Super Bowl Sunday Ride...Why is it always so good...even when it is not!
For 25 years I have annually returned to Flagpole Knob in the tradition of the Super Bowl Sunday Ride, a ride that is well over 3 decades old.  

Super Bowl Ride 1996
This year the pilgrimage to the wind swept clearing was extra special due to the weather conditions, the determination of folks to make it up the mountain, and the encouragement and help riders gave each other to get back to safe conditions.  

Snowy Conditions on this year's Super Bowl Ride
Leaving from my house this year started more innocent than most, with temperatures in the upper 20’s and a few snowflakes dropping from the sky. As I rolled  into the Mr. J’s parking lot to hook up the “Ride out” crew I  noticed only a few bikes leaning against the storefront glass. Did folks know something I did not? Where was the 20+ possie that usually rolls from town? Five hours later, we who did roll from town would be grateful that our crew was small. The ride from town is always chill and friendly but the pace slowed even more as we rode the last several miles up to the Briery Branch Community Center , I think we were trying to savor the beautiful snow covered roads and keep our conversations rolling.

One of first years of a big crew riding from town, 18 degrees at roll out time. 

For several years now the Briery Branch Community has served as the official starting point for the Super Bowl Sunday Ride replacing the old “Hamburger Heaven” restaurant which was located across from the 257 market.  The Community Center provides a large parking area for pre and post ride conversation and enough car space for the 100 person ride.  Instead of a tightly packed gravel lot we road up to just a few cars spread out with their riders doing the last minute preparation for the mountain.  The crew rolled out in waves along the straight stretch of road that heads west from the Branch. This is always the first opportunity to gauge the size of the ride crew, it is when my excitement for the ride buzzes strong and brings me back to my first several Super Bowl Rides.  It is the feeling of a happy and confident team heading into battle against the mountain and elements that brings me smiles.
The tires of our two wheel group broke fresh tracks once we passed the “Deer Parking Lot” just after Tillman Road, not even the four wheel drive crews had ventured up the mountain yet. The frozen lake of Briery Branch is always the perfect first pit stop of the ride. It is here riders remove layers, eat some food and peer up to Reddish Knob glooming 2000’ above. This year the mountain top was hidden in the snow clouds that were blanketing the mountain we were beginning to tackle.  Our 10am departure timing was perfect as we rolled up and join forces with the crew that ascend Wolfe Ridge and come down the Lynn Trail. Their stories of snow covered trails and hiding layers of ice would be pale in comparison to the conditions we would experience over the next 2 hours of our ascent.

Enjoy the warm sun after the skiing  to Flagpole on Super Bowl Sunday!

Every year as I ride up the steep 4 mile climb to the saddle I think of all the riders spread out over the mountain ascent. It is this thought of so many different friendly folks of various skills, fitness and equipment that keeps me coming back each year.  I usually pace this portion of my ride so I can get to the next stop at the saddle with a little time to spare, but not enough to let the cold settle over my body. It is the last 2 turns before the saddle that let you what the real conditions are on the upper slopes of Shenandoah Mountain. With the snow getting deeper and the ice layers spreading wider through these two turns we knew this was to be a “real” year for the ride. The tire tracks from the saddle showed evidence that folks were not hanging as usually done at the State line rest stop, and there certaining was no food truck to warm your insides. The next 3 miles were a battle of ice, snow and wind, a time when winter riding lessons are learned and forever etched in your mental mountain bike manual. As the conditions intensified the smiles grew wider, folks dug deeper, and the pain of the wet and cold conditions increased. The periodic hollar of a rider could be thought of as a scream of joy or even “rebel yell” as the battle was just really just beginning.
A little football time on Flagpole..I think New England won that year!

I laid my bike down on the last flat pitch before Flagpole, it was time to put of all the layers for the cold descent to follow, this needed to done before being exposed at the mountain top. The final pitches were a sure walk for all, with snow falling at a rate seldom scene.  At this point we knew we would make to the top, another year of praying to the mountain bike gods on top of Flagpole. Some made the decision to continue directly to Red Diamond, some folks entered the lower slopes of the Knob beforing turning their bikes down hill. I knew I  had the gear, experience and will to take a few minute retreat to the fire ring on top, so along with Mike Carpenter we made the final push, never had the last bit seemed so challenging.  

As we were traveling off the the mountain on Red Diamond we had a change in conditions that I have never experienced in my many years of mountain biking. We went  from 6” of fresh snow  to slush and river bed in just over a few minutes. The discomfortment of dumping snow was replaced by the pain of pouring rain and spraying tires. I sat at the bottom of Red Diamond for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for riders, giving words of encouragement and getting a pulse of what still remained on the upper slopes. Every time I thought I was unforgettable I glanced at other riders that went by and knew I was in good shape. There were folks who braved the conditions in cotton, 3 season gloves, sneakers. Attire for a fall ride not a full winter assault of Mother Nature.  These are the heroes of the Super Bowl Sunday Ride, folks who braved the conditions and did so without complaining.  During the next few miles of drenching wet conditions I was so happy to see our mountain bike community join forces and returned with vehicles to bring the last riders off the mountain. The warmth of a vehicles and comfort of a new or old friend ended this Super Bowl Ride experience with a smile.  
Yes, we had a little help that Ski...The trucks got us just shy of the intersection at the gap, then the 5' drifts got them too!

I am constantly  asked by many folks why would one ascend to the highest mountain top in Rockingham County in the middle of winter. I usually hold back from giving the 2 hour answer and verbalize the quick single sentence response, “because of the number of great folks spread out over a mountain dealing with whatever the mountain has to offer that day”.  

What happened to you bike after taking a 5 minute break this year!

See you next year on Flagpole!