All Commute and No Play Makes D.C. a Dull Place: Virginia Highlands Mini-Tour!

As I’ve previously noted, commuting is a great way to maneuver back and forth to work.  However, when my cycling consists only of commuting miles, it becomes a drag.  That’s why Felkerino and I planned a Virginia Highlands Mini-Tour for this past 4th of July weekend.  (Plus, Hains Point was closed so what else were we supposed to do?)

Our ride consisted of three days of riding, with the first and last day based on Crista Borras’s Devil’s Wicked Stepmother 400K Permanent ride. Crista’s short description reads that the route travels through “West Virginia highlands, Virginia’s Blue Grass Valley, Shenandoah Valley & LOTSA mountains.”

If you ever do this permanent, don’t forget that in order to effectively deal with the wicked stepmother, you should bring your granny as your secret weapon. The estimated combined climbing for the first and third day of our tour was estimated to be 20,000 feet. After Felkerino uploads our data, I can impress you all with the real details of the climbing insanity, but let me just say now that I think the climbing estimate was not inflated!

Climbing Route 55

Day 1. Middletown, Virginia to Monterey, Virginia.  141 miles.

Day 1 of our Mini-Tour took us from Middletown, Virginia, along Route 55 out to West Virginia. Climbing Route 55 was challenging, but spectacular. If you have not ridden this road, it is well worth the trip to do so. When I ride this road I feel like I have left the East Coast and am riding somewhere out west. The climb up is long (about 10 miles), but the grade is not too punishing and the downhill is great!

Working toward the Top of Route 55

Sometimes when you plan these types of activities, the weather doesn’t end up cooperating.  Lucky us, the weather broke for our trip!  Warm sun, low humidity, temps in the 80s, a tailwind on a large part of the first day.  It was perfect.

The other highlight of Day 1 was our ascent into the Blue Grass Valley.  I kept trying to capture the switchbacks that take you up and over into this area, but it was tough to do, probably because I was trying to simultaneously pedal and snap pictures.

Bluegrass Valley Road

The low point of Day 1 was climbing Route 250 into Monterey, Virigina.  The climb was beautiful, but with 136 miles in our legs and daylight quickly fading, my mood descended at the same rate of our rather intense ascent.  I took a picture of our summit sign, but did not capture the overall elevation.

Monterey Mountain. See? We really did climb it!

Monterey Mountain tops out at 3880 feet.  Fortunately (for Felkerino), all my crankiness ebbed on the mighty descent into town, and we arrived at our overnight just as night was falling.

Day 2. Monterey, Virginia to Covington, Virginia and Back.  114 miles.

After a delicious breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, we meandered out for Mini-Tour Day 2.  The first ten miles were flat and peaceful.  Felkerino informed me that he expected the whole ride to be mellow valley riding.  Here are some pics of the “mellow valley riding” Felkerino was talking about.

Wilson Mountain, Elevation 2700 Feet (Climbed twice, by the way)
Warm Springs Mountain, Elevation 2345 Feet

I guess Felkerino’s concept of “mellow valley riding” differs from mine.

The climbs presented a good challenge for us, though, and we definitely earned our lunch!  On the return, we rode along Jackson River Road (Route 687). We were still steadily working over moderate terrain, but it was so peaceful and lovely. Warm sun, calm winds. For a moment, I considered taking a nap in one of the roadside meadows, it was such a heavenly place.

The Perfect Napping Spot on Jackson River Road

We had 114 miles to cover for the day, though, so no napping for me!  We pressed on, back up Wilson Mountain, and made it back in time for a nice dinner and some relaxing time before our third day of riding.

Day 3.  Monterey, Virginia to Middletown, Virginia.  121 miles.

With our trip winding down, we finally got our act together, woke up early, ate a big breakfast, and headed out of town.  One-tenth of a mile into the ride, our cue sheet read: “Begin the first of I-forgot-how-many major climbs.” Crista was not kidding. The road started going straight up, and I worried for a bit that my breakfast would, too. Whoo!

The Perfect Post-Breakfast Treat: Jack Mountain, Elevation 3350 Feet
Bullpasture Mountain, Elevation 2700 Feet
Climbing Shenandoah Mountain:  The mother of the bad boys.
Shenandoah Mountain, Elevation 2936 Feet

It was exhilarating cycling.  I really felt like we were “out there,” as Felkerino likes to say.  Traffic was light, drivers were pleasant, not many people out yet, and it felt so far from the frenetic pace and noise of Washington, D.C.

I didn’t want our Mini-Tour to end, but when I looked at my cue sheet it indicated we had only gone 25 miles so the fun wasn’t going to stop yet.  We still had 95 miles to ride.

The last miles unfolded like this:

Jennings Gap Road. Hilly in a Good Way.
Singers Glen. Hilly in a Bad Way.

I’m not sure why the road leading up to Singers Glen and just after was so tough. Maybe it was the saddle sore that started to nag at me.  Maybe there was something sneaky about the terrain. You know those sections where you feel like you are on a flat, yet you can’t go over 12 miles an hour? Or maybe it was the cumulative miles in our legs from the past two days. This was the toughest section of the day for me.

We then turned onto Route 42 to make our way over to the famous Back Road and back to Middletown. The miles ticked pleasantly away.

Ye Olde House on Route 42

The roads were still quiet, but both Felkerino and I  noticed an increase in the traffic volume.  People were buzzing around, getting ready for the holiday.

We had tentatively planned to ride on the 4th, but our front hub started making a funny sound.  We made it back to Middletown, Virginia without incident, but decided not to risk going out for a fourth day.  PHEW!  Mentally, I wanted to push through to a 4th day of riding, but my body was like our hub, making funny sounds and fatiguing.

Felkerino and I devoured a delicious dinner at Roma in Stephens City, Virginia, deemed it a successful Mini-Tour and excellent brevet training, and readied for a Sunday of laundry and fireworks.

The Co-Motion Tandem. Our Steed of Choice for the Virginia Highlands Mini-Tour

Virginia Highlands Mini-Tour: Final Thoughts

It was great for our brains and our legs to get out of Washington, D.C. for the weekend.  As much as the city has to offer, peace and quiet are not one of them, at least not at this time of year.  I sometimes forget that we have such spectacular riding so close to our doorstep.  While Felkerino and I like to live a car-limited lifestyle, I am glad we drove to Middletown to start our tour because we were able to start our day by riding directly out into the mountains.

We packed lightly, carrying just enough gear to fit into our Carradice Camper.  Riding without panniers improved the handling of our bike and allowed us to go a pinch faster than we otherwise would.

Finally, the motorists on this tour treated us so well.  People waited to pass, and when they did make their move, they almost always give us plenty of room.  We even had one driver yell “Allez! Allez!” as we climbed up Bullpasture Mountain.  That was so cool!  Thanks for being so nice to us, drivers!

Felkerino and I covered a total of 376 miles for the three days.  Having done a few 600Ks now, where you cover that distance in two days, I thought it would be no big deal to cover it on a little three-day mini-tour. I’ve totally changed my view on that! It’s a big deal!!! Our tour may have been mini, but those kind of miles day after day are mighty! I would totally do it again, but next time I’ll be more aware of what that kind of cumulative mileage means for us.

Thanks for riding with me, Felkerino. I love spending my days with you, and this weekend was no exception.

Full photo sets  of the adventure may be found at Felkerino and my photostreams.  Felkerino’s are marked Granite Advil (Days 1-3), and mine are marked as Mini-Tour (7/1-3).

And now it’s back to the grind, everybody.  See you on the commute :).


  1. Love your story and photos. I like that you refer to Ed as Felkerino. Makes me feel like I’m in europe. You have a keen eye with the lens (as does Felkerino).


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