Corn. Hay Bales. Barns. Ahhh. The Tour de Valley
It seems I never get tired of riding next to corn. Or hay bales. The Tour de Valley, which starts and ends in Waynesboro, Virginia offered plenty of both, along with barns and historic buildings synonymous with the Shenandoah Valley.
The annual ride is a beautiful tour through the Valley. Hosted by the Waynesboro Department of Parks and Recreation, riders can choose between a century or metric century option. My group rode the metric.
I knew I would like this ride as we pulled into the “parking lot” and it was actually a grassy field. It might even have been a lawn. No matter, it was grass, and it felt comfortable right away. Maybe I’m weird, but I like parking on grass.
Grass or not, the weather was a big concern with Hurricane Hermine wobbling first into and then out of our path for the day of the ride. So we decided to sign up the morning of the event. No sense paying to ride only to be pummeled by strong winds and heavy rain. As it turned out, the storm turned to the east and Waynesboro would see none of it. Ours was to be a gorgeous day. The perfect way to spend the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend.
The event is timed, and as the loudspeaker boomed the announcer’s voice counting down to the beginning of the “race” I just smiled. A few years ago I would have been anxious to go out and test myself against the field. The people around me would have been wishing I would calm down and just enjoy the day. Now that’s exactly what I do.
“We’re not going to make that start,” I said to Steve Ruhf, who is a part of our regular group. “Not even close,” he agreed as they announced we had about 15 minutes to get to the line.
There were still bikes to unload, tires to pump, bathroom breaks to be had. This is all important stuff. And besides we had all day to ride 62 miles. Sure we wanted to ride well — but the rivalry was among members of our group –with the only other potential foe being the course itself.
Riding the Tour de Valley
The route turned out to be moderately difficult, with 3,400 feet of elevation gain over the 100 kilometers or 62 miles. I consider 1,000 feet of elevation gain for every ten miles to be heavy climbing, so this wasn’t that bad. The terrain was “rolling” but more difficult than the Covered Bridge Ride or the Hershey Chocolate Tour — two rides I had done earlier in the summer in Pennsylvania-Dutch Country but not has hard as the terrain in Vermont or New York, or for that matter at home in Roanoke.
Many of the rollers on this ride allowed us to carry our momentum from a downhill section most of the way up the ensuing incline — but there were quite a few hills you just plan had to hammer — or in my case, spin.
I didn’t realize it during the ride, but the course profile from my Garmin, and Strava showed that the road pitches up considerably for the first half and then takes you home on roads that are more downhill than up. It’s always nice to finish feeling strong.
Click Here for John’s Strava Data https://www.strava.com/activities/699156775/embed/05ccde2f0aec74e8c72cc5d15ef1dcc8dbb5bd62
Along the way, the scenery is what you would hope for in the Shenandoah Valley. I mentioned the barns and hay fields. We also passed numerous homes with exposed log construction. Most of the structures had been modernized and added on to — but the owners had left the historic sections uncovered to show their authenticity. I could imagine those same homes along what would have been dirt roads during the Civil War, with Stonewall Jackson’s weary army trudging past. Perhaps even Jeb Stuart’s cavalry galloping across the fields or through the nearby woods.
On this day however, it was only 200 or so cyclists — the combined number from the metric and full century rides — pedaling past on our steeds of carbon fiber and uniforms of colorful Lycra.
We rode out of Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro proper and were in the countryside in no time. The course took us through mountain passes and over creeks on primarily rural country roads. The drivers were courteous and the ride’s support vehicles were evident throughout.
The route took us through Middlebrook. A small town that sticks in my memory for the older houses and the sheer number of American flags. This small community, sports several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and according to the 2010 census is home to 213 people. We passed the town’s general store before I realized what a treasure it might be and I chalk that up as a missed opportunity. I made a note to try to go back to Middlebrook sometime and see what all the history is about. I probably never will — but I can say that were it not for getting out on my bike, I wouldn’t have seen as much as I did. Middlebrook is the kind of place you don’t see unless you take the time to explore. It’s not like I set out to see this small town or any of the small towns I rode through in Vermont or New York this summer — these are just the bonuses that come with two wheeled adventure. They are, if you will, the worthwhile dots of human creation between the miles and miles of mountains and green pastures provided by mother nature.
Rest stops divided the ride essentially into three parts. The stops came at approximately 24 and 41 miles. Close enough to think of the ride as three sections of 20 miles each. Twenty is a good distance for me, since that’s how far I typically ride in the evening several times a week. It’s a known entity.
“Oh — 20-miles — that’s my evening ride — no problem.” Breaking the ride into thirds works out well. The first third is warm up. Get out of town, see how the legs are feeling, get used to the make up of the group that’s riding that day. See who is feeling frisky and who isn’t. Then you are at a rest stop and boom, it’s a nice little re-set.
One of the women in our group was having a bit of an off day, and was lagging behind the rest of the group. A number of us stayed back while the faster riders attacked one another on the hills during the middle third of the event. Then we re-grouped at the second rest stop and I thought I would see if I could hang with the fast guys for the final leg.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, this hasn’t been a great summer for me fitness wise, as I recover from surgery and continue to deal with the medications to treat the sarcoid doctors discovered on my spine in January. I’ve been able to ride my bike as much as I want — but the people I usually hang with at the front of our bunch have been ghosts on the highway for me this season. People I see at the start or when they wait for me at the top of the climb, rest stops, etc. I just haven’t been able to hang the way I used to.
So as we topped off our Gatorades and finished our PB&J sandwich quarters at stop two, I thought I would hold on to the group as long as I could, and once they dropped me I would sit up and drift back to the second group.
I was understandably pleased then, when I was able to stick with these guys over the final 20 miles. When one of the stronger riders put down the hammer into a head wind, I jumped on his wheel and was surprised to turn around and see that no one else was still on. That hadn’t happened to me all summer. No wonder I liked this ride.
To be fair — these guys, Gary Butcher, Steve Ruhf and Daniel Anderson had been beating each other up at a very high pace during the aforementioned middle leg of the ride, while I had been riding more leisurely with the slower group and thus had fresher legs. But it was nice under any circumstances to be off the front even for a little.
Back at the park, organizers had beer and pizza waiting for us, which I think is a nice touch after a long ride. If you are looking for a ride next Labor Day — this is one you should consider.