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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 06-09-13, 02:41 PM   #1
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Ride Report: Vacation in Shenandoah

Let me start at the end, with the moral to my tale: A vacation should be fun. Or, Always have a Plan B. Or even, don't forget to train!

Once upon a time, the plan had been to take a week to explore Shenandoah National Park. I'd start at the northern end, at Front Royal, VA, and ride south for 105 glorious, scenic, hilly miles to Waynesboro. I had the whole week off, so I'd drive down on Saturday, and start riding on Sunday.

Oh, wait -- how am I going to get back? I couldn't find a shuttle service (though there seem to be plenty for folks hiking the Appalachian Trail in the same area). No problem -- I'd start in Front Royal, ride through the adjoining valley through Fort Valley and Harrisonburg. Get to Waynesboro, then ride north. Makes for a 220 mile week. Nice.

Oh, wait -- a must-go-to function at work has been rescheduled? I need to stay in town over the starting weekend? So now I'm looking at "only" a week. 220 miles in a week? I've done 200 miles in 2 days! I've done 90 miles in 1 day on a 90 pound bike!

Oh, wait -- the first motel/hotel/lodge in Shenandoah National Park is 50 miles from the southern entrance? Hmm, I'm not sure I can do a 50-60 mile day through the mountains. No problem though, there's a campground just 25 miles in!

By the time I left home, the plan -- whatever it had started as -- had turned into: ride 220 miles in 5 days or so -- half of that in the mountains of Skyline Drive -- with tent, sleeping bag, and other camping gear. The good news is, the luggage came in at about 25 pounds. The bad news is...

Well, you'll see in the next post.
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Old 06-09-13, 03:02 PM   #2
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Monday: A late start

As mentioned, I had to be at a work function on Sunday night, so I didn't get started until Monday. Ideally, I wanted to get to Virginia from my home in Philadelphia around noontime. But getting out of the house early didn't happen. Phil wanted to have breakfast with me before I left, and how could I wake him up at 5 in the morning just to say goodbye? So I got the car loaded while he slept, and didn't get on the road until about 9 am.

Drive to Front Royal. Have lunch. Change into riding clothes. Find a place to leave the car for a few days. By the time I set out, it was 3pm. My plans still called for me to ride west out of Front Royal along the mostly flat valley bottom, then head into the parallel ridge of mountains to Fort Valley, and from there drop into the next valley at Edinburg, VA. I could stop there, for a 40 mile day; or if there was enough time, I could go on to New Market for a total of 50 miles or so.

...ticktickticktick....

Front Royal has a nice municipal park right along the Shenandoah, and on one of their tourism-oriented web pages they encourage out-of-towners to leave cars there. From there, I rode through a school parking lot, and came out on a main east-west road on a downhill. Swoop down hill in high gear at high speed; see the next hill coming; start coasting uphill; shift the front ring to a lower gear; and omg i can't turn the pedals

Folks who still ride 1980s vintage bikes, like the one I was on, will spot the problem immediately: I had managed to put myself in the innermost (smallest, easiest) ring up front, and the outermost (smallest, hardest) ring in the back, and the chain wedged itself in the derailleur in protest. Not a mile into the ride, and I was standing in the overgrown grass at the side of the road pulling the chain out of the cogs. And when the time came to set myself a less awkward gearing, I couldn't lift the back end of the bike one-handed and spin the cranks manually to get the gears to change -- remember, I was packed for camping! So I got to walk up the hill, in the grass and weeds, looking for poison ivy.

Not the most auspicious start.

Still, once I remembered the mechanical limitations of the bike, it was a nice enough ride. There were long slopes and gentle hills for 10 miles or so, until the time came to turn up the hill to Fort Valley in the George Washington National Forest. There were lovely rock formations on either side of me, and teenagers swimming in the creek. I was in granny gear, making my way, when a gravel truck came barrelling downhill towards me on a narrow road, scattering gravel.

Definitely not the most auspicious start.

By this point, it was 4:30 or so. I didn't know the area, but I did know that there were deer and even bear nearby; I wanted to be off the road by twilight. I had gone through more water that I had figured I would. The road was narrow, with blind curves.

I bailed. I turned the bike around and retraced my steps, leaving out the cross-chaining this time and settling for a nice, old-fashioned, derailment off the high end of the gears on the way back to Front Royal. My cell phone connected to Priceline and got me a local hotel room, and I had dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant while planning my next move.
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Old 06-09-13, 03:27 PM   #3
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Tuesday: I can do this!

So, time for Plan B. I might have tried to follow my original path, just with an earlier start, but by now I was worried about the weight I had on the bike. Hills (as you may know) are not exactly my thing, and even though I had done a ride in the Finger Lakes last year, maybe I was being a bit over-ambitious. So how to convert the ride into a credit-car tour?

I decided to drive to some nice campground along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National park, make camp, and then -- no longer encumbered -- ride my bike some. The ride really is gorgeous, and in the first few miles I could already look down on my path from the day before. This photo was at an overlook maybe 2 or 3 miles along the Drive, looking down over the riverside part and high school where I had left my car the day before.



My plush companion, Douglas, approved of the plan -- and the view.


Carefully obeying the 35mph speed limit -- I'd heard that the park rangers are sticklers for enforcing that -- I eventually made my way to "Big Meadows" at mile 51. Big Meadows has a campground, a lodge, a sit-down restaurant with taproom and entertainment, a smaller fast-food/diner place, a visitors' center -- in short, a great place to stop. Deer wandered through the campgrounds while I was setting up my tent, coming within just a few yards of me.



And then the time came to ride my bike. I figured I would start out easy: there was another big campsite/restaurant complex at Skyland, just about 10 miles north of Big Meadows. I could ride there, have a late lunch, turn around and have dinner. And I could do it leaving my tent and my sleeping bag and most of the rest of my extraneous stuff back at the campsite.



One other reason for heading north to Skyland, instead of south? Skyland has a key geographic property:



And I'm delighted to say that I didn't once cross-train, er, walk my bike. I will point out, though, that basically the entire 20 mile ride there and back was spent in one gear, my lowest. I was either in granny gear, climbing up a hill at 4 mph, or hurtling downhill at 35. Remember that speed limit I mentioned? They enforce it for all vehicles, not just cars -- so I would sit up on the downhills, trying to make myself have extra wind resistance. There was never enough momentum to carry me from one rise to the next.

Yes, I could do it; but no, it wasn't fun. Or at least, it wasn't fun enough to make we want to spend my whole day doing nothing else.

So when I got back to Big Meadows, I had a hot shower, a lovely meal (mushroom ragout over polenta! Yum!), and a chance to admire some of the other vehicles on the road.






And at night, the stars came out and shone on us all, fit or not.
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Old 06-09-13, 03:42 PM   #4
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Wednesday: Choices

On Wednesday morning, I decided that there was too much other stuff to do in Shenandoah National Park; I could do more than spend my whole day in first gear.

So after breakfast, of course, I went for a ride.



A two-and-a-half hour trail ride, that is, on the back of a horse. We started at Skyland and rode down and across and through the woods, eventually coming to a small waterfall. My horse, Sugarfoot, was fairly well behaved, except that he had a tendancy to get too close for the comfort of the mare in front of him. "She's like a nun," they told me as I got into the saddle, "and she'll kick him if he touches her."



He never did get kicked, although the horse in front backed up towards us once, letting him know that she needed more space.

And one advantage to being prepared to ride a bike: I didn't need to wear some borrowed, shared helmet for the horseride. My yellow Bell helmet worked just fine.

Back to the campground in time for a nap; then it was time for a lovely afternoon walk to a waterfall about 2 miles from the campsite.


The walk back uphill, as the sun was going down, gave me a chance to talk with a 73-year-old woman who was also on the trail. She lived nearby, and got to to this pretty much any day she wanted to. We cast long shadows in the evening twilight.

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Old 06-09-13, 03:49 PM   #5
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Thursday: While the getting is good

Two years ago, I was on a tour up in Quebec and had to race home before hurricane Irene. This time around, I was dodging a tropical storm on my way out. The forecast was for fog, then rain, then look out!

I managed to pack up my campsite before the rain came, although it was starting to drizzle by the time I had breakfast. Still, I had one more chance to admire the other vehicles.



As I made my way back toward Front Royal, the fog was beneath me.



By the time I reached my first opportunity to exit the park, still 30 miles south of Front Royal, the rain and fog were thick enough that all I wanted to do was get out of the mountains. I gave a lift to a sodden hiker who was headed for Luray, then turned towards home.
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Old 06-09-13, 09:15 PM   #6
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Your pics are beautiful and it sounds like you had a great adventure.

Karen
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Old 06-10-13, 06:42 AM   #7
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Thanks for the report! The park will be there next year if you decide to revisit your original plans.
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Old 06-10-13, 06:52 AM   #8
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Great Pics...Thanks
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Old 06-10-13, 07:41 AM   #9
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"And when the time came to set myself a less awkward gearing, I couldn't lift the back end of the bike one-handed and spin the cranks manually to get the gears to change -- remember, I was packed for camping! So I got to walk up the hill, in the grass and weeds, looking for poison ivy."

In the future, try carefully laying the bike on its side and then rolling it over onto the seat/bars so it's upside down. Having panniers should afford you some leverage since the rear wheel will be higher off the ground when the bike is on its side.

Another crucial preventative step re: racks. Make sure your QR skewers are in positions such that the racks don't prevent the skewers from opening funlly. If they are not, changing a flat might require you to remove the rack. I learned that the hard way on my first loaded tour.
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Old 06-10-13, 08:57 AM   #10
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Great write up and pictures!
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Old 06-10-13, 08:12 PM   #11
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That write up deserves more replies than received thus far. Well done!
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Old 06-12-13, 05:46 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimF22003 View Post
Thanks for the report! The park will be there next year if you decide to revisit your original plans.
Thanks, Jim -- and thanks for your suggestions about routing through the valley.
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