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!

Watching Aircraft at National Airport

My bicycle rides quite frequently take me past Washington National Airport and Gravelly Point Park, located at the northern end of the airport’s main runway.  I always stop to take pictures.  Here are a few of the latest.

Wth my zoom lens, I was able to track aircraft that were both landing and taking off on the main runway (RWY 1) at the same time. Here is a sequence of two pictures with one aircraft landing and the other taking off,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand here is another sequence of two pictures where the aircraft that are landing and taking off seem to be closer to each other.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe two sequences seen above took place within minutes of each other.  It is an indication of how busy the airport was at the time I was there.

The bridge in the background in the pictures above is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that carries Interstate 495 across the Potomac.

There was also activity on the shorter runway, RWY 33, that cuts across the main runway. Some of it took place between the two sequences pictured above.  RWY 33 is used for smaller aircraft when needed.  The fact that this runway was is use is another indication of how busy the airport was.  Here is a sequence of an aircraft taking off while crossing the main runway,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand here is another sequence of a second aircraft landing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATiming is critical when managing aircraft simultaneously on runways that crisscross each other.  In the picture above, you can see that there is an aircraft waiting for the crossing traffic to pass before heading down the main runway for takeoff.

I found the picture below interesting simply because of the visual impact of the hot gas exiting the engines of the aircraft that is taking off.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture shows a “crabbed” approach for landing. It is used when there is a significant enough crosswind during landing.  The pilot is trying to keep the aircraft in line with the runway while fighting this crosswind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am posting the picture below simply because I like it!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing at Gravelly Point with my camera is one of those simple pleasures that I really look forward to. It is another reason to look forward to the biking season.

Baking on the W&OD

The dogs days of summer have hit the Washington, DC, area.   The combination of the temperature and humidity makes the heat feel quite intense when you are in the open areas.  I have still been riding my bike regularly.  I start earlier in the day if I can, and ride through the hottest parts of the day.  It is usually not too bad under the trees, although I have gotten the strangest pattern of tans on different parts of my body because of my exposure (enough said!).

But the ride last Friday was particularly brutal.  I had decided to go further out on the W&OD trail in Virginia.  The ride started off easily enough with my crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge into Rosslyn in Arlington early enough in the morning.  I stopped on the bridge to watch the planes on their way into National Airport.

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I rode the short distance on the Mt. Vernon trail along the river towards National Airport, passing the Arlington Memorial Bridge along the way.

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I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures of aircraft coming in for landing at the airport.

After I passed National airport, I had to turn off on to the Four Mile Run trail and ride a few miles to the start of the W&OD.  Things became more difficult once I got on the W&OD.  There was minimal tree cover over the trail and the sun was beating directly down from on high. The asphalt that formed the surface of the trail was also increasing the intensity of the heat.  As I rode out of Arlington, and past Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, and finally into Herndon, tackling the numerous ups and downs of the trail, and with the rhythm of the ride being constantly interrupted at the many busy road crossings, my energy levels dropped.  Two bottles of water (one with and the other without dissolved electrolytes) were being consumed quickly.  I managed to find a section of the trail with a little bit of shade just outside of Herndon, had my lunch to try to build up my energy level once again, and started on my way back home.

It was now getting to noon-time and the heat was really slowing me down.  The number of other people I was seeing on the trail was dropping.  Have you heard the song about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun?    Since I am not an Englishman, I must be a creature of the other sort!

I determined that I could not do the ride all the way to the turnoff for the Custis Trail in one stretch without a break as I had originally planned.  Back at Vienna I plonked my tired self on a bench outside the old station building where there was a little bit of shade and tried to recover.  I was fortunate to also find a water fountain to replenish my drinking supply.

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I got back on the bike and did make it to my next stop, which was the start of the Custis Trail, without incident.  I parked myself under the shade of the trees in the park and re-energized myself with a fruit and more water.  All of my appetite had vanished at that point because of the heat.  I was gulping down the water.   The mixture with the electrolytes was gone, but I was able to refill the water bottles.

The ride from that point onward was easier because of the shade of the trees that covered the trail.  Once I got back on the towpath I stopped at Fletchers Cove to get a bottle of Gatorade, something that was not a part of my original plan.  That bottle did not last too long either.  I made it back successfully, and the recovery process that evening was actually very good, although I decided that I was going the spend the next day, which was also going to be super hot, indoors!   I am hoping for better conditions during our ride from Pittsburgh.

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.