Mile 2,000 for this year found me in the town of Occoquan, on the banks of the river which goes by the same name. I was making a rare trip northward into Fairfax County. I only make this trip about one time per year because it takes me that long to forget just how bad the traffic can be as I cycle up the six lanes of fun that is Minnieville Road. But that was only a mere seven miles and then I need only ride a half mile on a poorly maintained sidewalk and I was ready to begin the fun part of the ride: a madcap descent into Occoquan.
With a population of 759 people, it’s hard to imagine that this was once one of the industrial centers of colonial America (of course, the mercantile system ensured that what passed for industry in the colonies was little more than copper mining and a lovely mill). As the river silted up, farmers moved further west, and railroads became more prevalent, the town’s economic significance dwindled. Nowadays it has carved out a niche as a haven for artists and restaurants affording nice views on the water.
I made my way across a pedestrian bridge that boasted a history back to 1950. I would guess little maintenance has been performed on it since that time, based on the remarkable rolling I felt on the wooden planks. Still, it afforded a nice view of the river and the waterfall which some suggest is the source of the Dogue Indian name for the area – Occoquan reportedly means “at the water’s edge.”
Having crossed the river, I made the steep ascent out of the valley and passed the former site of Lorton Prison. Many of the prison buildings have been refurbished and the site is now known as Laurel Hill. The route was a gradual incline on a multi-use path for nine miles, which brought me to Chapel Road and the route to Clifton. I never saw a chapel on Chapel Road, although presumably there once was one there. All I saw were three miles of estate homes. The road was rolling but generally down hill,
including an epic finish that let me reach 44mph. In short order, I was in Clifton.
Clifton’s history is shorter than Occoquan’s, dating back only to 1869. During the Civil War, it was literally “the end of the line” for a Union railroad bringing supplies to the front. After the war, Confederate veteran John Mosby founded the town on the site he spent a good amount of time trying to burn down only a few years before. Today, the town trades on its “historic” homes (meaning homes built before WWI, or so it would seem) and some niche boutiques such as antique dealerships, wineries, and an upscale restaurant. I paused near the train tracks to eat an energy bar and reflect on 143 years of history. Then I was off, scampering up the steep hills out of town. I noted with satisfaction that these hills took less out of me than they did last year.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, apart from the demise of my water bottle. This occurred on a steep descent while on Yates Ford Road, heading downward once again to the Occoquan River. A car was following me and was being very cautious and choosing not to pass on the narrow and winding road. Out of consideration for his consideration of me, I attempted to pull into a driveway and let him pass. As I did this, I hit a bump which caused one of my water bottles to dislodge from its holder and land in the road. Naturally, it was the bottle that still had water in it, unlike the bottle which remained properly stowed. Seconds after hitting the road another vehicle managed to run over my bottle, which made a loud thumping sound as two tons of metal forced the screwed on plastic cap to blast off the bottle.
I never did find that cap. I could clearly see from the spray on the road which direction it headed, but I couldn’t find it. It must have traveled an impressive distance as I looked for it for over five minutes without success. I’m sure it would have made an excellent high school physics problem – a 2,000 pound vehicle traveling 40 mph crushes a 24 ounce water bottle. Assuming 100% conversation of kinetic energy to the fluid in the bottle, how far does the lid fly after being blown off the top?
I then rode the remaining 20 miles home without water or any further mishap. I spent the afternoon degreasing the drive trains for both my bikes and I am now ready to take on another few weeks of riding. Except, of course, for one water bottle.
Historical Marker Segment!
It has been almost two months since my last historical marker. I stumbled across this one while trying to find the pedestrian bridge in Occoquan. Incredibly, I learned after my ride that there is an original household right across the street from this sign – the Rockledge Mansion erected by the town’s founder. I guess I need to make another trip!