Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Skyline Drive: Two Days, 160 miles, 18,000 feet of climbing

Our last big training ride before our vacation was this past weekend. We rode Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal to Loft Mountain on Saturday, a distance of 80 miles, with over 11,000 feet of climbing. It was hot, with temperatures in the 90s. The park was busy and drivers were pretty impatient, unwilling to wait the ten seconds for oncoming traffic to clear before passing. But wildflowers were blooming all along the side of the road and there were lots of butterflies. When we entered the South District, we left the hard climbing and the traffic behind. The very end of Saturday was a struggle since I got a bit dehydrated, but we did it.

We camped at Loft Mountain and Sunday morning, got up and rode back to Front Royal. Eighty more miles and 7,000 feet of climbing. Sunday was even hotter than Saturday, but I had a pretty good day. There was less climbing and more importantly, less traffic. Pedaling along in the south district before people started coming into the park was about as pleasant and peaceful as it gets. Just south of Skyland, we were lucky enough to see a bear turning over rocks in the woods beside the road. Overall, it was a great ride in spite of the heat and a few impatient drivers.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Lilium superbum (Turk's Cap Lily) along the Drive.
Old Rag from Pinnacles Overlook, 35 miles into Saturday's ride.
A meadow full of flowers near Big Meadows, with Old Rag in the distance.
My bike in front of the meadow.
A butterfly on Monarda media (Purple Bergamot)
The last 15 miles to go on Saturday.
Sunday morning from an overlook in the South District.
Looking north from one of the last overlooks in the south district. The haze made for a very pretty view.
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's Lace)
Final mileage at the car.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Muddy Slog: A Quick, Wet Trip to Dolly Sods

Last weekend, we made a quick day trip up to Dolly Sods, hoping for blueberries and wildflowers. I was more than aware that it had been wetter than normal. The DC area had its wettest June on record. We received more rain during one month than we usually get all summer (As an aside, we might be to blame for that: we put an irrigation system in our garden this spring...). However, it had been a few days since the last time it rained, so I didn't think anything about what the trail condition might be out there. I would probably have chosen a different place to hike if I had known what we were in for.

We started from the Blackbird Knob Trailhead by Red Creek Campground. The trail starts on a short boardwalk. And then the boardwalk ends. Normally, that is where a standard path through the woods begins. Last Sunday, that's where the mud and water started. It never really ended. We got a few breaks when we climbed up small hills, but the whole day was a lot of slogging through mud and walking through water, hoping that you didn't misjudge the bottom. The place was hammered. We saw lots of big groups and a lot of trail damage (widening) from people trying to avoid the mud. As much as possible, we tried to stay on the path and just walk through it, but it was tough.

On the bright side, there were blueberries! There were also lots of wildflowers. Red Creek was as high as I've ever seen it, which made crossing an adventure. The falls at the Forks of Red Creek were running high, too, which was very cool to see. We had a good hike, it just wound up being tougher than we expected. The weather also held, which was good, because the only thing that would have made the mud better would have been a good downpour!

Pictures (click to enlarge):

 One of the driest places on the Blackbird Knob Trail.
All of the rain meant lots of cool mushrooms going off in the woods. I definitely need to get a mushroom reference book at some point.
This is pretty typical of what the trail looked like through any of the meadows. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the pools of water. Michael is in the center of the photo.
Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John's Wort) on the Blackbird Knob Trail.
A large cairn on Red Creek.
A small slug on a tree at the junction of Blackbird Knob Trail and the Lower Red Creek Trail.
Trees reflected in a pool near the forks of Red Creek.
Rhododendron maximum (Great Laurel) near Red Creek
Rushing water on the left fork of Red Creek.
 Our canine escort cleaning her feet off.
Small waterfalls on the left fork of Red Creek.
The Falls of Red Creek.
More awesome mud on the way out.
Lilium philadelphicum (Wood Lily) on Forest Road 75. I first saw these stunning lilies five years ago in the same place. I've never seen them anywhere else, although they do grow elsewhere. They are listed as endangered, threatened or a species of concern in several states because people like to pick them and they don't tolerate grazing.
Another, double, L. philadephicum
The view to the east from the Bear Rocks area of Dolly Sods.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Climbing in West Virginia: A Ride out of Wardensville

I am catching up on some blog posts after a very busy few weeks. Two weekends ago, we went out and rode this route in West Virginia. We started in Wardensville, West Virginia and rode west on old highway 55. When we moved out here, what is now old highway 55 was the only route between Wardensville and Moorfield to the west. It is a curvy two-lane highway that takes a while to drive. The first time we went out to Dolly Sods, we drove on it. Shortly after that, a four-lane expressway (that is hardly used) replaced it. The old road is still there, though, and while browsing the Strava Heat Map, I discovered that people ride their bikes on it (as an aside, if you haven't looked at the heat map website, you should. I could spend way too much time looking at where people ride).

The ride on the old highway couldn't have been more pleasant. In the first 25 of 30 miles between Wardensville and Moorfield, I think we were passed by fewer than 5 vehicles. The climbs were challenging and the road is in excellent condition. And there were wineberries at the top of one of the climbs. The only downside was that the road isn't signed very well, so there were a couple of intersections where it wasn't perfectly clear where we were supposed to go. We figured it out without any wrong turns, though.

From Moorfield, we embarked on the harder part of the ride. We set off towards Lost River State Park, which involves a single climb that is more than six miles long and has at least one place where the grade tops 14%. The descent into Lost River State Park was beautiful and the kids working at the pool in the park let us fill our bottles in the changing room sink.  From there, it was miles of pretty riding to get to a store...where we found ice cream and cold drinks. Our loop took us up another beastly climb before finally rewarding us with a long descent back into Wardensville. Totals for the day: 72 miles, 6900 feet of climbing.

I only had my phone with me for a camera, so the picture quality isn't as good as usual.
 At the top of a hill on old highway 55.
 Wineberries at the top of that same hill.
Pretty fields and mountains south of Moorefield.
Michael and our friend waiting for me to take photos.
At the top of the first long climb out of Moorfield. This was clearly the entrance to a nice farm at some point in the past. The large stone posts have the letters "P" and "S" on them.
The view from the top of one of the hills.
The Lost River Store where there was ice cream to be had.
We came through the last part of the route just after a rain storm. It never rained on us, but the road was wet.