It’s Sunday morning, the temperature is in the upper 50sF. It’s a beautiful day for a hike, oe even a bicycle race. Astronomically it’s still Summer, but it sure feels like an early Autumn morning. So we head to the Catoctin Mountain National Park for a hike up to Thurmont Vista, one of our favorite hiking destinations. We will hike the long loop from the Visitor Center, 2.5-mile loop on rough trails. I arrive early and head down to a stream to find a Geocache, then I head back to the visitor center till Donna and Greta arrive .
Meanwhile I watch the Park Ranger turns auto traffic into the parking lot while allowing hundreds so bicyclists to charge up the mountain on Park Central Road – closed to automobile traffic. He tells me that there may be a little over a thousand riders in today’s race. It’s the Gran Fondo National Championships SM
A Gran Fondo is a cycling challenge that takes bicycle racing to the next level. Part personal challenge and part serious competition, the Grand Fondo National Championship Serie courses lead riders through country roads with challenging climbs and incredible scenery. Courses are offered in 3 different lengths, so participants can find the distance to match their goals.
This race is in the hills of northern Frederick County. The ranger explained that the route runs on 3 courses, 35 miles, 60 miles, and 100 miles. The longest climbs more than 10,500′ but since it starts and ends at the same place it also descends the same amount, I like riding those downhills myself. Of course those riders are lots younger, lighter, and in way better shape than I am. I probably can ride up that hill, but it would involve a few stops and very slow riding.
Once Donna and Greta pull into the parking lot we make the necessary stops in the park’s Visitor Center, grab our water bottles, and pack with lunch. The route is a couple of miles, all uphill on mountain trails. When we start we see very few other hikers, but as we near the summit we are passed by a few that are faster and some that are on their way down from the summit. When we arrive at the vista we find another couple occupying a rock outcropping, so we have to opt for a bench. We unpack lunch, sandwiches for Donna and I, and a Milk-Bone® for Greta. When Greta finishes with the first we give her a second. Well, she heads for a fallen log with leaves behind it and buries the treat, nosing leaves over the bone to cover it. She did the same thing on a previous hike. We laugh and I hear other laughter. It seems that there is another half-dozen or so hikers that are amused in Greta’s action too. We’re about the last to leave. As we pack up our trash, put or jackets on and get ready to hike back Greta senses we will be leaving so she heads for her stash, uncovers it and begins to devour the second Milk-Bone. She’s not going to leave a tasty morsel behind. On the whole the mountain was quiet, but we did hear an occasional “knock” of one of the woodpecker family as it found a bug in a tree, this isn’t the rat-a-tat one hears in the spring, they’re mating calls. At the Geocache I found early in the day there were huge holes, probably made by Pileated Woodpeckers.
Oh, the real reason that the park road is closed is that there is a “Private Residence” up that road and the owner was visiting for the weekend, a weekly occurrence. By early afternoon they headed back to their mansion in DC and everything was open to the public again. That closes not only the road but some of the prime hiking trails, we haven’t hiked them yet, maybe next time if we go during the week.