Round and Round in the Park

Today we’ve returned to typical DC summer weather. Hot and humid.

I checked the website for Prince William Forest Park, a national park that is oddly situated right next to I-95 about 30 miles south of my house. The website said the park was open so I put the CrossCheck on the back of my car and headed south.

Upon arrival I could see a barricade across the access road into the park. Hmmm. The website said the park was open. There were no signs restricting parking on the highway so I parked my car on the shoulder. I rode around the barricade and was soon surrounded by green.

My plan was to ride the park’s scenic drive which I recalled as being a 17- mile loop. As it turned out it was more like seven miles. No worries, Instead of two or three laps I would do four or more.

You ride uphill then down to get to the scenic drive. Riding in a counterclockwise direction, I started climbing as I entered the circuit. At one point the road has a cycletrack on it. (See the picture above.)

Since the park entry was blocked off, the roads were car free but for a couple of Park Service trucks going about their business. All the trees acted as a sound barrier; I couldn’t hear I-95 which was less than a mile away. No cars. Birds singing. Smooth pavement.


I saw about 15 people in total. Two on recumbent trikes, two on road bikes, and the rest on foot.

The loop road goes uphill for about a mile then seems to plateau for five miles or so. Then it descends and the road curves this way and that. I hit 40 miles per hour, an especially sweet experience without big metal things to worry about.

After the big descent the inevitable climb begins in three stages. The first two stages come at the end of the loop. These were hard and had me huffing and puffing. After the second stage comes another brief descent to the end of the loop. The third uphill stage is the start of the next time around the loop.

I did four loops. By this point I was running low on water and decided to ride out of the park. As I cleared the park, I emerged from the shade. My car was sitting in an inferno. I’m sure glad I picked a shady place to ride today.

A Year in the Woods

This was my second year of doing day hikes. Early in the year I made a list of hikes that I wanted to do on my white board at work. I modified the list, adding three hikes that friends of mine did during the year and taking off two hikes, Bull Run Mountain and Sky Meadows, because they are in an area that is infested with ticks. (One of my coworkers contracted Lyme disease at Sky Meadows.)

Hike List 2015

As you can see I cross off quite a few hikes.

To get the year off on the right foot, I went up to Great Falls Park in Maryland and did the Billy Goat B and C trails. I had done this last summer and enjoyed the route but not the heat. This is about a six mile hike, mostly flat.  It was a good way to start the year.

For the next several months I forgot about hiking. I don’t honestly know why. When I realized that I had missed some of the year’s best hiking weather I kicked it into gear on the first weekend in June and re-visited Rock Creek Park. This time I did the Valley and West Ridge trails in a counter clockwise direction. It’s a good hike, about 10 miles or so.

It was time to get away from the city. The next weekend I found a hike online that seemed to offer some solitude. It was an out and back hike on the section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia known as Ashby Hollow. The trail was rocky and the the ups and downs lived up to the nickname Roller Coaster. I was amazed that through hikers did this section of the trail carrying big backpacks. I saw a couple too.  More power to you folks.

I was on a roll. A luck would have it Ultrarunnergirl was looking to go for a hike in the Shenandoah National Park. We headed out to White Oak Cannon. Here, she advised me to buy a year pass to the National Park system. Great idea. We hiked up the canyon, enjoying waterfalls all the way up.  At the top of the trail we took a fire road up to Skyline Drive. At her suggestion, we hiked up the steep trail to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Hiking down beat the crap out of my legs. To get back to the start we took the Cedar Run Trail. This was a pretty trail but it was also rocky and the rocks were slippery. Ultrunnergirl’s iPhone went for a swim. She went for a rock slide near the end of the hike. This was my first non-solo hike since college. It was also my first hike in Shenandoah National Park. If you live in the mid-Atlantic and do not take advantage of this park you are really missing out.

A couple of weeks later, I headed back to the park for a hike up Little Devil Stairs.  This was pretty challenging and involved crossing and re-crossing a stream. Well worth the early wake up on a day off from work.

I took the rest of July off.

I started August with a hike on the exotically names Potomac Heritage Trail. It was not the best hike but it was close to home. Then, in mid-August, on my 60th birthday, I did the most popular hike in these parts, Old Rag. It was quite challenging. I was a bit annoyed by the rock scramble. At one point I had to wedge myself into a gap between two boulders and hike vertically, with my back against one boulder and my feet on the other. Not my style at all. The view from the summit was pretty darn nice. If you want solitude, find another hike.

In September we took a long vacation in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. We did a whole mess of walking including an easy short hike at  Kata Tjuta in the outback.

Kata Tjuta Walk


After returning home, I made my way back to Great Falls Park in Maryland for an easy hike along the River and Gold Mine Loop trails.  I’d done each of these before but separately.

The next week, I drove to Prince William Forest Park down near Quantico. The trails here are not very well marked so I was a bit confused as to where I was or where I was going. Nevertheless, I cobbled together a pretty successful loop hike.

My last hike (unless I get really motivated in December) combined two hikes near Harper’s Ferry. Maryland Heights and Weverton Cliff offer fantastic overlooks of the Potomac River, Harper’s Ferry and the Shenandoah River.  This was my longest hike by far. Probably about 3 miles longer than I was comfortable doing.

I am learning what I like and don’t like about hiking. I am not a big fan of rocks. I don’t like rock scrambles. Nor do I like rocky trails. I am not a big fan of fording streams either. I am afraid that I am going to turn an ankle, fall, or get soaked. Since most of my hikes are solo, any one of these would be bad news.

So that’s how I put my best foot forward this year. I hope next year that I do more hiking with friends. So if you live in DC and wanna go for a trek in the woods, I’m all ears.

No Spokes Just Laces – A Hike in Prince William Forest Park

I know it’s a blog about bicycling. What can I say? It was 40 something degrees outside when I finished breakfast. I didn’t want to freeze my noo-noos off riding a bike so I decided to go for a hike.

Prince William Forest Park is located right next to Quantico and just off busy I-95. Sounds like a crappy place to hike doesn’t it? Well it’s not.

The park is owned by the National Park Service. Since they are not a charity and since our government is run by a bunch of fiscally incompetent cheap bastards you have to pay a fee. Fortunately for me, I bought and annual National Parks Pass. (Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl, for telling me about this.) I got in free.

I drove to the park on US 1 because I-95 was, as usual, a parking lot. US 1 is some kind of ugly. For some reason I have lived near it for most of my adult life. South of DC it is an urban planners nightmare.

Having endured nearly an hour of suburban and exurban ugly, I was ready to commune with the forest. Prince William did not disappoint.

I am somewhat notorious for my inability to navigate trails. I always screw up. I found that the trail markings in this park defied comprehension. At one point a mountain biker (I think he was riding illegally but he knew where he was and I didn’t so more power to him) gave me directions. I hiked the Laurel Trail to the South Valley Trail which foll22278796395_595eed0555_zows the south fork of the Quantico Creek. The best part about these trials was the fact that they were smooth. Some of the trails I’ve hiked in Shenandoah National Park and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland are so rocky that my feet are killing me after a mile or two. Not here. Sure there are a few rocks now and then and some tree roots but sure footing was the rule of the day.

Quantico Creek sure is pretty this time of year. Leaves were changing from green to yellow, brown and red. T22281844875_69700a106f_zhe leaves on the ground made a perfect swishing sound as I walked through them. Sunlight cast spotty shadows all through the surrounding forest.

Now and then I passed small waterfalls. Pretty for the eyes and the ears.

After a few miles along the creek I turned north, headed for the Turkey Run educational Center. I wasn’t looking for learnin’ I was looking for the Turkey Run Ridge Trail. This trail took me back to where the bike rider had given me directions. Along the way, I spooked a deer who was getting a drink in the creek next to the trail. It was a young buck with rather short antlers.

For quite a while I thought I was lost. I passed a couple coming my way. I had seen them on the South Valley Trail earlier so I knew they were hiking my loop in the opposite direction.

The finish was uphill back to the Visitors Center. The wind picked up. Trees started groaning as they swayed and rubbed trunks together. It made a spooky sound. Halloween’s coming, isn’t it.

Despite my proximity to one of the busiest interstate highways in the eastern US, I couldn’t hear any of the traffic. Just the sound of the forest.

The temperature was just right. Mid 50s with very little humidity. I barely broke a sweat. I wore a base layer under an old sweatshirt and shorts.

Tomorrow it’s back to bike commuting. It should be near freezing and dark when I leave home. I’m breaking out the winter gear and my new bicycle death ray. During the day tomorrow I’ll see if I can telecommute for the next five months from Buenos Aires, Christchurch or Melbourne. Maybe if I brought my boss a pumpkin spice latte (better him than me).