In the Sunday morning quiet, my long-time cycling friend and I pedaled down an unmarked ribbon of asphalt, winding around curves and cresting short hills, threading our way through fields and past farms. All-too-accustomed to navigating suburban traffic, we savored the unfamiliar pleasure of a road free from whizzing cars and lane-hogging commercial vehicles. Then, in the distance, we saw a horse-drawn buggy approaching, with a clop of hooves and a rumble of wooden wheels. Passing, we exchanged waves with the family packed into the small carriage—only to find ourselves soon enough overtaking another one. Before long, there were more, converging from all directions, gleaming chestnut horses at a smart trot. Clearly, we’d bicycled into the church-going hour in this Shenandoah Valley Mennonite community, but it felt as though we had ridden into a time warp and lost a century when we’d taken the last turn.
Little more than an hour later we were a few miles north in a thoroughly modern Harrisonburg replete with microbreweries, yoga studios and other signifiers of 21st-century zeitgeist, waiting for a text-message notification that our breakfast table was ready at a popular local diner, the Little Grill Collective.
It is this juxtaposition of past and present, the immediate proximity of rural tranquility and modern convenience, that helps explain why Harrisonburg is becoming a quiet mecca for on- and off-road cycling. Surrounded by undeveloped farmlands traversed by miles of lightly traveled roads, with the George Washington National Forest and the Shenandoah National Park each close by, but bisected by I-81, Harrisonburg offers an easily accessible hub for biking adventurers.