RTR to Unison (version 3)

Route data:


It is not that pressure is being directly applied and one can stay on their chosen course and ignore other doings.  There have always been many ways to get to the same place.  On the other hand comparing notes and being motivated and inspired by the exploits of others is the humanity that pushes our humanity, for better or worse, forward.  The interwebs brings it all the more closer.  This is another way of saying the damn Winter Bike League made me do it!

Similar to Joe D’s insightful blog sentiment, in the dark cold off-season I also look at  training as a cost/benefit equation and prefer to make my efforts at my tempo.  When the 8 AM reading in Lost River is TEN degrees and winds are at thirty mph it would be a good time to delay the big ride I had planned.

I drink coffee and consider the reality.  I know the Winter Bike League soldiers are already rolling.  How bad can it be?  Plus my ride will be point to point.  West to East with tail wind sections.  Concurrently I’m looking at a big move, solo, on uncharted roads in extreme conditions.  What is the wisdom of going forth?  This is my morning mode.  On the fence.  I make moves just in case.  Check bike.  Consult maps.  Time is running out.  Finally I have convinced myself.  I need adventure.  I am powerless.  Thank you WBL.


This will be the third junction mapped and ridden between Lost River and Unison.  Chuck’s Ride two, which we knocked out Christmas Eve day, is in the books and mega useable.

The most recent version, except for some minor sections, is different in direction and detail.  The idea is to route several variations.  These rides can be a component to Lost River training sessions.  Either capping a weekend by biking back in or starting off big on day one.  This, of course, requires support or a trusty teammate to transport your stuff when you ride but the excitement and challenge of the point to point is a good return; one I have valued since my pre- racer bike touring days.


My initial plan was to try and make one store stop in Strasburg Va. about halfway through.  Thing is I almost didn’t even make it out of Lost River.  I knew coming off the mountain from the Barn would be the coldest part with no real benefit of warm up before the descent, but it hit me harder than anticipated.  It was fifteen degrees as I braced myself shutting the red RTR door.  My gear was solid but even with jumbo gloves the hands got cold going down.  It is over ten miles before I start generating heat.  I chose a bail out option in the George Washington National Forest where if I was still excessively cold I could drop back into Lost River.  This was last resort stuff I didn’t want to employ but a nod to being sensible.  Fortunately as the road went up, and then up some more, my equilibrium returned.   It was the only time I lost the wind breaker all day.

At the top after stirring my slushy Gatorades  with a stick and zipping up I hit the snowy but rideable descent into the Virginia side and the point of no turning back.

The first half out of the forest on dirt I stayed relatively comfortable but once I hit the pavement and the speed picked up the cold set in.  It’seven miles downhill to Columbia Furnace and the Larkin Store.  I would have to re-heat before the next stretch to Strasburg.

I was numb and went for the hot chocolate machine first thing up.  It looked attractive and frothy but was over priced, over sweet and while it warmed me up it also made me feel sick until I rode it off.  I tried to unsuccessfully defrost my water bottles in the broken micro wave.  Too cold for food, I decided to pay up and keep rolling.  The lady at the register said, “You realize you’re nuts.”  I said, “Yes but thanks for reminding me.”.  With the head check complete she answered “ANYTIME” and I saddled back up.

PART B (store two)

After a fast valley push into Strasburg I pulled into a Sheetz 45 miles deep.  It had seats and a working micro wave.  I got some Pop Tarts and hot water.  This is where I planned to call my loved one and RTR partner to arrange the time for a rendezvous in Unison.  Turns out my Blackberry Curve, after a couple years activity chose this moment to fry.  I wasted ten minutes trying to revive it and then looked for the non existent pay phone to make an old fashion collect call.  Not too worried I asked the youngster behind the counter if I could make a collect call.  She said NO.   “Ok, can you make one for me?” NO! “Do you realize a collect call  doesn’t cost YOU?”  She says, “Yes but it will show up on the bill and my boss will see it.”

It goes on absurdly and I feel like I am downtown jousting with a security guard about my allen keys.  I’m losing time and I don’t want to search outside in the cold for a phone when I’m all warmed up.  I find two Eminem look-a-like kids and trade the rest of my Gatorade for a phone call.  Mission complete.  I’m back on the bike, momentarily agitated in a serene setting.


In my mind Strasburg is close to the finish but it is actually only halfway.  There are minor ridge crossings and considerable down hill.  It is three o’clock so I need to roll it.  Most of the remaining route I know but the section out of Strasburg is new turf that needs to map out.  It does.  There are some great roads that angle northeast from town going wide of Front Royal over 66, across 340, below Stephens City and ultimately and gracefully right up to the Shenandoah River before connecting back with 50 for a short climb over the mountain then back to old lanes and the General Store.

I make if off 50 with the sun dropping and have about ten miles to cover dirt and pavement as dusk turns to dark.  While relieved to be safe of cars I’m racing the elements.  It is a pitch black night and I try and memorize the final sequence on the now useless map.  There is no more warmth from the sun and the temperature has dropped sharply while the winds never really let up.  I think I’m on track but not certain.  With my cell broke I’m not really in trouble but wish I had a lighter or matches like I carry in my mountain bike saddle bag.  You know.  Just in case…..

I know I’m getting closer and headed in the right direction but I’m also running out of resolve and don’t want to risk a wrong turn.  The bumps on the dirt are navigated by feel and distant farm houses appear like light house beacons.

Fortunately I see car headlights up the road and as it casts shadows I notice the outline of a man with a dog.  Even better.  I can get some definite direction to insure safe landing. As I get close I’m expecting a surprised reaction but there is none.  The road is tight and the car is stopped talking to the guy with the dog.  I pull up and they keep talking. No recognition. I listen as I get cold from idling thinking it must be some kind of emergency.  A search for a lost dog or horse.  Something…   But the tone is friendly.  Conversational.  Comparing estate notes to my ears.  I wait.  Ignored.  Finally I say, “excuse me” which as I’m saying it I’m realizing how odd it is I HAVE to say it.  Incredible!

Now I don’t even want to deal with these guys.  It.s pointless to divert my crucial remaining energies.  I actually have to squeeze to get through them on the narrow road.  The whole event is rude, strange and hard to file.

I roll on.

I should be close but my final marker isn’t appearing.  The doubt is fatiguing me more than any leg volume.  I see another car and flag it down.  The road is basically an overgrown cart path so the car doesn’t have to slow down much.  The guy seems annoyed at me.  He says Unison is half mile away and he drives off.  No, “Are you ok? Do you need help?  Where did you come from etc.”  Again.  Strange and, for my money, not too neighborly, but sorry dude I’m happy to be on the homestretch!


Well the main thing is the route checked out.  The move is awesome.  87 miles with 6700 climbing feet.  I spent 5 hours and 50 minutes on the bike and should have Garmin stats up Friday when I get back to WV and my port chord.

I guess what turned out noteworthy were my encounters.  More so the contrast to how they left me feeling.  Very small matters but impact filled.

I monitor this by necessity every day as a courier.  Numerous exchanges/dealings and their fall outs.  Everybody has this but what is maybe different is that as much as it is possible to be I remain (or try to remain) a blank slate.  Purely in terms of urgency and safety.   I just can’t be sidetracked and risk my concentration because as soon as I walk out the door I am back in traffic and this happens all day long every day.  If I don’t want to get hurt I need to remain calm and focused.  Perhaps similar to the air one covets in a technical crit, except there it is on until it is over.  You don’t have to stop for business.  Now of course one can remain detached in their concentration and that is effective for sure but a certain amount of contact is required for real navigation.

Because of this I attempt to be a constant within a world of whims and ways, confronted by moods passive and maybe not so passive.  How much I succeed is in itself a flux but over all I believe a close to clear and objective vantage point is approached.

My country ride reminded me of this.  Alone against the mountains.  Riding on snow in the cold using my body.  Staying paced and calm for a long hard ride.  No agenda but to finish safely.  Then, I run into some folks.

The first playful store encounter was energizing.  Affirming.  Support from a stranger as I set out for another leg of the journey, refreshed.   While the ensuing exchanges (minus the Eminem dudes) were obstacles.   Blocks.  Things to be overcome.  I can ignore and brush off which is what I did but that requires effort when I was perhaps operating with finite allotments.  All not in itself a big deal but very simple communications with vastly different results.

I wanted an adventure ride and I got one.  I can’t wait to do the thing again.

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