Hunter Station Road Redux

A couple of years back I wrote a blog entry for my old blogsite about one of the most consistent features of my rides, Hunter Station Road:


It was 60 degrees when I left on my ride today, and much to my surprise and delight the snow was gone from the trail, except for the odd clump of slush.  So I headed westward to Herndon, the terminus of a good excursion of nearly 24 miles out and back.

Whenever I head west, it’s a point of honor to leave the trail where it crosses Hunter Mill Road, and take a loop up the adjacent Hunter Station Road, then back around to join the trail farther out at Sunrise Valley Road.  Hunter Station Road is a bit of an amateur cyclist’s climbing challenge.  After you dip down by a stream that can flood the road during a deluge, Hunter Station swings right and kicks upward at a ghastly angle.  Approaching, it looks like a vertical asphalt wall.  I bought a fancy new computer for my Trek 2.1 (of which more at some later time), and it recorded a steady grade of 8 to 11 percent on the climb, with a maximum of 14 percent.

That puts it squarely in the league of Mont Ventoux, the “Giant of Provence” in southern France, regarded “the Tour de France’s greatest climb” by many (see the great article in Cycle Sport magazine, August 2008, pp. 108-117).  Its gradients are 8 to 10 most of the way.  This climb’s so tough that Lance Armstrong never won it, though he could have in 2000 had he not eased up at the end to show his rival some respect.

Of course the difference is that the Mount Ventoux is 21 km long, and Hunter Station Road not even half a km.  That’s still long enough for my lungs to be aching at the top.  And my rate of speed is about 6 mph, whereas the best pros can do Ventoux at 14 mph or so.  Putting out that kind of power for a bit over an hour is astonishing.   Well, one does what one can.

Last fall the climb took on a whole new meaning for me.  Twice in a month, on October 8 and November 10, I had heart arrhythmia episodes after climbing Hunter Station (see my blog for 10/9/10, written the day after the first one).  The first time I slowly made my way to Herndon and got a ride home; the second time I completed my loop around to the trail and slowly wended my way home on the bike.  Neither time was much fun; both episodes, though neither was severe, were disconcerting.

So I abandoned that “point of honor” that I mentioned in 2009 and discontinued climbing Hunter Station Road.  Jane encouraged me in that decision, and I told her at the time that I might ride Hunter Station now and then, but I was not going to do it regularly any more, and I was not going try it any time soon.  Instead I added about 3 miles to my Herndon ride at the far end, going out to where the trail crosses Builders Road and there is a small park with a skateboard “rink” where I can stop, rest, and turn around.

But last Monday (Valentine’s Day) was a warm, sunny day.  The temperature ended up hitting 70, and I could ride without leggings, base layer, skull cap, mock turtle neck, long-fingered gloves, or high-tech wool socks.  The bare ruts on the trail had widened to about two feet across, and in effect the only problem was riding through the meltwater and getting that chilly wet feeling right where flying droplets off the tire hit the back of your cycling shorts.  Going westward I started to think about the traditional route.  I was feeling strong and relaxed, and remembered the old maxim about getting back on the horse after you’ve fallen off.

So when I crossed Hunter Mill Road I veered slightly to the left, past the parking lot where cyclists drive to begin their ride, down past the sign that warns of a sharp left turn and a 20 mph speed limit–a limit I always enjoy breaking on the quick downhill–along our own miniature “valley road” past the flood-prone creek, and then onto the climb.  About two years ago they repaved the outer edge of the road, which was cracking away at the edge.  That pavement is now itself cracking badly, and there are a couple of annoying shallow potholes on the way up.  But I passed them, did the steepest short haul past the driveway just over the lip of the incline where the angle diminishes, but not by that much, for a hundred more yards, then onto the turning lane for a side street, and level at last!  Just in time to shift gears, though, for a rapid downhill and another short, fairly steep climb up to the right turn onto Lawyer’s Road.

I had done it without ill effects!  Feeling great, I wheeled around, down, then up Twin Lakes (a decently hard but eminently doable hill), two more rights onto the long downhill along Sunset Valley (I hit 33 mph here) and back to the trail.  That set me up for a strong ride the rest of the way.  I also did the extended route to the turnaround at Builders.  And I had a stiff wind at my back going home, which means my steep climbing had also been into the wind.

No time like Valentine’s Day to give your heart a good workout, even before any possible romantic heavy breathing begins.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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