Wandering Around Brentsville

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We’ve had a colder and snowier winter than most, but for the past several weeks there has been a small bit of solace: the nicest weather of the week has occurred on the weekend.  Such was the case on Saturday when the temperature reached 70 degrees in the late afternoon.  The skies were cloudy and the wind was brisk but I wasn’t about to complain.

I had no particular place to go, so I wandered on the country roads between Brentsville and Nokesville looking for something interesting.  It didn’t take me long to find it.  I bet this won’t stay on the market for long.  The possibilities for its use are endless!

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The roads around this part of the county are straight, flat, and car-free.  Below is a picture of Crockett Road, but it could just as easily be Hooe Road, Valley View Drive, Flory Road, or several others in the area.

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Here is a shot of a humble homestead, no doubt occupied by a laborer or tradesman working paycheck to paycheck.  It’s typical of the construction that has occurred here in the last 15 years.

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On Parkgate Drive, there was plenty of activity on the farms.  And by activity I mean animals laying about enjoying the warm weather.  Here is a typical scene.

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It was very nice and worry-free riding.  I saw several other cyclists about and even happened upon two very serious cyclists as I turned back onto Crockett Road.  It was one of those awkward moments where they were clearly stronger riders who were just spinning their wheels and I showed up at precisely the wrong time, only fifty feet behind them and closing.  I didn’t want to overtake them as this would be viewed as a challenge and I didn’t want to sit on their wheel as this would be viewed as being rude.  I could see them downshift and begin to pick up their pace.  Meanwhile, I found a reason to stop and take a picture, thus defusing the entire situation.

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On my way back through Brentsville, I noticed that the general store was up for sale, as was the old house that is next to it.  It looks like the proprietor is ready to move on to other pursuits.

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Heading home on Brentsville Road, I took this picture of Broad Run, which regular viewers will recognize.  I am particularly proud of this picture as I took it while riding at normal cruising spread with (of course) a car passing me at the precise moment I wanted to take the shot.  All things considered, it turned out well, I think.

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My final item of interest is the Woodbine Family Worship Center, which has a unique warning for people who wish to park on their premises for other than religious purposes.

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I reached home in fine form and when I compared notes from previous rides, I realized I had just tied my longest ride of the year to date.  Had I known that earlier, I would have done a few donuts or cruised up a few side streets to set a new mark.  I guess I will have to take comfort in the fact that warmer weather will mean this mark will soon fall.

The Curious Case Of The Malfunctioning Garmin

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I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Yo, Steve, I’ve been carefully studying the above ride map and what’s up with you starting your ride at a different spot than where you ended it?  That has to be about a mile away.  You never do stuff like that, bro.”

Of course, you are right, although I’m not sure why you’re thinking in hip-hop slang.  That’s weird.

I like the positive thinking, but I'd prefer something more accurate.

I like the positive thinking, but I’d prefer something more accurate.

I didn’t actually start my ride a mile away; that’s just the spot where I got my Garmin GPS to start working.  Until that point, it was stubbornly refusing to cooperate.  After turning it on, it simply gave me the encouraging status of “working” and then spun its wheels.  After several minutes of patiently waiting, I tried to turn it off, only to be greeted with a long beep that continued until I pressed the power button again.  Then it finally shut off.  I was optimistic when I hit the power button again, but the thing simply gave me the same “working,” message (which was increasingly looking like Exhibit A in a false advertisement lawsuit I was contemplating).  I wasn’t going to sit around all day, so I started my ride and hoped the Garmin would come to its senses.

I’ve used my Garmin 494 times since I got it in 2011.  It’s simply the most reliable piece of gear I own.  I’ve dropped it, been hit by a car with it, been rained on, baked, froze, and just about every other thing that you might expect to happen to a GPS while riding or running. When something works 494 times, you kinda expect it to work on the 495th time.  When it doesn’t work, you’re somewhat at a loss for what to do next.

Convinced that the thing wasn’t going to fix itself, I decided to start fiddling.  To be honest, I probably should have moved to this stage much sooner in the process, but fiddling doesn’t come naturally for me.  I like to have a rational purpose for doing something and pressing buttons for no good reason doesn’t seem very logical to me.  Except that it was logical.  After pressing the button that causes the Garmin’s stop watch to start/stop, the device snapped out of its coma and immediately began giving me the display full of data that I’m used to seeing.  Why this solved the problem I have no idea.

With the case solved, I headed toward Davis Ford.  This is a picturesque area that is always nice to visit.  You can even take some pictures if the traffic is light or you don’t mind cars flying past you at 60mph with only a couple of feet of shoulder to separate you from them.

This is the bridge with the Occoquan River to the right.  You can see there is still quite a bit of grit on the shoulder from the winter snow plowing.

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Davis Ford is named after a family which owned a lot of land on both sides of the river back in the late 1700s.  Beyond that, I can’t find much else about them.  The exact crossing seems to have changed over the years.  Washington and Rochambeau moved part of their armies along this road as they traveled from NY City to Yorktown.  In the Civil War, Confederate troops from Georgia bivouacked along the river on the lookout for a Federal incursion southward.

Towards the other end of the bridge, there is a view of some sand bars that would be interesting to explore when it is less muddy and I have a boat instead of a bike.

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I then climbed up some hills on Davis Ford Road and eventually made my way home.  I stopped at the less historic Lake Terrapin (created a few years ago by a home developer) for another picture.

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I’m pleased my Garmin is fixed but less than excited about the snow that is currently falling outside my window.  With the official start of Spring only days away, Winter doesn’t seem ready to release its grip just yet.

Weekend Mosy

I’ve been getting lucky with the weather these days with the weekend weather being the best of the week.  Last weekend was good enough to get in a ride before another snowstorm which shut the city down on Monday.  Things slowly melted during the week until the best weather arrived on Saturday.  So I set off to check on some places I haven’t visited in a few months, just to make sure everything was as it should be.

At the Aden Country Store, I made a rare (for me) right turn onto Fleetwood Drive.  This lonely outpost of civilization has saved me more than once with a cool beverage and some shade.  It’s hard to believe its only five miles from suburbia.

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Fleetwood is a nice country road, full of farms and fancy estate “McMansions.”  Here’s a barn that caught my eye.

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While on Fleetwood, I took a moment to capture a picture of a white tree, standing out from its neighbors.

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Moving on, I noticed preparations continue apace for the new Brentsville K-8 school which is, confusingly, located near Nokesville.

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I wandered down Marsteller Drive to check on the old Iron Bridge east of town.  Last May I wrote about the history of this bridge and a project that was underway to move it so a larger, safer bridge could replace it.  I was interested to see if work had begun.  The answer – no.

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Onward I went toward the Manassas Airport.  I traveled along Broad Run (why the creeks are called “runs” around here, I do not know) and spotted a photo opportunity that won’t be available to me in a few months.  At this time of year, the brush along the creek banks hasn’t grown, so I was able to manage a short, muddy, walk in cycling shoes to take a picture.  I noted with approval the water is less muddy than a few weeks ago.  You can see we still have a bit of snow to take care of before Spring can officially begin.

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And that was that.  I finished off a pleasant 38-mile ride and am now looking forward to increasingly warmer weather and longer days.  Daylight Savings Time started on Sunday so I will hopefully be getting my mileage up to respectable levels.  On my Facebook page, I regale readers with a short bit of history for the year that corresponds to my mileage to date.  Sadly, we are still mired in the 3rd Century.  I hope to get to the Dark Ages very soon!

Lucasville Road

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The Winter That Would Not End was preparing to strike another blow Sunday night, but I was able to get in a quick 27-miler under darkening skies.  The temperature on my Garmin said it was 62 degrees.  The low on Monday is supposed to be near zero.  I guess March has decided to come “in like a Lion.”  Lets hope lamblike tendencies are around the corner.

I chose a road I visit only occasionally, Lucasville Road.  This is the stretch of the route that takes me between the words “Prince” and “William” on the above map.  It’s a nondescript road, just like all the other country lanes in the area.  This one has a few too many rollers for my liking – especially when I’m tired – but today I was fresh and the rollers were of no bother.  Despite its “averageness” (if that’s a word), Lucasville Road harkens to another time in the county’s history and touches on a subject that one rarely learns about in detail, namely, after the Civil War, where did all the slaves go?

I mean, they had no money and very few skills beyond what they learned as slaves.  They had no transportation.  Where did they go?  What did they do?  I can imagine a plantation owner telling his former slaves, “Congratulations, you’re free.  Now get the hell out of here before I shoot you for trespassing.”  It’s an interesting (to me at least) problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Except on places like Lucasville Road.  It turns out that Lucasville was one of those places where African Americans gathered after the war and formed a community.  There are no markers that discuss this and there is no such place as Lucasville today.  For the idle traveler, the only way this history is preserved is in a refurbished one room school house on nearby Godwin Drive.  The school was built in 1885 for this community and is available for tours by appointment.  Online, I can find no reference to the town of Lucasville except for those related to the school house, so I guess it’s a good thing it has been preserved.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass.  The Appalachians are in the background.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass. The Appalachians are in the background.

As for the ride, it was pleasant but I seemed to hit every red light I possibly could.  I was glad to be on my way home towards the end because I could feel the temperature beginning to drop.  I once again went with shorts, and half fingered gloves but I was glad for my vest and long-sleeved shirt.  One of these days it will be hot as blazes and I will need my insulated water bottle to help keep my water cool.  Those will be good days.

And here’s a shot of the mixed use path on Route 234, near the Meadows Farm Nursery.

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But of course what you are really wondering about is if I disassembled the BEARD.  The answer is yes.  On a relatively warm day, I didn’t miss it very much.  We’ll see what happens as the temperature drops about 30 degrees today!

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Little Things

Hello there.  In case you’re worried about my two week absence, I’m still doing my thing – slowly taking over the cycling world one blog post at a time.  Of course if you’re a There And Back Again Premium Member, you’ve been following my exploits on Facebook and seeing exciting content that never makes it into this blog, like pictures of bikes under a tarp at Wal-Mart and an exciting feature where I equate my cycling mileage for the year to its corresponding year in history.

Premium Memberships are currently available at no additional charge to subscribers of our regular blog service.  In case you are not aware, you may subscribe to our regular blog service by hitting the “Follow” button on the right side of this page or by simply stopping by here from time to time.  To become a Premium Member, simply like this page on Facebook.

That’s right, this is a long-winded and circuitous attempt to increase the number of likes on my Facebook page!

The Salt Ride

As for cycling, the rides have been few as of late due to the very cold weather and snow we’ve been experiencing.  Sunday offered a great respite from the cold and I managed to get a fast 30 mile ride in on salt-covered roads.  And that would be the main story from this ride – salt.

Northern Virginia isn’t used to heavy snowfalls so when they come, the road crews go at their jobs with gusto.  Their only tool seems to be the application of stupendous amounts of salt to the roads.  So much salt is used that days after the roads are cleared, their residue is to be found everywhere, including cars which are now caked with it and the streets themselves which still have it on their surface.

I took a picture of the salt on the road with my iPhone.  When I got home I noticed my finger had covered up half the shot.  It doesn’t look like I’m ready to make the switch to iPhone photography on my rides.

Back to salt.  Salt on the roads takes two forms, the small hills that collect around intersections and the thin layer of dust that accumulates on road shoulders.  The hills can be easily avoided; the thin layer less so.  Basically, the layer of salt dust doesn’t present a problem other than turning your tires white, but it is important to know that you are not actually touching the road because of this layer.  At high speeds, this can be a very significant issue.  On Sunday, I definitely began noticing an odd sensation during a 30+ mph descent.  I got the sensation that the bike was floating, much like when NASCAR drivers report their car is “feeling loose.”

I didn’t care to extend the experiment further to see what would happen if I pressed things, so I dialed it back a bit on the downhills.  That’s too bad because I had a fast ride and would likely have logged one of my best times ever on this course.

Exciting Developments In The Neighborhood!

Last week I was excited to discover my humble neighborhood would once again host a sprint triathlon (of course, Premium Members already know this – hint!  hint!).  Before I got back into cycling, this annual event was a mild curiosity for me.  I would pass the athletes and grumble to myself (good naturedly, of course) that one lane was closed for this event, thus slightly inconveniencing me as I drove my car on my weekend errands.  When I got back into cycling in 2010, I eagerly looked forward to the next triathlon, only to discover that it was cancelled.  Apparently, too many of my neighbors had similar grumbly feelings and actually acted upon them, thus banning the event.  Well, somehow, someway, it’s back!

A two mile downhill pedal to the start line will be quite pleasant for me.  The triathlon is a sprint, meaning the distances are fairly short.  It’ll feature a half mile swim in Lake Montclair (where presumably the pontoon boats will be kept at bay by race officials), a 12.9 mile bike ride, then a 5k run.  Very doable and very fun on the last Sunday in June.

How To Be A Road Biker Video

Since I’ve done a terrible job with illustrations in this post, let me add a little color with this humorous video that is making rounds on the web.  It lists 27 steps to becoming a road biker.  I have successfully completed 19 of them.  I’ll let you guess which ones I need to finish.  Hint:  the bike pictured in Step 1 is the exact same model that I own (except for a different saddle and handlebar tape)!

Zipping Along

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Monday was a pleasant day with a high in the low 50s and a modest breeze.  It was also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I took advantage of the time off to squeeze in a zippy 26-mile ride near Brentsville.

I say “zippy” because I resolved to go fast.  Well, “faster” is probably a better word.  My average pace always takes a dip during the winter months and things aren’t helped when I take significant breaks to take photos.

A word about timing is in order here.  I know many people turn off their ride computers when they take a break.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not how I roll.  Literally.  When I start my ride, the clock starts with it.  The clock doesn’t stop until I’m done, regardless of how many traffic lights, lunch breaks, or photo sessions may arise.  It may be weird, but at least its consistent.

So even though I know the cold will affect my speed and I know the frequent breaks will decrease it some more, I still don’t like that fact.  Every so often I decide to push things a bit and today was that day.  So there won’t be many pics here, but to be honest it’s not a terribly interesting route.

I did take a pic while crossing Cedar Run, near Brentsville.  In the water, you can make out the shadow of the photographer.

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About a mile later I came across Broad Run and took a similar pic.  I decided to play with the colors on this one to help bring out the greens and make it look less dreary.

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And since I was feeling artsy, I tried an unusual photo angle on the Broad Run bridge. I didn’t notice it at the time, but those three bags are Sunday editions of the Washington Post.  How they ended up together on this bridge is anyone’s guess.  The black tape is a similar mystery, though less unusual.

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The breeze I spoke of was at my back on the way home, which made for some quick times.  One of my Strava segments was at a pace of 20.8 mph!  I was then immediately deflated when I saw that was only good for 28th all time.  Still, anything over 20 mph for me means I’m either going very fast or hanging onto the bumper of a car.

Old Man Winter is scheduled to make a reappearance tomorrow, so it will probably be a few days before another ride is possible.  Until then, I’ll stare at my digitally altered picture of Broad Run and tell myself Spring is right around the corner.

Gloom Ride

Quantico CreekBack in college, this time of year was referred to as “Gloom Period.”  It got its name from the fact that things were pretty gloomy around the place.  There wasn’t much to look forward to and the weather didn’t cooperate to raise our spirits.  Christmas was over and the decorations had come down.  Summer (Spring, for that matter) seemed a long way off.  The sky was gray, the buildings were gray, and our uniforms were gray.

You might say it was gloomy.  We certainly did.

Anyway, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are all at various stages in our gloom period.  Here in Virginia, things are more brown than gray, but it’s still difficult to imagine warm days in the saddle.  Heck, we just got through dealing with something called a polar vortex.  So in honor of Gloom Period, pictures from Sunday’s ride are presented in black and white.

Longtime viewers will remember I pulled this stunt in 2012.  Sorry for being so repetitive.  At least I picked a different route.  I headed east to Quantico.

I had hoped to take some nice pics of the town’s marina, but it was locked behind two chain link fences.  I moved on to a small peninsula north of the marina and took in the view of the river.

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The base does a nice job of creating a park-like setting along the water’s edge.  There are many old trees which add some character to the benches and gazebos.  Here is one of them (a tree, that is, not a bench or gazebo).

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And here is a gazebo, with one of the base’s headquarters buildings in the background.

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I then zipped over to the boat launch, just a few hundred yards away.  I found a few more photo opportunities there, including a view of the power plant across Quantico Creek.  The next leg of my ride would take me to the plant.  The peninsula where the plant sits is called Possum Point.  In the Civil War, a Confederate battery was placed here that effectively stopped river traffic to Washington, DC.

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The railway bridge you see on the left is the main north-south line, connecting DC with Fredericksburg and points to the south.  Thousands of commuters use this every day.  Since bridges are an item of increasing interest, I took a second shot to better capture it.

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All this picture-taking took a lot of time and I finally decided that the bike ride would go better for me if I actually rode my bike.  I made my way off the base, rode northward through a few neighborhoods, and finally hopped onto Route 1, where I encountered The Jerk Of The Ride.

Most of my rides have at least one jerk in them.  They are either rude, ignorant, or a combination of the two.  Usually, they don’t warrant a comment, but this jerk did.  He was driving a fire truck.  I could hear him coming from behind as I pedaled northward (near the dot of the “i” in Dumfries on the map above).  His siren was blazing and he was honking his horn for good measure as he fought his way through moderately heavy traffic.  I wasn’t worried – I was on the shoulder.  It was a narrow shoulder, to be sure, but I was definitely out of the road and both lanes were open as the truck approached.

I was hopeful he would turn off his siren or at least stop honking his horn.  Many emergency vehicles do this and it I greatly appreciate that since the sirens are incredibly loud.  I put my finger in my left ear to help in case he chose not to do so.  Not only did the driver not do this, but he laid on the horn as he passed me.  In addition, he stayed in the right lane rather than moving over to the left lane.  He was so far to the right that the edge of his vehicle was on the line.  He went by me at 40+ mph, siren blaring and horn honking.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he intentionally swerved to the right to scare me.  He missed me by about two feet.  I get it that emergency vehicles have the right of way and all other vehicles are to pull to the side of the road.  I guess the truck driver took exception to the fact that I was merely in the shoulder and not stopped, so he decided to teach me a lesson.  Lovely.

The sound, shock at seeing such a large vehicle only inches from me, the rush of air that blew me sideways, and the fact I was riding with one hand on the bike and one in my ear, made for an exciting few seconds. I managed to stay upright as I reflexively moved to the right and into a nasty section of broken glass and potholes.  I hope that those firemen went on to save somebody’s life, because the driver nearly took mine.  Jerk.

Now, where was I?  Oh yes, heading toward the power plant on the north side of Quantico Creek.  Just a few hundred yards up Route 1, I got onto Possum Point Road.  The road has a nice rural feel to it and it is a shame that it isn’t longer and that you have to travel Route 1 to get to it.  Eventually, a system of pipes joins the road and runs parallel to it.  I’m not an expert on power plants, but my guess is they carry oil to power the plant.

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Quantico Creek is a protected wildlife area and there are signs that state bald eagles nest in these parts.  I think I saw an eagle soaring off in the distance, but it easily could have been a hawk or some other bird.  I’m pretty sure the birds in the below picture aren’t eagles.  It looks like I interrupted dinner.  A bird’s gotta eat, even during Gloom Period.

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I climbed the mile-long hill near the plant, then turned around and enjoyed a mile-long descent.  I managed to cross Route 1 without further incident and made my way home, where I stopped to take a pic of the I-95 bridge over Quantico Creek.  It’s not a very attractive place and I wouldn’t want to be here at night.  But it’s a bridge and therefore worthy of your consideration.

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And here’s a picture of Quantico Creek, which is considerably more narrow at this point than in previous pics.

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At this point, I was five miles from home.  I was pleased with my ascent of the large hill on Van Buren Road. This hill used to be a huge test for me.  I was pleased to see I handled it well despite the lack of miles over the winter.  I arrived back home in good shape, having logged  a little over 30 miles.  Apart from the thirty seconds with the fire truck, it was a good day on the bike.

Here’s hoping you are finding ways to enjoy Gloom Period as well.  I have it on good authority that the weather will warm up in the coming months.  In addition to riding, I’ve taken to working on the installation of my B.E.A.R.D.  Things seem to be moving nicely on that project.  To get us back to color photography, I provide the following update:

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