyway, Sigi and Don had brought their circa-1976 touring bikes with them. They had been recently tuned but clearly needed so air in the tires. I explained that tires lose their air very quickly and it is best to check before each ride. Taking the pump from my car, I quickly raised the pressure in their tires from about 50 psi to 90 psi so that they would not feel they were riding on high-resistance mountain bike tires. The roads around Marshall are very smooth and traction is not an issue. I brought my steel Marinoni as we would be riding at a touring pace.

Leaving Marshall in excellent weather, we set out using a PPTC cue sheet, "Marshall to Middleburg Plus." We stopped immediately at the Marshall public school, where there is a plaque describing the disbanding of the Confederate guerrilla force of Col. John Mosby, the Gray Ghost, on April 21, 1865, rather than surrender to the hated Yankees. Mosby had an eventful Civil War, to say the least, and after the war became a Republican supporter of President U.S. Grant and US Consul to Hong Kong for seven years.

On Rectortown Road, leaving Marshall

The route is described as moderately hilly and I knew that many of the roads were quite scenic. We began a gentle, steady climb up Rectortown Road, turning right at one of my favourite (and favourite-named) streets, Frogtown Road. This meandered gently up and down, with excellent views of the surrounding hills and lush green countryside. We followed the road to Rock Hill Mill and on to Zulla Road.

We crossed Route 55, the John Marshall Highway, and passed over Interstate 66 before turning down a street that was new to me. Harrison Street is fairly short but has some particularly wonderful old buildings on it. The beautiful white house on the left side boasted a conservatory and a temple-like lawn structure recently roofed in shiny copper, and gorgeous landscaping. We then continued on Old Tavern Road, which took us back under I-66 towards the Plains along a rolling road with some traffic on it. We passed the tony Wakefield School, one of several private schools in the immediate area, and were soon in the village of the Plains.

There is a signpost in town, which boasts actor Robert Duvall as a resident, indicating the distance to various cities, including Shanghai, Washington, and Marshall, as well as the unexpected, such as obscure places in Kansas. There is a Civil War commemorative plaque which mentions that a Union officer, Jack Sterry, was hanged for spying after he killed a Confederate to get his uniform. The Union and Confederate armies fought for control of the Manassas Gap Railway, which ran through the town. It was chartered in 1850 and mainly completed by 1859. Unfortunately, the Civil War destroyed most of it and the remnants were absorbed by several railway ventures before becoming part of the Norfolk Southern system in 1896.

One of the makers also told the story of a local doctor who sat on his porch whittling a stick as the Union Army marched by. He put in a notch for each artillery piece that the Northerners had and then gave it to "a manservant" to take to the Confederates. I like the sound of "manservant;" it conjures up images of someone in a powdered wig and knee-breeches rather than Old Black Joe, which was probably the truth.

We passed through the Plains and along hilly Loudon Avenue, which was again busier than I would have liked, but turning off onto Landmark Avenue. Here we met some friendly horses. Time for photography, since when you are in horse country you have to provide evidence you were there! A couple on mountain bikes passed by and the man asked if we were planning to trade our bikes for horses, but then the woman chimed in and thought that she was ready to exchange a mountain bike for a road bike.

A series of rolling hills, one of them probably about 12 per cent but mercifully short, brought us into Middleburg (not to be confused with Middletown), a very horsey, upmarket kind of place. I was quite anxious to show Sigi and Don the town, which is charming if pretentious, and I was delighted to see that the bakery next to the Safeway was open, but we could see that the skies to our right were looking ominously dark and I heard some thunder. We decided that they could come back on their own by car, but for now we would see about riding the remaining 12 miles back to Marshall quickly to beat the rain.

We travelled a short distance along Rt. 50 before turning left onto Zulla Road again and retracing our path along Rock Hill Mill Road and Frogtown Road. The thunder was getting louder and it started to rain very lightly but we made it back to Marshall without getting very wet. We bought some submarine sandwiches and sat on a picnic table at the school--near where Col. Mosby's forces melted away--with some celebratory cold Franziskaner beers.

Distance Cycled: 62.66 km/38.93 miles
Time en route: 3:08
Average speed: 19.95 km/h/12.39 mph
Maximum speed: 55.90 km/h/35.73 mph

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Happy Mother's Day! The weather looked perfect for a long training ride, so I drove out to Gaithersburg, MD, and met up with Dr. Chef and two of his friends, Jake and Laura. Laura is going to ride a century (100 miles) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, next weekend and wanted to get in some training. She drew up the cue sheet and planned to cover 80 miles. Larry wanted to ride but was tired from his long ride yesterday with Tim, when they had done some 85 miles (136 km) and he and Jake were planning to do only part of the ride today. We rolled out from the Starbucks on Darnestown Road shortly after 9 am and headed out on what are now very familiar streets to me after five years. We headed out towards Barnesville and then along the excellent Peachtree Road before riding past the Comus Inn, which was enjoying a big Mother's Day crowd. There are also some Civil War commemorative markers here as well. There is a good view of Sugarloaf Mountain and the markers indicate that after the Battle of Antietam there was continuing action in this area and that the Confederate cavalry and its Union counterpart had a battle on the Mountain, although with one dead Union soldier and one injured one it does not really compare to the kind of casualties one is used to hearing about battles of this era. Old Hundred Road and then Slate Quarry Road took us through lovely green woodlands, alongside a small river. Larry likened it to our rides last summer in the Black Forest.

After riding a good speed along Thurston Road we came to a t-intersection. We could see that the wind was blowing in our favour as we headed towards Dickerson and I invited Larry to follow my wheel as I went into time trial practice mode. I was holding a steady 48-50 km/h and a heart rate of 151-155 and feeling very good. I asked Larry if this was okay and when he confirmed it I added a bit more power as I tried to bring the speed past 60 km/h but was only successful at holding 59 km/h for a decent period. When we came to the first little rise in the road, I turned to see how Larry was doing but there was no sign of him. I did not realize that the little acceleration had been enough to drop him, as he told me when we met up at the Dickerson store. I replenished my Gatorade and then Jake and Larry headed back to Gaithersburg, aiming to do a 50 miler.

Laura and I continued rode over to Sugarloaf Mountain, and rode up to the top to add a bit of climbing to the program. Sugarloaf was purchased by a wealthy businessman, Gordon Strong, in 1902 and he established a foundation that maintains the property. It is open to the public as a place of recreation and there is a road that goes up to the summit which is an excellent training venue for cyclists. At one point, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted the property for a Presidential retreat but Strong turned him down and Camp David was subsequently acquired. Strong also commissioned the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a structure for the top of the mountain and he developed one of the first of his spiral buildings. However, Strong was not satisfied with the proposal and the building was never built. The Library of Congress has a fascinating Internet exhibition of documents related to the Wright proposal here.

After this energetic climb (and my Specialized Tarmac still squeaks on big climbs--aargh!), we made our way back along the Barnesville Road through Poolesville and then down Partnership Road to River Road, which we followed into Potomac. Unfortunately, the last few miles were along very busy Falls Road, which has no shoulder to speak of. Turning onto Darnestown Road for the final few miles, we ran straight into the hardest headwind of the day but pulled into the Starbucks under sunny skies feeling triumphant but tired.

Distance Cycled: 137.2 km/85.25 miles
Time en route: 5:19
Average speed: 25.76 km/h/16.00 mph
Maximum speed: 62.0 km/h/38.5 mph
Altitude gained: 1272 m/4173 feet

No comments: