The World Hunger Ride 50-miler
Sometime in the early or Mid-1990’s, I decided I wanted to try riding a century. I had been mountain biking a lot and had recently morphed into a bit of a road rider. At the time I lived in Franklin County, Va. and did a lot of riding with the Franklin FreeWheelers bicycle club. To be honest — the club may not have formed at that time. I just don’t remember — but I was riding with all the same people. At the time, there was a Century ride to raise money to fight world hunger in association with the Antioch Church of the Brethren. (These days, the longest ride is 50,) I decided to give it a try.
I don’t remember much about the century, except that I finished in about 6 hours and that the guy I was riding with had cramping issues, to the point we were stopping at the top of nearly every hill. Since Franklin County’s terrain is basically a series of ups and downs, that meant a lot of stopping. The bottom line is that we finished and like your first marathon — it’s one of those bucket list accomplishments that you keep. For the record, it was my wife, Mary’s first 50-mile ride as well.
Back to the present
Fast forward to 2018. We have now lived in Roanoke for 17 years. Over time we began riding new routes and fell in with a new group. The weekly rides in Franklin County and the annual World Hunger Ride, just a pleasant memory. Then we saw a social media post for the 2018 edition on an open Saturday in June. It was time to sign up.
The 50-mile ride experience
On the short drive to the start at the Antioch Church of the Brethren, Mary began reading the details of the course. “This is hard,” she said. “How hard can it be?,” I asked, thinking we had already ridden up Thunder Ridge this season and had logged several other 50 mile rides. Then she started describing the route and my days of Franklin County riding came flooding back. When she said we would be riding Callaway Road up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, my stomach began to do funny things. About an hour later my legs had the same reaction.
We arrived at the start and saw a smattering of beginners with kids on small bikes out for the shorter rides. The field also consisted of a serious group of trim, younger riders and an assortment of reasonably fit older riders. I would put my group squarely in the middle of the latter. In all, event co-chair (and SAG driver) Carol Bussy addressed a group of about 50 at the start. She and co-chair, husband Tim Bussy, told me this was a good turnout for the ride, now in its 27th year.
The groups separated pretty quickly after we rolled out of the church parking lot. It was the last time we would see that collection of fit, younger riders. After a few miles, we began the climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The lower miles of the climb are modest as the road tips up at about 2 to 3-percent. Then it gets serious.
The memories came surging from the recesses of my brain, and my legs complained loudly as the rural road reached 9 then 10 and eventually 14-percent. I can remember at least one stretch when I was relieved and resting when it was only 8-percent. Back in the day, we didn’t have Garmin and other devices to tell us how steep the road was, we just suffered and cursed under our breath.
The profile on my Garmin and on Strava, makes it look about as bad as it felt.
Eventually, we crossed under the bridge for the Parkway, did a quick 100 yards on the dreaded (busy) Route 221 and began to climb some more on the Parkway itself. This part of the Parkway is relatively free of traffic and passes through mature woods complete with mountain laurel as well as open fields and pastures. All of it is beautiful. The road is typical Parkway up and down, but nothing awful. Just after mile marker 150 we made a left turn and began my favorite part of the day, The descent of Five Mile Mountain.
For love of switchbacks!
Five Mile Mountain is a famous climb in the region, but it’s an equally enticing drop from the Parkway back to the valley floor. I’m not sure if it’s actually five-miles but it’s a thrilling downhill, with switchback turns that just barely allow you to keep your inertia if you have the technique and the courage. Roads like this make me wonder why people who ride roller coasters, locked into a car which in turn is locked onto the tracks – think they know what fun is. Oh, sure, I enjoy the Loch Ness Monster, but when you approach those same speeds under your own power and negotiate the turns with nothing more than trust in your own abilities — AND when there is just that tiny possibility you might not actually make it — then you have had a thrill. Some people don’t love this kind of road. And some of us do.
We all survived the downhill and made our way through the additional scenic countryside to the Pheobe Needles Center, and pedaled back through more ups and downs that one rider described as ego busting. Just when you wanted to feel good about having survived this bad boy of a course, it threw more steeps at you as if to say, “you haven’t conquered me yet.”
Grass Roots Riding
Rides have been popping up around the Roanoke area, that are sort of underground rides. People learn about them on social media and magically, boom! 150 people are there for events like Gravelocity, and other rides. This ride, now two decades plus in age, is not as organic as it is grassroots. With only 50 riders spread out over various distances, our little cabal of 15 mph average speed riders was last in line. Carol Bussy in the SAG van, would dutifully pass us, set up at key intersections, then guide us onto the right road, while offering water, Gatorade and crackers. (There were two other rest stops as well) Since we were last, she would pick up the turn signs, put them in the van and zoom ahead to the next stop and so forth. Each time we saw Carol we would chat for a bit before riding on. We enjoyed the quiet familiarity. The ride really felt local and comfortable.
Earlier in the day, Tim confided in me that he and Carol chair the Hunger Ride because “We just don’t want to see it die.” Tim was thrilled that a younger group had found the joy of cycling, joined the Free Wheelers and might one day take up the torch. Kudos to the Bussys for keeping it alive. I hope people will continue to support the ride. Who knows? Maybe next year the number of cyclists will jump from 50 to 75 or maybe even 100. The course and the organizers deserve it.
In the meantime, it was great to get reacquainted with the beautiful cycling in Franklin County and a reminder that it doesn’t take an organized ride for an excuse to go back.