Yesterday being Memorial Day, I thought it appropriate to bike down to Quantico National Cemetery to pay my respects. On my way, I hoped to avoid the nasty holiday traffic on Route 1 through Dumfries by cutting through Prince William Forest Park. Even though I have lived within three miles of the park for over eight years, I’ve never set foot in it (ok, one day I followed my dog about 100 feet into the woods while he “did his business”). It was time I rectified this deficiency.
The weather was sunny and hot, with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees. I covered the first four miles to the park without event and peddled up to what I thought was the park entrance. Except it wasn’t the park entrance – it was a privately-run trailer park with the confusing name of Prince William Forest Trailer Park. Even their website is confusing and gives the appearance they are part of the park. They’re not. At the entrance, there was a small shack manned by a daft woman who proved to be of no help to me whatsoever. She informed me that it was impossible to enter the park from this campground, although there was a dirt trail about half a mile away, but I couldn’t purchase a park admission ticket along this dirt trail and Lord-only-knows what that could mean should I be found trespassing in the park. The lady also told me there were no paved roads anywhere in the park, meaning the entire five mile route would be off road. Thoroughly discouraged, I abandoned my plan to go through the park and headed to Dumfries. This would mean an extra 2-3 miles each way, but I was determined to reach my destination.
Seven miles later, I was at Quantico National Cemetery. I had never visited before and was immediately impressed with the layout. I pedaled through the front gate and down a flag-lined road. Everything was spotless. The cemetery was spread out, with sections of a few hundred plots separated from each other by a hundred yards or more, giving the place a more intimate feel than other national cemeteries I have been to. There were shelters at most sections with an understated display of military crests or some other feature of military life/history. In the middle of the park was a hill dotted with monuments. I hopped off my bike and walked to the top. Along the way, there were monuments to the 1st, 4th, and 6th Marine Divisions, a Purple Heart Monument, a monument to Col Rich Higgins (killed in Lebanon by Hezbollah), and a monument erected by Virginia to veterans. At the top of the hill stood a monument to Edsons’ Raiders, a famous Marine unit that fought in WWII. The hilltop provided a great view of the cemetery. I sat on a bench, sipped my Gatorade, and pondered the sacrifices of the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines lying on the hillside before me.
On my way off the hill, I bumped into an old friend, Ken, whom I served with at Ft. Campbell ten years ago. We were surprised to see each other and Ken was especially surprised to see me in my physical state (drenched with sweat) and cycling clothes. Ken was visiting the park for the same reasons as I, except he had the good sense to drive his car. It’s a small world.
As I started the return trip, I passed by the southern (Main) entrance to Prince William Forest Park. I decided to give it a shot. The guard at the entrance informed me that that there were in fact paved roads through much of the park. The last mile would be off road, but the opportunity to explore a new route while riding in the shade was worth it. I paid my $3 admission fee and happily pedaled off on Scenic Drive, curious to learn what was so “scenic.” As it turns out, a more appropriate name would be “Never-Ending-Forest-That-Keeps-You-From-Seeing-Anything-Scenic Drive,” but I suppose that wouldn’t sell as many park admission tickets.
Anyway, the purpose of the park isn’t to see anything scenic, but to commune with nature. There are walking trails all over the place and it was a very pleasant bike ride as well. There were several challenging hills that I wasn’t expecting, especially after biking for almost two hours in 90-degree heat. I survived that, then headed on Burma Road, a heavily-stoned dirt path which declined steeply to a creek bed, then inclined just as steeply on the far side. When I emerged onto Route 234 (a half-mile from the trailer park), I was very grateful to get out of there without a flat.
The route ended up being a little over 25 miles. It was a good trip and I’m glad I made it. There are 146 national cemeteries scattered around the country. Next Memorial Day, I encourage you to make the trip to one if at all possible.