by Eric Pilsk
I had spent almost 18 months obsessing, together with Jim Quinn, about almost every detail of the route—traffic, hilliness, scenery, rest stops, cue sheets, road conditions—to make the Back Roads Century century route as good as possible. I knew it was a good route, and the reviews from 2015 were almost uniformly positive. But I had never ridden the entire route. I had led a couple of scouting rides, but they were only about 80 miles. In 2015, I attempted to ride the full century but a broken spoke at about Mile 65 forced me to bail out and shorten the day to about 75 miles. So this year, I was determined to get through the full ride and see for myself how the route actually felt from the saddle.
Despite that determination, I did not plan my ride particularly carefully. The month or so leading up to the BRC was full of family and work commitments that limited my overall riding. Unlike prior years, I had no centuries under my belt for the year and was feeling a bit under-trained. I had not got my bike tuned up, which was a nagging concern. And I had made no plans to ride with anyone. My usual riding buddies were riding shorter routes this year, or were riding with faster groups, so I was left to fend for myself.
The only bit of planning I did was to find a room in Shepherdstown in an AirBnB house Bob Bernstein rented and was sharing with a great group of Pedalers. That was a great move. All of us were volunteering in one capacity or another over the weekend and we even managed to squeeze in three mechanics from District Cycle Works who would be providing mechanical support at Henry Arena. We had a great time talking about and amongst bikes, helped along by beer, whiskey, and Peter Klosky’s surprising whiskey pancakes.
My plan for the ride was to set out around 7:30 and see who I met on the road for company. For no real plan at all, it worked out perfectly. I hit the road at the tail end of one of the informal BB groups and enjoyed a fast start along River Road. As the group broke up I surfed from bunch to bunch chatting with people and soaking in the sunrise and scenery. At the first rest stop at Moulton Park I met up with Paul Huey-Burns, who was volunteering as a Road Marshal and we rode together for the next 25 or so miles. The section between Moulton Park and Clearbrook Park is one of my favorite parts of the route, with views of the Shenandoah River, the Blue Ridge, and then the fast but rolling ride west to Clearbrook. A woman named Barb and a few other folks hooked up with us as well and we formed a little peleton as we rolled across the fields. In retrospect I probably should not have pulled so much or so hard, but it felt good and I had a blast.
As we left Clearbrook Park, I met up with a couple of other friends and we formed a somewhat larger group that broke up as we climbed over Pumpkin Ridge. After everyone sorted themselves out, Paul and Barb rode ahead and I hooked up with other friends for the ride through the apple orchards to Henry Arena. So far the ride had been great. I felt good, the weather was perfect, people were obviously enjoying the ride. I could not help from checking to make sure that the signs we put up were still there, that marshals were where they should be, and that road markings were good. But everything was good and I was enjoying the day.
We rolled into Henry Arena and dove into the delicious tomato & hummus sandwiches while enjoying the music and a few minutes rest. As always, it was great seeing other friends and soaking in the good energy of hundreds of cyclists enjoying the ride. I knew the next stretch was one of the more challenging sections, with constant heavy rollers. On the first roller I felt the fatigue in my legs from my earlier efforts and began to worry about cramping. I began to back off on the hills and eventually I found myself riding alone. I backed off and enjoyed the views and sunshine at my own pace. I was also pleased to see that traffic was light and both drivers and cyclists cooperated to share the road.
At about Mile 75, on a little climb at the northernmost part of the ride, my lack of conditioning caught up with me and I cramped bad. I managed to unclip and recovered after a few minutes, but I knew that I would have to ride the rest of the way very gently. Luckily, there were no real climbs and as long as I took it real easy on the little rollers, I should be ok. This was the part of the route I had never ridden before, so the slower pace let me enjoy the scenery and appreciate the work Jim had done to map out this section of the route. I eased my way to the final rest stop at Yankauer Nature Preserve. Some PB&J, bananas, and Ibuprofen vastly improved my outlook, and I got a further boost when I found my friend Ed still there. We rolled out together for the last 20 miles back to Shepherdstown.
Although I was grateful for the flattish roads, I missed the scenery of the ridges and hill and started to get that “is this ride still happening” feeling. But before long the road began to undulate and some views opened up to lift my mood. Unfortunately my legs and energy levels began to fade at about the same time and again I lost contact with Ed. The last five miles were a bit of a struggle. Periodic twinges of cramping kept my pace down and my anxiety level high, but I eventually made it to Bellevue looking forward to a recovery burrito and a nice lie down on the lawn. After eating and resting up, I spent an hour or two catching up with friends and sharing stories of the day. It was rewarding to see how much people enjoyed the work Jim and I had put into the route. Eventually I rode back to my car, enjoyed a hot shower at Shepherd University, and headed home feeling tired but pleased. I am already looking forward to next year and thinking of tweaks to the route to make it even better.
Jim and Eric congratulate each other on a job well done.