Posted by: jdantos | October 1, 2012

Shepherdstown Century – Following the Potomac

The scenic side of River Road, MD

The stars seemed to align for a long ride yesterday. Since some potential traveling companions had other plans, I realized I had a car ride back from Shepherdstown WV to DC with K, and could get in a long one-way ride.

So, after some Googling the night before, I picked out a path to the panhandle of West Virginia, and struck out before sunrise yesterday. After a long, amazing day in the saddle, I rolled into my destination 105 miles later, at 5pm.

I started out fast and strong, spurred on by nervous energy. Yes, as the GPS tracker indicates, I even rode the Whitehurst freeway in the predawn darkness, all my lights blazing, no cars except a street sweeper. I gotta say, it was exhilarating, but not as fun as I thought it’d be.  I drafted a pace line of 5 roadies along MacArthur Blvd for several miles as the sun rose, but their pounding out 20+ MPH got tiring quickly, and I had to conserve energy. Thanks for the ride, though! I was making good time, making 45 miles to White’s Ferry by 10am or so, but then slowed the pace after that to get coffee, take pictures, and enjoy the scenery.

Other cyclists, near White’s Ferry Road

Stopping for much-needed fuel at King Street Coffee in Leesburg, just off the W&OD

Mountain Road, north of Hillsboro VA – a highlight of the ride

It was great to ride on some really prettiest sections of River Road past Seneca Rd., the W&OD trail between Leesburg and Purcellville, and the C&O towpath leading west into Harpers Ferry (the views of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers there are stunning).

Things I learned on the ride:

  • River Road along the Potomac in West Virginia, headed towards Shepherdstown

    Mountain Road from Hillsboro VA to Brunswick MD is AWESOME riding: light traffic, flat, gorgeous scenery, ridge to the left starting to turn autumnal colors, and flat farmland to the right. Just watch out for headwinds.

  • River Road in WV leading into Shepherdstown is a hidden gem- bluffs to your left, Potomac River just to your right, and people gathered at the riverbanks to barbecue, light bonfires, drink beer, and watch the river meander by. The road is smooth riding, light traffic, peaceful, and shaded. Amazing rock formations on the Potomac bluffs. I want to ride it again.
  • Maybe it was because it was the end of the ride, but few roads in the panhandle of WV seemed flat. They all seemed to go up and down ceaselessly, taunting me mercilessly.
  • Grazing constantly is a better way for me to eat on a long ride than a big midday meal.
  • If you show up in bike gear, farmers’ market stalls sometimes give you free delicious Empire apples. “You’re working hard out there!”
  • Harper’s Ferry is a beautiful setting, but it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Especially when you’re hangry.
  • Deer are everywhere.
  • The breakfast advertised at White’s Ferry terminal looks sketchy.
  • Fall is a gorgeous time for a ride.
  • Eating when you’re in a deficit of a few thousand calories is the most satisfying thing ever.
  • Sometimes, roads that look scenic and quaint on Google maps, turn out to be a gravelly dirt path – okay for short distances, but tough on a touring bike, and definitely slow the average speed.

Crossing the Potomac, Brunswick MD

All in all, I was really happy with the ride, no bonking, and not too much zombieness afterwards. Good prep for Seagull Ride next weekend.

The route was great – following and criss-crossing the Potomac was great fun. In the future, I might go straight out the W&OD from DC, or maybe try an alternate from Purcellville skipping Harper’s Ferry. Any suggestions??

See you on the Seagull Century next week?

The route from DC to Shepherdstown, WV (GPS)



  1. Looks like a great ride! I’ll have to try that out sometime.
    See you at Seagull!

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