Saturday was marked with sunny clear skies, temperatures creeping into the 60′s and the last vestiges of winter slipping out of grasp (hopefully). After a harsh winter by D.C. standards, there was no question that this was a day to ride!
Justin, Ryan and myself decided on an adventurous route through notoriously bike un-friendly Prince Georges County Maryland with the hopes of discovering some hidden jewels of roads on the border between “town” and “country”. As one moves further from the Districts boundaries you inevitably stumble upon development patterns that begin with tightly knit shopping centers, then run-down commercial districts, and finally farm land or cookie-cutter housing developments with names that harken back to the recently stripped nutrient-rich topsoil or leveled cow pastures. Likewise, the roads become wider and faster with drivers losing patience by the mile, until finally one stumbles upon a lane forgotten by custom home developers. Perhaps the asphalt is rough or rutted, but the peaceful narrow winding quality of the road is not lost on a cyclist.
And so went our ride, leaving DC via the popular Mount Vernon Trail to Alexandria, crossing the Potomac River to the shopping mega-plex of National Harbor, and winding through housing developments that couldn’t be further from the dense rowhomes that our group of riders calls home. Eventually we happened upon the Henson Creek Trail – a gem in the network of multi-use paths that surround D.C. – the trail was well maintained and its users are immersed in a peaceful, natural setting. Yellow and tan river rocks are worn smooth from the clear fast flowing currents. Wetlands and young forests engulf the trail. If your tire were to wander from the asphalt you would quickly find yourself a muddy mess. Disregard the “Trail Closed” signs that result from riverbank erosion, this engineer deemed the crossing safe!
From the Henson Creek Trail we emerged into neighborhoods that gave way to high speed commercial corridors, or at the least what remains of commercial corridors. After a few missed turns we took our chances on Old Branch Ave, paralleling the multi-lane Branch Avenue arterial until we happened upon Woodyard Road. Though the shoulder could have been a foot or two wider, the traffic was relatively calm and gave ample passing distance as we escaped into less developed areas of the county. Crossing Pennsylvania Ave we came upon the narrow Mellwood Road, and the more trafficked Westphalia Road – both providing vistas of rolling farmland.
We had hit our turning point – the outer limits of the development patterns that we would find on this ride. We turned onto Richie Marlboro Road towards Largo and the roads got busier and wider to match the cul-de-sacs, bland condos and strip malls. Justin caught a flat just outside of town, and a 7-11 provided a convenient spot to sit and change out the tube while enjoying “lunch”. Soon he split to the Metro to handle household duties, leaving Ryan and I to meander back towards DC.
Just inside the District boundary we picked up the Marvin Gaye trail towards Benning Road, then finally the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It is always nice to have these “buffer” trails to ease ones nerves after exiting Prince Georges County, and before hitting the busy downtown streets.
If you want to escape the District and have grown bored of Fairfax and Montgomery County roads, I would encourage some thought about Prince Georges County. It is certainly not as pleasant, but with proper planning it is certainly possible to patch together a really nice ride.
Though I don’t wear earbuds while riding – the appropriate soundtrack for this route would be Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” album, particularly this song:
UPDATE: Ryans video of Mellwood Road is online. Now I know what I look like when biking!