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September 25, 2022 / bikesbytesbites

Tour de Conservation Easement (Sept 2022)

I got an email from the League of American Bicyclists offering a free ticket to the “Bike the Gravel: Tour de Conservation Easement”, a gravel ride (!!) starting at Buchanan Hall in Upperville VA. I figured, what the h*ll: I have a touring bike (the Sweetpea) that should do fine on gravel, and I’m certainly up to doing the middle distance (34 miles, over 80% gravel; the other options were 18 and 65 miles ). So I accepted their offer.

It was a learning experience.

Registration opened at 7:30 AM for a 9 AM ride. I left the house at 6:15. Since it was so early on a Saturday morning, I figured I could drive straight out US 50, rather than taking I-66 for the first leg. I used to take US 50 out to Fairfax VA for my first job in the DC area, lo these many years ago. The first thing I learned (actually, this lesson reinforced recent impressions) was that things have changed ALOT along 50 in Fairfax City and surrounding Fairfax. Wow! The cheap motel I once stayed in (when I worked too late to make it to metro; those were the days) was closed, but the Hampton Inn was still flourishing. Shopping centers had been totally rebuilt in the new mall-ish style, rather than being drive-up. There was lots more development, both commercial and residential, most of the way out 50, almost to Middleburg.

Next I learned more about The Land Trust of Virginia, the organization sponsoring the ride. At registration I saw an old friend, Mariette, who was volunteering. She told me that she had scouted the route I was going to ride and recorded it using RwGPS. Ah, RwGPS! Mariette has been very active in LTV, as I learned both from talking to her and from reading their brochure.

The scenery was gorgeous. According to, I hadn’t ever been on any of these roads (at least as recorded by a bike computer in the last 12 years.) The route goes through estates that are conserved and that are usually not open to the public. Many looked they probably started life as plantations.

Equitaire specializes in Icelandic horses. There were other horses nearby, as well as a group of hounds, getting exercise before the hunt.

The family that owns Welbourne has been there for over two centuries. The mansion itself, now a B&B, was open to riders. The house tour was worth the time spent. The tour guide told me I was the only rider to stop by!

Ok, I cheated: I cut out a 7-mile loop early in the ride. I seem to be getting slower in my old age. I wanted to have time to explore Welbourne and didn’t want to get back to the lunch at Buchanan Hall too late to have company at lunch. But I still learned that riding gravel — especially lots of it — takes way more attention to details of the road surface than riding macadam. It also requires technical expertise and an adjustment of usual riding techniques. For example, don’t try to stand on the pedals when going up a steep gravel grade; your rear wheel will lose traction. Just remember to downshift in time!

On the drive back into town, I stopped off in Middleburg. I did some window shopping and used a coupon issued for the bike riders at Raymer’s Handmade Candies. Once again, I was the only rider who stopped by, so I’m glad I did. I bought two small assortments of candies: one for the friend I was going to visit on the way home, and another for my nextdoor neighbor who is taking care of Buzzi the cat this weekend.

Bottom line: Absolutely worth the drive. I’m thinking of doing it again next year, even if I don’t get a free ticket. I’d like to find a way to shorten the 65-mile ride so I can cover the parts of it not on the shorter ride and still get back to Upperville while there are other bicyclists around.



Leave a Comment
  1. Jessica Hirschhorn / Sep 26 2022 2:13 am

    Sounds like a fantastic ride and done right. Can you send me the RWGPS route? Let’s organize a small group ride. Maybe a WI alt-ride.

  2. bikesbytesbites / Sep 26 2022 6:16 am

    You might not be able to do the route as cued, because it went on some private roads, but you could get pretty close.

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