Sunday, May 6, 2012

Take That, You Fat Toad

My recent downtime combined with eating way too many bagels and too much pizza as well as drinking beer and ale has given my stomach an unwelcome enhanced profile. Once I got back to DC I decided to do something about it.

Last weekend I peeled off a 64 mile day.  I have to say that the last five of those miles was a bit of a slog but I got the job done.  Once my leg muscles had forgotten the trauma I made up my mind to do a 70 mile ride this weekend.  I intended to go yesterday but was foiled by father time. So today was make-up day.

After reading the paper and snarfing a carbo rich breakfast, I rolled down the street on the Sequoia.  I headed straight to Riverside Park where I picked up the Mount Vernon Trail.  The next mile was an uphill grind but when I reached Mount Vernon ten percent of my ride was behind me.  The weather was cooperating. It was overcast and in the low to mid 70s. I was dressed in my yellow Valpo hoodie and was comfortable.  If it rained I'd be a cold wet mess so I kept my fingers crossed.

The Woodlawn area just beyond Mount Vernon is a pretty nice place to ride.  The only problem is there is not enough of it.  I split the area in half on the Mount Vernon Highway and entered Fort Belvoir at Walker Gate.  The Fort is another great place to ride. Many of the roads have been re-built with bike lanes and sharrows.  I climbed the long hill on Mount Vernon Road savoring the return trip when I would fly down it.

I worked my way across the base and popped out on the Fairfax County Parkway between US 1 and Telegraph Road. At Telegraph I took a left and headed for Old Colchester Road.  This is a surprisingly rural road that descends to a creek before - ugh - climbing back up.  The climb is windy and steep in parts but at least its shaded.

I took a left on Gunston Road which is a two-lane, 50-mile per hour, no paved shoulder road to nowhere. It takes a bit of gumption to ride this road but, as my wife likes to remind me, I am full of it.  After a few miles on nail biting I turned into Mason Neck State Park.  This is a little known and underused gem of a park that has hiking trails and lots of opportunities to see bald eagles.

I took a rest a the visitor center on Pohick Bay and ate a Klondike bar as I watched the boats and the birds go by. No bald eagle sightings were had though.

After 15 minutes the Sequoia was lonely so I hopped aboard and headed back. I had completed a little over 1/3 of the ride and felt pretty darn good.  Back on Gunston Road I took a short diversion to the right.  At the end of the road is a fine enclave of houses, many with superb views of the river. Kids were playing in the streets like they did when I was young.  They had bikes and skateboards and Razor scooters and were making load conversation. 

My return to childhood over, I made my way back out Gunston Road all the way to Old Colchester. I hung a left and road some pretty impressive rollers through the countryside - much of it a land fill.. Garbage made pretty.

One lane takes the road under the east coast railroad tracks. The sign said, "Toot Horn First". I felt woefully inadequate but gave my bell a hearty "DING" and rode through.

Across US 1 and up the hill and I was soon in land-o-garbage. There are landfills and garbage processing stations all along this hilly route.  At the top of the hill I came upon the old Lorton Prison complex, which at one time was one of the most depressing sights in the DC area. I zigged and zagged through the area, a mixture of new houses and modest little frame houses from back in the day when location, location, location meant don't live here.

I took the curvy Lorton Road down to I 95 and pulled into a gas station convenience store for some calories. After a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich and a cup of Joe I was ready for the last 23 miles of my adventure in suburbia.

The roads in Lorton have change quite a bit over the last 10 years.  Once the prison was closed, there was a land swap between Mason Neck - which does not have a mainline sewer conduit - and Lorton - which does.  Mason Neck now has empty fields of grass and Lorton has housing developments.  No  matter how you cut it, Lorton is a polished turd of suburbia.  There are remnants of its downtrodden prison days everywhere, including a sign noting the location ("just north of here") of a Nike missile site. Apparently this missile site kept them Ruskies from invading our prison. Money well spent.

I worked my way back to US 1 at Gunston Road. I retraced my path all the way to the Fairfax County Parkway. A remnant of the old Braddock Road that was obliterated by the Parkway remains near Fort Belvoir. I took that 1/2 mile road and watched as folks came out of a Buddhist (I think) temple. A little girl dressed in a silk dress walked with her mother on the side of the road. She had her hair in pigtails and each pigtail was adorned with an orange ball the size of a softball. She was so cute. Sadly my camera is still being rehabilitated so there is no picture.

I climbed back up into Fort Belvoir via the Tully Gate.  The road up this long hill has been greatly improved recently with a bike lane on either side. Nicely done, Pentagon.

After some meandering on the Fort I road back down Mount Vernon Road.  Smooth as glass and wide with little traffic, Mount Vernon Road is one of my favorite places to let it rip. And so I did.

Back in Woodlawn I ate up some extra miles diverting into the Yacht Haven neighborhood. I popped back out near Mount Vernon and retraced my route, tacking on a few miles near home to see the odometer click 70 miles as I turned into my neighborhood.

With mission accomplished I grabbed a cold Gatorade and a bowl of nuts, dry cereal and pretzels and sat on the deck in triumph. In minutes, of course, I was sound asleep. Father time had caught me at the finish line.


  1. Great report!! Sounds like a wonderful ride. Do you have a map of the route? Thinking abou maybe copying your idea, mason neck is a terrific destination.

  2. No map but it's pretty simple. MVT to Mount Vernon Highway (on far side of mansion) to left into Belvoir. Go to top of hill and continue until you hit the T. Take a right. Go all the way across the Fort until a T at Kingman. Left to FCPW to Telegraph. Left. Telegraph becomes Old Colchester at US1. Old Colchester to Gunston. Gunston to Mason Neck access road. On the way back the little loop into the neigborhood with the kids is just a right on Gunston to the end and then back tracking on Gunston. Back to Old Colchester. Left. Follow signs, under the RR to US 1. Across 1 onto Furnace Rd. Keep going until Lorton Rd. Left on Lorton. Right on Ox. Right on Furnace. Left on Lorton. Right on Lorton Market Rd which becomes Gunston at US1. Left on Old Colchester to Telegraph at US1. Right on FCPW. Left on Braddock. Across US1 to Fort Belvoir. Then work your way through the fort to right on Mount Vernon Highway to Mount Vernon and the MVT.

    Fort Belvoir is worth exploring. You can't get lost. There's lots of fun stuff. A park on the river with archery. Lots of old equipment. Golf courses.

    Also Mason Neck has Gunston Hall which is worth a visit (I went with my son's fourth grade class.)

  3. Cool! like this?

    You are inspiring me to expand my "bike mental map." It currently ends at Mt. Vernon :).

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  5. Nearly. I went into Fort Belvoir near "River Village" before US1 and popped out at Kingman. The way you drew is not doable since there is a barrier at Pole Road. (This used to be a designated east coast bike route, BTW.)

    One other tid bit, Fort Belvoir is building a new road that connects Pole Road to Telegraph. This will finally replace the a connection through the base (on Woodlawn Road) that was closed after 9/11.

  6. Great report of your ride. Sounds like you earned your after ride nap......


  7. I know well all the roads you travelled and tip my cap (in the virtual sense) at your accomplishment. Those roads are not for the timid. I've often thought Old Colchester Road and Mason Neck would be nice rides - the problem is they are impossible to get to. The route from the south requires lengthy stays on Rte 1 (ugh) and braving the bridge over the Occoquan. I think you were kind in your treatment of the road network in/around Lorton. I'm surprised Ft. Belvoir gave you access, unless you have a DoD ID that I am not aware of. Perhaps they've relaxed the rules there. If you can't get on base, then making the connection from Woodlawn to Lorton would be an absolutely brutal stretch of Rte. 1.

  8. Great ride report and congrats on getting a big bike ride in!

    "Once my leg muscles had forgotten the trauma" -- oh how many well-intentioned plans begin with this sentence!!