Cycling in Bath County.

You would only want to ride Bath County if you enjoy shaded country roads with courteous drivers, bold creeks and small rivers, not to mention the ruffed grouse scuffling along in the gully next to the road, nearly obscured by ferns that are every bit of three feet tall.  You would have to like seeing lots of deer, beautiful horse farms, national forests, and historic buildings.  You would want terrain that is challenging without being over the top – though that’s there if you want it.

If you don’t like that stuff, then go to like, Arizona.

The Warm Springs Cycling Challenge

family of cyclists

A family prepares for the Sunday morning family ride.

This past weekend, June 13 & 14, 2015, my wife Mary and I participated in the inaugural Warm Springs Mountain Challenge/Mad Ann Bailey Double Century weekend.  To be clear, we did not attempt a double Century.  More on Mad Ann later.

Each day of riding started at Bath County High School, with opportunities do do a century, metric century or shorter family ride of 25 to 35 miles with an option on Sunday for a short cut.

Mary and I opted for the metric on Saturday and the family ride with the shortcut on Sunday, with a night at The Homestead in between. This is the way to take a cycling weekend.


Fancy bikes and old barns

After rolling out the the parking lot we enjoyed about 6 miles of mostly downhill riding on Route 220 North before turning off onto a beautiful road that wound uphill into the Jefferson National Forest.  This is where I first noticed the ferns.  They were common along the road.  While not as big as the ones surrounding the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, they were much larger than anything growing around the immediate Roanoke area.  The climbing was continual for several miles, but other than a few short, steep sections, it was not hard pedaling.  The road eventually leveled off and then pitched downhill to the first rest stop at about 15 miles.

After an energy gel and some of the goodies from the rest stop, we exited along the valley floor and the ride was scenic and mostly easy until we reached about the half way point.  From miles 30-45 there was lots of climbing.  Nothing serious — 2-3 percent grades — but they went on forever. Until mile 30 we were ready to invite some of our friends who don’t ride as much as we do — but after an hour of beautiful, albeit uphill pedaling we thought it might be best reserved for those of us who ride more regularly.

I won’t detail every section of the ride, mostly because it’s all running together in my mind, and it’s all beautiful.  But highlights include riding along the rapids of the Cowpasture River, and then along a creek that organizers identified as Dry Creek.  It had several sections of stair-step falls and thanks to spring rains was anything but dry.


Much of the ride featured new pavement.

We really did have small ruffed grouse running along beside us in the general vicinity of the river.  Though we saw lots of deer, the image embedded in my mind is the one of an abandoned log cabin it’s doors and windows long since removed. Standing inside the cabin was a deer peering out  through the doorway.

The ride time on my computer was about 4 hours and 30 minutes.   Although it had been beautiful, we were happy to be back at the high school where the volunteers were ready with treats for us.

One of the many well stocked rest stops

One of the many well stocked rest stops

On Sunday we opted for the family ride, because our legs were toast and  there was still a dump truck load of mulch to be spread back home.  I hate it when life gets in the way of cycling.

The Mad Ann Bailey Double Century

Organizers are onto a great idea here.  Ride a century each day and see even more of the countryside.  They said only one brave soul had signed up for this option, but as of Sunday morning they were unsure if he still intended to do the second full century.  I hope he did, but I understand if he didn’t.

According to the ride’s website, Ann Bailey was a famous widow and equestrian who became a legend in 1791 when she, “single handedly saved Ft. Lee by riding 100 miles alone through the hostile wilderness to reach Ft. Savannah in Lewisberg.  She made the three day trip in less than two, obtaining the gun powder needed by soldiers at Ft. Lee.  To this day no one knows how she managed to make the trip in two days nor the route she took.”

For advanced riders this would be easily doable, and would be a nice box to check on any list of riding accomplishments.

The Bigger Picture

It’s epiphany time in Bath County.  Actually– that arrived a few years ago when the county began marketing itself as a tourist destination.  In a sense it had always been that because of the famous Homestead Resort, it’s golf courses and the healing warm springs that have been drawing people for centuries.

The Homestead lives up to its reputation

The Homestead lives up to its reputation

I spent some time talking with Maggie Anderson, the director of tourism and economic development and I have to admit I was gulping the Bath County cycling Kool-Aid.  Only 40 people showed up for this inaugural ride.  Let’s call this the test year.  But consider this: I’ve already described the quality of the riding.  But now add not only the Homestead, but the many Inns and Bed and Breakfasts — not to mention homes for rent by owner — and there are many places to stay.  Restaurant choices go from country cookin’ style places to “jacket required” at the Homestead dining room and a good selection of in-between choices.  (We ate at the Water Wheel restaurant, a converted grist mill with a gourmet chef.)  All of this adds up to a Vermont-like destination for cyclists whether it’s for the Cycling Challenge weekend or any other time.

Maggie told me that the plan it to put Bath County on the cycling map.  “People just don’t know about us,” she told me.  “We know we have beautiful roads, and scenery, but we have never reached out to the cycling community the way we are now.  That’s why we launched the weekend of events.”

My Roanoke based cycling group of 5 couples is already looking at doing a ride weekend in October.  At my encouragement, Maggie is working with the course designers to consider permanently marking the roads, so cyclists can ride these courses year round.  She is reaching out to the smaller inn’s and lodges to inform them that cycling has perhaps been an over looked opportunity and to provide them with ride cue sheets, so riders have directions for the multiple options offered during the Cycling Challenge/Mad Anne weekend.

I’ve not ridden in as many places as some, but I can tell you that Bath County — or the “County of Bath” as it is sometimes marketed, compares very well with many of the more famous cycling destinations such as Vermont and the Adirondack mountains in New York. All the pieces are there, the only thing missing are the cyclists.

Note from John:  Sadly this ride no longer exists, but the roads are still there and still fantastic!  Click here for a link to the GPS maps.  And Happy Riding!