A couple of years ago, over dinner, a friend who was soon to reach a significant birthday – well okay, it was 60, as you'll soon find out – suggested that we celebrate it with a bike ride. I had the feeling that he was going to propose something a little unrealistic, like 60 miles, so I jumped in first, and suggested 30. Since neither of us had ridden extensively for quite a while, I knew some conditioning was going to be necessary.
The next day I checked out the Fischer hybrid bike I had bought in Germany, but hadn't ridden for over ten years.
Built for everyday city use, although it has 21 speeds it otherwise bears little resemblance to the 15 to 20 pound road bikes the racers use. Of steel construction, it has metal fenders, generator-driven halogen headlight and rear taillight, mandatory bell, and weighs in at 42 pounds. I added the rear cargo carrier, which turned out to be unexpectedly useful. Unfortunately, even with an adapter I wasn't able to inflate the tires, which had the European Presta valve. After replacing the inner tubes with ones with U.S. Shrader valves, and a few brake adjustments, I was ready to go.
The first foray was down Glebe Road, across Chain Bridge, out the C&O Canal towpath, under the Beltway, towards Great Falls. Not quite to Great Falls, which was a few miles further than I had in mind for my first attempt. Also, I'd heard that the towpath had washed out in several locations past the Old Angler's Inn. Perhaps you're anticipating me here, but, since it was about 10 miles, I called Betty Lou and suggested we have lunch there. And, by the way, to bring the Nissan Maxima, into whose trunk the bicycle would fit.
Since I've been running regularly for many years, alternating with weight work at the gym, I didn't expect to have overly sore muscles the next day. However, I found that there was one area that I hadn't exercised, and, realizing that I have little padding there, decided that the best alternative was to buy a new seat. Although I'd done a lot of riding in Frankfurt, not much of it was for long distances. Or maybe I'd gotten "hardened" to it over the two years we were there.
The towpath was a pleasant route, under a leafy canopy, with the placid canal a few feet to the right, and locks and lock stations along the way. The Potomac, on the left, sometimes near, sometimes even out of view, was at times smooth-running, but often turbulent. However, the dirt trail wasn't that smooth, so for the next ride I chose the W&OD trail. Using the right-of-way of the original Washington and Old Dominion railroad, this paved trail extends 45 miles from Shirlington through Falls Church, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, and Leesburg to Purcellville.
Thinking that there'd be less congestion farther out, I drove to a parking lot on Route 28 conveniently located next to the trail. From there into the center of Leesburg and back is 20 miles. I encountered families with tots whose bicycles had training wheels, as well as serious racers, who, when approaching from behind, observed the etiquette of warning, "On your left!"
This route doesn't have much shade, thanks to Dominion Power's aggressive tree cutting near the power lines adjacent to the trail, and I'd forgotten to bring along sunscreen. Fortunately, I soon happened upon Partlow's Market, not far up the trail in Ashburn. A general store which has morphed into a deli and butcher shop, it also stocks a variety of products likely to be needed by hikers and bikers.
The trail along this stretch is generally level, although I was encountering a substantial headwind. When the same headwind seemed to be there after the turnaround, I recalled the reason Lance Armstrong has a team of riders he can draft behind. Evening was approaching and I met quite a few cyclists taking advantage of a relatively uncongested commute home. Partlow's would have been a good place to stop for a nosh on the way back, but this time we'd made reservations for dinner at the Russia House Restaurant in Herndon.
Feeling pretty good after this ride, in more ways than one, I figured I'd aim for 30 miles the next time. Starting at the same point as before, I continued through Leesburg and proceeded halfway to Purcellville before returning. This route provides a more serene view of Leesburg than from the congested streets and the rest of the route is positively bucolic. Unfortunately, it's possible that this stretch will also be clear-cut, since Dominion Power proposes extending its power lines to Purcellville. To see the stark difference in the two parts of the route, check the Friends of the W&OD Trail.1
Unfortunately, of the additional five miles out, the first 4-1/2 miles are all uphill. And I realized, after I turned around, that the last half-mile being downhill wasn't that advantageous. The closer I came to the end of this ride the gladder I became that I had suggested 30 miles rather than 60.
Now that I was ready, I waited for my friend to propose a date. The last I heard he hadn't yet inflated his tires.
1 Update: A board member of the Friends of the W&OD Trail reports that "There was sufficient displeasure expressed to spare the corridor in question from deforestation. Although Dominion's maintenance of the vegetation along the Trail remains fairly draconian, out in Loudoun County the bulk of the lines was placed underground, thus forcing far fewer trees to give way to those big, round poles..."