Finally a Fast Ride


I don’t (normally) ride for speed but it’s nice to go fast. And it’s a nice metric to measure oneself against Father Time. I haven’t had any real fast rides this year and I’m not counting rides where I jump in a pace line. This is just me against the “clock.”

Yesterday I rode on the W&OD for almost 40 miles. Sometimes goals are simple ones and I was 40 miles short of 300 for the week so my goal today was 40 miles, go slow, no sweat.

Wheels down shortly after 7:00 a.m., it was around 60 degrees and super comfortable. I got on the trail at Reston shortly after a rider in a hi-res green jacket went by. Once the legs got warmed up I noticed I was 100 yards behind him and holding steady.

He had passed a woman on a bike with aerobars. I was about 40 yards behind her and holding steady. Near Sterling there is a personal sprint point for me in which I put the bike in the big gear and push it as hard as I could. I did and I flew by her.

Early morning long shadows
Early morning long shadows

I used the green jacket guy simply as a rabbit. I did not sit on his wheel – I stayed back 20-30 yards. I could have passed him but wasn’t real sure I could go faster. I think he knew I was hanging back or just lost his legs because at the Clairorne Parkway he pulled over. I didn’t see him again.

As I entered Leesburg I slotted in behind a couple and rode at their speed. We passed a massed group at Harrison Street. There wasn’t much room to pass although one rider did here so I jumped on his wheel. He quickly turned off.

I began the climb up West Leesburg and felt good. I was going for a personal record which I got. I could have done better because I thought the climb ended before it actually did. I rode over to Simpson Circle, did a little climb then turned around.

As I came to the overpass on Dry Mill Road I saw the group of riders that had been in Leesburg. They were just at the top of the climb. I was surprised how far I had gone since I last saw them but maybe they waited for the slowest rider.

I turned back on the trail and was caught off guard when I saw this group on Dry Mill. I went around a fence and jumped in about 300-400 yards behind them. I caught and passed three of them before turning off onto Catoctin Circle.

At 7:00 a.m. there were lots of runners out in force. By 9:00 there were a lot of cyclists. Families with small children were on the trail and many times I came to a near stop, waiting for a safe place to pass. I was always courteous and encouraging.

In 80 miles, 40 yesterday and 40 today, I had only been passed by the one guy in Leesburg. And to be fair, this was a slow-down area where he passed. Maybe on the open road he wouldn’t. I don’t know.

I still had to pick my way through some riders but felt good. Nearing Reston I slotted in behind two guys, almost comfortable to ride with them. But I knew I was faster and, when there was a safe opening, I went.

When I got back to my car I had already loaded the bike when those two guys came by. I’m glad I went.

At almost 18 mph, I was pleased. Then looked back and thought without the crowding on the trail, I could have gone over 18. Oh well. I set a PR on the climb and it was my fastest ride of the year (no pace lines).

What made it different? I don’t know. I took two bottles with me and only drank one for 40 miles. Maybe I started slowly enough and gained speed. I grabbed a sausage bagel sandwich at Sheetz an hour earlier. I took no food with me. I don’t think there was much wind either way. Not sure what made it good but it was a good ride today.

One of Those Clippy Guys


I have been doing a series of rides with Terrance Moran, helping coach him to do his first 50-mile ride. We have been going at his speed, which is about 12.0 mph, as he gets comfortable in distance riding with clip-in shoes.

Today I was by myself and I wanted to ride to Clarkes Gap and back from Reston. It was warm, around 80°, and I took off. Unlike weekends, when I seemed to get passed by all the hammerheads, today I was only passed once.

Trail at Clarks Gap
W&OD Trail at Clarks Gap

After the Luck Stone Quarry, a young guy on a Time Trial bike came flying by me, and truth be told, scared me a little. He did not call out “passing” or “on your left.” Just head down, earbuds in. So I reacted like any sane, somewhat pissed off cyclist would: I jumped on his rear wheel and stayed there for the next seven minutes (two miles). He was annoyed and when we came to the stoplight in Leesburg he asked why I was drafting him. The real answer was “because I could” but I said, “Oh, sorry, I was just waiting to hear ‘on your left.'” Was that wrong?

At the top of Clarkes Gap I turned around into a slight headwind. After rolling through Leesburg I stopped for a candy bar at the Carolina BBQ restaurant on the trail in Ashburn. As I was walking out, making noise coming down the wooden ramp, an older woman, also a cyclist, said “you’re one of those clippy guys.” Laugh out loud. Yes, I guess I am.

A little caffeine boost at Carolina Brothers

Back on the trail, I felt myself slowing down. I was supposed to have a tailwind returning but was going into a headwind. Once finished and uploaded the ride I was surprised I was four seconds faster coming back than going out. I swear I was slower. I averaged almost 17 mph, solo, on a relaxed day, which was a vast improvement over the 12 mph which I have been averaging. With Terry.

Double WOD


It’s local. I ride on portions of it all the time so I never write about it. It is the Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail, which runs from Arlington Co., near Shirlington, to Purcellville in Loudoun Co.

Sign for motorists as they enter Virginia from the Key Bridge in Georgetown
Sign is in Rosslyn next to the Marriott

I could do it more justice by writing about its history. I won’t. But it runs 45 miles from Arlington to Purcellville, most of the way on the right of way of the old Washington & Old Dominion, or W&OD, or simply WOD (Wad).

Not this section but the same boardwalk on the Mount Vernon Trail
I crashed on this on July 3, 2013

I wanted to do a double, out and back, but wasn’t sure where I would start. I also knew that a double would give me 90 miles and I might as well go for 100, it being so close and all.

Passing under the Roosevelt Bridge into D.C.
Potomac River

Ideally, I’d like to start at the terminus near Shirlington. That is the low point on the trail. And I would head west to Clarkes Gap, the high point, which is between Leesburg and Purcellville. After a turn around it would be all downhill, right?

Potomac River looking at Memorial Bridge across to D.C.

Well, not exactly. But that’s the rough way to head. And for the extra 10 miles I would add the “Airport Loop” that goes by Washington Reagan National Airport. That uses the Custis and Mount Vernon trails.


W&OD between Purcellville and Hamilton

Parking was simple near Gallows Road in Dunn Loring. I started with the Airport Loop. At MP 9, I headed east and picked up the Custis Trail which goes along I-66 into Rosslyn. From there I connected to the Mount Vernon Trail which runs past the airport.


Lime Kilns in Leesburg

I was thinking of taking pictures along the way. It was at the end of the Custis Trail or the beginning of the Mount Vernon Trail where I crashed five years ago and broke my wrist and discovered cancer. Then, no more than 1/2 mile further, on the boardwalk was where I crashed July 3 last year and broke my collarbone. This route has not been good to me.

Four Mile Run Trail under I-395 Shirley Highway

The Mount Vernon Trail connects to the Four Mile Run Trail which connects to the beginning/end of the W&OD. Then the first eight miles are uphill. A gradual uphill, mostly, except where a railroad grade is not possible and the trail moves onto or next to a street.

Start/Finish at Shirlington

From Gallows Road through Vienna, Reston, Herndon, out past Dulles through Ashburn to Lessburg, the trail is mostly flat. There are sections of 1-2% grade, either uphill or downhill, in both directions, but I wouldn’t call one direction harder than the other.

Bridge on W&OD over Rte 7 in Falls Church

At Leesburg the trail climbs up to Clarkes Gap, through a heavily wooded section which is arguably the nicest on the trail. At Clarkes Gap it goes through Hamilton to Purcellville which is the turnaround point.

Caboose in Vienna

That is it. I started at MP 9 and did a loop which made it 26 miles. Purcellville was 63 miles and from there it was another 35 miles or so back to the car. I diverted, both ways, to The Bike Lane, at Reston Town Center to say hello to the guys and fill my bottles with water.


Stone Bridge at Clarkes Gap

The W&OD is traffic-free but there are also many intersections with stop signs or even traffic lights (usually very long lights). But if one wants 100 miles on a bike and no traffic – this is it. You are never far from a bike shop or restaurant. In fact, I forgot my saddle bag with tubes and CO2 and never ever worried about it – confident that other riders could help me if need me (I did carry an extra tube so I wasn’t a complete jerk).

Purcellville, Va.

The Little Things


The shop ride at The Bike Lane in Reston was canceled today because of the overnight rain and the rain forecast for most of this morning. But I went to Reston to pick up some bike parts and decided to ride on the W&OD.

I wasn’t prepared for a long ride but the more I rode the more I wanted to ride. Until I bonked.

But it’s the little things that often make a ride. And today had some of those moments.

Around Herndon I passed a young woman, Ellen, who appeared to be just restarting from a stop. I was then surprised to see that she was sitting on my wheel. I wanted to warn her that she should announce her presence lest she be hit by some flying snot rockets, of which there were a few.

We passed a man who had two dogs on leashes and one, a pit bull, appeared determined to CHASE. Someone on a bike. Ellen moved to the outside of me. I thanked her for letting me be closest to the dog.

We didn’t have long together. She was out for a short ride before turning around. But our brief conversation, especially me recalling my encounter with those Pennsylvania dogs was a simple pleasure.

I kept riding and reached Purcellville where I left the W&OD and went to Loudoun Golf and Country Club. There I met my son-in-law, Bryan Snow. Another simple pleasure.

With Bryan Snow at Loudoun Golf and Country Club

The ride to Purcellville was tough. A strong wind was blowing — at times it was a direct head wind while at other times it was a cross wind. Plus it is a gradual uphill climb to Purcellville.

The terminus of the W&OD at Purcellville

I had hoped for a strong tail wind on the return but the winds were swirling and were mostly cross winds. So I fought it all day. I was not prepared for a long ride, I had no water or food. And no money either. About 10 miles from the finish I felt it. I bonked. I was out of energy. I knew it because even the slightest grades and I was out of the saddle rather than sitting and producing a constant pedaling rhythm.

While it’s not weighing on my mind like the cancer surgery of 2 1/2 years ago, my upcoming surgery has me appreciating each remaining ride until I take the forced time off the bike. And appreciate the little things such as a simple conversation or a short visit.

But next time I’ll take some food. Or at least water.

It Smells Warm


Fool that I am, I returned to Reston to ride with either The Bike Lane or Evolution Cycling. Perhaps because it was overcast, it seemed colder than last week and the numbers showed. They were way down.  

Like last week, stopping for gas and food left me dangerously close to missing the start of the ride. I rolled up just as four riders were rolling out. One woman was left in front of the dark Bike Lane store telling me she was waiting for their group ride. Instantly I determined, correctly, that there would be no ride from The Bike Lane today and made my decision to catch the Evo boys leaving on the trail.  

Although temperatures were in the low to mid-30s for most of the ride, the low overnight temperatures and some rain during the week left some ice patches on the W&OD. But they presented no problems.  

What was neat was that we started out with five riders and actually picked up riders along the route eventually getting up to 10. We rode on the W&OD until we could get safely off onto other roads and streets.  

Almost immediately I wondered why I had come back. We were in a paceline of 10 riders rolling along at 23 mph on a 3% uphill grade. There is no way, even by being paced, that I could keep this pace. I was afraid I might have to excuse myself. But we took turns pacing at the front and once the strong leader dropped off another rider took over and I didn’t have problems staying with the group again.  

Out of Leesburg towards Hamilton, we climbed Dry Mill Road, in the process dropped a rider aptly named “Turtle.” At the top of the climb, where Virginia Routes 7 and 9 intersect, we waited. Eventually, Turtle came and then graciously announced that he would ride the trail back and not hold us up.  

It was actually amazing that I jumped in with this racing team and hung with them. At the same time, one of their riders could not keep pace.

We headed out through Hamilton, out Harmony Church Road, and back towards Leesburg. I was able to hang on with these racers most of the way. Leaving Hamilton we could smell the fire from a fireplace burning nearby. One of the riders said, “it smells warm.”

I never thought something could smell warm — we’re mixing the sense of touch with the sense of smell — but I could agree with him. I’d love to be inside feeling the warmth of the fire.  

The route today would encompass more than 60 miles. I noticed after 50 miles that when we had moderate climbs of 2-3% grade that I had difficulty keeping up with the group. Usually, I would drop 10, 20, or 50 meters behind only to catch them on the other side.   

The Evolution is a Cycling Racing team, most are younger riders and these old legs just don’t have the recovery in them to be able to spin up these moderate climbs. The steep climbs are different because everyone is working hard but these lesser grades are ones where the younger riders can sit and spin and after 50 miles I have difficulty.  

Maybe it’s the old legs or maybe it’s that I still suck at nutrition on the bike. I had one energy bar with me but didn’t open it. Stupid.  

Without about five miles to go, I sat up for a moment while a couple of riders dropped off to go home. I lost contact with our remaining riders. Mostly they were never more than 100-200 meters ahead but that is still dropped.  

I felt my energy level drop. I hadn’t eaten on the ride and should have and fumbled around to find the energy bar. I felt a little better after ingesting it and rolled on back alone to the start/finish.  

Not sure where the rest of the winter takes me. I’d like to ride with Evolution more but every Saturday between now and mid-March is booked and then begins soccer season. I was asked to join the team and race with them but feel that I would probably bring them down.  

I was feeling bad about not being able to stay with what was left with the group but Adam, back at The Bike Lane, reminded me that these are racers who log base miles every Saturday and Sunday plus are younger too. As I read in Bicycling magazine once, when you feel a little discouraged about not keeping up with the Cat 2 and Cat 3 riders, take a stroll in the Mall and compare yourself to those guys.    

You say you want an Evolution


You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know you can count me out
–The Beetles

I didn’t ride on New Year’s Day, missing out on Potomac Pedaler’s “I’ve Ridden Every Day This Year” ride. It was cold and windy on New Year’s Day in the morning although not as bad as New Year’s Eve. We had winds sustained at 35 mph and gusting to 50 mph. My mailbox post was a victim. When I arrived home from work both the mailbox and post were on the ground so that became my New Year’s Day project.

I left the house this morning after 8:00 and WTOP Radio reported it was 23º (-5ºC) in Manassas. Cold. I drove up to Reston to ride with the group ride that leaves from The Bike Lane at Reston Town Center. I was running late and arrived at exactly 9:00 a.m.

I quickly parked in the parking garage and put the wheels on my bike. I rolled out of the garage at about three, maybe four, minutes after 9:00, turned the corner, and saw the group heading out. I rolled past The Bike Lane to catch the group. Funny, as I did I saw 3-4 bikes parked outside The Bike Lane.

I caught the group as we rolled through some bike paths out to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. Adam (The Bike Lane group leader) normally doesn’t take the group on the WOD, I thought, but was willing to concede that either he decided on a cold winter Saturday it wouldn’t be crowded or this somehow was the wrong group.

Could there be two 9:00 rides leaving from The Bike Lane? Even if there were, it was too late to go back and find Adam. I hung on the back of the group — they were flying — and finally asked someone if this was Adam’s ride. No one seemed to know although there were no Bike Lane jerseys in this group. But lots of white ones.

I was told that I had joined the Evolution Cycling Club’s training ride but that I was welcome to hang on. And I did. I asked how far they were going and I was told — 80 miles. Yikes. It was a nice day, if 23º was “nice,” but I hadn’t brought any water (intending to fill up inside The Bike Lane) and no food. And no money for a stop at a store. It’s not good to ride that far with no nutrition. Oh well.

The ride was relatively easy as long as I was hanging on the rear. We went through Ashburn then to Leesburg. After Leesburg, we climbed our first long hill. It wasn’t that difficult but one learns the perils of hanging in the rear.

I wasn’t having any problems keeping on the wheel of the rider in front of me. But he was. A gap opened halfway up the hill and the first half of the group crested the hill a good 150 meters ahead of our group. In a race that’s when they attack but this wasn’t a race. Still, once we reached the top we had two separate groups out on the country roads. The gap widened more.

I finally broke free to pass a number of riders and tried to bridge to the front group. For a while, I was in “no man’s land” about 250 meters behind the lead group and 250 meters ahead of the trail group. I had no one working with me. After being stuck here a rider finally bridged to me and the two of us then worked out way up to the leaders.

We stopped at a store in Hamilton where some bladder-challenged riders, including me, made our way behind the store for a visit to some trees. Here we also broke the ride into groups and when we left there were nine of us. It was nine that we should have ended with.

We rode for a while longer until we came to a moderate climb. One of the riders, in the middle of what was supposed to be a paceline, was having difficulty climbing and we all passed him. When we crested he was way back and we waited for him at the light on Va. 9 at Paeonian Springs.

Our ride leader, a guy named “Chicken” then decided we would have some fun descending on Dry Mill Road to Leesburg. We would break into teams and try to box other riders out at high descending speeds — generally about 35 mph. Say what?

What the heck. We took off and formed our teams. We had only gone a couple of miles when we lost our trail rider again. Chicken went back for him and was going to show him the direct way back — the WOD. Chicken came back to us but reported that he couldn’t find him. I felt bad and was going to offer to ride with him but he had disappeared. We were down to eight.

We continued on and while descending, one of the guys in front of me went off the road. His tire hit the shoulder and three of us had to quickly maneuver so as not to join him. That also killed our descent. We regrouped, didn’t get any sprint points, and made it back to Leesburg.

Passing through Leesburg I was told Chicken peeled off although I didn’t see him. At a cross street, I saw another rider leave. And I missed another one bailing because we were down to five.

Another rider and I moved to the front and did a monster pull for about 3-4 miles. What was I doing pulling these 30-year-olds home? Eventually, we let the trail riders lead and we would follow their wheels.

The five of us returned to Reston and I got to go into The Bike Lane and told Adam why I wasn’t able to join him today. He just laughed. Unlike three weeks ago, I was able to hang and at least one other rider wasn’t.

I was told that the Evolution ride was a closed ride but no one on the ride took exception to me being there. In fact, many introduced themselves and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. I don’t plan on racing because I don’t have time but I am thinking about joining this racing club. It was a great day for cycling!

And the First Shall be Last


Some days you have it, some days you don’t. Today I didn’t.

It was cold but I wanted to ride. It’s easier if you commit to meeting people so I called Adam Lewandowski at The Bike Lane last night to see if they would be riding in the morning. He said they would. It seems silly to drive 45 minutes to join a group ride but that’s what I did. I pulled in just as they were departing and asked if they would wait for me. They did. There were eight of them.

It was 28º (-3º C) and I quickly put on my shoes, grabbed my bike, and rolled up with them. I caught them outside the mini-skating rink at the Reston Town Center where two teams of 8-9-year-olds were playing ice hockey. Cute.

We rolled out and kept a good pace. Think about the guys that want to go riding when it’s below freezing. There aren’t too many recreational types here. Well, I was. I overheard one guy talking about his personal cycling coach. I didn’t quite understand that.

Still, we kept together for most of the ride but on one fairly long climb the pack pulled ahead of me by 50-100 meters and I couldn’t close the gap. I could catch them at the traffic lights but there were two places on the course of 30 miles (48 km) where my legs just weren’t keeping up. Disheartening.

It dawned on me that the night before around 9:00 p.m. that I did 40 minutes on the stepper machine. I mentioned that to Adam and he opined that would kill my legs for sure. I simply had no recovery at 9:00 a.m. in the cold. Whatever it was, I was the slowpoke today.

It doesn’t usually happen but we’ve all had those days — at least all of us who aren’t doping have had those days. It was cold. It was still fun, but a little disheartening.

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