Manassas Battlefield Ride


It was time for me to break the 40-mile barrier today.  I chose to do it by breaking the 50-mile barrier at the same time and coming close to the 60-mile barrier as well.  In 95-degree heat.  In retrospect, this was an unwise decision.

My plan was to head to the Manassas Battlefield Park on the north side of Manassas, about 23 miles from my house.  I would take a leisurely detour on the way home and log about 52 miles.  My sainted wife would meet me at the battlefield with Gatorade and water to refill my stores and a banana for some simple carbohydrates to help keep my energy up.  I would wander the battlefield, take some lovely photos, then triumphantly head home on much the same route near Nokesville that I had mastered in my earlier 38-mile rides.  I should be back in no more than four hours, probably less.  The plan was utterly fool-proof and I confidently headed out at 8:45 AM.

I pedaled northward on Rte 234 without event and hit the southern outskirts of Manassas in fine form.  It was here that I met my first problem:  namely, the city of Manassas.  I know the town well enough to avoid the city center and selected a route which was slightly longer but skirted the town.  Sadly, this was still tough going for me.  There were many stop signs and a few traffic lights as well.  You know how your car gets poorer gas mileage in cities?  I discovered the same is true for cyclists.  The continuous stopping and starting and nervous energy spent staying clear of crowded streets slowed me down and drained my strength.  This would prove to be crucial in about 30 miles. 

Still, my spirits rose when I reached Route 28 on the north side of town.  This is an incredibly busy six lane road, but it also meant that I was about three miles from reaching the park’s Visitor’s Center.  And I braced myself for the final push.  Then my phone rang.  I don’t have a great storage plan for my phone; I keep it in my Camelbak which means I must stop, pull off the backpack and dig the phone out to use it.  After pulling off the road, I retrieved my phone and saw my wife was trying to reach me.  She was lost.  Yippee.

Fortunately she wasn’t far from our link up point, but I was running late from the stop-and-go traffic and sticking to my original plan of touring the battlefield THEN linking up with the missus would cause her to sit in a picnic area parking lot for over 30 minutes.  Not cool.  I abandoned my route and headed down Balls Ford Road to link up with my betrothed. 

My guardian angel at the link up point. Over her right shoulder in 1862, NY infantry made a valiant defense against a Confederate attack.

This is what the hill looked like in 1862. It was much nicer today.

The detour to the link up brought me 1.5 miles off course.  Now fully resupplied, I had a choice: return to my route or cut it short and begin going home.  I was already at 25 miles and the way home was longer than the route I took to get to this point.  And it was hot.  A prudent person would have turned back.  But durnit, I wanted to see that battlefield.  I returned to my route, knowing I just added at least three miles to my trip.

I swung into the Visitor’s Center parking lot, located on Henry Hill – the site of signficant fighting in both battles of Manassas.  Here I took the panoramic shot at the top of this post.  It features Stonewall Jackson and the Henry House.  It was here that Thomas Jackson earned his nickname in the Battle of First Manassas, when Confederate General Bee exclaimed, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!”  Being a hilltop, there was plenty of artillery employed here and several guns are displayed to mark the positions of the batteries.  I took a picture of a few of them and headed back to the Sudley Road.  This road existed during the Civil War and I found a period picture of it.  Quite a change from today!

Sudley Road in the Civil War, looking north to the Warrenton Pike. Soldiers used this road as a makeshift trench


Sudley Road today from almost the same position. Note the farmhouse on the right, visible in both pics.

I turned westward onto the Warrenton Pike and traveled the road where Confederates ambushed a column of marching Federals at the start of 2nd Manassas.  I took some pictures while riding, but after reviewing them I see my camera had other priorities than properly focusing.  I then turned onto Groveton Road and pedaled past the park where I met my wife about 40 minutes ago.  My tour of the battlefield complete, it was now time to go home.  I wandered through some roads west of Manassas that I had never been on.  Nothing terribly impressive here – just 10 miles of suburbia to traverse.  I eventually found myself on Vint Hill Farm Road and very tired.  It was at this point – around mile 38 – that I realized I was in trouble.  I pushed myself to the 40-mile point, a farm on Colvin Road, and dismounted to drink my 2nd Gatorade and eat a Clif Bar.  It was a very pleasant scene and I managed to take this shot to commemorate my official breaking of the 40-mile barrier.

At this point, my legs had little left to give.  I had 17 miles to go and some challenging hills about five miles away.  I hoped my Clif Bar would give me enough umph to make it through.  The ride was rolling hills to that point and I gulped water from my ever-decreasing supply in my Camelbak, hoping to store up some energy reserves.  Sadly, none of this worked.  With the temperature now over 95 degrees, it was all I could do to stay on my bike and not walk the damn thing.  I resolved that I would sooner pass out that suffer that ignominy.  It is this sort of pig-headedness that will no doubt kill me one day.  But not today.  I made it through the hills and hit Rte 234 for the final leg home.  My final miles were quite painful and made worse by a phone call from my caring wife, who wanted to know what had become of me as I was about 45 minutes late.  I stopped the bike, fished out the phone, let her know I was now about 2 miles out, and struggled to get my bike moving once again.
This was easily the hardest thing I have attempted since running the Marine Corps Marathon in 1993.  I burned about 2,700 calories during the 4 hour, 45 minute trip.  I’ve learned some important lessons about longer trips, including the debilitating effect of cities.  I don’t think I’ll be going this far for a while and when I do I’ll be smarter about my route!

10 thoughts on “Manassas Battlefield Ride

  1. Glad to hear that you survived your ordeal! I hope that, the next time you try such a ride, you will choose a day when the temperature is not in the 90’s!

  2. Just a question. I too love the gadgetry. Is your Garmin capable of letting your wife/kids go online to see where honey/dad is? Similar to the Spot II tracker? So if you were to, uh lets say, have that heart attack someone could find your whereabouts 🙂 And congrats on the 40/50 mile. Ride well done. Am enjoying your posts and the history lessons.

    • Unfortunately, the Edge 500 doesn’t have a “live” tracking capability like the Spot II tracker. And ending up in a ditch is precisely the sort of thing my wife worries about, especially when I’m running late. She just recently learned that I was NOT in the habit of riding with ID. That has been fixed. I do have a cell phone with me in case of emergencies. I’m afraid that’s my only “live” link with the world! Thanks for the compliment – I enjoy writing these posts!

  3. Pingback: 2010 Wrap Up: Part 1 (The Rides) | There And Back Again – Steve's Cycling Blog

  4. I found the town of Manassas Va. not bicycle friendly at all. Yes the MURT will get you there but then what…sidewalks! Forget about it. Riding anywhere in the area takes a recon. for me. I found Joplin Rd. just off 234 near Montclair to be a great ride. It takes you to Prince Williams Forest Park which is also a great ride. But you better be okay with rollers. The road runs along Quantico and goes by the Quantico National Cemetery. I’m here for a few days more and plan to ride the Mount Vernon Trail and may ride the Manassas battlefield. Both rides will require me to drive to the starting point…..oh well. Visit my site at and click on Ray’s Rides to find the Montclair Va. to Prince Williams Forest Park via Joplin Road. Enjoy the ride wherever it takes you.

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