If there is already another popular loop in the Roanoke area called Twin Peaks, tell me now — but this seems like the perfect name for this amazing loop.
I know my friends and I are not the first to do this ride. We may however be the only ones stupid enough to do it twice. I’m calling it the Twin Peaks loop in honor of the two significant climbs over Bent Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cahas Mountain climb near Boones Mill. If another local ride already bears that name, let me know and help me think of another for this loop!
This ride has enough geographic drama to make it epic and — depending upon your fitness it can be everything from a good, hard training ride for strong riders, to the day you brag about to your grand kids. It has long, grinding uphills, classic country roads, two screaming twisting downhill drops and a third descent where you can virtually name your maximum speed. Total climbing is about 4,600 feet.
We started at Penn Forest Elementary School. Riding Merriman past the local soccer fields, there’s a 75 yard dirt path on the right that takes you onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The climbing begins immediately as you head south (right) on the Parkway. Many local cyclists have done this climb, and almost anyone with a bit of determination can do it. It’s about 8 miles to the overlook at Sling’s Gap. My GPS doesn’t show gradient, but people I’ve ridden with say it averages between 5-8 percent.
Our group had a wide variety of abilities among both male and female riders. Not only were we facing two mountains, but on this July day the heat and humidity were also worrisome. We took it easy on Bent mountain, knowing it was only the first of the day’s two major climbs. Two of the riders opted for CamelBaks and I wish I had. It was going to be difficult to stay hydrated with just my two water bottles.
(There is only one store on this route, and while there is an outside faucet for water, it didn’t open until noon and we would arrive too early for the snacks and Gatorade we wanted — but, I’m getting ahead of myself.)
From the Slings Gap overlook, it’s a couple more miles of gentle uphill until we reached Algoma and the Parkway exit onto Route 221. After only about 100 yards on 221 we turned left and swung onto Route 602, also called Callaway Road, a curvy, often bumpy country road that winds downhill for miles.
Gary Butcher and I stood up on the pedals, built up a head of steam and hit the downhill hard. I was particularly excited to do this descent on the new Guerchiotti, which handles better than any bike I’ve ever owned. All of the corners are doable at speed, but we had to be mindful of potholes, dogs and deer. If an animal wandered in front of us at 40-plus mph I figure the chances of our survival are about the same as an illegal immigrant becoming Donald Trump’s campaign chair.
Thankfully, the dogs and deer stayed where they belonged. We re-grouped at the bottom of the descent and pedaled a number of miles of typical Franklin County rolling terrain to what we had hoped would be a food and fuel stop.
Alas, there would be no Gatorade and salty snacks however, at the A & A Market in Callaway. It doesn’t open till noon on Sunday and we arrived at 11 a.m. — so we refilled at the water spigot near the gas pumps, and enjoyed energy gels, salt tablets or anything else we could find to keep our electrolytes somewhere near normal. The sun was getting hotter and the rest of the course offered less shade than the first half.
More blog below photos
The climbs out of Callaway on Bethany Road, (to left onto London Ridge to right Dug Spur to left onto Dillon’s Mill) are longish in a Franklin County kind of way, but traffic is usually light and polite and nothing is too steep — until you veer right onto Wades Gap Road and arrive at the base of Cahas Mountain. This is where the complaining starts.
Wades’ Gap is flat and scenic for about a mile, and then the beginning of the climb hits you hard with a grade of 13-14 percent. After that it looks worse as you can see the road climbing above you, but it actually gets just a bit easier as the grade comes back to a more civilized 9 percent-ish.
The steeps sorted our group pretty quickly and I was able to get ahead just far enough to snap pictures of some of the group on my cell phone. The views from the road, which is essentially a single lane cut into the side of the mountain, are spectacular. If you’re not suffering too badly you might even believe the view is worth the climb.
One member of our group did not have as many miles in his legs as the rest of the group. He paid the price for tackling two significant climbs in the same ride and had to stop and rest a couple of times. Let’s just say this isn’t his favorite challenge. I’m pretty sure he mumbled something about what he would tell his grandchildren — if he lived that long.
From the top of Cahas there is a technical, winding descent through some beautiful orchards. The road surface is pretty good – but it’s not a time to be taking in the scenery. I’ve seen free roaming dogs here before, but none this time. Gary and I pushed it pretty hard, and honestly carving turns like that reminds me of skiing.
The road dead-ends into Naff Road, where a left turn and a short climb bring you to the top of the “Wall” — a straight drop, where, like Wintergreen Mountain you can choose your top speed. I hit 60 mph years ago and 57 on this day – once again thankful no deer decided to cross in front of me.
From the bottom of the wall it’s a left turn and a short cruise back to Penn Forest Elementary School and the day is done. 40 miles of high highs and low lows.