Between the Rivers

Today was a beautiful day in the Old Dominion. I left early this morning to meet up with some other women bicyclists with the Washington Women Outdoors organization. My friend Julia jumped in at the last minute last night so I was even more energized to ride with her!

We met in Remington, VA which is very close to the Rappahannock River. It’s a tiny incorporated town of about 600 residents. We parked at the elementary school and eventually got going down the road.

Many people were out mowing so there was lots of grass on the road, but it was blowing away fairly quickly. There was a slight breeze out of the north – just enough to keep us cool. I saw lots of butterflies. I’m used to seeing yellow and blue/black swallowtails, but today I saw one that was about that size but more brown. I’m thinking maybe they were Great Spangled Fritillaries.  THESE ARE NOT MY PHOTOS!

They seemed to be enjoying the freshly mowed grass and light breeze.

My stomach always growls when I bike, so about 11:30 this morning it was time to stop for food. Fortunately, we found this place:

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It may not look like much from the outside, but inside I found a treasure:

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Twix ice cream bars? Someone has been holding out on me! I had no idea these existed! Maybe I was better not knowing. Nonetheless, the one today was timely and delicious!

We got back on the road for the remaining 10 miles and came to a place called Kelly’s Ford. Yes, it’s a good name … even if spelled incorrectly.

In Virginia, because we have so much water, we see all these “Ford” and “Mill” roads from the past. A ford was where one crossed the water and mills were of course where you took grain or corn to be ground down for flour. These days there are ford and mill roads, but no existing structures. Still, you will always find a watercourse when you see that kind of designation.

This was a big marker because the battle of Kelly’s Ford was a pretty big deal in the Civil War. It is marked well with a new bridge as well as historical markers:

 

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The actual ford:

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And the ford was to cross the Rappahannock:

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There was an amusing interchange between Union commander William Averell and Confederate Commander Fitzhugh Lee recorded on one of the placards. It is a reminder that the leadership in many of these units were friends, classmates, and even roommates before the war at the various educational institutions, especially the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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We rode back into Remington and enjoyed lunch at the local diner. Total mileage 32 miles. What a great day!

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1903 building in Remington – unoccupied at present

 

 

 

Circumnavigating Northern Virginia

I started the morning at the Fairfax County Government Center where I had to get fingerprinted in order to work with youth in the County as an instructor. That was quick and painless so I left my car in the lot, and got on my Surly, planning to head south again.

Part of the reason I started riding south on the Fairfax County Parkway Trail and the 123 Sidepath recently is because I live so close to the W&OD I’m actually a little tired of riding it. It’s getting a bit . . . predictable.

But now I can say the same about the Fairfax County Parkway Trail. I know it well enough that I don’t have a need to explore it any longer.

So today I didn’t stay on it but instead went down the 123 sidepath to Lorton. I didn’t stop at the Workhouse Arts Center but turned towards Rt. 1. I love all the new roads over in this area of the County — they all have bike infrastructure. There are wide sidepaths as well as beautifully-delineated bike lanes. There’s no physical barrier for the bike lane. I wonder how much use the bike lanes on Rt. 1 will see.  If it had been busy, with traffic at speed, it might have been a bit intimidating. But the nice, wide sidepath is great.  When weather and time start to fade the bike lane paint on Rt. 1, who knows whether the usage will stay strong.

In some ways I wish they had saved the $$ they used for designing and painting the bike-lanes, and used it for something else bike friendly, like a bike lane or path along 235 towards Mount Vernon.

I stopped at the Arby’s at the corner of Jeff Todd Way and Rt. 1 to get a small bite to eat, ice for my water bottle and platypus and COLD water. After being told I was crazy by some guy eating his lunch (for biking, not in general), I crossed Rt. 1 heading east. August is a great time to ride this stretch because tourist traffic is so low on George Washington Memorial Highway (235) towards Mount Vernon. For the sake of discovery, this time I took a side trip so I didn’t stay on 235 as long (there is little shoulder and no path). I went towards the river on Ferry Landing Road which then curved left to become the Old Mount Vernon Road. It was a nice side trip. I got back to 235 about where the tour buses line up. Today there were no tour buses (YAY) so it was easy to zip right through past the estate entrance and then jump on the Mount Vernon Trail.

I saw quite a few Bike & Roll renters going towards Mount Vernon. I considered it a kindness to not tell them about the last challenging hill. If you’ve ridden to Mount Vernon from Alexandria, you know of whence I speak!

Got to Alexandria, rode through Old Town, then past the airport and up to Arlington. When I got to Rosslyn I took a break at Starbucks. I had ridden 40 miles at that point and the heat index was pretty bad, so I decided to get on the Metro. Multimodal makes life too easy sometimes.

I told myself that if the Silver train showed up first, I would take it to the last stop (my stop) and then ride my bike past my house and down to the Government Center (remember, that’s where my car was). And if an Orange train showed up first, I’d ride to Vienna and ride from there to the Government Center. The mileage would have been about the same but the trip on the Silver Line would have been mmmmuuuucccchhhh longer! I was happy to get one of the newer cars – more room for the bike and the A/C works.

Orange it was so I passengered to Vienna and then exited on the south side. It took a few minutes for me to figure out a way to get from the station over to Government Center but when I remembered the seat of power is near REI in Fairfax, a route immediately came to mind. Funny how knowing landmarks helps shape my mental map. The only hairy part was that I was on 2-lane Waples Mill for a while (to save a mile). Because traffic was pretty quiet, it wasn’t too bad, but again – this is one of those roads that are best left to the fearless cyclist.

I resisted stopping at REI and made it back to the car, rounding the day out at just past 50. If I’d not taken Metro I would have had an extra 20 or so, but I was pleased with my efforts for the day. It was HOT!

So now I’ve stopped by the Farmers Market, secured some yummy peaches and tomatoes and a watermelon and some salmon. Life is sweet!

Ramping Back Up

Getting ready for another long ride requires riding as often as possible. Not just long miles, but daily rides of whatever distance I can fit into the schedule.

On Saturday I taught a lesson to a young boy in the south part of the County. I drove down there out of time expediency. We had an hour before the rain showed up and he was well along the way to riding, but will need another session with me or someone else. We did the lesson at his school parking lot – he and his mom had walked over. I drove them home since it was raining. As we crossed the road where there was a crosswalk, I asked, “Do you have a crossing guard on that road?” The mom answered, “No, they ride the bus.”

Their home is 3/10 of a mile from the school. There’s a high-contrast crosswalk that everyone uses when it’s not school time, but they take a bus to school because the road is too busy. Does this make sense to anyone? Additionally, the mom told me the principal said they “must” ride the bus citing safety. Sigh.

At any rate, that afternoon the sun came out and I took a bike ride over to our community’s original ‘heart’ and watched the Inaugural Cardboard Boat Regatta. It was a blast!

We couldn’t believe it when this craft took to the waters of Lake Anne. It was beautiful – a true Batboatmobile.

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However, the laws of physics dictate that to float, the cardboard boat must not have too much weight in it. And five young men was too much. Not only were they whacking each other as they tried to paddle, but the end result was predictable:boat2

They earned the Titanic Award for most spectacular sinking. (They were not the only ones who sank that afternoon – thus the life jackets)

These next two kids did a fantastic job on behalf of Cornerstones. They were probably the youngest ones out there but were calm and mostly coordinated. The boat name is a rif on our community founder’s name (Robert E. Simon). Nicely done!

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And not to be missed, the senior leadership team for our community sailed the flag for Reston Association. Once they got into the same paddling rhythm, it went very well.

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It was a nice ride there and back, taking full advantage of the brand new sharrows going and bike lanes returning.  Total ride, only 11 miles round trip.

On Monday I met up with a FABB friend and we surveyed part of the Cross County Trail. It’s a mess! We’re okay with part of it being gravel, but the “not quite” gravel or pavement really stinks.

By the time I got home from that ride I had done 35 miles. Respectable.

And sadly, I saw this on my way home on Saturday. Our community has very strict rules about when homeowners can have trees removed. I suspect this person violated those rules. It’s such a shame – this was a beautiful tree with at least 50 years of growth. Even if it was diseased or dying, the policy is to let nature take its course unless the house is endangered. Since this is downhill from the house, that isn’t the case. I think the covenants people will be sending them a note soon!

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And finally, I tell people that I’m not as observant as they give me credit for. Now I have proof. I bought this book while on the bike trip so I would have something with which to engage my hands and brain when I had a little down time. I’ve been home for about a month. The trip was about a month. And not until yesterday did I actually SEE the photo on the cover. Sheesh…

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Bike Infrastructure Musings

What a boring title. Sorry, it may make you go away. But if you’re like me, these are the kinds of thoughts you have while riding.

Today I was out for a 20 miler. I charted my course so I could ride where our friends from VDOT are finishing up a repaving project on which they will paint bike lanes for the first time. Currently, the street parking is still banned, and dotted lines show where the parking will be and where the bike lanes will be. The repaving started in early July – so  street parking has been banned that entire period of time. SHOCKING FACT: Somehow people have survived! Yes, all those people who simply “cannot” live without a place to park that is right next to their residence have figured out something else to do with their cars. Makes me want to ban them permanently, but I’m not in charge of that.

But, as I rode in the future bike lane, I reflected on how vigorous (and nasty) the debate had been at the public meetings. I also reflected on how often that debate gets nasty. Why does that happen?

I hear drivers of cars say, “The bikes slow the traffic down.” Well, yes, yes we do! We can’t can’t usually go as fast as the speed limit would allow. But I only slow traffic when I’m taking the lane. And I only do that when there isn’t any good bike infrastructure for me to ride on.

What is good bike infrastructure? It’s a paved multi-use path that goes in a fairly direct route from where I have been to where I need to go. It’s clear of vegetation and if it’s on road, it’s clear of non-bike vehicles. On road, it’s also clear of joggers, strollers, and clueless tourists.

So, I’ll get out of the way of the impatient motorist if that motorist will just provide a bike lane. Protected would be better, but I’ll settle for any at all, just to be able to make my connections. But angry motorists often say they don’t want to PAY for bike lanes since they are only for a small number of people. Plus, (they argue), losing one traffic lane in order to put in a bike lane slows the traffic.

The road I was on today has a speed limit of 25mph. It’s one lane each way for the majority of it, and there are areas of car parking that come and go. Oh, let’s not forget the senior housing, pool, and school that are on the road. A bike can’t slow down the traffic much more than it already SHOULD be going.

Impatient motorist tells me to “get on the path”. If it meets the criteria above (most importantly that it goes where I need to go), I am happy to get on it. However, I have found the most direct and useful paths are also full of people walking, meandering, pushing strollers, and roller blading. All of this is often done while people are talking on phones (oblivious to their surroundings) and/or insulated from outside interaction by earbuds or headphones. It doesn’t matter how many times I ring a bell or call out, “Passing on your left”, there are people who are startled by the fact that I actually approach them.

Imagine if you’re driving on a beltway or ring road. If you want to pass another car, you must signal, move into the next left lane, move up until you’re past them, signal again, and move back. That’s the way it ought to work. What if you had to honk to signal to them you were coming, and then hope they didn’t startle and pull into your lane?

The assumption on the beltway is that everyone sticks to their own lane until it’s safe to move somewhere else. And the reason people can go 60-70mph and not have constant crashes is that everyone understands that in order to be safe, one must be situationally aware of the traffic around them.

The equivalent of that on the trails or multi-use paths is don’t be so preoccupied with your audio that you lose concentration of the world around you. Doing so not only means you’re missing the very thing you probably came outside to enjoy (i.e., nature) but you’re an easy target for any person who wants to rob or assault you.

There are definitely jerks on bikes. On occasion, I have been one of them. There are definitely jerks driving cars. On occasion, I have been one of them too. And there are definitely jerks walking/running and on occasion that has been a label that applies to me as well. But I’m trying very hard NOT to be that person, and I challenge my biking/driving/walking friends to do the same. Don’t be that person who ruins someone else’s day. Instead, be that person who lifts them up with a smile, a “good morning” or whatever human interaction fills your tank.

We should all be more kind to one another. If you’re so angry biking that you have to be nasty, you’re missing the whole point of biking.

A long great day

Once again, I tried to do the BIG loop of my county. You see, Fairfax County is 400 square miles. Not 40 like Arlington, which you can ride a loop in and still have energy to do 4 more. 400!  So riding from the north of the county to the south, over to the east and back up to home is an all day proposition.

I woke up to gorgeous weather. It was hard to believe we’re in August. We had cool weather, nice cloud cover, and low humidity. I don’t know who the weather guessers paid off to get this Sunday, but I’m willing to kick in some funds too!

I left the house around 8:45. First stretch was bike lanes, then quiet streets, then a paved trail for 15 miles.

Then I turned left (still on the marked route) and rode on a somewhat busy road. Sadly, I MISSED THE TURN to go back to the south. Sigh.

So I stayed on that road which eventually lost the marginal shoulder I had enjoyed. Fortunately, it wasn’t a busy work/school day so people were pretty patient and gave me the room I needed.

I intersected with the route I had originally wanted and turned south. Then I saw a Starbucks sign. I was at 25 miles so it was time for a break. Bathroom, coffee, muffin (yeah, I know), and a quick trip to Safeway for some sunscreen (yeah, I know again – it was in my car) and then back on the road.

Soon I was in the nirvana of new bike infrastructure. Thank you VDOT and FCDOT for insisting that new car infra includes new bike infra. I rode on brand new bike lanes as well as new multi-use paths. It was HEAVEN!

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What I want you to see in this photo is:

  1.  This is Rt. 1 – the NOTORIOUS Rt. 1…and as far as you can see, a bike lane!
  2. And if you’re not comfortable riding on the road when cars are going by at 55mph, there’s a fantastic continuous multi-use path on the left!

I see this as amazingly inviting. I was getting a bit tired at this point (35 miles) but I perked right up at the opportunity to ride this bike lane! I LOVE new infra!

I turned right on the road to Mt. Vernon and was able to stay on that until George’s place. Then I hopped on the Mt Vernon trail. I was absolutely SHOCKED. The weather was brilliant but apparently the memo hadn’t gone out early enough. There were no crowds, no tour buses, and on the trail — very little traffic. Again, fantastic riding conditions.

There were a couple of parents out there with littles on bikes. Some were new riders – you could tell from their wobblies. Some were on their bikes for the first ‘real ride’ since they grew. Again — wobblies. And some were on training wheels. These are the ones that make me cringe when they’re on the trail. The bikes are SO difficult for the kids to move and the one dad was so impatient. I had to come to a stop because I couldn’t figure out just what was going on. The dad (from some country where English was not the first language) said, “He stop on purpose! He can ride!” I gently told him that I’m an instructor and that bikes with training wheels are very difficult for the child to get moving. He said, “No, he do this on purpose because he brother is behind.” The brother, smaller, was on 2 wheels.

Ahhhh…. I get it. Sibling rivalry comes in every national package, yes?

As I rode along the river I thought, “THIS is why GW wanted to go home to Mt. Vernon. THIS is the kind of day!”

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I rode the MVT until near the airport and then headed inland on the Four Mile Run Trail. I stopped in Shirlington for a bite to eat and saw this:

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It’s a bakery for dogs. Really. Apparently they board dogs too and there’s a boatload of doggie stuff in the windows to purchase. Okay, I get that people LOVE their dogs. But in an extremely wealthy country where children have to come to their school during the summer break so they can get a free meal (or go hungry if they don’t), I find it hard to understand how we can spend so much money on … dogs! KIDS ARE HUNGRY and NEED SAFE PLACES TO LIVE.

(ahem) Stepping off soapbox.

Jumped back on the trail but stopped at Barcroft Rec Center (bathroom). I saw a young girl with a t-shirt that said, “GIRLS NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP”. I high fived her and thought of that.

You see, after that stop I jumped on the W&OD and could have bailed out at a couple of places to get on a Metro train home. I had already ridden 50 miles. Surely no one would fault me for stopping, right?

But if that girl was going to wear that shirt, I was going to finish the darn ride. I took the W&OD all the way to Hunter Station. Then … the trail? The hill? Trail? Hill?

Some idiots who had been playing games on the trail (like not letting people pass) rode up, crossed the road, and took the trail. Another guy who had been similarly irritated was beside me. We both crossed the road and took the hill. Sadly, I didn’t get my gears right and had a VERY tough climb. I stayed on but it was a bear!

I kept seeing the guy ahead, seemingly waiting. At the top of the hill. On Lawyers Rd. I think he was making sure I was okay!

When I got home the Garmin was showing 68.1 miles. I shut everything down and came inside to drink copious amounts of water. I had gone through my water bottle and Platypus reservoir!

Ahhhhh…and looking out the front window, more aaaahhhhhh.

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Gearing Back Up for More

Next up, September 14 – 30, riding from Portland, ME to Nags Head, NC. I’ll be riding with a group of cyclists who are raising funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s a small group, and very informal. The ride is organized by a former FCBA rider, and I think almost all of the riders have ridden with Fuller Center – so there should be a minimum level of understanding of how this all works.

Curt is the organizer. I’ve been helping him plan routes and call churches for places to stay. I saw his first route and proposed changes so it’s the least I can do. My area of responsibility is Newark, Delaware to Fredericksburg, VA.

Last week I did a ride in my own county, starting in the south and working my way north. I was trying to (once again) figure out the north south connections. Most of where I rode was east of where we’ll be riding with the AFSP ride, but it was worth doing.

Even with a Garmin, I got off course. But it took me to a lovely neighborhood where I saw this.

This is a memorial from neighbors who lost neighbors in the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon. All of us in the northern Virginia suburbs were shaken by the attack, but this personal touch makes it real. In the 16 years since then, so much of our landscape has changed in Fairfax County as the Silver Line Metro has moved out here and development has occurred on Rt. 1 in connection with Fort Belvoir. Children who were babies when this occurred are near adulthood. So much has moved on, but here, the neighborhood who loved these people made sure they are not forgotten. It made me glad I got lost.

A little while later, I encountered this monstrosity. Why do they even bother to try to camouflage these things? It makes me laugh.

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Sure, it blends right in!

The ride itself was only 25 miles, but about 15 of it was on big, chunky gravel and I was on my road bike so it was a challenge. And now I know a bit more about which turns to NOT take, or which bike to NOT be on.

Next up: Scout the route from Havre de Grace to Annapolis and Annapolis to DC.

 

Up, Up, and Away

The balloon flight in Santa Fe was wonderful. We booked through SantaFeBalloon Company, owned and run by Johnny Lewis. He is a charming, colorful, west Texas character who also happens to be really smart and have 8000+ hours ballooning. He told us he had two rules. 1) Johnny don’t get hurt and 2) Johnny don’t hike. That meant we were in good safe hands and would land where the trucks could get to us.

There were two groups of eight passengers each, and a number of ground crew folks who made it possible for us to fly and land and be retrieved. The whole experience was top quality. I can see why the folks in Hollywood have been shopping around a ‘sizzle’ to see if anyone wants to take on Johnny and his crew for a reality show. Here’s the link on youtube if you want to see it and see Johnny at work (and play). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTHtHSfEgDk

And here are the photos:

There was a second balloon, piloted by Sol.

Some happy balloon passengers:

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These were holes in the cliffs that the birds nest in. Johnny told us about doing balloon surveying in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and locating two tombs that had not been observed prior to that time. This terrain is reminiscent of his trip to Egypt, he said.

At the end, we had mimosas, a little snacking, and certificates to commemorate the ride.