Updated: Apr 28, 2019
packed our bikes and riding gear into a rental minivan and headed south. Leaving from Ottawa, Ontario, most roads to sunnier cycling destinations head south. This was going to be our first cycling trip of the year, one with three main objectives...1: Ride on as much gravel as possible...2: Climb up Apple Orchard Mountain and 3: Have as much fun riding bicycles as possible. The drive was going to be 12 hours of never ending highway down i-81, all the way to Perrowville, Virgina, a small unincorporated community in Bedford County, 10 minutes west of Lynchburg.
The plan was to drive in 3 hour shifts, stopping to stretch, eat, re-fuel (the van) and bio-breaks. Leaving Ottawa, the weather just plain sucked, wet snow, wind, cold...typical spring weather, the weather you try to escape when going on a spring cycling trip. Off we go. The The first stop brought us to 20 minutes short of Syracuse. Nothing exciting to report until then other than the mandatory border check and the confused look of the border agent, deciding whether or not our spring cycling trip story was legit. The 2nd stop brought us to Jonestown, PA where we stopped for the mandatory coffee break. So far, the weather hadn't really cleared up either, other than turning to rain from sleet. The clouds were still very menacing, and the wind still threatened to blow the Dodge Grand Caravan off the road....great planning I thought to myself. Regardless, my trusty, over-optimistic #TheWeatherNetwork app was telling me that this was a weather front that would pass before our next scheduled stop....Martinsburg WV. Third at the wheel, Phil b-lined the white wagon down to our intermediate destination, where we had decided to buy groceries and go for a short ride. It's somewhat, in my mind, un-acceptable to not ride you bike when you can, and if it means getting to your final destination late, so be it. An hour of grocery shopping later, we were all stocked up and ready for our bike ride. Spandex, leg warmers and helmets on, we were on our way. Note that this is our first outdoor ride of the year, and I have a brand new bike, that's never rolled. Allen keys in my rear pocket, we were ready to go. Using today's technology (Google Maps, Strava, Instagram and Facebook), I had planned a short 50 km route that took advantage of the available terrain around Martinsburg. Lucky for us, there was a nice narrow road up a ridge called Tuscarora Pike just a few kilometers from the Walmart parking lot. The ridge seemed like the most interesting part of the ride. Although short, the 4km @ 7% climb would keep us warm. To our surprise though, the ride there was actually pretty amazing too. The road meandered through various small farms and ranches until we reached Tuscarora Pike. The climb was very consistent, and only featured 2 hairpins. On the way up, we observed that hundreds, if not thousands of trees were down, as if a giant had stepped on the hill. We later learned that a huge ice-storm had crippled the area a few months prior. Nonetheless, we made our way to the top. Halfway up the climb, Phil was “enjoying” the effort. Being a robust cyclist, Phil was focused on his breathing and not so much on the scenery, so I took this picture of him to help refresh his memory once the effort was done. He was very pleased 😊.
After cresting, we pointed our bikes down the backside and enjoyed every second of the descent. The road was twisty but not extremely steep which meant we were able to carry speed all the way down with minimal braking. The road was still dusted with a light coating of winter sand so we made sure not to cook the corners. The rest of the ride took us through the Martinsburg country-side, away from traffic and noise of the busy highways. It was perfect. https://www.strava.com/activities/2250363427
The northern rain hadn't even made it down here. The trip was shaping up to be a success. After the ride, we headed back to the car, changed back to pedestrian clothes and started making our way down to our final destination. By this time of day, the sun was setting and we were making our way into the hills around Apple Orchard Mountain, where i-81 decided to continue slightly west passed Staunton. But Perrowville is east of the mountains so we had to get off the interstate and take the most sinuous roller coaster road through the rollers to get to our house. Thankfully, both my co-pilots were snoring and getting their beauty sleep…’cause they need it. These are some of the same roads we were going to be riding on Saturday….I could just imagine how awesome they we’re going be in the daylight. Finally, we get there, what an awesome little house!! This renovated century old house is absolutely amazing….a perfect home base for a cycling trip.
Thanks to #airbnb, finding this gem was a breeze. By now, we’re all tired and ready for bed. We unpacked the groceries, hydrated, sorted out sleeping arrangements and hit the hay.
Saturday April 30th, no rush to wake up, it’s still 5 degrees out but the sun is shining. We whip up breakfast, review the planned route and start getting ready. Phil is feeling under the weather so he was only going to join us for the first 20km or so.
The day’s ride was a 90 km +2000m loop, consisting of mostly paved roads and the Apple Orchard Mountain climb, a 20 km long mountain @ 5% grade, something similar to the Glandon (in France) minus the few pitchy sections. The ride started off on Old Cifax road and continued onto Charlemont, which lead us towards Big Island, which is the starting point of Apple Orchard Mountain. In order to add some gravel to the route, we took Sweet Hollow road,
which turned out to be an amazing little detour that really showcased what Virginia gravel roads were going to be. The road took us up and down and around the Virginia country-side. What a feeling of freedom, being out in the middle of nowhere, with no cell signal, amongst the numerous abandoned houses and having a view of the highest peak in Virginia, visible in the distance.
That’s where we were heading. About an hour later, we had arrived at the base of Apple Orchard Mountain. It actually reminded me of the Gatineau park, a Federal road, perfectly kept, with low speed limits, an open gate indicating to the cars that the road was open for business, but with much more climbing meters and scenic views. It is the Blue Ridge Parkway,
a 550 mile long scenic road, that spans 8 states, from Pennsylvania to Georgia. We initiated the climb with no #StravaKOM goals on the day, just enjoying the scenery and making the most of our limited time away from our families. The climb was beautiful, relaxing, and offered many different views of the ever shrinking valley, fading away below our wheels.
As we rode, we were sheltered from the west wind by the mountain, and had the warmth of the sun tanning our pasty white arms. For the most part, the road ran on the east side of the mountain, until it flipped to the west side, where we were reminded that it was still March 30th. The west wind brought with it the coolness of valley below. We came upon a lookout that gave us a great view of the Virginian terrain,
rock folded into tiny wrinkles of earth for miles and miles. We hopped back on our bikes and finished the few kilometers left of our trek upwards and headed back down the other side. We had just summited the highest peak in Virginia, passing a few groups of cyclists in the process. The ride down was exhilarating, again, 20+ km’s of downhill riding minus a few short climbs to warm up the core, that was close to freezing thanks to the cool west wind. Once at the bottom, we were feeling the need for a coffee but lo and behold, coffee shops aren’t to be found in rural Virginia. This isn’t Carp or Almonte, it’s freedom . Towns are literally a conglomeration of mailboxes at an intersection. We continued our ride back towards the house, on more undulating roads such as Jopling and Otterville roads. Overall, the day was a complete success. https://www.strava.com/activities/2252816439
Dinner was a very welcomed sight that night. Off to bed we went. Sleep came fast, but not faster than the next morning, where the chirping birds feeding on seeds found in the grass, woke us up from a solid slumber. Phil survived the night but was still feeling ill. Regardless of how he felt, he didn’t drive 12 hours to sit in a house in the middle of Virginia. Along with Siavash and I, Phil dawned the lycra and hopped on his bike.
He didn’t have it in him to ride for 5 hours but was determined to ride up Apple Orchard Mountain, which he did, and “enjoyed” every minute of it.
As for Siavash and I, we have a 102 km +1700m ride planned for Sunday, an 85% gravel type of ride. Having been deprived of coffee the previous day, we re-routed our ride to include a stop in Lynchburg for a coffee, which ended up being approximately 8 km’s from our house…a perfect cap to a full day’s worth of riding. We departed in the opposite direction as the previous day, and funny enough, started the ride on Coffee Road, which lead us to the longest climb of the day, a modest 1.6km @ 6% up Dolly Mountain.
The climb brought us past a few abandoned houses, which are a common sight in this part of the state. The climb was nice but it’s the subsequent descent that was the highlight. A doubly long, white knuckle un-maintained road descent with pitches in the -14%, filled with loose rocks, roots and washouts. A mountain bike wouldn’t have made this any faster, maybe a bit safer. The next 20 km’s were a beautiful mix of short climbs and descents meandering around No Business Mountain. Continuing on, we rode through the mailbox community of Charlemont, which brought us to Oslin Creek road. This part of the ride followed a creek for 7km’s of beautiful windy gravel until we crossed said creek and headed down Hurricane Drive. At this point, we hadn’t really noticed the wind thanks to the shelter provided by the hills. Lucky for us, we had a 4 km section of full on tail wind, where we hauled ass towards Otterville. This is where we rolled down Lazenbury road, one of the most picturesque roads of the whole trip, where we crossed river after river (on bridges…no swamp walks for us),
saw waterfalls, and even experienced the US gun culture. As we’re climbing around this switchback, we could hear some noises in the distance, which sounded like gun fire. As we kept riding, we could clearly make out the sounds of a semi-automatic riffle. Not a sound we’re accustomed to but meh, Siavash was wearing his #TekneCC hunting orange vest and I was wearing my Gravel Guys rainbow colored jersey…somewhat difficult to be mistaken for big game. The following 20 km’s were a mix of gravel and paved roads which brought us to some more affluent parts of the area, where 10000 sq foot homes were either on ranches or stacked together like what you would see in Orleans, Barrhaven or Briddlewood….except in #supersizeme format. This was the beginning of the end of our ride. We were just winding down, heading to our coffee shop, Third Wave Coffee, in Forest VA.
This was a super cool, student filled coffee shop. The staff were really friendly and accommodating, so much so that we made it a necessary stop the next morning. https://www.strava.com/activities/2255974274
Ride weekend was over. The 12 hour drive back home was staring us right in the face. Nobody wanted to drive back for obvious reasons but good things had to come to an end. Stopping for a ride on the way back was a tempting proposition but the pouring rain and the thought of getting home at midnight made us reconsider. If anybody ever considers going to Virginia for a cycling trip, do not hesitate. It has all kinds of roads for all kinds of bikes. Paved or gravel, but never flat. This was definitely a Dreaming/Living Gravel Ride.