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.
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