3 Fall Rides in Frederick on Forgotten Roads: Ditch the beaten path and go explore.

Coming down left fork

Fall is the most fleeting of seasons. It’s burst of color a final explosion before the land plunges into a world of abbreviated days, muted grays and biting winds.  Don’t spend it inside, eating bonbons and drinking pumpkin flavored coffee.  We’ve compiled three local rides that start in the city o’ Frederick and head out into the country.  They are not your typical rides, and they avoid the main roads that Frederick cyclists use.  Less traffic, more scenery.  Some of ‘em have pretty big hills.  For all of them, we recommend a roadish bike with fat tires and low gears.  Anytime there is gravel or dirt, exercise caution, especially when descending.  With all of these rides, we’ll post up a cue sheet at the end of the ride description so you can go rock it out just by printing the cue up and clipping it to your bars.  No Garmin needed.

The Coffee Outside Ride

Start in the city and roll out of town toward the mountain.  Passing thru a bit of suburbia, houses quickly give way to horse farms and rolling meadows.  Once you are in the countryside, it’s all gravy: few cars, a constant view of the mountain range, the upper reaches of the mountain gold and crimson.  Pass thru the quirky village of Mountaindale, a collection of log cabins arranged like tumbling dice along the lower run of Fishing Creek.  Prepare for a bit of climbing here.  We like granny gears and mountain cassettes out back for these rides, and will gladly advise on how to go lower on your current set up.  Most road gearing is only useful for flat to rolling hills, not extended mountain climbs.  The road curves to the right up the mountain, devolving into pot holes and dirt.  That’s how you know it’s good.  Watch for the reservoir passing below you on your left: a pool of blue in a sea of yellow leaves and black wood.

A fork in the road about 1/2 mile in leaves you with a choice: right fork or left fork.  We like them both, and you should eventually do each side.  Go right and pass along a rumbling trout creek covered in evergreens, wet rocks, dripping moss and the darkness of the forest.  At the first real curve in the road, look to your left for a rock face rising through the forest.  It’s tucked back a bit, but a mildly observant person can find it.  Grab your coffee outside stuff and ditch your bike.  Pick your way across the stream and set up at the base of this monolithic rock.  Reverse your route after coffee for a short ride, or head up the mountain for more foliage action.  Turn back at any point on the climb, or come down Fishing Creek Road to make a loop.  It’s your first left (unmarked), and you won’t see it until you’re about 3 miles up the climb.  The cue sheet just shows an out and back, for the record.  No extended climb.


Brief interlude about why coffee outside:  Making coffee in the woods gives you a reason to stop and sit in nature.  It takes at least 10 minutes, and drinking it maybe 10 more.  That’s a 20 minute mandatory break, something most folks never take during a ride.  It’s in the middle of the woods, which is meditative.  Coffee tastes better in the woods, and if you have never done it, try it.  Here’s our coffee outside gear list for two, none of which is expensive, and all of which we sell in the shop and online:  Two metal cups.  We like Snow Peak’s folding handle Ti cups or our cheap but effective enamel steel cups.  A kettle.  We have small, lightweight kettles made out of steel or aluminum.  They can go right on an open flame.  Coffee making device.  Aeropress, Snow Peak pour over, Kalita Kantan, they’re all good, and we have em all in stock, always.  My favorite is the Snow Peak pour over unit, because it slows you down, looks great, and folds flat.  For heat, we like Alcohol stoves.  They’re marginally slower than say, a heavy and bulky Jet Boil, but they are dead silent, so your reverie isn’t interrupted.  They’re super safe.  If one tips over, there isn’t a pressurized jet of flame shooting everywhere.  It’ll flare up, and burn out in 20 seconds.  They’re light.  You can get fuel anywhere.  You can make your own, or buy a great one for under 30 bucks.  We stock 3 types.  Matches.  Coffee.  You can pre grind it, or nerd out like we do, and bring a small grinder.  We stock 3 good ones for packing.  Obviously sub in tea if you are tea person.  Marginally less stuff needed.  

The left fork option is similar in theme but perhaps more sublime.  Follow left fork for about 10 minutes of semi steep climbing.  Keep your eyes to the right, eventually a huge pile of rock slabs stacked like lumpy cliffs will appear in the woods.  There are so many places to make coffee up there that it’s impossible to list them.  We like to climb to the top, ditching bikes wherever, and scout places from the summit.  Hang out under an overhang, plop down on the edge of the precipice, snuggle in a crag, the options are only limited by where you are willing to scramble.  Post coffee, you can turn around or keep climbing.  Your first RIGHT is right fork, and if you go down that, you’ll end up back in Mountaindale Village.

Right fork cue sheet:  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/10817879


The Drink Some Good Wine Ride

The Middletown Valley is a broad, largely agricultural valley stretching south from Middletown to Brunswick.  It contains some of the most underrated riding in the county.  It’s discounted because there is climbing, not because the riding isn’t great.  There’s a few climbs, but they are hills, not mountains, and you can walk up them if you can’t ride up them.  If you have a triple and mountain gearing out back, you will not even have to walk them.  Low gears are pretty much the answer to riding cool roads without having King of the Mountain legs.  Starting in the city, you wind your way out route 40 on a bike path and head up through Hillcrest to get to the good stuff.  It starts as soon as Butterfly Lane ends, the city giving way to big rollers, views down the valley, fields gold and lavender.

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It’s ok to walk sometimes.

The ride passes up short steep hills and long grinders. It’s a hard one, but not impossible.  You could do it on a hybrid, if you are ok with sitting in the low gear and spinning.  The first of three dirt roads is a treat, our favorite country road in the county.  Poffenburger Road winds down to a wide stream, a deer and blue heron haven, especially around dusk.  It has an old steel tressel bridge, a swimming hole, and a friendly potter at the bend in the road.  Two more gorgeous dirt roads follow: dig the living roof house on Harley and the wooden bridge over Catoctin Creek on Bennie’s Hill.

The ride spits you out in Middletown, where you can snag some snacks if needed at the gas station on the left as you head into town.  Heading north on 17, leaving Middletown behind you, you’re instantly back in farm country.  The Orchid Cellar Winery is down a fast, curving strip of road, at the crest of a long gravel driveway.  They’re open 12-5 Saturday and Sunday.  Here’s the contact number for the winery: (301) 473-3568, if you have questions.

From the winery you have choices:  Follow Cue option 1, here, for the fastest non-traffic filled ride back home.  It’s still scenic, just not as outta the way as option 2.  Option 2 is a long, climbing filled ride back over the mountain itself.  It has some fantastic farm valley vistas, some epic climbs, and a great descent down Hamburg Road.  It’s really hard, and you should only do it if really hard appeals to you.  Option 3 is to arrange a friend or Mom to come pick you up from the Winery.

Some of the descents are fast and often end in hard turns or stop signs.  If you are unfamiliar with these roads, take the downhills slowly!  


The Epic Fall Ramble Ride

67 miles, loads of climbing, the best roads in the county.  On a scale on 1-10, 10 being really really hard, this is maybe an 8.5.  If you are an 8.5 rider, with low gears and fat tires and fine brakes, do it!

Coming down left fork

Coming down left fork

This is actually the shop ride Sunday, and you are welcome to join us if you have lights and back up lights, ‘cause it’ll be dark by the time we return.  Really dark.  

I like kitchen sink rides: big climbs, rolling hills, dirt roads, vistas, interesting places to get food, cue sheet diversions just because a road is interesting.  The Epic Fall Ramble has eight good dirt roads on it, 3 big climbs, and pretty much no flat spots.  Pack in plenty of water and food, the refuel spots are remote and far between.

The ride itself takes you out of the city into the woods of the Frederick Watershed.  Climbing through the shed, you head north toward Cunningham Falls State Park, skirting Camp David on Manahan Road.  You’re mid point is right after a really hard climb up the gorgeous Buck Lantz Road, in Fort Ritchey, where a gas station serves up greasy ride fuel.  Heading south, you pass an orchard for fresh fuel, riding into the wooly Wolfsville Valley, which contains beautiful but rough Hayes Road and Wildcat Road.    Climbing out of the valley is arduous but ultimately rewarding.  The descent down Fishing Creek road is rutted but sublime, a trout stream cascading next to the road and tight turns on the edge of an eroded precipice.  Coming down of the mountain for the second time, the ride back to town will seem easy and benign, and you’ll wonder why you ever stayed on the right side of the mountain.

Cue here:  http://ridewithgps.com/routes/10818078