Shenandoah Valley, Skyline Drive, and Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Cycling in the Shenandoah area in Virginia is a yearly event for many cyclists. Our group this year included approximately 100 cyclists! We do this to get our season started, it is one week-long, and we ride approximately 500 to 600 kilometres (depending on the cyclist). The drive from Montreal is 1140 kilometres but entirely worth the distance. This year, the cycling week took place from April 15 to April 21 2012.

We stay in the beautiful Massanutten Resort located away from the city and in the woods. You regularly see deer leaping around, it is very quiet, and the cottages are beautiful. Our cottage even had a spa this year which was great after a long day on our bikes! There were nine cyclists in our cottage and we had a blast together!

The group is very well-organized and there are various options for all levels. Departure time is usually around 9:00 and everyone meets at a pre-determined location. Various routes are suggested with varying levels of difficulty and the groups divide. You can also ride alone or in your own group if you prefer, all the maps are provided in advance. There are dozens of rides available so the choice is yours!

Our first day was more of a warm-up and we did a ride of 90 kilometres in the Shenandoah Valley and it was about 31C! We rode through beautiful green rolling hills and you could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. As this was my first long ride of the season, I felt completely drained when I arrived at the cottage. The day was so beautiful so we relaxed in the sun on our big balcony with a nice cold beer as soon as we returned to the cottage! This is the life! Every night, we each took turns cooking and our dinners were amazing.

We had salmon ceviche as an appetizer and a huge filet mignon roasted on the BBQ as our main course. We ate like kings and queens! After dinner we enjoyed some wine and all went to bed quite early.

Our second day was great! We started the day with an objective of 80 kilometres and changed our minds after the first 20 kilometers and decided to ride 120 kilometers. We drove up the Skyline drive and rode along the South district. The views from the belvederes were beautiful and the weather was amazing…31C again!

One thing that really surprised me was the bears…we saw three bears by the side of the road with their cubs. They did not attack us however we did not stay long in that spot…apparently bears can run up to 50 km/hr. I did not want to stick around to see how fast a bear runs! We rode back through the valley and once again the views were so beautiful! Dinner on the second evening was a baked white fish with Puttanesca sauce and rice. Another great dinner and wonderful company!

On day three, we drove to the intersection of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway and rode 75 kilometers, a small day. The Blue Ridge parkway is a scenic route in the mountains and is very similar to the Skyline Drive. There are spectacular views of the valley below with and without walls protecting you from a quick drop over the edge. We stayed on the ridge for some time and descended a steep twisting and turning road to the valley and rode through the splendid fields of green. We took a short detour down a small road that took us into farm lands that seem to have been owned by the same families for generations.

Usually we would stop for lunch at a little restaurant on our way however it was closed when we arrived. We decided to continue anyway even if everyone was very hungry. We had to finish the ride with little or no food and there was still a long climb to get back up to the parking lot on the Skyline drive. I was surprised to see that the climb up to the Skyline Drive was not as difficult as I had expected…my legs were finally getting used to cycling again! That being said, I was still happy to see the cars as my stomach and muscles were crying for food. We got some sandwiches at the closest restaurant, ran some errands, and headed back to the cottage to relax. The weather was already becoming colder and overcast and rain was expected the next day. What a feast we had that night! Chicken tandoori was on the menu with delicious vegetables. Again, the wine was flowing and at the end of the meal, someone took out a bottle of Porto! We took our port glasses into the spa with chocolate and strawberries and savoured the moment! They were calling for heavy rain the next day so we just decided to stay up late and enjoy more Porto!

As expected it rained the next day so everyone did their own thing and relaxed. A group of us went into town and had lunch and got more errands done. I had to change my cleats on my cycling shoes so I went to the Shenandoah Bicycle Company in Harrisonburg to take care of that. This bike shop is amazing and offers great service. They went out of their way to help us fix our bike rack on the car, help us find a car mechanic, and took the time to help me remove my cleats as they seemed to be permanently glued to my shoes! All this at no extra charge and they were sincerely happy to help. Their shop is professional and clean and I have received consistently great service from them. I would recommend them to anyone living or travelling in that area! After lunch we returned to the cottage, relaxed, and enjoyed another great home cooked meal by one of our chefs. On the menu; salmon pie, meatloaf, and various appetizers. It was a good thing we were on our bikes the next day!

On the fifth day, we did a ride called “Hot Legs”. It was given this name because we are constantly climbing and by the end of the ride your legs are done. This is one of my favourite rides! The ride is approximately 100 kilometres and takes you through beautiful scenery and along the Shenandoah river.

At the end of this ride, as if it was not difficult enough already, a group of us climbs to the belvedere behind our cottage. It is a 2.5 kilometre climb and does not go under 16%! My legs were shaking when I reached the summit but the view was worth the effort! We were rewarded with more great food…tapas was the theme that evening. As we had many leftovers, our chefs put together some wonderful tapas and we had a great assortment to choose from!

For dessert; apple pie, sugar pie, and “pouding chomeur” (a traditional Quebec desert). We hit the spa again that night, no porto this time, but very relaxing nonetheless. I went to bed early as I knew the last day would be very difficult.

Four of us left early on the last day of cycling and departed on a 150 kilometre ride from the cottage. This would be the longest ride of the season for me. We would climb up to the Skyline drive, ride on the drive to the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and ride all the way back to the cottage. As we left the cottage, we had a few issues with the bikes so it took us longer to get started. First, I broke the valve on my rear tire when inflating it that morning so I had to change it before we left. Another could not change gears and we had to stop to adjust the bike. Then, as we arrived in the first village, another stopped too abruptly at a light and the rider behind could not stop in time and smacked into the other rider and flew over his handle bars. He was OK but his bike took a little beating and we had to stop and make a few adjustments along the way. Eventually the issues were all resolved and we were able to start our long climb up to the Skyline Drive. It was a challenge…I had not worked this hard all winter but I kept a steady pace and made my way up the winding road. I was so happy when I saw the main gate at the start of the Skyline Drive. As we started our ride on the Skyline, the road did not stop climbing. I thought we would have a break after that first ascent however I was mistaken! The beautiful scenery distracted me from my aching legs…We went through an old tunnel and it reminded me of my rides in Switzerland last summer.

We moved along and eventually arrived at our first destination, Big Meadows, and stopped for lunch. We had ridden 100 kilometres and I was not certain I could finish the ride. As we ate, my energy returned and I felt I could at least attempt to finish the ride. My brother had met us with his car so I figured I could always stop and get a ride if I really had to. I was so happy I decided to ride after lunch. The remainder of the ride into the Massanutten Resort was all descent so I was able to rest my legs and enjoy the scenery!

The difficult part would be to get back to the cottage as there were a couple of steep hills in the resort. I knew there were only 10 or 15 kilometres left before I arrived at the cottage however I had to stop in a corner store and get something to eat. I bought a Snikers bar and ate the entire thing in a matter of seconds…I don’t think I have ever eaten a chocolate bar so fast! This gave me the energy I needed to finish the ride and I finally arrived at the cottage exhausted but very happy! In total, I burned approximately 5300 calories that day…no wonder that chocolate bar was so good! As soon as I walked into the cottage I had a beer and layed down to relax and stretch. At that point I decided to treat myself to a massage so I contacted the massage therapist that we had on-site and made an appointment for 21:00. I really needed it! It was my turn to cook dinner that night so with the help of my friends at the cottage, we prepared dinner, tuna steaks with a fresh mango salad and enjoyed our last dinner together.

Tuna steaks and mango salsa!
Tuna steaks and mango salsa!

This week was amazing! The group was so much fun to ride with and everyone had a great time in the cottage. There was respect and everyone encouraged and helped each other whether it was on the bikes or in the cottage. I hope we can get together again next year!

The following morning, everyone was up very early as we had a 12 hour drive ahead of us to return to Montreal. I was not sad to leave, I knew I would be doing this again very soon!