Imagine a beautiful blue sky, the beginning of fall colors, a temperature between 50-55 F, a beautiful wooded trail, and a bicycle. That was my Saturday -- most of it. I got to the trail at 11:20 am, and got back to my car at 5:45 pm.
Except for a couple of short stops to eat and get coffee, I rode the whole time: all the way from Bethesda MD to Mount Vernon VA and back.
My commute hasn't been feeling like too much of a challenge anymore, and I wanted to stretch myself. I can tell you, it was a stretch, mentally and physically, and now I understand why they call it MOUNT Vernon.
I started feeling tired about 5 miles from Mount Vernon, on the way out. I knew the path was hilly, but I didn't realize I was steadily climbing because it seemed like there was a dip after every hill. All I knew was that when I got there, I was more tired than I had been on a bicycle since June. I thought maybe it was hunger and thirst, or maybe because it was my 6th day of riding this week.
I really didn't imagine that I had climbed that much until I started heading back, coasting downhill most of the way through those first few miles. I figured that if it really got to be too much, I could catch the Metro at National Airport on the way back and take it to Bethesda, where the station is about a mile from where I parked my car. I knew that doing so would reduce my sense of accomplishment, but I'm pretty practical.
It's a beautiful trail, although I can see why those who ride it year-round need strong lights. More so than the trail I ride everyday, it's full of twists and turns, some of them pretty sharp. It also has a number of bridges crossing over swamps and creeks, and people I know have had close (and unexpected) encounters with deer.
More so than the trail I ride, you need to keep your speed in check, shift, break, and try not to run into anyone or anything. A couple of sections of it are on road, but these are pretty short, and traffic is light. One of them crosses right through the Old Town Alexandria commercial district. The signage isn't perfect, but it's pretty good, and in addition to keeping you on the trail, it helpfully points you to local bicycle repair shops. That's always helpful. There is a Starbucks there too. I stopped on the way back for a "tall" Peppermint Mocha coffee drink which tasted amazing at that point.
By the time I got back into the vicinity of National Airport, I wasn't ready to pack it in yet, so I made myself another deal: I could continue on to the Lincoln Memorial, and ride to the closest DC Metro stop if it started to feel like too much. I never did get on the Metro. I got back to Georgetown, stopped in at Cycle Life (bike shop along my usual route) for some water and a quick tweak of my gear cable, and then continued on home. My usual trail, while uphill, felt perfectly comfortable and I was able to finish up in good time.
That was about 50 miles!