The Great Pumpkin Ride

As I left my house for Warrenton, I wondered if I would actually see any pumpkins during The Great Pumpkin Ride.   I don’t particularly like the taste of pumpkins (a fact that has some bearing on this story), but I didn’t think it would be proper to pedal much of the day in a ride named after the gourd and not actually see one.

I wasn’t thinking only of pumpkins.  Primarily, my mind was on the weather.  The day dawned with a frost warning and the forecast was for sun and a high temperature around 70 degrees.  I wasn’t sure what to wear, but I decided on my new cycling pants and brought just about everything else I may ever want, including skull-cap, wind breaker jacket, and shoe covers.  I figured I’d make my final wardrobe decisions in the parking lot in Warrenton.

Starting Point

The start of the ride was at the Warrenton Branch Greenway – a 1.5 mile paved pathway built on a railroad bed.  The trail head is in the center of the old town, so there isn’t a lot of consolidated parking.  People were parking in every nook and cranny to be found and there was quite a bustle as cyclists made their way to the start point.  The ride organizers had a few small tents where vendors offered memberships to fitness clubs, the Warrenton Cycling club, and other such things.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the check in very fast and orderly.  I was given a plastic bag with a map, cue card for my 64 mile route, some adverts for local hospitals and other stores, and my complimentary T-Shirt – a size medium for my wife since it is apparently impossible for this race to provide a 2XL shirt. I can only imagine what some of the behemoths I saw on the road did with their shirts.  I am as thin as a stick compared to many of them!

Steel Bridge, viewed from the parking lot

Back at the truck, I made my decision – no skull-cap or jacket, but I would wear the shoe covers.  My Garmin was telling me it was 53 degrees and I knew the temperature would quickly get into the 60s, so the “full outfit” was not required.  I packed up my gear and made my way to the head of the trail, which featured a neat steel bridge and a caboose as an homage to the trail’s original purpose.

Recumbent Bikes, getting ready to go

At the start point, a man with a portable PA system was droning on over music about door prizes (none of which I won yet again!).  At 9:30, he got everyone marshalled and sent us on our way.  There was a bit of a crush as everyone tried to enter the trail but things smoothed out quickly.  Fortunately, there were very few people on the trail apart from the cyclists.  A larger number of joggers/walkers would have made things more interesting!

One of the Naval Academy grads at Rest Stop 1

I knew the first 25 miles were mostly downhill so I resolved to set a fast pace.  I was pleasant with my fellow riders, sharing brief small talk about the cold start and the beautiful sunshine, but I didn’t strike up an extended conversation as I did at Culpeper.  Perhaps this was due to my faster pace.  I did take notice of a group of three riders sporting Naval Academy cycling kit and asked them when they graduated.  There were reps from the Class of 84 and 89.  I introduced myself as USMA Class of 86 and then we briefly pondered who would prevail in today’s ride – Army or Navy.  We quickly discovered that the USNA grads were only going 44 miles, which gave me an opportunity to snort derisively (politely derisive, of course) while I explained I would be going on the 68 mile trip and therefore could not race them.  Despite the slow start on the Greenway, my average pace was 17.7 mph as I pulled into Rest Stop #1 at Mile 12.  Very nice.

Rest Stop 1 - Midland Brethren Church

I pulled into the Midland Brethren Church parking lot and was eager to see what goodies the good people of Warrenton Cycling had waiting for us.  In a pavilion behind the church, they had all manner of pumpkin products – mostly pies and pumpkin flavored coffee.  I looked upon this with horror – I HATE PUMPKIN!  I was I supposed to manage another 56 miles with only this stuff for calories?  I thought the theme was neat and the crackling fire at one end of the pavilion was a nice touch, but I am apparently the only cyclist in central Virginia who cannot stand the taste of pumpkin.  Fortunately, there was some carrot cake, which I helped myself to.  There were no sports drinks – only water.  This seems to be a prevailing issue in both rides I have been on.  Perhaps I need to fill up both my water bottles with sports drinks and get my water at the rest stops.

I took less time at the Rest Stop and was back on the road in five minutes.  After a few miles, there was a turn which diverted the 44 mile riders from those on the longer route.  I watched the few cyclists around me take the shorter route and I found myself utterly alone.  I rode on for miles without seeing anyone.  Was I in 1st place?  Impossible – they had to be in front of me somewhere.  After eight miles, some riders came into sight.  When I passed, I told them how glad I was to see them.  I was beginning to wonder if I was on the wrong road! 

The roads were relatively quiet and took us through farm country and skirted the towns of Bealeton and Remington.  It was still quite cold and I was grateful for my shoe covers.  I was surprised to learn just how cold your feet can get in cycling shoes.  They are designed to divert air into the shoe.  A steady 50 degree breeze on sweaty feet can get quite chilly.  The shoe covers go a long way to stop that.

Rest Stop 2 - Elk Run Church

At the southernmost portion of the route (Mile 28), we came to Kelley’s Ford and immediately were forced up the first serious climb of the day.  Nobody caught me and I continued to catch and pass the occasional rider.  Still feeling pretty good, I made a good pace until Mile 36 and Rest Stop 2 – Elk Run Church.

The Trek at rest with other bikes at Rest Stop 2


More pumpkins and no sports drink.   Yippee.  The volunteer was brewing some sort of concoction in a large pot – probably hot cider – but I wasn’t interested in a warm beverage.  I took some water, a banana, and some oatmeal raisin bars and thought about my humble but significantly better supply of ride food sitting in my house.  I should probably bring some of that stuff with me next time.

I shoved off feeling good about my pace, which had me finishing at a little over four hours.  I knew the upcoming hills would slow that a bit, but I was very confident at this point that I would achieve my time goals for the ride.  I realized I hadn’t taken many pictures on the road, but there frankly weren’t many interesting views.  I took a picture of my new full-finger gloves and my handlebar instead.  But I thought you might like to see a fairly typical view of the countryside, which I now provide for your enjoyment:

As you can see, I was once again largely on my own.  I did see a fair number of broken-down cyclists tending to flat tires, broken derailleurs, and skipped chains.  I asked each of them if they needed assistance and they all happily said they had their situations well in hand.  So on I went.

Shortly, I passed Sowego Road and found myself on a stretch of road I had traveled once before.  This road heads into Catlett and the dreaded Tenerife Road.  But first I had to climb what I remembered as a very steep hill.  I was pleasantly surprised to see I could climb it this time without pushing the breaking point as I did a few months ago.  Once again I was forced to confront the possibility that I am getting into shape.  As I rode into Catlett, I passed Tenerife Road and the cow pasture where I took my break on my previous ride.  The cows weren’t out today, which was a disappointment as I was looking forward to seeing how they are getting on. 

And there were no Dobermans to speak of, which was a very good thing, IMHO.

Rest Stop 3, with the offending "chef" and empty water jug

At Mile 57 we pulled into a resort called the Carriage House, where Rest Stop 3 was waiting for us.  Once again, I was greeted with pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins.  It was a veritable Pumpkinpalooza.  This rest stop was unique in that riders could walk into the red building pictured on the right and actually sit at a cloth-covered table in a reasonably comfortable chair while eating their pumpkin-related cuisine.  It was also unique in that there was NO WATER!  A man in chef’s garb presided over this travesty, seemingly unconcerned as he chatted with some of the riders.  I mentioned that it might be a good thing to have the one and only water jug actually holding some water.  The “chef” seemed perturbed but reluctantly agreed to fix the problem.

The Warrenton Belt Greenway

Although there were only ten miles left, I knew from my earlier study of the route that this part of the course was mostly uphill.  I was therefore mentally prepared for the challenged, unlike many riders I passed along the way.  At this point, all the routes converged so there were more riders on the road.  A group of four guys passed me with about five miles to go and I hoped on their wheel for the rest of the trip.  On the Greenway back into Warrenton, there were several townsfolk enjoying the nice weather on the path.  One gentleman asked me how far the “race” was.  He was amazed to find out the distance.  He was traveling with a boy on a mountain bike and said, “Did you hear that, Billy?  They rode SIXTY EIGHT MILES!”

That made me feel good.

Back in the parking lot, I had my two best conversations of the day.  I saw a man wearing an Army jersey (complete with the ACU camouflage pattern) and complimented him on his kit.  Turns out he’s a lawyer working in the Pentagon who will be deploying to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks.  We chatted a bit about his job and I wished him luck.  I also met a lady who lives in Bethesda and was quite impressed that this was “only” my second organized ride.  I’d like to think that is because my chiseled frame would suggest I am an experienced cyclist, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case.  She knew a great deal about many of the region’s better Century rides and she shared her opinion on the ones that she enjoys.   Opinions like these are very helpful to me as I try to figure out next year’s cycling schedule.

And thus concluded The Great Pumpkin Ride.  It was a nice event with good weather.  I managed to keep an overall pace of 14.7 mph and a pace while moving of 16.3 mph.  I was 43 minutes faster than the Culpeper Metric Century three weeks ago.  My arms didn’t hurt (due to bending the elbows) and my knees didn’t hurt (due to stretching and lowering the seat).  It was a good ride.  Here’s hoping I am not confronted with pumpkins for a few days!

18 thoughts on “The Great Pumpkin Ride

  1. I’ve been looking forward to this post. Glad you had such a good ride.
    Hahaha pumpkin for ride nutrition!???/ What non-cyclist planned that?
    Unbelievable that there wasn’t water readily available. It’s also notable, that in your wonderful post-ride, positive attitude, you still consider it a good ride;0)
    One rest stop without readily available water would drop a ride from a good ride, to a “memory” for me.
    A friend told me about a ride in SC the first weekend of Dec, that I’ll send the info on…..
    4 centuries in 4 days.
    Hopefully, I’ll be there and do all 4.

    1. Yeah, the water kinda got me upset. The pumpkin items is more my problem – I realize normal people actually like that stuff. I hope you’re able to make the SC trip. Four centuries in four days will be great practice for you!!!

  2. Hi Steve, that was a nice narrative of your ride. Couple more pictures
    would have been nice. Nice to see you are out enjoying yourself and staying
    in shape in case we need you again to solve some of the world problems.
    When will James join you in some of your rides.

    all the best uncle pat @ aunt mickey

  3. Steve,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your ride and I’m glad that your experience was a positive one! It’s hard to believe that all they had was pumpkin items at every stop! You’d think they would have something more appropriate than that. It sounds like you managed to survive quite well in spite of it though. 🙂
    I’ll be looking forward to reading about your next ride. When will it be?
    Love, Mom.

    1. To be fair, there were a few non-pumpkin items (carrot cake, granola bars, bananas on occasion, etc…).

      I don’t have any rides scheduled. I was hoping to do just one this fall and due to a snafu with my work schedule I ended up in two events. Next summer I intend to move up to 100 mile rides (known as “centuries”). This are cycling’s equivalent to marathons. The Swedish Embassy hosts a fun event in March that is 58 miles over DC trails. I might give that one a go!

      1. WE hope to see at this years’ GREAT PUMPKIN RIDE, Saturday October 25th….We always try our best to improve our ride for everyone.To ensure a safe, well organized and scenic ride we take all comments and suggestions seriously.

        We have changed up the foods offered at the rest stops…..I am sure if you ride this year you would see a big difference. WE still offer pumpkin themed foods but we have added many offerings that would be great for riders. WE have four fully stocked rest stops…..complete with water, mixed gatorade, hot beverages too; tea, coffee and cider. Some rest stops offer broth.

        So Give us another chance on the ride…. In 2013 we had over 1000 registered riders and I think most people had a great day…..

        I will be at the OLD BUSTHEAD BREWERY so please introduce yourself.

      2. Thanks for stopping by. It’s amazing how quickly four years passes! I have many fond memories of the Great Pumpkin Ride and the date works perfectly for me this year. I have only one issue – a pesky nerve problem in my foot that might require surgery. If it is resolved in time, I’ll be sure to sign up and introduce myself. I’ll be looking for you at the brewery – an excellent spot to meet someone! 🙂

  4. Hi Steve, it seems like you have built up a good level of fitness now. You have to keep up the good work over the winter now 🙂
    Am envious of your temperatures, ours dont get over the low 50’s at this time year and worse to come, Its full winter attire pretty much all the time here now.. and colder its not the coldest time by far yet..
    But if you keep the legs turning you keep warm.. just dont stop too long.. 🙂

    1. Six months ago, I expected to be finished with cycling for the year by now. Instead, I’ve got the beginnings of a cold weather kit and am planning to keep the legs turning – perhaps not at a Summer-time rate, but turning all the same!

  5. Not sure if we’re talking about the same Pumpkin Ride in Warrenton, Virginia, but there was water at every stop with the option to add gatorade if desired at a minimum of two of the stops that I saw. The ride was very well attended and we were constantly refilling the containers, so if it was out, it was only for a moment or two before being replenished.

    Although there were a lot of pumpkin treats at all the stops, (it is the Pumpkin Ride and it is fall) there were a variety of other items including halloween candies, bagels, scones, fresh fruit including bananas at all stops and pineapple at Poplar Springs. There were also a veriety of granola bars, muffins, cookies, etc.

    To be honest, I’d never go to a ride of any kind without having the foods I like or need in my pockets. The offerings at rest stop always vary and should be considered as an additional treat that is there to augment the foods (gels, bars, etc.) I am carrying with me.

    Anyway, thanks for participating and glad to hear you had a great time and strong finish.


    1. We’re talking about the same ride and the empty water jug (plus chef) are pictured above. It may very well have only been for a minute, but it was the minute I was there and I’m telling my story…

      Thanks for stopping by and for the advice on ride foods. This is my second-ever organized ride and I’m very much in the “learning phase.” Thanks too for hosting a great event!

  6. Nice job!
    Hey, you talked me into it – my wife got me a Garmin 500 for my birthday. I’m very excited to try it out.
    I would have been quite upset to arrive at a rest stop and have no water – especially with the water guy standing there chatting.
    I’m 25 days out from my first century, and frankly, scared to death. But your posts are inspiring.
    How do you get the “moving pace” number separate from your overall average speed? Is that something the 500 does?
    Congrats again.

    1. Well, before the nice people who hosted this ride become hostile, it should be noted that the “chef” did fill the jug up after I pointed out to him it was empty and I did not go without water.

      I’m happy you took the plunge with the Garmin! I see my overall pace and moving pace displayed on my Garmin Connect website after I download the ride data. During the ride, only the overall pace is displayed. There are many many display options on the Garmin and you can configure it to show just about anything you want. Be advised – more windows means smaller text which can be harder to read. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you.

      I’m looking forward to reading about your first century. Remember – it’s not a race. Keep your heart rate low and eat/drink a little bit at regular intervals and you can pretty much ride all day. At least, that’s the theory and it’s worked pretty well for me!

  7. Thanks. Hey, that reminds me – does the Garmin keep track of your overall miles? Like how much you’ve ridden all year, or do you have to go to the web site for that?
    I know I could open the manual and look it up, but it’s more fun to ask you.

    1. That kind of data is kept on your Garmin Connect webpage. You can pull reports for the past week, thirty days, or all-time. You can sort by miles, calories, or type of exericse. Have fun!

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