So what do you do with miles of railroads from the yesteryears, which are no longer operational? Abandon them? Thankfully, someone had better sense. Today, in the US there are quite a few of these railroads, converted into running and cycling trails. These provide a great place for those who want to indulge in these sporty activities without the hindrance of vehicular traffic.
While visiting Virginia, the trail we cycled on is the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad (W&OD), now looked after by the Friends of WNOD. This particular railroad ferried passengers between towns, from 1859 to 1968. With the increase in the number of vehicles and the improved road networks, the demand for passenger trains came down and finally they closed it down.
It is a 45 mile asphalt trail for walking, running and other activities (motorized vehicles are not allowed) and there is a parallel 30.5 mile gravel path for horseback riding and hiking. So there are portions where the two trails intersect.
On weekends, these kind of dedicated trails (W&OD is one of them) becomes a hub of activity. In fact, if you want to do a fast cycle ride, it’s probably better to plan one on a weekday instead. Else, you’ll have to spend a lot of time dodging walkers, dogs, and other folks out on leisurely pursuits. And calling out “to your left” – etiquette demands you shout out to whoever’s in front of you when you’re passing.
We chose a weekday and it was a good idea. We got dropped at the far end of the trail very close to Purcellville at mile 42 at around 11 am. When we began our ride, we hardly encountered anyone. It turned out to be a very pleasant day and the nice part was the shade of the trees. We did a rather leisurely pace enjoying the scenery and the fact that there was simply no one around!
We wind our way through open fields, empty towns (at least it seemed empty, but we were there in the afternoon), beside rivers and streams, and golf courses and a few houses dotting the countryside. We stopped a few times to enjoy the fresh air and the surroundings.
Back home, we don’t have the luxury of not encountering over-speeding vehicles or honking maniacs, so I thoroughly soaked in the experience. Miles and miles of tarmac and not a single vehicle to bother us. I had to keep pinching myself to tell myself this was for real!
There are quite a few water points on the trail, though I carried a hydration pack to be safe. I had to only refill once. We also had packed sandwiches and some energy bars, which we enjoyed on one of the many benches beside the trail and ate our lunch.
We cycled upto mile 14 beyond Herndon, and then headed back to mile 24, where we had instructions to stop for being picked up by our friends. Though it was relatively warm through the day, the trail passes through areas of shade giving us some relief from the sun. At the town of Herndon, we saw displayed on the roadside, one of the original coaches from one of the trains that plied on the W&OD rail line. We also found a cycling shop (Green Lizard), where we had some coffee and brownies.
All in all, a beautiful trail. We’ve heard it gets packed on weekends, so visit on a weekday and you’ll love it!
Here’s a great website to find other trails to bike around in Virginia, and also the different states in the US.