Monday, April 18, 2011

Skyline Drive Sufferfest (In a Good Way)

We, in a fit of insanity, have signed up for an event called the Savage Century, a 100 mile bike ride in western Maryland with over 11,000 feet of climbing.  We have been doing long bike rides since the beginning of the year, but we decided we had better start riding some serious hills to prepare.  The weather on Saturday was terrible, so on Sunday, we headed out to Front Royal to ride as much of Skyline Drive as we could.  The weather was bright and sunny and promised to be very, very windy.  I really didn't know what to expect.  Skyline Drive has no shoulder and can be a hotspot of distracted driving ("Honey, look at the bear over there...and the pretty view over there.").  I also didn't know how we would handle serious climbing since we hadn't really done any.

Things started out a little rough, but rapidly got better.  We parked outside of the north entrance to the park, where it seemed like most of Northern Virginia had also decided to park.  We got ready, started up the hill and, not twenty feet from the car, I got a flat (due to a flaw in the tube, it turns out).  We had a mini pump with us, but it is hard and time-consuming to get a road bike tire pumped up to the right pressure with one.  They are good for getting you home from a ride, but it was a little disheartening to start a ride looking at twenty minutes of pumping to attempt to get the tire up what would hopefully be the right pressure.  Too little and you get pinch flats.  Too much and, well, I've never been able to get too much pressure in a tire with a mini pump.  While we were changing the flat, a van full of another group of road cyclists pulled up.  One of their group got out and asked a question about the park fees.  When he noticed we were changing a flat, he asked if we wanted to borrow their full-size floor pump with a gauge.  Thanks to them, we were back on the road much more quickly.

The first six miles of the ride climbs 1500 feet, past flowering redbuds and dogwoods.  The creeks and waterfalls were full from Saturday's storms.  After a relatively short descent, the next climb began: 1160 feet over 8 miles past Mount Marshall and back into late winter/early spring.  The trees have barely begun to leaf out at that elevation.  That was followed by a descent of about a mile and another climb:  this time 650 feet over a little over a mile past Hogback Mountain and the highest point on the Drive in the North District.  From there, we descended three miles to Elkwallow Wayside, for a total of 24 miles from the car.  The ride south was anything but fast.  We averaged about 11 miles an hour.  On most of the long climbs, I would hover between seven and nine miles an hour.  We took a break at the wayside, not looking forward to the three mile climb back towards Hogback Mountain. 

The climb back up from Elkwallow Wayside took almost half an hour.  As I said, we were slow.  From there, however, there were only two steep, but relatively short (less than two miles) climbs left.  Most of the return to the car was downhill.  Those two climbs were still hard, but we were rewarded with long descents after them.  We finished with a total of 48 miles and almost 5500 feet of climbing.  It was an incredible ride.  The weather was great, although the wind was pretty crazy.  The crosswind could be rather startling when it hit suddenly, particularly when we would come around corners on descents.  Traffic actually wasn't too bad.  Most people gave us plenty of room and were considerate.  It was one of the toughest rides I've done and now the only thing to do is get out and do it again.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Dogwoods on Skyline Drive.
Pulled off at an overlook taking a short break.
Looking north towards Front Royal from one of the overlooks.
Looking south from Hogback Mountain overlook (I think).
Redbuds on the Drive.


  1. Just came across your blog post today, I did a 'sufferfest' of my own on Skyline a week after yours -

    Your pics are awesome, great post!

  2. I'll be knocking this ride off my bucket list this spring sounds awsome !!!!!!!!!!