Climbing Sky Mass

Over 6,875 feet of climbing over 81 miles, is a slight less than the Skyline Drive 100 Miler, but its that last climb that has your legs screaming.  The ride was slightly more than 87 miles (see ride profile below) out and back starting in Front Royal. I parked below the toll gate (cyclists must pay fee) at the entrance to the Skyline Drive and I was immediately greeted with a 6.1 mile climb of 1571 feet. What a way to warm up. The average grade was about 5%, with a few sections with 6-7%, so it wasn’t too bad. Immediately following the climb, you are rewarded with a nice 2 mile descent, which allows the legs to recover a bit. On to climb #2, which is much shorter, 2.5 miles, with the gradient ranging between 5-7%. The road leveled out for the next 2.5 miles, again allowing the lactic acid to escape some already tiring legs. On to climb #3, another 3.5 mile jaunt with 700 feet more of elevation gain. A quick descent and onto climb #4.  This climb seemed much easier, it must have been the legs being really warmed up. This climb was another 3 miler with an elevation gain of 800 feet. If you have made it this far the reward awaits in the 3.8 mile descent into the Elk Wallow Picnic Grove. You can fill up your water bottles here and grab a snack or if you missed breakfast they have a little café where they will make you a delicious egg sandwich.  Hey I deserved it. At this point if you haven’t being doing the math the 4 climbs so far covered 15 miles with an elevation gain of over 3700 feet. Not bad for the first 21 miles. After a quick recharge at Elk Wallow, your legs can get loosened up on a nice 7 mile false flat and then unlike the Skyline Climb at mile 30 you hang a right hander and you are off on an eleven mile winding and technical descent into Luray. If you choose to skip the break at Elk Wallow, Luray has plenty to offer in the way of restaurants, fast food stops and 7-Elevens to refill those bottles. In the past there were a few gas station/market type places, but they all look boarded up at this point. If you are running low, you are pretty much out of luck over the last 40+ miles, so get the goods while you can. I would even suggest taking a gel or espresso (or 2) at this point as you are about to take on a short but spectacular climb over Massanutten Mountain. Let me emphasize the ride up Massanutten Mountain is brutally hard, but after the swift descent, you have the luxury of riding some very beautiful rollers back into Front Royal. After climbing the punishing last big climb, which is 3.2 miles in length with over 1,100 feet in elevation gain. The climb features a few ramps that top out at over 16%, which you might be thinking what is up with this guy, but after climbing the better part of 5,000 feet, the legs may be wishing for a sag wagon. The trip down the west side of the mountain takes into the George Washington National Forest where you might stop at a small campground looking for water, but surprise, there is none there. The rollers are a welcome relief as my legs were pretty well shot at this point. The best part of this last segment, is that you are cruising through some very shady areas, so you do get a break from the summer heat. At around mile 72, you hang a right on oddly enough, Mountain Road, and can cruise the slight descent over the last 9 miles back to the entrance to the Skyline car, where the TT was a welcome sight. If you are heading back to the DC area after the ride, make sure you head back through Front Royal via Rt. 522. and you find a great little ice cream shop just before you jump onto I-66. Ride On!