Unfinished Brevet Business

I’ve been battling a nasty cold this week (probably bronchitis but I’m too dumb to see the doctor) so there hasn’t been much riding.  This gives me a chance to provide a brief update to last weekend’s brevet, including two pictures taken by DC Randonneurs’ George Moore as I reached the crest of the final ascent on Etlan Road (about Mile 62).


At least the trees looked good.


In this photo I am wearing my new helmet cover, which I purchased for this ride.  There was a chance of rain and the morning temps were supposed to be cool.  As it turned out, there was no rain but the cover still kept my head warm without needing to wear a skull cap.

I am also proudly wearing my clear lenses, which I swapped out later in the day for darker ones.  I kept the lenses in my saddle bag and it was much nicer than bringing another set of glasses or doing without during the night portions.

Historical Marker Segment!

I had a bumper crop of historical markers.  Truth be told, I pedaled past several others but I simply couldn’t stop at every single one.  I was moving slowly enough as it was.

I came across the first marker in the early morning light (Lord knows what I passed in the darkness before this).  It details the story of a one-room schoolhouse that once stood in this location.  The sign reads as if the school still stands, but I could find no evidence of it.  Perhaps in better light it would be obvious to me where it is.


About a mile away from the previous sign was this one, describing the relief of Union General George McClellan at a site four miles from the sign.  Why they couldn’t be bothered to put the sign closer to the actual location is curious.  I sense the hidden hand of the local chamber of commerce.


Also in Marshal is this sign, describing an event six miles away.  Very curious.  One can only imagine what different course the war would have taken if the 9th NY Cavalry actually captured General Lee.


Right next to the above sign is a classic, erected in 1928.  It’s interesting (to me, anyway) to see the basic design for these signs has been unchanged for 85 years.  It must be said that the authors were a little less wordy in the earlier versions of these signs, which must have been far more difficult to produce than today’s versions.


Below is another classic, also erected in 1928 near Boswell’s Tavern (Mile 110).  Nobody refers to Marquis de Lafayette very much these days, but once upon a time he was a superstar, worthy of remembrance on things as mundane as when he opened a road.


Our final sign is much newer, thus it has more words.  It is an homage to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave jobs to unemployed workers.  The fellows in this particular company came from Pennsylvania, where they did all manner of odd jobs in the local forests.  Why the CCC couldn’t find forests to clear for these men in Pennsylvania is not addressed in the marker.


Two Bridges

Occoquan Bridges

I had a really good idea yesterday.  I was able to leave work a little early and take advantage of the great weather and go on a long ride.  This would be helpful as I need to get some miles in before this weekend’s 300 km ride with the DC Randonneurs.  I decided to reward you, gentle reader, with a stunning depiction of the bridges of Prince William County.  I mapped out a 60 mile ride that would cover nine different bridges.  It would be epic and you would have been thoroughly entertained.

Let me now explain how this didn’t happen.

IMG_0437My first challenge occurred in my garage.  When putting on my shoes I noticed one of my straps had broken.  Once again, duct tape saved the day.  I now must decide whether to ride this weekend with these shoes or get new ones.  Riding that long on new shoes seems to be a horrible idea, so I’ll just stick with my current pair and ease into a new set later this summer.

After fixing my shoes I shoved off into the maelstrom of rush hour traffic.  Minnieville Road was a madhouse and I opted to move to the sidewalk.  This meant riding much slower and waiting at crosswalks.  I quickly fell behind schedule and this was made only worse when I stopped at the Glascow family cemetery, one of those small plots of land that dot the landscape and remind me of how rural this place once was.  Only 100 feet off a major artery lies evidence of a family that was once one of the leading families of the area.  Usually, these family names live on in local streets or towns but I cannot think of a single thing named after the Glascows.


Having spent a few minutes stomping about the cemetery, I was now officially way behind schedule.  I continued up Minnieville road, pausing at many traffic lights, and eventually made my way into the town of Occoquan and my first bridge – the mighty span over the Occoquan River.


My apologies for the tacky “For Sale” sign.  Hopefully, the nearby bird life offsets that.  I drive over this bridge every day on my way to work.  Tens of thousands of car travel it each day.  On this day, there was also at least one bicycle.  Here is a view of Occoquan from the bridge.  You can see some new townhouses are under construction near the river bank.


My next bridge was upstream in the direction you are looking in the above photo.  I made my way on the much nicer pathway on Rte 123 until I came upon Hampton Road, named after Confederate General Wade Hampton who made Occoquan his headquarters during the Civil War.  There is no shoulder on this road and traffic was moderate.  I then turned onto Henderson Road (named after some guy called “Henderson,” I suspect) where again there was no shoulder and traffic was very heavy.

It’s not much fun cycling in heavy traffic on a narrow two lane road.  Everyone seemed to be cooperating, however, and there were no unpleasant comments hurled my way.  Still, it’s quite stressful, especially at the intersection of Henderson and Yates Ford roads where I was obliged to inched my bike up a 15% grade to match the snail’s pace of traffic.  It was too fast to walk it (especially in my shoes) and too slow to stay clipped in.  Good times.

Having made it onto Yates Ford road, I rode downhill toward the road’s namesake.  Yates Ford is one of a precious few crossing points of the Occoquan River/Bull Run  system and at rush hour the crush of traffic is impressive.  The road is downhill, windy, with no shoulders.  Even though I was zipping along at 25-30 mph, I could almost feel the weight of a line of cars well over a mile in length behind me.  It was a little nerve-racking.  I eventually reached the Bull Marina and pulled in to take this pic of the bridge over the ford.


A high school girls crew team was readying their boats for the afternoon practice session.  I thought it would be poor form for a middle-aged man to be seen taking pictures of random high school girls, so I will leave the scene to your imagination.

I chewed on some shot blocks and pondered my situation:  It had taken me two hours to travel 20 miles.  It was looking like my 60 mile ride would take me about 5-6 hours, much of it in heavy traffic.  Suddenly, the seven remaining bridges seemed less enticing.  I decided to stop my project and simply head home via Rte 234.  That route would give me about 40 miles and that would be “good enough” on this day.

I pedaled up a short but steep hill to get back to Yates Ford Road, where I waited ten minutes for a break in traffic to get going again (and I am not making that up).  The way home was uneventful, except for the lone expletive that was thrown my way at Signal Hill.  Ironically, this was on a very open stretch of road with an ample shoulder and two lanes of traffic each way.  I’ve been thinking about mapping each insult inflicted upon me to see if any sort of pattern emerges.  So far, it seems pretty random with no correlation between road type or traffic density.  The only connection I’ve seen so far is that if there is a pathway nearby, the automobile drivers expect you to use it.

This is my final ride before Saturday’s big day, which I fear I am woefully unprepared for.  I’ll spend the rest of the week tapering (which I am very good at) and getting things ready to go.  I’ll see you on Sunday or possibly early next week.  If you’re following me on Facebook, I’ll be sure to post something there late Saturday or early Sunday.

Historical Marker Segment!

I bagged two more markers, the first being on Minnieville Road at the Glascow Cemetery.  I took a poor quality photo with the sun in the shot because it gives a sense of how close the busy traffic on Minnieville Road is to the cemetery.


The second sign is on the eastern end of Occoquan and I came across it while looking for a good angle to shoot a bridge pic.


Spring Has Sprung

You’ll never guess what I did yesterday.  Go ahead – try.


You’re way off.

Wrong again.

Ok, I’ll tell you.  For the first time in 2013, I put ice cubes in my water bottle!

I’m thinking this should be an event I commemorate each year.  It’s worthy of blog reports, music, speeches, and all manner of fanfare.  It really is not possible to overdo the significance of having the temperature reach a point where ice cubes are necessary.  It was wonderful.

(By the way, my apologies to the people of Wyoming, whom are now under about a foot of freshly fallen snow.  Someday, Spring will come your way as well.  I promise.)

I’ve been getting in quite a few local rides as of late and hopefully will get enough miles into my legs to make my upcoming 300K ride at least possible for me, if not comfortable.  The trees are beginning to blossom and I noted with interest that DC’s famous cherry blossom trees are now in full bloom, three weeks later than last year.

I passed by some trees on my way to Neabsco Creek last night.  I’m not sure if they are precisely the same species as the famous ones in DC, but they’re close enough in my opinion to warrant a photo.  Imagine trees like this surrounded by thousands of people and you have the annual DC Cherry Blossom Festival.  I think this was nicer.


Monday night’s ride was my first of the year in summer kit (shorts, half-fingered gloves, etc…).  It was fantastic and it is always a pleasant sensation to see how much faster I can go in decent weather.  My 18.4mph pace was by far the fastest of the year.  Tuesday night’s ride was much slower due to the need to stop and take photos for your viewing pleasure (and for my recovery as well).

After the cherry trees, I made my way to a couple of marinas at the mouth of Neabsco Creek.  The marinas were largely deserted at the late hour and I hoped the setting sun would make for some nice pictures.  I shall let others be the judge of that.

My first stop was at the Pilot House boat shop which also serves as a business which sells used boats.  You can see Neabsco Creek in the background.


And here is a view of the marina from the deck of the Pilot House.

Pilot House

A few hundred yards up the road I found an inviting plank and pedaled to the end of it.  I was perilously close to the edge of the deck as I took this photo and briefly wondered what I would look like if I accidentally backed off the edge of it in my cycling kit.  Comical, I suspect.


The view looking east.  You can see the Virginia Railway Express bridge in the distance.


On my way home, I rode next to the creek, looking for signs of wildlife.  Although I could hear all manner of creatures, a photographic moment didn’t present itself to me.  I took this picture of the wetlands instead.  It’s hard to believe this is less than two miles from the heavily trafficked Route 1 and I-95.


Historical Marker Segment!

You gotta stay on your toes in the historical marker business.  The people who put these signs up are never done with their work.  You think you’ve covered a stretch of road and have seen all there is to see, only to discover that a new sign has been erected.  Such is the case here, where a new sign now stands at the entrance to a series of walking trails at Julie Metz Park.  Travelers can now learn the story of the Lee family (including Light Horse Harry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee) and the plantation they built in this area in the in the 1700s.


Things I Think I Think

Sports columnist Peter King has a popular segment he publishes after every NFL weekend which he calls Things I Think I Think, in which he gives his impressions on the week that was.  It is that spirit I offer my thoughts on last weekend’s brevet.

1.  I think I’m over my initial disappointment at my finishing time.  Advantages in less weight and knowing the course from last year were outweighed by colder temperatures and less training mileage brought on by a colder winter.  I agree with the larger point made by many commenters that it is very difficult to compare one year’s ride with another despite being on the same course.

2. I think I need to improve my nutrition strategy.  That means eating more calories more regularly and probably sitting down for a meal mid ride.  I burned over 4,300 calories on this ride and a quick inventory of what I took in adds up to about 2,300.  Not enough.  Cold weather makes “gummy candies” like Clif Blocks difficult to chew.  Adjust as appropriate.

3.  I think I need to get better at climbing hills.  I’m faster than some and much slower than others, but among people I find myself riding with (about my own ability) I find I tend to be slower on the climbs.

4.  I think the DC Randonneurs run great events.  For $5, I get better directions, more fun, better food pre/post race, and feel more welcome than I do in organized rides where I’ve paid far more.

5.  I think I like my new saddle bag.

6.  I think the 300K brevet next month will be hard.  Really hard.  I haven’t seen the course but understand it will run closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains, meaning it will be hillier.  See #3 above.  And it will be 300 freakin’ kilometers long.

7.  I think my increased running in the winter helped offset the reduced amount of riding.  Helped only, mind you.  It didn’t completely replace the training I lost in the saddle.  This will only get more interesting as the weather warms and I add swimming to my regimen.

8.  I think randonneuring has many aspects apart from a finishing time, including general exercise, cameraderie, orienteering, scenery, etc…   But time is an aspect and is therefore worth pondering and setting goals around, just like the other aspects are.

Historical Marker Segment!

I am pleased to present my first Historical Marker Segment of the year.  I found these markers during this weekend’s brevet.  I passed by them last year but did not stop to photograph them for reasons I have long since forgotten; probably because I was traveling with others and didn’t want to inconvenience them.

Our first selection is next to a bridge over the Rapidan River on Route 3 (around Mile 42 of the brevet) and is a reminder that the colonization of America came in waves.  In this particular case, the wave was German.  I am embarrassed to say I have never heard of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, but you can read more about it here.


I came across this marker on Brock Road, between The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields (about Mile 60 of the brevet).  Amidst all the Civil War history, it was interesting to come across some Revolutionary War trivia.  Nowadays, Marquis de Lafayette is an afterthought in American history but there was a time (early 19th Century) when he was a superstar.  His legacy remains in the numerous towns and counties that were named after him in that period.  FUN FACT:  the evil (and fictitious) Colonel Tavington in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Patriot, is based in part on Colonel Tarleton.


The Mystery Of The Giant Crucifix


In Stafford County on Route 1 (also known as the Jefferson Davis Highway – a quaint reminder of the failed rebellion of 1861-1864) there stands a large crucifix.  It sits upon a small parcel of land at the intersection of Telegraph Road.  I have driven by it several times over the years but I had no idea why it stood there.  With traffic light on a Sunday morning, I decided to brave the wild and woolly roads of Eastern Prince William and Stafford Counties and find out.

A note on the weather is in order.  Once again, the sun has passed over the equator and now the Southern Hemisphere is warming up.  Sadly, this means my part of the world is cooling off, and so it was on Sunday that I could see my breath in the cool morning air.  For the first time this Fall, I grimly put on my leggings, shoe covers and a long-sleeved base layer.  I even sported my skull cap for good measure.

One of the few positives of cold weather riding is nobody can determine who has shaved legs

The cool weather was perfectly fine and I suppose plenty of cyclists would be enjoying the change from the sweltering heat of summer.  Many people enjoy fall and consider it their favorite season.  I prefer the heat of summer and view fall as the harbinger of the doom that is winter.  So it was with a sense of foreboding that I pedaled along the quiet streets toward my goal.  This will get much much worse before it gets better.  Sigh.

After almost 13 miles of riding, my target came into view.  I dismounted and skulked about the site, eager to take in everything that I was missing when I normally zip past here at 50 mph.

The small setting is in excellent repair, with some fresh flowers and a well-groomed garden immediately around the monument.  The grass was neatly trimmed and the small stone wall surrounding the statue is well cared for.  Clearly, somebody continues to maintain the site with great care.  I learned that the crucifix was erected in 1930 to commemorate the first ever Catholic settlement in Virginia, established in 1647 by a Giles Brent and his sisters, Margaret and Mary.  A nearby marker states that the move was due to “political and religious turmoil” in Maryland.  Other markers on the site point to the colonial charter (granted by King James II)  as being an early example of religious tolerance in America.

Not so fast.

I thought it odd that Maryland, a colony specifically organized as a safe haven for Catholics, would be a site of Catholic persecution, so I did some research.  It turns out the Brents were not humble parishioners, simply looking to worship in peace.  They were, in fact, members of the aristocracy.  Giles was Deputy Governor of Maryland and Margaret was a wealthy land owner.  When the Governor died, he named Margaret executor of his estate (an unusual role for a woman at the time).  She immediately liquidated all of his assets to pay some Virginia mercenaries who were hired to fend off Protestant raiding parties, sent to Maryland as part of the English Civil War.  This greatly upset the governor’s surviving brother, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore.

I don’t know a great deal about 17th Century British aristocracy, but it would seem that when you upset a Baron it was prudent to get out of town.  The Brents did precisely this and asked King James II for permission to establish a Catholic colony in Virginia.  James was happy to oblige the request, and the rest was history, as they say.

I made my way home via Telegraph Road and saw nothing of interest, apart from the fact it is remarkably secluded given its proximity to the main thoroughfare of Route 1.  After a couple of miles, I rejoined the main road and made it back in good form.  My pace was slower than normal as I was “soft pedaling” in an attempt to nurse some lower leg injuries.  The Army 10-Miler is three weeks away and I have increased my running mileage with predictable injuries to my knees, ankles, and calves as a result.  I am hoping to get through this year’s event in less pain than last year, which was similar to running with a knife in my calf.

Historical Marker Segment!

I bagged two new markers on this relatively short ride.  I find that there are more signs in the busier eastern portions of the region than in the more rural western locations.  This is unfortunate as most of these signs cannot possibly be read by anyone in the cars zipping by at 50 mph.  The first sign is the one found at the monument I visited and it relates much of the story I mentioned above.  I like how the stop sign appears to be peeking out from behind a telephone pole.

The second marker can be found at the boundary for Prince William County.  Interestingly, there is no corresponding marker on the other side of the road to inform travelers of the history of Stafford County.  I’m not sure what to make of that.

The Town Of Clifton, And Lessons In Physics From My Water Bottle

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.”

Looking east. The posh section of town is just out of view on the right.

Occoquan Falls

And since Tootlepedal enjoys bridge photos, the view of the pedestrian bridge from Occoquan Falls

Laurel Hill

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,

Simple folk, just trying to get by

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.

Main Street, Clifton

The Pink House, which is (oddly enough) yellow. The signage at the front is typical and tells the story of the structure.

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!

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.


Although I have traveled west of Route 28 on several occasions, it is still a major step for me and I still view it as “the frontier” of my cycling range.   Beyond Route 28 lies Route 29, which I have crossed only once about 13 months ago.  If Route 28 is “The Frontier,” then Route 29 is “The Unknown.”  So it was with a bit of excitement that I headed out this morning for the town of Haymarket, about five miles beyond Route 29.

My first attempt at a shadow self-portrait

To get there, I needed to travel up Bristow Road about 20 miles where it would eventually intersect the dreaded Route 29 (also known as the Lee Highway).  This is a major intersection, dumping thousands of cars each day off the nearby interstate to a sprawling shopping center.  My strategy of leaving at 6:30 AM on a Sunday worked well – when I got to the intersection, there were only a dozen cars there.  And thank goodness for that as I discovered the entire mess is under construction, complete with rutted asphalt, pylons, and tons of gravel.  Moving through there with heavy traffic is precisely the sort of thing that has kept me away for the past two years.

Haymarket is a small town which briefly held a district court in the early 1800s, before Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William Counties decided to keep their own courts.  Nothing much happened there until 1862, when Federal troops entered the town looking for a sniper.  After entering every house and generally causing a fuss, they failed to find their target, so they decided the best option would be to set fire to the entire place.  Everything burned to the ground, with the exception of St. Paul’s Church and three or four nearby buildings.  History does not record if the Federals found their sniper.

St. Paul’s Episcopal

After pedaling down a flag-lined main street (named Washington Street), I pulled up to St. Paul’s and found it to be in a pleasant grove of large trees, making photography a challenge.  This building was the original courthouse and was sold to the Episcopal Church in 1833.  Although it was only 8:00 AM, it was already quite hot and it promised to be much hotter.  In anticipation of the increased fluid needs, I brought my Camelbak along for the first ride this year.  In the end, I’m glad I did.

The trip home brought me back to Lee Highway, which I pedaled on for a couple of miles.  Even at this early hour, there was plenty of traffic and occasionally very little shoulderto ride on.  My flagging spirits were buoyed, however, when I came upon an old tavern at Buckland.

Buckland Tavern

Nearby signage informed me that the tavern had been in this area since the early 1800s and was a favorite watering hole for people traveling between Alexandria and Warrenton.  Signs also alluded to a nearby cavalry battle in 1863, but offered no other details.  Fortunately, I conducted a quick internet search and am able to inform you that Confederate General Jeb Stuart won a smashing victory over Union General Judson Kilpatrick while protecting a Southern retreat after the Battle of Bristoe (which I passed earlier in my travels today).

Having satisfied my historical urges, I turned south on Vint Hill Road and made my way to Nokesville, a town on the near side of Route 28 that many of my travels seem to take me through.  The rest of the ride was uneventful.  I managed the 54 mile trek in the sedate pace of 14.5 mph, which was fine by me.  My chief purpose (other than seeing something new) was to get at least 3.5 hours in the saddle prior to the USAF Crystal Ride in two weeks.  From here on out, I’ll be working on sprinting, which is what I expect to be doing for the majority that 90 km event.

Vint Hill Road

For those of you in the United States, here’s hoping you enjoyed your Memorial Day.  I include the below photo by Martins Blumbergs in honor of the occasion.

Historical Marker Segment!

This has been a banner week for historical markers.  This one was outside the Tavern at Buckland Mills.  In it, we get a synopsis of the town’s origins and the tavern’s history.  I came across this at about Mile 28 on a hot day.  It would have been very nice if it still served as a “refreshing stop!”


I got to do some more traveling this week, this time down to Albemarle County, near Charlottesville.  It’s about 90 miles southwest of where I live, nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains.  On Thursday, I brought my bike with me and went for a spin under threatening skies.  I was really looking forward to this ride because, as a Flatlander, I rarely get the opportunity to ride near mountains.  I was hoping for some good views and maybe some hills.

I got some great views and some adequate hills.  Here’s how things looked as I started out on Route 33 West.

The street was busy but it had a decent shoulder most of the way.  A rain shower had just finished before I started and the roads were soaked.  Passing trucks threw up mist which added to the excitement.  After eight miles, I was able to get off this road and head south onto more rural routes.  The sun also made an appearance, helping to dry things off.  The views were fantastic, but I fear I cut my route just a tick short of the Blue Ridge to get some serious climbing in.

For being a very rural place, the roads were in excellent condition.  I had to be careful to pay attention to where I was going – I tended to stare at the mountains for too long!  I was mildly concerned my planned route would take me onto a dreaded dirt road, but there were virtually none of those in sight – a great difference from the scene in Fauquier and Prince William Counties, where they plague me on any lengthy ride into the unknown.

After 15 miles, it became apparent that the climbing wouldn’t be anything terribly ambitious, which was just fine as I had driven 90 miles, worked a full day, and had a 90 mile drive home.  I contented myself with the winding roads and pleasant views.

After passing through the town of Dyke (which consisted of a trading post and a church), I realized I hadn’t posed the Madone for a picture.  So I found a random hill – there were dozens to choose from – and perched it on an anonymous horse farm’s fence.  As I look at this picture and the previous one, it appears they may have been taken at the same place.  In actuality, the locations are separated by about five miles.

You will note that I have rigged the Madone “randonneuring style,” with my small handlebar bag and cue sheet handsomely attached to the front in a manner which would cause great offense to anyone who values a pure road bike – kinda like putting a trailer hitch on a Corvette.  It works for me, however, so I continue to go with it on rides where cue sheets and/or extra supplies are necessary.

I had completed about 27 miles at this point and was very happy the rain had held off.

Shortly after taking this photo, it began to rain.

The rain stayed with me for the remainder of my trip.  It poured in torrents occasionally and sometimes reduced itself to a light sprinkle, but usually it was a steady soak.  I can’t say that I enjoyed this very much.  Well, I could say it, but that wouldn’t be very honest.  My camera and phone were safely stowed in the handlebar bag.  Most everything else was soaked, including your intrepid reporter.  I didn’t take a photo, but you’ve seen pictures of me before.  Imagine one of those pictures, except in the picture I am soaking wet.  You get the idea.

On the whole, it was a great ride.  I managed 1,800 feet of climbing in 39 miles, which is a nice uptick over my usual rate (Sunday’s 40-mile ride had 1,100 feet of climbing) but nothing dramatic.  Had I traveled another 10 miles westward, the story would have been different.  I was surprised that I didn’t see a single cyclist on my entire trip.  Granted, it was a weekday, but usually there is somebody on the roads.  Not so around here, even though (with the exception of Route 33) the roads were very conducive to cycling.  I could have done without the rain, but there was a 40% chance of precipitation in the forecast, so I knew what I was getting into when I started.

It’s been a good two weeks for fun on the bike.  Now all I have to do is wait for better weather and think up an excuse to head back to Albemarle County!

Historical Marker Segment!

I bagged another one.  This marker tells the tale of the “lost town” of Advance Mills.  Quite often, I find myself on roads clearly named after a town but the town no longer exists.  This marker helps to explain why this is so.  All that remains of Advance Mills today is a small dam used by the now-nonexistent mill.

Cycling In Boston, Part II

The North End

When we paused in our tale of cycling bliss in Boston, I was enjoying a rest break in the Boston Common.  Having recharged my energy levels, I prepared to set up into the heart of Boston’s historic section, The North End.  The clouds and rain from earlier in the ride had given way to some sunshine and warmer temperatures.

There is a nice tourist feature that I hoped to take advantage of – the Freedom Trail.  Slightly longer than two miles, the Freedom Trail is a brick-lined path which takes you past a great many of the city’s historical sites.  It’s a neat feature that keeps people from getting lost and handily deposits them at each of the town’s attractions, where presumably they spend all of their disposable income.  I set off in search of the trail, which intersects the north side of the Common.  Along the way, I spied the bar which served as the inspiration for the TV show, Cheers.  I know this was the bar because they proudly fly a flag outside their entrance announcing that fact.

“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…”

The State House

I found the Freedom Trail at The State House.  The handsome gold dome can be seen from almost anywhere one can view the Boston skyline.  The site was originally John Hancock’s cow pasture and the copper (now gold leaf) dome was installed by Paul Revere.  As I embarked on the trail (or to be more precise, on the road next to the trail), I quickly discerned a problem – the Freedom Trail is on the sidewalk, meaning I would need to keep track of it while pedaling in the street amongst traffic.  Another level of difficulty quickly presented itself as the trail went the wrong way up a one way street.  Sigh.

Site of the Boston Massacre

Gamely, I pressed on.  I walked my bike on the sidewalks when necessary and dove into traffic to ride whenever I could.  I passed the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party was planned and came across the site of the Boston Massacre, complete with a tour guide in a tri-pointed hat.  My next stop was Faneuil Hall, site of many famous public debates and protests, many of which were dominated or orchestrated by Samuel Adams.  Sadly, Sam is probably best known to most Americans today for the beer which bears his name.

Faneuil Hall

It was at this point I noticed my kickstand was not behaving properly.  Somehow it had loosened over the journey and would no longer support the weight of the bike.  More troubling to me was the prospect of the thing getting stuck in the spokes.  I resolved to keep a close eye on it and carried on.

Old Ironsides

A few hundred yards past Faneuil Hall I reached Hanover Street and gave up following the brick trail.  I only cut out a small portion, but it meant I could ride straight down Hanover to the waterfront, where I took in the view of the Charles River and the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) moored on the other side.  Named by George Washington, she is the world’s oldest commissioned vessel afloat.

Old North Church

I then turned my attention to my final stop in the North End – the Old North Church.  This was the church which shined lanterns as a warning to Paul Revere and other Minutemen of the impending British attack at Lexington and Concord (“One if by land, two if by sea”).  The church sits on a steep little hill which gives it a prominent place in the North End.  I was relieved to see no lanterns shining, meaning I would be safe from British attack on at least this day.

USS Cassin Young

The day was growing long at this point, so I sped across the Charleston Bridge and made my way to the Boston National Historic Park, where the Constitution is moored.  Also there is the USS Cassin Young, a WWII destroyer now in dry dock and serving as a museum.  I’ve never seen a ship in dry dock and it was quite an interesting site.

Although in command, Colonel William Prescott fought as a private during the battle and was the last to leave the defenses.

My final stop was just a short uphill pedal from the river and one of the most significant spots of the American Revolution – Bunker Hill.  While the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord were the first engagements of the revolution, the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) was the first general engagement in which armies fought each other.  The hill where the battle actually occurred (and the one I climbed) is Breed’s Hill.  Bunker Hill is adjacent and played an ancillary role in the fight.  It seems that, upon occupying the ground, the Colonialists decided Breed’s Hill would provide better defensible terrain than nearby Bunker Hill – the place where they were ordered to defend by Congress.  Not wanting to let a pesky detail get in the way of naming the battle, Bunker Hill endured in the histories. The monument was completed for the 50th anniversary of the battle and the cornerstone was laid by the Marquis de Lafayette.   The site was immensely popular and was considered hallowed ground until events of the Civil War and other conflicts eclipsed it.

Bunker Hill Monument

Self-Portrait with Lucky Raleigh Bike #13

By now it was 6:00 PM and I had an hour to travel about three miles back to the bicycle store before it closed.  I made it with plenty of time to spare and was surprised to see the place extremely busy.  One of the clerks said that as soon as the sun came out, the customers arrived in force.  I mentioned the problem I had with the kickstand, only so they would make the repair before giving the bike to someone else.  Immediately, the clerk sought out the manager, who directed him to take 25% off the already very reasonable rental fee.  Wow.

So let me take the time to suggest to anyone in need of a rental bike in the Cambridge, MA, area, strongly consider Cambridge Bicycle.  They have good bikes at very good rates and their employees are top-notch!

Broad, Sweeping Conclusions.

Based on a six-hour tour and two other days of walking about Cambridge, I believe I am now fully qualified to provide expert commentary on the cycling scene in and around Boston.  In a word, I was impressed.  There are lots of people riding bikes and plenty of pathways and bike lanes to get them where they want to go.  The infrastructure makes sense – you can zip along pathways almost to the heart of Boston and Cambridge and duck off when you are very close to your destination.  Once off the pathways there are ample bike lanes, especially in Cambridge.  The cycling experience in the suburbs suffers just like it does everywhere else and the narrow, crowded streets of the North End are not ideal for cyclists, either.  Other than that, I felt very safe.  My one experience in a bicycle shop was one of the best I have had anywhere – their rates and customer service were exceptional.

All of this adds up to official There And Back Again recognition of Boston as “The Best City I Have Ever Cycled In.”  Congratulations!

Let me close with another picture of the local bird life – some very smart Canadians which were loitering outside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, no doubt developing a technology to ease cross-continent migrations.

Historical Marker Segment!

Yes, they have historical markers in Boston!  Although I saw many placards and signs affixed to various historical buildings, this was the only “traditional” marker I came across in my travels.  I found it next to the bridge over the Charles in the town of Watertown.  In case you’re wondering, “tercentenary” means of or pertaining to a 300th anniversary.  I think that means the sign was erected in 1930, which would truly be amazing!