Landmark of the Month (July): Spinner's Bike Commute (Part IV)

On this last day of July, I wanted to share a little bit of information about the trail I use to get to work.

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail runs 45 miles, from Shirlington to Purcerville Virginia. As the name implies, it follows the old railroad grade for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, which ran between DC and parts of Northern Virginia from 1859 until 1968. It's a beautiful paved asphalt trail, 10 feet wide and for the most part, smooth, flat and fast.

When the W&OD Railroad closed in 1968, it owned a 100-foot wide right-of-way on either side of its 60+ miles of track. Soon after the railroad closed, the Virginia Highway Department purchased the railroad's property with the intent of using a portion of the right-of-way for the construction of I-66. After Dominion Power purchased much of the property that was left (to use as a corridor for the power transmission lines), the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) was able to lease most of the land for the bike section. The first portion of the W&OD opened in 1974, and was so popular that in the years since, the NVRPA had been able to purchase most of the 45 mile length of property.

The NVRPA is an unique organization that represents Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax. While the trail is owned by the NVRPA, it's primarily maintained by the Friends of the W&OD, a local nonprofit organization that works as an advocate for the trail.

In addition to the towns I've already discussed, the trail passes through a huge number of historical places, many of which date to pre-Civil War times. Of course, there's also a lot of railroad memorabilia; bridges, abutments, mile markers, etc. There's even an old train car and caboose sitting around.

It's a fantastic way to recycle some of our past into a usable piece of society, and it's heavily used. As I ride west on the trail (away from town), there are very few cyclists headed my direction, but I pass 100+ cyclist commuting into town.

I've also noticed the overwhelming lack of trash. You don't see fast food wrappers, Starbuck cups, or other litter on the trail. It's an immaculate shape, and a great way to get to work.

Catching up for lost time

With school, and work, and time on the bike ( and bike time), I've been negligent in updating some photos about life in the big city.

A couple of weekends ago, our small group went down and spent the weekend at Glen Mary Farms, a farm that has been in the Schmidt family for 30+ years (the Schmidt's are one of the couples in our group). Now some of you might be thinking that 30 years is a long time, but when you consider that Glen Mary Farm was started in 1694, it's not that long.

Glen Mary Farms is the southernmost end of the state; on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It is located on the eastern shore of the St. Mary's River (a tributary of the Potomac River) and is very close to St Mary's City, which was founded in 1634 by a group of English settlers.

It's 200 acres of rolling pastures, blackberries, soybeans, roaming bands of horses, six cows, at least 4 dogs, boats, multiple houses, and maybe a couple of goats. We had a great time with friends, relaxing, crabbing, eating the aforementioned crabs, and soaking up the great scenery. I've attached a couple of pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Glen Mary Farms, Maryland.

Ginger pulls up one of the crabpots.

Luke & Gunner eagerly waiting to see what's in the pot.

One of Maryland's finest Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) heads for the pot.

Ginger perfecting the art of eating crabs.

This is what it's all about. Tony Biasell...I wish you had been with us.

Lucky, one of the horses boarded at GMF.

Gunner, not to be confused with my friend Gunner Demers, of Oakhurst, California.

Gunner shakes it off.

Our group, from left to right.

Kristie, (Steve had to head back early for a soccer tourney), Katrina & Dave, David & Lizzette, Cristian & Andrea, Ginger & Spinner

Looking towards the St. Mary's River.

Landmark of the Month (July): Spinner's Bike Commute (Part III)

My final destination on my bike commute is the town of Reston.

Reston sits on 8,000+ acres that had been purchased in 1861 by a German-born physician named C.A. Wiehle (the good doctor retired at 35 years old and was looking for something to occupy his time). Dr. Wiehle had a dream to construct a new town, complete with a hotel, industry, parks and a community center. For a number of reasons, his dream never became a reality, and after switching hands several times, the property was purchased by Robert E. Simon, Jr. (hint: his initials RES are the basis for the town's name, Reston).

The town was officially founded on April 20, 1964 (Simon's 50th birthday; the man was nothing if not humble!) and is widely considered the first modern, post-WWII planned community in the United States. Simon was thoroughly disgusted by the inordinate amount of time wasted commuting to stores and shops and work and residences, and wanted everything to be self-contained in a central location. The careful planning and zoning within Reston allows for common grounds, several parks, large swaths of wooded areas with picturesque streams, wildflower meadows, two golf courses, nearly 20 public swimming pools, bridle paths, a bike path, four lakes, tennis courts, and extensive bike paths. As a result, it's a great place for a bike commute.

As always, here's a few snippets of trivia that may win a bet or bring you victory in Final Jeopardy one day:

There's a strain of the Ebola virus named Ebola Reston, after monkeys imported from the Philippines that were in a Reston medical research facility were found to have the virus in 1989.

The Ebola Virus; if you see this, you are already in trouble!

Each neighborhood has its own public swimming pool, and residents can freely swim in any of the other 19 public pools in the city.

The Washington Metro is attempting to expand a line to Reston that will connect to downtown DC, and will be called the "Silver Line". Based on the current rate of debate and political struggle, it should be finished by 2071.

Reston is also the home of the "Dulles Technology Corridor" which contains the "vital electronic pathways that carry more than half of all traffic on the Internet"; it's home to more telecom and satellite companies than any other place. It's also home to the Internet Society, and used to contain the mainframe that houses the master list of all Internet domain names on Earth!

The next and final installment will talk about the trail that makes this possible, the Washington & Old Dominion Bike Trail.

Landmark of the Month (July): Spinner's Bike Commute (Part II)

I ride through the town of Vienna about halfway through my bike commute. The W&OD Trail runs right through the middle of town, and Vienna still has a small-town type of feel.

The first European settler in Vienna may have been Colonel Charles Broadwater, a prominent colonial soldier and public servant, who owned much of the land in the region and built his home here in 1754.

In the 1760´s John Hunter, a native of Scotland, married Col. Broadwater's daughter. Partly by marriage and partly by purchase, he succeeded Col. Broadwater as the area's principal landowner. It was John Hunter who built the first house of record within the town in 1767 and called it "Ayr Hill" after his native Ayr County (Scotland). As the village grew, it assumed the name Ayr Hill, by which it was known for a hundred years.

Around that time, Moses Cummins, a prosperous northerner, built a plow factory in Ayr Hill. These plows were the first iron-beamed plows made in the U.S. and were shipped far and wide before the Civil War.

In the late 1850´s, the town was in need of a doctor, and they found a well-respected doctor named William Hendrick who was willing to consider moving to Ayr Hill. However, he had one condition that had to be agreed to: he would relocate to Ayr Hill if its name were changed to that of Vienna, his hometown in upstate New York. He must have been quite a doctor, as the town willingly made the change.

The railroad reached Vienna in 1858, and played a prominent role in the upcoming Civil War. When the war broke out, Vienna became an alternate camping ground for the two contending forces. The fifth skirmish of the war, part of the First Battle of Manassas, took place near the Park Street railroad crossing where the Vienna Community Center (I ride across the Park street crossing several times a week!)

After the war was over, many families from both north and south moved back to Vienna. Perhaps due to the influx of northern thought, the first black public school was built in 1868, while the first white public school wasn't built until 1872.

Skipping forward 130 years, in July of 2005, CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Vienna fourth on its list of the 100 best places to live in the United States!

The infamous Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent who spied for the Soviets against the US for 20+ years, lived and was arrested in Vienna.

Robert Hanssen, one time Vienna resident; currently residing in the Supermax prison, Colorado, as Inmate #48551-083/D.

It's a quaint little town to ride through, but what I like best is the smell.As you ride into town, there's a bakery right off the trail, and you can smell it for miles away. On the other side, there's a large sawmill, and the smell of freshly sawn lumber hangs in the air. It's a great ride early in the morning.

Landmark of the Month (July): Spinner's Bike Commute

It's 18 miles from my house to work, which is in the city of Reston. Most of that commute is on the W&OD Trail (more about the Trail later).

I pick up the W&OD trail in the city of Falls Church. The first recorded house in the area was built in 1699, but things really took off in 1734, when a small church was built to serve the local worshippers (George Washington was said to have worshipped, and probably slept, in the church as well). As the church was along the main road to the city of Great Falls, it become known as "Falls Church Road", later shortened to "Falls Church".

Here's a couple of historical tidbits about Falls Church:

The town changed hands several times during the early years of the Civil War.

The world's first wartime aerial reconnaissance was carried out by Thaddeus Lowe and the hot-air balloons of the Union Army Balloon Corps.

Prof Thaddeus Lowe, of the Union Army Balloon Corps

(This is too good to pass up. Lowe was a scientist and inventor who was fascinated with weather and winds. He was attempting to be the first person to make a trans-atlantic balloon crossing when the Civil War broke out. He volunteered his services to the Union Army, and was appointed as the "Chief Aeronaut" of the Balloon Corps. On September 24, 1861, he ascended to a height of 500 feet, where he observed a Union artillery regiment that was firing upon Confederate forces camped at Falls Church. Using a signal flag, he observed their accuracy and soon directed the Union rounds to their deadly mission. You can read more about the Union Army Balloon Corps, here:

Prof Lowe observes a battle in Fair Oaks, VA in his balloon "Intrepid" in this photograph taken on May 31, 1862.

The world's first target of an aerially-directed bombardment, courtesy of Lowe and his balloon.

After it officially become a town in 1875, the first mayor was Dr. John Joseph Moran, known as the attending physician when Edgar Allan Poe died.

Falls Church was the site of the first Roy Rogers fast food location; the restaurant opened in 1968.

Falls Church is the location of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, one of the largest and most influential mosques in the United States with over 3,000 worshippers attending Friday prayers.

From Falls Church, I ride through the town of Vienna, and on to Reston.

July 4th in DC

Our good friend Marina, fresh off the boat from four years in New Zealand.

Alpenglow on the Washington Monument.

Fireworks on the Fourth, before an estimated 568,000 people.

Landmark of the Month (July): Ginger's bike commute

Ginger's commute takes her right through the heart of Cherrydale, a beautiful historic neighborhood in northern Arlington.

Cherrydale is an old community, with the first recorded reference being in 1839 (listed on an application for a a branch U.S. Post Office). Apparently, the name "Cherrydale" comes from the large number of cherry orchards, owned by a man named Dorsey Donaldson, that were located behind the historic firehouse. (For the record, the first recorded settler in thearea was Andrew Donaldson, a farmer and ancestor of Dorsey, who was farming the area in 1780. Native Americans, probably of the Algonquin tribe, lived in sporadic settlements along the Potomac River prior to European settlement.)

In the late 1800's, Cherrydale was an ideal location for fruit orchards and family farms. Easy access to the Washington and Georgetown markets made the land increasingly valuable, for many of the same reasons that the property is highly sought after today. Housing had existed in this area for well over a century, but was especially stimulated in 1906 by the establishment of The Great Falls and Old Dominion Railway Line. Abandoned in 1935, the track bed became Old Dominion Drive, one of the major thoroughfares in the area. In March 2003, the entire Cherrydale neighborhood was placed onthe National Register of Historic Places. It's a beautiful neighborhood with a wide variety of housing styles. You'll find 1920's prefabricated Sears houses, 1930's bungalows,1940's "war boxes," and the currently popular neo-Victorian and colonial style homes. I'm especially fascinated by the concept of a mail-order house, such as these ordered from Sears in the early 1900's. Even if you are not on a bike, it's worth a ride through this wonderful neighborhood.

The Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department, c. 1911

Not-Really-A-Landmark-But-Still-Historical-Place of the Month (July): Bike Commuting

Ginger and I have recently started bike commuting. This decision really wasn't motivated by rising gas prices; it's more of a result of our lives being geared towards activity and the outdoors. At roughly the same time, we each realized that we could bike commute to work, save some cash, and get in a workout at the same time.

It's a short 4 mile ride (one way) for Ginger, and she can commute on her bike almost as fast as you can make it in the car.

It's a 16.2 mile ride (one way) for me, although most of it is on a fantastic bike trail (the W&OD Trail). In case you are interested, I crunched the numbers, and a one-way bike ride to work saves $5.88 ($11.76 for a roundtrip ride!).

Putting in an extra 32 miles a day on the bike is a great way to slide into my training for this years Whitney Classic. Speaking of the Whitney, I have decided, once again, to participate in this outstanding event. This will be the 10th Whitney we have attended, riding for 6 of those years. To celebrate our 10th year, we set an audacious goal of raising $10,000. That's a lot of money, especially in today's world with higher prices for everything and gas continuing to rise. But we feel passionate about this cause, and this organization,and am committed to helping out how we can.

At the start of the 2007 Whitney Classic.

You can follow my fundraising effort online here.

Getting back to the original subject...I love commuting on my bike. In light of this switch, I wanted to use this month to highlight several related items. While they aren't "landmarks" per se, I do find them :

A) personally interesting

B) particular to the DC area

C) historically intriguing and

D) a little easier to research this month. I need a break with something easy!

Stay tuned for details.