For reasons unknown, I became strangely captivated by the Tour de France one summer years ago while flipping TV channels. This international cycling battle of endurance, agony and exhilaration became an annual obsession for me that began to impress itself into me and left me wanting more.
But spectating 21 stages of the world’s most exciting bike race is too sedentary an experience, so I would join the action atop a cheap lime green beach bike perched in front of my TV on a bike stand. The French countryside whizzed by in a blur as I outshined the competition and furiously pedaled my Walmart special—complete with a front basket, sparkling tassels and a pink bell.
But the day after I joined the Tour de France winner in a champagne toast as we coasted into the Champs-Élysées in my living room, I was left with a nagging emptiness and an urge to continue the cycling euphoria. It was time to take it to the streets!
I soon discovered why Tour de France competitors don’t use beach bikes with pedal brakes on the torturous mountain stages. The local roads also appeared too perilous for a novice biker, so my cycling limitations consigned me to neighborhood sidewalks.
Replete in a kaleidoscope of colors, I seemed to get lots of smiling attention and assorted smirks from drivers during my rides. At one point, my husband beeped in passing and said it was refreshing I didn’t care that I looked like I was recently turned loose from the circus.
New riders trying to broaden their biking journeys should anticipate the terrain, understand the level of safety, and know what to expect as they navigate the trails.
But with persistence and practice came budding knowledge and cycling expertise. As I researched and immersed myself into the world of bikes, I found a good home for “Limey” with one of its admirers. I equipped myself with a hybrid bike and less garish accessories. It made me poorer in the pocketbook, but I was abundantly richer as a rider.
When I pulled on a professional looking Mitchelton-Scott bike skinsuit—the kind they wear on the Tour – I really looked the part, and my newly kindled biking dreams began to come alive. I was feeling pretty special, and imagined myself as the famous cyclist Peter Sagan.
But the first week, as I was riding “tall in the saddle” in my new professional get-up, I turned a corner too fast and tumbled off my steed, breaking my collarbone. The onset of the pandemic further coated my recovery in gloom. Tail between my legs, I licked my wounds and plotted my glorious return.
Some excruciating weeks later—and before any reputable physician would have permitted—I finally rolled my bike outside and emerged from my dispirited isolation.
It took time before my body allowed me to pedal much more than a mile, but I began to extend my territory to longer rides. Google map bike routes, and Trail buddy helped me extend my horizons and I mapped out routes, strapped my Trek bike on my bike rack and headed off to a new trailhead. I planned to conquer the 40-mile Gerry Connolly Cross County (CCT) trail—between Occoquan Regional Park and Great Falls—in sections. From the Park, the ride begins near the old Lorton prison workhouse that was recently converted into an Arts Center. In that section, the ride takes you under the historic Barrel Bridge built by prisoners, and into the rustic interior at the southern edge of Fairfax County. I delighted in horse farms, deer sightings, a picturesque lake, and streams amid huge boulders. It was beautiful!
My enthusiasm for my quest mounted as I explored the bike trails, but I noted that very few women were out on their bikes. That seemed a little odd, though I would soon understand. Over the next few weeks, as I fully recovered from my injury, I pieced together the CCT sections encountering steep and hilly parts, crossing major highways, and dealing with somewhat treacherous terrain in parts where weather or woods helped test me and sharpen my skills.
Just past Oakton, near Oak Marr Park, the lack of signage confused me into a wrong turn that momentarily led me to believe I should compete with traffic on a busy single lane road. Once re-established on the CCT and back in the woods, overgrown thorny vines snagged my clothes as I rode by. Those thorns were the likely culprit when I soon discovered a punctured tire and my ride came to an unplanned and ignominious standstill. Great! With no one around, no spare tire, no patch and devoid of bike maintenance skills, I felt vulnerable. I took out my mace spray and began walking my wounded bike back to the car. I had been sorely unprepared for the terrain.
Why aren’t there more females out on the bike trails? When a woman enters unfamiliar territory, she needs to know it’s safe to proceed. A visual trail breakdown might help preview the conditions and rigors of the trail and help a cyclist anticipate precautions to observe.
We all know the health benefits, but we don’t necessarily know about the beauty and hidden treasures tucked along the paths out there. Experiencing isolated splendor should not come at a cost. New riders trying to broaden their biking journeys should anticipate the terrain, understand the level of safety, and know what to expect as they navigate the trails.
I’m a professional videographer with my own company (VideoMagic.video), so it was natural to attach a GoPro on my bike, join forces with a female accomplice (who happens to be a serious biker and fellow videographer) and create a visual taste of what to expect on the trails. We became “Ride and Shine Trailblazing Women” and filmed on bike paths in McLean, Reston, Falls Church, Vienna, Arlington, Alexandria, Burke, DC and all around Fairfax County.
What we saw was sometimes breathtaking in its beauty or even startling with pervasive wildlife. There is much to be learned of our deeply layered historical area. Not only remnants of the Civil War are scattered about, but archeological evidence of Native Americans. There are neoclassical ruins, gold mines, horse farms, birders’ sites, a castle, treasure hunters’ caches, and colorful art sculptures, breweries, dinosaur tracks and so much more.
Hidden gems are right here nestled and often hidden within our neighborhoods.
We created a YouTube Channel called “Ride and Shine Bicycling” and began uploading short trail review videos with titles such as: “Lake Relax You’re on the Bike Path”, “History Buffs’ Treasure Trove”, “Oktoberfest Beer Bike Tour” and “Ghostly Bike Trail”. VisitFairfax.com, the tourism organization, also known for Virginia for Lovers, took notice of our postings and we are now in collaboration. We post once a week. Some of our future posts will be “Seven Crazy Hills to Bike”, “Searching for Gnome Houses”, “Birding and Biking” and “A Quirky DC Bike Tour”.
The goal of Ride and Shine is to empower more women to get on their bikes and ride the trails – preparing better and worrying less. Walkers and runners will reap similar benefits.
Bike riding helps transport you into a simpler world beyond the cityscape showcasing beauty, history, and ecological diversity. As the wind rushes through your hair, remember to be a good steward of our cultural and natural resources. Ride a bike…see stunning scenery…explore and enjoy the journey.
Hope to see you riding!