Grayson Highlands 2014–Day 3 (Get out and climb!)

Today was forecasted to be beautiful mountaintop weather, and it did not disappoint.  Temps in the low 70s in the park, and bright sunny skies. We kicked the morning off with blueberry pancakes, using our fresh forage from the day before.

Whenever we stay (camp) at GHSP, we make a point of taking advantage of the road bike climbs in the area.  In fact, we typically just ride every road there is in the park for a good workout.  First up was busywife as she conquered the climb from the park entrance all the way up to the visitor center.  I’ll let her tell you how she did this time, but she keeps getting better every year!

As she was out for a morning ride, the kids and I enjoyed the pleasant weather in the campground field.

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We always reserve an RV50 site (for up to 50ft length – not 50 amp electric) since it does get a little tight fitting our truck and camper into other sites:

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One of the kids’ favorite spots is the “rock” with a great climbing tree right next to it.  This time they had fun decorating the rock with their artwork:

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After lunch it was my turn to hit the road.  Nothing like starting a ride at elevation, knowing you’ve got to climb back up to where you started:

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First the climb up from the campground, and then descending to the park entrance.  Really fast – I think I reached over 40mph.  Fun, but also with the knowledge I was going to have to climb back up!

At the park entrance I checked the altitude again.  I could feel it was a bit warmer here:

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Taking a left, to further descend on US 58 East.  Depending on your likes/dislikes, this could be welcome sign:

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This one too.  It does seem like a dare, as I’m not sure if I could flirt with the speed limit in this section even if I had a motorcycle.

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Here’s the typical view (looking back uphill) at the US 58 switchbacks headed east from the park entrance.  Wide lanes and fantastic asphalt for railing downhill.  Watch out for mid-corner gravel however – make sure you can see through the corner and pick a smart line.

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Heading down into a typical right hander – with no oncoming traffic, stay on the left side of the lane, finish your braking while straight up and down and then steer in to grab the apex.  If there is approaching traffic, I stay inside and reduce speed.  Many drivers (including those pulling trailers who have no choice) will cross the double yellow on curves like this.  Have fun but play it safe!

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The view towards the right entering the same curve.  The road twists and turns back onto itself many times.

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I decided to use Low Gap Rd as a turnaround point – based on what I had seen as a Strava segment which started somewhere between here and Rugby Rd.  Why not see how bad I am at this climb compared to others?

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Scoping out possible area rides for the future, I had thought about combining Low Gap Rd with some others to make a loop around the GHSP area … but this one looked like gravel.  Will have to re-consider that.

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Starting back towards the park, passing Rugby Rd and the local Rescue Squad / Fire Department.  In times past we remember seeing a pancake breakfast advertised on this sign quite a lot.

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Then the last store before reaching the park.

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Soon after this, the road turned uphill fast.  I remember the truck working hard to clear these hills with the trailer, and I felt very much the same.

Crossing over Big Wilson Creek, waters of which I had seen from within the park many times.  Here it seemed much more subdued compared what you see of it further upstream – massive boulders with water crashing over, around and through.

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Everyone uses this road for many reasons.  A friendly wave from a guy taking a tractor down the way…

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Crossing another creek.

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Next up, passing Tucker Rd.  I only make a note of it as it’s our shortcut to get to Shatley Springs from GHSP.  It goes over a little ridge with tight turns, but worth it for the time it saves.  Also there’s a church on the corner, so of course I have to take a picture:

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Now the fun really starts.  Remember the fun switchbacks on the way down?  Well here they come again… now this time, this sign isn’t so welcome.  I know it means tough grades ahead.

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Then this silly sign again:

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GHSP just ahead.  If only…

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Had to snap pics of the cows.  “Look! cows!”  … “Look! person! Dressed funny on a bike!”  I’m sure that’s what they’re thinking.

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Here it really starts.  At least the road is nice and smooth.

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There are moments, at least for me, where you’re going so slow you can stop and take a picture of your bike computer.  This was one of them.  Just trying to manage another climb.

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Looking right towards my destination.

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More road to go…

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Climbing up what was a particularly fun curve on the way down.  We pass this place every year and the price on batteries never changes:

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Nice view to the left:

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Into another tough grade.  Parts of the road like this made me a bit nervous, as there were spots where you had no runoff – just a guard rail.  Thankfully it was quiet and low traffic, so if someone was coming I could hear them and then anticipate what to do to help them around.  It’s important to remember that folks pulling horse trailers and RVs are coming up this road and they need lots of space.  Sharing the road goes both ways.

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Almost to the park entrance, where I snapped some photos of a road I thought I’d check out at a later date.  It looks like it literally spills off the side of the mountain, but it was paved and I figured it had very little traffic.  Something for next time…

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I know it’s cliché, but literally – once you’ve had more than enough, you round a corner and everything opens up to a great view and the park entrance:

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This is always refreshing to see after a long day of driving, knowing that you’ve arrived.

Except we’re not done yet kids – on to the visitor center, about another 1000ft up from here (ouch!)

Starting up the park road, looking back…

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Looking forward (and up!)

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It’s not an easy grade up to the contact station…

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But it does ease up into a false flat for a bit at the ranger station.

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Just a few more miles to the top.  How hard can it be?

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Well it’s not easy!  The next pitch hits you right before the Sugarlands overlook.  I think that the grades within the park on this ride to the top are worse than the US 58 portion.

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If you look really close, you can see the white barn in the valley, on the Tucker Rd “shortcut” to Shatley Springs.

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Back on the road, a few more climbs get thrown at you and you’ve arrived at the Visitor Center.

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The view from here isn’t that great, but they’ve built a small platform you can reach from the picnic area nearby.  Don’t miss this spot.  Sometimes you’ll catch birds soaring above on the thermals.

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Look really close again .. you can see VA 362 (park road) in the cut on the left, and US 58 on the cut on the right.

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Another view down below.

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It wouldn’t be a real busydad ride without a lost bottle.  These rear racks tend to launch bottles.  Someday I’ll get this figured out – rubber bands have helped, but they don’t last, and eventually I lose another one.

I know where it came off – one particularly sharp bump on the park road descent.  Maybe it’s still there?  EDIT: went back and looked twice, never spotted it.  Hope someone found it – a nice insulated CamelBak bottle!

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At the top, almost 5000ft at the Visitor Center.  Over 4000 ft of climbing on this ride, in just over 35 miles.  Truth be told – this is from doing the route twice.  The first time up I was shooting for better than an hour and I think I made it … then it seemed too soon to be done, so I rode again, took my time, and took lots of pictures Smile

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Time to head back:

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A view of Mt Rogers:

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And down the road to the campground.

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Strava link for the entire ride.  Apparently the total elevation was almost 5000 ft over ~36 miles.  I was also happy to have made the “bottom to top” run in less than an hour, which was an arbitrary goal more than anything, but was great to be able to beat nonetheless.

Wonderful busywife had steaks going when I got back – so nice when you finish hungry!

After dinner campfire and smores … nice!

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One thought on “Grayson Highlands 2014–Day 3 (Get out and climb!)

  1. While my ride wasn’t as punishing a busydad’s, I decided this was the year that I would go down to the entrance and climb up to the top. I loved the top speed (44.9mph) on the way down! I made it up in just under a hour and felt blessed that I was able to do it. The only part that I can compare to the past years is the first “warm up” from the campground to the stop sign. 2 years ago, it took me 12 minutes to get there. Last year, it took me 10 minutes to do the same part and then I was also able to climb to the top. This year, as I had hoped, it took me 8 minutes to the stop sign. Next year…6 minutes??? Maybe not, but I will be able to do the same as this year, only better. 🙂 I was thinking of the many people I know that aren’t able to do such activity and was thankful that the Lord gave me the strength to enjoy His creation on a bike. 🙂

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