Monday, October 5, 2009

Mason Neck

Last Thursday, with my cabin fever approaching its pinnacle, the little voice inside my head said, "Just go." I gave Adam and Eve, my guinea pigs, a pile of romaine lettuce. I left the puffs of breakfast cereal adrift, floating like little corks in their bowls of milk, and jammed my bike into the back of my Honda Odyssey (for those of you without progeny: an Odyssey is a minivan, but a really cool one). And go I did.

Maybe in the true spirit of adventure and human endurance, I should have biked to Mason Neck. But that trip would have clocked about 40 miles on my bike computer, which could handle the strain, and 4o miles on my leg muscles, which could not. So in the true spirit of self-preservation and pain avoidance, I drove. I didn't know the best route for two-wheeling anyway. One way = 18 miles.

Mason Neck State Park, located in Lorton,Virginia, is simply a beautiful spot. It's surrounded on three sides by three different bodies of water: Pohick Bay, Belmont Bay (shown below), and the Potomac River. It is fairly flat and comprises a little over 1,800 acres. The park offers all sorts of amenities - a boat launch, hiking trails, restrooms, a playground - but I went to bike.

The bike path is not very long, but has many advantages for novice cyclists like me. It is wide and paved with a white center line and stop signs posted at intersections with other trails and access roads. It snakes its way through the forest, but never so far from the entrance road that I felt isolated. Mileage markers dot one side of the path and there are conveniently located benches, bike racks, and a ranger station. The majority of the path is flat, but a few hills and sharp bends let me practice my shifting and handling skills. On the flat stretches, I focused on increasing my average speed, and thanks to my bike computer, I know exactly how slow I am.

The path winds for about 3 miles inside the park. The trees and their foliage were still dense and green, and except for the cool temperature, it could have been spring. As much as I appreciate green, I didn't think the monochromatic scenery would make an interesting picture, but on the side of a bridge, some wild blueberries caught my eye.
I also spotted two deer, standing almost unnaturally still on the side of the bike path. I got off my bike and tiptoed closer, but they ran off into the woods. Getting a picture was impossible.

Outside the park, the bike path continues on Gunston Road, where a quick ride (not quite 3/4 of a mile) lands you at Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason. The road that leads to the Mason mansion is flanked by open grass and a line of trees on both sides. I didn't ride its entire length because I noticed there is an entrance fee and I had absolutely no money with me. (I had already fleeced the Commonweatlh of Virginia by not paying the $3 to get into Mason Neck, which is requested based on the honor system. I've since mailed Mason Neck the money to restore my honor.) Because of my poor financial planning, I have no photographs of the mansion, but here are a couple from the access road.

The bike path ends shortly after the entrance to Gunston Hall, but Gunston Road is wide with good visibility and little traffic, so I think that a relatively inexperienced rider like me could confidently tackle it. At its southeast end, it empties into the Potomac; at the more populated northwest end, it crosses Route 1. I saw only one cyclist during my visit. He wore a tie-dyed-look Spandex shirt and something equally clingy on the bottom. I was wearing a t-shirt and hoodie and exercise pants from Target that had a superfluous flare on the bottom of each pant leg, which flapped around until I restrained each one by wrapping it close to my calf in packing tape, which is this fall's "must-have" accessory for the Scooter Skirt Cyclist and all other pedaling fashionistas.

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