Nature Report

Last Saturday my ride launched at about 11:30 in 77˚ weather.  It had been cloudy and even threatening for part of the morning, but finally things broke up into bright sun and copious cumulus clouds.  The sun was as yellow as the button in the middle of the asters by the side of the trail, the clouds as white as the circular doilies of Queen Anne’s Lace in the meadows nearby, and the patches of sky in between those clouds as blue and intense as the first blossoms of the copious Cornflowers that were newly opened everywhere.  All felt fresh and new after the midweek downpours ensuing from a slowly moving frontal boundary.

It being Saturday and school being newly out, every Weekend Warrior and their whole family—Warrior spouse, kid on a bike, and toddler on a tricycle—was out on the trail, so one had to ride with one’s eyes open.  The line for the light at Maple Avenue was about ten people long.

Apparently the animals felt the same way about the coming of nice weather.  Outbound from Vienna, along Difficult Run, I spotted a terrapin on the trail ahead.  It was traversing at a testudinarian pace from right to left, and had almost reached the center line.   So I veered slightly to the right to pass.  Just as I got to the terrapin a rider coming the other way stopped smack in the middle of her lane, reached down, and picked the reptile up to help it complete its journey safely.  The angle of her lean, however, brought her head, shoulders, and arm onto my side, and I just avoided a glancing blow.  Weekend warrior behavior.

I went on all the way to the skateboard park at the west end of Herndon, but I promised not to further discuss this topic, so I will not report that it was my first ride to my former regular westbound turn-around point.  On the way back there is a long downhill stretch from Michael Faraday Ct. to Hunter Mill Road, featuring a speedy, leafy descent from Sunrise Valley to Buckthorn Lane, with a short, steep rise just before Buckthorn.  Along that stretch an animal ran right into the buzz-saw of my front wheel.  I suspect it was a squirrel, because they characteristically cross roadways in frantic, demented dashes, featuring instant 180˚ turns if they see a vehicle coming in mid-dash.  Could have been a chipmunk.  In any case, this one dashed straight into the spokes from about 20” away.  Why it didn’t see me coming I can’t imagine.  But the spokes were revolving so fast—I was probably traveling at about 22 mph—that it made a fur-muffled bump sound and bounced straight off again, grazing my right shoe, which was on the downstroke.  I barely saw it, because needless to say I was focusing on the road ahead.

Immediately I heard an approaching rider exclaim “oh dear.”  I didn’t brake or stop pedaling, because it would have been to no avail.  I have no veterinary skills, nor do I carry needles with units of tetanus vaccine, or leather gloves.  I am not equipped on any level to render assistance to wounded wild animals.  I assume it was the worse for the collision.  If it died, my major regret is that it did not live out its role in the food chain by providing a meal to some hungry predator, a hawk or a fox.

About a mile inbound from Hunter Mill, headed for Vienna, I saw another Weekend Warrior stopped in the lane ahead of me.  I reckoned it was somebody on their cell phone, or with a mechanical.  As I approached she was looking ahead, not at me, so I said “on the left” and swung around her.  Then I saw what she was looking at: a long Black Rat Snake, wriggling again from right to left, crossing the trail ahead of her.  Its head was in the grass on the far shoulder and its tail just past the center line, with a set of slithering S-curves worthy of the Shenandoah River.  Straightened out, it would have to have been at least 5 feet long.  Too late to stop, I swerved back to the right in front of her and just missed the snake.  I said “sorry, I didn’t see that!” as I passed.  She laughed and said “neither did I at first.”  So glad not to have injured a large reptilian eater of vermin and (less happily) bird eggs and baby birds.

runner lunge

Department of Silly Walks: Runner Lunge

After all that action I didn’t know what to expect today, equally warm and sunny, though a bit more humid.  But I found: nothing.  The closest I came was the mundane, familiar domestic scene of an immature English Sparrow, now fully as large as its parent, standing in the middle of the trail, flapping its wings, chirping helplessly, demanding to be fed (before going back down to the basement to play more video games).  And then there was the exerciser, in tank top, spandex pants, walking shoes with low socks, and a pink baseball cap with an oversize brim about as big as the one Jayson Werth wishes he had yesterday.  She was blending yoga and walking by making each step a Runner Lunge.  As I passed I was SO tempted to say “Perfect for the Department of Silly Walks!  John Cleese has nothing on you.”  But I didn’t.

Still, you never know what you’re going to run into on the W&OD.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

Herndon

This brief posting is just to document that yesterday, on a cool, clear, breezy day, I got to my old westbound turn-around point, downtown Herndon.  For years I looped off the W&OD on the way west to climb Hunter Station Road, which has a steep incline of about 14% for about a quarter mile.  I gave that up as a normal routine several years ago when my heart rhythm wouldn’t take it.  Instead I extended the ride to west Herndon, but here is my original spot, exactly 11 miles from home, making a nice 22 mile ride.  You’re looking at the scene from the north side of the trail, where I am sitting on a bench.  Note the old station, the baggage wagon, the semaphore signal, and the plaza to the left with the table and umbrella, a new twist.  You can perhaps make out that the station door on the right has some stained glass panes, 1890s style.  So nice to be there again!  I promise that henceforth I shall continue to progress in my recovery without marking every small step with a blog posting.

herndon station

Herndon Station on the W&OD, my westbound turn-around point

 

Turn-Around Point

Last Friday, for the first time in over a year, I pointed my bike eastward on the W&OD.  After about a mile on this ride there’s a relatively steep incline, as the trail curls around Idylwood Park and parallels I-66 to reach the overpass at Virginia Avenue.  It’s enough of a kick to test my legs for the day.  [I used to live near the overpass, and remember walking out to the overpass to see traffic jammed by severe freezing rain, Rolling Thunder, and other freak phenomena.]  It was a real effort, but I made it.  After the corresponding downhill, the trail runs straight east, over West Broad Street (Route 7), through the City of Falls Church, and then across Lee Highway (Route 29).  There it fragments into several alternate routes, all of which lead back to a single trail in Benjamin Banneker Park.

Now going more southeast, the trail runs along the edge of I-66, separated by a metal sound barrier, then eases away from the highway about where the Custis Trail splits off on a more easterly vector to Rosslyn, the Key Bridge, and the Mount Vernon Trail.  But the W&OD heads gently toward Shirlington, underpassing Wilson Boulevard, Carlin Springs Road, and Arlington Boulevard.  Along the way there are a couple of bridges over Four Mile Run, and one place where you can go through Bluemount Park on the Four Mile Run Trail before rejoining the W&OD.  That route is so narrow and bumpy (thanks to tree roots under the pavement) that I just stay on the W&OD.  Before you get to the Columbia Pike crossing there’s a drainage pond on the left that has great water plants and turtles on logs, in season.  There’s also another chance to go on the Four Mile Run Trail, right along the Run itself, with its picturesque waterfalls, rapids, and peaceful nature, all the way down to Walter Reed Drive.  Staying on the W&OD, at Columbia Pike there’s now a nice rest area with fountain, benches, and plantings.

Turnaround

My Turn-Around Point and Eastern End of the W&OD Trail

After another short downhill to George Mason Drive, the Trail is right along Four Mile Run Drive, flat and sunny, with community vegetable gardens on the left, now full of onions and cabbages, with hopeful tomatoes, peppers, beans, cukes, and melons for later in the season.  It ends where it meets Shirlington Road, though right across that road is the continuation of the Four Mile Run Trail that connects with the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport.  Used to be that you’d have to cross I-395 on a pedestrian overpass a couple of block south, but now it’s all an underpass, albeit a long and fairly dark one, especially if you’re wearing sunglasses.  So Shirlington is the W&OD terminus, and simultaneously the gateway to longer rides.

Last Friday it was my terminus too.  I had committed to the full 10.1 miles  each way.  The risk factor was the ride back.  All the way from Shirlington to the I-66 overpass it is a relentless, though gradual, uphill, with the exception of those quick up-and-down over- and underpasses, and one truly flat stretch of about a mile in Falls Church.  By the time I got back to the climb up Virginia Avenue, I questioned my reserve strength.  I decided to ride on the trail rather than the street, even though the trail is essentially the sidewalk for a block of houses, and there are people on it a lot.  I figured it would be a safer place if I had to dismount.  I did not need to, but my bike was in its lowest gearing—smallest chainring and largest cog—for the last couple of hundred feet.

Two years ago I always included an off-trail loop through North Arlington just to get some real hills in and add about three miles to the ride.  But I was happy this time just to get to my first pre-treatment turnaround point and back with no real problems.  I’ll get that loop back into the picture soon enough.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

Comfort Zones

A couple of weeks ago I took to my bike again, following a long patch of rainy weather that necessitated my riding my indoor trainer, and a week away from home.  The later spring blossoms along the way included blackberry and wild rose, their natural copious abundance increased by cool weather and rainfall that assured they’d “pop” once we had a couple of days of seasonal sunshine.

Normally they crowd up to the edge of the W&OD Trail, leaving no doubt of their presence.  But this year the Regional Park Authority spent a lot of time in the early spring cutting back trailside brush to about 15’ to 30’ along both sides of the trail, except in places where it cuts through terrain in a way that results in steep inclines immediately off the pavement.  The result looked very “scorched earth” in March, but now it has mellowed a little bit, despite the herbicides used to dampen [even they could not “halt”] bamboo growth.

Still, for old berry pickers like me, foragers from the ‘70s era of Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, comfortable access to blackberry bushes is a nice perk.  We’ve had a few trailside quarts here and there.  And this would have been a good year, given the 7.43” of rain recorded in Vienna this May.

Wild rose

Wild rose blossoms.

The bushes were still close enough for me to enjoy my late-May rides, because the seasonally humid, close air concentrated the fragrance of the roses.  I’d be riding along, and there would be a stretch of a couple of hundred feet where the air was richly laden with the deep, sweet aromas of the roses’ perfume.  As I wrote here some years ago, it’s easy to tell roses and blackberries apart if you know what you’re looking for.  Both have five white petals in each blossom, and both have clusters of blossoms in similar patterns.  But blackberry blossoms are more slender and ever so slightly greenish, while the broader rose blossoms are equally slightly pinkish.  Likewise, blackberry leaves are on the bluish side of the green spectrum, while rose leaves are inclined, again ever so slightly, to the yellowish side.

While smelling the roses literally, I have been smelling them figuratively as well.  A couple of days ago I took a quantum leap by increasing my riding range from 15 ½ to 21 ½ miles.  I hadn’t really planned to go that much farther, but it was a great day, cool, sunny, dry, and the place I had planned to turn around offered no place to rest.  So I just went on.  Luckily, the terrain between Wiehle Ave. and Van Buren St. is relatively flat, with only one dip and one overpass.  My new turnaround is only about a mile and a half from my old standard turnaround on the W&OD going in that direction, so it may not be too long before I am doing my whole “old normal” ride.

That said, I’m probably only about 75% of normal strength, but a lot of that is just building conditioning back.  I still am fatigued more quickly, and my overall pace is a couple of ticks slower.  But I’m already motivated to push the envelope of my new comfort zone.  And pretty much the whole summer lies ahead!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016