I’ve ridden on Skyline Drive dozens of times but the furthest I’ve ever gone is to Skyland, the highest point on the route and around the 42 mile mark. One of my non-racing goals for 2020 was to ride the entire length of Skyline from North Entrance in Front Royal to the South Entrance in Waynesboro. A total of 105 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climbing. I’ve completed numerous century rides that included lots of elevation but never that much climbing. Even the vaunted Mountains of Misery (MoM) near Blacksburg didn’t have that much. Granted, the grade of the two primary climbs of MoM are significantly steeper than those on Skyline but the total elevation change is less than Skyline.
The original plan was complete the ride in mid-April. Then COVID-19 entered the picture. Initially I thought I was still going to be able to ride it as planned as it was still opened to cyclists and hikers. Well that changed and it was closed to all. It reopened the last week of May and I set a new date, Friday, June 5. Turned out my SAG support (The Missus) had a work conflict and I rescheduled for Monday, June 8. Turned out Monday was a much better day. Weather was fantastic, temps in the low 60s at the start and the oppressive humidity that was present for the previous several days (to include Friday) disappeared.
Started the ride a little after 0830 with the intent to meet up with the Missus at Panorama, a little short of the 32 mile mark. When riding Skyline solo or during Phase 1 of ‘re-opening’ in Virginia when many of the park’s facilities were closed, I carry 4 water bottles; 2 in frame cages and 2 more in a behind the saddle cage. Yes, it adds weight to the bike but I don’t like to conserve fluid intake during a ride. I want to be able to take a drink whenever I want and not have to worry about always keeping some fluid. Since I had SAG support, only 2 bottles were necessary. I’m a big fan of Science in Sport (SIS) products and use their gels and GO electrolyte powder. The gels are isotonic which means consuming fluids with the gels isn’t necessary to facilitate digestion and absorption. My preferred gel flavors are vanilla and apple. Back in the day I was a fan of the PowerBar energy bar and gels but the bars became too dense and it became a challenge to find the gels. I was also really like GU peanut butter gels but they stopped making them. Too many folks with peanut allergies and it affected the production lines of other flavors. On long rides I also bring Smucker’s Uncrustables, a peanut butter and jelly pre-made soft bread sandwich. Today I only needed to have a few gels with me along with the GO mixed water.
The goal was to keep the climbing efforts within Z3 (roughly 250-290 watts) and everything else easy spinning. Since I started the ride inside of the North Entrance gate and mile marker 0 is outside the entrance, I knew my Wahoo ELEMNT Roam wouldn’t reflect the full 105 miles of Skyline. It was a shortage I could accept. As mentioned above, the weather was spectacular and there wasn’t a lot of vehicular traffic on a Monday morning. I made it to Panorama in a little over 2 hours. Not my fastest time but it was a marathon, not a sprint. About 30% of the distance and 36% of the climbing was completed. After a quick bio break, topped off water bottles and a additional gels, and a brief chat with the Missus about her run starting from Elk Wallow, I was off to the next stop – Big Meadows.
I covered the next 19 miles and 2800 ft of climbing in 82 minutes. I was approaching the 50% distance mark and exceeding 60% of the climbing. First time to Big Meadows and the furthest I’d ever been on Skyline. Now, every pedal stroke would establish a new PR. Still had over 53 miles to go so the ride wasn’t over. Refueled with a banana, Uncrustable, and water and the Missus provided fresh water bottles.
Next stop was Loft Mountain at mile marker 79. Another 92 minutes and 28 miles with 1900 ft of elevation were behind me. Scenery, even on poor visibility day, is impressive and today was no exception. Only took pictures at the stopping points. The Missus had the camera and could stop at any of the overlooks she wanted.
Refueled and covered the next 26 miles and 1500 ft of climbing in 82 miles. Mission complete: Roam reflected 104 miles with 10,666 ft of elevation gain in just under 6 hours and 21 minutes of moving time. Total time was 7:11. Time to go home and eat – Chipotle was providing the evening’s meal.