The Wind and the River

The section of the Mount Vernon Trail between Gravelly Point Park and Roosevelt Island runs in-between the Potomac river and the George Washington Parkway, and provides open and changing views of Washington, DC, on the other side of the river. There are many weeping willow trees to be seen in the meadows beside the trail in this section. Even though they look very nice and distinctive, I have not stopped recently to take pictures of these trees. This is probably because I am usually focused on the final destination by the time I get to the section, which may also be because I tend to take long breaks at Gravelly Point park to watch the aircraft taking off and landing at National Airport just before getting to this section.

But this ride was a little different since I was consciously making an effort to take it easy. The wind was also blowing stiffly from across the river and slowing down my progress.

And then I had this photo opportunity at the bridge where the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon trail cross the Boundary Channel. I was compelled to get off the bike to get a picture of the weeping willows as they faced off against the fierce wind coming off the Potomac river.

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Some day, I will be in an even more relaxed mood as I ride by this section of the trail, and I will ride down to the bench seen in the picture. I will sit at the bench for a while, have a refreshment or two, and soak in the view of the Potomac river and Washington, DC. And it will be a good day for the soul.

PS. You can see the top of the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial off to the left of this picture. This memorial is a part of the Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Jones Point Park, VA

It is the darnedest thing!  I have had this particular blog in the back of my mind for quite a few days.  I keep thinking about it every day,  but I cannot get myself into the proper state of mind to write it.  There are so many distractions.  I am just going to have to force myself to eject the words out of the brain in free form when I have a little bit of free time, and then read it all back later to see if it makes sense.

It had to do with my bike ride last Wednesday.  It was another one of those rides that required some extra motivation on my part to get it going.  I am finding it hard to maintain a regular schedule.  I am too good at finding excuses.  It had rained the previous day.  The trail was going to be messy.  Perhaps I should stay home.  That was my excuse this time.

But I found a way.  I decided that I would ride on the paved trails in Virginia so that I could avoid the mud and potholes of the C&O canal.  In order to do this, I would park the car on Canal Road at the Chain bridge, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and then head south on my bike on the towpath into Georgetown. I would then cross the Potomac river into Virginia on the Key Bridge.  I was then going to ride south on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  I did not know how far I would ride on this trail, but I knew that if I rode to the end, it would end up being a somewhat tougher ride than usual.

Things went according to plan as I rode into Virginia somewhat early in the morning.  As I crossed the Key Bridge, I could see and feel the rush hour traffic headed into Washington, DC.  This was was the scene on the Roslyn side of the bridge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got on to the Mt. Vernon trail at this point and started pedaling away beside the river, passing Roosevelt Island early in this section.  There was a very short stop for pictures at Gravelly Point Park.  There was already a steady stream of planes headed into National Airport.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe airport was busy.  Both runways were in use.

The Mt. Vernon trail passes under the Woodrow Wilson bridge just beyond the town of Alexandria.  This bridge carries Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, over the Potomac river.  The approach ramps of the bridge pass over Jones Point Park.  The Mt. Vernon trail snakes its way between the massive piers of the bridge at this point.  There is a lot of open space under the bridge and people of all ages hang out there – fishing by the river, playing basketball, biking around, etc…  It seems to be a meeting place for groups of mothers with babies.

Most often I bike right through Jones Point Park without stopping.  But this time, an unexpected thought crossed my mind just as I was headed out of the park.  At that point of the ride I was thinking to myself that I really did not care about the distance I covered that day.  So why not take some time to get off the trail and explore some of the smaller, less well-defined, paths that I had seen in the past while riding through the park.  It was a sudden decision.  It also turned out to be a great decision!

Riding along a smaller trail, I ended up at a spot where I began to see boundary markers beside the trail, with signs on these markers for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  These markers were lined up in straight lines, with the black line on their tops indicating the actual boundary line between two jurisdictions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was also a lighthouse beside the river, and a few wayside exhibits around it.

It turned out that I was at the tip of the area of land that originally defined the southern limit of Washington, DC!  These newer boundary markers were meant to mark the historical boundaries of the District of Columbia.  The history is very interesting, and you can read more about it here.  Essentially, the District of Columbia was originally conceived of as a diamond shaped area of land with sides of 10 miles each, with a total area of 100 square miles.  The land for DC was going to be obtained from both Virginia and Maryland.  In the end, the land that Virginia was going to give up in this regard was taken back. (This covered about 31 square miles.)  This was called a “retrocession”.

Another interesting fact is that when the original area for DC was being mapped out, boundary markers were set into the ground at one mile intervals along the sides.  Most of these boundary markers still exist, including the one at the southern tip, the place I was at!

Unfortunately, I did not think about the significance and existence of the original boundary markers while I was in the park.  It was only later that I read that the original southern boundary marker for Washington, DC, was actually embedded in the seawall in front of the lighthouse.  It is something that I will stop to investigate further the next time I am in the area.  It is located on the right side of this picture of the lighthouse, under a cover of plastic.  It is next to the wayside exhibit and in front of the steps, below the level of the ground.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took pictures of a couple of the wayside exhibits that provided some historical information. (You can click on the pictures to open them up in bigger size.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI continued my bike ride past Jones Point Park.   At this point, I was within reachable distance of Mt. Vernon and the end of the Mt. Vernon Trail.  The temptation of complete the trail was too much to overcome.  So, I biked to the end.  It was not the optimal decision.

The ride began to take its toll on the way back.  Basically, I was retracing my path.  The ride was beginning to feel somewhat more mechanical at this point as I endeavored to keep a steady pace.  It became more about the challenge of the ride.  I was even beginning to pick up speed as a matter of course.  My mindset for the ride had shifted. This is typically what happens to me when I bike long distances.  It is more relaxed in the beginning, and then, bit by bit, it becomes more intense.

I began to tire without even being too aware of it.  I was also running out of water.  I stopped at Fletchers Cove, about a mile short of Chain Bridge, the place where I had parked the car.  My thigh muscles cramped up immediately when I got off the bike.  I had pushed myself too hard.

I was able to buy a bottle of Gatorade at the concession stand at Fletchers Cove.  More than half the bottle went down the throat immediately.  After a few minutes, I was able to get back on the bike and continue riding to the car. I had no further issues.  Because of the long stop at Fletchers Cove, I had also managed to alter my mindset, and I was able to ride at a more relaxed pace.

In the end, I had ridden over 44 miles. I have ridden longer distances than this in the past, but under different circumstances.  I was probably also in better shape when I did longer distances!

That is my story for the day, and I am sticking to it!

2/17/2008 – Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
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Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

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Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

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Early morning view from the Key Bridge
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A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
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Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
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Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

The Heron Who Was Not Afraid

It has been an absolute blast riding this week because of the weather.   I have gotten on the trail early enough in the morning with the temperatures still in the low 60s.  Some people may feel too cold under these conditions, but this kind of weather is ideal for me.  I rode down to the city twice, and from there on to the Mt. Vernon trail and the Arlington Loop on the different days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt feels like the effort level that I am putting into riding, especially when I am on a level surface, has gone down.  I can feel very relaxed even when moving along quite briskly.  The wheels keep turning easily, and I do not feel like I am pushing it to keep up the pace.  The weather might have something to do with it.  Hope it stays this way for the long ride.

As I was approaching Great Falls yesterday, I saw a great blue heron on the trail beside the canal.  I expected it to fly away as I got closer, but it did not.  I stopped my bike  (front brake squealing!), pulled out my camera, and walked on the trail beside it taking pictures without a zoom lens.  It did not flinch.  This has not happened before. If the herons are this close, they usually fly away.  I finally returned to my bike with the bird still hanging around.  I wonder if the birds are getting too friendly for their own good.
P8241729.jpgI also ran across a big group of kids on the trail who made my morning!  They were blocking the trail when I first saw them in the distance.  But I was observed while still in the distance, and they all moved in a systematic way to a side and then turned to face the side of the trail I was riding.  It was as if they were waiting for the show, similar to a march-past.  And so a show was what I put on! I rode past them trying to show good form, crouched over the handlebars a little bit, and feet pumping systematically, and moving efficiently.  As I rode by, keeping a good pace and thanking them for clearing the trail, they cheered me on enthusiastically.  I heard at least a couple of “woohoos!” I am hoping that at least one of the kids was motivated enough by the encounter to consider asking their parents for a bike so that they could ride the trail.  Any chance of this happening?

Here are some pictures taken from the rides.

This is a view of the trail in a section of Widewater that kept getting washed away until they built this structure.  I do remember traversing this section before this construction.  You essentially had to navigate a pile of rocks.  People on bicycles would ride the Berma Trail which ran along the other side of Widewater in order to get past this section.
P8241731.jpgHere is a picture of a sweet chestnut fruit taken in a a park on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  It took me a while to identify this fruit.  I actually thought that chestnuts did not grow in the country any more because of the blight that wiped them out in the early 1900s.  So this was a surprise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of activity on the Potomac seen from the Key Bridge as I was returning from Virginia.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Lock 6 in the middle of the day when I stopped to eat a sandwich during one of the rides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a bridge across the canal near mile 12.  It feels great to ride in the shade of the trees on a sunny day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd today I came across this shy fellow on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am now done with my practice rides.  The bike I have been using will get its final wash for a while.  I have put many miles on it and it has served me well.  Now on to Pittsburgh!

 

New Trails to Explore

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!

 

Riding the Mount Vernon Trail

I have been doing some pretty long bike rides (at least in my opinion!) recently in preparation of the six day Pittsburgh to DC area ride with my high-school classmates that is happening at the end of August.  I can pretty much do the maximum one-day distance that we will have to cover during that ride, but doing this kind of a ride consistently for a few days is going to be my challenge.  After riding a few times I have found that it is possible to get into a rhythm with riding, and that my somewhat weaker left knee is getting stronger and more used to the effort.  I am getting less concerned about getting cramps in the leg muscles.  I am also learning how to tackle slopes, most of which we will encounter during the section of the ride from Pittsburgh into Cumberland, the halfway point.

I have been riding primarily on the C&O Canal towpath with one diversion a few weeks ago on to The Capital Crescent Trail towards Bethesda.  A couple of weeks ago I ventured across the Potomac River on the Key Bridge into Virginia and biked on the Mt. Vernon Trail towards National Airport.  I rode to the other side of the airport and during the return stopped at Gravelly Point to take pictures of the planes landing at the airport.
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That little venture into Virginia tempted me to attempt to cover the entire distance of the Mt. Vernon Trail all the way from Arlington to Mt. Vernon, a distance of 18 miles.  I planned the ride so that I would start off somewhere along the C&O canal, and transfer over to the Virginia side and ride to the end of the trail, finally returning to where I had started so that I could do my required quota for the ride.  I started off at Anglers Inn.

Approaching DC, I saw this.  I had to stop and take a picture of the black rat snake crossing the trail.
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It had been a while since I had seen one these snakes.  As I approached the snake with my camera, it appeared to pause on its journey across the trail to look at me (just my imagination, I guess 🙂 ).  It eventually made its way into the bushes on the other side of the trail.
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I crossed over the river on the Key Bridge at Georgetown on a very pleasant morning.  The commuter traffic was headed inbound into DC while I was headed out of town.  I descended to the Mt Vernon trail near Roosevelt Island and started to ride. Things  were going smoothly.  The wind seemed to be blowing against me, but the riding was easy.  The trail ran along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and after riding under a few of the bridges crossing the Potomac into DC, I soon passed National Airport.  I was now entering new territory.

Th parkland that I had been riding through after I passed the airport soon ended at the outskirts of the town of Alexandria.  I found my way through the city streets to Union Street.  I rode through the touristy downtown area with its shops and restaurants.  There was a bike lane on the road and the riding was comfortable.   Just before the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the trail detoured away from the road and ran under the bridge.  When I came up on the other side, I found myself at the section of George Washington Parkway on the other side of Alexandria.  I found the biking trail once again running by the roadway.

The trail ran though parks, crossed swamps over boardwalks,  , meandered through wooded areas with streams, bridges, and ups and downs, and even diverted through affluent suburban neighborhoods where a trail could not be laid.  The Potomac flowed beside the trail, sometimes close by, and sometimes in the distance.  I finally made it to Mt. Vernon and mile zero of the trail in time to park myself on a park bench and have my lunch.  The last half mile of the ride was a particular challenge up a hill.
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The ride back seemed to be easier on the legs, probably because of the direction of the wind, but it was also getting warmer and I was beginning to drink more of the water I was carrying.  Instead on focusing on completing the ride as efficiently as possible, I took more time stopping and taking pictures along the way.  Here are some samples.
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I was still feeling strong as I crossed back into Maryland.  I was able to ride up from the pathway next to Roosevelt Island on to the bridge over the George Washington Parkway and then on to the Key Bridge.  I felt good because I had to get off the bike the previous time I had to cover this section.

Back on the Maryland side I crossed the bridge over the canal and started my return back to Anglers Inn.
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I stopped at Fletcher’s Cove along the way to replenish the water bottles.  It was getting quite humid and I was drinking more water than I had expected.  (I even demolished the bottle of water that I had left in the car after I got back!) The rest of the ride was uneventful.