Day 4: Berkeley Springs, WV (51.5 miles)
So, never let me end a blog post by saying, “Tomorrow should be a fair amount easier.” I was just asking for it.
I set out this morning and it was a little warmer than it had been the day before and definitely a bit more humid. But as the humidity usually burns off somewhat as the day progresses, I wasn’t too worried. The first leg of the journey took me up US-522 on what was pretty similar terrain to stretches yesterday and the first 15 miles passed without much incident. I have noticed, that the map application on my phone under-reports the distances to places (it told me that I had only traveled 20 miles the day before when I had traveled 29). So, I stopped for my first break/second breakfast/elevensies at what I thought was 20 miles in, but was in reality only 17. (I was making the determination as to where to stop based on how far I had left to go.) I grabbed some food high in carbs, proteins, and sodium (not wanting to sweat out all my water), rested for a bit and then headed on.
From this point, however, the trip became much more difficult. For one reason, I was mistaken in assuming that most of the hills had been dealt with yesterday. There were still a fair number of hills to climb today and these hills were not quick ups and downs or long gradual climbs and long descents. These were long, steeper climbs, and while not as steep as yesterday’s final ascent before the downhill into Front Royal, these were far more numerous and many more of these hills rated a higher grade rating. To wit (the shaded parts are the problem sections):
But for another reason, these hills, while challenging, were far more difficult than they should have been. That was due primarily to the wind. At first I thought it was not possible that I was heading into another headwind. When I traveled south to Culpepper on Friday, there was a northward wind that often slowed me up. Then yesterday, as I turned east from Sperryville, a westward blowing wind hit me. And so this morning, when a south-eastward blowing wind came at me I thought that perhaps it was just a function of my own velocity. But the trees whipping around on the side of the road convinced me it was no illusion. I don’t know how to gauge the speed of a wind that is blowing right at you. I left all that equipment back in my earth science class in 9th grade. But if I had to guess, I’d say 10-15 mph, though the trees were getting blown around pretty hard. The wind was so strong that it made any ascent of mine that much more difficult. I can usually climb a reasonable grade in the highest gear (21st, or 3rd in the front and 7th in the back). If I’m tired, or it’s a little steeper, I might downshift to 19th (3rd & 5th), steeper still 3rd & 3rd. On a steep climb like yesterday’s, I had downshifted to 3rd & 1st (15th) and even 2nd & 1st. (Lower than that I dare not go for the sake of my own self-esteem.) Today, I found that on relatively manageable grades I was having to downshift to 3rd & 1st, usually a gear reserved for steep grades and really tired legs. Of course, when you’re in that low of a gear, you aren’t moving very fast, if I could have moved fast in any event.
But worse yet was that on the downside of those same huge hills, I couldn’t get any speed. I couldn’t ever just coast down the hill and rest my legs for a bit because the wind would blow so strong that I would almost come to a stop. Now, this was most unfair. My bike isn’t terribly aerodynamic when it’s empty—it’s a Raleigh hybrid, perfect for the city and has been turned into a fine touring bike—but when it’s loaded with saddlebags it has a completely different wind profile. And so, I was being alternatively slowed down or buffeted from side to side. And if a truck came along there would be that turbulence, too. Now, I will say that the overwhelming majority of truckers would pull into the far lane as they passed me, giving me a wide berth, but every once in a while, some jackass would pass right by me and the turbulence compounded the already difficult going.
I wound up stopping again at another Methodist church to sit for a time under a shade tree. It was a charming little church with a historic cemetery right next to it and a lovely view out onto the valley. I guess I keep stopping at these churches because I hope to run into someone, like the pastor and, you know, conference a bit. But all the UMCs I’ve stopped at haven’t had anyone around. So that’s been a little disappointing but is the subject of another blogpost for another time on the need to create community with our churches. Anyway… here’s a view from the back of Wesley’s Chapel UMC:
Not too long after resting at this church (where I did not fill my bottles from their outdoor spigot, by the way–I bought some cold water at a gas station a mile down the road), the terrain started to level out and then go gradually down hill. There were a few more uphills, but as I neared the West Virginia border, the terrain became a little easier.
Finally, at the West Virginia border, the road narrowed to two lanes and banked off to the north. Would this change how this strong wind was affecting my riding? Nope. Not in the slightest. The hills were longer but more gradual with longer descents as well. At times the wind would actually stop for a few moments and in those moments it was like getting a surge of energy. It was almost like being pushed from behind all of the sudden, because my legs were able to drive my bike at their usual effort rate which was much more efficient than it had been.
The final approach into Berkeley Springs was a sustained, gradual downhill that was all but negated by the wind. But at long last I arrived in the downtown and discovered that the Bed and Breakfast that I’d booked was three blocks up a side street… up a ridiculously steep hill. I walked my bike up.
The B&B is wonderful. It’s charming and welcoming. The room I am staying in is spacious, has a nice desk for writing right by the windows, a bath with one of those ringed shower curtains, and has a side room in which there is a jacuzzi. The proprietors are very nice and the really great thing about Berkeley Springs is that all the water comes from the same springs that made this a famous spa town. And so the first order of business was to soak in that jacuzzi and let those healing spa waters do their work. And hydrating myself with delicious spring water that comes right out of the tap is amazing.
At one point this afternoon, around 5, the skies opened up and it began to thunder. I lay on the bed to read a bit, figuring I’d go to dinner once it let up, and zonk, I was out. I did get up a little later, grabbed some dinner in town, spied out where I’d get my massage tomorrow and came back. (Oh, by the way, there is a United Methodist Church about a block from here and another one three blocks further along.) I am looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep, not having to get on the road early tomorrow, and, apparently, at a B&B, they make breakfast for you. Who knew?
Thanks to Laura Arico for suggesting this as a destination on my bike ride. It’s been four long days with two more to go, but I am already enjoying the first bit of my two night stay here in Berkeley Springs. Who knows, I may have found a new place to come for my post-Easter mini vacations.
(For a map of today’s route, visit: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/44130088)