The Horse Knows the Way

A couple of weeks ago I was approaching the W&OD Trail underpass of the Dulles Toll Road.  It has had a semi-permanent detour for over a year, because they have been building a new span on the Toll Road to carry a metro line to Reston and eventually Dulles Airport.  Designed in the 1960s by star architect Eero Saarienen and named from the start after an American Secretary of State (unlike the retro-named Kennedy [nee Idlewild] in NYC and R***** [nee National] in DC), the airport was way out in the sticks, and yet was not connected by mass transportation to the city it served.  Thanks to the American love of the automobile, only a road took folks the twenty miles to the Nation’s Capital.  So, having blown the chance to build on cheap, readily available land the kind of rail connection that practically every other major airport in the world has had for years, the regional transportation authority is belatedly constructing a one billion (yeah, with a “b”) dollar extension from the West Falls Church Metro stop, through business/commercial center Tyson’s Corner out to Dulles.

On my recent ride I approached the underpass knowing full well what to expect.  At the mouth of the underpass the trail squeezes off to the far right.  In the middle, where the trail used to be, is construction equipment–a major work zone.  Over the previous year I had witnessed the building of massive reinforced concrete support posts for the metro line, the installation of long, huge steel girders to carry the rails on top of the  supports, the digging of deep trenches for drainage pipes, the comings and goings of cranes, graders, front loaders, generator trucks for air hammers, and the like.  A three-year-old’s dream of big equipment and loud noise, but a cyclist’s nemesis as the electric board at the downslope intersection advertises each new jog, twist, and delay when the trail is shut down for periods of time or re-re-routed on rough, puncture-inducing new gravel.

Even the “regular” bypass trail makes a rider pay attention.  The jog to the right is sudden, with the new trail surface separated from the work zone by plastic and steel wire nailed to wooden frames.  The lanes are quite narrow, the surface rough and susceptible to wet or icy conditions as a result of chronic dripping from the overhead construction of the rail bed.   The detour is serviceable, and a whole lot better than having the trail cut off, but it demands extra vigilance.

As I pedaled the gentle uphill under the overpass two weeks ago I suddenly felt lost, disoriented.  Where exactly was I?  Something didn’t feel right.  Then it dawned on me: the construction was gone!  No more barriers, no more equipment, no orange plastic fencing.  The trail was straight, unimpeded, empty.  Now I could grind on through without looking out for construction workers or dodging joggers on the narrow bypass.  I could come charging downhill on the way home without braking.  Funny how the mind gets set in its patterns.  Knowing what I expected to see, my consciousness only slowly registered and comprehended the information my eyes were sending to my brain.

By yesterday, though, the old program had reinstalled itself.  What construction?  Oh yeah, they were working here for a while, weren’t they?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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