Potloop

My ride today was really weird.  A warm, windy, day, this one lured me out into a somewhat longer ride.  It’s also the season for both sweet gum tree and oak tree tendrils to drop.  After the ride, I sat on the porch drinking my juice and watched huge balls of oak tendrils blowing off the roof during a gusty afternoon.  Scratching my neck, I finally realized that during my ride a bunch of tree refuse had been dumped all over my back.  My neck’s the only part of my body where such stuff could accumulate, with my helmet above and my jersey below shedding the rest.

The beauty of the ride today is the Potomac River.  i took Rosebike, which cannot handle (with my physique) steep uphills.  So i ride down the W&OD to the Custis Trail, down that to Rosslyn, and then down the Potomac until I hit the W&OD again where it dead ends into the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport (we don’t use the R word).  Once down on the banks of the river, the Custis Trail runs along some wooden boardwalks over the marshes near Roosevelt Island.  It then hugs the shore until National, where it has to cut inland of the runways themselves.  Right at that point is a park where many people go to watch jet aircraft land or take off, depending on the wind direction.  Soon after I catch the W&OD back into Shirlington, riding along Four Mile Run past the Arlington County Waste Treatment Plant.  Warm but treated water pours into the Run, which results in rich algae beds summer and winter.

Today along the Potomac the SW wind was ruffling the center of the river, but the lee shore I was riding along was as smooth as glass.  Nothing like watching the great monuments of our nation roll by–the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the like.  I feel like saluting every time I pass here.

Last year I wrote about this route as follows:

July 16, 2009

In my cycling log, I have given every route its own abbreviated name.  Today I rode the Potloop and the Arloop.  The latter is a two-mile detour from the W&OD Trail through north Arlington, VA, a county which has been bike-friendly in providing numerous bike lanes on suburban streets and by maintaining its portion of the Trail to a high level.

But the Potloop is a trip that a bike rider can only take in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  It consists of the W&OD trail to Shirlington in south Arlington, a trail extension to the Mount Vernon Trail, and then north past National Airport [we don’t use the R-word] along the Potomac River on the Virginia side to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crosses into Georgetown.  But I stay in Virginia, heading back out the Custis Trail to my north Arlington loop.

That Potomac River ride will make your patriotic heart beat just a little faster.  First the airport itself.  From the trail you can’t really see or appreciate the art deco style of the old building, built before WW II in the DC-3 era, or the new part, done in spectacular post-modern fashion with great interior decor, or even the modern Metro stop on the Yellow and Blue lines at the airport.  But just north of the airport is an open place where people come to watch the planes take off and land.  When they’re taking off northwards there’s a loud gunshot sound in advance of each one, to scare and scatter the flocks of starlings and Canada geese (two non-native, invasive, nuisance species) that threaten the safety of the flights.  The planes are already well up when they clear the end of the runway, and climbing rapidly, but they make “one helluva roar,” as the Army Air Corps song goes.  When they’re coming in from the north (like today) it’s much better.  They’re only about 85 feet off the ground when they pass over, landing gear and flaps down, and their ominous thunder precedes them.  When they’re right overhead, the roar is intense and the ground shakes.

Just north of the airport is a kind of “perfect convergence” of transportation, where the bike trail passes under a CSX railroad bridge, the cars on the George Washington Parkway whiz past to the left, Metro trains rumble nearby, boats and kayaks float in the Potomac just to the right, and the planes thunder in overhead.

Just beyond, the D.C. skyline comes into view, shifting as I move upstream.  First the Jefferson Memorial appears, with the cherry trees (in season) of the Tidal Basin.  Then the Lincoln Memorial, with the spire of the Washington Memorial and the tower of the Old Post Office building piercing the low skyline.  On the trail I cross a little bridge and the Lady Bird Johnson memorial sculpture comes up beside me–water birds in flight.  Right after that I can stop to rest on a bench from which the GW Memorial lines up directly behind the Lincoln Memorial.

Next I pass Arlington National Cemetery on my left; since 2001 it’s been off-limits to bikes (I wonder if Osama Bin Laden has a Trek or a Cervelo), but I can glimpse the Custis-Lee Mansion.  Then it’s under the Memorial Bridge and past Roosevelt Island (the statue of Teddy can’t be seen from the shore, and the island is also off-limits to bikes).  Then I head west to Arlington and home.

I’ve done this ride in both directions, in all sorts of weather and seasons, and it’s a bit different in its beauty every time.  The constant is the privilege of being here and visually celebrating the nation’s capital.

So the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Today it was north to south, the reverse of the above narrative.  But it’s one of the great rides of a great city.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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