Leader: Lynne Blake-Hedges
Members: Phillip Mitchell, Michael Blain, Matthew Lewandowski, David Kemp, Blake Altman, Alfred Jemmott, Brad Francisco
Weather: Sunny and clear. Temps 70's in morning, 80's afternoon. Much of the ride was shaded so it was really quite nice.
Stats: 54 miles, 6,200+', AMS high 14's-high 16's
Mechanical issues/mishaps: None.
Ride Report: The ride started with great promise given the beautiful weather and the the fact that a good number of riders showed. It did not disappoint.
Immediately leaving the parking area, riders start a 7 mile climb to the Shenandoah National Park entrance. Grades start off mildly until they reach an average around 6-8%- typical of the area. On rides like this, groups generally break apart as everyone climbs at their own pace. David and Brad split off from the main group rather quickly and, I believe, they separated from each other before reaching the park entrance. It was nice that the rest of the group chose basically the same pace and arrived at the entrance mostly together with one rider trailing. The climb is nice and a good part of it includes a slow lane, which we took over. I was impressed by (as one rider called it) the mild banter heading up the hill as I, myself was just trying to breathe.
At the entrance, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we had arrived on a free entry day to the park. After entering, we started the next 5 mile climb - same general grade, but a couple of very short steep sections. After that the ride is the typical Skyline Drive "rollers". David and Brad split off from the group again (I can see why Brad won so many yellow jerseys on his recent Crete adventure), but most of the group remained pretty close to each other during the climbs and descents heading to Big Meadows. On previous Shenandoah rides, I've not really experienced a group where so many of the riders rode at such similar paces with this much climbing - it was quite nice.
We quickly learned that lots of people take advantage of free entry days and the traffic was heavy. Cars continually squeezed in between the riders as they seemed to be in a hurry (surprising how people want to get through the park so quickly). There was one disquieting moment when a car passed oncoming descending riders and crossed the center line within about two feet of our ascending group.
Most of the group came close to catching Brad about the time we entered Big Meadows for refueling and a rest. David arrived after us because he had added about 10 miles to his ride.
The group left together but split apart a little more on the return trip with some stopping to take pictures and to just enjoy the ride. There was one bear and cub sighting and only one deer sighting that I heard of. The descents were exhilarating and with one rider reporting that he had to slow behind cars and a motorcycle that couldn't keep pace. We all seem to agree that riding through a dark tunnel at about 30 mph was a little unnerving. The final 7 mile descent was a technical and (for this rider) a good challenge because of the large number of back to back tight turns.
Riders all returned within a short number of minutes of each other and most got together for lunch before departing. I want to thank David for recommending this route (it is my new favorite way to enter Shenandoah) and all the riders for coming so far and spending the better part of their day on this ride. The company was great.