Most of you know I am an incredibly important and influential person, not just in the cycling world but in other fields of endeavor as well. Those other pursuits have kept me away from the computer and I am therefore late in telling you the tale of the Inaugural Tour of the Towns century ride. Please pull up a chair and grab a cold beverage while I catch you up on things.
Since this ride is meant to showcase the various parts of the county, it is probably appropriate that it began in a commuter parking lot. Prince William County serves as a bedroom community for the Greater Washington, DC, area. Every morning, a very large portion of its 400,000 inhabitants moves northward on its commute to DC. Commuter lots collect thousands of vehicles and commuters continue northward on trains and buses.
Showing off my jersey in the commuter lot
71 people had preregistered for the event, a humble number that will no doubt one day grow into the hundreds. Decades from now, people will look at antiquated photos (“Remember when photos were two-dimensional?” they’ll say) of this inaugural event and wish they had been there on that exciting first day. I will be able to say I was there because I actually bought a jersey which commemorated the event.
Ride organizers said there would be no mass start and they weren’t kidding. I was fiddling with my gear, waiting for some sort of group meeting to start the show, when I noticed that people had begun to trickle away. I shrugged my shoulders and headed off by myself, heading toward the town of Occoquan. This would be the first of eight towns we’d be pedaling through during the day. At 7:45 on a Sunday, the town was very quiet.
Thanks to some traffic lights (there would be scores of traffic lights on this ride) I was able to catch up to a pack of riders as we made our way eastward and then south along the vaunted Route 1 Corridor. Riding on Route 1 is not for the timid and I have never made the attempt to go all the way from Occoquan in the north to Quantico in the south. A nifty trail (previously unknown to me) helped us bypass much of the road, but eventually we were forced onto it in the town of Dumfries. A sign proudly announced the town as being the oldest in Virginia. The town has not aged gracefully and let us leave it at that.
People! Just east of Occoquan (Mile 3)
A nifty trail/bridge that helps bypass Rte 1
I bypassed the first rest stop at Mile 11 and continued southward to Quantico Marine Base, where I soon found myself on the same nine mile loop I will ride in two weeks at the Quantico Sprint Triathlon. We departed the loop briefly to tour the town of Quantico, a small village completely surrounded by the military base except for the side bordering the Potomac River. The base was quiet and the day sunny and pleasant. All was well.
Bypassing Rest Stop 1 – the Dumfries Town Hall
This is about the last time I could honestly say that on this ride.
We left the base and made our way toward Prince William Forest, where we completed a 7.3-mile circuit of Scenic Drive. If you like lots of woods with no terribly significant things to look at, then I suppose the drive was scenic. It was certainly hilly. Having been over this route a few times, I was prepared; others less so. I reached 39 mph on one descent without really trying. I heard a couple riders remark they had no idea such hills existed in Prince William County.
Prince William Forest
Completing the lap, we headed northward out of the park on a gravel road, which was a little nerve racking. For 1.5 miles, I waited for the flat that (fortunately) never came and I emerged at the park’s northern edge ready for the rest stop at Mile 39. The hills took their toll on me and I was very grateful for the peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches which race volunteers cheerfully provided me. I was only four miles from my house and it was an odd feeling to be so tired so close to home, knowing I was about to depart for another 60+ miles of riding.
The gravel road. I’m not travelling nearly as fast as this pic suggests
Rest Stop at Mile 39
I was looking forward to getting on the open stretch of road between this point and Haymarket, about 33 miles away. I’d been a little frustrated at my slow pace caused by traffic lights, guard checks on the base, and the hills in the forest. These hopes were dashed the moment I left the rest stop and was hit by a stiff 20 mph breeze. For the next two and a half hours, I pushed my bike along very familiar roads in the county’s “Rural Crescent,” a boundary of sorts set up to protect against suburban sprawl. The views were pleasant. The wind was not. You could not have picked a more damaging direction for the wind – it was pretty much always in my face. The temperature was climbing into the 90s. Life was hard.
The Rural Crescent (wind not pictured)
I stopped for a breather in Nokesville (Mile 61) and was very grateful for another nicely appointed stop and the friendly conversation from the volunteer who manned it. The final twelve miles into Haymarket were spent in increasingly heavy traffic. The cue sheets requested I make use of sidewalks and mixed use paths, which I tried to do.
Here’s the thing about sidewalks and mixed use paths: they pretty much are awful to ride on, especially when one is trying to log 100+ miles. They are jarring, with many cracks and the necessary ramps (plus gutters) at every side street. Your pace is slowed considerably and your body suffers from increased fatigue as it fights over every extra bump. Eventually, I gave up and simply headed onto the streets and the busy traffic all around me.
A quarry on the outskirts of Gainesville
After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the Haymarket rest stop (Mile 72), a bike shop on the main street of the town. I enjoyed the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains while sitting on a bench and eating another PB&J and a bannana. I was very much looking forward to having the breeze at my back for once. After a few minutes I left, hoping the wind would help.
The Madone at rest at the Haymarket rest stop
It was wonderful.
I was traveling 25 mph down roads I had just struggled on, barely moving at 13 mph. Traffic remained intense as I headed toward downtown Manassas and the final rest stop at Mile 83. It was a short ride, but I was glad I stopped. I would need some of the fluids I took on board for the motorcyclist I would encounter in 15 miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was quite hot as I left Manassas and pedaled through some of its hilly suburbs. I faced a brief dillema on Manssas Drive when I learned it was closed for repaving. Not knowing a way around, I opted for a combination of sidewalks and blatent violation of the road closed sign to keep me on course. With 90 miles in my legs, I wasn’t interested in a detour. In short order, I found myself on the Prince William Parkway. This offered me a choice of riding on the shoulder of a very busy road (55 mph speed limit) or riding on one of the worst mixed use paths in the county. I chose the road.
Eight miles later, two motorcyclists flew past me. About three hundred yards after passing me, a vehicle unexpectedly moved into their lane, cutting one motorcyclist off. He laid his bike down and the result wasn’t pretty. I didn’t see the accident but was one of the first people on the scene. I stayed with the injured motorcyclist while his buddy called for an ambulance. He gladly took all the water I had left in my bottles. Soon the ambulance showed up and I excused myself to finish my chore.
And make no mistake, this was now a chore. I was riding on an incredibly busy street with horrible to nonexistence paths/sidewalks on a hot day with no fluids. I soft pedalled my way back to the commuter lot and finished the 104 mile route in eight hours and 45 minutes.
I’ve now done four centuries (not to be confused with the longer randonneuring brevets, of which I have also completed four) and this was the hilliest. The 4,327 feet of climbing is slightly more than the Reston Century, which makes a point of telling people it is somewhat challenging. When the climbing is combined with the heavy traffic, traffic lights, and the difficult stretches of sidewalks/paths, I believe this is the most challenging of the four centuries I have completed.
Many thanks to the ride organizers and volunteers, all of whom were extremely positive and eager to help. There were more rest stops than I am accustomed to seeing and they were amply supplied to boot. This is quite possibly the first-ever organized century conducted in the county in which I live and I was glad to be a part of it.