Trails to home

Today was the first day since the before times that we allowed our bi-weekly cleaning service back into our house. This meant that my wife and I didn’t have to spend a good part of the day cleaning. It also meant that we needed to get out of the cleaners’ way. Normally, we would go to a diner then a library. With that off the table (or booth) my wife made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t we drive someplace, I’ll drop you off and you can ride your bike home?”

Sounds like a plan to me.

So we jumped in my dusty Accord and drove to Purcellville, Virginia at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would ride east 45 miles on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail back to Arlington. There I’d pick up the Four Mile Run Trail for a couple of miles before turning south on the Mount Vernon Trail.

With the pandemic still in evidence, the drive to the start was uneventful. I left my wife to check out the bakery at the trailhead. (Thumbs up on the eclairs, she reports.)

I expected the ride to be mostly downhill. It is. Purcellville is at 575 feet whereas the low point of the ride near National Airport is at 15 feet. Of course there are a few long grades both up and down along the way, as well as a few abrupt rollers to keep things interesting.

What I wasn’t counting on was the headwind. Having an invisible hand on my chest put a damper on my speed. I did do a few miles at 18 to 20 miles per hour but not as many as I had hoped.

The trails were not crowded at all, except for one group of eight old folks out for a meander. Old people suck. Oh, wait….

Anyway, a few minutes delay is not much to complain about.

I had two small energy bars left over from my 50-States Ride goodie bag. That’s all I ate. I was surprised that I didn’t bonk. I also drank two large water bottles. Maybe my modest intake is to blame for the cramps that came on during my post-ride stenosis physical therapy session.

Outside Purcellville I saw a momma and a young deer. They were too shy to be photographed. Later I saw a Dad with his daughter examining a box turtle that had inched onto the trail. My final critter of the day was a rather large groundhog that was standing at attention a foot off the trail in Vienna. It seemed not the least bit concerned about me as I rode past.

The trees are turning. I had hoped for more reds but today offered more browns and yellows. One big leaf decided to hitchhike on my front wheel causing a racket when it got stuck between my tire and fender.

I was sorely tempted by the breweries and brew pubs along the trail. There seems to be one every five miles or so. You could get a serious buzz on if you stopped at each one.

East of Vienna the trail is undergoing work. There’s a detour that I couldn’t quite figure out but once I got straightened away, I found it: a on-road protected cycletrack (two lanes, one in each direction). Well done. In Falls Church city, the trail is being doubled to accommodate traffic. (I wonder if people opposed the trail when it was being built, thinking nobody will use it. Can’t imagine what they’re thinking now.) The detour around the construction is on road and unprotected. There’s hardly any car traffic so no worries.

At the eastern end of the Falls Church construction is a new bridge that will take the trial over North Washington Street and do away with a dangerous at-grade crossing. It looks like the bridge is nearly done. It’ll be a huge improvement.

Back on the street near home, drivers weren’t allowing me to move over to make a left-hand turn. I kept riding straight and overshot my turn. Before doubling back I could see the line for early voting at the government center down the street. Yesterday the line extended nearly a half mile along the sidewalk. Today, it was considerably shorter but my wife says that’s because people were a bit more bunched together. These two days brought to mind the lines at the polling place on election day 2008 when the prospect of the first black president brought an incredible turnout.

It’s been a while since I did a point-to-point ride, the stuff of bike tours. DC-area trails are limited in coverage and connectivity but if you play your cards right you can ride 57 miles and do 54 1/2 of them without a big metal thing breathing down your neck. Not a bad way to avoid a cleaning crew if you ask me.

I’d ride a century for a Haute Dog

During the week, I am a mild mannered bike commuter. On four day weekends, I am El Velo Loco. I am also bent, as I am riding Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.

Yesterday, I decided to go exploring in southeastern Fairfax County. I spent about five hours riding up and down hills. I had intended to ride to Clifton Virginia, cross the Occoquan River and make my way home through Prince William County. I missed a turn. I rode by a prison. It’s been closed for ten years but the guard towers and walls are still there. I can’t imaging living near something like that. I ended up riding down to Mason Neck, an isolated part of Fairfax County. In the process, I rode down an old road that used to cross over the main railroad line on a single lane old wooden bridge. Nowadays, the bridge is blocked off. I went around the barricade and walked my bike over the span. The wood was weathered with ruts where car tires once drove. Southeastern Fairfax County used to have several one lane bridges, twisty roads with blind curves and hills.

Temperatures for this hill-fest topped out at 88 degrees and it was muggy to boot.  I was pleased with my riding though. I never felt uncomfortable and I had no trouble breathing.

Paul is a friend from grad school who occasionally does bike rides when he’s not playing hockey, softball, selling used CDs, DJing, or going to concerts. Oh, and he has a day job too. Paul told me about a new eatery called Haute Dogs and Fries that specializes in hot dogs (and fries). They have one location in Old Town Alexandria and another in Purcellville Virginia. The former is seven miles from my house; the latter is 55 miles away. Guess which one I rode to?

Aw, you’ve read this blog before have you?

I headed out to P’ville at 8:30. It was comfortable outside but I knew that would change. I lucked out with a strong breeze out of the east. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run trail. On the way, I passed Nancy Duley who was veloworking again.

The wind pushed me along Four Mile Run until I picked up the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Shirlington. 45 miles of mostly gradual uphill is a little like riding a false flat for 4 hours. It looks flat but there is a persistent incline most of the way. I spun away through Arlington, Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Lessburg, Clarks Gap, Hamilton Station and finally P’ville. Along the way I stopped and topped off my water bottles at every opportunity. At 33 miles, I re-applied sun screen. I brought some snacks and munched away at them whenever my energy felt a little low,

The trail was surprisingly uncrowded. This might have had something to do with the heat and humidity. The temperature peaked at 91 degrees, but it was a wet heat. It was not a lot of fun when the sun broke through the clouds.

There were several stretches where the trail tilts downward as it goes west. I would crank it up to 20 miles per hour. By Leesburg, it was apparent that the tailwind was now coming from my left side. No worries. Pedal, pedal.

I arrived in P’ville around 1:30. After a stop in a bike shop where I inhaled a Gatorade, I made my way to Haute Dogs, in a new strip mall in town. There are several dogs with heavy toppings like chili, cheese, and hot peppers. After 5 hours in the heat, these did not sound appealing so I ordered a Fenway Dog (with relish, mustard and onions I think) and fries. The dog came on a grilled bun and the fries had some sort of seasoning. It was way good. So was the ice cold Coke. Nom nom.

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Back on the bike, I found that I now had a tailwind! Woo hoo! It varied a bit, but there was no doubt I’d get an assist most of the way home.

And that gradual uphill was now a gradual downhill. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time in my big ring. I continued to stop now and then for cold water and snacks. (I had a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich at a trailside barbecue place in Ashburn. Nutrition is important, you know,)

I’ve been riding the W&OD for a couple of decades. It’s amazing how much it has changed. It used to pass through woods and farmers’ fields beyond Reston. Now, more and more of these rural scenes have been replaced by housing developments and highways. Nature still makes an appearance along the trail though. I saw a huge black snake, a black squirrel, a bunny rabbit, and an indigo bunting during my travels.

Despite the heat, I was doing pretty darn good on my ride home. Around mile 80, my knees started complaining. The only thing I could do was to focus on spinning in low gears and keep on pedaling.

When I finally made it back to the Mount Vernon Trail, I was greeted with a headwind for the last nine miles home. At least, along the river, it was a little less hot (cooler just doesn’t do the trick here).

On the spur of the moment I took the US 1 connector path instead of the MVT south of the beltway. Car traffic getting on to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River was backed up for over a mile. I rode past the line of forlorn drivers thinking that I was so glad to be on a bike heading in the opposite direction. The drivers’ misery nearly took my mind off the hill I was climbing. This was followed by a bigger hill where Fort Hunt Road crests Beacon Hill. It took a while and my knees were barking but we made it without much drama. The downhill on the backside was so much fun I decided to add one more hill on Sherwood Hall Lane. This made for a final mile that was all downhill. Ahh.

Next time I go to Haute Dogs, I will visit their Old Town location. Because it’s there.