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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Things I Think I Think: Triathlons

Color Guard poolside at the start.

Color Guard poolside at the start.

I’ve finally got my official race photos from the Quantico Sprint Triathlon and I’ve had a week to ponder the imponderables of my first-ever triathlon.  I’m certain you’re dying to learn exactly what I discovered so that you too can make a successful transition to a mediocre triathlete like me.  So please enjoy this illustrated version of Things I Think I Think.

Set Up

About another 20 minutes to wait.  Yippee!

About another 20 minutes to wait. Yippee!

I understand this can be a bit daunting if you’re participating in a large event.  You need to rack your bike (and in large events this can be done the night before and a guard is posted to the Transition Area), pick up your timing chip, get body marked, and lay out your cycling and running gear so you can quickly switch from one event to the other.  For me, this was much worrying about nothing.  With 250 racers, everything went very fast, despite the pouring rain.  My biggest challenge was finding a spot out of the rain to stand in for thirty minutes while I waited for the event to start.

Smartest Things I Did:

- Bring a hefty bag to stay warm in

- Put my stuff in a large ziplock bag to keep it dry

Things I Wish I Did:

- Bring some flip-flops to stand around in before the swim, or even use as I moved across the parking lot to my bike after the swim

- Some people put their gear in two “pickle buckets,” one for each event.  It was very easy for them to keep things sorted and dry.  You can also use one of the buckets as a seat when putting on shoes/socks.  Very nifty.

The Swim

I'm not in this shot.

I’m not in this shot.

Since I have never swum (swam?) competitively, this was the event I was most nervous about.  How hard would it be?  What should my swimwear be?  Could I pull it off with a pair of cycling shorts?  Typical triathlon gear has a smaller chamois pad than normal roadie cycling shorts, but I decided to use one of my existing shorts anyway.  I trained by swimming 1/2 mile routes in the local lake.  I found swimming in the pool to be MUCH easier, since you can stay on course by simply looking at the bottom.  But my open water swim times were much slower and therefore my estimate of how long this would take me was way off.  This put me much farther to the rear of the group than I should have been.

Smartest Things I Did:

- I wore cycling shorts.  They worked great with no issues.

- I didn’t bother with swim goggles.  It was only 8:30 in the water and they would have been just one more thing to keep track of that I really didn’t need.

Things I Wish I Did:

- I wish I got a better estimate of my swim time.  I should have gone to a local pool and done the event under similar conditions as the race.

The Bike Ride

Did I mention it was wet out there?

Did I mention it was wet out there?

Having ridden several thousand miles, I am sorry to report there was very little new to me on this nine mile sprint.  I wore my old shoes and my feet are now doing much much better.  I was one of the few cyclists who were cool enough to have clear lenses in my glasses which made riding in the rain much easier.  I pushed this pretty hard, but I am still wondering if I could have gone faster if I was with faster cyclists.  Instead, I contented myself with reeling in the slower racers who were around my (slow) swim estimate.

Smart Things I Did:

- I didn’t buy a fancy race singlet, which many triathletes use in the pool.  I found a sleeveless jersey with wicking material and that was easy enough to put on in the transition area (the reason why triathletes avoid shirts with sleeves is they are harder to put on when wet).

- I took my time in the transition area.  I invested a minute in putting on socks and didn’t rush myself.  With practice, I could shave some time here but for the first time out I think it was wise not to overly stress here.

Things I Wish I Did:

- I probably didn’t need to bring my water bottle on the ride.  A swig in the transition area before and after would have sufficed and it would have removed a few ounces from my bike.

The Run

Heading for the finish

Heading for the finish

Back in the transition area, I again took my time to make sure my stuff was on correctly.  Most importantly was remembering my  race belt, which displayed my bib number for the run.  My ziplock bag was still keeping everything nice and dry, which was a good thing.  I ran competitively for the first time wearing a visor, which was nice.  It kept the rain off my face without adding as much weight when wet as my hat would have (something I learned during the rain at a recent half marathon).  I was wondering just how comfortable my cycling shorts would be to run in after the swim and the bike ride.  They were just fine.

Smart Things I Did:

- I bought a race belt, meaning I didn’t need to attach my bib to my jersey with safety pins.  That would have been annoying on the bike ride and it would have made it slightly more difficult to get the jersey on (as I worried about ripping the bib).

- I took it easy for the first few hundred yards while my calf resigned itself to the task of running.  Had I pressed things, who knows what might have happened.

Things I Wish I Did:

- Honestly, everything worked out very well for me here and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

So that’s what I learned on my first triathlon.  Probably the biggest thing I learned is not to be so concerned about all the little unknowns with the transition area, events, etc…  It’s just a race and people are there to assist you.  Don’t act like an Olympian on your first time out, take your time and you will have a lot of fun.  Sprint Triathlons (being shorter) are probably the way to go for a first timer.

The winner.  I was about 16 minutes behind this guy in race time, but about 45 minutes behind him in real time.

The winner. I was about 16 minutes behind this guy in race time, but about 45 minutes behind him in real time.

Showing off my finisher's coin

Showing off my finisher’s coin

I’m already looking forward to doing one or two of these in 2014!

Tour Of The Towns

Tour Of The TownsMost of you know I am an incredibly important and influential person, not just in the cycling world but in other fields of endeavor as well.  Those other pursuits have kept me away from the computer and I am therefore late in telling you the tale of the Inaugural Tour of the Towns century ride.  Please pull up a chair and grab a cold beverage while I catch you up on things.

Since this ride is meant to showcase the various parts of the county, it is probably appropriate that it began in a commuter parking lot.  Prince William County serves as a bedroom community for the Greater Washington, DC, area.  Every morning, a very large portion of its 400,000 inhabitants moves northward on its commute to DC.  Commuter lots collect thousands of vehicles and commuters continue northward on trains and buses.

Showing off my jersey in the commuter lot

Showing off my jersey in the commuter lot

71 people had preregistered for the event, a humble number that will no doubt one day grow into the hundreds.  Decades from now, people will look at antiquated photos (“Remember when photos were two-dimensional?” they’ll say) of this inaugural event and wish they had been there on that exciting first day.  I will be able to say I was there because I actually bought a jersey which commemorated the event.

Ride organizers said there would be no mass start and they weren’t kidding.  I was fiddling with my gear, waiting for some sort of group meeting to start the show, when I noticed that people had begun to trickle away.  I shrugged my shoulders and headed off by myself, heading toward the town of Occoquan.  This would be the first of eight towns we’d be pedaling through during the day.  At 7:45 on a Sunday, the town was very quiet.

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Thanks to some traffic lights (there would be scores of traffic lights on this ride) I was able to catch up to a pack of riders as we made our way eastward and then south along the vaunted Route 1 Corridor.  Riding on Route 1 is not for the timid and I have never made the attempt to go all the way from Occoquan in the north to Quantico in the south.  A nifty trail (previously unknown to me) helped us bypass much of the road, but eventually we were forced onto it in the town of Dumfries.  A sign proudly announced the town as being the oldest in Virginia.  The town has not aged gracefully and let us leave it at that.

People!  Just east of Occoquan (Mile 3)

People! Just east of Occoquan (Mile 3)

A nifty trail/bridge that helps bypass Rte 1

A nifty trail/bridge that helps bypass Rte 1

I bypassed the first rest stop at Mile 11 and continued southward to Quantico Marine Base, where I soon found myself on the same nine mile loop I will ride in two weeks at the Quantico Sprint Triathlon.  We departed the loop briefly to tour the town of Quantico, a small village completely surrounded by the military base except for the side bordering the Potomac River.  The base was quiet and the day sunny and pleasant.  All was well.

Bypassing Rest Stop 1 - the Dumfries Town Hall

Bypassing Rest Stop 1 – the Dumfries Town Hall

Quantico

Quantico

This is about the last time I could honestly say that on this ride.

We left the base and made our way toward Prince William Forest, where we completed a 7.3-mile circuit of Scenic Drive.  If you like lots of woods with no terribly significant things to look at, then I suppose the drive was scenic.  It was certainly hilly.  Having been over this route a few times, I was prepared; others less so.  I reached 39 mph on one descent without really trying.  I heard a couple riders remark they had no idea such hills existed in Prince William County.

Prince William Forest

Prince William Forest

Completing the lap, we headed northward out of the park on a gravel road, which was a little nerve racking.  For 1.5 miles, I waited for the flat that (fortunately) never came and I emerged at the park’s northern edge ready for the rest stop at Mile 39.  The hills took their toll on me and I was very grateful for the peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches which race volunteers cheerfully provided me.  I was only four miles from my house and it was an odd feeling to be so tired so close to home, knowing I was about to depart for another 60+ miles of riding.

The gravel road.  I'm not travelling nearly as fast as this pic suggests

The gravel road. I’m not travelling nearly as fast as this pic suggests

Rest Stop at Mile 39

Rest Stop at Mile 39

I was looking forward to getting on the open stretch of road between this point and Haymarket, about 33 miles away.  I’d been a little frustrated at my slow pace caused by traffic lights, guard checks on the base, and the hills in the forest.  These hopes were dashed the moment I left the rest stop and was hit by a stiff 20 mph breeze.  For the next two and a half hours, I pushed my bike along very familiar roads in the county’s “Rural Crescent,” a boundary of sorts set up to protect against suburban sprawl.  The views were pleasant.  The wind was not.  You could not have picked a more damaging direction for the wind – it was pretty much always in my face.  The temperature was climbing into the 90s.  Life was hard.

The Rural Crescent (wind not pictured)

The Rural Crescent (wind not pictured)

I stopped for a breather in Nokesville (Mile 61) and was very grateful for another nicely appointed stop and the friendly conversation from the volunteer who manned it.  The final twelve miles into Haymarket were spent in increasingly heavy traffic.  The cue sheets requested I make use of sidewalks and mixed use paths, which I tried to do.

Here’s the thing about sidewalks and mixed use paths:  they pretty much are awful to ride on, especially when one is trying to log 100+ miles.  They are jarring, with many cracks and the necessary ramps (plus gutters) at every side street.  Your pace is slowed considerably and your body suffers from increased fatigue as it fights over every extra bump.  Eventually, I gave up and simply headed onto the streets and the busy traffic all around me.

A quarry on the outskirts of Gainesville

A quarry on the outskirts of Gainesville

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the Haymarket rest stop (Mile 72), a bike shop on the main street of the town.  I enjoyed the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains while sitting on a bench and eating another PB&J and a bannana.  I was very much looking forward to having the breeze at my back for once.  After a few minutes I left, hoping the wind would help.

The Madone at rest at the Haymarket rest stop

The Madone at rest at the Haymarket rest stop

It was wonderful.

I was traveling 25 mph down roads I had just struggled on, barely moving at 13 mph.  Traffic remained intense as I headed toward downtown Manassas and the final rest stop at Mile 83.  It was a short ride, but I was glad I stopped.  I would need some of the fluids I took on board for the motorcyclist I would encounter in 15 miles.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was quite hot as I left Manassas and pedaled through some of its hilly suburbs.  I faced a brief dillema on Manssas Drive when I learned it was closed for repaving.  Not knowing a way around, I opted for a combination of sidewalks and blatent violation of the road closed sign to keep me on course.  With 90 miles in my legs, I wasn’t interested in a detour.  In short order, I found myself on the Prince William Parkway.  This offered me a choice of riding on the shoulder of a very busy road (55 mph speed limit) or riding on one of the worst mixed use paths in the county.  I chose the road.

Eight miles later, two motorcyclists flew past me.  About three hundred yards after passing me, a vehicle unexpectedly moved into their lane, cutting one motorcyclist off.  He laid his bike down and the result wasn’t pretty.  I didn’t see the accident but was one of the first people on the scene.  I stayed with the injured motorcyclist while his buddy called for an ambulance.  He gladly took all the water I had left in my bottles.  Soon the ambulance showed up and I excused myself to finish my chore.

And make no mistake, this was now a chore.  I was riding on an incredibly busy street with horrible to nonexistence paths/sidewalks on a hot day with no fluids.  I soft pedalled my way back to the commuter lot and finished the 104 mile route in eight hours and 45 minutes.

I’ve now done four centuries (not to be confused with the longer randonneuring brevets, of which I have also completed four) and this was the hilliest.  The 4,327 feet of climbing is slightly more than the Reston Century, which makes a point of telling people it is somewhat challenging.  When the climbing is combined with the heavy traffic, traffic lights, and the difficult stretches of sidewalks/paths, I believe this is the most challenging of the four centuries I have completed.

Many thanks to the ride organizers and volunteers, all of whom were extremely positive and eager to help.  There were more rest stops than I am accustomed to seeing and they were amply supplied to boot.  This is quite possibly the first-ever organized century conducted in the county in which I live and I was glad to be a part of it.

Scouting

I was watching the team time trial during the Tour de France and right before I fell asleep due to the sheer boredom of the event, I heard legendary cycling announcer Phil Liggett mention that the riders rode the entire length of the course that morning to familiarize themselves with it.  Liggett went on to say that most teams spend a good deal of time reconnoitering the course for the next day, usually watching a video of key sections while studying the elevation profiles and all other manner of data that will help them perform on the next day’s stage.

So I got to thinking (a dangerous past time, I know), why shouldn’t I do something like that?

And that’s exactly what I did on Saturday when I pedaled to Quantico Marine Corps Base and scoped out the scene at next month’s sprint triathlon.  I wanted to lay eyes on the pool and ride the nine mile course.  Truth be told, I’ve ridden those roads several times, but never with a critical eye and always in the opposite direction than the one I will be traveling on race day.

IMG_0718Temperatures are very hot right now, but I will refuse to complain so I can maintain the moral high ground during my gripes about the cold all winter.  Traffic was light and I made it through the danger area of Dumfries without incident.  I soon found myself on the north side of a loop which circumnavigates the base.  This road is smooth, slightly downhill and has a nice bike path.  Good times.  There were even helpful signs along the road’s edge to make sure everyone knew which side of the road they should be running on.  In typical Marine fashion, they are red and yellow and do not offer much in the way of pleasantries.

IMG_0720After three miles I turned southward toward the older part of the base.  Quantico Marine Corps Base was founded in 1917 on land formerly used as a tourist location and industrial site (an interesting combination, I think).  The soon-to-be legendary John LeJeune was the camp’s early commander and set up a training base for Marines about to serve in WWI.  The town of Quantico remains today, completely surrounded by the base which bears its name.  There are only a few hundred residents, almost all of whom either work on the base or provide a service to those who work there.

The base pool is near a guest inn on the south side of the base.  It has been completely rebuilt and is looking very stylish.  It is 50 meters long, which means I will be swimming the length of this thing eight times.  I was struck by just how far 50 meters looks like when it is the length of a swimming pool.  I looked around for where the transition area might be and couldn’t find any suitable patch of grass.  It appears I’ll be switching from swimming to cycling and then to running in an asphalt parking lot.  I hope I’m wrong.

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IMG_0728I then continued the loop that I will ride on race day.  The southern end of the base is not nearly as nice as its northern end.  There is no bike lane and the road is considerably older and full of potholes.  There will be plenty to pay attention to while shaking off any adverse effects of the swim.  I stopped briefly by LeJeune hall to pay my respects to the “Greatest of all Leathernecks,”  whose statue sits outside the building.  Fun Fact:  the man’s name is pronounced “luh-JERN,” not “lay-Joon,” like most people say.  The Marines have made a concerted effort as of late to emphasize the proper pronunciation, which gives me no end of merriment when I have cause to mispronounce it in public settings with Marines present.

The last stretch of the loop is Purvis Road.  It runs through the base housing area and past an elementary school and a high school.  Those buildings sit atop a signficant hill, with a grade that reaches 10% for a brief period.  If I can drag myself over that hill in good shape, then my cycle time will be pretty good, which it will need to be if I am to have any hope of putting in a respectable time in this event.

Having completed my reconnaissance and satisfied myself that I am every bit as professional as the Tour de France cyclists, I pedaled home in the increasing heat.  The total ride was about 25 miles and it was the third day in a row I have cycled, which is a nice little streak for me.  Tomorrow, I’ll be running.  The work of a triathlete is never done.

I will leave you with this artsy photo of Old Glory, taken in front of LeJeune Hall at Quantico MCB.

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Ringing In The New Year

Snug HarbourNew Years Day requires a fair amount of housekeeping for my cycling records.  First, I must turn the blog’s odometer to zero and place the previous year’s number below it.  THEN (as if that wasn’t enough) I must create a new worksheet on the Excel Spreadsheet I use to keep track of each and every ride I conduct.

Whew!

Since it is extremely embarrassing to have a zero next to your annual odometer, I once again felt compelled to rectify the situation by heading out on a New Years Day Ride.  Unlike last year’s balmy 61 degrees, today was a much cooler 39 with cloudy skies and the threat of rain.  It was necessary to turn the lights on and don some reflective materials to make sure the handful of cars on the road could see me.  Fortunately, they all did and I am thus able to render my report.

My objective was a little-known body of water with the appropriate name of Snug Harbour.  Located at the mouth of Quantico Creek outside the town of Dumfries, Snug Harbour was once one of the more bustling ports in Colonial America.  Eventually, the creek silted up and shipping moved to other ports, leaving Dumfries to languish as a small afterthought in American history.

Today, the “harbour” (you can use the British spelling without sounding pretentious because it harkens to a time when it was under the Crown’s domain) is a quiet wildlife refuge, bordered by Marine Corps Base Quantico to the south and some upscale homes on Possum Point to the north.  The ride was pleasant without a single car for several miles.  The below pic was taken looking south toward the military base.  In the distance you can see the Virginia Railway Express line leading to Washington from points south.

Duck Blind

At this point, alert readers will be saying, “Steve, what a fantastic photo!  You’ve never brought us such high quality imagery before.  What gives?”  To those readers, I say thank you for noticing.  Everyone else needs to step up their game and pay attention.  This is a group project, after all.

The picture was taken with one of my Christmas presents, a Canon SX-260HS camera, featuring a 20x zoom which blows away my humble (and now deceased) Casio Exilim’s 5x zoom.  Here’s hoping I can keep the new camera operational for quite a while.  I’m still learning the gizmos on it but can already see great potential for improved photography.  You’re welcome.

A couple miles past this bucolic splendor one begins to see an ever-growing collection of pipes and power lines.  These emanate from the Possum Point power plant, operated by Dominion Power Company.  This is a gas and oil powered plant which supplies electricity to much of Northern Virginia, most likely including my house. I took this shot as the plant loomed into view.

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Upon reaching the plant, a left turn leads to a difficult but not tortuous climb for a mile.  The resulting view is pleasant and signs indicate this is a nesting area for eagles.  I was eager to use my new-found photography powers to capture one of these birds, but they were all sleeping off the New Year’s Eve parties, or so it would seem.  I settled for this more traditional pic of the Trek as it overlooked the vista.  I apologize for the power lines but you will recall I mentioned a power plant was located in the immediate vicinity.

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And with that, it was time to beat a hasty retreat to the house before the forecasted rains came.  As it turned out, there was no need to rush; I am typing this post over five hours after I returned and no rain has fallen yet.  Another success for our local weatherman!

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year and hoping you have not yet failed to keep your resolutions.

OCS

This weekend’s jaunt took me to Quantico Marine Base, where I hoped to visit the base airfield and the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS).  As with any trip to the eastern part of the county, this required a successful navigation of heavily trafficked roads.  The springlike weather made the trip very pleasant and may even have had a positive effect on the drivers, some of whom actually stopped to allow me to cross some congested areas.  I didn’t have any close calls with automobiles, which is always a welcome event.

After reaching the base, I made my way to the river and the airfield which sits alongside side it.  There were some great views at this point, but sadly photography of the airfield is prohibited.  Not wanting to spend the rest of my day in the brig, I kept my camera stowed and continued on to the OCS facility, about a mile further down the road.

I found the school to be vacant, probably because there is no class in session at the moment or possibly because the candidates are in the field at the moment.  The first thing I came across was a large “parade deck,” which the candidates no doubt spend many exciting hours on.  As an Army man, I was amused that the Marines would pave over a perfectly good parade field just so they could call it a “deck.”

These were the only occupants in evidence near the barracks.  They were not cooperative subjects and had an annoying tendency to turn their backs whenever I closed to take a picture.

On the opposite side of the barracks was an impressive obstacle course.  When the candidates are not drilling on the parade deck, they are no doubt amusing themselves on this.  Pictured is only a portion of the course, which runs for over a mile.  Good times.

As I left the school, I took the below picture.  I always feel compelled to take a photograph when I cross railroad tracks.  I guess I’m a sucker for the “disappearing into the horizon” image they provide.

My trip home was uneventful.  The entire route was only 27 miles and was happily devoid of the drama which I endured during last weekend’s ride.  I returned home with plenty of fluid and I had increased peace of mind brought about by this handsome addition to the contents of my saddle bag.  I suspect it will be many months before I need my emergency stash of money, so it is folded neatly inside a ziplock bag to protect it from the elements.

2012’s Color Is White

I am excited to present a change to the Trek which will fundamentally alter its handling and performance.  It’s an important new piece of gear that I have placed a great deal of thought into.  Like most cycling equipment, this gear will wear out and I hope to come up with a new version each year.  With a little luck, this announcement will become an annual event eagerly awaited by you, Dear Reader.

I have changed the color of my handlebar tape.

Ta Da!

I thought it would be fun to change the tape color each year, if for no other reason than it will be easier for me to identify when a given picture was taken.  This is not a decision to be taken lightly.  The color of a bike’s handlebar tape says a great deal about its rider.  For example, the original color of black says, “I just want to blend in with everyone else using the stock tape that came with my bike when I bought it.”

The color white looks snappy (to me, at least) but it runs the risk of giving the impression that I am a “poseur.” Poseur is a French word for “poser,” which is an English word for someone who takes on the mannerisms and fashion of serious cyclists without actually having the ability to ride like a serious cyclist.  This is a very serious allegation in the cycling community and I will need to be mindful of this issue as I come into contact with other cyclists – an event which occurs about once per every 500 miles cycled.

I took the tape (along with the rest of the bike) on its maiden voyage yesterday.  Winter remains pleasantly mild, but much of the weekend was shot due to rain and personal errands.  With a few hours of sunlight remaining on Sunday, I shoved off for Quantico Marine Corps Base’s “downrange” reservation.  This is the part of the base west of Route 1 where field training occurs.  I had never ridden these roads and was alerted to their existence by Roger, when we met for a pedal last Fall.

Before reaching these new roads, I had to fight my way through the hazards of Dumfries.  I managed this with nothing untoward other than the elevated frustration levels which are normal for me in that place.  I stopped by one of Quantico MCB’s gates to take a picture of a replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial.  This one is considerably smaller than the original monument, which stands next to Arlington National Cemetery.  For those interested in a detailed account of this battle, I highly recommend Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.

After enduring the swarms of traffic along Route 1, the back roads of Quantico were very refreshing.  The roads were quite hilly.  The first 3.5 miles were at a steady 7-8% grade.  This gave way to a series of rollers which had grades of 7-10%.  I think I’ve found a good place for some mountain training, which I’ll need for the Civil War Century this September and its 7,400 feet of climbing.  Sunday’s 30-mile circuit was 1,600 feet, meaning I’ll need to climb at approximately 1.5 times this rate for the CWC.  That is a humbling prospect.

Historical Marker Segment!

It’s been awhile since I have been able to bring you one of these.  This marker is close to the Iwo Jima Memorial outside of Quantico MCB’s gate.  Although I often drive by this spot, I’ve never noticed it before.  In it, we learn the ancient and glorious history of Quantico.  The nearby town of Dumfries used to be one of the largest and most important ports in America, due primarily to the huge tobacco crop which was exported from there.   This fact is remarkable to contemplate as the creek is no longer navigable and there is no remnant of the port facility that once existed.

Chancellorsville

I got ambitious yesterday.  Aided by my wife, who transported me and my bike 30 miles to Fredericksburg, I headed out to the Chancellorsville Battlefield for a look-see and then a 55-mile return trip, the first 20 miles I had never traversed before.  I had been wanting to do this trip for several months and finally had the opportunity to give it a shot.  Although there was frost on the ground at sunrise, the forecast was for sunny weather and temperatures reaching the mid-50s.  It seemed like a good day for the attempt.

We pulled into the Spotsylvania Mall and my wife said her goodbyes, immediately after which I noticed I had forgotten my cell phone.  I always ride with my cell phone – always.  It’s my security blanket which lets me cycle with the certain knowledge that if I get into difficulty I can call my wife and hear, “You got yourself into this mess.  Now get yourself out of it.”  Now I was about to strike out into The Great Unknown (aka Spotsylvania County) with no communications device.  I believe Thomas Stevens would have been proud of me.

Obligatory Battle Map

A quick note on the battle.  Chancellorsville was fought May 2nd and 3rd, 1863, between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the unfortunately named Union General Joseph Hooker (although the etymology of the modern-day use of “hooker” is unclear, many experts trace its use to the camp followers of Hooker’s Army of the Potomac).  With both armies staring at each other across the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Hooker moved a large force westward, forded the river and sought to attack Lee from the West.  Lee recognized the Federal move and broke off a portion of his army to meet the threat.  The armies collided at the Chancellor Family home, located at a crossroads about fifteen miles west of Fredericksburg.  The result was Lee’s greatest victory.

I cleared out of the retail district and made my way to the battlefield on River Road, which existed during the Civil War.  This is the lesser of two roads heading toward Chancellorsville from Fredericksburg and no doubt some Confederates used it as they moved to the battlefield.  Given the road’s name, I was disappointed to glimpse only one short view of the Rappahannock River.  After ten miles, I reached the intersection of Route 3 and Elys Ford Road – the epicenter of the battle.  It was here that the Union Army collapsed upon itself after Robert E. Lee divided his smaller force (a MAJOR tactical faux pas born of necessity) and executed a surprise attack on two fronts.  17,500 men were killed on and around this field – a rate of one man per second for five hours.

The Chancellor House was destroyed during the battle under a withering Confederate artillery bombardment.  Hooker used the building as his command post and was leaning against a column when it was struck by a shell, causing a possible concussion which made it impossible for him to direct the battle for a period.  Today, all that is left is the foundation, which is preserved near the artillery pieces pictured above.

I puttered about the periphery of the battlefield but didn’t see any other monuments worthy of note.  I therefore decided to head to the park’s Visitor Center, where I came across one of the war’s most important sites – the place where Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally killed by his own pickets.  This was a stunning loss for the Confederacy which would have implications for the rest of the war.  Upon learning of Jackson’s death, Lee said, “I have lost my right arm.”  The trail is faithfully maintained and is remarkably close to the very busy Route 3.  There is a stone marker at the site, erected in 1881 by Confederate veterans.

I could have wandered some more, but I had quite a distance to go so I made my way back to Elys Ford Road and moved Northwest.  Just as was the case in the Civil War, there are few crossings of the Rappahannock River and I needed to travel 20 miles to Kelly’s Ford.  The road was pleasant, with a very picturesque view of Hunting Run Reservoir.  Oddly, the road name changed from Elys Road to Eleys Road when I crossed from Spotsvylania County to Culpeper County. There is a story there, I am sure of it, but I can’t imagine what it might be.  The air was crisp, but not cold and the leaves were in peak color.  I had nary a care in the world as I pedaled over gently rolling country.  This changed when I reached my first turn at Mile 25 – Fields Mill Road.

It was a gravel road.

I hate gravel roads.  After suffering eleven flats last summer/fall, I remain extremely risk averse when it comes to punctures.  I haven’t had a flat since February – I was due.  And I had no phone with me.  And I was nowhere near anyplace I had ever been before.  And there were no significant buildings to speak of, apart from a light sprinkling of farms.  With little choice, I decided to take it easy on this three-mile stretch of wilderness that would eventually deposit me near Kelly’s Ford and asphalt.

About a mile down the road, I began to hear gunfire.  I wondered if it was hunting season.  Whether it was officially hunting season or not, it was definitely hunting season here.  I was very grateful to be wearing my optic yellow vest.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be killed.  That assessment changed when the dogs came.

Let me just say it is extraordinarily difficult to cautiously manuever a gravel road while being chased by three dogs.  The first thing I abandoned was caution.  Since I am typing these words, I realize there is little drama to the outcome – I made it.  About a half mile up the road, I was rewarded with a pleasant view.  I leaned my bike against a sign which read “Warning – Coyote Trapping In Progress” and took the below picture.  I could still hear gunfire coming from the woods behind the farm houses.

I was very happy to reach the end of Fields Mill Road and rejoin Western Civilization.  I crossed Kelly’s Ford (Mile 30) and left Culpeper County for Fauquier County.  I had cycled this road once before during last October’s Great Pumpkin Ride.  I celebrated by pausing on the bridge to enjoy the view and eat a Clif Bar.

The remaining miles were uneventful.  I must say that the country roads of Fauquier County are in better condition than those of Spotsylvania or Culpeper Counties (even the paved ones).  At Mile 48 I pulled into one of my favorite rest stops, the Handymart convenience store near the west end of Quantico Marine Corps Base, and ordered a slice of pizza and a Mountain Dew.

Despite their French name, they worked well

Having refueled on quality convenience store cuisine, I had more than enough energy for the remaining twenty miles.  The sun was getting low in the sky, but I remained warm in my vest, skull cap, leggings, and brand new Garneau shoe covers (which worked MUCH better than the ones I wore last year).  I arrived home after 68 miles tired but pleased to have completed the sort of adventure that makes cycling eminently more enjoyable than any other form of exercise I can think of.

Quantico and Possum Point

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer and it seemed inappropriate not to make the most of the holiday.  So when the forecasted rain from Tropical Storm Lee held off, I took advantage with a ride around Prince William Forest, through Quantico Marine Base and over to Possum Point.  I haven’t cycled around the forest since May and I haven’t been to Possum Point since February, so it was definitely time for another visit.  With temps in the mid-80s, it didn’t feel as if Summer was losing its grip just yet.

Drama has been following me as of late (hurricanes, earthquakes, torrential thunder storms, angry motorists) and today was no exception.  10 miles into my ride I passed a terrible auto accident.  A car had somehow managed fly about 100 feet into the forest and landed upside down.  It was extremely bad and I can’t imagine how anybody in that vehicle survived.  There were several cars stopped on this rural road, at least two of which had signs of damage.  I asked the Park Ranger on site if there was anything I could do to help and he told me that everything was in hand.  As I continued onward, I counted four fire trucks, two ambulances, four motorcycle police, one fire chief truck and one police cruiser on their way to the scene.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong and everybody made it out of there.

UPDATE:  Local reports are that the driver of the vehicle died on the scene.  The passenger is in the hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

I am happy to report the rest of the ride had no brushes with death.  I made it to Quantico Marine Base and pedaled up the hill on Purvis Road, noting with satisfaction that the hill seemed far less of a challenge than in months past.  I eventually made it to the Potomac River and puttered about some of the side streets.  I came across a mighty oak tree in a picnic area near Marine Corps University, which I provide below for your viewing pleasure.

After taking in some fluids and some energy chews, I headed back off the base and made my way to Possum Point Drive, which features a nice ride along a large estuary to the Potomac, then a one mile climb along the river bank.  I took a break at the top and took in the view pictured below.  Not one minute after I put away my camera, a buck bolted from the brush right next to me (in the bottom right corner of the picture).  He had been hiding there and grew tired of waiting for me to leave.  He leapt across the road in two bounds.  Deer are amazing creatures and it was great to see one so close.

I completed my circuit in good form and ahead of the approaching rain.  My calf injury (i.e., no jogging) and early returns from work last week have allowed for some nice pedals – eight rides in eleven days for a total of 150 miles.  That’s a good rate for me, one that I doubt I’ll reach again until late October after the Army 10-miler is run.

A Pleasant Summer’s Ride

There’s nothing terribly exciting to report today, I’m afraid.  I went on a pleasant 41-mile ride under blue skies, light wind, and warm (but not oppressive) summer temperatures.  As difficult cycling is in January, today was enjoyable.  I traveled westward on Aden Road, past the outer portion of Quantico Marine Base, and made my way to Nokesville with a slight detour to travel down Carriage Ford Road, one of my favorite stretches of road in the area.

Horses along Carriage Ford Road

Pit Stop

When I pulled into Nokesville, I did have a touch of drama when I noticed the shoppette where I was hoping to buy some Gatorade at wasn’t open yet.  After a moment’s frustration, I recalled there was a 7-11 around the corner.  Despite the fact the franchise name is based on its original hours of operation, I knew they were now open 24×7.  This store was especially nice.  When I came up a few pennies short, the cashier graciously told me I could keep my purchase if I promised to come back again.  He was serious about keeping my Gatorade but joking about the requirement to revisit.  All the same, the Nokesville 7-11 is now my preferred stopping point in Nokesville.

Having refueled, I struck out west toward Bristow on a road which took me to an Iron Bridge which I always enjoy.  It’s one lane wide and covered with wooden planks – an interesting throw-back in this part of the world.

Iron Bridge

The rest of my trip was uneventful.  Because I took a break and I wasn’t trying to set any speed records, I had plenty of energy for the hills on Bristow Road.  Hills are increasingly on my mind as I expect to see plenty of them on my August and September century rides.