• Mariela Perez-Cabarcas

Day 5: Into the Woods (and up the Mountain)

Sunday, June 5, 2022

3717 ft of elevation gain on our third day of biking may not have been as good an idea as it seemed when we were planning the route months ago. I should have known that biking to a campground called Loft Mountain Campground would involve biking up a mountain (oops).

We departed Andrew's place and began our ascent towards the campgrounds. We started our journey on picturesque windy country roads, saw some cows, and biked for around 17 miles before we met with our driver for the day, Maxwell, at a predetermined picnic table sitting at around the halfway point of our route for the day. We encountered a hidden stream just past the trees next to the picnic table, so we sat there on the rocks singing "Down by the Bay" as we waited for Maxwell to arrive.

As we sat there chatting, we realized that we had left our treasured leftover dumplings and oat milk back at Andrew's, so as soon as Maxwell arrived for a quick water bottle fill up and a game of Frisbee, we sent him on a mission back to Charlottesville to retrieve our lunch, and apparently Franklin's sunglasses.

After a quick snack break we expected to continue on the scenic country backroads, but in classic Spokes fashion, what we got was not what we expected. As soon as we left the comfort of our picnic table, the smooth paved roads with comfortable slopes quickly turned into steep gravel roads. At the top of a particularly brutal hill, we paused next a farmhouse where we were greeted by a kid, a baby goat that is, requesting pets and attention.

Simone said our new friend was a sign of the good that was to come that day. What followed however was the toughest climb we had experienced thus far. We climbed the remainder of the windy and steep gravel road that was gravel until it was bushes. We walked our bikes uphill through this trail of tall grass until we finally reached Skyline Drive, which runs through the entirety of Shenandoah National Park.

Firmly back on paved roads, we still had more mountain to climb. The ascent up the Appalachian mountainside was some of the toughest riding we had done so far. We inched our way up, pushing through the pain in our legs, our bikes in their lowest gear, taking brief pauses at the crest of a hill for a snack and water break. For one of our breaks we found ourselves a small rock wall to sit on and eat our snacks. This ended up being a longer break as Franklin and Sophia were deeply engaged in conversation on Fourier Transforms. Simone and I urged them to wrap it up so we could finally make it to our campsite.

After climbing for what felt like forever, we eventually reached our first overlook. The view was breathtaking and made all the pain it took to get us to that point feel so worth it. This would be the first outlooks of many we would encounter, but each provided their own spectacular view of the Virginian landscape.

6.5 miles of Skyline Drive later, we finally reached the road to our campsite: 1 mile of steep uphill. This was the most physically and mentally challenging part of the day for me. To know that we were so close to being there but not knowing if I had the physical strength left to scale this road. After a mix of some biking, resting, and walking, we did eventually make it to the top. We were greeted by Maxwell at the campsite with our tents set up and lunch almost ready to eat.

We feasted on leftover dumplings and miscellaneous snacks before everyone took a lengthy rest. Some of us napped, some of us read Russian to one another, and some found comfort in our hammock.

After some much needed rest, Franklin cooked us up some delicious Jambalaya, and we sat for dinner together. Dinner was followed by a game of Contact and a much needed early bedtime as we hoped to wake up with the sun before getting to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the much anticipated descent down and out of Shenandoah.

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