Somehow I had gotten it into my head that the ride I take to Rosslyn was a little shorter than the one to Shirlington. They are my two standard choices when I head inbound from Vienna on the W&OD. Of course the Trail can take me other places in that direction too: Around the hills of North Arlington, over Key Bridge and onto the Capital Crescent Trail, over Roosevelt Bridge and onto the National Mall, up the Rock Creek Parkway Trail to the Zoo, down the Mount Vernon Trail to, um, Mount Vernon or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, or on a loop past National Airport and back home via the Four Mile Run Trail.
But for one reason or another I have eschewed the Rosslyn ride lately. It begins on the W&OD, of course, but when I get into Bon Air Park in North Arlington I take a branch off to the left, just before I get to a bench shelter for tired riders or walkers. After a short run along the south side of I-66 [I discover that I-66 is called the “Custis Memorial Parkway” on maps—ONLY on maps, not on highway signs, not in traffic reports, certainly not by any living human being I know personally] the trail underpasses the Interstate and continues along its north side all the way to where it overpasses the Interstate, runs along the south side for less than a mile, overpasses it again and follows Lee Highway down the Potomac palisades slope into the traffic circle area that leads to Key Bridge or the riverside trails that run north and south on the Virginia side of the Potomac. I find my turnaround point by entering Arlington Gateway Park next to the Marriott via a pedestrian/bike overpass. I sit on one of the benches, often in sight of a homeless person who has appropriated another bench for his or her bed, take a brief breather, and retrace my route as far as Bon Air Park, where I exit for a three-mile stint through the streets of inner suburbia in North Arlington, before rejoining the W&OD at Little Falls Street for the trip home.
This is a ride that I never ever contemplate during the weekend. The trail can be crowded with walkers—the usual combination of joggers, older couples moving slowly, dog owners (why on earth with the myriad sidewalks and pedestrian parks they want to inflict their pooches on cyclists I couldn’t say, but there they are), and parents with kids in jogging strollers. Added to that is the fraction of the cycling population who don’t consider it necessary to wait until it is safe to pass, and expect me to brake, pull out of the way, even roll off the trail, if I see them swerve into my lane when there’s no room for them. Though I must admit that I’m not totally innocent of such behavior, owing to imperfect judgment of distance and speed. The main problem is that many of the stretches along I-66 present a high metal sound-abatement wall right along the inboard edge of the trail, so there are no sight lines around corners and nowhere on that side of the trail to bail out in an emergency. In other places chain link fencing or concrete retaining walls also preclude bailouts.
Yesterday I thought I’d get back to this ride, and found much to my surprise that it’s .4 miles longer than the trip to Shirlington than I usually take. Furthermore, it has about 500 more feet of climbing, almost all of it on the way home except for a short excruciating stretch right after the Custis Trail underpasses I-66. First there’s the long ascent back up the hill from Rosslyn, where the trail moves back from the Potomac flood plain to the top of the palisades. Then there’s a long reverse-S curve uphill near the junction of Lee Highway and Spout Run where the trail climbs up to pass over I-66 again. Shortly following that are two short, steep uphills created by a natural contour and an underpass. Lots of momentum and quick, precise gear shifting are needed there. The remaining hills are part of my off-trail Arlington loop, including a short, steep climb on 11th St. and several blocks on Patrick Henry Drive, and—close to home—Virginia Avenue.
I did this ride yesterday, and regretted that I had missed all that fun for so long. I’m dedicating the next couple of weeks to rediscovering more of my North Arlington routes. Variety is the spice of cycling life.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.