The sky is that radiant, infinitely deep blue of cold, clear air suffused with sunlight. A contrail or two gives it a dimensionality, a frame of reference. This is the last ride I am likely to take this month, if tomorrow’s weather forecast is to be believed. I could squeeze in a ride in the morning, perhaps. But I also need to squeeze in some leaf work before the onset of a real winter coastal storm. They tend to form around Cape Hatteras and spin up along the Atlantic coast, like a coarse electric sander smoothing off the rough edges and filling in a niche or two. This time of year they’re bound to be rain, well above freezing, except back up in the mountain ranges of the Blue Ridge and West Virginia.
Today is a day for the Trek. With little wind and temperatures heading to the upper 40s, I decide to wear my lime green Cannondale training jersey along with pretty much the same gear as yesterday (see “Still Cool”). The jersey has the advantage over the GoreTex of having pockets, so I don’t have to secret away my cell phone and keys in my Camelbak or my tiny saddlebag.
The chilly but light breeze from the SE is in my face as I head out. It’s only 12:30 p.m., but already the sun is way below the tree line that lies 30 or so feet to the south as I roll southeast to the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington. So it strobes, with an irritating irregularity, except for the times when I’m in a wide-open area. such as on the W&OD Trail bridge over the Beltway. Right now that bridge presents a horrible sight. The Beltway is torn up as they build new “hot” lanes on either side. One by one, nearby road bridges have been shut down to be rebuilt. The one that’s newly open was closed for a year. It looks like they’re going to build a new Trail bridge immediately adjacent to the present one, however, so that the Trail will only be closed for a short time. Meanwhile, the construction digging has resulted in some subsidence on either end of the bridge, and so there are fairly abrupt mini-ramps of 4″ or 5″ to surmount. And as for the view, a whole strip of buffering trees and shrubs that separated neighborhoods from the multi-lane road has been stripped away, and is being replaced by a grim, gray, sound barrier wall. It looks worse than the ones the Israelis continue to build on the West Bank. I weep for the residents whose homes are adjacent to this (both here and on the West Bank).
Today there are mowing and clearing operations on the Falls Church section of the Trail. There is always some kind of activity to obstruct and distract a rider on the W&OD these days. In-season (i.e. summer) it’s mostly mowing the foliage adjacent to the trailway. But there are also minor repairs and major projects such as the Hot Lane one described above. And the power company on whose right-of-way much of the line is built is always busy with something. So despite the prohibition of regular motorized vehicles, a rider encounters at least one internal combustion engine almost every single weekday. Today the mowing vehicle is operated by some numbskull who doesn’t know how to run it half on, half off the asphalt so that riders can get by. I have to dismount and walk my bike around him, even though he’s stopped for me. The foliage-clearing vehicles are a bit more off the trailway, but I have to slow down to almost a stop to creep by because some workmen are idling along the trail side of their vehicle. Sheez! They are leaving areas of debris in their wake. Such stuff contains sharp twigs and thorns, if not human trash like glass shards. With my 115-lb. inflated tires I squeeze well to the opposite edge to get past.
Today is Monday, and both trail and auto traffic are light. There’s an occasional walker, sometimes couples in pairs, the young ones often holding hands, the old familiar married ones sometimes in deep conversation, or looking at the flora or fauna. The solo ones often have dogs, and today a guy with a frenetic puppy almost lets it run into my path before jerking back the leash. At one crossing a jogger asks me if my frame is carbon fiber. (“No; it’s smooth-welded aluminum.” “Looks nice!” “Thanks,” as the walk light comes on and I take off.) At some intersections I often don’t need to stop, even at crossings that are usually traffic-heavy. As for cyclists, today I neither pass nor am passed by anyone going in my direction on a 26-mile ride. I pass perhaps four going the other way. Everybody got it out of their system over the long holiday weekend, I guess.
On the way home, I loop off the trail to ride three or four miles of rolling hilly streets in North Arlington. As a former railroad line, the W&OD Trail is mostly on a gentle grade, except for a few modern over- and underpasses. Street riding is a great recreational component anyhow, but this phase of the route lets me work my muscles and gears in different ways than the trail does. North Arlington neighborhoods go back about 60 years, to the time right after WWII when the Virginia suburbs were first being developed. There are many brick houses, small and in styles of the 40s, lining the streets. While the last few years have seen numerous remodeling projects, most of these have been along the lines of adding a second floor, making a garage, or the like. Few have been teardowns, and those few have tended to hew to the style of the neighborhood, rather than impose a totally improbable McMansion, as has been the case in Vienna (there’s an especially pretentious one on Cottage Street that’s been frozen in time for over a year; seems they must have run out of money). So a ride through these streets is a ride back in time. The homes, modest and neat, have recently become the more desirable after decades of flight to the outer suburbs. They’re transportation accessible, reasonable to maintain, in established communities, and near all the amenities. What’s not to like? Except, I suppose, their dated wiring, HVAC systems, bathrooms, and kitchens.
Today I see again the sticker on a van that’s always parked in the street as I go by: “Pray for the people of all nations.” It has been my constant inspiration for years. My God does not have “Enemies Lists” or “Axes of Evil”: she has unconditional love for all.
I climb a couple of steep hills at the beginning of my loop, then pass a commercial center, hang a left for an up-and-down ride through more neighborhoods and past Bishop O’Connell High School, around a couple more turns and back onto the W&OD. From there I just trek northwest as far as Virginia Lane , when once again i leave the trail slightly to climb the hill on the road. Along this stretch, the bike trail is just somebody’s sidewalk, and I’d rather duke it out with cars than pedestrians. There are no unusual impediments; in fact, the trail is clear, and I rush downhill after the turn off Virginia Lane toward home. As I leave the trail, go along the right-of-way for a few yards, and join Jackson Parkway, i always get ready to sprint uphill on Academy Street to home. Today i don’t do too well, hitting only 16 mph into the wind as I pass my own house, circle back, and coast into the driveway.
But my lungs are filled with cold air, my body is alive with endorphins, and my lungs and heart have had over two hours of aerobic workout.
That’ll do just fine.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.