Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Skyline Drive Virgin No More!

I remember growing up (and even as short as a few years ago), we'd drive down (and up and up and up) Skyline Drive. Within reasonable distance to DC, it contains the closest major mountain range, the Shenandoah Mountains. Skyline Drive is the most scenic road that takes you up and over numerous peaks, lookouts, camp sights, and also through part of the Appalachian Trail. So as a kid (and more recently as an adult), I'd gawk at the idiots who would sit on their bicycles and grind away at the long and twisting road. Why would anyone choose to ride a bicycle up any road that even cars have difficulty driving? Well now I know...because I am one of those idiots!

The HIP program organized a ride for today out at Skyline and since I have gone 5 years without growing enough courage (or stupidity) to tackle the beast, I figured why not? At least now I'd be riding with other people. Turns out about 10 of us made the trek out there this morning, including all star triathlete and blogger Jeanne. But let me back up a bit for a moment. I had heard it takes about 1.5 hours to get out there from some other people, but I was surprised that it would take that long, given some of the other places I've been to that are near that area. So I planned for enough time to be there early, even if it took that long, but realistically, I figured it would take about an hour, since I live a bit further out from DC now. Sure enough, it took me an hour.

So once I realized I was going to be there about an hour early, I started to think how I could kill time. I could tinker with my bike - already did that the day before. How about take a nap, since it was so early - I'd probably still be asleep and miss everyone. So I was left with only one option left. You guessed it - go for a warm up ride! And then I remembered reading some of Ray's posts about his time spent at Skyline and remembered that he always went back downhill from the Visitors Center, to get in an extra 1000 or so feet of climbing. You read that right. 4 miles, 1000 ft. Turns out, its one of the most challenging hills in all of Skyline. So I got all geared up, and zipped 4 miles down the hill to the bottom and made the turn back up hill. Within seconds of starting the climb, I was in my easiest gear. I pretty much stayed in that gear for the rest of that hill. 25 minutes later, I was back at the Visitors Center, with all the other DC Tri peeps, who were just getting ready. Now that's what I call I warm up!

After speaking to a bunch of the people, it seemed like a few were going very long (100+ miles), but a couple other folks were thinking of going 60 (30 out and 30 back). Since I haven't ridden Skyline, nor have a truly ever ridden mountainous roads, I didn't know what to shoot for. Internally, I was thinking I'd be happy with 45, but I'd like to shoot for 60. Of course, when you factor in the 8 miles I rode before people showed up, it would be more like 65-70, depending on where we decided to turn around. Yikes! I really wasn't quite sure how that was gonna feel, so I just played it safe for the first hour or so and road very conservatively. After the first couple of climbs, I eventually began pulling away from the group I was riding with. I was still riding within my ability and not trying to push it. Eventually after about 12 miles of virtually all up hill riding, I lost all signs of them. Up and down, up and down is pretty much how the course goes and since I had already gained significant separation early on, I figured I would just press on by myself, since I felt comfortable.

One of the many lookouts - there was amazing visibility

After I hit 34 on my watch (including the 8 miles I did pre-ride), I told myself that if I turned around anytime soon, I'd hit my 60 miles mark, so I just left it to how my body felt. I was feeling great and just continued on a bit further, since I was on an extended downhill. Of course, what I should have been thinking was that an up hill was now in my future, since on an out and back course, any downhill becomes and up hill on the way back. I began the next climb (beginning of the left side of the elevation chart), only to start having doubts that I should probably turn around because A) The furthest I've ridden this season was 62 miles on a relatively flat course compared to these mountains, B) The last thing I need to happen is to bonk on Skyline Drive, and C) I vaguely remember looking at the elevation profile and noting that the hill I had begun to climb was one of the few other huge climbs. So I made an executive decision to turn the ship around. Good decision!

After a few miles of riding back in the other direction, I spotted the other two people I started to ride with and shouted out of words of encouragement. What was waiting for me about 5 miles later was, what felt like at the time, the mother of all hills. The first "warm up" hill I did from the start of Skyline to the Visitors Center was definitely the longest and most challenging of the ones I rode, but by the time I hit this hill, I already had about 40 miles in my legs. It was steep, and with multiple switchbacks, where I would just grunt with pain as I rounded the next turn, only to see more of the same - up hill with no end in sight. Ugh. Eventually (a miracle, perhaps) the turns stopped and I reached the top of the climb. I zipped past this lookout point on the way out, but since I was spent from the long climb, I figured this would be a good place to snap a picture or two. This was the highest elevation I hit, though there are numerous other peaks beyond where I turned around that are higher.

The better question is: Is this elevation measured at the sign or at the top of this climb?

After the big climb, there were 2 other less ridiculous climbs to get through till I made it back to the Visitors Center. One quick, funny story. You probably can't make it out from the photo below, but this group of motorcyclists had stopped at a lookout to take a group picture. The funny part was that they were almost all wearing antler hats. So obviously, I had to inconspicuously take a photo!

When it was all said and done, I totaled 65 miles, averaging a paltry 15 mph over the course of about 4:15. Hey - they were mountains I tell you (with photo evidence)! My watch registered 62, but the watch and I had a little issue restarting after one of my short pit stops at a lookout and I decided it was best to wait till I wasn't going 40 mph to figure things out. This ride was a blast. I don't think I've ever had this much fun before while on the bike. Between the weather (mid 60s to start, mid 70s by the end), the sights (what's not to like!), and the sense of accomplishment, I couldn't have asked for a better first ride out there.

Shortly after rolling into "transition", it was out of my bike shoes, and off for a quick 15 minute brick run. Amazingly, my legs felt fine off the bike. I started out holding a great pace with relatively low HR, but as is with anything at Skyline, the only place to go was up a hill, so that spiked my HR a bit. 15 minutes came and went in a flash and before I knew it, I was back at my car.

After the ride, I had only one thing left to do: buy some kettle korn! Why the "k" instead of a "c", you ask? Because, this place spells it that way, so those are the rules. I was too excited about eating it to actually take a picture of the van to prove the spelling, but I did get a picture of the bag before I tore into it like an animal. If you are ever out this way (also passed on the way to Luray, VA), get some and stop at the Apple House and buy some original Virginia products. They have wines, apple butter, bbq sauces, jams, etc. I've always gotten great stuff there.

Kettle Korn in all its glory before I attacked it!

And yes, in case you are wondering, I saved plenty of kettle korn for Rebecca too! That would just be mean ;)


it's all about pace said...

epic day. Nice report

jeanne said...

awesome report! ha ha, love the antlers! they probably came right by me, but I was too focused to even notice.

how come my elevation chart doesn't look like that?!? You hardly seemed winded when you got back. superstar!

btw, i did see the kettle korn place on the way back to the highway but i was too exhausted from my pit stop at the 7-11 to get out of the car.

Let's do that again, soon!

Audrey said...

oooh, great tough ride!! i've never done it myself! too rich for my blood! much respect!!

The Lazy Triathlete said...

Great ride Adam. I need to get out there and do the ride.

Rainmaker said...

Very nicely done man. That avg MPH is quite solid actually. I'm usually in the same rough range. Congrats on getting out there. Starting in two weeks I'll be up there again every weekend on Saturday's, if you want to join in the fun.

Timmy C said...

I'm thinking on doing the entire ride on April 24 next year, starting from the Southern entrance and going north.


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