The stages of spring were on display over a vertical half-mile of the Blue Ridge, as Lane and I toured the central section of Skyline Drive. In the valleys, azaleas were still at peak, while on the top of the Drive, the oaks were yet to bud. Over the morning and into the evening, we had bright sun, billowy clouds, passing showers, head winds, tail winds, hours-long climbs and a new speed-record descent. A glorious day from start to finish.
The plan was to park in Sperryville at Mount Vernon Farm, which raises the only animals that end up on my plate. From there, our route would depend on weather and inclination. Lane had a hankering to grind out the climbs of the Drive, an effort to calm his mind and be in the moment of physical suffering. I’m up with that: Sperryville to Big Meadows (27 miles) is one of my favorite courses. Beyond that, we were subject to whim, with no cue sheet and a vague idea to finish the day exhausted. Mission accomplished.
I tend to make the climb from Sperryville to Thonton Gap using metrics: respirations per minute, how many seconds does it take to climb a mile. This day I hardly looked at my watch, happy to be in each moment, taking no certain meaning from my physical condition. I just pedaled and tried to look at a well-traveled route with fresh eyes, as if I’d never passed this way before. Yeah, I may have taken a pic from this spot. But not on May 11. Not in this weather. Not with these leaves and wildflowers.
At Big Meadows, we considered what next. I proposed taking Swift Run Gap down into the Conway River Valley, which I had last explored with Chuck and Crista on Red Gate Ramble. On that day one year ago, we had searched out an ambiguous loop from the west side of the Conway linking to Wolf Town and found a dead end. With Lane the unexplored track was to the east: up the Rapidan River Valley on Graves Mill, taking us to an early 19th century settlement that today is nothing more than a marker, and Bluff Mountain Road, heading west toward the Conway and featuring short-stint grades of nearly 20 percent. I chugged up the hill at a bit over 3 mph; on the return I hit 52 mph above a hair pin that I wondered whether I would navigate (here I am).
From the Wolftown store, we took a familiar path back to Sperryville, except for a diversion on a roller-coaster otherwise known as Ruth Road, which backs up to a ridge on the east side of the Rapidan. From Hebron Church Road north of Madison, we could see that rain coming over Old Rag was likely to dump on us. It did. We survived, rolling into Mt. Vernon nearly 12 hours after our start, shaking our heads at the beauty of the Blue Ridge.