On Saturday, I get the idea that it's time to do the White's Ferry loop, a.k.a. the WODCO loop.
Now, I've ridden the entire W&OD Trail out and back (about 93 miles) in a day on the fixie, running 48x16, and that was a piece of cake, considering that it's all paved and not very hilly. I've also ridden the full C&O Canal Towpath (about 190 miles to my front door) one way over three days on the fixie, along with a group of buddies, and I know that even though it's mostly slightly downhill from Cumberland into Georgetown, the rough "clay and crushed stone" surface of the trail can really take it out of you in an insidious manner, especially when you're weighted down with full panniers.
Well, the White's Ferry loop is about 75 miles and combines the best of both worlds: 35 miles on the W&OD/Custis Trail, 35 miles on the C&O Canal Towpath, and about 5 miles on paved roads to link the two. Throw in a pub stop in Leesburg before a short ferry ride across the Potomac and you've got a nice day in the works.
And that's exactly what it was. Sunday, my girl and I hop on our bikes and head out from Clarendon around one o'clock, some two hours later than we originally intended. We pick up the Custis Trail almost immediately and ride westbound to where it meets up with the W&OD Trail in Arlington. This route makes sure that we get in some climbing before settling in to the relatively easy pedalling out to Leesburg.
The ride on the W&OD goes smoothly until around the caboose stop in Vienna, when I decide to check on my girl's bike, just because it's overdue for an inspection. Sure enough, some play has developed in the driveside crank/BB interface, the result of an undertorqued crank bolt that has worked its way loose. Nobody's fault but mine, as the song goes, since I built it. I tighten up the errant bolt, and we're off again.
We pedal on, stopping only occasionally at busy intersections where most drivers, hermetically sealed in the antisocial capsule of their vehicles, refuse to play fair or even acknowledge our presence. The weather is nice—a little cool and somewhat overcast—but there's a powerful headwind that refuses to yield, creating the sensation of perpetual brake drag the whole way out.
Arriving in Ashburn, we take a right off the trail onto Ashburn Road to grab an energy drink at the Pedalshop. Inside, Mike (the owner) introduces us to his latest work in progress, an On-One Inbred 29er, resplendent in pearlescent white and black, clamped in a bike stand, and awaiting a parts transfer. Sweet frame, with sliding dropouts (a'la Kona) and some cool gussets where the wishbone chainstays originate. Ogle a bit, wipe up my drool, then we chat some more with Mike before he issues me my official ODB/Pedalshop team member discount drinking—er...training—card. Then it's back on the bikes and back to the trail.
We make it to Leesburg (somewhere around mile marker 31) a little after three o'clock, then hang a right off the trail and onto King Street before winding our way to nearby Thoroughbreds Grill and Brewing. Good timing, the "Simple Fare" menu is in effect, offering good food at about half price. They are out of their Cat 50 IPA, but no worries, since Bear Republic's Racer 5 is the guest tap. Nice!
Couple of burgers, couple of pints, and it's time to get back in the saddle. We head off down Edwards Ferry Road to Route 15 on our way to White's Ferry, where we plan to float across the Potomac to the Maryland side to pick up the canal towpath. On Route 15, we pass a vineyard, where the grapes are so ripe for picking they would tempt Bacchus himself, whose otherworldly powers mean that he would not have to climb the fence to sample the goods like us mere mortals.
We pedal on, hugging the road's edge while traffic zooms past us at highway speeds. This four mile or so stretch of asphalt is the only piece of the ride where we come into close contact with automobiles. That's fine with us.
Eventually, we make a left onto White's Ferry Road, and roll along until the road veers left near the edge of the Potomac River. Rounding the bend, it isn't long before White's Ferry comes into view. As luck would have it, the ferry is just leaving from the Maryland side, loaded down with about twelve cars and no bikes. The sluglike pace of the ferry means that we have a few minutes to take in the scenery, which we do. The leaves on the trees are still very green, despite the lack of rainfall the area has experienced lately, and it looks like it will be a couple more weeks before the beautiful crowd-drawing colors appear in full force.
As we stand waiting, a line of cars quickly assembles behind us. We check out a sign that lists the rates for various types of travelers. Cyclists pay a dollar to cross (just a bit steeper than the going rate of six and one-fourth cents per man, mule, or horse levied back in 1828), drivers, three dollars, and pedestrians, fifty cents. In keeping with our undying car culture, bikes are the last to board. We've clocked a little over 40 miles at this point.
[End Part 1]