Destination Rides: Episode One – Deep Creek Lake
Who: Climbers, Masochists, Anyone who needs clarification of long and steep
Where: Deep Creek Lake State Park. 898 State Park Rd, Swanton, MD, 21561
What: 50 miles of gorgeous scenery with 4,500 feet of climbing.
The Route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/28028096
Deep Creek Lake in Garrett county is about as far west as you can go and still be in Maryland. Home to such superstar rides and races as the Garrett County Gran Fondo and the Kinetic Multisports SavageMan triathlon. This route is not for the faint hearted or under trained. It will challenge you to the core mentally and physically but reward you with some spectacular views, good roads and fresh air.
Its about a three hour drive out of the city to the start. Strong riders can expect to finish this loop in about four hours. Camping is available at the park if you want to make a weekend of it (reservations required in season). If you are multi modal in your outdoor recreation, the area also has some excellent hiking and boating opportunities.
But this post is about the bike and the mountain. Big Savage Mountain to be specific. At 2,860 feet in elevation its among the tallest in the state (that distinction belongs to Hoyes Crest, 3,360 feet, on Backbone Mountain about 20 miles south west). Now a ride of 50 miles with 4,600 feet of climbing may not seem challenging at first glance. But consider that the majority of the elevation comes in two sustained climbs and you will understand the significance.
The first climb starts in Westernport with a nasty section affectionately referred to as the “Westernport Wall.” Sections of this climb are purported to challenge you with grades up to 30%. While this is the steepest portion of the climb it isn’t really the hardest. The rest of the 9 mile climb up Big Savage Mountain with grades averaging 6% to 8% will test your will to keep turning the pedals as you make a mental note to spend more time in the gym doing core work. But find a rhythm and settle in for a long slow grind and you will be blessed with stunning landscapes as you go up, up, up.
Once you crest the summit (the real summit, not one of the pretenders that tease you into thinking you are done climbing only to laugh as you round the bend to more climbing) the descent back down to the Savage River is fast, twisty and exhilarating! Riding along the river for a few miles gives you just enough time to recover and prepare for the next major climb of the day.
Dry Run Rd is about 6.5 miles of unrelenting climbing. Another 6% to 8% sufferfest is on tap, with top ten Strava times in the range of 30 to 40 minutes. You will still be feeling the effort from Big Savage Mountain too, so this one will really hurt. But the sense of accomplishment is tremendous regardless of how long it takes to crest the summit. There are plenty of false flats to lull you into thinking the end is nearer than it is. Keep your mental edge sharp and know it will be a long steady effort.
If all this makes it seem like a hard day in the saddle, it is. Truth be told when I first went out there I didn’t make it all the way. It was too much for my physical fitness level. But I was hooked by the sublime, unapologetic character of the mountain and a desire to test myself on some of the best climbs the Free State has to offer.
Some things to consider when riding this route:
- There are bears. It is not common, but not unheard of to encounter wildlife in this area. Be prepared.
- Much of the route is without cell coverage. Be prepared.
- Once you leave Westernport and start climbing there is no easy access to water or food. Be prepared.
If you have questions, feel free to call or come by the shop. I am happy to help. If you rode this route let me know what you think. I love sharing ride stories and look forward to hearing yours.
Thanks for reading, now get out there and ride!