Weekend Mosy

I’ve been getting lucky with the weather these days with the weekend weather being the best of the week.  Last weekend was good enough to get in a ride before another snowstorm which shut the city down on Monday.  Things slowly melted during the week until the best weather arrived on Saturday.  So I set off to check on some places I haven’t visited in a few months, just to make sure everything was as it should be.

At the Aden Country Store, I made a rare (for me) right turn onto Fleetwood Drive.  This lonely outpost of civilization has saved me more than once with a cool beverage and some shade.  It’s hard to believe its only five miles from suburbia.

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Fleetwood is a nice country road, full of farms and fancy estate “McMansions.”  Here’s a barn that caught my eye.

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While on Fleetwood, I took a moment to capture a picture of a white tree, standing out from its neighbors.

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Moving on, I noticed preparations continue apace for the new Brentsville K-8 school which is, confusingly, located near Nokesville.

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I wandered down Marsteller Drive to check on the old Iron Bridge east of town.  Last May I wrote about the history of this bridge and a project that was underway to move it so a larger, safer bridge could replace it.  I was interested to see if work had begun.  The answer – no.

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Onward I went toward the Manassas Airport.  I traveled along Broad Run (why the creeks are called “runs” around here, I do not know) and spotted a photo opportunity that won’t be available to me in a few months.  At this time of year, the brush along the creek banks hasn’t grown, so I was able to manage a short, muddy, walk in cycling shoes to take a picture.  I noted with approval the water is less muddy than a few weeks ago.  You can see we still have a bit of snow to take care of before Spring can officially begin.

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And that was that.  I finished off a pleasant 38-mile ride and am now looking forward to increasingly warmer weather and longer days.  Daylight Savings Time started on Sunday so I will hopefully be getting my mileage up to respectable levels.  On my Facebook page, I regale readers with a short bit of history for the year that corresponds to my mileage to date.  Sadly, we are still mired in the 3rd Century.  I hope to get to the Dark Ages very soon!

Tour Of The Towns

Tour Of The TownsMost 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

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.

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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)

People! Just east of Occoquan (Mile 3)

A nifty trail/bridge that helps bypass Rte 1

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

Bypassing Rest Stop 1 – the Dumfries Town Hall

Quantico

Quantico

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

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

The gravel road. I’m not travelling nearly as fast as this pic suggests

Rest Stop at Mile 39

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)

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

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

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.

Manassas

Detail of "Old Town" Manassas. Click for the entire ride route.

Ordinarily, I like to avoid cities while I’m riding.  Sometimes, there is a nice network of bike paths and trails which make the experience pleasant.  Such is not the case with Manassas, a good-sized town about 15 miles from my house.  I’ve cycled about 4,500 miles in the past 18 months, much of it in Prince William County, yet I have studiously avoided Manassas.  The main reason for this is my aversion to being hit by large rolling metallic objects driven by people only vaguely aware of my existence.  That and the fact that riding in cities can be tiresome, what with the constant stopping and starting at intersections.

Manassas is probably best known for being the site of the first major battle of the Civil War in 1861 and a second battle in 1862.  The Union, as was their custom, named the battle after a nearby creek – Bull Run.  The Confederates, following their tradition, went with the name of the nearest town – Manassas.  Truth be told, there wasn’t much of a town here in 1861 – just a strategically important railroad intersection.  The place was known as Manassas Junction until it became a town in 1873.  Nowadays, it is part of the vast network of urban sprawl emanating from Washington, DC.  It’s residents are primarily commuters who work in the city or nearby in Arlington, Crystal City, or the Pentagon.  Fun Fact:  John and Lorena Bobbit were from Prince William County and their trials took place in Manassas.

I was more interested in the Civil War history than the Bobbit trials, so I aimed for “Old Town,” a small strip near the railroad which still runs through the city.  Nearby is a Confederate Cemetery, which I was interested in taking in as well.

I entered the city via Fairview Avenue and was pleased to see my strategy of timing my ride with a Washington Redskins game was paying off.  Traffic was light and there was ample space for motorists to get by me without incident.  I quickly made my way through a residential section and made it to the famed railroad line.  I crossed the tracks and turned onto Quarry Drive, which would lead me to “Old Town.”  All cities in this area have a historic district which is usually labeled “Old Town.”  Here, city planners attempt to refurbish older areas which have fallen into an unsavory condition by trading off the historic nature of the place.  Restaurants, souvenir shops, parks, etc… greet people who come to soak up the local ambiance.  Old Town Alexandria is probably the most famous of these places.  I quickly discovered Old Town Manassas has some work to do.

I was hoping to see some historic buildings, perhaps an old church (Quarry Road gave way to the encouragingly named Church Street) but nothing terribly exciting caught my eye.  I was reminded of the fact that this was merely a railroad junction in the Civil War and no doubt life was hard on the people who lived in this war-torn part of the world for many years afterward.  Constructing grand and (someday) historic buildings was probably not on their agenda.  I did note with satisfaction that the streets were wide and nicely paved – a bonus when traveling in downtown areas.

On the western end of town lies the Confederate Cemetery, which I ducked into for a quick inspection.  The land for the original cemetery was only an acre donated by a local resident.  It has since grown to accommodate more recent burials, but the overall size is not imposing.  USA flags at the civilian portion of the cemetery gradually give way to Confederate Stars and Bars, until one finds oneself standing beneath a 20 foot tall monument with a Confederate Soldier atop of it.  About 250 Confederate soldiers killed in 1861-1862 are buried here.  Surrounding burial plots with cast iron fences must have been the fashion at the time because there is a maze of these in this section of the cemetery.  They  and the aged grave markers definitely give the area a historic feel.

I made my way back via Center Street and crossed the railroad tracks again.  A train station did double-duty as the city’s visitor’s center, which is only appropriate given the importance of the railroad junction to the town’s history.  I pedaled past the Manassas Museum, which was a large building on nice grounds, and soon found myself where I began on Fairview Avenue.  I noticed the Reformed Presbyterian Church and thought the architecture to be interesting.  Later research has informed me that the building dates from 1879, when it was consecrated as the Catholic All Saints Church.

Visitors' Center

The Beginning of The End - long sleeved shirt and full finger gloves with a light mounted for riding in the dark.

The ride home was a very pleasant fall ride, although as the sun dropped below the treeline the cooling temperatures made me glad to pull into my driveway.  I managed to get by with a long sleeve base layer and some full finger gloves.  I don’t think that will be sufficient for much longer.  Winter riding is upon us.  Here’s hoping for just a few more pleasant days before the onslaught begins in earnest.

Lonesome Road

Lonesome Road

There are entirely too many dirt roads in my part of the world.  There are over five million people living in the Washington Metropolitan Area and one would think that most highways and byways would be paved.  That is certainly not the case in the area southwest of Manassas near Nokesville.  I’ve had several mishaps on dirt roads and roads that simply disappeared. Today, I toured another dirt tract: Lonesome Road.

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I probably shouldn’t have gone down this road.  I’d forgotten to replace my saddle bag after washing my bike and was without a spare inner tube.  A flat here would mean a call home for a pickup and I was 25 miles away.  I’ve had bad luck with my Crosstrail on gravel roads, but I was on my Trek and this road was mostly dirt and seemed to be smoother.  I’d been staring at this road for weeks on MapMyRide.Com and this route was specifically chosen so I could travel down it.  So I threw caution to the wind and gave it a shot. 

The Creek

I am pleased to report I completed the two-mile stretch without incident.  Lonesome Road is perhaps the most aptly named road in the county.  If you’re looking for a quiet place nestled amongst dairy farms, this is the place for you.  There is a pleasant creek you can enjoy at the midway point.  Other than that, there isn’t much to catch the eye.

Having made it to a paved road north of Nokesville, I turned south toward that town and made it home in very good shape.  This was my longest ride of the year to date and I believe I am ready for my first organized ride in three weeks – the 59 mile Vasaloppet.

Heading up from the creek

Manassas Battlefield Ride

  

It was time for me to break the 40-mile barrier today.  I chose to do it by breaking the 50-mile barrier at the same time and coming close to the 60-mile barrier as well.  In 95-degree heat.  In retrospect, this was an unwise decision.

My plan was to head to the Manassas Battlefield Park on the north side of Manassas, about 23 miles from my house.  I would take a leisurely detour on the way home and log about 52 miles.  My sainted wife would meet me at the battlefield with Gatorade and water to refill my stores and a banana for some simple carbohydrates to help keep my energy up.  I would wander the battlefield, take some lovely photos, then triumphantly head home on much the same route near Nokesville that I had mastered in my earlier 38-mile rides.  I should be back in no more than four hours, probably less.  The plan was utterly fool-proof and I confidently headed out at 8:45 AM.

I pedaled northward on Rte 234 without event and hit the southern outskirts of Manassas in fine form.  It was here that I met my first problem:  namely, the city of Manassas.  I know the town well enough to avoid the city center and selected a route which was slightly longer but skirted the town.  Sadly, this was still tough going for me.  There were many stop signs and a few traffic lights as well.  You know how your car gets poorer gas mileage in cities?  I discovered the same is true for cyclists.  The continuous stopping and starting and nervous energy spent staying clear of crowded streets slowed me down and drained my strength.  This would prove to be crucial in about 30 miles. 

Still, my spirits rose when I reached Route 28 on the north side of town.  This is an incredibly busy six lane road, but it also meant that I was about three miles from reaching the park’s Visitor’s Center.  And I braced myself for the final push.  Then my phone rang.  I don’t have a great storage plan for my phone; I keep it in my Camelbak which means I must stop, pull off the backpack and dig the phone out to use it.  After pulling off the road, I retrieved my phone and saw my wife was trying to reach me.  She was lost.  Yippee.

Fortunately she wasn’t far from our link up point, but I was running late from the stop-and-go traffic and sticking to my original plan of touring the battlefield THEN linking up with the missus would cause her to sit in a picnic area parking lot for over 30 minutes.  Not cool.  I abandoned my route and headed down Balls Ford Road to link up with my betrothed. 

My guardian angel at the link up point. Over her right shoulder in 1862, NY infantry made a valiant defense against a Confederate attack.

This is what the hill looked like in 1862. It was much nicer today.

The detour to the link up brought me 1.5 miles off course.  Now fully resupplied, I had a choice: return to my route or cut it short and begin going home.  I was already at 25 miles and the way home was longer than the route I took to get to this point.  And it was hot.  A prudent person would have turned back.  But durnit, I wanted to see that battlefield.  I returned to my route, knowing I just added at least three miles to my trip.

 
I swung into the Visitor’s Center parking lot, located on Henry Hill – the site of signficant fighting in both battles of Manassas.  Here I took the panoramic shot at the top of this post.  It features Stonewall Jackson and the Henry House.  It was here that Thomas Jackson earned his nickname in the Battle of First Manassas, when Confederate General Bee exclaimed, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!”  Being a hilltop, there was plenty of artillery employed here and several guns are displayed to mark the positions of the batteries.  I took a picture of a few of them and headed back to the Sudley Road.  This road existed during the Civil War and I found a period picture of it.  Quite a change from today!

Sudley Road in the Civil War, looking north to the Warrenton Pike. Soldiers used this road as a makeshift trench

 

Sudley Road today from almost the same position. Note the farmhouse on the right, visible in both pics.

I turned westward onto the Warrenton Pike and traveled the road where Confederates ambushed a column of marching Federals at the start of 2nd Manassas.  I took some pictures while riding, but after reviewing them I see my camera had other priorities than properly focusing.  I then turned onto Groveton Road and pedaled past the park where I met my wife about 40 minutes ago.  My tour of the battlefield complete, it was now time to go home.  I wandered through some roads west of Manassas that I had never been on.  Nothing terribly impressive here – just 10 miles of suburbia to traverse.  I eventually found myself on Vint Hill Farm Road and very tired.  It was at this point – around mile 38 – that I realized I was in trouble.  I pushed myself to the 40-mile point, a farm on Colvin Road, and dismounted to drink my 2nd Gatorade and eat a Clif Bar.  It was a very pleasant scene and I managed to take this shot to commemorate my official breaking of the 40-mile barrier.

   
At this point, my legs had little left to give.  I had 17 miles to go and some challenging hills about five miles away.  I hoped my Clif Bar would give me enough umph to make it through.  The ride was rolling hills to that point and I gulped water from my ever-decreasing supply in my Camelbak, hoping to store up some energy reserves.  Sadly, none of this worked.  With the temperature now over 95 degrees, it was all I could do to stay on my bike and not walk the damn thing.  I resolved that I would sooner pass out that suffer that ignominy.  It is this sort of pig-headedness that will no doubt kill me one day.  But not today.  I made it through the hills and hit Rte 234 for the final leg home.  My final miles were quite painful and made worse by a phone call from my caring wife, who wanted to know what had become of me as I was about 45 minutes late.  I stopped the bike, fished out the phone, let her know I was now about 2 miles out, and struggled to get my bike moving once again.
 
This was easily the hardest thing I have attempted since running the Marine Corps Marathon in 1993.  I burned about 2,700 calories during the 4 hour, 45 minute trip.  I’ve learned some important lessons about longer trips, including the debilitating effect of cities.  I don’t think I’ll be going this far for a while and when I do I’ll be smarter about my route!