The Montclair-Lake Terrapin Criterium

Fellow blogger Matt Gholson over at Barn Door Cycling recently took readers on a tour of his town.  I liked the post and warned Matt that I would shamelessly copy him.   I have now done so, by revealing this exciting criterium-style course I have been using through my suburban neighborhood of Montclair and the adjoining neighborhood of Lake Terrapin.  I have creatively named this 4.75 mile circuit the Montclair-Lake Terrapin Criterium.  I believe a tour of this route gives a nice picture of cycling in suburban America.  Enjoy.

Le Depart

The course starts on Spring Branch in the stately neighborhood of Montclair.  Montclair has grown from its initial role in the 1960s as a recreational spot for wealthy Washingtonians with cottages next to a manmade lake, to a gated community, to a sprawling 15,000-person neighborhood with a Home Owners Association.  Most housing construction was completed in the 1990s, making it one of the elder neighborhoods in the area.  Old-timers will tell you stories of how this entire region was nothing but forests and dirt roads in the 1970s.  It’s hard to see that now.

A short climb up Spring Branch brings the first turn, a left across rush hour traffic onto Holleyside Drive.  There is a steady stream of cars to negotiate but, in the unfortunate event of a crash, first aid is close at hand as Fire Company 17 of the Dumfries Triangle

Spring Branch & Holleyside with DTFD #17 in the background

Volunteer Fire Department sits proudly at the intersection.  I don’t know much about these fellows except they stop by the house once a year soliciting donations in return for a nice photography deal.  They also sponsor a very popular pancake breakfast every July 4th.

A few hundred yards down Holleyside and the road slopes downward dramatically.  Speeds in excess of 30 mph can be achieved as long as one is careful to dodge skateboarders, loose dogs, joggers, cars being driven by teenagers, and other impediments of suburban life.  On this occasion, my descent was slowed by an ice cream truck, making my ascent on the far side of the ravine more demanding.  Stupid ice cream trucks.

After making the climb, the rider is rewarded with a gentle

Montclair Elementary

descent toward Tallowood Drive.  The intersection is congested and the opportunity for collision is significant as the cyclist will be tempted to coast through despite poor visibility due to trees and cars parked along the curb.  A short distance further and we pass one of the neighborhood’s institutions of learning, Montclair Elementary (home of Monty, the Cardinal!).  Distinguished alumni of this school include the author’s youngest son, who will someday invent cold fusion or cure the common cold or do something of similar consequence.  In the meanwhile, he is playing video games and eating potato chips.

Let no one say this is not a technically demanding course.  Immediately after the school, the rider must negotiate the challenging transition from Montclair to Lake Terrapin.  This is

Entering the path

done by somehow getting on a short walking path that connects the two communities.  You can either attempt to use the sidewalk, now shared by a large bush, or swing leftward and pedal through a parking space, past a guard rail and hop onto the sidewalk from the left side.

The challenge isn’t over at that point.  The rider must now travel downhill toward a sidewalk, execute a right turn and enter the road near the intersection of Leatherneck and Lake Terrapin Roads.  You will note the doggie poop bag distribution box on the right side of the trail.  This is a favorite pet walking area, along with anyone attempting to move between the two communities, which happens with great frequency as the Terrapinites travel to and from the school.  Bike handling skills are almost always tested at this point in the course.

Descent into Lake Terrapin

Lake Terrapin and the beginning of “Lake Terrapin Hill”

Having traveled two miles at this point, the rider dashes down Leatherneck Road until it once again joins Lake Terrapin Road, the major thoroughfare for the subdivision of the same name.  Lake Terrapin is a newer neighborhood than Montclair, with most homes being built within the past ten years.  This is where the “new money” goes.  As we pass by the manmade lake, the rider comes to his greatest challenge – the ascent of “Lake Terrapin Hill.”  With a slope of 10% for about four hundred yards, the rider eventually climbs sixty feet (that’s about 5,000 meters for those more comfortable with the metric system).

Descent on Daybreak Lane

The turn onto Loggerhead Place is the highest point in the course.  If this were a really cool race, fans would be handing out newspapers at this intersection so the riders wouldn’t freeze on the upcoming descent.  Unfortunately, the only people greeting riders are drivers of automobiles; if they simply pass without incident that is the most comfort we can expect.  The descent down Loggerhead and onto Daybreak Lane is actually quite fast.  Riders must watch out for cars, fathers hauling in garbage cans from the curbside service earlier in the day, and mothers crossing the street with their little boys as they head to Boy Scout meetings (all these happened on this ride).  The turn onto Diamondback Road is greater than 90 degrees and at 20-25 mph can be a little tricky if one is not careful.

The Most Ancient and Venerable Community Center

Further down Diamondback is the Lake Terrapin Community Center (Social on August 10th, Luau August 17th and a Board of Directors Meeting to be held later this month).  There are basketball courts and a playground, which were empty, and a pool which was occupied with a few early evening revelers.  Quite often police officers from the Prince William County Police Department park at this intersection and write speeding tickets for cars descending Lake Terrapin Hill.   I worry that one day I’ll be caught as I have been known to reach speeds in excess of 35 mph while traveling in this 25 mph zone.

Dashing past the lake a second time, we find ourselves pedaling uphill on Chula Place.  There is often a street basketball game in progress here but not tonight; the only obstacle was the work trucks of Garcia and Sons Construction which was doing some work in one of the neighborhood lawns.  Turning onto Leatherneck once again, we come to an old family cemetery that has been fenced off by the developers.  You can tell there used to be several rows of graves here (about five rows of ten graves) but there is only one marker still remaining, that of a Charles Thomas who died in 1902.  I wonder what Mr. Thomas would think of his country farm now.  I ask the owner of the house across the street what he thinks of living near a grave yard and he informs me they make excellent neighbors.


At the top of Spring Branch, ready to sprint to the Start/Finish Line

Having completed the Lake Terrapin portion of the ride, it is time once again to cross the treacherous pathway into Montclair, make a sharp right onto Camellia Lane and follow a loop which deposits the rider back on Tallowood near the school.  Riding back to Holleyside and turning right, we climb the final ascent of the route, about two hundred yards of climbing at 8% grade.  All that remains at this point is the descent down Spring Branch to the Start/Finish line and your lap is complete: 4.75 miles and 900 total feet of climbing.  You may repeat as often as you can to achieve your cycling goals.

Hope you enjoyed the tour and Matt, thanks for the idea!


6 thoughts on “The Montclair-Lake Terrapin Criterium

    • The newspaper boy is a thing of the past in these parts. Newspaper delivery is now big business, with papers being delivered by adults with hundreds of editions in their automobiles.

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