Turkey Trotting

2013 Turkey Trot MapI finished the 2013 event calendar in fine style this weekend, completing Fort Belvoir’s 10k Turkey Trot without injury and with a respectable (if not spectacular) time.  Given my inability to run the Marine Corps Marathon last month due to a pulled hamstring suffered the week prior in the Army Ten Miler, it was nice to compete and even nicer to finish without injury.

Like much of the area, Fort Belvoir has plenty of history.  Established in World War I as Camp Humphries, the area was used to train engineers for the Army.  The base was renamed Fort Belvoir in the 1930s in recognition of the Belvoir Plantation that used to be on the grounds.  The plantation was built by William Fairfax in 1738.  William was the cousin of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax and Cameron and the namesake of the county in which the fort resides.   By all accounts, Belvoir was a handsome home until it burned to the ground in 1783, never to be rebuilt (note: a shockingly high number of historical buildings in the area end up being destroyed by fire.  I’m not sure what to make of that.)  Eventually, the Engineer School moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but other agencies moved onto the base.  Yours Truly was proud to serve on the fort at the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command from 2002-2010, both as an officer and as a Department of the Army Civilian.

You’ll have to forgive the history lesson.  I can’t help myself.

At the Starting Line

At the Starting Line

There were about 700 runners for this year’s event.  This is 100 more than last year and it surprised race organizers who nevertheless pulled off the event with no problems.  The morning was an overcast 50 degrees which made for pretty good running weather.  I left my gloves and hat in the car and probably could have done without my sweatshirt, but I had already pinned my race bib to it and the shirt said Army on it, so I kept it on to show my support.

The first mile was downhill so I am very happy to report an astounding split time of 7:45 for that distance.  Sadly, running down hill required me to run back up the hill (I routinely experience a similar phenomenon while cycling) so my other split times weren’t quite as impressive.  It was a fun race with plenty of room for the serious and not-so-serious runners.  I enjoyed the part of the course that took me on my old Physical Fitness Test route.  I believe I’ve lost a step over the past few years, but then again I started my two-mile run test fresh and not having already run four miles.

I also was surprised to see a very substantial hill on the way back from the fitness route.  I’ve driven that road many times but never took notice of it.  Funny how your perspective changes when you are running versus driving.

In the end, I finished with a time of 57:57, good enough to put me in the middle of the pack, both overall and for my age division.  More importantly, nothing on me was damaged.  It was a nice, if modest, way to close out the season.  Here’s to an injury-free 2014.

 

Reston Ride

Click for details

I’ve been cycling long enough to have “enjoyed” several rides in heavy rain.  The 2011 Vasaloppet comes to mind, with 6 hours in an early March downpour adding to my fun.  The 2011 Reston Century was the only ride where I pondered my mortality as lightning streaked across the sky during a deluge of biblical proportions.  To that list I will add the 2012 Reston Century.

Several weeks ago, The Diesel casually mentioned that if there were any organized rides coming up that would be a good fit for her, she would like to participate.  I sprinted to my computer and quickly determined that the Reston Century would be a good candidate.  It was early enough that it wouldn’t conflict with her marathon training, well supported with a nice after party in the Reston Town Center, and a fair amount of the ride would be on the W&OD Trail, meaning she could minimize the sort of street riding that she is uncomfortable with.  It rained buckets last year when I rode the century route, but what are the odds it would happen again?

The Diesel was initially concerned with my proposal.  Believing the only route was 100 miles, she pointed out in the sort of exasperated voice that only a spouse can properly use that she was nowhere near ready to tackle that sort of distance.  When I calmly pointed out that the ride organizers also offered 64 and 33 mile routes, she demurred and was ready to sign up for the 33 miler, which would be almost ten miles further than she had ever gone before.

It rained a great deal on Saturday.  It rained through the night and was still raining in spurts when we arose on Sunday morning.  We drove through periods of drizzle on the trip to Reston and hoped that would be the worst of things while strongly suspecting that it would not.  We parked in one of Reston Town Center’s garages and readied the bikes for the trip.  Check in was a breeze – simply show your wrist band, grab a cue sheet and go.  Some riders had left as early as 6:30 in the morning.  I wanted to time our trip so we arrived for the 12:30 after party and thus we departed shortly after 9:00.

Immediately, it started to drizzle.  Then it started to rain.  Then it started to rain very hard.

My wife keeps the mood light while seeking shelter under a bridge with a bearded fellow

By Mile 4, the rain was coming in torrents.  I told The Diesel to say, “I’m having fun.  I’m having fun” repeatedly until she was actually having fun.  After several minutes of this, we sought shelter under a bridge and watched one rider scurry back to the start, having given up.  This was a major morale check for my wife and I.  We could easily have turned around and called it a day.  Others were doing it, so we wouldn’t be alone in our decision.

After the rain eased, we pressed on.  Eventually it stopped entirely.  Later, The Diesel would ask me incredulously, “Did you really think I was going to turn back?”  She is not in the habit of not finishing what she starts, even if it involves being drenched for an hour or three.

We pedaled westward on the path for another six miles.  I regaled my wife with stories about how this was once a railroad line that carried coal, and later commuters, to Washington, DC.  Many of the old stations (with names

W&OD Trail. This is the view for 10 miles, interspersed with road crossings and historical markers

like Herndon, Sterling, and Smith’s Switch) are preserved and are now small museums or shops with a historical marker describing their significance.  She politely feigned interest.  She was more interested in the types of houses we passed along the trail (town homes all the way out here?!).  At Mile 10, we pulled into a rest stop and sampled some of the many snacks that were on hand.  A helpful volunteer also described the twelve-mile loop we were going to embark on.  I asked him if the turns were marked and he said they were, but the chalk may be wearing off.  “Chalk?!” I replied, “on a day like this?”  He assured me the “chalk-paint” was still there.  It was just a bit difficult to see in the rain.  The Diesel had the cue sheet tucked into the clear panel on the top of her touring bag.  It was getting soggy despite the protection, but it was still legible.  We pressed on.

Within two hundred yards, the heavens opened once again.  A true gulley-washer ensued as we trudged northward on Ashburn Road.  I am not sure if my wife was still saying, “I’m having fun” to herself as she rode behind me and dodged the rooster tail of spray coming off my rear wheel.  I suspect she wasn’t.  She did appear to be having fun as the small river of runoff water we were plowing through was high enough to splash water onto our lower legs.  That was encouraging.  She certainly never came close to quitting, and gamefully shouted out navigational instructions despite being terrified of riding on a road in the pouring rain.

Action shot at the intersection of Broadlands Blvd and Clairborne Pkwy

After a couple of miles, the rain abated once again and we set about enjoying the loop around Ashburn.  Dating from Colonial times, Ashburn was originally called Farmwell until the early 1800s (we crossed Farmwell Road during our trip).  Nobody is quite sure why the current name was chosen, the leading contender being that when lightning struck an ash tree on the estate of the town’s leading citizen – a U.S. Senator – and the smoldering tree became a tourist attraction for the next several days.  Nowadays it is part of the suburban sprawl of Greater Washington, DC, and is filled with bedroom communities and shopping centers.  We saw the ride SAG wagon at several points and were pleased to see the volunteers valiantly repainting the navigational arrows that were beginning to wash away.

After 12 miles of suburban bliss, we pulled back into the Ashburn rest stop.  My wife was very happy to be off the roads and back on the trail.  A ride volunteer happily offered to fill my water bottle up for me, which has never happened to me before in an organized ride.  I noticed another rider wearing the same West Point cycling jersey I was wearing and learned that he was a fellow grad – Class of 1971.  Small world.

Herndon Station

The sun began to peek out from behind the clouds.  As we cycled back to Reston, we were happy to be mostly dried out.  I noted another group of dark clouds up ahead and my wife and I agreed we could avoid more rain if we just thought positively.

About two miles from the finish, it began to rain.

Fortunately, the rain wasn’t severe and we pulled into the Reston Town Center (which is happily under a glass roof) in fine form.  We presented ourselves to the volunteers at the information booth and picked up our race tee-shirt AND insulated water bottle.  I’ve always wanted an insulated water bottle and have been too cheap to buy one.  But I have one now and am looking forward to putting it to use.   My wife then changed clothes and waited for lunch to be served.  I took off my wet jersey and shoes, put on my new tee-shirt and some flip-flops, and called it good.

The Diesel enjoying the post ride meal and proving she can take a photo without making a silly face.

I asked my wife for her thoughts on the ride and she gave me the following statement.  “It was cool.”  Her biggest challenge was overcoming significant back pain which accompanies most of her rides.  I had lowered her seat on the recommendation of a Virginia Beach bike mechanic and that seemed to help a bit.  Otherwise, she was in great shape and was surprised at how she didn’t feel wore out like she does after most of her long runs.  She did experience two normal post-ride symptoms: a healthy appetite and a desire to sleep.  She solved the first problem at the after party and took care of the second issue on the car ride home.

And thus concluded the 33 mile ride of 2012 Reston Century.  I was very happy with the race volunteers who seemed to be doing all that could possibly be done to make the event a success.  The tee-shirt and water bottle are nice and the after party was great.  However, what I will remember most about this ride is my wife and her personal best under terrible conditions.  As she received her tee-shirt, I said, “You definitely earned that one!”

Now it’s back to running for The Diesel with a marathon looming in the not-too-distant future.  As for myself, a 200 km brevet over the mountains between Gettysburg and Sharpsburg is two weeks away.  This will probably be the toughest ride I’ve attempted to date.  I can’t imagine anything going wrong, so it should be good times!

Soaking wet and pleased with achieving our goal

The Town Of Clifton, And Lessons In Physics From My Water Bottle

Mile 2,000 for this year found me in the town of Occoquan, on the banks of the river which goes by the same name.  I was making a rare trip northward into Fairfax County.  I only make this trip about one time per year because it takes me that long to forget just how bad the traffic can be as I cycle up the six lanes of fun that is Minnieville Road.  But that was only a mere seven miles and then I need only ride a half mile on a poorly maintained sidewalk and I was ready to begin the fun part of the ride: a madcap descent into Occoquan.

With a population of 759 people, it’s hard to imagine that this was once one of the industrial centers of colonial America (of course, the mercantile system ensured that what passed for industry in the colonies was little more than copper mining and a lovely mill).  As the river silted up, farmers moved further west, and railroads became more prevalent, the town’s economic significance dwindled.  Nowadays it has carved out a niche as a haven for artists and restaurants affording nice views on the water.

I made my way across a pedestrian bridge that boasted a history back to 1950.  I would guess little maintenance has been performed on it since that time, based on the remarkable rolling I felt on the wooden planks.  Still, it afforded a nice view of the river and the waterfall which some suggest is the source of the Dogue Indian name for the area – Occoquan reportedly means “at the water’s edge.”

Looking east. The posh section of town is just out of view on the right.

Occoquan Falls

And since Tootlepedal enjoys bridge photos, the view of the pedestrian bridge from Occoquan Falls

Laurel Hill

Having crossed the river, I made the steep ascent out of the valley and passed the former site of Lorton Prison.  Many of the prison buildings have been refurbished and the site is now known as Laurel Hill.   The route was a gradual incline on a multi-use path for nine miles, which brought me to Chapel Road and the route to Clifton.  I never saw a chapel on Chapel Road, although presumably there once was one there.  All I saw were three miles of estate homes. The road was rolling but generally down hill,

Simple folk, just trying to get by

including an epic finish that let me reach 44mph.  In short order, I was in Clifton.

Clifton’s history is shorter than Occoquan’s, dating back only to 1869.  During the Civil War, it was literally “the end of the line” for a Union railroad bringing supplies to the front.  After the war, Confederate veteran John Mosby founded the town on the site he spent a good amount of time trying to burn down only a few years before.  Today, the town trades on its “historic” homes (meaning homes built before WWI, or so it would seem) and some niche boutiques such as antique dealerships, wineries, and an upscale restaurant.  I paused near the train tracks to eat an energy bar and reflect on 143 years of history.  Then I was off, scampering up the steep hills out of town.  I noted with satisfaction that these hills took less out of me than they did last year.

Main Street, Clifton

The Pink House, which is (oddly enough) yellow. The signage at the front is typical and tells the story of the structure.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, apart from the demise of my water bottle.  This occurred on a steep descent while on Yates Ford Road, heading downward once again to the Occoquan River.  A car was following me and was being very cautious and choosing not to pass on the narrow and winding road.  Out of consideration for his consideration of me, I attempted to pull into a driveway and let him pass.  As I did this, I hit a bump which caused one of my water bottles to dislodge from  its holder and land in the road.  Naturally, it was the bottle that still had water in it, unlike the bottle which remained properly stowed.  Seconds after hitting the road another vehicle managed to run over my bottle, which made a loud thumping sound as two tons of metal forced the screwed on plastic cap to blast off the bottle.

I never did find that cap.  I could clearly see from the spray on the road which direction it headed, but I couldn’t find it.  It must have traveled an impressive distance as I looked for it for over five minutes without success.  I’m sure it would have made an excellent high school physics problem – a 2,000 pound vehicle traveling 40 mph crushes a 24 ounce water bottle.  Assuming 100% conversation of kinetic energy to the fluid in the bottle, how far does the lid fly after being blown off the top?

I then rode the remaining 20 miles home without water or any further mishap.  I spent the afternoon degreasing the drive trains for both my bikes and I am now ready to take on another few weeks of riding.  Except, of course, for one water bottle.

Historical Marker Segment!

It has been almost two months since my last historical marker.  I stumbled across this one while trying to find the pedestrian bridge in Occoquan.  Incredibly, I learned after my ride that there is an original household right across the street from this sign – the Rockledge Mansion erected by the town’s founder.  I guess I need to make another trip!

The Case Of The Rotating Handlebars

Once again, recent events have provided ample evidence indicating that I am an idiot.  I have conducted an investigation into my oddly-positioned handlebars and have come to the conclusion that a simple inspection would have solved the problem.

I mentioned after my inaugural ride on the Madone that my brake hoods felt like they were too far forward.  Gerry pointed out that the picture I posted indicated the brake hoods were in the proper position.  Brian concurred.  I looked at the picture and it certainly seemed to be true, so I left my handlebars alone.

Utterly alone.

So alone, in fact, that I didn’t event bother to check whether or not it was properly secured by the clamp whose job it is to hold the handlebar in place.  I then took the Madone on a 60+ mile Vasaloppet jaunt, all the while frustrated at the location of the brake hoods.  I then wrote a ride review and expressed my frustration, but never – not once – did I actually inspect the handlebars closely.

So imagine my embarrassment when I began to adjust the handlebars Tuesday night and discovered two of the four screws were almost completely out of their socket and a third screw was of questionable tightness.  The entire handlebar was held in place by only one screw which (as is now plainly evident) was not up to the task.  Consequently, the bars rotated forward with my weight when I began riding the bike (which was after I took the picture).  This rotation occurred VERY slowly so as to be imperceptible.  The only evidence was an odd creaking sound, which I had attributed to some small issue in my brake hood.  The sound was actually coming from the clamp each time the bar moved a millimeter or less.

Those four black screws are important

The Vasaloppet pics properly show the rotation that so frustrated me and to which all of you looked upon in horror.  It was a short matter to turn the bars to the proper angle and tighten the screws down.

Insert noob cyclist joke here…

On Thursday, I brought the Madone into work so I could take advantage of a 70-degree day.  I hopped on the W&OD Trail for a 17 mile spin and to see if the bars would stay in place.  Of course, they did.

A caboose near the Herndon Station, which is now a museum.

The Washington and Old Dominion Trail was in its usual form, which is to say it was sprinkled with walkers, joggers, and cyclists making their way over many intersections with rush hour traffic.  I rode 8.5 miles out to Dulles and returned.  There were seven road crossings each way, although the ride was less interrupted as I ventured further westward, away from the congested areas of Reston and Herndon.

I was happy to get a ride in while it was still daylight, but once the clocks move forward next week I won’t be doing this routine very often; it’s too big a hassle to load my bike and ride clothes onto my truck, secure my bike upon arrival at work, then drive 35 miles home in a sweaty state.  Besides, the roads are better in Prince William County.  Take that, uppity Fairfax and Loudon County people!

P.S.  All pictures for this ride were taken with the iPhone camera – a first.

102.2

The “After Work Peloton,” also known as, “The Gaggle of Fellas Who Occasionally Meet For A Pedal After Work,” scheduled their semi-regular ride for today.  We are in the midst of a heat wave right now (a heat wave so oppressive that a visitor from Austin Texas remarked that she preferred the weather back home – where they’ve had triple digit temps for about 45 days) and yesterday I suggested to one of the Peloton members that it might perhaps be a tad too hot to ride.  He put me in my place with a look which – at the same time – communicated shock, dismay, and ridicule.  Clearly, I needed to refer to Velomoniti Rule #5 and HTFU.

With the temperature a mere 102.2 degrees and the humidity at 85%,  three of us met for a 17-mile jaunt on the W&OD Trail.  This ties the turnout record for our peloton which, it must be said, is a rather humble organization.  We expect a 25% increase in membership when Simon The Australian returns with his brand-new Specialized Roubaix, which he was being fitted for this afternoon.

As you might suspect, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves.  There were a handful of cyclists about but not a single jogger or walker.  At least they had enough sense to stay indoors.  Being on a bicycle in this weather does have its advantages as a constant 15-20 mph breeze helps stave off heat injury.

The hero of today’s ride was Simon The Brit, who bravely pedaled with two roadies (and I timidly include myself in that category of rider) with his Specialized Crossroads hybrid.  You can see him below in the yellow jersey, gamely hanging onto Jake’s wheel.

The Peloton (sans Yours Truly)

Well done, Simon.

Clifton

The chain worked.  It skipped a bit, but it worked.  The skipping could be due to wear on the rear cassette or the cheapness of the chain.  Either way, it’s tolerable and I’m good for another 1,800 miles (or so).

I headed north this morning on Minnieville Road, a road which is normally very busy, but at 8:00 AM on a Sunday was lightly traveled.  Only one car beeped at me – I was as far to the right as possible but I was delaying her turn into Lowes DIY store by at least ten seconds.  I turned to look at her and asked her what she wanted me to do.  She stared straight ahead and didn’t respond.

After nine miles, I made it to the Occoquan River and the town which bears its name.  There are very steep banks on either side of the river, which made for a fun descent which was paid for very shortly thereafter with an equally steep ascent.

Crossing the Occoquan

I then traveled ten miles further north on the multi-use path on Ox Road.  The route was generally uphill at a slight grade.  Eventually, I made it on to Chapel Road and enjoyed pedaling by $1 million homes for several miles.  At the end of a long descent (during which I topped out at 44.8 mph), I came upon the horse farm pictured below.  It was a really nice setup and I don’t think the picture does it justice.

Horse Farm near Clifton

A few miles on, I pulled into the town of Clifton.  During the Civil War, this marked the end of the railroad from Washington, DC.  It was a bustling place, as troops, animals, and supplies continually arrived.  There were no residents here, just an encampment to guard the railhead.

After the war, a post office was built and people began to settle in large numbers.  John S. Mosby, a Confederate general who spent a fair portion of his time attempting to destroy the railroad at this location, started a church in the town.  This church was replaced by the one pictured below in 1910.  The house to the right of the church was one of the finest in Virginia when it was built in the 1870s, or so the sign in front of it states.

Today, the town is an out-of-the-way hamlet, striving to trade off its history (and I will thank my European friends for not snickering at the notion of one hundred year old buildings being “historic”) and some upscale restaurants and art stores.

Clifton Baptist Church and the Quigg House

I ate an energy bar on a park bench and drank a great deal of water from my Camelbak.  With the summer heat on, I have once again started taking my Camelbak on longer rides.  I realize this makes me look uncool, but I have weighed this against how I would look passed out on the side of the road from heat injury and have concluded the Camelbak is a preferable fashion choice.

You don't see 'em like this nowadays

After my break, I struck out for home.  Clifton is in some low ground and it was quite a chore climbing up out of it.  The terrain on the north side of the Occoquan is quite rolling and I managed to rack up 1,800 feet of climbing over 40 miles.  That isn’t a huge number, but it’s large enough to tell me that I need to do plenty of hill work in the next two months before I take on centuries with 4,400 and 7,400 feet of climbing.

Historical Marker Segment!

This marker is located on Minnieville Road near Chain Bridge Road and the town of Occoquan.  I have driven past it on my morning commute almost every work day for nine years and haven’t read it once.  It’s hard to read a sign like this when you’re driving 35 mph in rush hour traffic.  Having actually read the thing, I am left with more questions than answers.  How, exactly, does an emancipated slave have the money to buy hundreds of acres of land?  And why did the Chinn Family disappear from the county after six generations?  Sadly, the marker is silent on both these points.

This marker is off Ox Road about half a mile north of the Occoquan River.  I am not surprised to learn of the Workhouse in this location.  Until 2001, there was a prison right across the street.  It wouldn’t surprise me if those were the very buildings which housed the heroines in this marker’s story.

W&OD Trail

I cycled with other people today, which is always an event worth noting.  A couple of coworkers invited me for a spin on the W&OD trail after work today.  I’ve never been on this trail and I’ve heard many good things about it, so I was eager to give it a shot.  With a little planning, I was able to bring my car to work, change at the end of the day, and join my buddies.  We got in  a 16 mile ride amongst some nice scenery, had some pleasant conversation, and I didn’t embarrass myself.  I could ask for nothing more.

The trail is a paved railroad bed, formerly the Washington & Old Dominion Railway.  Established in 1859, the W&OD was originally built to bring coal from the Appalachians to Washington.  The railroad’s heyday was the early 1900s, when it serviced commuters heading to Washington from “distant” towns such as Falls Church  (now part of the DC urban sprawl) and Leesburg (still in a rural setting).  The railroad ceased operations in 1968 and the local power company bought the right of way to install power lines which are still in place.  Eventually, it occurred to folks that the railroad bed would make an excellent hiking/jogging/biking trail, and in 1974 work was begun in sections.  The project was completed in 1988 and is now one of the longest bike paths in the region. 

I didn’t bring a camera with me for fear that my cycling mates would think me daft, but this photo I found online is fairly representative of the stretch I was on.  The surface was excellent and the hills were gradual.  The paths were lined with trees and housing developments.  The two drawbacks were the frequent road intersections which required us to unclip and ensure the route was clear (to be fair, local drivers seem to be very aware of the trail’s existence and were good about stopping to let us pass) and the many people on the trail with us.  On this day, it was very manageable, but I can imagine what it must be like on the weekends.  The number of pedestrians would make it almost impossible to navigate.   Further west, the land becomes more rural and I suspect the congestion problem isn’t as severe there.

After an hour, we pulled back into our office building and called it a day.  It was a great spin with office mates on a beautiful afternoon.  I think I’ll be doing this again.