Friday, July 2, 2010

Shenandoah 1200 - Surprisingly Surmountable!

With 45,000 to 50,000 feet of climbing, the Shenandoah 1200 promised to be a lot of, well, exertion! (By contrast, Boston-Montreal-Boston and Paris-Brest-Paris claim around 30,000 ft. and the Gold Rush Randonnée clocks in with 26,000, albeit in concentrated form.)

What's more, this year's 42% DNF rate suggests a rough experience. So, would the scenery offset the sweat? I was about to find out!

[Most of these photos, after the first couple, are clickable to enlarge.]

Here is one of the evocative "discomfort-assuaging" vistas on Back Rd.

The folks who do best at the Shenandoah seem to be some mélange of locals, old hands at 1200k's, and just plain tough and indomitable riders. Here, Jim Solanick from Florida, gearing up for his 20th (!) 1200k, waves hello to the folks who made his t-shirt possible: the 1995 Florida qualifying brevets were run by RAAM luminaryVictor Gallo and his wife Gladys, who now live down the road in Boulder.

Woody Graham, my riding pal from South Carolina, has been doing 1200k's since PBP'87, the last rainy year until PBP'07:

Speaking of rain, after a solid day of rain the day before, the ride started clear (which, at 4am, is to say "starry") but muggy ... bringing, not-all-too-surprisingly, dense fog as we headed from Virginia into Pennsylvania. As it burned off, we were treated to atmospheric wooded lanes like this one. A useful scenic distraction on roads like Spruce Run, which "starts out easy ... but ends with a sting" as I was duly warned. Good thing I put on that smaller chainring!

The next leitmotif: Civil War history, as we transited the Gettysburg battlefield National Park and then the NPS Antietam site near Sharpsburg. Calm roads, but replete with impact as you pass through the huge acreage on which these battles took place and reflect on the huge costs they inflicted. Reading a smattering of the many plaques leaves us food for thought:

After a pick-me-up at the Battleview Market in Sharpsburg, we were in store for more ornery climbs over the Catoctin Mountains, zigging and zagging over quiet but sawtooth country lanes.

The big rollers of Middle Road brought us to the big but more extended rollers of Back Road, replete with nice views:

As promised, just after turning onto Back Road, local cyclist and resident Mark Brewer had furnished riders a welcome cache of ice:

Event organizer Matt Settle lives off remote Middle Road, on an even more remote but rustic-looking spur:

As enchanting but hilly Back Road went on and on, it seemed prudent to rehydrate (ha, ha, that means I was parched) at an old-time country store at a crossroads:

And it was scenes like this that uplifted the spirits on this rolling ridge road!

Turning onto VA42 did not dispel the quiet, scenic value of the course, but the hefty rolling nature of the ridge roads attenuated to a more lithely rolling landscape:

In fact, the evening approach into Harrisonburg, the first recommended overnight control, seemed positively docile compared to the foregoing umpteen hours of our ride! I may have even used the aerobars once or twice, at least for show.

Day 2: Henk Bouhuyzen, Paul Donaldson, and I headed off at 3am on a continuation of this mild segment ... with one gnarly interlude over Jennings Gap (but who could really tell, as it was pitch dark?). The shallow descent on Deerfield Valley Road brought us to the Deerfield control at first light:

Here is Henk patiently waiting in the kitchen for Ruby Lee Bryant's made-to-order hefty breakfast:

Controleuse Patsy Lindsay lent a welcome visage not only at Deerfield and Harrisonburg but seemingly everywhere else!
Paul "WGR" Donaldson's orange-motif equipment stands waiting for his Deerfield getaway. "WGR" stands for "World's Greatest Randonneur," Paul's local moniker. Paul finished handily, by the way.

Of the many log cabins we passed in the Blue Ridge foothills, this may have been the most grandiose:

Goshen Pass was one of the scenic highlights. A gorge coupled with mild climbing, it was a cool and refreshing way to spend part of your second morning:

What did the intervening 14 hours, curiously unchronicled by photos, hold:
  • the shady ten-mile climb up Buffalo Road;

  • the annoying but tolerable peripherique around Roanoke, bolstered by upbeat remarks from fellow rider Chuck Howes;

  • a lilting but toasty 15-mile climb up the quiet and panoramic Blue Ridge Parkway;

  • some rolling miles on US-221;

  • some inspiring preaching (see below);

  • rollercoaster country roads and the plummetous descent of Willis Gap Road in the dark;
  • a warm welcome by the NC contingent in Mt. Airy!

Word was that we would get a gracious welcome from the NC contingent ... and we were not disappointed! Friendly faces and lots of rando-oriented food: cheeseburgers from the grill, beans, macaroni & cheese, and other ingratiating delicacies.

RUSA VP and newsletter editor Mike Dayton gives a warm welcome, resting up for the Central Coast 1000k he would be riding in a fortnight's time:

Alan Johnson has been Raleigh RBA since 1998 and evidences a more-than-decade of wisdom and good nature:

High Point, NC RBA Tony Goodnight on right and John Olmstead bear valued liquid gifts for the dehydrated riders!

Mike posted a series of great reports on his Research Trailer Park blog, including photos of some arrivees.

Day 3: My strategy was to soak up quality sleep like a sponge in air conditioned comfort, and in that I was successful. The climb back up Willis Gap Road was uneventful after the adrenal encounter with unchained dogs ... which I was not surprised to meet after making their acquaintance on last night's descent.

At the top of the gap, the reward was a series of top-of-ridge pastoral roads in early morning light:

... this one with hay bales:

... and this one with that scrappy Top-of-the-Blue-Ridge look:

On a country road descent, I spy the church sign passed the previous evening while creeping uphill at dusk. At that point I'd noted that preaching was offered after 7:30pm on Fridays, and guess what: that was when I was passing! Sure enough, a lady preacher was laying into the congregation. I could hear it plainly from the road. Very affecting to the no-longer-fresh randonneur.

Back at the Floyd control, event director Matt Settle gives a warm welcome in front of the rustic cabin serving as control locale. Also in the background is his bike sans wheels, one of which was cratered by an automotobile encounter the previous evening - fortunately only equipment damage. A thankful situation.

Matt had generously posted these intelligent signs along parts of the route, especially on this segment:

What followed was the plummeting descend down to Roanoke, followed by heat, followed (fortunately!) by a blustery but cooling thunderstorm (in my case fortuitously in sight of the I-581 overpass, a breezy shelter), more rain back through Troutville, and delightful wet but no-longer-low-90's temps to the Buchanan checkpoint.

Jim Solanick pulls off his raingear to reveal an excellent sartorial choice, his Colorado Last Chance 1200 jersey!

In this segment you'd see vehicles like this with "Farm Use" plates - a useful concept, although they also seemed to feel free to roam the open road, too.

What followed, departing the Buchanan control at 4pm, was essentially a 90-mile straight shot down US-11, the old Shenandoah Valley road. After the preceding countless snippets down "Curly Tail Possum Road, turn at brown cow on right," this prolonged stretch was more like, well, the Last Chance.

Lots of woods (and tailwinds, as Matt had predicted) coupled with Americana such as billboards for excursions to dinosaur artifacts ... but at least for much of it, very little traffic. The traffic? It was on parallel I-81 - you could hear it at times. The only cars were local traffic and those intent on dinosaur remains, natural bridges, or thrift shops.

Perhaps in honor of these miles, I later bought a packet of locally-produced Route 11 potato chips next day in Fort Valley:

Day 4: I compromised between an early start and avoiding the heat. It was just getting light as the route climbed up to the ridgeline on South Middle Road:

Across another manicured meadow you can see Massanutten Mountain paralleling our course:

An early morning climb over wooded Edinburg Gap, complete with switchbacks, brought us to the scenic, park-like Fort Valley Road, another highlight!

This final 200 miles has really been a kinder, gentler section of the route, with a succession of charming roads. After Front Royal (where our route meets the end of Skyline Drive), we're heading into the refined horsey country characterized by Middleburg.

The fox-topped gateway to this estate reads "Merry Chase" - presumably not the foxes' sentiment! And fences must have their jumping gaps, of course:

Really a pretty serene finish, and what better than to be greeted at the finish line not only by Matt but my friends Crista Borras and finish line chef-de-contrôle Carol Bell? (Crista "Permanista" Borras is RUSA Permanents Coordinator and has organized her back-to-back century rides most weekends for more than a decade. )

Crista's tandem partner Chuck Wood also gave a much appreciated welcome (Carol Bell photo):

Lots of climbing, and lots of miles on the odometer. Laminated cue sheet holding up pretty well:

In the end the Shenandoah 1200 fulfilled the unspoken promise of "tough but scenic." What more could a randonneur ask?

- john lee

P.S. It seems Colorado sends one delegate per year to the Shenandoah. The first, "blazing heat," year it was Bob Barday. Last year it was Catherine Shenk. You can read Catherine's report (which I avoided perusing while writing the above, but do recall her Mt. Airy burger-and-beans photo).

No comments:

Post a Comment