Friday, May 21, 2010

One heck of a bike commute

Before I could ride my bike to work, I had to ride it home. Let me explain.

One of the best aspects of Ferrum College is its location. It's just far enough away to be isolated, but near enough to have contact with cities like Roanoke and Greensboro. It's also just far enough away to make National Bike to Work Day just a bit epic.

It's 31 miles from Ferrum College to my home in Roanoke. Take the back roads through Franklin County and the scenery is as pretty as anywhere, unless you have a strong dislike for rolling farmland, mountain vistas, gurgling brooks and that kind of stuff.

In the mid-to late 1990's I bicycled these roads regularly. But that was 10 years and 20 pounds ago. I had been wondering if it was still doable and with a little nudge from a buddy who laughed earlier in the week and said sarcastically, "are YOU riding to work on Friday?" I decided I'd do it.

The fitness part of biking to work is just part of the problem. There's logistics. I wanted to have a change of clothes at the College, so I drove to Ferrum on Thursday, with the bike, all my gear and a change of clothes in my beloved Mini Cooper. My plan was to ride home from work, and get up on Friday and ride back.

It made sense for a number of reasons. First of all it was going to take 4 hours plus to make the commute. If I had ridden to work and home in the same day, that would have made for a long Friday. Plus, with minimal time on the bike so far this year, the thought of a night's sleep in between the efforts seemed like a good idea.

So at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, I hopped on my bike and headed over Ferrum Mountain and into the countryside. It was gorgeous. The sun was out, the farmers were cutting hay and for whatever reason, even Boones Mill and the truck traffic seemed quaint. I had kept my eye on Cahas Mountain in the distance and for a time it seemed to get no closer despite my efforts.

Once in Boones Mill I turned off Bethlehem Road and spent less than a mile on the dangerous Route 220 before turning off onto another country road that took me along Maggodee Creek. Just after crossing back into Roanoke County, I descended a hill local cyclists call the "Wall." My speedometer registered 57 miles an hour.

I dragged myself up the hill to my house, pleased but apprehensive. After all, it was 31 miles BACK to work in the morning.

Friday Morning.

Up at 5:30 and the thermometer said 50 degrees. That can be a chilly ride. I upgraded my jersey, threw on a nylon vest, had some coffee, toast and a granola bar and hit the road.

Remember the "Wall?" Now I had to ride up the beast. I actually took my older bike for the return trip because it has easier gearing, but the Wall -- 4 miles into the ride was more than I had in my tired legs. I rode all the way, but "cheated" by looping back and forth across the road. Think of it as creating your own mini-switchbacks.

After that is was a beautiful, twisting downhill for several miles to Boones Mill. The sun warmed things up about 10 degrees, which was perfect.

I stopped to take a photo 18 miles into the ride and thought about how lucky I was to be able to do this.

As Ferrum Mountain emerged in front of me 10 miles later I wasn't so sure. Back in the day my buddies and I played a game to see if we could maintain 10 mph all the way up. This day, success meant just another turn of the pedals.

Be that as it may, the top eventually arrived and it was a thrilling descent back into the heart of the college.

I may do it again as a test of my fitness after what I hope is a summer of riding. But tonight, I'll be happy to see the scenery from the car.

To see the route click Here.


  1. This is impressive!!! I have a sister who biked from Seattle to D.C. years ago and she said the Appalachian Mountains were the hardest part. I'll forward this to her as she has posted Bike to Work day photos from Seattle. I'm no good at biking on these hills and my house is too close to the campus anyway but I miss riding bikes. Tina Hanlon (Ferrum faculty)

  2. Way to go! What a delightful adventure! I love bicycling, but I definitely can't say that I'm fit enough to do that endeavor. The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of my favorite places, but then again, it's pretty much all downhill. I hope I get to go bike riding this summer as well. Thanks for sharing your adventure!