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.


Getting My Bearings Packed

I took my bike into the shop Monday night for routine maintenance.  I’m 50 weeks into a one year free maintenance agreement which came with my purchase, so I wanted to take care of some nagging problems.  I’ve been having challenges keeping my rear wheel true since the shop replaced a broken spoke back in May.  There’s also a disturbing clicking sound coming from the head stem which I hoped they could explain and (better still) fix.

I met with the store manager, Levi, who kindly offered to tweak my bike on the spot.  He placed my rear wheel on a truing stand and got to work.  He was friendly and let me watch him adjust the spokes.  As we discussed my challenges, Levi mentioned that the wheel might need to be relaced.  That sounded ominous, but I didn’t press the matter.  We could jump off that bridge if we came to it, was my reasoning.

Levi finished truing the wheel and said he didn’t like the feel of the bearings.  “The wheel seems soft,” he said.  How on Earth he came to that conclusion I can only imagine.  It seemed perfectly normal to me.  Fascinated, I watch Levi unscrew a cap covering the innards of my wheel’s axle.  He looked inside and announced that my bearings needed to be repacked.

“Really?” I responded with my usual wit.  “How can you tell?”

“See how the bearings are brown?” answered Levi.  “They shouldn’t be that color.  They should be clear or green, the color of grease.”

I looked at the circle of bearings and confirmed they were indeed brown.  Faced with this incontrovertible fact, I agreed to leave my bike at the shop (which was my original plan anyway) and have them repack the bearings.  All of this would be covered under the warranty and/or free maintenance package, so I thought this was quite a nice arrangement.

Not my wheel, but you can get the gist of what I was looking at. My bearings were covered with brown goo, not completely dry as these are.

I picked up my bike last night and all was well.  Levi wasn’t in and I spoke to Chris, the shop mechanic (aka “Pit Boss”).  He had nothing dramatic to report.  He repacked the ball bearings, lubed the shifting cables, trued both wheels, tightened my rear brakes (which I had loosened due to the slightly untrue back wheel), lubed my chain, and cleaned the bike up after Sunday’s messy ride.  Chris checked out the head stem and couldn’t find anything which would cause a clicking sound.  That’s disappointing as I have no doubt it will reappear the moment I get back on the road.

While chatting with Chris, he asked me if I participated in the Reston Century on Sunday.  Levi must have mentioned it to him.  (I can imagine the conversation: “Guess who owns this Trek, Chris.  It’s an old, pudgy man who actually completed the Reston Century!”)  Chris rode the century as well, only he left earlier than me, rode faster than me, and consequently missed the mammoth thunder storm, unlike me.  We talked about the ride a bit and since hydration strategies came up during the ride and in the comments to my ride report, I asked Chris what he does.  It turns out he’s a Nuun consumer, like my temporary riding partner, Carol.

Chris also mentioned that my stock wheels would come out of true a bit more often than I would care for and he recommended that I consider upgrading to some Mavic wheels.  Mavic is a French company that makes high-end components.  Their cheap wheels go for about $120 apiece.  Someday, when I am a high-end rider, I might consider such a purchase.  For now, I’ll just keep adjusting the stock wheels when they fall out of true.

In return for all this work (and conversation), I wanted to contribute to the shop’s business in some small way, so I asked to buy a chain measuring tool.  As luck would have it, they were out of stock.  I couldn’t see anything else I might have a use for, so I simply thanked Chris for a job well done and headed home.

So that’s that.  No more free adjustments.  From here on out, I am on my own or I’m paying for the help.  It should be interesting!

Historical Marker Segment!

I neglected to include this in my ride report.  I rode 106 miles and encountered only one historical marker – a very low number for such a long trip.  This marker tells the tale of Major General Ben Fuller, the 15th Commandant of the Marine Corps and can be found at Fuller Park, the place I referred to in my ride report as “Hamilton Rest Stop.”  As a recently-retired officer, I found General Fuller’s career path to be a tad odd, namely:

  • He graduated from the US Naval Academy at the age of 19.  Nowadays,  graduates are 22 years old or older.
  • He wasn’t commissioned as a Second Lieutenant until two years after he graduated.  I can’t imagine what he did in the interval.
  • He was the Commandant as a Major General (two stars).  Today’s Commandant is a full General (four stars).

Fun With Google Earth

Click to enlarge image

I know people are tired of recaps of 2010 rides, but I was fiddling with Google Earth today and came up with the above image that I simply had to share with you.  I’ve added many of the rides stored on my Garmin Connect website and came up with this depiction of where I went.  Kinda cool.  I managed to get my rides in Prince William, Stafford, Fauquier, and Culpeper Counties and one in Fairfax County.  Not pictured are my rides in DC, the Mount Vernon Trail, and Canberra.

Besides overlaying the route, there are a few other tricks you can do with your GPS data in Google Earth, like moving a little icon along your route or doing a “fly thru” in the same direction that you pedaled a route. 

Anything to get me through the cold days…

2010 Wrap Up: Part 2 (The Pics)

As many of you know, I enjoy taking photos during my rides.  Here are some of my favorites from 2010:

Colvin Road, Nokesville

Quantico Wildlife Refuge

Quantico Marina

Prince William Forest Park

Tidal Basin, Washington, DC


Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Rte 234 Bike Path

Orlando Road

Start Line, Culpeper Metric Century

Widewater Park

Canova Drive

Cromwell Road, Fauquier County

Hastings Drive, Manassas

Lake Terrapin

Reid Road

Quantico National Cemetery

My Sudden Appearance In A Paceline

“It never gets easier.  You just go faster.”  – Greg LeMond

There I was on Sunday morning, minding my own business and raking leaves in my back yard.  I looked up and saw my neighbor, Steve, pedaling up my driveway in full cycling regalia.  This was rather odd in that he has never done this before.  Although we’ve occasionally talked about cycling, Steve is an uber-cyclist and triathlete and thus we’ve never hooked up for a ride on account of the fact that I value the absence of heart attacks, aneurysms and other medical setbacks a ride with Steve would invite.

“Did you get my message?”  asked Steve.

“Nope,” I said.  “I’ve been in my back yard, minding my own business and raking leaves.”

“My friend called and wants to go on a ride,” said Steve.  “We’re leaving in 20 minutes, if you’d like to come.”

Well, I couldn’t very well say no, could I?  I couldn’t withstand the shame such a refusal would incur.  So I quickly bagged my leaves, filled my water bottles, pumped my tires, grabbed my Garmin, jumped into some Fall riding clothes and was off on my first paceline ride.

It turned out that two of Steve’s friends were coming along, making it a group of four.  I felt obligated to give a Public Service Announcement that I had only ridden with other human beings on two occasions (minus some family “neighborhood jaunts”) and neither of these involved significant amounts of teamwork.  I was therefore prone to otherwise inexplicable actions that could create annoyances or far more significant consequences.  This news was greeted with good-natured smiles and assurances that all would be well.  Then we were off.

The paceline moved as advertised.  We were flying.  Whereas I can maintain a 20 mph on flat roads with some effort, we were moving at 23-25 mph with ease.  When I wasn’t in front (or “pulling,” as the cool cyclists say), I found myself coasting as much as pedaling.  My heart rate dropped 40 bpm at times and yet the high speeds continued.  When I was pulling, well that sucked.  These guys were clearly a notch or two beyond me and what they considered a nice, crisp, ride was about all I could handle.  Still, I was fresh and did my fair share at the front.  We easily passed by four or five individual cyclists on our route, who would appear half a mile ahead of us and minutes later would be left behind our group with a friendly hello and a wave.

Fortunately, I didn’t do anything that caused damage to people or property.  I found that paceline riding requires considerable concentration and communication.  Guys in front are constantly pointing out potholes or other problems in the road.  The guy in back is required to monitor the road behind the group and let the gang know of approaching vehicles.  This is especially important as the time draws near for the lead cyclist to pull off.  This maneuver is executed by moving toward the center of the road (and thus into any cars coming from behind) and letting the paceline pass him on the right.  When not in the lead, you must be especially vigilant of the wheel of the bicycle in front of you.  Once or twice, I appreciated the passing scenery a tad too much and almost made contact with the guy in front of me.  That would have been bad.  Very bad.

After 22 miles, we roared into our rest stop – a country store on the corner of Elk Road and Courthouse Road.  Our pace was around 20 mph.  Smoking fast for me.  Two of the guys wanted to continue on, giving them a 65 mile ride for the day.  I was ready to turn back and Steve decided to go with me.  I think he wanted to press on with the group but felt obligated to stay with the guy he invited.  I assured him that I had logged over 1,700 miles by myself this summer and could manage these 22 miles just fine, thank you.  But Steve insisted on staying with me.  Steve’s a good guy.

With only two of us now cycling, our pace slowed a bit.  Also, we often found ourselves cycling side by side so we could more easily carry on a conversation.  As we hit the busy Aden Road at Mile 30, we once again fell into file and the pace picked up a tick.  Six miles later, we hit the hills after the Occoquan River and I was toast.  Steve still had plenty of energy left for the four miles of climbing and I was simply trying to survive.  My turns at pulling the paceline at 23 mph and cycling with Steve at a faster-than-normal-for-me pace left me with nothing.  Steve flew to the top of each hill then puttered along until I could catch up, each time with me announcing my presence with a witticism like, “Hey, remember me?” 

(I find that my ability to make good jokes decreases markedly when I am in Heart Zone 5)

Steve stuck with me all the way home.  He really is a good guy.  Despite my severe bonking and the 10-minute break at the country store, this ride was still the fastest pace I have ever gone for such a distance.  As we neared his house, we exchanged fist bumps and I thanked him very much for the invitation.  Then we split up and went to our homes to shower and watch NFL football.

So do I like pacelines?  I dunno.  Going fast was fun and I believe I got an excellent workout, primarily because the guys I was with were in better shape than me.  But it was VERY hard to carry on a conversation and the concentration required to avoid other cyclists and be aware of traffic and road hazards meant casual sight-seeing was out of the question.  I guess the enjoyment of a paceline all depends what your ride objectives are.  I think I’ll be up for the occasional paceline, but I’ve grown to enjoy solo rides a great deal and I’ll probably stick with those for the most part.

And I’m returning to that country store.  There’s a historical marker there!

Australian Historical Marker Segment

click for details

This marker is typical of a series emplaced all over Canberra.  They all contain the slogan, “Canberra Tracks: See How Far We’ve Travelled.”  This marker is at the top of Mount Pleasant at Royal Military College – Duntroon and details the history of one of the area’s oldest settlements.  I was left wondering what, exactly, is a “pastoralist”…

The Widewater Park Mystery

One of the neat things about maintaining a blog is the good people at provide you a plethora of interesting statistics concerning blog visits.  I can see the number of visitors by day, week, or month.  I can see what pages are being looked at.  I can see what websites are referring people to the blog.  It’s all very geeky and mildly interesting.  I was hoping to make this a subject of a blog post around the end of the year – sort of a “What Was Most Popular On The Blog” post.  I’ll probably still do that, but I simply cannot wait any longer to talk about one particular and very peculiar aspect of these statistics.

It involves Widewater Park.

Back in early August, I rode out to Widewater Park in Stafford County.  It was a pleasant day which featured one of my many flat tires on Old Ironsides.  It is the one and only time I pedaled out to the park and it is the only time I have ever mentioned it in this blog.  Despite this, Widewater Park is BY FAR the most frequently searched term on this blog.

You might guess some of the terms that internet search engines point my way.  “Specialized Crosstrail” has been used 14 times to find this site.  “Dork Disk” has been used six times and “Quantico National Cemetery” has been used four times.  “Widewater Park” (or various permutations of that phrase) has been used 37 times to find this site.  Wow!

Despite the fact that the Widewater post is over two months old, there is a steady interest in the term.  Today, one person used it to find this site.  On the 25th, it was used two times.  It was used once on the 24th and three times on the 22nd.  There has been a slow, steady interest in this park (which, incidentally, isn’t even a park) and I can only imagine what that interest might be.

I’d love to know why this search term dwarfs all other topics.  If anyone who has found the site while searching for that term, I’d love to hear from you!

My New Toy – Part I

Dear readers, this weekend was a big one for me.  I sprinkled some hints on the blog – new header photo, an uptick on the odometer, and a new entry in the PBR page – but my loyal fan base was asleep at the switch and didn’t pick up on any of these subtle clues.  Clearly I’ll need to be more direct next time! 

Anyway, let me tell you what I have been up to.  I bought a bike.  It’s a road bike.  It’s light and it’s fast and after 44 miles it hasn’t broken.  That’s a nice start.  Here it is:

The Trek 2.1 At Rest

After completing some extensive research on a variety of bikes, I walked into Revolution Cycles in Stafford and asked to speak to the manager.  There would be no floor hand for me this time.  This time, I went straight to the top – the “top” being a young man named Joe.  I told Joe my story and informed him that I was not in a pleasant mood.  I asked to test ride a couple of bikes that I researched and thought I would like: the Trek 1.2 and 1.5.  Joe only had the 1.2 in stock and I took a spin on it.  I was unimpressed.  A clunky front derailleur was the biggest issue.  I was disappointed they didn’t have any 1.5s, but Joe informed me the ONLY difference between the two bikes was the seat post and the handlebars.  Hmmm….

Joe grabbed the Trek 2.1 and started talking.  I listened.  I was extremely skeptical of just about everything he said,  but I had to admit he did have answers to all my questions.  The 2.1 has improved shifters, deraillurs, and just about everything else that mattered to me.  I had intended to swap out the crummy wheels and tires on the 1.2 and Joe assured me that wouldn’t be necessary with the 2.1.  Therefore, the actual “out the door” cost would be almost identical.  I was VERY skeptical about keeping the stock wheels and tires.  I reiterated to Joe (for about the 10th time) that I was not the least bit interested in having a recurrence of my wheel and tire problems.  Joe swore up and down that these wheels/tires were of very good quality and that he himself uses them on his “back up bike,” which he routinely abuses without incident.  Joe informed me he logs over 6,000 miles per year in year-round riding.  Based on his looks and clear understanding of even the most arcane aspects of the bikes he was selling, he seemed to know what he was talking about.

I remained skeptical.

I took it for a test ride and it clearly handled much better than the 1.2.  The thing ran as silent as a submarine and the derailleur was much smoother.  I was very pleased with the performance, but I couldn’t get past my emotional scaring with my previous purchase.  “Sure it handles just fine now,” I said.  “But what happens after 500 miles when it falls apart like my current bike?”

So we talked.  We talked in detail about rims, spokes, tires, and frames.  We talked about carbon vs. aluminum.  We talked about brakes.  We talked about saddles.  We talked about cranks, sprockets and cassettes.  We talked about the origins of the universe and the meaning of life.  We pretty much covered everything.  He had me convinced that this is a great bike for me and my current goal of 2,000 miles and a couple of century rides per year.  He convinced me that this would be a great bike to “grow into,” meaning if I got ridiculously serious, I could easily upgrade it to further improve its performance.

“Joe” I said, “you’ve convinced me.  But I must tell you once again that I am not a person to be trifled with on this matter.  I don’t know where you live, but I do know where you work.  If what you’ve told me turns out to be anything less than 100% accurate, I will find you.  And that will be a bad day for you.  This is your last chance to reconsider your recommendation on this bike.  No hard feelings if you change your opinion right now.”

I don’t think many customers take this tact with Joe.  He was clearly a little surprised by my line of questioning, but I’ll give the guy credit – he was extremely polite and informed.  He worked with me for over two hours and patiently answered every question I had.  After I bought the bike he put it on a trainer and sized up the seat and the handle bars for me, using a large compass to measure the bend in my knee at critical points in my stroke, and the angle my arms made from my torso.  It was kinda interesting to watch him work.

Having made the decision to get a pretty nice bike, I decided to go “all in” and pick me up some clipless pedals and shoes.  This initiated another extended conversation about the various types of SPD and Look pedals and what would be best for me.  Joe showed me some high-end Look pedals which cost $130.  He then showed me some entry-level models for about a third of that.  I agreed that the few grams of less weight and superior workmanship of the high-end model was nice, just not “$90 of nice.”  We agreed the entry-level pedals made sense for me.  A similar discussion then ensued on the shoes, where I was duly impressed by the $300 models but opted for something a little more modest – a “mere” $100 (plus a 10% military discount!) and I was ready to embark into the world of clipless riding.  God help me.

So I was now all set.  New bike, new pedals, and new shoes.  There was only one item left to be sorted.  It was the one thing that Joe would not help me with.  To be fair, he would have complied with my wishes but it would have broken his heart to do so. 

I asked him to install a kick stand.

Even though I prefaced my request with the words, “I realize this will make me a colossal dork,” Joe was still stunned to hear what I wanted.  Slowly, he looked at the bottom of the bike’s frame and then meekly announced, “I guess I could do it…”  I asked Joe if I would be the only Trek 2.1 owner in North America with a kick stand and he said I could very possibly be.  He was clearly torn between doing what the customer wanted and avoided cycling blasphemy.

“Here’s my problem, Joe,” I said, “I’ve got a busy house with a busy garage.  Over the years, I have spent less on some of my cars than I have just spent on this bike.  I WILL NOT simply lean it against a wall.  It will be knocked over and it will be scraped and I will be irate.  This is certain.  Without a kick stand, what is a guy like me to do?”  Then Joe showed me this:

This thing conveniently attaches to your bike’s lower frame near the pedal crank and thus props up your bike.  When it is set up your bike’s rear wheel is actually slightly off the ground, giving you the added benefit of being able to turn the pedals, move the chain, and spin the tire, which makes basic maintenance much easier.  Happy with the compromise, I loaded everything up in the truck and headed home.

There’s a lot more I could talk about – the type of crank, the type of sprocket, the interesting nuances of the shifters.  I’ll get into all of that eventually.  Tomorrow, though, I’ll share with you my first ride on the Trek and my first outing in clipless pedals.  The fact that I am typing this in my home and not in a hospital bed should give you an indication that the worst did not occur!