Monday, November 11, 2013

Cycling Skyline Drive

My son and I ready to depart for our ride

Although I retired from my biomedical informatics faculty position at a local medical school two years ago, I still try to keep my hand in by running my consulting company and by volunteering in my specialty. To that end, I spent last week at the headquarters of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists in Alexandria, Virginia, as part of the advisory board for a major new software product they are developing, CancerLinQ. Alexandria is in the Washington DC area where my son and daughter-in-law live, so I imposed on their hospitality and stayed over an extra day. For years, my son has been wanting to show me one of his favorite bicycle rides, Skyline Drive, and so he took a day off of work and we spent it riding together. My daughter-in-law did not have the luxury of ditching work so I was able to borrow her bike. I got to their apartment the afternoon before the ride, and my son had left a book out for me to look at: "Bicycling the Blue Ridge: A Guide to the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway." This book describes these two connected roads, which together span the length of Shenandoah National Park, as the perfect cycling road. The next morning, we drove the hour and a half to the beginning of Skyline Drive and rode what is probably the hardest 40 miles I have ridden since restarting cycling in 2008.

What made this ride so difficult for an aging Houstonian like me were the hills. Though not of the scale of the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Nevadas, Shenandoah National Park lies in the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachians, which sports some impressive climbs of its own, devastating coming from the flatlands of Houston and well beyond anything I have ridden in Texas. This is despite the fact that we cheated a little by driving up the first big climb before starting. The two red arrows on the diagram below indicate where we started our ride (on the left) and where we turned around to return to our start:

The highest elevation of our ride (the green peak between the red arrows) was Hogback Overlook at 3385 feet. We initially were mislead by some confusing signage (picture of my son), but eventually found the true high point (picture of me.)

Not everyone agrees with the sanguine assessment of "Bicycling the Blue Ridge", some find the winding narrow road, absence of shoulders, and distracted drivers intimidating. The saving grace is that this is a scenic road in a national park, the speed limit is 35 miles per hour, and drivers are told to be alert for cyclists. On the other hand, although Virginia state law explicitly allows bicycles to ride two abreast when conditions warrant, park rules do not; we were stopped by a ranger and given a written warning for doing so. This is a picture of what the roads looked like:

On the east coast, the turning of the leaves in the fall is quite spectacular and in some places the time of peak foliage is the biggest tourist draw of the year. We were just past peak foliage in the park, but it was still quite spectacular in the valleys visible from the road. Had we been riding on the weekend, the traffic might have made our ride most unpleasant. As it was, we had a relatively quiet ride whilst still being able to view the foliage:

For another take on this ride, there is a great ride report on the bicycle touring website Crazy Guy on a Bike. This is a terrific website, by the way, if you have any interest in bicycle touring.

For some time, my son has been trying to talk me out of randonneuring, at least at the level of rides like Paris-Brest-Paris. My son and daughter-in-law both expressed concern at my recent exhaustion, and suggested I take a break from training. Originally, I had been planning a 200K brevet for the weekend after this ride. The brevet had been on my calendar for quite some time, but when the trip to DC came up and my son suggested this ride I had thought about doing both. I realized this would be challenging and after some soul searching realized that a ride with my son was more important to me than a brevet, that I would do this ride and then if I was too tired for the brevet, so be it. Of course, I abandoned the brevet well before this ride, so the question was moot. Perhaps somewhere in this story is a clue as to what my cycling career should look like going forward.

MAF Test Results

For those new to this blog, each week I had been posting an update of my training results as measured by a MAF test; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and the graph I had been posting. As of today, I am suspending posting of these results. As I noted in my last post, I am currently unsure of the goal of my training and until I resolve that, cannot design a training program and do not know what role, if any, MAF tests should play.

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