My second “catch up” blog post from the traveling I’ve done this month! Soon I should be back on track – at least a bit…
I’ve wanted to go to the Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival for a few years now – biking through the Shenadoah Valley in October = fall colors, farms, exploring new places, stretching the bike legs. Also, it’s proximity to the Frontier Culture Museum was a huge lure; that’s a museum I’ve wanted to go to for a while. This year, The Mechanic and I blocked the weekend and made sure to go.
Admittedly, blocking the weekend did not equal being prepared. We registered late, which made it more expensive, and were madly throwing anything and everything together the day we left. We planned to camp, since the Festival offers cheap camping on the soccer field at the middle school headquarters. Yep, not really prepared to camp. But that’s okay, because we had a great time!
I was so impressed about the way the host town of Staunton, VA welcomed the festival and how organized everything was. There were signs everywhere welcoming cyclists, and stores in the historic downtown area all had signs welcoming cyclists; some offered discounts. The hostess at one restaurant told us that the Saturday night of the Festival is their busiest night *of the year*. Still don’t believe in the economic power of people on bikes?
I was highly impressed by the festival booklet that everyone received. The booklet contained cue sheets for every single ride of the two days, in tear-out pages. Each page included the map, cues, the “need help” phone number, and a QR code if you wanted to download it. The booklet also contained the full Festival schedule, Friday, October 14- Sunday, October 16th, a map of this historic downtown, information on local shops and Festival sponsors, driving directions to the remote start locations, and a recap of how the Festival put our registration dollars to work, donating to local charities and initiatives. I guess after 26 years of organizing this event, they know what they are doing, but I am still impressed by all this.
Part of our non-preparation (I kept thinking of Rootchopper’s No Wrong Plan Trip) meant that we arrived at registration Friday night after dark. That meant setting up the tent in the dark. After we went to find dinner. Sorry, other bike campers! We took our commuter bikes, since we sold our road bikes, which meant a more comfortable weekend. I never even wore my padded bike shorts, which I took. In fact, we pretty much stood out as the only cyclists *not* wearing cycling kit. If we’d done longer rides, of course it would have been a different story. But I enjoyed our leisurely approach to the Festival.
Another part of our non-preparation meant that instead of doing the 34-mile loop that we’d planned to do, we did the short 13-mile “family ride.” We were too exhausted from the week to get up early, and wanted to get in some area sightseeing as well. No big deal – the 13 mile loop, which started from Natural Chimneys park, which had once been renown for jousting, was lovely and we were quite happy with our laziness. Sunday we were more on the ball and got a reasonable start to the 20-mile farm loop, which included stops at three farms. Well, one was a bushel of apples set out for cyclists at an orchard, one was a pickling farm stop, and the last, official stop was Polyface Farms, famous for “radical” farming ideas that include healing the earth and being sustainable. We had hoped for an educational component to that stop, to learn more about their mission and values and techniques, but had to settle for hot dogs and “switchel” offered by polite middle school students. (I was happy to see friendly bunnies, even though I know they are being raised for their meat…)
We ate well in several downtown Staunton restaurants and cafes (more vegetarian options in this tiny 10-block town than in all of the DC area!), enjoyed the Frontier Culture Museum, and had absolutely perfect weather!
We are definitely adding this bike weekend to our schedule for next year. There is still more in the area that we haven’t explored, and with so many route options, we know we will see new things. And maybe be a bit better prepared for the camping….