cafe mama

finding magic every day

biking, running, coffee shopping, in northern virginia . october 28 . 2006

I know, I know. I may have been slightly less than kind to Northern Virginia in my previous post. But I take it all back now! Ok, haha, I don't exactly take it all back. But I will take you on a good-time trip -- without a car! -- through Northern Virginia. To be specific, through Ashburn, Dulles, Sterling, Loudon County, Herndon, Reston, Fairfax County, Vienna, all thanks to the W&OD Trail (phew).

The Washington and Old Dominion Trail, colloquially known as the W&OD, was once a railroad of the same name. At some point -- I'd know if I read the history placards like Jonathan always does -- the railroad was decommissioned, and some bright regional planner decided to make a two-lane trail for walking, running, biking, horse riding (this is Virginia after all) and thanks to the 1990s, roller blading.

Despite its beauty, usefulness and proximity to all kinds of local attractions (I noticed today, for instance, how many post offices were located only a block or so from the trail, then mentally slapped my forehead in realization that's because of the train, silly!), the trail is often difficult to reach from its surrounding communities. Access points are relatively few the further the trail gets from Washington, D.C., and out in Dulles (specifically, near the Residence Inn at Dulles 28 Centre, where I stayed for the past week), it's almost as if the trail doesn't exist. If you want to go to the trail? Go past the CarMax on Pacific Blvd (the back side of the CarMax), along the edge of the lot to the west, through the last row of BMWs. At the end is a fence, and a dirt trail goes around that fence and presto! You're on the trail.

[Brief commercial pause: check flickr for the tag "nvabikeride" for the photos. Don't check soon though, I have a lot to do the next few days!]

So. I wanted to get to Reston, but not take a cab, or rent a car. And in Dulles, virginia, where AOL's headquarters are, there are two options for getting around without a car: (1) the Loudon Commuter Bus, whose schedule I'd link to but it crashed my browser every time I tried to look at it, plus it costs $7 a ride and (2) person power. I don't suggest you try to ride much on the roads who also have cars on them. It's quite dangerous as cars, they really ain't used to no bi-cyc-les. I got any number of dirty looks when venturing more than a block off the trail. And you know what I think about walking.

I searched for bike shops and found, providentially, the Pedal Shop in Ashburn. I always thought to myself, Ashburn's so close to Dulles!, but that's because I always used to drive. Actually, the Pedal Shop is about 4 miles from the Residence Inn, or a little more from AOL's headquarters (or whatever other local hotel you may be reserving for your trip).

To get to the Pedal Shop, get on the trail. Ask at your hotel if you aren't close enough to take my previously described shortcut past the CarMax. Go west (you'll want the mile markers to be increasing) to mile 27.5, which is Ashburn Road (not Ashburn Village Road, which is closer, but the wrong road). Hang a right on Ashburn Road and the Pedal Shop is in the next strip mall on the right side of the street (east) -- about a third of a mile. Watch out for those minivans, they don't all look before backing up.

The Pedal Shop is open until 7 p.m. most days but 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The owner, whose name I've already forgotten, is wonderful and helpful and a perfectionist. He even let me borrow a rain jacket when I rented a bike from him, after closing time (because he's so darned nice), and he worried. It was raining. You may want to bring your own light.

At $15 a day, the rentals are a bargain and the location is perfect. Ok now. Get on your bike and start riding.

I ended up going to Reston on Friday evening, through the driving rain, which is about mile 18.5 on the trail. I had a lovely dinner at the Big Bowl restaurant in the town center, a spot I recommend although I've had many a great meal at McCormick & Schmicks (but expensive) and Palio's (but one too many ingredient in everything). I had a drink afterward, an oatmeal cookie latte (Frangelico, Irish Cream, cinnamon schnapps, latte -- good but not incredible, and the ambiance? So upscale high school cafeteria, complete with seniors turning up their noses at groups of giggle freshmen) at Cosi XandO, a place I thought I'd adore when it opened but...

On Saturday, I got on my bike again, heading to Herndon and stopping near the stunningly-designed library to get a scone and coffee at Great Harvest Baking Co. (just past the Dairy Queen you'll see on your left) I used to think this was the most amazing bakery on the planet; turns out, it's a franchise and Portland's bakeries are way better. Nonetheless it's worth stopping for their fresh slices of bread. And to watch schlumpily-dressed moms putting their daughters (adopted from China) into the SUV (it was a hybrid at least), saying, "sweetie, you can eat it in the car, we have to go meet the builder!" Put on lots of butter. On your bread slice I mean.

Bike through Reston. When you pass mile marker 18, or roundabouts, you'll see a little pavement roundabout to your left (north). You may wish to take the little dirt path down to the man-made pond, around which there is a lovely, beautiful path. The grounds, which are owned by Fannie Mae, or Sallie Mae, or some Mae, are nearly always deserted... except by ducks, blue birds, cardinals, and the occasional blue heron. It's really quite lovely and you'll see when I upload my photos. Watch out for your shoes, though, it's pretty boggy. And Emily Dickinson poems are engraved into the paved portions -- it's another world in which almost no one, but you, will live.

There are mountain bike trails. Do you want to know about them? A mile or so more and you'll cross Michael Farraday Drive. There's a school -- Adventist or something? to the left. And a little stake in the ground next to a path through the trees. If you're a serious shredder, like I can be if I don't have babies in my tummy (and I don't, not right now), you'll love this trail. Go, go, and take a left past that old chair. It's been there for at least six years... the trails can take you all the way to Great Falls if you let them, it's the best mountain biking I know of in Northern Virginia. OK, really, the only mountain biking I know of.

If you didn't go down the trail, or if you're back now, continue on to Vienna, which is somewhere around mile marker 11. You'll see the signs. Once you get into the center of town -- you'll know by the little train -- you should stop at Maple Ave, lock your bike, take a left and go up a couple of blocks to Jammin' Java. I read about it in the Washington Post, by absolute chance, on Friday morning. It's kind of like some of my dreams for Cafe au Play. On this particular Saturday, there was an all-day celebration with children's bands and the place was lousy with well-coifed babies. "I can tell your wife dressed your daughter this morning!" said a very forward woman with a seven-month-old (my guess). "No," said daddy, uncomfortably looking at his (I'm going to be snarky now) plain-faced, blank-eyed progeny in her pink turtleneck, pink suede boots (with tassles), and denim jumper. "Actually, the au pair dressed her."

I mean, I understand the need for an au pair, and many a time I've wished for my own. But Saturday? Come on Dad, give the au pair the day off and pick out your own jumper.

The crowd is interesting, and oh-so-Northern Virginia, the coffee's pretty good, and the menu is extensive. The club area in the back is all-ages, all the time, and is mostly clean and evidently has children's music several times a week even on non-fifth-anniversary days. Who knew?

So that's my trip. You'll have to get on your bike and go the punishing 18 miles back to the Pedal Shop to return it, then run or walk back to the hotel (or if you're not quite as crazy as me, you could call a taxi at this point. I wouldn't think badly of you. And you wouldn't have to sit on the airplane, as I am right now, wishing you'd trained up a bit for this... owww... my calves... my hamstrings... my back... owwww!). And if you have any input for my next trip, send it along.

paying the bills

read my previous post . portland: one million. northern virginia: two . october 24 . 2006