Minding the W&OD

“Everything is walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright

Q: “What’s the secret to a long marriage?”

A: “Don’t get divorced?” Olivia Harrison

After a rather ambitious week of riding (252 miles), I decided it was time to up my game. I had intended to ride the Whites Ferry Loop on Saturday but I got underway a bit late and decided to abandon the effort about 28 miles from home. The resulting 57-mile excursion left me wanting something more better.

And so I launched Big Nellie intending to ride the big beast to Purcellville. About 1/4 mile from home, its rear shifter cable snapped in two, so I returned home for The Mule. While changing out of my recumbent clothes (regular street clothes) into biking gear I had an asthma attack.

My asthma diagnosis is mild persistent asthma. It manifests itself not in wheezing episodes but in labored breathing and a fog of depression. One puff of a rescue inhaler (albuterol sulfate) and my lungs settled down. I hopped on The Mule ready to rumble.

The out-and-back route involves three miles on suburban streets to the Mount Vernon Trail. The trail takes me north along the Potomac River about six miles to the Four Mile Run Trail at National Airport. After another three miles the FMRT ends in Shirlington where I pick up the Washington and Old Dominion rail trail which goes 44 1/2 miles all the way to Purcellville at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’ve probably done this ride ten times. It’s a good test of riding endurance and the ride (except for one hill on the way back about 2 1/2 miles from home) seems virtually flat. I said “seems” because ride gains elevation then gives it up, resulting in about 1,400 of gross elevation gain.

The scale of the chart is deceptive; each gain in elevation is gradual, but for a handful of abrupt rollers from time to time. The biggish hill from mile 32 to mile 39 is mostly uninterrupted. The one from mile 1 to mile 9 has several cross streets and traffic lights making it hard to take advantage of the favorable grade on the return.

Along the way the trail passes through Arlington, Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Leesburg, Clarks Gap (the high point), Paeonian Springs, and Hamilton Station before ending in Purcellville.

It always seems like a long slog on the way out. Mostly I attribute this to the gradual elevation gain. There’s also a psychological element that I’ve never been able to get my head around. Going places somehow seems much longer than returning, regardless of your mode of transport.

The density of trail users fluctuated as I passed through more heavily populated areas. If you’re into beer, you can stop at several mircobrewies along the way. (I didn’t.) Many years ago the area near Dulles Airport was farmland but nowadays it’s suburban sprawl. From Ashburn to Leesburg is less developed. You can check out a quarry if rocks are your thing. From Leesburg to Purcellville is a tunnel of green bliss, easily my favorite part of the trail.

My odometer is rather sketchy but it read 56.36 miles when I reached Purcellville. I took a selfie with one of the Purcellville signs (the other had too many bikes under it so I had to go small.

Bikey mask courtesy of Mrs. Rootchopper

There’s an old saying among marathoners. The race is 26.2 miles long. The halfway point is around 20 miles. That’s when the bear jumps on your back.

I expected the same from this ride. I had about five hours of daylight left so I was definitely in Steven Wright mode. The way to ride over 100 miles is, like Olivia Harrison says, is to keep on going.

And there I was bombing down the long grade from Clarks Gap at 20 miles per hour. The downhill grade and the mental aspect of having already seen the sights put my mind at ease. I’ll get there when I get there.

On the way out I ate a bagel with peanut butter on it. At Purcellville I snarfed some trail mix. I stopped in Leesburg on the return for more snacks. A gatorade and some cookies got my energy back up.

The gentle rise in the trail just west of Vienna started to mess with my head. It’s a false flat; it looks level but it’s not. When I finished with it, I stopped at the Vienna railroad station (long ago made inactive) and ate a Snickers bar.

23 miles to go. No guts, no glory.

As I plowed along, body parts started to complain. My thighs. My lower back. My left shoulder. To ease my discomfort, I stretched as I rode. I got out of the saddle for the short climbs, anything to distribute the fatigue. (Sadly, you can’t do this in marathons. You’re body goes all wonky and you just have to run through it which is rather depressing when you can’t lift your thighs.)

Three miles from home I decided to climb a short steep hill to avoid adding a bit of distance to the trip. It was the only time I used my granny gear. My knees were thankful.

20 minutes before sunset, I rolled into my yard. 113 miles, my longest ride since June 2018, and only my third century since then.

Anything is biking distance if you have the time and don’t quit.