Sunday 4 May 2008

Escape to the Old Dominion

Hotel Roanoke

As I sit here in Ottawa, with the cold wind howling, it is hard to believe that a week ago I was enjoying the warm hospitality and rolling hills of Virginia.

After suffering through the second-worst winter in Ottawa’s history, we decided to escape to the greener environs of Virginia which, after all, is just a few hours’ drive along Highway 401 and then down Interstate 81–well, 12+ hours actually. Leaving Ottawa at 5:30 am on Friday, it was clear that Spring had indeed come the further southwards we headed. Stopping only for fuel and then for dinner in Staunton we reached our destination by 7:30 pm and checked into the elegant Hotel Roanoke.

A good night’s sleep, a relaxed breakfast and we were ready for our first test of the cycling season. We drove through Roanoke, up past Mill Mountain and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Leaving the car parked beside the road, we headed northwards. The road was in excellent condition and the gentle climbs and descents made a challenging beginning. The temperature began to climb and by the time we turned around after 25 kms it was nearly 80F. Nearing the car, however, the skies turned dark and then it began to rain gently but we made it back to the hotel before the deluge really began. 50 kms and 700 m of climbing! Of course, Mr. Mechanical Genius forgot to turn off his Garmin Edge so it appears that my top speed on the bike was 80 km/h, which was actually my top speed in the car on the way back.

We got cleaned up and dressed and then drove northwards again for ninety minutes to Staunton, where we enjoyed a superb meal at the hyper-trendy Zynodoa restaurant (Roquefort grits!), followed by a performance of “the Taming of the Shrew” at Shenandoah Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse. As usual, the actor were very entertaining, and produced a boisterous version of the play that would probably have the Bard spinning. By the time we drove back to Roanoke I was feeling pretty tired and slept very well.

Which was a good thing, since the next morning we joined some of the members of the Blue Ridge Bicycling Club on a 50 mile (88 km) ride around Roanoke. This was organized by Dan Casey, whose columns in the Roanoke Times had taken me to many excellent rides in the Shenandoah Valley. Jesse, Manly, Karen and Jay were all strong riders. We had a superb ride along Bradshaw Road, including a stop at a farm whose owner had a vast menagerie, including African Crested Cranes, llamas, Turkish sheepdogs and who knows what else. He was very enthusiastic about his critters and would have entertained us with stories about them all day.

The road was very good, and we had plenty of scenic vistas. The best part was a seven mile stretch of Bradshaw that gently went downhill. The pavement was good, the wind behind us and no traffic anywhere so we cranked up the speed and enjoyed ourselves. Unfortunately a bit later Dan had a flat and also some shifter issues but otherwise we had no mechanical issues and no weather problems.

That evening we went to a Mexican restaurant on the main street in downtown Roanoke and gorged ourselves on cheap and cheerful food.

Monday was a write-off from the cycling perspective as it was raining steadily. We took the opportunity to cross the street from the hotel and visit the top-rate O. Winston Link Museum located in the old railway station. Winston Link was a photographer from New York who took celebrated pictures of the last days of steam, from 1955-1960, on what was then the Norfolk & Western Railway. The photos were black-and-white and taken at night, with the aid of a vast number of flashbulbs. They are genuine artworks and it was wonderful to see them housed so well in Roanoke. In addition to the Link exhibition, there was also a small exhibit dedicated to industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who had redesigned the station in the late 1940s.

We then drove a few miles out of town towards Lynchburg to visit Poplar Forest, the less-celebrated home of Thomas Jefferson. He built it as a little retreat to escape the crowds at Monticello after he retired and it has been undergoing a long and exhaustive restoration. There was only one other couple visiting the place so we had a very relaxed tour before returning to Roanoke and yet another Mexican feast.

And that concluded our little cycling escape to Roanoke. We left early the next morning and had an uneventful drive back to Ottawa. As if to welcome us home, the temperature plunged and it felt like March again.


Anonymous said...

The grass is always greener.....

The weekend preceding your escape, Chantal and I escaped Virginia for Quebec!

Unknown said...

Always good to travel with the donkey. Extra bonus when the weather is an improvement from home

Donald said...

Sounds great. I'm glad you got in two days of riding on the beautiful Blue Ridge... and a little culture never hurts.
Heck, I was excited about your food choices.
I'm headed back to the mountains again this weekend for some more climbing.

Sprocketboy said...

I wish I could ride again in the mountains this weekend! The best I can hope for is that Gatineau Park is finally open and I can ride the hills there. And no grits for breakfast, alas.

Will said...


Sounds like a great trip.

(you do realize a flight to geneva is quicker than a 12 hour drive) :)

Keep training .... Tour d'Enfer beckons