Two Bridges

Occoquan Bridges

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

Let me now explain how this didn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

Occoquan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Marker Segment!

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

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

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The Fate Of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (A Cautionary Tale)

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

As a resident of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, I find myself surrounded by reminders of my country’s relationship with the British Empire.  These reminders usually take the form of place names which have decidedly British-sounding names, such as King George’s County, Jamestown, Prince George’s County, etc…  Nowadays, most of the people inhabiting these places have no idea who they are named after.  Not so with your humble author, who enjoys looking up the details of those who have traveled before him.

My wife on a recent excursion, with Prince William Forest on her right

Which brings us to Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.  Among other things, he is the namesake for the county in which I live and the forest along the county’s southern border.  I pedal past Prince William Forest on the majority of my rides and have even ridden along the park’s roads once or twice.  When I do so, I often think of the prince’s story.

Born in 1721 as the second son to King George II, William had a lot going for him.  He was a bright student and was educated by some very prominent tutors of his day.  He was reportedly his parents’ favorite child.  I suspect he was pleased to learn at the age of ten that a county had been named after him in the colony of Virginia.  After dabbling with the navy, he convinced his parents that a career in the army would be best for him and he was made a major general at the age of 21.

Life was good for William.  He was bright, well-loved, fabulously wealthy, very popular with the citizenry for much of his life, and (despite some notable defeats) was generally considered to be a good officer.

Prince William suffered a stroke at the age of 44.  A few months later, he died of a heart attack.  A glance at the prince’s portrait will provide a clue as to the cause of death – the man was obese.

Why such a successful man should let himself go to this extent is not precisely recorded.  Some reports suggested he had a life-long battle with obesity.  Others refer to the “profligate lifestyle” he led after his ignominious defeat (and subsequent resignation from the Army at age 36) during The Seven Years War.  Still other references hint that a wound suffered at the age of 22 during the Battle of Dettingen kept him from enjoying a more vigorous lifestyle.  Whatever the cause, this much is clear: the man was fat and it ended his life decades before his expected lifespan and no amount of titles, wealth, prestige, education, or achievement could overcome that fact.

Prince William didn’t own a bicycle.  That invention was still a ways off during his day.  Fortunately for me, I have a couple of bikes and they have been very helpful in warding off the condition which proved to be William’s undoing.  As I pedal past Prince William Forest, I often ponder this fact and find that I am more motivated to continue the ride than before.

In the words of Fizzhogg, “Eat better.  Ride your bike.”

Leesylvania State Park

Today’s ride was not for the meek.  The temperature warmed to a little over freezing and winds were gusting over 35 mph.  On a day this cold, I’d ordinarily go for a run or find an excuse to sit about the house.  Since the winter has been so mild this year, I felt obligated to get in at least one “freezing weather” ride.  So with the wind chill near 24 degrees, I bundled up and headed out on one of my rare forays east of Route 1.

The flags of the USA, Virginia, and Prince William County snapping in the wind over Garfield Police Station

If you consider that water tends to be at the lowest nearby point, you will quickly discern from the map that my initial route took me downhill.  Those nasty winds were coming from the northwest, meaning they were at my back as well.  Yippee.  With almost no effort, I was averaging 19.5 mph when I reached the stop light at Route 1.  Of course, I would be paying for this enjoyment later, but lets not rush the story.

Traces of ice indicate the temperature

Leesylvania State Park was much as I left it 13 months ago when I last visited.  There were a few brave souls out for hikes and one person towing his boat from the storage area.  I can only imagine what he was hoping to accomplish in this weather.  I pulled to a stop near the boat launch and took some pics of the water.  I couldn’t see anyone else on the shore or in the water.  During the summer, I would be sharing this view with a few thousand people.  I tried to appreciate that fact while not concerning myself with the question, “what do those several thousand people know which you don’t?”

On my way out, I paused to take some pics of a grand railroad bridge across Powells Creek where it joins the Potomac River.  You can see the railroad line on the map at the top of this post.  It’s the major line along the East Coast, carrying commuters from points South up to DC.  It also handles Amtrak routes from Florida to Maine.

Good Times

Rather than simply returning on the route I started on, I opted to explore Powells Landing, which is presumably named after the same Mr. or Mrs. Powell as Powells Creek.  I could confirm none of this as the history of the place seems to be a well kept secret, both online and in the immediate area.  I did learn that Powells Creek is part of a watershed that runs through Lake Montclair (where I live), Lake Terrapin, and all the way past the county landfill.  It is reportedly one of the most virbrant natural wetlands in all of Northern Virginia.  So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

I pedaled toward a street with the hopeful name of Panorama Drive, but found it to be a bit of a misnomer.  There were glimpses of the creek and the same railroad bridge, but it was hardly “panoramic.”  I had traveled 14 miles at this point and the cold was beginning to seep into me.  It was time to go home.

Uphill.

Against the wind.

Let me just say for the record that riding uphill for six miles against a steady 25 mph wind with gusts around 35 mph on a freezing day was not enjoyable for me.  I was pleased to be done with this ride.  Although it was only 20 miles long, it felt harder than many 40 milers I have done.

Calendar Contest Update!  Thank you very much to those of you who have “liked” my photos in the Revolutions Bicycle Store calendar contest.  As of this writing, my top three pics (all with 20 “likes”) are in 6th place.  There are seven photos within striking distance, so the issue remains in doubt.  Voting continues until Wednesday, so if you’re inclined to vote and demonstrate to the entire world that we are incredibly awesome people, I’d be obliged.  You can vote here, and my pics are 100 through 104.

Gloom Period

At my alma mater, the time immediately after the holidays was known as “Gloom Period.”  Everyone had to return from their holiday vacation and settle back into reality, which meant lots of studying, marching, and being cold – usually under gray skies while living and working in gray buildings while wearing gray uniforms.

It was pretty dreary.

This weekend’s cold weather broke up an otherwise mild winter. With a little luck, it will be the closest thing to a Gloom Period I experience this year.  In an attempt to capture the spirit of this period, I have presented pictures from today’s ride in black and white.

During Gloom Period, it’s always nice to visit spots that remind you of the warm months ahead.  I therefore stopped by Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals baseball club.  The “P-Nats” play in the Class A Carolina League and their stadium seats 6,000 people.  It’s generally regarded as one of the worst stadiums in the league.  Fun Fact:  Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper skipped Potomac on his was up to Class AAA because management was concerned he would injure himself on the poorly maintained field.

Close to the stadium, I came upon this small family cemetery.  These small plots harken back to a day when this area was very rural.  As urban sprawl has taken over, these small cemeteries dot the landscape, sometimes in the strangest of locations (like the one in front of a nearby Ikea furniture store).  I hope Mr. Metherell (deceased, 1947) does not mind his once-secluded resting place is now 50 feet from the Prince William County Parkway.

About a half mile down the road from the cemetery is this rather handsome piece of architecture.  Quite impressive for a medical clinic, especially when one considers the nice landscaping touch.

On my way home, it occurred to me that all my action pictures were of my front wheel.  This hardly seems fair, as it is my rear wheel that does most of the work.  In an attempt to give my rear wheel its due, I present the below photo.

My Half-Baked Theory On The Relative Perils Of Cycling

 

Long work hours and crummy weather have combined to limit my cycling as of late.  This is unacceptable, I know, and I intend to remedy it shortly.  In the meanwhile, let me share with you one of the many half-baked theories that wander about my subconscious and occasionally pop to the surface, sometimes with amusing or catastrophic consequences.

My brushes with SUVs on Sunday’s ride have me wondering about whether the risks to cyclists change depending on the environment they ride in.  If you break the world down into three basic areas – urban, suburban, and rural – I believe there are distinct differences in the risks incurred  by cyclists in each area.  Naturally, I believe the risks in my area, suburbia, are the most significant.  Please let me explain.

Happy urban cyclists in a nice, wide, bike lane and slower-moving cars well to the side.

Urban.  That urban riding can be quite dangerous, there is no doubt.  Lots and lots of cars trying to occupy the same roads as a great many bikes can be problematic.  With so many cars on the road, the chances a given cyclist will encounter an idiot are pretty high.  But cities have a lot going for them, including miles of bicycling infrastructure such as bike lanes/paths and cars that are driving considerably slower than in suburbia or in the country.  There are also many more cyclists on the road, meaning the drivers are more likely to expect and look for cyclists.  These are all pleasant advantages that cyclists in the country and suburbia do not enjoy.

Cycling Utopia. Those cars in the background are paying attention, right?

Rural.  To me, rural cycling is all about waiting for “The Big One,” the accident that will no doubt involve a vehicle traveling at high speeds and will result in a very unhappy situation for the cyclist.  Roads in the country are pleasantly free of large numbers of cars.  Bicycle lanes/paths are rare to nonexistent, but it is much easier for bikes and cars to share the road since the traffic density is significantly less than in cities.  Yippee.  The only thing getting in the way of cycling bliss is the inattentive driver who drifts just a tick too far toward the shoulder, thus creating “The Big One.”  One shudders at the thought.  Incidents like this are very rare, much rarer than the less dramatic confrontations in cities, but it only takes once…

Suburban.  Finally, we come to my neck of the woods: suburbia, or as I like to call it: “The Worst Of Both Worlds.”  In suburbia, we have traffic densities approaching that of urban environments, with cars moving at speeds approaching those found in the country, with almost no cycling infrastructure.  The number of cyclists are significant, but spread out over more land, meaning the densities are very low and drivers are not always expecting to see them. 

Take my neck of the woods, for example.  My home county of Prince William has 400,000 people living in it.  Nearby Loudon County has 300,000 people.  That’s a lot of people, but not as many as Fairfax County to my north with one million souls.  One would expect more cycling structure in the more heavily populated Fairfax County, but you may be surprised to see how much more there is.  Take a look my hand-crafted editing of a google bike map below:

Those green lines are bike lanes and paths.  There are many many more lines in Fairfax and DC than in the outlying counties of Prince William and Loudon Counties.  Combined, the population of these two counties is about 70% of Fairfax, but the amount of trails is only about 10% (based on my scientific calculations after scanning the map for a few seconds).  Cyclists in these counties are left to fend for themselves against huge numbers of cars at speeds over 60 mph and with drivers who are regularly surprised to see them.  Not good.  Not good at all.  I therefore conclude that suburbia is the worst possible place to ride a bicycle.

So that’s my theory.  Thanks for your time.  As always, your comments are welcome.  Please try to be gentle.

My Sudden Appearance In A Paceline

“It never gets easier.  You just go faster.”  – Greg LeMond

There I was on Sunday morning, minding my own business and raking leaves in my back yard.  I looked up and saw my neighbor, Steve, pedaling up my driveway in full cycling regalia.  This was rather odd in that he has never done this before.  Although we’ve occasionally talked about cycling, Steve is an uber-cyclist and triathlete and thus we’ve never hooked up for a ride on account of the fact that I value the absence of heart attacks, aneurysms and other medical setbacks a ride with Steve would invite.

“Did you get my message?”  asked Steve.

“Nope,” I said.  “I’ve been in my back yard, minding my own business and raking leaves.”

“My friend called and wants to go on a ride,” said Steve.  “We’re leaving in 20 minutes, if you’d like to come.”

Well, I couldn’t very well say no, could I?  I couldn’t withstand the shame such a refusal would incur.  So I quickly bagged my leaves, filled my water bottles, pumped my tires, grabbed my Garmin, jumped into some Fall riding clothes and was off on my first paceline ride.

It turned out that two of Steve’s friends were coming along, making it a group of four.  I felt obligated to give a Public Service Announcement that I had only ridden with other human beings on two occasions (minus some family “neighborhood jaunts”) and neither of these involved significant amounts of teamwork.  I was therefore prone to otherwise inexplicable actions that could create annoyances or far more significant consequences.  This news was greeted with good-natured smiles and assurances that all would be well.  Then we were off.

The paceline moved as advertised.  We were flying.  Whereas I can maintain a 20 mph on flat roads with some effort, we were moving at 23-25 mph with ease.  When I wasn’t in front (or “pulling,” as the cool cyclists say), I found myself coasting as much as pedaling.  My heart rate dropped 40 bpm at times and yet the high speeds continued.  When I was pulling, well that sucked.  These guys were clearly a notch or two beyond me and what they considered a nice, crisp, ride was about all I could handle.  Still, I was fresh and did my fair share at the front.  We easily passed by four or five individual cyclists on our route, who would appear half a mile ahead of us and minutes later would be left behind our group with a friendly hello and a wave.

Fortunately, I didn’t do anything that caused damage to people or property.  I found that paceline riding requires considerable concentration and communication.  Guys in front are constantly pointing out potholes or other problems in the road.  The guy in back is required to monitor the road behind the group and let the gang know of approaching vehicles.  This is especially important as the time draws near for the lead cyclist to pull off.  This maneuver is executed by moving toward the center of the road (and thus into any cars coming from behind) and letting the paceline pass him on the right.  When not in the lead, you must be especially vigilant of the wheel of the bicycle in front of you.  Once or twice, I appreciated the passing scenery a tad too much and almost made contact with the guy in front of me.  That would have been bad.  Very bad.

After 22 miles, we roared into our rest stop – a country store on the corner of Elk Road and Courthouse Road.  Our pace was around 20 mph.  Smoking fast for me.  Two of the guys wanted to continue on, giving them a 65 mile ride for the day.  I was ready to turn back and Steve decided to go with me.  I think he wanted to press on with the group but felt obligated to stay with the guy he invited.  I assured him that I had logged over 1,700 miles by myself this summer and could manage these 22 miles just fine, thank you.  But Steve insisted on staying with me.  Steve’s a good guy.

With only two of us now cycling, our pace slowed a bit.  Also, we often found ourselves cycling side by side so we could more easily carry on a conversation.  As we hit the busy Aden Road at Mile 30, we once again fell into file and the pace picked up a tick.  Six miles later, we hit the hills after the Occoquan River and I was toast.  Steve still had plenty of energy left for the four miles of climbing and I was simply trying to survive.  My turns at pulling the paceline at 23 mph and cycling with Steve at a faster-than-normal-for-me pace left me with nothing.  Steve flew to the top of each hill then puttered along until I could catch up, each time with me announcing my presence with a witticism like, “Hey, remember me?” 

(I find that my ability to make good jokes decreases markedly when I am in Heart Zone 5)

Steve stuck with me all the way home.  He really is a good guy.  Despite my severe bonking and the 10-minute break at the country store, this ride was still the fastest pace I have ever gone for such a distance.  As we neared his house, we exchanged fist bumps and I thanked him very much for the invitation.  Then we split up and went to our homes to shower and watch NFL football.

So do I like pacelines?  I dunno.  Going fast was fun and I believe I got an excellent workout, primarily because the guys I was with were in better shape than me.  But it was VERY hard to carry on a conversation and the concentration required to avoid other cyclists and be aware of traffic and road hazards meant casual sight-seeing was out of the question.  I guess the enjoyment of a paceline all depends what your ride objectives are.  I think I’ll be up for the occasional paceline, but I’ve grown to enjoy solo rides a great deal and I’ll probably stick with those for the most part.

And I’m returning to that country store.  There’s a historical marker there!

Australian Historical Marker Segment

click for details

This marker is typical of a series emplaced all over Canberra.  They all contain the slogan, “Canberra Tracks: See How Far We’ve Travelled.”  This marker is at the top of Mount Pleasant at Royal Military College – Duntroon and details the history of one of the area’s oldest settlements.  I was left wondering what, exactly, is a “pastoralist”…

In The Dark

Perhaps those of you living in the Northern Hemisphere have noticed – the days are getting shorter.  This means that any sort of evening ride will involve hours of limited visibility.  I’ve been working in one or two night rides every week for some time now, but as the sun sets earlier and the temperatures drop with each passing day, my wife has begun to question the wisdom of this practice.  Tonight was no exception.  Our conversation went something like this:

Wife:  I see you have your cycling clothes on.  Are you going out for a ride?

Me: The thought crossed my mind.

Wife:  I see.  Tell me, do you see other cyclists out there at this time of day?

Me:  Come to think of it, not really.

Wife:  Perhaps there’s a reason for that.

Me:  Perhaps.  Maybe it will occur to me while I’m on my ride.

Wife:  Maybe.  Have fun on your ride.  It’s been good to know you.

And then I was off.  I decided to wander through the neighborhoods where I live.  This was a bit daring as most of these streets I’ve never been on in broad daylight, let alone an overcast evening with a fading moon.  In some ways it was easier than staying on the Spriggs Road path.  The headlights from cars on that road were blinding me and it was difficult to see the path.  On the back roads, my eyes could adjust and my sole concern was avoiding any maniacs that might come flying up behind me and not notice my blinking red light.

As luck would have it, I did not come into contact with any maniacs.  I had a pleasant ride in 50 degree temps.  It just started to rain as I pedaled into my drive.  Old Ironsides performed very well and all is right with the world.

And for the record, over 15.6 miles I saw two groups of walkers (five people total) and no cyclists.  I’m still ruminating on my wife’s question!

The Hoadly Road Bike Path (or lack thereof)

    

A mixed-use path off Spriggs Road, and the debris one often has to cycle through to use it.

Cycle paths are an important part of urban planning efforts to accommodate cyclists on busy city roads.  Prince William County planners have not placed a great amount of emphasis on bike paths, casting their lot instead on mixed-use paths which line most major roads.   

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do know this: using these paths forces you to contend with walkers, joggers, skateboarders, and all other manner of traveler, most of whom are completely ignorant of your presence as you approach them from behind and inevitably scare the bejeebers out of them.  A cyclist is also forced to navigate “transition areas” when the path intersects with side roads.  These areas include a plethora of rocks, glass, sand, and dirt.  The method of merging with the side road is typically a metal ramp leading to a gutter. 

All of this combines for some nasty terrain that may very well have contributed to one or more of my unfortunate flats. Finally, drivers aren’t expecting cyclists to come barreling down the pathway at speeds over 15mph.  They regularly block the path when attempting to merge with traffic on the main road and (if a cyclist’s timing is especially bad) will race up to the main road at precisely the same time the cyclist is attempting to cross it on the path.  Thus, the primary advantage of the path (keeping cars away from cyclists) is nullified.

So cycle paths can be helpful.  They give a cyclist a clear, smooth, piece of asphalt to do his/her thing.  Cars know bikes are present (in theory) and pedestrians may use sidewalks and mixed-use paths without fear of bicycles swooping down upon them. 

So let me tell you about Prince William County’s one and only bicycle path.

It’s on Hoadly Road, which is an odd spot for a path.  There are so many congested areas in the county such as Manassas, Lake Ridge, and the entire Route 1 corridor that are in need of a dedicated bike path.  Yet the county planners chose Hoadly Road, a relatively calm (if that adjective can be used to describe ANY road in Northern Virginia) stretch of road connecting Prince William Parkway and Rte 234.  Having traveled this road several times, I must conclude that the entire bike path was an afterthought, thrown together at the last-minute because the county road construction budget had a few thousand dollars lying around that nobody knew what to do with.

Eastbound on Hoadly - no path.

Consider first the location of the path, or to be more specific where the path is NOT located.  Only one side of the street has a path.  The other side is a traditional shoulder.  Apparently, cyclists are only supposed to travel westbound on Hoadly Road.  What’s the sense in that?  Still, the shoulder is wide, smooth, and relatively free of debris.  Frankly, I prefer it to what waits for me on the other side.

This is the view a cyclist gets when he comes off the mixed-use path on the Prince William Parkway and prepares to head west on Hoadly Road.  This is a major intersection which handles tens of thousands of cars per day.  And you’re sitting there right in the middle of it.  Note the slight incline on the other side of the intersection.  There is a shopping plaza on the right side of the road and there are two separate turning lanes which cars use to gain access to it.  You will also note there is no bike path yet.  Tally Ho!

Having moved through the intersection, taking care not to move into the turning lane and thus be killed by a right-turning car or puncturing a tire on the pile of rocks and glass that inevitably gathers at these points, the cyclist then charges up the small hill, all the while making sure that none of the cars bearing down on him/her want to turn into either of the two turning lanes into the shopping center.  Having successfully completed these manuevers, the cyclist is greeted with this site:

The west side of Ridgefield Village Dr - no path and little shoulder

A bicycle path.  Well, better late than never I suppose.  The path leads up to the intersection with Ridgefield Village Dr, an intersection that is not nearly as busy as the previous one.  Grateful for a place to sit while waiting for the light to change, a cyclist cannot help but notice that on the far side of the intersection, the path inexplicably ends.  200 yards of bike path was nice, but what’s the point?

A half mile later, the path starts up again.

A few hundred yards after this, it once again stops in the middle of the nowhere.

As you bounce along the uneven shoulder pavement, you need to be especially observant because your next clue isn’t an obvious one.  After passing a parked semi tractor trailer, the path reemerges as a mixed-use pathway on the side of the road.  Quickly, I swerve over to stay on the path, going over the shoddily paved portion of what used to be a curb and grateful not to puncture my tires.  See the road intersection just up ahead?  The path ends at this point and the cyclist once again must merge with the traffic he/she left about 100 yards ago.  An accident just waiting to happen.

Gamely, the cyclist presses westward, encouraged by the bike path that once again emerges on the side of the road.  However almost as quickly as it starts, the path has another trick up its sleeve: portions of repaved shoulder that are extremely bumpy, followed by another diversion onto a mixed-use path.  After a few hundred feet of this, the cyclist must merge with road traffic a second time in less than a mile as the path moves back onto the road shoulder.

The End Of The Line

Still, the path (when it exists) is nice and this one takes you up to the intersection with Dale Blvd – another busy place and I am grateful for a spot to call my own while waiting for the light to change.  Immediately after crossing this intersection, the cyclist sees the path has ended.  This time there is a sign to officially confirm this fact.  Although wide, the shoulder is nasty.  The pavement is cracked, uneven and full of debris.  My wife occasionally wonders why cyclists are in the road when a “perfectly good” shoulder is available to them.  This is why – it’s a virtual minefield of obstacles which at a minimum will slow you down and could very well cause you to flat.

So that is the Hoadly Road bike path: a testament to some long-forgotten road planning afterthought.  Of the three-mile stretch of road, no more than a mile has a path and much of this requires a fair amount of dexterity and puncture-resistant tires.  It’s enough to cause most serious cyclists to say “the hell with it” and just stay on the road.  And that’s quite a sad commentary on a bike path, if you ask me.  Which you didn’t.

Lest I leave you down in the dumps after such a negative report, let me share with you a more pleasant portion of tonight’s ride.  This photo was taken at the ambitiously-named Lake Terrapin.  I think “pond” is a more appropriate term for this body of water, but it is still quite fetching and there is a lovely dirt path which surrounds it.  I went for a spin around the “lake” at the end of my ride and took this pic as the sun was setting.

Another Flat

The fourth flat of the season and the third one in the last 160 miles occurred on a slight uphill on Rte 234, near a plant nursery.  I was almost 12 miles into a planned 40 mile trip which would have permitted an exploration of some nooks and crannies of the Brentsville area.  As with the previous three flats, the rear tire was the culprit.

I’ve become quite practiced at removing my rear tire so this no longer was a signficant emotional event for me.  I’ve also become very accustomed to having sweat pour off me as I attempted the repair.  This time I was able to find a shard of glass that had penetrated the tire.  I was once again ready to install the new inner tube and be on my way when once again I met with an insurmountable problem.  This time, the tire itself refused to cooperate. 

My tires have a kevlar band on either side to help prevent flats (HA!).  Somehow, one of these bands had “rolled up” and would not lie flat.  It was almost as if the tire was twisted incorrectly, kinda like a garden hose sometimes won’t lie flat.  I flipped the tire inside out and continued rotating it in this manner until the outside was on the outside.  Now the OTHER kevlar band was rolled up.

I dealt with this for half an hour.  I am pleased to report there were many good Samaritans on this stretch of road who offered to help.  Even some truck and van drivers took pity on me and offered their services.  I thanked them all for their offers and told them I had the necessary tools to fix the problem, if it could be fixed.

The problem couldn’t be fixed.

I eventually elected to inflate the tube on the messed-up tire.  I put about 60 PSI into it (25 less than normal) and inspected it.  The problem side was causing the “good side” to ride much more toward the center than normal.  Still, it was ridable and I decided to limp home with it in this state.

Tires aren't supposed to look like this

I once again took the bike to Olde Towne Bicycles, where I am quickly becoming a recognizable face.  I fully expected the owner, Dave, to tell me how I had made a simple mistake when changing the tire.  He would then fix the problem I had created and I would thank him for his patience then sheepishly leave the store.  This did not happen.  After hearing my story and fussing with the tire for over 10 minutes, Dave (a man in his 50′s who has presumably seen his fair share of broken bikes) announced he had never seen anything like this.  He had no idea what would make a tire do this, other than to say that turning the tire completely inside out during the inspection might be the cause.  With kevlar banded tires, he recommends simply running your fingers inside the tire to find the obstruction.  I told Dave I had used this technique on the previous two flats and came up empty.  My frustration over continued problems caused me to take more radical measures.

Dave grabbed a new tire off his rack and slapped it on.  He then noted my quick-release spring on the rear tire was damaged so he swapped that out as well.  After a quick service, he gave me a tip on replacing inner tubes: always put the valve near a recognizable feature on the tire (with my tires, there is a red label).  This way, when you flat and figure out where the hole is in your tube, it’s relatively easy to determine where to check the tire.

So let us hope the cursed rear tire problems have been solved with the replacement of the original tire.  It’s been two weeks since I  have been worry-free on mechanical issues.  I’m ready to get back to pedaling and taking pictures and not focusing on the mechanics of my hobby or learning how to remove grease from cycling clothes.

Nice and new

I Bought A Jersey

I’ve previously written on my view of jerseys – I didn’t see the point.   They’re supposed to be sleek (so what?) and wick away sweat (lots of non-jerseys do that too).  I did note that they have three pockets in the back which are useful for storing all sorts of stuff.  I concluded that these pockets were unnecessary because I could store everything I need in my Camelbak.

I have rethunk this assertion and have changed my opinion.  Those pockets CAN be helpful.  If you would like to retrieve just about anything without having to stop pedaling, then stowing the desired items in your jersey pockets can let you do that.  I can report from personal experience that retrieving something from a Camelbak or saddlebag without dismounting is almost impossible and invites disaster. 

What sorts of things do you need to get while biking?  Glad you asked.  My current list includes at least three items:

     1)  Navigational cue cards so you don’t have to burn the route into your memory or stop when “navigationally-challenged” (some might use the word “lost,” but that is simply not possible for me so I prefer the former phrase).

     2) Energy bars, which I can then eat while riding.

     3)  Pepper Spray, in the event an animal or person attempts to kill me.

Those are three pretty good reasons, in my view, and I therefore wandered into the Performance Bicycle shop near my work office and sampled their many jerseys.  They had an excellent selection.  Naturally, I bought the cheapest one.  I took it out on a 30-mile ride today and everything was just ducky.  The temp was in the mid-90s and the  micropolyester material was tolerable but certainly not an improvement over a tee-shirt.  The pockets were most helpful and I had no problems digging out my Clif Bar.  I knew the route so I didn’t bother with cue cards and I have yet to purchase my pepper spray.

One unexpected effect was the elastic waistband, which tends to make the shirt ride higher on my waist.  No big deal, but it does increase the likelihood that the small of my back will be exposed to the world.  This is a MAJOR cycling fashion faux-pas that must be avoided at all costs.  Several spot checks assured me that all was well in this regard, but putting something heavy in the back pockets will help pull it down on future rides.

So while I remain uninterested in improving the sleekness of my look and unimpressed at the wicking power of the material, the pockets alone make a jersey worth adding to my cycling wardrobe.

Here’s the route I took, during which I set a personal-best 15.8 mph average.  I’ve only topped that average on rides of less than 15 miles.  I am once again forced to conclude that I might be getting in shape.  Or maybe that jersey is much better than I’m giving it credit for!