Unfinished Brevet Business

I’ve been battling a nasty cold this week (probably bronchitis but I’m too dumb to see the doctor) so there hasn’t been much riding.  This gives me a chance to provide a brief update to last weekend’s brevet, including two pictures taken by DC Randonneurs’ George Moore as I reached the crest of the final ascent on Etlan Road (about Mile 62).


At least the trees looked good.


In this photo I am wearing my new helmet cover, which I purchased for this ride.  There was a chance of rain and the morning temps were supposed to be cool.  As it turned out, there was no rain but the cover still kept my head warm without needing to wear a skull cap.

I am also proudly wearing my clear lenses, which I swapped out later in the day for darker ones.  I kept the lenses in my saddle bag and it was much nicer than bringing another set of glasses or doing without during the night portions.

Historical Marker Segment!

I had a bumper crop of historical markers.  Truth be told, I pedaled past several others but I simply couldn’t stop at every single one.  I was moving slowly enough as it was.

I came across the first marker in the early morning light (Lord knows what I passed in the darkness before this).  It details the story of a one-room schoolhouse that once stood in this location.  The sign reads as if the school still stands, but I could find no evidence of it.  Perhaps in better light it would be obvious to me where it is.


About a mile away from the previous sign was this one, describing the relief of Union General George McClellan at a site four miles from the sign.  Why they couldn’t be bothered to put the sign closer to the actual location is curious.  I sense the hidden hand of the local chamber of commerce.


Also in Marshal is this sign, describing an event six miles away.  Very curious.  One can only imagine what different course the war would have taken if the 9th NY Cavalry actually captured General Lee.


Right next to the above sign is a classic, erected in 1928.  It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to see the basic design for these signs has been unchanged for 85 years.  It must be said that the authors were a little less wordy in the earlier versions of these signs, which must have been far more difficult to produce than today’s versions.


Below is another classic, also erected in 1928 near Boswell’s Tavern (Mile 110).  Nobody refers to Marquis de Lafayette very much these days, but once upon a time he was a superstar, worthy of remembrance on things as mundane as when he opened a road.


Our final sign is much newer, thus it has more words.  It is an homage to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave jobs to unemployed workers.  The fellows in this particular company came from Pennsylvania, where they did all manner of odd jobs in the local forests.  Why the CCC couldn’t find forests to clear for these men in Pennsylvania is not addressed in the marker.


Two Bridges

Occoquan Bridges

I had a really good idea yesterday.  I was able to leave work a little early and take advantage of the great weather and go on a long ride.  This would be helpful as I need to get some miles in before this weekend’s 300 km ride with the DC Randonneurs.  I decided to reward you, gentle reader, with a stunning depiction of the bridges of Prince William County.  I mapped out a 60 mile ride that would cover nine different bridges.  It would be epic and you would have been thoroughly entertained.

Let me now explain how this didn’t happen.

IMG_0437My first challenge occurred in my garage.  When putting on my shoes I noticed one of my straps had broken.  Once again, duct tape saved the day.  I now must decide whether to ride this weekend with these shoes or get new ones.  Riding that long on new shoes seems to be a horrible idea, so I’ll just stick with my current pair and ease into a new set later this summer.

After fixing my shoes I shoved off into the maelstrom of rush hour traffic.  Minnieville Road was a madhouse and I opted to move to the sidewalk.  This meant riding much slower and waiting at crosswalks.  I quickly fell behind schedule and this was made only worse when I stopped at the Glascow family cemetery, one of those small plots of land that dot the landscape and remind me of how rural this place once was.  Only 100 feet off a major artery lies evidence of a family that was once one of the leading families of the area.  Usually, these family names live on in local streets or towns but I cannot think of a single thing named after the Glascows.


Having spent a few minutes stomping about the cemetery, I was now officially way behind schedule.  I continued up Minnieville road, pausing at many traffic lights, and eventually made my way into the town of Occoquan and my first bridge – the mighty span over the Occoquan River.


My apologies for the tacky “For Sale” sign.  Hopefully, the nearby bird life offsets that.  I drive over this bridge every day on my way to work.  Tens of thousands of car travel it each day.  On this day, there was also at least one bicycle.  Here is a view of Occoquan from the bridge.  You can see some new townhouses are under construction near the river bank.


My next bridge was upstream in the direction you are looking in the above photo.  I made my way on the much nicer pathway on Rte 123 until I came upon Hampton Road, named after Confederate General Wade Hampton who made Occoquan his headquarters during the Civil War.  There is no shoulder on this road and traffic was moderate.  I then turned onto Henderson Road (named after some guy called “Henderson,” I suspect) where again there was no shoulder and traffic was very heavy.

It’s not much fun cycling in heavy traffic on a narrow two lane road.  Everyone seemed to be cooperating, however, and there were no unpleasant comments hurled my way.  Still, it’s quite stressful, especially at the intersection of Henderson and Yates Ford roads where I was obliged to inched my bike up a 15% grade to match the snail’s pace of traffic.  It was too fast to walk it (especially in my shoes) and too slow to stay clipped in.  Good times.

Having made it onto Yates Ford road, I rode downhill toward the road’s namesake.  Yates Ford is one of a precious few crossing points of the Occoquan River/Bull Run  system and at rush hour the crush of traffic is impressive.  The road is downhill, windy, with no shoulders.  Even though I was zipping along at 25-30 mph, I could almost feel the weight of a line of cars well over a mile in length behind me.  It was a little nerve-racking.  I eventually reached the Bull Marina and pulled in to take this pic of the bridge over the ford.


A high school girls crew team was readying their boats for the afternoon practice session.  I thought it would be poor form for a middle-aged man to be seen taking pictures of random high school girls, so I will leave the scene to your imagination.

I chewed on some shot blocks and pondered my situation:  It had taken me two hours to travel 20 miles.  It was looking like my 60 mile ride would take me about 5-6 hours, much of it in heavy traffic.  Suddenly, the seven remaining bridges seemed less enticing.  I decided to stop my project and simply head home via Rte 234.  That route would give me about 40 miles and that would be “good enough” on this day.

I pedaled up a short but steep hill to get back to Yates Ford Road, where I waited ten minutes for a break in traffic to get going again (and I am not making that up).  The way home was uneventful, except for the lone expletive that was thrown my way at Signal Hill.  Ironically, this was on a very open stretch of road with an ample shoulder and two lanes of traffic each way.  I’ve been thinking about mapping each insult inflicted upon me to see if any sort of pattern emerges.  So far, it seems pretty random with no correlation between road type or traffic density.  The only connection I’ve seen so far is that if there is a pathway nearby, the automobile drivers expect you to use it.

This is my final ride before Saturday’s big day, which I fear I am woefully unprepared for.  I’ll spend the rest of the week tapering (which I am very good at) and getting things ready to go.  I’ll see you on Sunday or possibly early next week.  If you’re following me on Facebook, I’ll be sure to post something there late Saturday or early Sunday.

Historical Marker Segment!

I bagged two more markers, the first being on Minnieville Road at the Glascow Cemetery.  I took a poor quality photo with the sun in the shot because it gives a sense of how close the busy traffic on Minnieville Road is to the cemetery.


The second sign is on the eastern end of Occoquan and I came across it while looking for a good angle to shoot a bridge pic.


Spring Has Sprung

You’ll never guess what I did yesterday.  Go ahead – try.


You’re way off.

Wrong again.

Ok, I’ll tell you.  For the first time in 2013, I put ice cubes in my water bottle!

I’m thinking this should be an event I commemorate each year.  It’s worthy of blog reports, music, speeches, and all manner of fanfare.  It really is not possible to overdo the significance of having the temperature reach a point where ice cubes are necessary.  It was wonderful.

(By the way, my apologies to the people of Wyoming, whom are now under about a foot of freshly fallen snow.  Someday, Spring will come your way as well.  I promise.)

I’ve been getting in quite a few local rides as of late and hopefully will get enough miles into my legs to make my upcoming 300K ride at least possible for me, if not comfortable.  The trees are beginning to blossom and I noted with interest that DC’s famous cherry blossom trees are now in full bloom, three weeks later than last year.

I passed by some trees on my way to Neabsco Creek last night.  I’m not sure if they are precisely the same species as the famous ones in DC, but they’re close enough in my opinion to warrant a photo.  Imagine trees like this surrounded by thousands of people and you have the annual DC Cherry Blossom Festival.  I think this was nicer.


Monday night’s ride was my first of the year in summer kit (shorts, half-fingered gloves, etc…).  It was fantastic and it is always a pleasant sensation to see how much faster I can go in decent weather.  My 18.4mph pace was by far the fastest of the year.  Tuesday night’s ride was much slower due to the need to stop and take photos for your viewing pleasure (and for my recovery as well).

After the cherry trees, I made my way to a couple of marinas at the mouth of Neabsco Creek.  The marinas were largely deserted at the late hour and I hoped the setting sun would make for some nice pictures.  I shall let others be the judge of that.

My first stop was at the Pilot House boat shop which also serves as a business which sells used boats.  You can see Neabsco Creek in the background.


And here is a view of the marina from the deck of the Pilot House.

Pilot House

A few hundred yards up the road I found an inviting plank and pedaled to the end of it.  I was perilously close to the edge of the deck as I took this photo and briefly wondered what I would look like if I accidentally backed off the edge of it in my cycling kit.  Comical, I suspect.


The view looking east.  You can see the Virginia Railway Express bridge in the distance.


On my way home, I rode next to the creek, looking for signs of wildlife.  Although I could hear all manner of creatures, a photographic moment didn’t present itself to me.  I took this picture of the wetlands instead.  It’s hard to believe this is less than two miles from the heavily trafficked Route 1 and I-95.


Historical Marker Segment!

You gotta stay on your toes in the historical marker business.  The people who put these signs up are never done with their work.  You think you’ve covered a stretch of road and have seen all there is to see, only to discover that a new sign has been erected.  Such is the case here, where a new sign now stands at the entrance to a series of walking trails at Julie Metz Park.  Travelers can now learn the story of the Lee family (including Light Horse Harry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee) and the plantation they built in this area in the in the 1700s.


Things I Think I Think

Sports columnist Peter King has a popular segment he publishes after every NFL weekend which he calls Things I Think I Think, in which he gives his impressions on the week that was.  It is that spirit I offer my thoughts on last weekend’s brevet.

1.  I think I’m over my initial disappointment at my finishing time.  Advantages in less weight and knowing the course from last year were outweighed by colder temperatures and less training mileage brought on by a colder winter.  I agree with the larger point made by many commenters that it is very difficult to compare one year’s ride with another despite being on the same course.

2. I think I need to improve my nutrition strategy.  That means eating more calories more regularly and probably sitting down for a meal mid ride.  I burned over 4,300 calories on this ride and a quick inventory of what I took in adds up to about 2,300.  Not enough.  Cold weather makes “gummy candies” like Clif Blocks difficult to chew.  Adjust as appropriate.

3.  I think I need to get better at climbing hills.  I’m faster than some and much slower than others, but among people I find myself riding with (about my own ability) I find I tend to be slower on the climbs.

4.  I think the DC Randonneurs run great events.  For $5, I get better directions, more fun, better food pre/post race, and feel more welcome than I do in organized rides where I’ve paid far more.

5.  I think I like my new saddle bag.

6.  I think the 300K brevet next month will be hard.  Really hard.  I haven’t seen the course but understand it will run closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains, meaning it will be hillier.  See #3 above.  And it will be 300 freakin’ kilometers long.

7.  I think my increased running in the winter helped offset the reduced amount of riding.  Helped only, mind you.  It didn’t completely replace the training I lost in the saddle.  This will only get more interesting as the weather warms and I add swimming to my regimen.

8.  I think randonneuring has many aspects apart from a finishing time, including general exercise, cameraderie, orienteering, scenery, etc…   But time is an aspect and is therefore worth pondering and setting goals around, just like the other aspects are.

Historical Marker Segment!

I am pleased to present my first Historical Marker Segment of the year.  I found these markers during this weekend’s brevet.  I passed by them last year but did not stop to photograph them for reasons I have long since forgotten; probably because I was traveling with others and didn’t want to inconvenience them.

Our first selection is next to a bridge over the Rapidan River on Route 3 (around Mile 42 of the brevet) and is a reminder that the colonization of America came in waves.  In this particular case, the wave was German.  I am embarrassed to say I have never heard of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, but you can read more about it here.


I came across this marker on Brock Road, between The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields (about Mile 60 of the brevet).  Amidst all the Civil War history, it was interesting to come across some Revolutionary War trivia.  Nowadays, Marquis de Lafayette is an afterthought in American history but there was a time (early 19th Century) when he was a superstar.  His legacy remains in the numerous towns and counties that were named after him in that period.  FUN FACT:  the evil (and fictitious) Colonel Tavington in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Patriot, is based in part on Colonel Tarleton.


The Mystery Of The Giant Crucifix


In Stafford County on Route 1 (also known as the Jefferson Davis Highway – a quaint reminder of the failed rebellion of 1861-1864) there stands a large crucifix.  It sits upon a small parcel of land at the intersection of Telegraph Road.  I have driven by it several times over the years but I had no idea why it stood there.  With traffic light on a Sunday morning, I decided to brave the wild and woolly roads of Eastern Prince William and Stafford Counties and find out.

A note on the weather is in order.  Once again, the sun has passed over the equator and now the Southern Hemisphere is warming up.  Sadly, this means my part of the world is cooling off, and so it was on Sunday that I could see my breath in the cool morning air.  For the first time this Fall, I grimly put on my leggings, shoe covers and a long-sleeved base layer.  I even sported my skull cap for good measure.

One of the few positives of cold weather riding is nobody can determine who has shaved legs

The cool weather was perfectly fine and I suppose plenty of cyclists would be enjoying the change from the sweltering heat of summer.  Many people enjoy fall and consider it their favorite season.  I prefer the heat of summer and view fall as the harbinger of the doom that is winter.  So it was with a sense of foreboding that I pedaled along the quiet streets toward my goal.  This will get much much worse before it gets better.  Sigh.

After almost 13 miles of riding, my target came into view.  I dismounted and skulked about the site, eager to take in everything that I was missing when I normally zip past here at 50 mph.

The small setting is in excellent repair, with some fresh flowers and a well-groomed garden immediately around the monument.  The grass was neatly trimmed and the small stone wall surrounding the statue is well cared for.  Clearly, somebody continues to maintain the site with great care.  I learned that the crucifix was erected in 1930 to commemorate the first ever Catholic settlement in Virginia, established in 1647 by a Giles Brent and his sisters, Margaret and Mary.  A nearby marker states that the move was due to “political and religious turmoil” in Maryland.  Other markers on the site point to the colonial charter (granted by King James II)  as being an early example of religious tolerance in America.

Not so fast.

I thought it odd that Maryland, a colony specifically organized as a safe haven for Catholics, would be a site of Catholic persecution, so I did some research.  It turns out the Brents were not humble parishioners, simply looking to worship in peace.  They were, in fact, members of the aristocracy.  Giles was Deputy Governor of Maryland and Margaret was a wealthy land owner.  When the Governor died, he named Margaret executor of his estate (an unusual role for a woman at the time).  She immediately liquidated all of his assets to pay some Virginia mercenaries who were hired to fend off Protestant raiding parties, sent to Maryland as part of the English Civil War.  This greatly upset the governor’s surviving brother, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore.

I don’t know a great deal about 17th Century British aristocracy, but it would seem that when you upset a Baron it was prudent to get out of town.  The Brents did precisely this and asked King James II for permission to establish a Catholic colony in Virginia.  James was happy to oblige the request, and the rest was history, as they say.

I made my way home via Telegraph Road and saw nothing of interest, apart from the fact it is remarkably secluded given its proximity to the main thoroughfare of Route 1.  After a couple of miles, I rejoined the main road and made it back in good form.  My pace was slower than normal as I was “soft pedaling” in an attempt to nurse some lower leg injuries.  The Army 10-Miler is three weeks away and I have increased my running mileage with predictable injuries to my knees, ankles, and calves as a result.  I am hoping to get through this year’s event in less pain than last year, which was similar to running with a knife in my calf.

Historical Marker Segment!

I bagged two new markers on this relatively short ride.  I find that there are more signs in the busier eastern portions of the region than in the more rural western locations.  This is unfortunate as most of these signs cannot possibly be read by anyone in the cars zipping by at 50 mph.  The first sign is the one found at the monument I visited and it relates much of the story I mentioned above.  I like how the stop sign appears to be peeking out from behind a telephone pole.

The second marker can be found at the boundary for Prince William County.  Interestingly, there is no corresponding marker on the other side of the road to inform travelers of the history of Stafford County.  I’m not sure what to make of that.

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!

Running Errands

Regular readers will know I’m not much of the “urban cyclist,” commuting to work by bike or puttering about town, running errands or visiting friends.  When I’m on my bike, I’m almost always exercising and/or exploring.  It’s a strictly recreational experience for me.  That’s what made yesterday unusual – I actually rode my bike on an errand.

The time had come to sell my pickup truck at the local Carmax dealer, about seven miles from home in most congested part of the county, near the Potomac Mills Mall.  With 225 stores, this is the largest outlet mall in the state and its Wikipedia page boasts that it is the top tourist attraction in Virginia.  It is part of a vast retail zone, probably about six square miles in area and servicing tens of thousands of cars daily.  Yesterday evening, it also had a cyclist.

I brought Old Ironsides with me to the sale and, after concluding my business, set about going home at the end of the rush hour.  On my way, I took a brief detour to visit an oddly placed cemetery located between the mall and an Ikea furniture store.  Once upon a time, this was a country farm and the Nash Family Cemetery is all that remains.  There are about 20 graves located there, surrounded by an iron fence and some bushes.  The graves date from the late 1800s to 1961.  As I was leaving the site, a man walked up to me and said, “Are those graves real?”  When I told him they were, in fact, genuine he was amazed and said, “I don’t think many people even know that it is there.”

He’s probably right.  No doubt thousands of people drive by or park their cars within a few hundred feet of the cemetery while on their shopping errands without any idea of what is located there.

Not far from the cemetery, on a road which creates a giant loop around the mall, is a historical marker which alludes to the area’s more rural past.  Readers who do not live in the Western Hemisphere will have to excuse the use of the term, “ancient.”  All things are relative!

I made the seven mile journey in 45 minutes – a 7.9 mph pace that should indicate just how challenging it is to get around town in rush hour traffic.  Although it was rush hour and I saw several thousand cars, I saw no other cyclists and only five people walking.  Welcome to the American Suburbs at the start of the 21st Century, where the automobile remains King.