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…