Shenandoah Valley Bicycling Weekend

Monday, July 29, 2019

Shenandoah Valley Bicycling Weekend

Potomac Pedalers Touring Club (PPTC) organized a weekend bike trip in Woodstock VA, in the Shenandoah Valley, on July 19-21. I signed up, to see friends and explore Woodstock and the area around it. This was the first time the trip was being held in Woodstock — it had previously been in Mt Jackson, a smaller town farther south in the valley.

In addition to exploring Woodstock, I also wanted to explore Front Royal.  I had ridden (and, ok, driven) through there many times, without actually stopping to see the historic district.  The trip out to Woodstock would be the perfect opportunity.  So, I drove out to Front Royal on Thursday, planning to park the car at a hotel, bike to Woodstock on Friday, then bike back to the car on Sunday.

Thursday-Friday: Front Royal

My hotel was on the edge of the Front Royal historic district. I unpacked, got out the bike, and explored the area. The Warren County Courthouse has a monument commemorating Confederate soldiers, as well as plaques and monuments in honor of soldiers killed in other wars and people killed on 9/11.  Downtown has some stores worth coming back to tomorrow morning, as well as several restaurants. The one I chose for dinner, the Main Street Mill, is in the oldest building in town. The food was just ok, but the setting was picturesque. Riding back to the hotel I discovered the Royal Shenandoah Greenway, running along a stream, and B&L Kustard, a soft-serve ice cream place.



The next morning, I packed my panniers, loaded the bike, told the hotel I was leaving the car, and set out for the historical district. There were two stores to visit on Main Street – the bakery and the hiking store. The hiking store, Mountain Trails, had a sign advertising “Base Camp” – free showers for hikers, bikers, and boaters who have just come off the mountains, roads, or rivers. Sounds like a great deal.  The Down Home Comfort Bakery had some wonderful looking pecan rolls, one of which fit nicely on the rear rack of the bicycle – the plan was to have coffee and this snack at a Cristina’s Cafe in Strasburg.



Friday: Front Royal to Woodstock

Around 9:30 AM, I set out for Woodstock — 26 miles via the most direct route, Route 55 to US Route 11. One of my resolutions for this trip is to find an alternate route. I remember Back Road as being far hillier than US 11, as well as being 5 miles longer. Are there any other alternatives?

Strasburg, unfortunately, has seen better days.  Some of those better days were long ago, as in the 1930s when this luxury auto dealership was probably flourishing.  Some of those better days were as recently as a few years ago: Cristina’s Cafe looked closed! (But the website is still there…) So, the coffee was at a Dunkin’, followed by the remaining 11 miles.


I don’t usually take pictures of scenery (other people do it much better), but the scenery was gorgeous. Despite being major roads, Routes 55 and 11 did not have an annoying amount of vehicular traffic. The road design of Route 11 supported bicyclists well. In many places, it was 3 lanes wide — 1 lane in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. Cars had no trouble using the turn lane to pass me.


I got to the hotel just in time to see groups of readers leave on Friday’s “Featured Rides”. The club gives out a printed packet of information, including cue sheets, which have an electronic equivalent. Instead of doing one of those rides, however, I checked in, unpacked, got cleaned up, met my roommate (Hi, Ramona), and went for a ride to explore the historic district of Woodstock, which I had passed through 2 miles before getting to the hotel.  The exploration included the Marshall House building of the Woodstock Museum, one block off the main street (Route 11).


There are artifacts from various times in Shenandoah Valley history, most donated by long-time residents.  I also learned about the Civil War, from the local perspective. For example, on May 23, 1861, the residents of Shenandoah Valley ratified the Virginia Secession Convention’s decision to secede from the union by a vote of 2513 to 5.

A group of us went to dinner at the Spring House Tavern in town. We then attended the club’s orientation meeting, where most of us decided to leave early on tomorrow’s rides, to try to avoid the heat.

Saturday: Woodstock to Mt Jackson – Verdant Valley

The featured rides of the day were 37-, 47-, and 57-mile versions of “Verdant Valley”, heading south through the valley to the Shenandoah Caverns just outside Mt Jackson, then looping back north.  I did the 37-mile version, and actually followed the first half of the route as designed. The route went onto Route 11 through Edinburg for a short distance before turning onto an absolutely gorgeous road, Palmyra Church (“Gorgeous” = shaded, views of woods and farmlands, crossing a fork of the Shenandoah River, very little traffic, good surface).     One minor variation I made to the route was adding a stop at Route 11 Chips. (We were riding past it anyway).  Unfortunately, they weren’t frying chips today — it was too hot!! But I still got the free samples, in various flavors, and bought some packets to bring back to the group at the hotel.  Talk about local cuisine – the factory fries local potatoes.

That short time in the Edinburg historic district on the ride south was enough to suggest another variation from the route — detouring  back through Edinburg to explore, in particular the Edinburg Mill, now the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum. The best part of the museum, IMHO, are the remains of the working mill — not working now, of course, but still an excellent look at 19th and early 20th century technology. Other exhibits seem to have been contributed by long-time county residents, including quilts, bedroom furniture, and a collection of Red Cross posters dating back to WW I.


The ride back to Woodstock was through familiar roads (from previous trips), passing farmland, slaughter houses, and a grass landing strip, lit by electric lights! There were scary signs posted outside of chicken (broiler) farms.  I read local papers but didn’t see any new of local infestations except for one very aggressive non-native PLANT. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what this warning is about.


Lunch gave a group of us more opportunity to explore downtown Woodstock. The exploration including eating at the Woodstock Brewhouse and seeing several bicycle sculptures in the streetscape, as well as other imaginative art work.



This artwork in the town square is temporary, but, hey, so is a Christo sculpture or the Jeff Koons giant flower sculpture at Glenstone.



Dinner for the night was a picnic, arranged by the club, catered by a local company, at the W. O. Riley Park, the Woodstock town park. I rode (everyone else drove) 1.5 miles from the hotel, past the Shenandoah Valley County Fairgrounds, up a steep hill (13% grade!) to the park and its picnic shelter. The pool looked very inviting – wish I had known about it before.

Sunday: Woodstock to Tom’s Brook

I was planning to ride back to Front Royal, but my roommate offered to give me a lift. That gave me the opportunity to do the shorter of today’s featured rides, to Tom’s Brook – a teensy, relatively new (mid-20th century) town about 10 miles north of Woodstock. Since Tom’s Brook would also have been on the way home, it also gave me the opportunity to explore alternate routes to Route 11. As suspected, there really are none, except for Back Rd: in order to head north, I ended up heading west, to Back Road, but it wasn’t as hilly as I feared. In fact, the ride was scenic and shaded and delightful.



The ride home, with a stop for lunch at the Apple House in Linden, went smoothly. Starting a bicycle ride at 7:15 in the morning, rather than 9, does have its advantages. I’m looking forward to doing some more riding in this area of the Shenandoah Valley. Next year’s plan: fewer museums, more miles, and more Route 11 potato chips.


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