To bike is to climb.
I’ve been biking since I was 5. I became a cyclist at 49, when I climbed 16 miles of Going to the Sun from the Avalanche campground to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Two summers later, I pedaled up Wolf Pass in the Wasatch, Rabbit Ears east of Steamboat Springs, and the 34-mile climb to the summit of Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching the top with arms pumping – my “Rocky” moment.
Climbing requires all the skills developed before: focus, stamina, discipline, determination, steady breathing, and attention to the body’s signals and the world around. It is Zazen in motion.
The eight days of the Appalachian Adventure tour I shared with five friends in June was all about climbing. Our route between D.C. and the Tennessee border crossed the mountains and valleys of the Alleghenies of Virginia and West Virginia. The best of our countless ascents was on my 53rd birthday, June 21, the solstice: After 60 miles and two mountain passes, we challenged Potts Mountain, a 2000-foot rise over 5.3 miles one ridge east of West Virginia, in the heat of the afternoon. The plunge to Paint Bank was sweet, but we agreed that one-hour climb was the highlight of our tour.
My 645-mile tour began in Roanoke, where Laurie drove Joel Dechter and me for our first day: a bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway, then lunch and lollygagging in the festive town of Floyd, with its genial mix of hippies and farmers, followed by an afternoon of rollers to Hillsville, where we met Crista Borras, Eduardo Ruchelli and Dave Berning, who’d already been at it for days.
Day 2 covered 90 miles under some summer showers on a route passing Mt. Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak, to Damascus, a hiker/biker mecca a mile from the Tennessee line. Then we began what was for me a six-day, 485-mile return to Arlington. Nothing but hills – with a welcome tailwind pushing us.
Our leader was Crista. Laurie and I met her and her biking and life partner, Chuck Wood, four years ago, when we got off our bikes at the Laurel Mills store in Rappahannock County. We didn’t introduce ourselves, but we chatted, and I admired their pink-and-purple Ibis tandem – enough so that when I joined my first DC Randonneurs century ride four months later on New Year’s Day 2008, I remembered her bike. “I know you!” I exclaimed as she handed me the cue sheet.
Crista is DCR’s godmother, or at least she’s mine. She and Chuck invite the club to join them for century rides nearly every weekend, often both days. A more generous spirit I do not know. Crista crafts the cue sheets, plotting rest stops and lunches in out-of-the-way pizza joints, and noting every gravel-covered turn and railroad crossing.
For the annual two-week tours she and Chuck lead, she spares no detail. Appropriate lodging. Hours of the restaurants. Detours around busy highways. Consideration for the terrain in planning each day’s distance. All her companions have to do is show up, and all she asks of us is to share the joy of the journey. That we do.
Three years ago I joined Crista, Chuck and Eduardo for a similar Appalachian tour – for about 15 minutes. Meeting them in Harper’s Ferry after our first day out, I crashed three miles into the second morning, and spent the next eight weeks recovering from shoulder surgery.
For the 2011 edition, Chuck was nursing a riding injury, so Eduardo took up Chuck’s captain duties on the Ibis. But Chuck was still there most of the time, and for the five days from Damascus, he carried our panniers, meeting us each evening at the hotel, and seeing us off in the morning. Chuck, we want you back, but we could get used to having a SAG!
That fourth day that included Potts Mountain ran from Dublin to Paint Bank, a former railroad crossing now a tiny resort with a general store and the Depot Lodge. Somebody figured out that an isolated valley between two 3000-plus-foot ridges along a rushing stream would make a pleasant vacation spot. There’s not a great deal to do there, which is the point, I think. We arrived in mid-afternoon and took up residence in a two-bedroom house next to the lodge and a refashioned caboose. That evening, a thunderstorm roared through as we sat in the lodge’s common room.
Day 7 was our most challenging: 78 miles from Moorefield to Inwood, West Virginia. Right outside Moorefield, we began climbing multiple nine-percent grades on old Route 55, which has been replaced for truck traffic by the new express 55, one of the many monuments to Robert Byrd’s tenure as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Dear American taxpayer: We thank you for diverting the trucks. Then out of Wardensville, we climbed Great North Mountain (where the old 55 remains the only highway) across the Virginia line. On the descent the Ibis passed me going 55. Whoosh! I was sustaining only 35 or 40. After lunch, we pushed over countless hills – no more mountains – another 40 miles, to our last evening together in Inwood. After dinner, Eduardo, Joel, Crista and Chuck drove home, while Dave and I shared a last night before we took separate routes to our respective sides of the Potomac outside D.C.
That final morning, Snickers Gap, up Route 7 over the Blue Ridge, felt like a molehill. I made a brief stop at the end of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail in Purcellville, where the racing guys were gathered to exchange notes on the morning. I scurried down the trail, arriving home sweet home just after noon, 80 miles from the day’s start, to the best meal since I’d left, courtesy of my resident chef Laurie, a pleasing coda to this year’s Chuck & Crista tour.
I can hardly wait for the next one.
The Flickr album is here, including a bunch of those historical markers you always pass without reading.