This brevet would have to rank as one of the toughest rides I have done. I rarely get off and walk, but on the return trip to Front Royal VA from Seneca Rocks WV, walking up some of the steeper climbs was a regular occurrence. Memories of my first (unsuccessful) attempt at the Assault on Mt Mitchell haunted me, yet I never entertained the idea of quitting. What was I going to do on Wolf Gap at 1 a.m. with no cell coverage - ask a bear for some help? Dismounting and walking can actually relieve stress, and moving forward at 2 mph is still making progress. I kept telling myself that there had to be an end and to push through the temporary discomfort of being wet, tired, alone, and sore.
Matt Settle (romabrevet.org) is running a late season set of brevets, all featuring the beautiful mountain scenery between Virginia and West Virginia. I noticed this new 400K scheduled for Sept 11, and since I felt reasonably fresh (had only ridden a few 20 milers since the 300K Aug 28), decided to go for what was advertised as a "challenging" route (as opposed to the "very challenging" 600K coming up Sept 25). Challenging is an understatement. For starters, the ride kicks off at 4 a.m. (Matt seems to like these pre-dawn start times). The Super 8 motel in Front Royal is very close to the beginning of the Skyline Drive, and served as our meeting place. It was a small group of 3 (Chris Mento, Joel Dillon, and myself) decked out in arm and leg warmers, vests, and jackets for the rather cool (for early September) morning. Temperatures started below 50 and didn't rise much for another 3 hours. Chris stopped at a 7-11 a couple blocks from the start and I waited outside while Joel pushed on without us.
Chris and I rode the first 100K together, and then I couldn't stay with him on one of the climbs so it was at the turn around in Seneca Rocks before we saw each other again. I stopped for a leisurely lunch of a deli turkey sandwich and Pepsi at the Yokum's Vacationland store in Seneca Rocks. Returning through the Monongahela National Forest to Petersburg WV, the McD's beckoned and I loaded up with another sit down meal. It's pig out time! Next stop was the control at the Moorefield Sheetz station, where extra water was purchased as there would be no services for the next 57 miles.
I gained a new appreciation of mountain gaps - there is Edinburg Gap and Wolf Gap to test your endurance. Howards Lick Rd through Lost River State Park also provided some tough climbing. This is an out and back course, so the screaming downhills on the outbound half are a mixed blessing. It was dark on the return (after leaving Moorefield WV), so descents were marked by heavy braking and extra caution. As I was on one climb, a vehicle came down the hill slowly and the driver called out that there was a bear on the road and to be careful. So I turned all my lights on (backups and all) and started making noise - ringing my bell, yelling, anything to avoid surprising that bruin. I dismounted and walked, carefully scanning the area on each side of the road. No sign of a bear (thankfully).
I was expecting some rain showers after nightfall, and was not surprised when rain started around midnight. It continued pretty steadily for the next 5 hours. I was alone for the next several hours and was just starting down Wolf Gap when I saw Chris stopped on the side of the road. He had lost two hours trying to second guess the cue sheet. I was glad to have some company for the last 40 or so miles. We took a break to get a steaming cup of coffee at the penultimate control (Bo's Express) before starting the climb back over Edinburg Gap, and we rolled into the Super 8 parking lot with about 25 minutes to spare. Matt was there with some welcome sandwiches and sodas. Joel had finished a few hours earlier.
The good: No cramps (leg or stomach), no mechanical issues, all new scenery, no dog bites
The bad: Cursed at twice by motorists, bike is dirty again