Ever since I started biking instead of running, the distance that I have been covering in a single day on the trail has become significant enough that I find myself going over the same territory repeatedly, much more frequently than I am used to. This does not necessarily dissuade me from riding, especially since the biking experience seems to be more about the actual process of biking rather than slowing down to take in the surroundings. However, human nature being what it is, I am always on the lookout for new places to go to and things to experience. During the last few weeks I made my way over the Potomac River into Virginia and up to Mt. Vernon.
So it was that I ended up actively investigating new trails for my ride last Friday on Bikewashington.org. I saw that there was a way to get to the W&OD rail trail in Virginia heading west. I read more about the Custis trail that could connect me to the W&OD. (I had noticed the trailhead for the Custis trail during my ride to Mt. Vernon.) This trail was built in in the 1980s, apparently at about the same time as Interstate 66 (which is also called the Custis Memorial Parkway in these parts). Reading the reviews of this trail began to make me nervous. The 4 mile trail running next to the highway (behind sound barriers) was well laid , but it had too many steep ups and downs. People talked about the challenge posed by the layout of the trail, and of having to walk their bikes through certain sections.
It was with a little trepidation that I set out for the Custis trail on Friday morning, just a couple of days after having taken a nasty toss on the C&O Canal towpath, wondering if I would have to beat a hasty retreat. But I was underestimating my physical capabilities. The hills were tough enough, and I had to shift to low gears to tackle some of them, but I made it to the end of the trail unscathed. My initial speed for this section was quite slow (as I tackled the city streets of Rosslyn soon after the Key Bridge), but after that I managed to hit a healthy pace in spite of the nature of trail. I think that my confidence for the August ride just shot up one notch!
There were many miles to discover on the W&OD trail. The 45 mile trail extends west beyond the Washington Beltway (Interstate 495) and starts at its eastern terminus in Shirlington in Arlington, VA. As I navigated the trail attempting to realize the maximum distance I needed to cover for the day, I began to get a better understanding for the bike friendly nature of the town of Arlington. There are trails everywhere! There are bike signs with directions, similar to the road signs (but smaller in size), for every side trail heading off into the local neighborhood. I saw signs for the Four Mile Run Trail and the Bluemont Junction Trail, both major trails with good connections. These asphalt covered trails ran through woods and on the sides of roads. They even had a dividing line running down the middle for managing bike traffic. At street crossings there were specific traffic lights for bikes. There were water fountains for replenishing your drinking supplies in strategic locations. All of this was indeed a discovery for me. I see myself doing further explorations on a bike in Virginia.
I made it back to Maryland without mishap after tackling the Custis trail once again on my way back. The rest of the ride was uneventful. The hot and humid day caused me to drink much more water than I expected, and I was thankful that I had refilled my water containers in Virginia. There were hoards of people on the trail during the ride back. Now that summer vacation has started, there are kids out everywhere. One has to be more careful riding!