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DC AIDS Ride 4: Ride 6: The Great Casanova Bicycle Ride

Ride 6: The Great Casanova Bicycle Ride Saturday, April 3 Distance: 42 miles

Casanova Map

Adventuring is a wonderful group. Through one of their hikes I met the first guy I ever dated, who has since become a good friend. Through them I learned about the wonders of snow walking through Civil War battlefields. And through their biking contingent I got an honest-to-goodness perspective on what Northern Virginia must have looked like thirty or forty years ago before the Sprawl took over. Adventuring does in a sense represent one of the reasons why I don't dismiss the notion of a Gay Community altogether. A group of, well, gay men, started the group about twenty-something years ago to promote outdoor activities and exploration of the Washington, DC area. They organize all sorts of cool non-bar things for DC's gaytelligentsia to do on sunny, rainy and snowy days such as canoe trips, hikes, bike rides, camping trips and such. We like Adventuring.

The ride leaders for Adventuring reached an agreement with the AIDS Ride office and announce their training rides to the AIDS Ride community, which is pretty cool of them given that most of the repeat offenders from Adventuring are harder-core bikers with many more miles under their bums. That translates to leading a number of beginners such as myself through some of the more rugged terrain in the NoVA area through rides that could be four-hour jaunts for seasoned bikers but seven-hour leg-breakers for my kind. I'm glad they don't mind encouraging us beginners. John Harpold, a member of the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance team (AGLA) shared the news of this ride with the team and his decription of his memories got me excited about the ride:

Gary, Yes!! I will be there for the butt ache and auld lang syne. The Casanova ride you are leading this Saturday is one of the magic places for me. Picture Dad and his then 14 year old son James coming up from the stream crossing, in spring woods. The 20th century pavement up the hill toward Casanova lies atop an 18th century carriage way, sunken at the crest below the surrounding meadow level as the result of erosion and iron bound wheels. Just as the we were coming level with the fence, a herd of deer thundered on our right, driven by two huge, antlered bucks. They overtook us from behind, and, clearing wooden fences on either side, lept over the road we were on and vanished down the hillside to the east. We stopped in our tracks, hearts pounding, awestruck. We came up 20 yards or so to the place where they had flown over, where the fence begins to come back down to road level. We looked after them and then --- second wonder! -- saw the "Ocean view" illusion that Jefferson preened himself on having captured from Monticello's eastern facing terraces: where the sleepy Piedmont hills recede in blue and purple haze at the horizon line in endless waves, mimicing exactly the Atlantic seen from a maindeck railing. The sense of beauty, history and energy of Nature held us both in a speechless intensity, till the sun shifted and we refocused on our goal, the Casanova store. I've never forgotten that moment. Closing my eyes, I hear the hooves and see the green spring blades of meadow grass in the morning sun. -- Just sign me up, empurpled in reminiscence, John

I showed up promptly at 9 AM, having debated whether or not I would go to that ride or join the AGLA group for a spin up the W&OD trail. I opted for novelty and appeared at East Falls Church, being late enough that I decided to drive there rather than bike the four miles (a decision which turned out to be a wise move). At around quarter of 10 we got a move on. The ride would not be beginning at EFC Metro but rather outside of Manassas, about 30 minutes away by car down I-66. The directions we received took us to the town of Nokesville, a farm community about 20 miles from Manassas. We left our cars at the Nokesvile Community Park and, after applying some sunscreen, headed off into the biking world.

This was the first ride I've been on where we required a route map and instructions. By the third intersection, I was already amongst the last four bikers and relying fully on the map. However, my usually sharp sense of direction failed me and I was reading the map completely incorrectly. Fortunately, the mile-by-mile breakdown was easy to follow, and Gloria, Jen (of W&OD fame), a fellow whose name I never got, and I kept each other company and from getting lost. We biked through some of Virginia's finest farm country. Beautiful and ugly farm houses with apparently many years of history were at both sides of the roads, with horses, cows and sheep grazing placidly under the warm springtime sun. Bradford pears in springtime bloom dotted the landscape and evergreens created hedges lining the pastures. A farmer with a pitchfork jokingly threatened to make me stop and help him scrape his fence and prepare it for whitewash.

At mile 15.7 we reached the first rest stop at the intersection of Elk Run and Midland Roads. The stop was a rural general store, one of the many we'd pass on our trip. There had been a hefty climb a few miles before, the westernmost reaches of Quantico military base before that, and farmland at either side for miles throughout. The four of us (Team Sweep, I call us) arrived about half an hour after the first batch of riders. They left soon after we got there, basically wanting to ensure that no one got irredeemably left behind. Team Sweep replenished supplies, drank water and continued on our journey.

The next leg went by quickly and painlessly. More rolling hills, an Industrial Park in the middle of the farmlands with no apparent industries in sight and a couple of intersections were memorable landmarks en route to the hamlet of Casanova. Little more than a railroad stop, Casanova houses a very cool-looking general store with a very friendly clerk who let us use her bathroom.

Jen, man with name I did not ask for, and I took of on our last leg somewhat ahead of the harder core bikers who were helping out a rider with a broken spoke. This leg started out on a beautiful road with an overhead canopy of blooming trees. Along each side were low walls made of fieldstones and old wooden fences. Bridges full of history that might someday be recorded cross over bubbling creeks that may very well have been crossed by Confederate or Union soldiers during the Civil War. The main pack of bikers caught up to me at Old Auburn Road and left me behind. This is not a race. This is not a race. One of them took a wrong turn and some followed. I contemplated stopping but realized I wouldn't be much help, and kept on going. This is not a race. This is not a race.

At Kennedy Road my legs started feeling that characteristic burn that they hadn't felt since my first ride on Pierce Mill. At the top of a hill I stopped to catch my breath and rest my legs. My camelback was empty, my body having consumed 100 ounces of gatorwater already. Jen caught up, joined me on my break and offered me a pear. The other bikers caught up, waited with us and then headed on. With seven miles to go until we reached Nokesville, Jen and I got lost. We saw a sign at an intersection and followed what we thought was the right trail. A mile and a half later Jen realized we were still on the road we thought we had left. When we returned to the intersection we realized that the sign had been rotated a quarter of the turn. Jen's completely cheerful disposition kept me going and cranking up those last hills towards Route 28--a blessed sight. Man whose name I did not catch caught up with us on Fitzwater Drive. His words: "I never imagined the words 'Welcome to Nokesville' would ever sound so wonderful." He had been ahead of us but had had to double back to retrieve his helmet. Tired, thirsty and with a full bladder I arrived at Nokesville Community Park where cake was waiting. It was the birthday of one of the Adventuring bikers, and Mike, one of the ride leaders, had baked a cake. I liked Mike and Gary, the two ride leaders. In fact, every rider was pretty cool--friendly, willing to give good riding advice and generally pleasant people. I've been useless all night.

Tomorrow I'll be going to Charles' mom's house for Easter lunch. I'll be his first S.O. to meet Mom. I'm sure it'll be fine. I just hope I don't oversleep.