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Old 10-11-10, 07:19 AM   #1
mihernan
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From Franconia to Stafford VA, a tale of Google Maps treachery

This is a long post, so forgive me if you get bored, but I thought I’d share my trek across northern Virginia as a warning to anyone else who dares attempt it.

I live in Franconia and my parents live in Stafford so on one of my days off I decided to ride from my house down to their house and have dinner with them. I’ve never attempted this ride before, mostly because I wasn’t aware of any good route options that would get me there safely. Since Google’s bicycling feature appeared on Google Maps, I have been a bit more adventurous and plotted the route out beforehand. Despite being a little wacky (interesting and highly unnecessary ‘short cuts’) the route looked pretty straightforward.

The only part that concerned me about the route was the fact that it crossed directly through Prince William Forest Park (didn’t want to have to pay) and through Quantico military base (I’m not military so I didn’t know if I could get onto the base). But overall the route stayed off of the major roads, so I figured I’d be relatively safe.

Unfortunately the bicycling feature isn’t the most polished app on Google Maps. They give you a warning that says something to the effect of “you may encounter unplanned construction, weather, etc that may alter your route” but there was no warning that said “you may encounter roads on these directions that do not actually exist and/or unplanned clusterfarting.” Needless to say, it was a tough ride.

Google estimated the route would be 41.3 miles and at their grandmotherly pace of 10mph would take just over 4 hours. With all of the discombobulation and wrong turns I took, it ended up being a shade under 50 miles and took right around 3.5 hours. Most of the ride was on trails/ off-road, but the parts that were on road were on 45mph, no-shoulder roads and were absolutely terrifying.

The first 10 miles or so were easy because they were on trails/bike lanes and I had ridden them plenty of times before. The most scenic part of the whole trip occurred as I crossed the Occoquan River on a picturesque bike bridge, and then proceeded to climb an unnecessarily large hill in old town Occoquan. A bit later there was a 7 mile stretch along Minnieville Rd, much of which was riding in traffic and accounted for the aforementioned bowel-evacuating terror above. I shortly rejoined the trails and that’s where the real fun started. The cue sheet tells me to take a left onto Spriggs Lane Fire Rd, which as I should have guessed by the name is nothing more than a gravel escape route out of the park and has a locked gate across it. This is extremely convenient seeing as the main entrance is on the opposite end of the park. Somehow I manage to find my way to the main drive through the park, which is nicely paved and set up beautifully for biking. Then I take a right on West Gate Fire Rd (again, alarm bells failed to go off in my head), which is ‘supposed’ to connect to Joplin Rd. In actuality it dead ends into a campground. After some rerouting I finally make it to Joplin Rd and then proceed to go the wrong direction for a couple of miles because I came out farther south than I had anticipated and didn’t take it into account.

Joplin Rd is also a terrifying experience because it’s a twisty two-lane road with literally no shoulder whatsoever and plenty of blind curves; and because it’s a back road, people travel along it at light speed. I finally reach the turn onto the military base that Google Maps has provided only to find a barricade across the road with a sign saying “if you cross this line you will be arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay to have various torture devices repeatedly inserted into your body’s orifices.” Again, there is an insanely huge detour to get on base legally, but once on the base it is probably the best place to ride a bike in the area. Not only are the roads practically empty, but every car that passed me moved completely into the other lane to do so and I felt like I owned the place. Then I followed Google Maps onto a gravel road that is used almost strictly for training purposes. I think the only vehicles that traverse this road are Humvees, Sherman tanks, and my dumb ass. But at least I had the trail to myself, which was good so that no one could see me crying as I climbed the enormous gravel hills.

Once through the base the rest of the trip was easy money. I didn’t even attempt to ride on Rt. 610 because by this time it was rush hour and I like to think of myself as marginally intelligent. I say marginally because if I was really smart, I would have just driven…
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Old 10-11-10, 11:43 AM   #2
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Very well written, thanks for that. I don't know how many times I've been on a hill and thought "man, this hill is just unnecessarily large. Who's idea was it to make is this large?"

I do have to wonder though... how was the trip home?
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Old 10-11-10, 03:41 PM   #3
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Tsk, tsk. You should have asked on Bikefourms first.

A lot of the canned bike routes send people down Minnieville Road. Not smart. It's a suicide ride.
I've driven Joplin Road and have seen bikes on it, but it wouldn't be my choice of route. Dumphries Road is big and bad, but at least it has a shoulder.
I usually send people around to the quiet roads to the west of Quantico, but that's for getting to Fredricksburg. Would have added some distance fro getting to Stafford.
As much as I hate route 1, that might have your best bet. Could have cut over there from Occoquan, or used Smoketown/Opitz and avoided the nastier parts of Minnieville. Route 1 is supposed to have a bikeable shoulder for most of the way. I've never biked it south of Gunston so I can't vouch for it in PW county.
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Old 10-11-10, 09:13 PM   #4
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I've biked down Rt. 1 to Woodbridge and once you cross the bridge, the shoulder ends; however there is a sidewalk (bleh). That's why I decided to try this route.

About the return trip - I cheated and hitched a ride back home from my step-dad
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Old 10-12-10, 06:41 PM   #5
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Got caught on Joplin by accident myself one day. Such a pretty road. I realized there was no shoulder, but was hoping the road would be completely empty because it was mid-day on a weekday, and I figured nobody would have too much of a reason to use the road anyways as there are better options IMO. I was wrong. As you said, absolutely no shoulder and I came to the conclusion that people only drive down it for the express purpose of going way too fast... to enjoy the blind curves a bit more. Turned my blinky light on, puckered my sphincter, stood on my pedals, swirved a bit, and generally tried to make as much movement as possible to be noticed.

Doesn't Minnieville have a sidewalk all the way down?

I live in Woodbridge, and I tend to stick to the Rt 234 or PW Pkwy bike paths. It sucks that there aren't more paths or lanes around. I'd like to do some long rides north and south myself, but the nice paths head east/west...
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Old 10-13-10, 09:52 AM   #6
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Google bike maps has an error reporting feature that you might want to take advantage of. When it was first announced, I found a place where their data had a continuous bike path as two unconnected paths, and, as a result, bike directions had you going on a wide detour to get around the supposed break in the path. I reported the error and, after a good amount of time, they reported back to me that it was fixed. So it's not super-fast, buy they do work through and address those fixes.
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Old 10-13-10, 02:47 PM   #7
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Submitted to Google for correction. Thanks for the suggestion!
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Old 10-26-10, 04:08 PM   #8
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There are many roads shown on google, yahoo, mapquest, your favorite gps, etc., that do NOT exist.

There are roads that DO exist that the electronic maps insist are not there.

There are many places where the electronic maps assign names to roads different than the names on the ubiquitous little green signs. Sometimes the electronic maps switch road names of two intersecting roads.

It is occasionally amusing when a gps dependent cyclist INSISTS that a cue-sheeted route is wrong because the names are not consistent with the incorrect electronic mapping services.


There is nothing wrong with 45 mph roads with no shoulders ... if they are in a low density area. In places such as northern Virginia, the secondary and tertiary windy, twisty 45 mph roads are often faster than I-95, US-1, US-29, whatever your favorite major road be. People WILL find those alternatives, and USE them. Someone that lives in northern Virginia should have already known that.
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Old 11-04-10, 10:04 AM   #9
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"It sucks that there aren't more paths or lanes around..."

And that drivers appear to not give a flip about another human.

That big hill out of Occoquan is Tanyard Hill, a real doozy. Used to be on my daily commuting route.
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Old 07-02-11, 11:40 PM   #10
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Sorry to bump an old thread, but I've been curious about biking to Stafford from, well, anywhere in north Arlington really (I can get around there easily). Any ideas on how to get to Occoquan from there? I think using the so called "US Bike Route 1" I can get to the part of Stafford I want (near Route 17, north of I-95) from Occoquan.

Note: I prefer NOT to ride on roads > 35mph, or roads without decent shoulders.
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Old 07-03-11, 12:13 PM   #11
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http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4621336
This is the route I'd take. W&OD, local roads through Vienna and Fairfax, sidepath on Braddock, local roads through Manasas, (mostly) quiet country roads from Manasas around west of Quantico.
I've ridden all but the last few miles into Stafford, so I can't vouch for that part.
Not as direct as route 1 but, much of it is pretty and avoids most of the bad/busy roads.

PS. If you're going to Occoquan first, take the PW Parkway up to Manasas, then Hastings to Lucasville.
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Old 07-05-11, 09:29 AM   #12
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Thanks very much! I don't have to go via Occoquan, so I'll try this sometime.
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