A Preview Of Coming Attractions

handymart2Like a prospective home buyer measuring the windows for drapes, Spring made an early appearance this weekend, which made for two pleasant rides.  The winter weather has kept my miles to an embarrassingly low level.  How low you ask?  This weekend’s 57 miles of riding represents almost one third of my mileage for the year.

Not good.  Not good at all.

It was nice to get on the road in shorts and half-fingered gloves.  No leggings, booties, helmet covers, winter gloves, or jackets.  My only concession to the temperatures in the low 60s was a pair of arm warmers.  There was plenty of sand and pebbles on the side of the road, the refuse from the winter’s snow plowing efforts.  Multi-use paths were still a bit dicey in the shadier spots.  It’s a shame they don’t clear them of snow.  Actually, that’s a bit of an issue in DC, where many cycling commuters count on clear paths to get to work.  Down here in suburbia where almost nobody cycles to work, its less critical.

My route took me into Fauquier County.  Along the way, I crossed over Cedar Run and noticed it was quite swollen due to the recent snow melt.


Things are very brown right now.  Even the water is brown.

At Mile 20, I was very happy to see the Handymart was once again back in business.  Last summer I discovered that it was out of business, which is a shame because it is at a very nice distance from home to serve as a resupply point (twenty miles, in case you didn’t catch that in the preceding sentence).  More than once, it has been an oasis to me as I struggled home with little water or food.  It’s good to know it is once again able to do so.


On the way home, Sowego Road seemed pretty so I took a picture.  There was even some green in the trees!


This house has been unchanged for the past several years.  It seems like a very nice farmhouse but it has never been occupied.  It’s sad to see it slowly fall into ruin.


There was even some wildlife out, or to be more specific, domesticated farm animals.  There’s a pig in that crowd somewhere.  All of them were a bit camera-shy and were beating a hasty retreat when I stopped to take a pic.


And just in case you didn’t believe me, here’s what the path looked like about two miles from home.  Walking through that snow caused it to impact inside my cleats, making it impossible to clip in again until I dug out the ice/snow with my fingers while muttering in a PG-13 manner to no one in particular.


Last pic of the BEARD

Last pic of the BEARD

Sunday proved to be an even nicer day and I ventured out without even the protection of arm warmers.  Before you know it, I’ll need to put ice in my water bottles (the first time is always an important occasion in my cycling year). Unfortunately, this was only a visit from Spring.  Winter weather returns tomorrow and the long-range forecast is not encouraging.  All the same, I intend to disassemble my Biological Extreme-cold Affects Reduction Device (B.E.A.R.D.) at the end of the week.  Mother Nature is on her schedule and I am on mine.  It’s time for Spring.

Dress Rehearsal


On this, the third of the my eleven furlough days, I made my way across the county line on a 51-mile journey that was to serve as my dress rehearsal for the upcoming Tour Of The Towns Century in two weeks.  I’ve been trying to avoid the roads that the century will be on just to keep things interesting for me during the event, but it is difficult to do so.  I compromised on Aden Road, choosing to ride it in the opposite direction from what we’ll be doing on the century.  Riding that road during rush hour also made for some excitement I hope not to duplicate in two weeks.

IMG_0779There was a slight break in the heat today, and by that I mean the temperatures only got into the low 90s.  Since this would be an extended ride, I brought my trusty Camelbak out of mothballs, filled it with ice water, and put it on my back to the horror of roadie purists everywhere.  But the big news was, of course, my feet.  It occurred to me after two months of agony that perhaps – just maybe – the problem was my new shoes.  Kudos to Matt, who mentioned the obvious in my last post and convinced me to make the switch back to the old ones. Kudos to me, as well, for being a lazy bum who didn’t throw out his old shoes when I bought my new pair.

I used the old shoes on a 17-mile ride last Saturday with encouraging results.  My feet were still tingling a bit after that ride, so I put my new G-Form insoles into the old shoes to see how that worked.  In short, it worked well.  I’m not completely pain-free but things are far more manageable.  Instead of being in agony after 25 miles, wondering how I could turn the crank one more time, I was able to complete the 51 mile circuit was only mild pain.  I suspect that pain is due to the aggravated nerves caused by the old shoes and that should disappear in time.

The lesson here is obvious to me: avoid white at all costs.  When I used white tape on my Trek 2.1, it was destroyed in less than a month.  And now I almost destroyed my feet when I bought white shoes.  I had no idea how dangerous white things can be on a bicycle.  There should be some sort of warning label on them.  Live and learn.

The ride was ten miles of weekday traffic, followed by 30 miles of relatively quiet country roads, followed by ten more miles of rush hour traffic.  I avoided taking pics of traffic and will share with you the more pleasant views I had.

End of the path on Rte 234.

End of the path on Rte 234.

One fan cheered me on

One fan cheered me on

Burwell Road - the halfway point

Burwell Road – the halfway point

Trinity United Methodist Church, Catlett.  A nice country church.

Trinity United Methodist Church, Catlett. A nice country church.

Hay bales on Elk Run Road

Hay bales on Elk Run Road


The government of the United States of America, in its wisdom, has decided to furlough many of its civil service employees.  Monday was my first of 11 furlough days, amounting to a 20% cut in pay for the next three months.  The silver lining about being on leave without pay for a day is it gave me the opportunity to ride, which I took.

The weather threatened, which made for some unusual lighting

The weather threatened, which made for some unusual lighting

I've never actually gone done this road

I’ve never actually gone done this road

I’ve been doing a lot of sprint workouts in preparation for next month’s triathlon, but it is not lost on me that I will be riding a century two weeks before that.  So I stretched my legs a bit and went for a 43 mile jaunt across Route 29 and into Fauquier County.  This road has always been something of a boundary for me.  Way way back in 2010 when I started cycling again, it was a barrier that was not crossed due to its length from my house (about 17 miles).  There are so many good rural roads east of this highway that I only occasionally slip over it to the west.  It’s been several months since I made my way to the wild and wooly lands to the west of the highway and I was excited to see if anything new was happening.

Approaching "The Barrier"

Approaching “The Barrier”

In short, nothing new was happening.  But the roads were in good shape and the weather was cooperating, so it was a good ride.

A "Fixer Upper"

A “Fixer Upper”

Dumfries Road

Dumfries Road

I actually rode ON Route 29 for about a mile

I actually rode ON Route 29 for about a mile


Some towns have stylish bistros, others have old fashioned cafes.  Nokesville has a 7-11, which worked quite well for me.

Some towns have stylish bistros, others have old fashioned cafes. Nokesville has a 7-11, which worked quite well for me.

The big news remains my feet, which have continued to worsen over the past several months.  I have concluded I am suffering from significant nerve pain which first made its appearance while running.  The pain has since joined me while cycling and even when wearing dress shoes.

However, I believe a breakthrough is at hand.  I have discovered the importance of insoles.

At work on Friday, I wore a more casual pair of shoes and noted the absence of pain.  When I sported a pair of deck shoes this weekend (stylish but with virtually no padding) the pain returned with a vengeance.  In desperation (and my wife’s urging) I bought some gel insoles and they almost completely eliminated the pain.  Perhaps a solution was at hand!

It then occurred to me that the insoles in my old cycling shoes could be removed and placed in my new shoes.  I realize that most of you would have hit upon this idea after one or two painful rides in the new shoes.  It only took me six weeks.  I tried the new shoes today and made a determined effort not to mash my pedals.  This resulted in a decrease in about 2 mph off my usual pace, but I am happy to report that the pain, while still present, was significantly less and at no time did it feel like anyone was attempting to drive a nail through the ball of my foot.  I think we can all agree that is a nice thing.

I’ve ordered a pair of gel insoles designed specifically for road shoes and look forward to giving them a try.  If this doesn’t work, my only solutions will likely involve copious amounts of motrin or simply resting for many weeks.

In closing, let me take care of some old business.  In my previous post, I mentioned how I failed to photograph the construction on the bridge at Aden Road.  I passed by the site again today and am happy to share the scene with you, which includes a closure of one lane and some temporary traffic lights.  Enjoy.


An Abandoned Store And A Surprise Meeting


This Sunday, I decided to check on a sad sight I observed earlier this year – the abandoned Handymart on Elk Run Road.  The Handymart was always a welcome oasis in rural Fauquier County.  It was 20 miles from home, which was a nice distance to have a waystop for an emergency drink on a hot day.  It is very much by itself with not very much else around for several miles.  I suppose that’s why it went out of business; it’s difficult to sell things to people who aren’t there.  I hoped that perhaps the store was under new management and set off to see if anything positive had developed in the past several months.

IMG_0708On my way, I discovered the bridge on Aden road is under construction.  I neglected to get a picture for your enjoyment, and I apologize for that.  I also came across a rather serious lawn mowing operation, complete with multiple road signs, including one that I thought was perfect for a road with me on it.  If only I could arrange to have these arrayed on all my weekend rides…

IMG_0711The weather was very pleasant and I made a mental note to enjoy it thoroughly.  Soon enough, I’ll be dealing with cold winds and dreary landscapes.  In between happy gazes at the countryside, I attempted several self-portraits of my shadow, with limited success.  Submitted for your consideration is this version, taken in the watery ditch next to the Cedar Run Farm’s stone wall.

In short order, I had arrived at the Handymart and quickly discerned that it remained stubbornly out of business.  I pulled over and took the following picture to document the sad scene.

IMG_0715While I was taking this very picture, a cyclist whizzed past with a jaunty wave.  Almost immediately, we recognized it each other.  It was my buddy (and neighbor), Steve, out for a weekend ride.  Steve stopped a bit up the road and waited for me while I put away my camera and pedaled up to him.  As it turned out, he was on his way home so we agreed to ride back together.

My usual view of Steve - from behind.

My usual view of Steve – from behind.

Loyal (and very observant) readers will remember Steve is a VERY strong cyclist who enjoys participating in Ironman races (2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles on the bike and then a marathon).  I generally don’t ride with Steve because he still considers 80 miles to be a nice training ride whereas I think of it as quite an achievement.  I asked him to take it easy on me and he assured me he wasn’t going fast today.  “I’ve been doing a steady 18.1 mph,” Steve said in an attempt to reassure me.  When I informed him my current pace was 16.7 mph, he didn’t say anything.

In the end, it was a very pleasant ride.  Steve did take it quite easy on me, but my pace still improved to 17.1 mph, so he definitely helped me push myself.  He said very encouraging things about my improved fitness, which was very polite if not entirely accurate.  It was nice to catch up with him and hear about his future athletic plans and how his family is doing.

Now, if only my feet would stop screaming in pain after 35 miles, I’d be all set.

49 Miles


My birthday came this week.  Cycling tradition dictates that I am to ride my age in miles on my birthday.  Unfortunately, I had to work that day and there are other traditions such as the eating of cake that I was compelled to participate in, so the ride did not occur on the exact date.  However, I was able to manage a 49-mile ride on Saturday.

The weather is trying very hard to be Springlike.  It was very sunny and the breeze was mild.  The temperature started in the 40s and struggled to reach 60.  Later in the day, there was a period of about 90 minutes where I could describe it as being “warm.”  But that was later in the day.  On the ride, full cold weather kit was required.

This farm always has plenty of activity.

This farm always has plenty of activity.

I fiddled with my seat height for no good reason whatsoever.  I raised it about one centimeter in the hopes that it would somehow help my speed or alleviate the sensation I sometimes get that my legs are too cramped.  Within ten miles I began to feel an uncomfortable ache on the side of my left knee.  Fortunately, it didn’t worsen, but I think I’ll be lowering my seat back down.

As always, the excitement came near Catlett, just a few hundred yards from the Tenerife Incident, an excited Spaniel decided to give chase, mustering the most ferocious bark he could.  He maxed out at 15 mph.  I shall add his information to my dog top speed database.

Other than the seat and the dog, it was a pretty uneventful ride.  Car horns were blowing at higher than normal levels.  TIP TO CAR OWNERS:  you don’t need to tap your horn to let us know you’re behind us.  We can hear you.  We’re not the ones encased in glass and steel with a radio playing.

It being the day before Easter, I thought I would share pictures of some of the churches I happened across.  I hope your holiday is a happy one.

The old Asbury United Methodist Church, near Aden.  This building dates from the 1870s.

The old Asbury United Methodist Church, near Aden. This building dates from the 1870s.

And the "new" church across the street.

And the “new” church across the street.

Nokesville Church of the Brethren

Nokesville Church of the Brethren

Brentsville Presbyterian (now a historical site)

Brentsville Presbyterian (now a historical site)


I ran eight miles on Saturday, which is a not insignificant distance for me.  I followed it up with 50 miles on the bike on Sunday.  That was less of a challenge but it still made me grateful to Dr. Stewart Adams (UK), the inventor of Motrin.  There was a steady drizzle on Saturday’s run and Sunday’s ride was no different, at least for the first 30 miles.  Click on the picture below and zoom in on the glasses/helmet to get a better appreciation for the wet.

Slightly damp while on Rte 29

The Store

I pedaled along Bristow Road and passed the rather rustic general store that has always intrigued me.  I’ve never stopped here, but it’s on my “bucket list.”  I generally pass it by because it is closed on Sundays and it is only 11 miles from home so there is little need to reprovision at that point.  Still, when it is open the elderly proprietor can usually be seen sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch with a dog.  A store like that really should be supported.

Along Old Church Road, I saw a large doe cross the road a few hundred feet in front of me.  She had a notion to double back and stood in some tall grass, staring at me.  When I closed within 50 feet, I was worried she might bolt in front of me.  The resulting collision would have been very unpleasant.  Fortunately for both of us (but mainly for me) she turned and bounded into the woodline – an amazing creature that I was not able to photograph due to my slowness in retrieving my camera from my jersey pocket.

Optimistic horses

I was hopeful that the drizzle would soon stop.  I passed some horses on Crockett Road and they were all standing.  Everybody knows that cows and horses lie down when it is about to rain, so this was an encouraging development.  However, my hopes were dashed a half mile later as I passed a dairy farm and noted well over 100 cows were all lying down in a field.  Already completely soaked and much too far along to turn back, I didn’t let such an omen turn me back.  I pressed on and was pleased to see the drizzle eventually lighten and stop completely around Mile 25.

As I neared the turn from Rte 29 onto Bristerburg Road, I had a pleasant surprise.  An approaching cyclist turned out to be my neighbor, Steve.  He also turned onto Bristerburg Road and we struck up a conversation.  He was curious to know who would be seen in public with a Couch Potato Cycling Team jersey and was pleased to see it was Yours Truly.


Steve is an exceptional athlete who regularly participates in Ironman Triathlons (two miles swimming, 112 miles on the bike, topped off with a marathon).  He had left on his ride an hour before I did and still had a few hours to go.  He’s a good cyclist, is what I am trying to say.  So I didn’t want to slow him down or embarrass myself, and therefore matched his cruising speed of 20 mph.  This is MUCH faster than I normally ride, but I was enjoying the conversation with Steve and resolved to keep going as long as I could.

At this point, a curious thing happened.  Steve asked me, “Is this your normal pace?” to which I sheepishly admitted it was not.  I normally cruise along at 16 mph and up my pace to about 18 mph when I wish to test the Law of Diminishing Returns (see previous post).  When I told Steve I was simply trying to keep up with him, he replied, “I was trying to keep up with you!”  It turns out Steve prefers a more relaxed speed of about 18 mph.  I was happy to oblige.  It’s interesting (to me at least) that we each were going faster than we wanted in an effort not to upset the other guy.

After eight miles, we parted company.  I was heading for home and Steve was off on another 20 mile loop, which would give him over 80 miles for the day, which is just another day in the saddle (or pool, or running shoes) for Steve.  Someday, I want to grow up to be like Steve.

The last 20 miles home were much drier than the first 30 miles.  An item of interest occurred near Crosby’s Crab Shack, a mere five miles from home, where I happened upon some sort of vulture convention on the roof of a nearby house.  I wouldn’t want to be the owner of that home – it was a very ominous site!

Wilderness Campaign 200K ACP Brevet

click for details

See the fancy title I used for this ride?  I can do this because I am now officially a Randonneur and entitled to use the arcane acronyms of this exclusive club.  Here’s how it happened:

Pre-ride bicycle prep and registration

We gathered at the Caribou Coffee in Bristow to register, pick up our control sheets (more on that later), prep our bikes and grab a bite to eat before setting out.  I do not like coffee – a distinct problem when traveling with the cycling set – but mercifully the store offered juices as well.  I was very pleased to meet so many friendly people who introduced themselves and chatted about the club.  I was pleased to see John pull up with his Surly and I feel it necessary to report to anyone hoping to find him on the street that he is regrowing his beard.  Without his bike, I doubt I would have recognized him.

The Grand Depart

At the appointed hour of 7:00 AM, we gathered in front of the store and were given some pre-race (technically, this was a race) instructions.  There were about forty riders total, which I learned later was a good-sized group.  With the administrative portion dispensed with, we were off into the pre-dawn fog, accompanied by a few shouts of, “Allez!”

I immediately noticed a difference in these cyclists in that they followed the rules of the road.  I was beginning to see the difference between the “open” organized rides I have been on and a club ride.  Firstly, people take an interest in you and welcome you into the group.  Secondly, people are held accountable for following the group’s rules.  Both were positive changes, in my view.

We zipped along on roads I know very well from my weekend jaunts.  We passed through Nokesville and headed southward into Fauquier County.  There was a significant mist to the morning and this was especially troublesome for those who wore glasses.  I chatted with a few riders while the pack moved along at 20 mph.  Eventually, the sun began to peek  through the morning clouds and I could tell it was going to be a very warm day.  For now, though, my vest and arm warmers were very welcome.

Early morning paceline

At Midland Road (Mile 22) I made my first mistake.  Our merry band broke up as a few cyclists peeled off to duck into a convenience store.  I was in a group behind this break and we slowed to make sure nothing unfortunate happened.  Then the four riders I was with decided they didn’t want to try to catch the lead group.  Then I decided to try to bridge the gap by myself.  That was my mistake.

I sprinted very hard and actually closed about half the distance for a brief while, but I never reached the back end of the group.  After two miles of sprinting, the pack had disappeared down the road.  I was now by myself with nothing to show for my rather significant effort.  I learned once again that bad things happen to people at the back of groups and if you really want to stay part of a pack, stick near the front.

After crossing the Rapidan River and entering Culpeper County, I had some hills to climb.  Fortunately, I was aware of this fact in advance and had steeled myself for the chore.  On the whole, this was a very flat ride with “only” 4,400 feet of climbing over 130 miles.  This area was the most challenging of the day and I put my head down and got it over with as best as I could.  Occasionally, I would happen across a rider or get passed by someone, but this 20 mile stretch was largely a solitary affair for me.  My glorious 18.2 mph average pace was now closer to 15 mph.

Puttering south of Rte 3, near the first control

When I reached Route 3 – a busy highway connecting Fredericksburg and Culpeper – the group of four that I left on Midland Road reeled me back in.  One of the riders was a man named Jim, who was riding a recumbent bicycle at a very impressive pace.  I don’t know a great deal about recumbents, but in my experience they don’t zip along for 40 miles at 16+ mph.

At Mile 42, I ate my first bug of the year.

Putting a bag on your carbon is a bit like putting a trailer hitch on your corvette, but it worked for me.

When we pulled into our first “control” at Mile 48, I was ready for a break.  It was warming up and it was time to shed some layers.  I also needed to wipe my sunglasses, which I had stowed on my helmet in the manner of cool roadies everywhere and thus accumulated a great amount of moisture during the morning fog.  At a control, it is also necessary to get the proprietor to sign your “control sheet,” thus proving you actually made it to the designated point within the alloted time.  In return for this favor, it is customary to purchase some items, which I was happy to do.  We took a brief break at some picnic tables, arranging our cue sheets to depict the next leg of the trip, swapped a few stories, and built up some energy.  It was here that I met Ed, the “other half” of Mary’s cycling tandem at Chasing Mailboxes.  Sadly, Mary was not present today and Ed was on a more traditional machine.

Saunders Field - "The regiment melted away like snow. Men disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them."
- Captain Porter Parley, 140th NY Infantry

It was only a few miles from the control to our first battlefield – The Wilderness.  Fought in May, 1864, this was a particularly brutal affair fought mostly in close quarters due to the difficult wooded terrain.  To get to the battle, the Federal Army marched over the old Chancellorsville Battlefield and discovered many skulls and other bones that had been dug up by animals or exposed by erosion.  During the battle, the brush was accidentally set on fire and hundreds of wounded who could not escape were burned alive.  It was nasty stuff, and I felt compelled to stop at several of the markers to learn more.  This did not help my overall time but it did make the ride more enjoyable for me.

Where Longstreet fell

After The Wilderness, it was off to Spotsylvania and the second battlefield of the day.  This battle was fought about a week after the Wilderness, as the Federals tried once again to get between the Confederate Army and Richmond.  Before reaching the battlefield, I stopped at a site commemorating the accidental wounding of James Longstreet by his own men, which occurred at the end of the The Wilderness and almost exactly one year to the day from when Stonewall Jackson was killed by his own troops about 1o miles from this location.

Sedgwick's Monument

While puttering about a monument to the mortal wounding of Union General Sedgwick (Commander, 6th Corps) at Spotsylvania, a rider named Chris pulled up to ask if I was ok.  Chris and I had chatted earlier in the ride and seemed interested in the history I had to relate (or at least he was very polite about my ramblings).  We rode together to the “information control,” a place on the battlefield where we had to answer a question to prove we were there.  Jim joined us on his recumbent and we eventually came across the site – a question about the Mule Shoe Salient which the Federals attacked.  I already knew the answer to the question, but dutifully waited until arriving at the marker in question before filling out my control sheet.

Riding behind Jim into Spotsylvania

Jim, Chris, and I pulled into Spotsylvania a little before noon.  We had covered 69 miles in less than five hours.  Suddenly, finishing the ride in under ten hours seemed very possible.  The day was fantastic  and it felt like summer was in full swing despite it still being officially winter.  Spotsylvania was an “open control,” meaning we could pull in to any store in town and get our sheet signed.  We just needed to keep our receipt to prove we were there.  I carefully placed my receipt in the ziplock bag I was using to store my control sheet and credit card, then sat down to enjoy my convenience store lunch of a chicken sandwich and Gatorade.

The road to Chancellorsville

After lunch, we moved to the third and final battlefield of the day, Chancellorsville.  This was chronologically out of sequence from the first two, but there was nothing to be done about it.  Chancellorsville was fought a year before the other two battles and was the site of Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.  I rode through the battlefield last September and you can learn more about it here.  We just dipped our figurative toes into this field in order to answer another information control question which I already knew the answer to “Question: What was the battlefield named after?  Answer: The Chancellor family home.”).  Since lunch was only forty minutes ago, this was a short stop and we were once again on the road, heading back to Kelly’s Ford over the Rapidan.

Chancellorsville information control

Hunting Run Reservoir

It was about here, at Mile 80, that things began to lose their luster for me.  I knew this would be the case; the battlefield tours were over and all that remained was getting back to the finish line.  And that was 50 miles away.  I also knew that the road we were on was hilly for the next seven or eight miles with little to catch the eye apart from a lovely drive past Hunting Run Reservoir.  There were five of us at the Chancellorsville Control, but shortly after restarting three of them were off in the distance.  I was left with the companionship of Chris, who happily discussed anything I was interested in talking about as we took on the hills in the increasingly hot day.  I am in Chris’ debt.

Chris at the Rapidan

We stopped for a rest break at the Rapidan Bridge, where I ate some Clif Shot Blocks.  These babies were absolutely key for me.  I ate a packet faithfully every hour – except for when I had already eaten at a control.  Every time I downed a packet, I felt much better for several miles.  It may be psychosomatic, but I don’t care.  It worked.

The Madone at the Rapidan

The final control - Mile 111

Shortly after leaving the bridge, Chris realized he hadn’t flipped his cue sheet and he stopped to do so.  I was going to stop with him, but he insisted I continue, saying he would catch up.  I didn’t like leaving him after he had faithfully stayed with me but he was insistent.  I was fairly certain he would be right back with me in a few miles.  I didn’t see Chris again until the final control at Mile 111 – the Handymart where I regularly stop on weekend rides.

I was pretty well spent at this point, but the level terrain and the fact I knew every nook and cranny of this part of the course greatly aided me.  I knew when to conserve my energy and when I could push things a bit.  I managed 16.2 mph pace on the last 19 miles, which was quite satisfying to me.  In Nokesville, I came across Barry, another cyclist completing his first-ever Brevet.  Barry’s from Frederick, MD, and I’ll most likely be heading up his way for the club’s Gettysburg 200K brevet this September.  Barry informs me that there are many more hills in his neck of the woods, a statement which I now have six months to ruminate on.

After Party

Barry and I pulled into the Caribou Coffee finish together with a finishing time of 9:40.  I never thought I would be able to go so quickly, especially given my dalliances at the battlefields, but the weather was fantastic and the fact I knew many of the roads was very helpful to me.  I signed and turned in my control sheet and enjoyed the nice after party, which consisted of pizza, sodas, cookies, fruit and other goodies.  It was a nice way to finish a great day.

I don’t think I’m ready to take on some of the more ambitious events of the DC Randonneurs, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the group and hope to join them again this September when they take on South Mountain and the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam.  Until then, Bon Route!

The Last Day Of Winter

click for details

We’re setting the clocks forward tonight and the weather forecast for tomorrow and the next week is fantastic.  I have therefore officially declared today to be the last day of winter.  To commemorate the event, I set off for Fauquier County in the hopes of finding a route connecting Catlett to Nokesville without using the very busy Route 28.

After last weekend’s ride in DC and Thursday’s ride on the congested W&OD Trail, it was a joy to be out amongst the livestock.  The 40 degree temperature and a stiff headwind were less enjoyable, but the sun was shining and I knew this was the end of Winter.  “Do your worst!” I said to no one in particular, and fortunately no one heard me.  That would have been embarrassing.

The major industry of Catlett, VA

After 23 miles, I pedaled through the town of Catlett (population: 296) and crossed the infamous Route 28.  This is a major road which connects many of the southerly routes I like to take with Nokesville.  I was hoping to find a bypass to avoid cars traveling at 60 mph on a road with no shoulder and the map indicated Bruwell Road should suffice.

Bruwell Road

Bruwell Road did quite well.  It was lined with farms and almost no traffic to speak of.  A border collie gave me a pleasant chase (Fun Fact: border collies can run 17 mph over brief stretches) and the ride was enjoyable.  At least it was nice until the asphalt gave way to yet another dirt/gravel road.

Fortunately, this stretch was only about 1/2 mile long.  I apologized in advance to my tires and they came through brilliantly for me.  After that, it was a simple matter of turning my back to the wind and sailing home to complete a 50-mile circuit.

Good bye, Winter of 2011-2012.  You were exceptionally mild with almost no snow.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity.

Just in case you haven't seen enough farm pictures, here is one which shows one of the more grand farms I passed today.


I got ambitious yesterday.  Aided by my wife, who transported me and my bike 30 miles to Fredericksburg, I headed out to the Chancellorsville Battlefield for a look-see and then a 55-mile return trip, the first 20 miles I had never traversed before.  I had been wanting to do this trip for several months and finally had the opportunity to give it a shot.  Although there was frost on the ground at sunrise, the forecast was for sunny weather and temperatures reaching the mid-50s.  It seemed like a good day for the attempt.

We pulled into the Spotsylvania Mall and my wife said her goodbyes, immediately after which I noticed I had forgotten my cell phone.  I always ride with my cell phone – always.  It’s my security blanket which lets me cycle with the certain knowledge that if I get into difficulty I can call my wife and hear, “You got yourself into this mess.  Now get yourself out of it.”  Now I was about to strike out into The Great Unknown (aka Spotsylvania County) with no communications device.  I believe Thomas Stevens would have been proud of me.

Obligatory Battle Map

A quick note on the battle.  Chancellorsville was fought May 2nd and 3rd, 1863, between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the unfortunately named Union General Joseph Hooker (although the etymology of the modern-day use of “hooker” is unclear, many experts trace its use to the camp followers of Hooker’s Army of the Potomac).  With both armies staring at each other across the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Hooker moved a large force westward, forded the river and sought to attack Lee from the West.  Lee recognized the Federal move and broke off a portion of his army to meet the threat.  The armies collided at the Chancellor Family home, located at a crossroads about fifteen miles west of Fredericksburg.  The result was Lee’s greatest victory.

I cleared out of the retail district and made my way to the battlefield on River Road, which existed during the Civil War.  This is the lesser of two roads heading toward Chancellorsville from Fredericksburg and no doubt some Confederates used it as they moved to the battlefield.  Given the road’s name, I was disappointed to glimpse only one short view of the Rappahannock River.  After ten miles, I reached the intersection of Route 3 and Elys Ford Road – the epicenter of the battle.  It was here that the Union Army collapsed upon itself after Robert E. Lee divided his smaller force (a MAJOR tactical faux pas born of necessity) and executed a surprise attack on two fronts.  17,500 men were killed on and around this field – a rate of one man per second for five hours.

The Chancellor House was destroyed during the battle under a withering Confederate artillery bombardment.  Hooker used the building as his command post and was leaning against a column when it was struck by a shell, causing a possible concussion which made it impossible for him to direct the battle for a period.  Today, all that is left is the foundation, which is preserved near the artillery pieces pictured above.

I puttered about the periphery of the battlefield but didn’t see any other monuments worthy of note.  I therefore decided to head to the park’s Visitor Center, where I came across one of the war’s most important sites – the place where Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was accidentally killed by his own pickets.  This was a stunning loss for the Confederacy which would have implications for the rest of the war.  Upon learning of Jackson’s death, Lee said, “I have lost my right arm.”  The trail is faithfully maintained and is remarkably close to the very busy Route 3.  There is a stone marker at the site, erected in 1881 by Confederate veterans.

I could have wandered some more, but I had quite a distance to go so I made my way back to Elys Ford Road and moved Northwest.  Just as was the case in the Civil War, there are few crossings of the Rappahannock River and I needed to travel 20 miles to Kelly’s Ford.  The road was pleasant, with a very picturesque view of Hunting Run Reservoir.  Oddly, the road name changed from Elys Road to Eleys Road when I crossed from Spotsvylania County to Culpeper County. There is a story there, I am sure of it, but I can’t imagine what it might be.  The air was crisp, but not cold and the leaves were in peak color.  I had nary a care in the world as I pedaled over gently rolling country.  This changed when I reached my first turn at Mile 25 – Fields Mill Road.

It was a gravel road.

I hate gravel roads.  After suffering eleven flats last summer/fall, I remain extremely risk averse when it comes to punctures.  I haven’t had a flat since February – I was due.  And I had no phone with me.  And I was nowhere near anyplace I had ever been before.  And there were no significant buildings to speak of, apart from a light sprinkling of farms.  With little choice, I decided to take it easy on this three-mile stretch of wilderness that would eventually deposit me near Kelly’s Ford and asphalt.

About a mile down the road, I began to hear gunfire.  I wondered if it was hunting season.  Whether it was officially hunting season or not, it was definitely hunting season here.  I was very grateful to be wearing my optic yellow vest.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be killed.  That assessment changed when the dogs came.

Let me just say it is extraordinarily difficult to cautiously manuever a gravel road while being chased by three dogs.  The first thing I abandoned was caution.  Since I am typing these words, I realize there is little drama to the outcome – I made it.  About a half mile up the road, I was rewarded with a pleasant view.  I leaned my bike against a sign which read “Warning – Coyote Trapping In Progress” and took the below picture.  I could still hear gunfire coming from the woods behind the farm houses.

I was very happy to reach the end of Fields Mill Road and rejoin Western Civilization.  I crossed Kelly’s Ford (Mile 30) and left Culpeper County for Fauquier County.  I had cycled this road once before during last October’s Great Pumpkin Ride.  I celebrated by pausing on the bridge to enjoy the view and eat a Clif Bar.

The remaining miles were uneventful.  I must say that the country roads of Fauquier County are in better condition than those of Spotsylvania or Culpeper Counties (even the paved ones).  At Mile 48 I pulled into one of my favorite rest stops, the Handymart convenience store near the west end of Quantico Marine Corps Base, and ordered a slice of pizza and a Mountain Dew.

Despite their French name, they worked well

Having refueled on quality convenience store cuisine, I had more than enough energy for the remaining twenty miles.  The sun was getting low in the sky, but I remained warm in my vest, skull cap, leggings, and brand new Garneau shoe covers (which worked MUCH better than the ones I wore last year).  I arrived home after 68 miles tired but pleased to have completed the sort of adventure that makes cycling eminently more enjoyable than any other form of exercise I can think of.


The Reston Century is in two weeks and today was no day to ease off on the miles.  So I rolled out of my driveway at 9:45 AM into 85 degree temps and 85% humidity.  Good times.  I wanted to stretch my distance a bit and decided to make for the small town of Midland, about 30 miles away.

The road to Midland.

The map indicates there isn’t much to see in Midland and the map was right.  There is a small airport, the view of which is frustratingly blocked by roadside trees.  I had accepted the fact that there would be nothing of interest on this route and this would simply be a pleasant ride through rural Virginia when I came across a small park, built in honor of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.

John Marshal Park

Marshal was the longest-serving Supreme Court Chief Justice and fundamentally shaped the role of the court and therefore the US government.  He was born in this area in 1755.  His home is gone but there is a stone pyramid which marks the site, one half a mile down a nature trail which starts at the park.  The park itself is rather simple, with a parking lot for five cars and a couple of markers describing the site and Marshal’s contributions to the republic.  I didn’t travel down the path as it didn’t seem conducive to 23mm tires.  I was quickly on my way again to the heavily traveled Route 28 and a favorable tailwind for the next 12 miles.

In short order, I found myself back in Nokesville, then Bristow, then back home.  I focused on keeping my heart rate down early in the ride and eating something every 30 minutes.  This paid off as I had plenty of energy towards the end of the trip, even with temps well over 100 degrees.    I wish I placed equal emphasis on applying sunscreen.  Inexplicably, I neglected to use any on this trip and as I type these words I am regretting that decision.

Historical Marker Segment!

I was hopeful that I would find markers on Route 28, which is an older (pre-Civil War) road with ample opportunities for something historical on its path.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The first marker can be found outside Calverton, the first town north of Midland.  In keeping with the decidedly Southern perspective on these markers, the Confederates are mentioned in a positive light, even when they lose, as Mosby did at this place in 1863.  As a New Yorker, I was happy to learn the 5th NY Cavalry played a role in his demise on that day.  Since the sign won’t tell you, I am pleased to inform you that the 5th NY was commanded by Colonel John Hammond of Crown Point, NY.

The next town northward is Catlett and it is here we can find another Civil War marker.  This time, Mosby is the victor.  As a raider, he tended to run away when things got too hot, but that was his job so we won’t fault him for that.

The final marker was an interesting design.  Normally, these markers have the same writing on both sides.  However the marker at the county line has a different version on each side – one for Fauquier County and one for Prince William County.  As you can see, the Prince William side is in need of some gardening.  This is the first time I’ve come across a marker that couldn’t be read.