Two goals when I plotted this route around the central section of Shenandoah National Park in early May: climb a lot, often on gravel; and explore some back roads whose destinations were ambiguous on maps. Both were accomplished.
Crista got excited when I sent her the route, so she and Chuck brought their Ibis tandem to Sperryville for the start. We churned up Thornton Gap and then down to Jewel Hollow, following the base of the mountains south for 10 miles, where we turned toward Kite Hollow and followed the gravel Red Gate Road into the park. Nearly an hour later, we arrived at Fishers Gap on Skyline, still 600 feet below our peak at Big Meadows Lodge.
By the time we arrived there, sun had retreated behind fog and chill. After lunch at the wayside, we headed south — into pelting showers that dogged us until we were well east of Swift Run Gap. Then the adventures began on undiscovered gravel roads in the Rapidan River Valley falling away from the Blue Ridge.
Ten miles into the valley, we turned upstream beside the Conway on Middle River Road. On Googlemaps, the road horseshoes over the river and runs east to Graves Mill. Other maps show: nope. A local told us that floods had taken out the joint in 1994. Hardy hikers can pass, but bikers without sherpas face a dead end. Google insists: that double-gated private road is the way through. Anyhoo, we backtracked to Kinderhook and rode east to our familiar pop stop at Wolftown.
After a lengthy pause, we shot toward Madison and then weaved north on paved and dirt roads until our passage climaxed on the quaint Quaintance Road, between Slate Mills and Woodville. Soon Thornton Gap would again be in view, as we approached our starting point, a hundred miles and 11 hours later, still dreaming of crossing routes to Graves Mill. Another day.