Running Errands

Regular readers will know I’m not much of the “urban cyclist,” commuting to work by bike or puttering about town, running errands or visiting friends.  When I’m on my bike, I’m almost always exercising and/or exploring.  It’s a strictly recreational experience for me.  That’s what made yesterday unusual – I actually rode my bike on an errand.

The time had come to sell my pickup truck at the local Carmax dealer, about seven miles from home in most congested part of the county, near the Potomac Mills Mall.  With 225 stores, this is the largest outlet mall in the state and its Wikipedia page boasts that it is the top tourist attraction in Virginia.  It is part of a vast retail zone, probably about six square miles in area and servicing tens of thousands of cars daily.  Yesterday evening, it also had a cyclist.

I brought Old Ironsides with me to the sale and, after concluding my business, set about going home at the end of the rush hour.  On my way, I took a brief detour to visit an oddly placed cemetery located between the mall and an Ikea furniture store.  Once upon a time, this was a country farm and the Nash Family Cemetery is all that remains.  There are about 20 graves located there, surrounded by an iron fence and some bushes.  The graves date from the late 1800s to 1961.  As I was leaving the site, a man walked up to me and said, “Are those graves real?”  When I told him they were, in fact, genuine he was amazed and said, “I don’t think many people even know that it is there.”

He’s probably right.  No doubt thousands of people drive by or park their cars within a few hundred feet of the cemetery while on their shopping errands without any idea of what is located there.

Not far from the cemetery, on a road which creates a giant loop around the mall, is a historical marker which alludes to the area’s more rural past.  Readers who do not live in the Western Hemisphere will have to excuse the use of the term, “ancient.”  All things are relative!

I made the seven mile journey in 45 minutes – a 7.9 mph pace that should indicate just how challenging it is to get around town in rush hour traffic.  Although it was rush hour and I saw several thousand cars, I saw no other cyclists and only five people walking.  Welcome to the American Suburbs at the start of the 21st Century, where the automobile remains King.


22 thoughts on “Running Errands

  1. I found out while trying to get across a few intersections in Roswell GA just how difficult it was to get around on foot in the urban sprawl. When I took my bike out later it was much easier to get around since I pretend to be a car when I’m riding in traffic.

    • Sprawl is designed entirely to accomodate cars, so being a pedestrian is a disaster. When you bike as if you are a car, you are using the roads more like they were designed to be used. The drawback is there are almost no bicycles, so drivers aren’t looking for them and therefore have a habit of hitting the few that brave the roads. Glad you survived unscathed!

  2. I have become utterly fascinated with these historical markers. Add a hidden cemetery and I am so very close to booking a flight back east to experience all this great stuff you get to ride by.

    As I think I said to you before, the closest thing we have in Cycling Mecca to an historical marker is a sign commemorating where Ian Ziering threw up after losing on Celebrity Jeopardy to Bruce Jenner.

    • The cemeteries are quite common in Prince William County, which was very rural as recently as the 1970s. Urban sprawl has completely transformed the county and small family cemeteries can be found tucked into all sorts of unusual places that have now been converted to housing, retail, or government use. Stopping at them is interesting, but they do NOTHING for your workout!

  3. Hi Steve, isn’t it sad of all the lovely things to see in Virginia, a shopping mall is the most popular. I drive as well as cycle, so I like nice road to get me there efficiantly. Money spent on roads is an investment in our future. When all the oil eventually runs out we will have a cycle network second to non. And having to cycle to get places wont be a shock to us, where used to it.

    • The original proponents for paved roads were cyclists, so I suppose it is not too much of a stretch to imagine a day where once again they are the primary users. Just as likely, in my view, is some technological advancement such as a synthetic oil which allows us to keep our cars. If billions of dollars are at stake, somebody will figure something out, I’m afraid.

  4. It is interesting that many motorists feel that they are held up by cyclists on country roads when in fact cyclists are much more held up by motorists in towns but the drivers don’t notice that.

    • When driving my car, I’ve occasionally timed the delay caused by the requirement to slow down and wait to safely pass a cyclist. The time lost is generally 15-30 seconds. And for this, cyclists get beeped/cursed at and occasionally physically threatened.

    • Agreed, but it still pales in comparison to truly “ancient” sites elsewhere in the world, where anything which occurred Anno Domini is generally considered “the Modern Era.”

    • As near as I can tell, there’s nothing significant about them, other than they once farmed the land currently occupied by Ikea and the mall. All that remains of the family farm is the small cemetery, now oddly placed.

  5. Steve, I find myself toward the other end of the spectrum regarding bike usage. Of the total miles so far, 44% are from the commute. Any miles I do at noon on a work day are strictly recreational, but with summer starting those trips will be curtailed. The commute is just something I do; the rides in the evening or on the weekend with my wife are what I really enjoy.

    Kudos on the recent medal and keep up with the Historical Marker reports.

    • Thanks. I think I would enjoy commuting if I weren’t 35 miles from work on very busy roads. I’ve been working up the motivation to try it once, but the logistics and increased time have been major deterrents.

      • Whew! Thirty-five miles would take me about three hours. Have you thought of some type of hybridized solution of drive-park-ride? Of course, then you have to make sure the vehicle would be reasonably protected through the day.

      • I’ve thought about it, but not seriously. As it is my commute is 60-75 minutes one way. I’m not interested in adding to it on a regular basis.

  6. Some neighbourhoods are SO much harder to navigate by bike. Here in Edmonton the older areas are great and the newer developments terrible. However the city is making an effort to change this.

    I have limited experience with other cities but I recall a visit to Baton Rouge a little more than a decade ago. There was a major mall (Mall of Louisiana ?) directly across from the hotel. You could see the mall parking lot. However, there was no provision for pedestrians to safely cross the road. One actually had to get in a car and drive there. I thought it was a little crazy.

    • Sounds like America. There are some who theorize that early road designs were racist in that they deliberately separated ethnic neighborhoods from upper class ones (and the facilities that spring up in the nicer neighborhoods). I’m not prepared to go that far, but if you make the assumption that absolutely everybody will travel anywhere with a car, then everything else follows.

  7. This is one of my huge gripes about Northern Virginia. It’s hard as hell (and dangerous) to ride in the suburbs. I love the trails and the bike lanes in DC, but the ‘burbs suck. It’s nothing for me to ride 30 or 40 miles, but I won’t ride 5 miles to Home Depot because of the traffic and lack of bike lanes or shoulders.

    • I believe the suburbs are the most dangerous place for a cyclist to ride. You have traffic densities approaching that of the city, no/little cycling infrastructure, drivers moving at speeds approaching that of the country, and so few cyclists mean the drivers aren’t expecting to see any while driving about. It’s a recipe for disaster, IMHO.

  8. I would never, ever, urge my teenage nieces in metropolitan DC to ride on those roads. Far too dangerous.

    But what I really want to say is .. you’ve been riding too much to post, it’s summer?

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