If you have been following my Skyline Drive trip by bike you know there was an element of overestimating my ability, and not taking seriously the extent of this challenge. After quitting at the 25 mile mark the previous day I woke up wondering if I would be able to do better on the second half of Skyline Drive. The goal was 55 miles.
I was pleasantly surprised to wake up and realize my body had done some remarkable recovery in one night’s sleep. I put on a cycling jersey given to me by my friend Mark who is a much more experienced biker than myself. When he rides Skyline Drive he just keeps going at the end until he hits the North Carolina state line! I knew this jersey would bring good luck!
Brett considered biking some of it but this would have meant going half of some distance because we now had a car at the midpoint. He decided he would just hang out, enjoy the scenery and meet up with me. I would later find that he had actually written on the map where he predicted I would give up! He was wrong, very wrong.
Given the progress of the previous day we estimated spots where I would be at the 1 hour mark, 2 hour mark and so on. Brett would meet me at each designated spot.
It was another perfect day weather wise and since it was a Monday, there was almost no traffic on Skyline Drive. I departed from mile marker 51 headed south with the goal of Rockfish Gap, mile marker 105. It helped that I began my ride at nearly 3500 feet so I would not have to begin with a 6 mile ascent.
At marker 66, I realized I had gone 15 miles in the first hour, way ahead of schedule. This was what I expected the ride to be like, long gradual uphills matched with long gradual downhills. I felt stronger (no doubt due to a little more discipline at the bar than the first night!) and was enjoying the ride a lot more than I had been the day before.
The first time I met up with Brett I said, “I think I might be able to do the whole thing!” He gave me a dubious look that suggested otherwise.
The views were so perfectly grand that I had to stop and photograph them. The colors of the leaves were at their peak and the visibility was close to 50 miles.
Before I knew it I was at the 75 mile marker, nearly half the day’s goal.
The nice thing about Skyline Drive is that it constantly traverses the ridge-top of the Shenandoahs so you get magnificent views to both the east and the west. You see neighboring mountains up close, distant ranges 35 miles away, and geographic features like rockslides, hollows, gaps, and overlooks.
I had the elevation profile in my head this time so as I would come into a long ascent I knew how long it would be. Everything about this day was better than the previous day. I would see Brett every 15 miles or so.
At one point I saw a row of power lines that went over the top of the mountains and looked like it might deliver power to the entire midwest. I could hear the hum of the lines as I passed under them and felt like I might see myself in cartoon x-ray as I did so.
Somewhere around mile marker 95 I was getting tired. I knew at this point I would make it, but I was sore from the previous day and had ridden a number of long climbs. I had 10 miles to go and stopped at a gorgeous overlook to rest. I lay down on a low flat stone wall as Brett came up and snapped a picture. I was too tired to even remove my helmet and was loving the hard flat surface against my spine which was beginning to rebel against the low handlebars of my bike.
Brett asked me if I would snap a picture of him jumping off the wall.
Thus, here at mile marker 95 you see the difference between 45 miles of bike riding vs. 45 miles of driving and sight-seeing!
I recovered and watched the final miles go by, knowing the last 5 would be a long rewarding descent back to the sub-1000 foot surface of Virginia. I had done the second half, which took some of the sting out of the previous day’s failure.
Mile marker 105 is not quite the marathon finish line I envisioned. There are three markers, the mile marker itself, a ranger station for people entering the park from the south end, and a sign letting you know you are exiting SNP.
Each was a welcome sight however and each a sign of accomplishment. We returned to the parking lot where two days earlier we had left a car and pretty much jumped in and drove 3 hours home. When we stopped for gas halfway I got out of the car and my now stiffened muscles seized up on me. This was going to require some stretching!
The ride home was as beautiful as the ride in the mountains. Colorful farms on the rolling Virginia countryside were surrounded by autumn splendor and even common things like cows and silos looked like scenes out of a photography book.
At one point I saw a hot air balloon which looked so natural and perfect as if it was
permanent features of the skyline.
I had set out to do a 2-day bike trip but got so much more. I recommend this trip to anyone who is up to the challenge but would discourage anyone from letting an arbitrary mileage goal get in the way of enjoying the complete trip. I learned this lesson on my Appalachian Trail hike and was once again reminded that years from now I will remember the gorgeous scenery long after I have forgotten how many miles I rode.