30 May 2003
Rockfish Gap, VA to Front Royal, VA
110 miles, 7hxxm, xx.x mph
The original plan was to ride about half of Skyline Drive on Friday and then take a long day to Leesburg. But the cost of lodging at Skyland was a bit excessive ($120 per room) so we decided to do the whole thing in one day. I'd been on Skyline Drive before, but always in a car. I figured there would be a climb at the beginning and a descent at the end and a couple of ups and downs at the gaps along the way, but mostly we would cruise along the ridge top. Turns out I was right about the beginning and the end, but I was very wrong about the middle--it was all up and down. The climbs were not steep, but they were generally long--at least a couple of miles.
Linda dropped us off at Rockfish Gap in front of the recently abandoned Skyline Parkway Motel. It was cold and windy up on the ridge at 7am. But it was sunny, and considering the amount of rain we had in the Spring of 2003, we were very lucky with the weather.
7am...Now we know why we couldn't get a room at the Skyline Parkway Motel.
We started riding and started climbing. There was no one in the booth when we passed the entry station. The sign said to pay when you leave the park. By the time we left the park 12 hours later, the booth on the other end was closed too. Heh, heh.
After climbing for a while we broke out of the trees and into the sunshine and the temperature warmed up quickly. Our early nature sightings included stray dogs and a clumsy deer that stepped on a twig as we rode by.
KG contemplates the morning smog.
Skyline Drive has lots of scenic overlooks for pulling-off the road and looking at the stunning smog-filled vistas. We stopped at almost all of them, but after a while that got old and we'd just cruise through them if they were on climbs and just blow past on the descents.
They look happy because they've only been on the road a couple of hours.
We stopped at most of the waysides...
...but sometimes we just slowed down...
..like this time.
Our first rest stop was at about 25 miles into the ride at Loft Mountain store. This involved a brutal half-mile climb from the Drive up to the campground. There was a gas station on the main road at the bottom of the hill but it had no food. It did, however, have an unheated restroom that was fairly primitive, but had automatic hand-towel dispensers.
Twelve miles later we reached the Lewis Mountain campground. This time KG refused to ride up to the store. It turned out it was only about 200 yards off the road and the climb was minimal. There are planty of stores on this road, but I wasn't about to pass any up.
This must be a climb because they're getting away from me.
This is a good angle...it makes me look thinner.
From Lewis Mountain to Big Meadows was only about 6 miles, but it was a long, hard 6 miles of climbing. We went into the store there and bought pre-packaged sandwiches, which we ate in the parking lot. There were a fair number of people around the visitors center here at just about the midpoint of Skyline Drive. There was very little traffic on the road overall.
Gourmet lunch at Big Meadows.
We left Big Meadows and rode on to Skyland, which is near the highest point on the Drive. Naturally, there were several ups and downs before we got there. We turned off the main road to get to the Skyland lodge area, which involved more climbing. We were almost to the store when a heard the unmistakeable sound of a spoke breaking. Fortunately, the rim was strong enough to hold the wheel true until I had it fixed about 100 miles later.
At Skyland we talked to a few AT hikers who were out for the weekend. We saw a few other riders on the road, but all of them were out for day rides and none of them were touring.
A very useful feature of the drive are the signs at the overlooks and gaps that give the elevation. You don't really appreciate how much elevation you can give away in a 2 mile descent until you find out you've got to earn back 1000 feet. But there's nothing you can do about it. You have to follow the road and there's only one of them.
This is a lie. There's a higher spot right behind this sign.
After leaving Skyland, we plunged down to the entrance station at Panorama, where we stopped for a quick break. Then we rode on to Elkwallow Gap. We arrived there just before 5:30 and rushed into the store to buy more food and drink. The guy closed the store about two minutes after we left. It's a good thing we got there before it closed, because we were pretty beat by this time and we really needed the fuel. After Elkswallow, we had a long, 1000ft climb before things started getting fun.
JT practices ordering a beer.
This is the only tunnel on Skyline Drive. It sure is.
Over-the-shoulder action photo. Notice how they lean together because they think I'm going to screw it up...or for some other reason.
Finally, the road turned downward. There were only two climbs in the last 25 miles. The final climb ended at about milepost 6. The rest of the way was all downhill. There was one idiot motorist who insisted on passing us just so he could pull into an overlook just ahead. Then he got back on the road and pass us again. We were going 35-40mph all the way.
We finally found someone to take our picture. This is right before the beginning of the end.
We left the park and rode into Front Royal and found our motel. After cleaning up, we hit the attached restaurant and piled on the food. JT and I each ordered a dinner and then ordered an additional spaghetti dinner to split between us. Our motel was at busy intersection and we got to listed to trucks stopping and starting all night.