Wandering Around Brentsville

brentsville wander

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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!

Dress Rehearsal


On this, the third of the my eleven furlough days, I made my way across the county line on a 51-mile journey that was to serve as my dress rehearsal for the upcoming Tour Of The Towns Century in two weeks.  I’ve been trying to avoid the roads that the century will be on just to keep things interesting for me during the event, but it is difficult to do so.  I compromised on Aden Road, choosing to ride it in the opposite direction from what we’ll be doing on the century.  Riding that road during rush hour also made for some excitement I hope not to duplicate in two weeks.

IMG_0779There was a slight break in the heat today, and by that I mean the temperatures only got into the low 90s.  Since this would be an extended ride, I brought my trusty Camelbak out of mothballs, filled it with ice water, and put it on my back to the horror of roadie purists everywhere.  But the big news was, of course, my feet.  It occurred to me after two months of agony that perhaps – just maybe – the problem was my new shoes.  Kudos to Matt, who mentioned the obvious in my last post and convinced me to make the switch back to the old ones. Kudos to me, as well, for being a lazy bum who didn’t throw out his old shoes when I bought my new pair.

I used the old shoes on a 17-mile ride last Saturday with encouraging results.  My feet were still tingling a bit after that ride, so I put my new G-Form insoles into the old shoes to see how that worked.  In short, it worked well.  I’m not completely pain-free but things are far more manageable.  Instead of being in agony after 25 miles, wondering how I could turn the crank one more time, I was able to complete the 51 mile circuit was only mild pain.  I suspect that pain is due to the aggravated nerves caused by the old shoes and that should disappear in time.

The lesson here is obvious to me: avoid white at all costs.  When I used white tape on my Trek 2.1, it was destroyed in less than a month.  And now I almost destroyed my feet when I bought white shoes.  I had no idea how dangerous white things can be on a bicycle.  There should be some sort of warning label on them.  Live and learn.

The ride was ten miles of weekday traffic, followed by 30 miles of relatively quiet country roads, followed by ten more miles of rush hour traffic.  I avoided taking pics of traffic and will share with you the more pleasant views I had.

End of the path on Rte 234.

End of the path on Rte 234.

One fan cheered me on

One fan cheered me on

Burwell Road - the halfway point

Burwell Road – the halfway point

Trinity United Methodist Church, Catlett.  A nice country church.

Trinity United Methodist Church, Catlett. A nice country church.

Hay bales on Elk Run Road

Hay bales on Elk Run Road


The government of the United States of America, in its wisdom, has decided to furlough many of its civil service employees.  Monday was my first of 11 furlough days, amounting to a 20% cut in pay for the next three months.  The silver lining about being on leave without pay for a day is it gave me the opportunity to ride, which I took.

The weather threatened, which made for some unusual lighting

The weather threatened, which made for some unusual lighting

I've never actually gone done this road

I’ve never actually gone done this road

I’ve been doing a lot of sprint workouts in preparation for next month’s triathlon, but it is not lost on me that I will be riding a century two weeks before that.  So I stretched my legs a bit and went for a 43 mile jaunt across Route 29 and into Fauquier County.  This road has always been something of a boundary for me.  Way way back in 2010 when I started cycling again, it was a barrier that was not crossed due to its length from my house (about 17 miles).  There are so many good rural roads east of this highway that I only occasionally slip over it to the west.  It’s been several months since I made my way to the wild and wooly lands to the west of the highway and I was excited to see if anything new was happening.

Approaching "The Barrier"

Approaching “The Barrier”

In short, nothing new was happening.  But the roads were in good shape and the weather was cooperating, so it was a good ride.

A "Fixer Upper"

A “Fixer Upper”

Dumfries Road

Dumfries Road

I actually rode ON Route 29 for about a mile

I actually rode ON Route 29 for about a mile


Some towns have stylish bistros, others have old fashioned cafes.  Nokesville has a 7-11, which worked quite well for me.

Some towns have stylish bistros, others have old fashioned cafes. Nokesville has a 7-11, which worked quite well for me.

The big news remains my feet, which have continued to worsen over the past several months.  I have concluded I am suffering from significant nerve pain which first made its appearance while running.  The pain has since joined me while cycling and even when wearing dress shoes.

However, I believe a breakthrough is at hand.  I have discovered the importance of insoles.

At work on Friday, I wore a more casual pair of shoes and noted the absence of pain.  When I sported a pair of deck shoes this weekend (stylish but with virtually no padding) the pain returned with a vengeance.  In desperation (and my wife’s urging) I bought some gel insoles and they almost completely eliminated the pain.  Perhaps a solution was at hand!

It then occurred to me that the insoles in my old cycling shoes could be removed and placed in my new shoes.  I realize that most of you would have hit upon this idea after one or two painful rides in the new shoes.  It only took me six weeks.  I tried the new shoes today and made a determined effort not to mash my pedals.  This resulted in a decrease in about 2 mph off my usual pace, but I am happy to report that the pain, while still present, was significantly less and at no time did it feel like anyone was attempting to drive a nail through the ball of my foot.  I think we can all agree that is a nice thing.

I’ve ordered a pair of gel insoles designed specifically for road shoes and look forward to giving them a try.  If this doesn’t work, my only solutions will likely involve copious amounts of motrin or simply resting for many weeks.

In closing, let me take care of some old business.  In my previous post, I mentioned how I failed to photograph the construction on the bridge at Aden Road.  I passed by the site again today and am happy to share the scene with you, which includes a closure of one lane and some temporary traffic lights.  Enjoy.


The One Lane Bridge

BridgeThis weekend’s pedal took me toward Nokesville, where I viewed a scene I have always enjoyed with a new perspective.

White is the new black.

White is the new black.

But first, let me share my latest purchase – a pair of Shimano shoes to replace my Bontragers that served me faithfully for two years before finally snapping a strap.  I purchased the shoes online – a dangerous practice that I hope I won’t regret.  I like the way the shoes look and they feel quite nice when I first put them on.  Unfortunately, I developed a very painful hot spot on my right foot.  This is common for me but the intensity of the pain was not.  Lets hope a slight adjustment in the cleat and more miles on the bike (and less running) will solve the problem.

So back to the ride.  The weather was a little cool and there was a stiff breeze to contend with, but my pace was a crisp 16.5 mph all the same.  The shoes must make me faster, or perhaps it was my new white socks.  Clearly, I should have gone to white a long time ago.  Then again, it was only two weeks after I switched to white handlebar tape that I wrecked my Trek 2.1.  Perhaps white only works on your person, not your machine.  These things are always difficult to sort out.

After 22 miles, I reached my destination, a one lane bridge over the railroad on the outskirts of Nokesville:


I’ve been over this bridge a few times.  In preparation for this blog post, I did a little research on the bridge and discovered it is something of a local landmark.  Built for use by locomotives in 1882 by the Keystone Bridge Company out of Pittsburgh, the wrought iron construction and wood planks are definitely unique.  Within twenty years of its construction, trains had grown in size to the point where the bridge could no longer handle the load and it was converted for use as a highway bridge.  In 1977, it was placed on the National Historic Register and is considered to be one of the more significant landmarks around Nokesville, which may say something about Nokesville that its residents would not appreciate.


The bridge is in serious need of repair – shockingly serious, really.  Much of the metal is corroded and the deck’s wooden planks in such poor condition that the bridge was briefly closed in 2007.  The Virginia Department of Transportation lists it as “structurally deficient” and gives it a grade of 47 (out of 100) for a health rating and 24.3 (out of 100) in a sufficiency rating.  I don’t know much about bridge ratings, but those numbers can’t be good for the 2,200 cars which cross it every day.

Norfolk Southern Railroad owns the bridge and wants to move it to another location so larger trains can use the rails but the residents wouldn’t hear of it.  The bridge was patched together and the issue kicked down the road until this year, when VDOT decided to spend $4.6 million refurbishing the bridge and building a second single lane bridge next to it.  That should be an interesting project to watch unfold.

49 Miles


My birthday came this week.  Cycling tradition dictates that I am to ride my age in miles on my birthday.  Unfortunately, I had to work that day and there are other traditions such as the eating of cake that I was compelled to participate in, so the ride did not occur on the exact date.  However, I was able to manage a 49-mile ride on Saturday.

The weather is trying very hard to be Springlike.  It was very sunny and the breeze was mild.  The temperature started in the 40s and struggled to reach 60.  Later in the day, there was a period of about 90 minutes where I could describe it as being “warm.”  But that was later in the day.  On the ride, full cold weather kit was required.

This farm always has plenty of activity.

This farm always has plenty of activity.

I fiddled with my seat height for no good reason whatsoever.  I raised it about one centimeter in the hopes that it would somehow help my speed or alleviate the sensation I sometimes get that my legs are too cramped.  Within ten miles I began to feel an uncomfortable ache on the side of my left knee.  Fortunately, it didn’t worsen, but I think I’ll be lowering my seat back down.

As always, the excitement came near Catlett, just a few hundred yards from the Tenerife Incident, an excited Spaniel decided to give chase, mustering the most ferocious bark he could.  He maxed out at 15 mph.  I shall add his information to my dog top speed database.

Other than the seat and the dog, it was a pretty uneventful ride.  Car horns were blowing at higher than normal levels.  TIP TO CAR OWNERS:  you don’t need to tap your horn to let us know you’re behind us.  We can hear you.  We’re not the ones encased in glass and steel with a radio playing.

It being the day before Easter, I thought I would share pictures of some of the churches I happened across.  I hope your holiday is a happy one.

The old Asbury United Methodist Church, near Aden.  This building dates from the 1870s.

The old Asbury United Methodist Church, near Aden. This building dates from the 1870s.

And the "new" church across the street.

And the “new” church across the street.

Nokesville Church of the Brethren

Nokesville Church of the Brethren

Brentsville Presbyterian (now a historical site)

Brentsville Presbyterian (now a historical site)

Wilderness Campaign 200K ACP Brevet

click for details

See the fancy title I used for this ride?  I can do this because I am now officially a Randonneur and entitled to use the arcane acronyms of this exclusive club.  Here’s how it happened:

Pre-ride bicycle prep and registration

We gathered at the Caribou Coffee in Bristow to register, pick up our control sheets (more on that later), prep our bikes and grab a bite to eat before setting out.  I do not like coffee – a distinct problem when traveling with the cycling set – but mercifully the store offered juices as well.  I was very pleased to meet so many friendly people who introduced themselves and chatted about the club.  I was pleased to see John pull up with his Surly and I feel it necessary to report to anyone hoping to find him on the street that he is regrowing his beard.  Without his bike, I doubt I would have recognized him.

The Grand Depart

At the appointed hour of 7:00 AM, we gathered in front of the store and were given some pre-race (technically, this was a race) instructions.  There were about forty riders total, which I learned later was a good-sized group.  With the administrative portion dispensed with, we were off into the pre-dawn fog, accompanied by a few shouts of, “Allez!”

I immediately noticed a difference in these cyclists in that they followed the rules of the road.  I was beginning to see the difference between the “open” organized rides I have been on and a club ride.  Firstly, people take an interest in you and welcome you into the group.  Secondly, people are held accountable for following the group’s rules.  Both were positive changes, in my view.

We zipped along on roads I know very well from my weekend jaunts.  We passed through Nokesville and headed southward into Fauquier County.  There was a significant mist to the morning and this was especially troublesome for those who wore glasses.  I chatted with a few riders while the pack moved along at 20 mph.  Eventually, the sun began to peek  through the morning clouds and I could tell it was going to be a very warm day.  For now, though, my vest and arm warmers were very welcome.

Early morning paceline

At Midland Road (Mile 22) I made my first mistake.  Our merry band broke up as a few cyclists peeled off to duck into a convenience store.  I was in a group behind this break and we slowed to make sure nothing unfortunate happened.  Then the four riders I was with decided they didn’t want to try to catch the lead group.  Then I decided to try to bridge the gap by myself.  That was my mistake.

I sprinted very hard and actually closed about half the distance for a brief while, but I never reached the back end of the group.  After two miles of sprinting, the pack had disappeared down the road.  I was now by myself with nothing to show for my rather significant effort.  I learned once again that bad things happen to people at the back of groups and if you really want to stay part of a pack, stick near the front.

After crossing the Rapidan River and entering Culpeper County, I had some hills to climb.  Fortunately, I was aware of this fact in advance and had steeled myself for the chore.  On the whole, this was a very flat ride with “only” 4,400 feet of climbing over 130 miles.  This area was the most challenging of the day and I put my head down and got it over with as best as I could.  Occasionally, I would happen across a rider or get passed by someone, but this 20 mile stretch was largely a solitary affair for me.  My glorious 18.2 mph average pace was now closer to 15 mph.

Puttering south of Rte 3, near the first control

When I reached Route 3 – a busy highway connecting Fredericksburg and Culpeper – the group of four that I left on Midland Road reeled me back in.  One of the riders was a man named Jim, who was riding a recumbent bicycle at a very impressive pace.  I don’t know a great deal about recumbents, but in my experience they don’t zip along for 40 miles at 16+ mph.

At Mile 42, I ate my first bug of the year.

Putting a bag on your carbon is a bit like putting a trailer hitch on your corvette, but it worked for me.

When we pulled into our first “control” at Mile 48, I was ready for a break.  It was warming up and it was time to shed some layers.  I also needed to wipe my sunglasses, which I had stowed on my helmet in the manner of cool roadies everywhere and thus accumulated a great amount of moisture during the morning fog.  At a control, it is also necessary to get the proprietor to sign your “control sheet,” thus proving you actually made it to the designated point within the alloted time.  In return for this favor, it is customary to purchase some items, which I was happy to do.  We took a brief break at some picnic tables, arranging our cue sheets to depict the next leg of the trip, swapped a few stories, and built up some energy.  It was here that I met Ed, the “other half” of Mary’s cycling tandem at Chasing Mailboxes.  Sadly, Mary was not present today and Ed was on a more traditional machine.

Saunders Field - "The regiment melted away like snow. Men disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them."
- Captain Porter Parley, 140th NY Infantry

It was only a few miles from the control to our first battlefield – The Wilderness.  Fought in May, 1864, this was a particularly brutal affair fought mostly in close quarters due to the difficult wooded terrain.  To get to the battle, the Federal Army marched over the old Chancellorsville Battlefield and discovered many skulls and other bones that had been dug up by animals or exposed by erosion.  During the battle, the brush was accidentally set on fire and hundreds of wounded who could not escape were burned alive.  It was nasty stuff, and I felt compelled to stop at several of the markers to learn more.  This did not help my overall time but it did make the ride more enjoyable for me.

Where Longstreet fell

After The Wilderness, it was off to Spotsylvania and the second battlefield of the day.  This battle was fought about a week after the Wilderness, as the Federals tried once again to get between the Confederate Army and Richmond.  Before reaching the battlefield, I stopped at a site commemorating the accidental wounding of James Longstreet by his own men, which occurred at the end of the The Wilderness and almost exactly one year to the day from when Stonewall Jackson was killed by his own troops about 1o miles from this location.

Sedgwick's Monument

While puttering about a monument to the mortal wounding of Union General Sedgwick (Commander, 6th Corps) at Spotsylvania, a rider named Chris pulled up to ask if I was ok.  Chris and I had chatted earlier in the ride and seemed interested in the history I had to relate (or at least he was very polite about my ramblings).  We rode together to the “information control,” a place on the battlefield where we had to answer a question to prove we were there.  Jim joined us on his recumbent and we eventually came across the site – a question about the Mule Shoe Salient which the Federals attacked.  I already knew the answer to the question, but dutifully waited until arriving at the marker in question before filling out my control sheet.

Riding behind Jim into Spotsylvania

Jim, Chris, and I pulled into Spotsylvania a little before noon.  We had covered 69 miles in less than five hours.  Suddenly, finishing the ride in under ten hours seemed very possible.  The day was fantastic  and it felt like summer was in full swing despite it still being officially winter.  Spotsylvania was an “open control,” meaning we could pull in to any store in town and get our sheet signed.  We just needed to keep our receipt to prove we were there.  I carefully placed my receipt in the ziplock bag I was using to store my control sheet and credit card, then sat down to enjoy my convenience store lunch of a chicken sandwich and Gatorade.

The road to Chancellorsville

After lunch, we moved to the third and final battlefield of the day, Chancellorsville.  This was chronologically out of sequence from the first two, but there was nothing to be done about it.  Chancellorsville was fought a year before the other two battles and was the site of Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.  I rode through the battlefield last September and you can learn more about it here.  We just dipped our figurative toes into this field in order to answer another information control question which I already knew the answer to “Question: What was the battlefield named after?  Answer: The Chancellor family home.”).  Since lunch was only forty minutes ago, this was a short stop and we were once again on the road, heading back to Kelly’s Ford over the Rapidan.

Chancellorsville information control

Hunting Run Reservoir

It was about here, at Mile 80, that things began to lose their luster for me.  I knew this would be the case; the battlefield tours were over and all that remained was getting back to the finish line.  And that was 50 miles away.  I also knew that the road we were on was hilly for the next seven or eight miles with little to catch the eye apart from a lovely drive past Hunting Run Reservoir.  There were five of us at the Chancellorsville Control, but shortly after restarting three of them were off in the distance.  I was left with the companionship of Chris, who happily discussed anything I was interested in talking about as we took on the hills in the increasingly hot day.  I am in Chris’ debt.

Chris at the Rapidan

We stopped for a rest break at the Rapidan Bridge, where I ate some Clif Shot Blocks.  These babies were absolutely key for me.  I ate a packet faithfully every hour – except for when I had already eaten at a control.  Every time I downed a packet, I felt much better for several miles.  It may be psychosomatic, but I don’t care.  It worked.

The Madone at the Rapidan

The final control - Mile 111

Shortly after leaving the bridge, Chris realized he hadn’t flipped his cue sheet and he stopped to do so.  I was going to stop with him, but he insisted I continue, saying he would catch up.  I didn’t like leaving him after he had faithfully stayed with me but he was insistent.  I was fairly certain he would be right back with me in a few miles.  I didn’t see Chris again until the final control at Mile 111 – the Handymart where I regularly stop on weekend rides.

I was pretty well spent at this point, but the level terrain and the fact I knew every nook and cranny of this part of the course greatly aided me.  I knew when to conserve my energy and when I could push things a bit.  I managed 16.2 mph pace on the last 19 miles, which was quite satisfying to me.  In Nokesville, I came across Barry, another cyclist completing his first-ever Brevet.  Barry’s from Frederick, MD, and I’ll most likely be heading up his way for the club’s Gettysburg 200K brevet this September.  Barry informs me that there are many more hills in his neck of the woods, a statement which I now have six months to ruminate on.

After Party

Barry and I pulled into the Caribou Coffee finish together with a finishing time of 9:40.  I never thought I would be able to go so quickly, especially given my dalliances at the battlefields, but the weather was fantastic and the fact I knew many of the roads was very helpful to me.  I signed and turned in my control sheet and enjoyed the nice after party, which consisted of pizza, sodas, cookies, fruit and other goodies.  It was a nice way to finish a great day.

I don’t think I’m ready to take on some of the more ambitious events of the DC Randonneurs, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the group and hope to join them again this September when they take on South Mountain and the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.  Until then, Bon Route!