I’ve signed up for the Backroads Century three or four times before this year. I have always ended up riding the metric century, 100 kilometers or 62 miles, instead of the 100-mile version. Kirstin, aka Ultrarunnergirl, persuaded me to ride the 100 miles this year. So we did.
Backroads is the annual big event of the Potomac Pedalers riding club. The ride starts and stops in Berryville Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. To say that this area is pretty is to do it a gross disservice. Numerous times during the ride my jaw dropped open at the beauty of the hills and farms (I am a sucker for a field filled with big rolls of hay). The terrain is also damned near perfect. The hills, at least for most of the ride, are perfect for hill hopping, speeding down one hill and using the momentum to ride up the next. The narrow roads curve around farms and through corn fields and, well words don’t do them justice.
The weather was damned near perfect. I wore arm wamers and a vest for the first 25 miles, then put them away for the rest of the day. Temperatures rose throughout the day. Just as they seemed to get oppressive, the skies opened up for a two-minute cool down at mile 95. The weather gods could not have timed it better.
I’d never ridden most of the first 50 miles which wind their way north from Berryville into Jefferson County West Virginia in the eastern panhandle. The ride was hilly but I had fresh legs so they didn’t bother me in the least. Kirstin wore the teeth off her granny gear spinning like a fiend. Once, much later in the ride, in a burst of insanity she actually got out of the saddle and attacked a hill. For a few brief moments she was flying. Lordy!
For much of the time we rode separately, but I’d soft pedal or wait at a turn on the top of the hill to bring us back together. She had a light on the front of her bike which helped me pick her out among the long line of cyclists.
On the way to the first rest stop at mile 25, we were past by Rudi, a Friday Coffee Clubber. Rudi broke his femur earlier in the year so it was great to see him zipping along. He had a huge smile as he greeted me in passing. Joy. Next came Lawyer Mike, another Friday Coffee Clubber, resplendent in his Dartmouth kit. Lawyer Mike was all business, all sweat and determination. Not messin’ ’round, dude.
We rode back to the start to finish the first half. Kirstin went to her car to get her lunch; I went to mine to get new batteries for my camera. We reconvened at the rest stop across the street where we ran into Elizabeth, fresh off her rookie triumph in the 50 States Ride. She somehow had ridden the same 50 miles as us but we never saw her on the road.
After lunch Kirstin and I went back out for another 50, this time south of Berryville. We had both ridden this course before in previous years. I recalled it as hillier than the first 50 and I was right. The hills and the increasing temperature made for more determined work but we were up to the task at hand. Bigger hills meant less hill hopping and more grinding it out.
The second half has three rest stops. One had potatos boiled in salty water. Another had tomato and cucumber sammiches. Ride? Do I have to?
We were plodding along, feeling pretty confident of completing the ride despite the now uncomfortable heat. I spotted a sprinkler on the side of the road and then heard a popping sound all along the road. Enormous raindrops were falling from the only cloud in the sky. Big sloppy drops going splat on the road. What a perfect cool down! I was comfortably wet as I rode under a leavy canopy across the road when the road began an upbrupt ride. It was the steepest, hardest hill of the day. Riders up the road struggled. Been here, done this, got this. No problemo. I waited for Kirstin at the top. When you have infinite cardiovascular capacity, you smile as you crest the hilly beast!
Our reward was a fast glide down to the Shenandoah for a brief riverside cruise. Every down has its up and we climbed away headed for the finish. Once clear of the hill a tailwind pushed us home. My guess is that we rode our fastest miles of the day from mile 96 to mile 98.
We finished after 90 percent of the riders had left. Kirstin somehow found some chips and quac. I found my ride t-shirt and all was right with the world.
If you are thinking about doing this ride, I’d recommend it with one reservation. The people of Clark County,Virginia clearly do not welcome this event. They scowl at you. They drive agressively past you well within the legally required three feet. The sheriff all but declared war on cyclists rolling through stop signs. (Yes, it’s illegal but he could just as easily have directed traffic to allow participants’ safe passage.) It’s surprising to me that they don’t raise a banner in town that says “Cyclist go home!” The contrast with the people in Jefferson County, West Virginia was obvious. They waved and seemed genuinely happy to see us out on the road.
Congratulations to Ultrarunnergirl for completing her first century.
Here are some pix I took.