An Almost Normal Sunday Ride: 52 Miles Around Sugarloaf “Mountain” in Maryland

The weekend weather was perfect here this weekend – low humidity, mostly blue skies and temps in the 60s and 70s. I had done so many local short loops I decided it was time to throw the bike on the car and do an old favorite ride: a 52 mile loop around a local attraction, Sugarloaf “Mountain.” Sugarloaf soars up to about 1300′ in elevation – which is so impressive in central Maryland that it actually counts as a monadnock, even though it is only about 1/3 as tall as Mount Monadnock in NH that I used to hike on!

This ride circles widely around Sugarloaf, and over the years I’ve done variants of it a few times each year. In recent years I’ve started in Adamstown MD, an hour drive from my house, at an elementary school near a park with a porta potty – that was still open and serviced, a bonus!

This is a pretty hilly ride, and that starting point gives me about a 3.5 mile warmup before having to climb Park Mill Road on the northern side of Sugarloaf. This is a 1 mile stretch that averages 4% incline overall but is really 3/4 of a mile at 6-7%, a brief flat to slight downhill and then a short 9% stinger. At 225 lbs, I’m not a climber – this is a challenge. The reward: , at the top lives a local guy who for some reason back in 2018 put a small jet plane in his front yard next to the road.

The reward after a 6 minute climb.

The route continues clockwise around Sugarloaf, with the option to actually climb the switchback road to the top. I’ve done that on shorter loops, not today.

My normal snack stop is at about mile 25 at a local farm market but that wasn’t open, so I kept going to mile 30 at Poolesville. I had added my top tube bag to the bike and was carrying food (and mask, sanitizer, lock, etc) just in case, so I stopped at local park and ate a few fig bars and enjoyed the sun.

A bridge over the Monocacy River along the normal route is closed for maintenance on weekends right now, so I had planned a detour that would take me over the C&O Canal Towpath at the Monocacy Aqueduct, across the river and then 3 miles upstream to the Noland’s Ferry area where I could return to the normal route.

I’d been on the Towpath a bit north of there (Point of Rocks) the day before, hiking with a friend, and knew the weather and the relaxation of some stay at home restrictions had increased the crowds, but I was not prepared for the long line of cars parked on the access road because the parking lot was full and the long lines of people walking towards the area where the Monocacy meets the Potomac – a popular boating, fishing and picnicking spot.

I stopped and put on a mask – there was no realistic way to social distance for a few hundred yards. The aqueduct over the Monocacy was crowded on the raised part where the towpath donkey’s would have crossed over but the dry “prism” (the part where the canal water carrying the canal boats would have crossed the Monocacy) was wide open and the towpath on the upstream side wasn’t crowded – I was able to put the mask away.

The Towpath has been resurfaced for many miles in this area and the surface was a nice flat crushed limestone and very pleasant. The Noland’s Ferry access road had a huge amount of cars parked as well but no one on the road.

Back to normally busy and only intermittently shouldered Rt. 28 to continue the loop. The good news is the closure of the bridge really cut down traffic in my direction – a much more pleasant ride that usual.

I tend to like to do loops in the clockwise direction, since it cuts down on the number of left turns. The other good reason: on this ride there is a short but steep downhill just outside of Point of Rocks. At the bottom of the slope is a really good ice cream shop (Rocky Point Creamery) – going in this direction, flying by it at 30 mph helps avoid the temptation…

A rolling climb up Ballenger Creek Road, a short ride through scenic down town residential Adamstown and the many well-kept Victorian homes and I was back to the start.

Avid cyclist, sometimes touring cyclist. My main road bike is a Trek Domane SL6, my touring/unpaved riding bike is now a Jamis Renegade. I'm located in Maryland, about midway between Baltimore and Washington DC.

9 response to "An Almost Normal Sunday Ride: 52 Miles Around Sugarloaf “Mountain” in Maryland"

  1. By: Scooter Posted: June 1, 2020

    I enjoyed this post, and especially for learning what a monadnock is. What a great term! And I’ll have to remember this loop. We biked a bit west of here years ago on a ride up the Blue Ridge Parkway to NYC, and talk about going back some year. This would make a great side trip.

    • By: jpescatore Posted: June 2, 2020

      Scooter – most of the standard routes for getting through Maryland stay further east to avoid hills and traffic. But, it is a great area to cycle through if you come over the Potomac at Whites Ferry or Point of Rocks.

  2. By: Bill Stone Posted: June 1, 2020

    Looks like an enjoyable ride. And if you decide to cut it short, you can always hop in the jet for a quick flight home. 😉

    By the way, I remember the Monocacy Aqueduct area as one of the best-maintained — and busiest — segments of the C&O trail.

    • By: jpescatore Posted: June 2, 2020

      Bill – I’m on the C&O Canal Towpath a lot, both walking and biking. Monocacy is one of the areas the National Park Service has improved and since there is a boat launch outside the NPS part and the Potomac is navigable by boats with outboard engines, it has always been a popular place – never this popular, though!

  3. By: gregblood Posted: June 1, 2020

    Like Bill, I thought of that plane ride home too. But that would deprive people of the exciting downhill. The guy should have offered flights in the jet at the beginning of the climb.

    I’ve heard the word “monadnock” before. Was it somewhere in Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass?” Perhaps I’ll never know.

    EDIT: Come to think of it, I was probably thinking of “Montauk.”

    • By: jpescatore Posted: June 2, 2020

      Gregblood – I grew on Long Island NY and my first bike “tour” as a 12 year old was 3 friends and I strapping sleeping bags on our five speeds and riding the 100 miles from Freeport to Montauk – long before I’d ever heard that called a century!

      I went to college at the University of Connecticut and we hiked up Mt. Monadnock in NH, which is where I learned about the term. I believed it came from a Native American word for “isolated mountain.”

      Years later, I returned on a motorcycle, camped at the state park there and they just happened to be having a Sunset/Moon rise hike – walk up to watch the sunset in the west, walk back down to see the full moon rise in the east, a convergence that I guess happens periodically.

  4. By: Rich-Illinois Posted: June 1, 2020

    Sounds like a great ride — my Q is: How did the guy get the plane up there in the first place?

    I do know what a monadnock is, finding bedrock in this part of Illinois is like Bill finding an alley in Santa Rosa. 🙂

  5. By: The Navigator Posted: June 2, 2020

    I wonder how you get council permission to erect a jet in your yard? I like your rationale for the direction you ride loops, though I would have the opposite rationale for the ice cream shop. That would need to be before the big uphill because I’d need the energy to get up the hill, of course!

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