Monday, June 27, 2016

Shakedown Cruise: A Short, 108 Mile Bike Tour

As part of our training for our upcoming bike tour, we went out on a shakedown cruise this weekend. This was a chance to test our physical condition - whether we could push the bikes plus gears up the mountain grades that we will encounter on our big trip - and to make sure we have the right combination of gear.

We started at our usual spot at the north entrance of Shenandoah National Park under overcast skies. At the entrance gate, we were warned about fog beyond mile 12. We knew that might be an issue, but the forecast called for it to burn off and it was going to take us quite a while to reach mile 12 (we also all had lights). Then the climbing began. The first hill is 6 miles long, 1500 of elevation gain, and only the beginning. It was hard, but it was doable. By the time we reached Hogback Mountain at milepost 21, I was starting to think that this just might be possible. We had lunch and milkshakes at Elkwallow Wayside. We also saw a yearling bear who wandered into the parking lot!

The least pleasant part of the trip was from Thornton Gap to Skyland Resort. It is the busiest part of the Skyline Drive and, while most people were patient, there were a few people for whom a few extra seconds waiting behind us for an oncoming car ruined their day. Even with the traffic, though, it was still a very nice ride. After Skyland (and and iced mocha), it got better and, soon enough, we were at Big Meadows campground, our destination for the night.

Sunday's ride back to the car was really nice. We had clear weather, if a little hot (it is June, after all) and the park wasn't nearly as busy as it had been on Saturday. We had two crazy wildlife incidents. I was descending off of Hogback Mountain, moving along pretty fast. All of a sudden, two Indigo Buntings flew right at me. One of them passed right in front of me. The other must have decided it couldn't make it because it executed a hairpin turn right beside me. Michael said he was sure it was going to end up in my spokes. A few miles later, we were grinding up a hill and I heard something along the lines of, "Holy crap!" from Michael and our friends behind me.  Apparently, as we were biking by, a frog, fleeing a black rat snake that was in hot pursuit, jumped through Michael's bike frame. At that point, the snake gave up and returned to the other side of the road. I didn't actually see it all happen, just the end result of a disappointed snake.

We rode 51 miles and climbed approximately 9400 feet on Saturday with all of our gear on the bikes. On Sunday, we got up and rode back to the car, for a total of 108 miles. The return trip only involved approximately 4,000 feet of climbing. It was an amazing ride. The official verdict of the group: We are ready for the two week tour and this bike touring thing is pretty awesome.
 Our friend pedaling at milepost 5 under cloudy skies.
 A butterfly on red clover.
Grass and Old Rag in the distance from Pinnacles Overlook.
Taking a hard earned break at Pinnacles overlook. The climb from Thornton Gap up to Pinnacles was the second longest of the trip. It was a lot more fun to ride down it on Sunday!
The clouds breaking up in the afternoon on Saturday.
My bike loaded down at the entrance to Skyland Resort.
Amianthemum muscitoxicum (Fly Poison) at Skyland.
Platanthera psycodes (Small Fringed Orchid). This is a new-to-me species of orchid.
An Indigo Bunting at Old Rag Overlook. This isn't a great picture, but it was a nice test of my zoom lens.
This sign was a welcome sight after 51 miles.
Michael sorting gear on the bear box at our campsite. My bike is doubling as a clothesline.
Sunset at Big Meadows was spectacular. Michael and I have camped at Big Meadows a number of times, but always for Old Rag Mountain Stewards Training. We had never really been out into the meadow, let alone at sunset (training always runs late). I'm so glad we got the chance to check it out on this trip.
The sun peeked out from behind the clouds for a few minutes as it was setting.
 A. muscitoxicum (Fly Poison) in the meadow at sunset.
 There was so much Fly Poison blooming that I took a number of photos of it.
Just before turning it, I went to the campground restroom to brush my teeth. On my way back, the bike tires caught the light from my headlamp, which made for a pretty neat picture.
On Sunday, the weather was clear and hot. No complaints, though. We had a nice ride back to the car.

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