see our preparation and the backstory for this ride here
First off, I'm going to spoil the ending for you and tell you that I didn't hit any bears. But I did see one! Beau and I were riding along and saw a couple cars and a photographer, stopped, in the middle of the road. We slowed down to see what they were looking at, and saw a bear waaaaaay up in a tree. Chilling and munching without a care in the world. I mean, how do those tiny branches support a bear's weight anyway? We watched it for a bit and I wish it could've been a better angle to get a picture. Oh well.
So Friday night, our friend/riding partner Randy talked himself out of doing the double century. While we were happy to accommodate his crazy plan, it was a relief to be able to push our wakeup time to 5:15am to be on our bikes by 7:30am. More sleep AND no riding in the dark!
Our SAG driver dropped us off just before the north entrance of the park. According to the thermometer in the car, it was around 30' at the base of the Shenandoahs. We pulled on our earwarmers and gloves, stuffed some HotHands into our shoes, checked our tires (all 6 tires were brand spanking new!), and were on our way. The first 5 miles are a long gradual climb and actually felt a little easier than I expected. It may have been something to do with the prescence of hot chocolate waiting at the top. The cold was completely bearable if not pleasant when climbing, but not quite as comfortable going downhill.
The first 40 or so miles passed quickly. I know this part of Skyline well, having ridden it quite a few times. We got to Skyland, the highest point of the road and where our SAG vehicle was waiting, and scarfed down a TON of food. My cocoa banana oat muffins were a hit, especially with a smear of peanut butter on them. I also took to scoops of peanut butter dipped in granola. The intense hunger of long hard bike ride is awfully reminiscent of my thru hike.
The next wayside was at mile 50ish, and I have never felt as tired after 50 miles as I was at that moment. Like, can-barely-pedal-another-foot kind of tired. Sitting in the grass at Big Meadows was the first time it occurred to me that maybe I was in over my head. Maybe I wouldn't be able to do the whole 105 miles. Our super human strength riding buddy, I'm sure, would have been fine to get going as soon as we finished our bathroom breaks. But Beau and I needed more of a break. We sat in the grass for a bit, munching on bars and Shot Bloks and trying not to imagine what the next 55 miles would be like.
Randy pointed out that the next 25 miles really weren't that bad. A trick I learned thru hiking (where I looked at a profile elevation map of the trail approximately 43,209,423,098 times) is to cover up the map with your hands, and only show the next chunk of miles you're focusing on. Like blinders on a horse, when you just look at task immediately on hand, the rest doesn't seem so overwhelming. Magic!
So all I thought about was mile 75. Every tenth of a mile my odometer ticked up was a little victory towards my goal of getting to mile 75. Randy was a champ and led the pace line the entire way, encouraging us every mile. Eventually we got to mile 75, and then pushed up a big climb to the next wayside at mile 80, and then I was all about counting down and praising every mile passed as another mile closer to the end.
We got a nice sunset, and lucky for me our bathroom break needs were all on different schedules so I was more than happy to break and snap this photo while the men stepped into the woods.
Finally, finally, we got to mile 100 and were rewarded with a glorious speedy downhill to the finish. It was JUST starting to get dark, and we finished at about 6:00pm. And then there was BBQ on the way home and pulled pork has never been so delicious.
While we were riding along, I asked Randy to rate his perceived difficulty of the day's ride, with 1 being a short ride on the very flat W&OD trail, and 10 being LOTOJA. He thought for a moment and responded, "Probably a six."
Six?? Seriously?? This is the hardest ride I've ever done and you're calling this a six?
But the next day, he emailed us and changed his statement a little. He uploads his Garmin data into a software program that takes into account the intensity, power output, and duration of the ride and spits out a Training Stress Score. For LOTOJA, the TSS was 811. The Skyline Sufferfest was 750. Here is the approximate guide for interpreting the TSS:
- Less than 150 - low (recovery generally complete by following day)
- 150-300 - medium (some residual fatigue may be present the next day, but gone by the second day
- 300-450 - high (some residual fatigue may be present even after two days)
- Greater than 450 - very high (residual fatigue lasting several days likely)
So yeah, I'd say Skyline was a little more than a six. :)