W&OD Trail Conditions

If you somehow haven't heard, the Washington DC area got about 30 inches of snow in early February.  Too much to bike through.  They plowed the big roads, and then the small roads, and then most of the very small roads.  But not the bike paths.

My commute is from Ashburn to Herndon, Virginia.  Exurb to outer suburb.  It' s about a mile of nice calm local roads and nine miles of W&OD Trail, each way.  Usually takes me about 35 minutes when there's no snow.  Less with a tailwind or if I'm really trying hard, more with a headwind or if I'm sick or on the mountain bike.

Today, I tried it for the first time since the big snow.  I didn't know what the trail would be like.  I have alternate safe road routes for about 90% of my commute, so if it was really bad I could take roads for most of the way and just walk the bike down the W&OD for the mile between Loudoun County Parkway and Route 28, where there are no bike-safe roads.  (There are two stream crossings there, and no bike-friendly roads bridge them.  Only the W&OD and big high-speed highways like 7, 267, 606, and Waxpool.  267 is a limited access toll road and actually illegal to bike on; the others are unsafe to bike on in my opinion, at least during rush hour with their shoulders unrideable due to piled snow.  So if anyone from VDOT or NVRPA reads this, if you can only afford to plow one mile of the W&OD, it should be that mile.)

Anyway, I took local roads to Wild Meadow, which has a small paved side trail leading to the W&OD.  That side trail was covered with several inches of uneven refreeze, so I walked the bike over it.  But the W&OD in Ashburn was actually plowed!  Awesome.  It was only about 5' wide, but that was more than enough.

Around the Ashburn Village Road underpass, the trail went from perfectly plowed to doubletrack.  There were two slushy pickup-truck tire tracks, and then a bunch of footprints.  And a mix of snow, slush, ice, crust, black ice, and occasional bare pavement.  This is rideable with skill and studded tires.  I don't have much icebiking skill (it's like mountain biking, with fewer trees to hit but much worse traction), so I had to put a foot down in places, but it wasn't bad.

After crossing Smith's Switch Road, the tree-lined section of trail was plowed, with evidence of much recent tree work.  Looks like some trees fell and blocked the trail there, but the work crews already got out there and cleared them away, and also got rid of some snow while they were at it.  So I stayed on the trail rather than detouring through the adjacent commercial area's parking lots and roads.

The stretch between Loudoun County Parkway and Route 28 was double-track with lots of melted snow, slush, etc. again.  Rideable with studded tires, but not easy.  I was getting hot at this point (it was about 40 degrees, and the mix of low-speed cycling and scootering and pushing the bike that I was doing is hot work and does not provide the cooling headwind of normal cycling) and removed my balaclava.

Once I crossed 28 I could have taken my road detour (Ruritan, Church, W Holly, E Holly, S Lincoln, Crestview, Herndon, Ferndale, Vine, Spring), but I wanted to see how the trail was.  Bad idea.  Just west of Sterling Road, the trail was blocked by several stopped work crew vehicles.  I pushed the bike around and saw that the crew was removing 3 or 4 large fallen trees.  I should have turned around at this point, but pressed on, walking the bike.  Once I got past where they were working, the double-track went away, showing that no vehicles had gone through.  So the snow in this part of the trail was mostly 4-6" deep refreeze, with footprints and a few refrozen mountain bike tracks but no vehicle tracks.  So I had to mostly walk rather than ride.

I should have turned onto Sterling Road, but I didn't.  Just on the east side of Sterling Road was another large fallen tree that the work crews hadn't reached yet.  I pushed my bike around it.  The next chance to get off the trail (without turning around, which would have been admitting defeat) was at the Oak Grove Baptist Church.  I didn't know where the road there went, but I took it anyway, hoping it hooked up to Crestview.  Nope, it connected to 606, which was crawling with bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I could have ridden in that mess (it's no fun, but the cars are moving slowly enough that it's not that dangerous), but instead I turned around and rode back to the trail.  Then I pushed the bike up to the trail until I reached the largest fallen tree yet, which was big enough that it completely blocked the trail.  I had to climb the snowy embankment on one side to get around it, which would have been slightly annoying even without a bike to push.

That was the last fallen tree until I reached Crestview.  By that point I was hot, tired, and late for work, so I took roads the rest of the way in.  The roads were fine.

Temperatures have been in the 40s lately, so it's all melting.  The parts that are kind of slushy and icy should be clear by the end of the week, if it doesn't snow again.  And the work crews are working on the fallen trees, though I'm not sure how long it'll take them to remove them all.  I recommend taking roads instead of the W&OD through Sterling, at least for a few more days.