Even with the twelve or so different routes I normally take, sometimes none of them seem just right for the mood when I am ready to ride. The other day was one such, and I decided to spark things up by looking at one of my old routes in a new way.
One of my favorite rides runs southeast along the W&OD trail from here to Shirlington, a community on the border between Arlington and Alexandria. The trail terminates just before it hits I-395, a spur from the DC beltway running up parallel to the Potomac to Reagan National Airport and the Pentagon, and finally across the river into DC near the Federal area. From this point the cyclist can go on, taking a connecting spur to the Mount Vernon Trail, hooking up right at the airport. Or one can turn back, as I usually do on this ride, ascending the Trail back to North Arlington, where I get off to ride a bumpy up-and-down loop through North Arlington, and then reconnect just a few miles from home.
Though I have done this ride well over a hundred times in the last few years, I have never before ridden the loop the other way. And that’s what I did this time. That meant leaving the Trail in East Falls Church, looping up through Arlington, and rejoining the Trail where the Custis Trail splits off to go northerly into Rosslyn. What was it like? Everything looks different, and sometimes one is almost disoriented by the new appearance of the road. Familiar landmarks are on the other side of the road, if they’re visible at all, while old one loom up strangely. Left turns become right turns, and vice-versa. And that can have huge consequences for a cyclist. The easy right-turn intersection suddenly involves crossing over a median and four lanes of traffic, for example. New potholes appear; hidden drives and shady places pop up unexpectedly.
The terrain is also different. What were downhills go up, and seem steeper. What were uphills go down, and seem flatter. Sudden dips become rises and catch me in the wrong gear. One appreciates anew the nuances of uneven terrain by riding it in reverse.
My other new old experience on this ride was reacquainting myself with the Park. Where the W&OD ends in Shirlington, I can ride south two blocks and get on the Four Mile Run Bike Trail. This runs along the opposite side of Four Mile Run from the W&OD, and eventually reconnects with it a couple of miles upstream. In doing so, it goes through two parks, Shirlington Park and Barcroft Park. The former is just a grassy strip between the Trail and the Run, part of which is used by neighborhood folk to socialize and let their dogs cavort in the Run. The real park is Barcroft, where there are playing fields and much-used pavilions where large groups of families and friends get together and grill burgers, play games, let the kids play in the playground equipment, and generally hang out. Farther up, the park surrounds a narrow, twisty bike trail though the woods near water level, where there are a lot of suburban dog walkers and more playgrounds. The other day the water was high from overnight rain–loud, rapid, and picturesque. I used to take this way all the time, but riding my road bikes more often–they’re less suited to the terrain and the condition of the trail–has made a visit to the Park a rarity. It was great to be out there with the walkers, the picnickers, and the occasional cyclist just resting by trailside on a weekend afternoon, enjoying the scenery.
I came home from that ride psychologically invigorated, as if I had turned a familiar sow’s ear into a new silk purse.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.