I was supposed to do an epic gravel ride on Saturday, but real shit got in the way and I wasn’t able to go. That’s okay and it’s actually good that it happens once in awhile. It reminds me how lucky I am that I have a life that affords time to do fun stuff on a semi-regular basis. Fortunately, real life cleared up more quickly than expected and I was left with a large block of time on Sunday. With multiple big climbing events in the near future, it seemed like a good idea to get some hills in, and the best place to do that is, of course, Skyline Drive!
I left my house early on Sunday morning and after parking near the entrance to Skyline Drive in Front Royal, started riding at 5:38am. The weather report called for temps to get into the 50s, so I knew it was going to be a cold start. I wore the usual – Twin Six thermal knickers, baselayer, merino wool sweater, wind jacket. All black. I did make a concession and wear my reflective pink xinglet manssiere. I would be riding for a while in low light and it made sense to be a little more visible in case a bear wanted to easily track and eat me.
The first section of Skyline Drive – a category 2 climb to Dickey Ridge – is the section that I and (hopefully!) a few others will attempt to Everest in a few weeks. Because I have zero impulse control, I decided to stay in the big ring and push harder than normal so I could
set a personal record and get a gloryboy top 10 for the segment establish a ceiling for my expectations. Sweating profusely and gasping for air, I made it to the top in an unrepeatable 20 minutes. So, I was overly winded 4 miles into my ride and as expected, learned nothing.
Another terribad decision.
Or so I thought! As I got to the top, I could see light pouring over the mountains to the East. I immediately pulled off of the road and started snapping pictures with my phone. The view was spectacular – strong winds blowing clouds across a dazzling sunrise rapidly appearing over the jagged horizon. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to take a timelapse video.
Getting up before everyone else and working to see a sunrise like that. It really is one of life’s many rewarding moments. As I turned to walk back to my bike, I reflected on how fortunate I was. Then a piece of snow hit me in the eye. Good feeling gone! I realized I had been standing still for about 10 minutes and in that time, every ounce of body heat I had generated was now dissipated into the morning air. Not only was I acutely aware of how cold I was, it was now doing something between snowing and hailing and freezing raining. Prudent thing to do would be to turn around and ride back to the car.
So I pressed on and tried to race south away from the storm. This would have been a sound strategy had I known what direction the storm was moving, or if I was in a motorized vehicle. Neither of those statements were true, however. Nevertheless, off I sped, flying down the backside of the ridge, shivering every last ounce of SUNRISE FEELGOODS out of my body.
Fortunately for the people who depend on me for food, shelter, and basic necessities like Netflix and iPhones, my stupidity paid off. The precipitation eventually let up and it was just me and the cold and the wind. I was so alone that it was thirty miles into the ride before a car passed me going south. Since the sheer beauty of the landscape wasn’t enough, I entertained myself by seeing how long I could go before I shifted down from my 50t big ring.
That was fun for a while, but with no one to talk to, I was bored again. I was also hungry (a recurring theme for me) and ready for a break. Big Meadows Wayside, which is about 50 miles from the start, is a natural stopping and turning-around point. Plus, they have excellent breakfast sandwiches and reasonable black coffee.
It was extremely warm there. The breakfast sandwich was better than usual. The coffee was hot and flavorful. I did not want to leave Big Meadows Wayside. No sir, I did not. So I hung out and got a coffee refill and stood in front of the heating vent and otherwise putzed around for 27 minutes. Basically, I was a soft, mewling manbaby. Not one of my finer moments.
Eventually, I did get out of there and back on the road. The wind continued and I found myself pedaling down all of the descents rather than my typically lazy move which is to aero-tuck at speeds as low as 25 mph. There was more traffic with which to contend, but unless it’s foliage season it’s never really that bad.
I was making great time. The way back to the car from Big Meadows is always a lot faster and my decision to stay in the big ring was paying off. Instead of just giving in and shifting down to my 34t chainring, I would just suck it up and stand up and pedal when the climbs got a little harder. Speaking as an extremely soft middle-aged suburbanite, I like these little fake-tough moments because they keep me from constantly sobbing about my inadequacies. It’s really for everyone’s benefit.
And then…I finished. Nothing exciting happened. No bear wrestling or Deliverance-style killings or anything else. Just me and the vistas and the climbs and the descents.
It was hard and beautiful and perfect all at the same time. All my bad decisions reinforced. Results over process. Never tell me the odds. Long live stupid bike rides.