The Wilderness Road Ride is a beautiful bike ride that takes you along a path first carved from the wilderness by Daniel Boone.
“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” Those are the words of the famous newsman Charles Kuralt who made a living by traveling every back road and small town in America, reporting his lovable and wondrous On the Road series. I was reminded of his adventures as we rode the Wilderness Road Ride through the New River Valley, tracing at times, the path west blazed by Daniel Boone.
At one point we actually crossed over Interstate 81, and rode beside it for a short distance with all its noise and trucks. It was a marked contrast to the rest of the 58-miler, which took us through Snowville, Newbern and lots of rural landscape that is so well enjoyed from the seat of a bicycle. The farms and the lush greenery of Memorial Day weekend in Virginia are so much more beautiful when viewed close up. And to Kuralt’s point, you see so much more once you get off the road more traveled.
The Wilderness Ride celebrated its 25th anniversary here in 2016. Originally organized and created by the New River Valley Bicycle Association, the burden became a bit heavy with the popular and famous Mountains of Misery Century a day later. So in 2010, leadership and management of The Wilderness Ride switched to FCAE – a Christian organization run by endurance athletes.
“FCAE has tried to preserve both the history and legacy of this epic ride. We have also tried several new distances to see how viable they would be. We are a group of endurance athletes and cyclists so we want to offer a great rider experience and excellent value,” said Mark Long the ride director in response to a number of questions I sent him via e-mail.
I have done the ride more times than I can count, dating back to the early 2000’s, and it never seems to get old. Perhaps, that plus the excellent rest stops, and overall attention to detail are why this ride has been able to endure a quarter of a century.
This year’s ride attracted 200 cyclists – an increase of 20 percent over last year, but down from historic highs that saw nearly double that number.
The most popular distance by far is the 58-mile option, with 45 percent of riders making the same choice as my group of about 12 people from Roanoke and Lynchburg.
As it turns out, we had lots of company from outside the region. “The ride drew from 11 states with 40% coming from outside the Roanoke and New River Valleys,” said Long.
Rest stops feature something called “magic bars” which by themselves are worth the trip from another state. The volunteer-run stops also have everything else you would expect — from orange slices and bananas to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, energy drinks and of course, water. The stops came about every 10-12 miles and despite a hard effort I’m pretty sure I consumed more calories than I burned on this day. It’s worth mentioning that the rest stops also featured restrooms or porta-potties.
A bit more About the Wilderness Road Ride Course
The course starts at the Dedmon Center at Radford University. There is ample parking along with restrooms and a place to change inside the arena. The first few miles of the ride are on the greenway beside the New River. We enjoyed a beautiful, light mist over the water with temperatures in the high 60’s.
The road is well marked and the first turn took us to the day’s biggest climb. It’s not that long, but it’s steep and this early in the ride gave my legs a bit more burn than I would have liked. So be it. Cycling is suffering right?
I will say the ride is not flat. My Garmin recorded 3,461 feet of elevation gain, most of it rolling terrain. There are no signature mountain climbs on this ride, but the road is almost never flat.
I won’t go mile by mile here, but the course lives up to its Wilderness Road billing by taking riders along the path blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775. Settlers in covered wagons later followed the same trail as they made their way west. Back in those days western Virginia WAS the western frontier, where it served as a bit of a launching site for explorers headed toward Tennessee and beyond.
From a bike, it just seems like fun, soaking in the scenery and the tidy farms and often historic homes and small settlements along the way.
I’ve never ridden the 79-mile option, but according to Long it, “… winds through the back roads of Montgomery and Pulaski counties. It heads south and west from Christiansburg, passing through the small villages of Riner, Snowville, Hiwassee and Allisonia. Then it hooks a right turn across the New River and grazes Pulaksi before heading through Radford back to Christiansburg.”
Maybe someday I’ll be in good enough shape to take on the longer distance by May, but even if I don’t I expect we’ll continue to make this ride a Memorial Day tradition.