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Roberta and Noah Sachs in front of the Mayhurst Inn in Orange. Photo courtesy Roberta Oster Sachs
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Roberta Oster Sachs taking a break en route toBarboursville. Photo courtesy Roberta Oster Sachs
I had no idea that my husband's secret plan to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary would lead to one of the most challenging workouts of my life. Noah had mapped out a three-day, 100-mile bicycle trip through Virginia wine country, peddling between the pillars of pain and pleasure.
Before this trip, my longest bike ride had been three hours. I tried to imagine biking for three days straight. Frightening. Our children thought we were crazy. "Why don't you go to The Jefferson Hotel for dinner?" our daughter, Claudia, had asked.
Good question, but The Jefferson was not what Noah had in mind. An environmental law professor at the University of Richmond, he is happiest in the woods or by a lake. And Noah is buff, after training for more than a year with the P90X (Power 90 Extreme) exercise program.
I am a runner and I play tennis and ski, but I also appreciate beach vacations, massages and manicures. I recently joined the SEAL Team Physical Training group in Richmond, run by a former Navy SEAL, and I work out at 5:45 a.m. every weekday. I thought with that training, I could handle anything.
Noah's plan was to traverse back roads through Louisa, Orange and Albemarle counties, northwest of Richmond. He smiled and explained, "We'll pedal hard all day and enjoy a luxurious inn each night." I could do that. We loaded up the bike rack, drove to Louisa, and parked in a town lot.
Riding out of town, we quickly entered the ethereal countryside with rolling hills, horse farms, cows and neatly wrapped hay rolls sitting in open fields. My lungs filled with country air and anticipation. Fifteen miles later, we arrived at Lake Anna and ate a picnic lunch as osprey, eagles and blue herons played in the water.
It was all uphill from Lake Anna. With my backpack pulling down on my shoulders and my calves in spasm, I pushed through the pain and kept telling myself to think about the luxury inn. By dusk, we arrived at the Mayhurst Inn. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, this white Georgian plantation home built in 1859 sits on 37 stunning acres of Virginia Piedmont just outside the town of Orange.
After sipping local wine on the veranda (I tried a Barboursville Pinot Grigio and Horton Vineyards' Norton), I peeled off my biking clothes and sank slowly into our private Jacuzzi. I closed my eyes in the king-size, four-poster bed with white linens and down pillows, and forgot the pain in my throbbing calves.
On day two, after an elaborate breakfast, we rode straight down Route 20 to Barboursville. Noah's next enticement was a gourmet lunch at the award-winning Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards. We pulled clean clothes from our backpacks for a quick transformation and sat down to a toast of Barboursville Brut.
The lunch was exquisite — asparagus soup, seared scallops and lamb kebabs, all perfectly paired with wine. Executive Chef Melissa Close Hart wrote "Happy Anniversary" on the edge of our dessert plate in a delicate script made of strawberry coulis. Noah had hit a sweet spot and he knew it. My calves and shoulders were aching, but I was being lifted into a sensual landscape.
The light was changing and softening. Looking out at the vineyards, we could have been in Sonoma or the hills of Tuscany. A lush landscape with countless shades of green and puffy white clouds in a Monet blue sky. One more toast to our 13 years and we were off again. "Just another 15 miles this afternoon," Noah said with a mischievous smile. At first, the wine helped to flatten out the elevation. But after a few miles, the sky became grayer and the hills, steeper.
The 15-mile journey from Barboursville to Ruckersville felt like 150. As we headed toward the Blue Ridge, the road got narrower, windier and more vertical. The sky was darkening fast. Soon sheets of cold rain came down, pounding our helmets. After three miles of biking in the rain, we arrived at Cedar Springs Inn and Spa, 11 miles north of Charlottesville.
A stucco house sitting on a hilltop ringed by cedar trees overlooking the north fork of the Rivanna River and the Blue Ridge Mountains, this was no historic bed-and-breakfast. It was glamorous and modern. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a pool and hot tub, with rose bushes and rolling hills emerging from the mist.
"The pool is heated to 84 degrees," said the innkeeper, Judy McBee. So we swam in the rain and held each other in the hot tub. "Happy anniversary," Noah said with a sweet smile. We had covered a tortuous 60 miles and arrived at an oasis with a sauna, steam room and 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets — a Tuscan-style estate with an elegant European flair. I couldn't believe we were just over an hour from home. Who needs to fly to Europe? Virginia has the magic.
The next morning, Noah said, "We need to hit the road. Don't worry, most of it is downhill to Louisa." Downhill, sure. It was an arduous trek of more than 40 miles. The ride went on forever. At one point I was cursing Noah, and the next minute I was thinking how lucky I am to have a husband with this kind of spirit. "Just keep pedaling, you can do it, you're on the SEAL training team," I told myself as trucks flew by on U.S. 33. We arrived back in Louisa at dinnertime, minutes before another torrential downpour.
There is no better way to see Virginia than on a bike. I love the freedom and simplicity of two wheels and simple forward motion. The earth moving past us, close enough to touch and smell. We had found our balance between pain and pleasure, exhaustion and exhilaration. All of this, just an hour from Richmond.
Roberta Oster Sachs is president of Oster Sachs Communications, a media and consulting firm in Richmond.