Today’s ride included a circumnavigation of Prince William Forest Park. The park, like the county in which it resides, is named after Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, the third son of George I. He was a popular royal and played a key part in putting down a Jacobite Rebellion in 1746. He also fought in the Seven Years War and the War of Austrian Succession. His political rivals gave him the nickname “Butcher Cumberland” due to his harsh discipline while leading his armies. The Prince had at least one significant flaw – obesity – which led to a premature death in 1765 at the age of 44 – a cautionary tale worth reflecting on as I attempted to burn a few calories.
Having read the above paragraph, you now know more about Prince William County’s namesake than 99.99% of its residents. And a fat lot of good that will do you!
Prince William Forest Park was established in 1936 and is 19,000 acres in size. It is the largest region of protected forest in the mid-Atlantic and provides a glimpse as to what the entire Eastern Seaboard once looked like. In addition to a gold mine, the park once hosted a training ground for the U.S Army’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spies and radio operators in WWII. The cabins where they stayed were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and are still standing and available for rent.
The forest is bordered on its north side by Rte 234, which I find myself on in virtually every route I take. It was the southern border defined by Joplin Road that I had not yet ridden. I headed west on 234 and reached the County Landfill, a lovely spot which (for the life of me) I can’t imagine why I didn’t stop to photograph. I turned onto to Joplin Road and found myself on a hilly country road of questionable quality. There was virtually no traffic and the forest provided excellent shade. I did need to keep my wits about me as there were numerous pot holes which would have ruined my day had I strayed into them. I took several pics along the route, but this should give you the gist – there was about eight miles of pleasant roadway just like this photo.
Eventually, I passed Quantico National Cemetary and the main entrance to the park. After pedaling under I-95, I found myself at the entrance to Quantico Marine Corps Base. I had just finished taking a picture of a replica of the Iwo Jima Memorial when, suddenly, it happened: another cyclist pulled up alongside me and spoke to me.
This may seem like a small event (and it is), but it is worth noting that this is the first time it has happened in over 550 miles of cycling. That’s a long time to be on a bike, not speaking. Especially for me. This guy was a “roadie,” and was fully-tricked out from head to toe. He was on some sort of awesome road bike, painted yellow. I should have made a note of the model, but I was too caught up in the moment to remember all the details. “Getting warm out, isn’t it?” he said with a smile. “Yes, but it’s not as bad as last week when I nearly died,” I replied. And with that, the light turned green and we both pedaled to the entrance gate where we came upon ANOTHER CYCLIST. This guy was also uber-cool and therefore my friend for the last 100 yards quickly picked up a conversation with him and politely ignored me. We biked together for about a quarter-mile until Cyclist #2 decided to pull off at one of the many water points dotting Quantico MCB. Cyclist #1 decided to pull off with him. I carry may own fluids, so I pressed on up a large 8% grade on Purvis Road, hoping like hell they wouldn’t catch me on the hill. The embarrassment would be too much to take.
Fortunately for my ego, they didn’t overtake me. I never saw Cyclist #1 again – he probably lives in the base housing on Purvis Road. Cyclist #2 didn’t catch me until I was down the hill and waiting at a traffic light. He turned right to leave the base, which is odd since he just came on the base. I suspect he was doing training laps, the highlite of which was the hill on Purvis Road. Lord only knows how many times he climbed that hill today. As for me, one time was enough. I turned southward to the end of the base and checked in on Turner Airfield. Things seemed quiet, despite the presence of a lone aircraft.
At this point, it was time to head home. I stopped ever-s0-briefly at the base headquarters to take this pic and dig my Clif Bar out of my Camelbak. I wanted to try eating while riding (a recommendation from one of my new cycling books). The experiment went well, although the Clif Bar is tough to swallow when your mouth is a tad parched. It requires plenty of water to wash down, which I had courtesy of my Camelbak. My only problem was finding some place to put the wrapper. Fortunately, Marines are very clean people and there were plenty of trash cans to deposit my rubbish. I’m not sure what I would have done with it on a country road. I considered shoving it in my pant leg, which I’m glad I was not forced to do. The other option would have been stopping and putting it in my Cambelbak, which kind of defeats of the purpose of eating while riding, in my opinion.
On the way back, I climbed a small hill just to the north of the base which I distinctly remember being much more challenging about two months ago. I then braced myself for the 11% grade waiting for me on Van Buren Road. This is a brutal hill which almost caused me to dismount when I first tried it in April. It still was quite painful, but I managed to keep my bike in the middle sprocket and had some energy left when I reached the top. I am forced to conclude that I might be getting in shape.
That’s about it for this trip, other than to provide one last piece of advice: avoid Dunkin Donuts parking lots. I tried to cut through one in order to avoid a very busy intersection in Dumfries and immediately found myself dodging multiple vehicles, none of which seemed to notice I was there. When you’re trying to get donuts on a Sunday morning, you get pretty focused I guess!