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Virginia-Bicycling-Federation-jersey
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A Bike Rider’s Perspective on “Ride the Drive” Car Free Day on Skyline

On a cold rainy day in February I opened an email from my bike riding sister, Kathy. “Hey Pat, check this out”. A link to the Shenandoah National Parks website advertising “Ride the Drive – Car Free Day on Skyline”. On Sunday, April 23rd, for the first time ever, a 32-mile northern section of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Thornton Gap would be open only to non-motorized users. Bikers, hikers, and rollerbladers, all free. “Well heck yes”, I replied. March came and I logged on and signed up. Although not smoothly, the website told me I was wait listed for this free event, but later an email arrived and I was able to sign on with a “reserved” parking spot at Skyline High School. I am in.

Research

So it was now March and this ride was beginning to look real. What had I gotten myself into?  I did a Google map of the route (biking option) and it says 32.3 miles and 3,858 feet of climbing (and then turn around and head back). A rider online called it “a beast of a ride.”

A bike – the home built Merlin (with gears!)

And while I do have a surplus of bikes (especially random “vintage” models collected over the years from the local Goodwill), for the last 3 years I have been commuting on a single speed bike. A very, very, nice titanium Habanero, but only one gear. Great for riding on flat roads, but not going to be a good choice for Skyline and around 7,000 feet of climbing.

And as we all know the less weight you carry up a hill, the easier the ride. So while it might be far more effective to lose weight from around by own stomach, that is hard. Online I found a British company, advertising ridiculously lightweight Chinese carbon frames for ridiculously low prices. Yes, indeed. Send me two. Fortunately I already have extra wheels and miscellaneous bike pieces left over in the garage. After a couple of weekends of assembly (and only a few broken pieces) I now have a lightweight Merlin bike with gears. Time to train.

Training 

I am 54 years old and overweight. I do however try to stay in shape by bike commuting to work. But I ride the dead flat W&OD rail trail. I do not do hills. But now I do. Upton Hill becomes my trainer. It is 146 feet of climb from the base at 4 Mile Run Creek to Wilson Blvd and close by the house. No more excuses. Day 1. Huffing and puffing I made it.  A week later, huffing again I made it up and down Upton 3 times. And then the next weekend 7 times before my legs give out. And finally 1 week before, 10 hill repeats with 3 climbs up and down Walter Reed thrown in for good measure. Am I ready for Skyline?

The Forecast 

A week until the ride and sister Kathy has read the weather forecast. Mid 40 degrees and an all day soaking rain. Not surprisingly both of us are waffling. Saturday morning, my sister decides it is just not worth the drive. I fully understand. Jeremy, my young neighbor and fellow bike commuter is still ready and willing to go. Saturday evening, the forecast has improved. While the temps will stay in the 40’s, rain could hold off. We are going to do this.

Riding the Drive!

Sunday Morning – 6 am. Coffee and a yogurt. Throw the bikes in the back of the Honda Fit and we are off.  From Arlington, it is an easy drive. Volunteers at Skyline High School checked my ticket and we parked around a mile from the park entrance. We rolled on in. The park rangers at the gate said they had cut the registration off at the first 4,000 riders but the rangers never asked to see any tickets. With the bad weather forecast, they probably knew that there would be a lot of no shows and stopped worrying about being over crowded.

From the entrance the first five miles to the top of Dickey Ridge are simple. Climb. Steep but not too steep. Just grind it up. 2,000 + feet for around 5 miles. Slow and steady. The rain held off, the roads were dry. Too many clothes and I stripped off the hat at mile 1, and the wind breaker, the gloves, long pants came off around mile 2. So worth it for the gorgeous views. Spring is bringing the park to life with spectacular greens and wildflowers and every color blossoms and blooms bursting from every three. Without cars, the park is silent except for the birds. The morning fog rolls in one section, and next rolls back out. We rode through and then up and over the clouds hanging over the beautiful Shenandoah valley. And then there was the panorama of the river and valley spread out beneath us. Pictures and especially my words cannot describe these views, the sound, the smell. You really have to experience this for yourself.

And then finally, finally, finally after cresting the top of the first ridge (and a bit sweaty). it is “oh my goodness Wooohooooo!!!” The first of many spectacular long descents. The thrill of the descent, coasting as fast as you desire feels as close to flying as anything I can imagine. It feels like absolute freedom. And these descents go on and on. On perfectly maintained roads across wide sweeping turns. Gorgeous views, and not a car around to worry about. Repeat for the next 64 miles.

About mile 14 and halfway up Mt. Marshall, at one of the many overlooks the Park Rangers and volunteers had set up a rest station. Jeremy and I pulled over and chatted with the folks. A young female ranger was unloading her bike and along with her husband was planning on spending the day riding. She warned us about Hogback Mountain, around mile 21. “Stop there and turnaround because riding back up Hogback has broken the hearts of many a rider”. This is the steepest climb of Skyline Drive at around 7-8% grade.

We make it to the top of Hogback and Jeremy and I are feeling fine. “Ride on” says Jeremy and down Hogback we go. Another spectacular descent, but on the way down we do see a couple of folks pushing their bikes coming the other way. They must have started from the opposite entrance at Thornton Gap and look to be struggling.

We make it to the barricade at Thorton Gap, do a U-turn and head back. While the Park service and volunteers have done a nice job setting up rest stops with port-a-johns and first aid, the only obvious stop for food or water is the Elkwallow Wayside, a convenience store with a grill around mile marker 24. French fries and chicken nuggets. And bear claws and chocolate milk. All good. A whole lot of very nice and beautiful bikes are parked outside. Just a lot of very nice and friendly fellow riders.

With lunch sitting heavily and legs a bit stiff from sitting too long, we started the climb back up Hogback mountain. Just as advertised. Plenty long. Not as long as the ride up Dickey but long and steep enough. I found my lowest gear and stayed there.

And yet, all too soon we were back at the top of Dickey Ridge. Then the beautiful five-mile descent back down to Front Royal. Just relax, lower into the drops, and let the bike run. With the biggest stupidest grin across my face. Oh what a glorious feeling and what a glorious ride.

Thanks to my sister for the inspiration, to neighbor Jeremy for the company, and thanks so much to all the volunteers, the National Park Service and everyone who made this ride possible. It really is a most excellent adventure.

Our guest writer, Pat O’Briant “The Science Giant” in his own words, ” Fat, old, and nearly bald, Pat O’Briant is a dad and an aerospace engineer with a passion for teaching cool science hacks.  With way too many old bicycles in his garage, he commutes to and from work on the beautiful W&OD trail from Arlington to Dulles.”

Vision Zero

I always find it interesting when talking to people about traffic crashes and fatalities, they seem to be resigned to the fact that there will always be carnage on our roads. But if you ask them how many traffic fatalities would be acceptable in their own family the answer is always zero. So why do we have this big disconnect in accepting the status quo for traffic deaths? When a plane, or train, crashes there is high visibility coverage, and much discussion about why it happened. However, when one of the more than 110 people in the U.S. die each day on our roadways, there is very little response from the media.

To make matters worse, in 2016 the number of people killed on our roads spiked upward, with a disproportionate effect on people walking and biking. Have we decided that it is just part of the cost of mobility, a cost that has resulted in an estimated 2 million walking, biking and driving deaths in the U.S. from 1945 to 2015, or are we willing to make changes?

Vision Zero is a program to reduce the number of traffic deaths and severe injuries to zero. [click to continue…]

Advocate of the Year: Champe Burnley!


Our president, Champe Burnley, was in for a surprise last week when he attended the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. The League of American Bicyclists named him the Advocate of the Year.

According to the League, “This award goes to a leader of a bicycling and/or walking advocacy organization who has shown tireless commitment to promoting bicycling and walking in his/her state/community. This person goes above and beyond the call of duty to transform his/her state/community into a great place for biking and walking. His or her time, knowledge, creativity, and commitment are the highest standard of excellence exemplifying a role model for peers.”

That describes Champe, who has devoted countless hours to promote bicycling in Virginia. [click to continue…]

Legislative Update #15, Feb. 21 2017 — HB2023, Maintenance Funding for Bike Lanes, Passes Senate

Final passage today on several bills that now will go to the Governor for his signature before this week is out —

After being Passed By for the Day Monday on the Senate floor for Patron Delegate Ron Villanueva & Sen. Bill DeSteph (both from VA Beach) to get some more information on what HB2023 the Maintenance Reimbursement bill does, and doesn’t, do… the bill was heard today and passed unanimously.

Similarly, HB 1514/Buddy Fowler’s bill that would exempt MD’s and other health practitioners from Civil Liability if they reported a patient to DMV who they felt had a condition that would make them an unsafe driver cleared the Senate today by a 37-3 vote.

An identical Senate bill, SB 1024, carried by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant had its second reading on the House floor today and probably will get final passage tomorrow. It’s noted as having been amended at a late stage, and I haven’t yet seen the amendmentt, but will eventually, to see if it has been appreciably changed. [click to continue…]

Legislative Update #11, Feb. 15, 2017

HB2023 Reports Unanimously


Bills in Senate Trans & House Courts Criminal Sub at the same time, so Champe stayed in Senate Trans while I went to House Courts.

House was running longer than Senate, so Senate Trans began with Committee present and no Patrons from the House, and since Courts was not convening I went back to Senate Trans. Chairman Carrico called a number of bills he must have considered non-controversial and had them voted on (all passed unanimously) without the patrons present (the first time I had ever seen this done). [click to continue…]

Support SB1339 Now, for Vulnerable Road Users

As we reported on Monday, SB1339, the vulnerable road user bill, has been referred to House Courts of Justice Committee, which meets again this Wednesday. If your delegate is on this committee, please contact them and ask them to support SB1339.

Why do we need to pass this bill? Without having committed another offense, such as running a red light or a stop sign, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drivers who are not paying attention and hit a cyclist are often not charged with anything, even when it results in serious injury or death. The Dan Hersh case in Virginia Beach is a good example:

“Hersh, an avid cyclist on his Sunday morning ride, was apparently following traffic laws by pedaling east in the right travel lane – not the turn lane – on Shore Drive near Starfish Road in the early light shortly before 6 a.m., when a Ford Explorer struck him from behind. He was wearing a helmet and a bright yellow windbreaker with reflective strips, Bryant said.

“In terms of his safety equipment, there certainly was no fault on his part,” he said.

The driver of the Explorer told police she never saw Hersh, and authorities found no evidence to support potential charges to allege that she hit him willfully or through negligent or reckless driving, Bryant said.”

SB1339 would make it a ticketable offense to drive in a careless or distracted manner that results in injury to a vulnerable road user, such as a cyclist or pedestrian.

If your delegate is on the House Courts of Justice Committee, please contact them now — before Wednesday’s meeting — and ask them to support SB1339.

Please forward this to your bike club mailing lists, and share it in social media.

Legislative Update #10, Feb. 13, 2017

First up on the Docket in House Transportation SubCommittee 1 at 7:02 this morning was Sen. Scott Surovell and his bills. SB 1338, to prevent Motor Vehicles from passing another Motor Vehicle while driving in a bike lane, received a full discussion before being voted down 4 -3 with Plum, Ward, & LeMunyon voting to report, while Rich Anderson surprisingly joined Garrett, Adams, and Pilion in voting against.

SB 1339, the Vulnerable Road User bill, was then heard. Even more discussion on this one, [click to continue…]

Legislative Update #8, Feb. 2, 2017

SB1339 Surovell’s bill making it a Traffic Infraction with a penalty of not more than a $250 fine “for a motor vehicle to travel in a bicycle lane to pass or attempt to pass another vehicle” cleared the Senate by a 22 – 18 vote (with Sturtevant voting against, but indicating later that his intent was to vote for, which would have made the vote 23 – 17). All the D’s were joined by R’s DeSteph, Reeves, & Vogel in supporting the bill, which now will cross over to the Senate next week. Note, if you want to print this bill it is 6 pages, with all the changes on Pg. 1 and right at the end on Pg.6

In the Richmond area, RABA members should note that Chase, Dunnavant, & McDougle continue to vote AGAINST the bicycle safety bills.

At yesterday morning’s House Agriculture Committee meeting, HB 2381 Fariss’ bill to amend the Dangerous Dog Registry section of the code passed unanimously [click to continue…]