Friday was the first time in several weeks that I have ridden on the W&OD without encountering motor vehicles. I have commented before on the general concept and principle behind that observation. Namely, the W&OD is a multi-use trail, for non-motorized activities. That means that motorized vehicles should not be on the trail except in unusual circumstances. Yet they are not.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority patrols every day in a pickup. That’s understandable. As is the mowing operation that occurs every couple of weeks in season. Dominion Electric, the power company whose lines soar high above some of the trail is there pretty regularly. That’s somewhat understandable, since those lines need maintenance. My gripe with them is that they don’t park off the trail even when they can. Then there are Park Authority and Power Company subcontractors. Too many of those, and they are obviously not sufficiently briefed on the best times to do their work, or the best way to do it with minimum interference. I have also observed what I am pretty sure was unauthorized use, most recently by a crew working on a public street that runs along the edge of the trail, using the trail to bring their equipment in rather than driving an extra 3 or 4 blocks off-trail to their work site.
The long-term construction projects are the worst. Last September’s heavy rains caused Difficult Run (what new Englanders call a “brook” Virginians call a “run”), which parallels the trail in several places between Vienna and Hunter Mill Road, to under cut the trail in at least four places. Temporary repairs were made to keep the trail open after it had been single-laned along the washout sites for a while.
Now permanent repairs are under way, which means filling in and widening the space between the trail and the Run, lining the edges of the Run with riprap, and securing the big stones in place with steel netting. As they move from one site to the next, they keep detouring cyclists onto different sections of the bridle trail that runs on the south side of the Trail. Problem is, the bridle trail is not exquisitely maintained either. It is coated with small gravel, but that has worn and washed in places, sometimes leaving shallow gullies, and more often leaving parts of the trail with only hard, bare earth while others have deep, loose gravel. In a few spots there’s sand, perhaps from the Run when it overflows.
Trouble is, loose gravel is difficult to ride through and maintain balance, especially on narrow, hard road bike tires. Consequently, cyclists soon learn to ride near the edge of the trail, where there’s solider grass/weed turf in most spots. But there are places where there’s no room for a real “shoulder” of that kind. When you’re riding the detour, then, you tend to ride all over the width of the trail, depending on where it looks most solid. The issue would be the same, though the solution somewhat different, if it were wet and muddy instead of dry and hard. Such opportunism works well until / unless there is somebody coming the other way, when a rider may have to dive back to the right through inhospitable deep gravel deposits. And I have incurred one flat tire from a thorn driven right through my sidewall when I got too close to the brush. Luckily it was in so tight that I discovered it only when I went to inflate my tires for the next ride. That tube just wouldn’t hold pressure very well, though it would maintain about 60 lbs. When I pulled the thorn out it went flat instantaneously.
As a result, I can take my road bikes westbound only on weekends, when they thoughtfully pull their big equipment off the trail and open it up. This project can’t wind up too soon for me. Let summertime, at least, be a time when we can take back the trail for non-motorized machines.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012