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I Tend to Wander

This blog chronicles oddly-themed travel and food adventure in the Americas and Europe

Monday, December 18, 2006

Alexandria, Virginia: Nautical and Natural

It's 66 degrees on December 18th! Let's Bike!

Well-groomed parks, art studios, historic houses, and a pretty impressive swamp line the Mt. Vernon Trail along Old Town Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront.

Fifteen-minutes from downtown Washington, D.C. a languid stroll or bike from Old Town north to the Washington Sailing Marina and back is a fine way to unwind for the day or just the afternoon.

If you stroll, start from The Torpedo Factory in the heart of Old Town at the bottom of King Street. This cavernous World War II weapons factory now houses the studios and shops of painters, weavers, sculptors, potters, and photographers. Set off north from the wharf behind the studios.

If you’d rather, you can rent bikes just one block south of The Torpedo Factory at Big Wheel Bikes at (2 Prince Street). While they’re not giving them away ($5.00/hour with 3-hour minimum or $25.00 for the whole day for a basic adult or kid’s bikes), they do have a large stock and wide variety including tandems, bikes with baby seats, and Trailalongs. The comfort and agility of an aluminum hybrid with a front shock, at $7.00/hour or $35.00 for all day, might be worth the price, but the gently rolling, paved trail and mellow street riding don’t call for the expensive top-end, full suspension mountain bikes or aero-shifter road bikes.

Inexplicably, the official Mt. Vernon Bike Trail map insists that riders maneuver down car-clogged Union Street, across a working railroad track, before allowing them to escape to the river. Our advice: ignore the official decree and hug the river from the very beginning by carrying your bike up the stairs of the Torpedo Factory and out the back to the wharf, and set off past the Chart House restaurant (famous for crab cakes) and onto the gently winding riverside path.

Whether you walk or bike, the path winds through Alexandria’s history as an early American canal and river port (Orinoco Bay Park), past the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, and over recently unearthed chunks of 19th century canal (Tide Lock Park). In only a few miles, the length of this ride bristles with historical markers at each of the parks and vistas.

Remember that this is a city trail, and, like a highway, becomes crammed after work and on the weekends with other bikers, walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, kids, and dogs. Wear a helmet.

The kudzu-covered bridge beneath the wheezing and rusted hulk of the Alexandria Power Plant is narrow and full of blind curves, but carries the path right out over the mud flats for broad Potomac views of egrets and sailboats.
The path rises up out of the mudflats to a boardwalk snaking through the marshy edge of Daingerfield Island, not an island at all, really, only a soggy curve in the river forming uncommon tidal marsh and swamp forest habitat full of cattails, frogs, and blue herons, round the bend to the Washington Sailing Marina and its Potomack Landing restaurant whose umbrella’d deck offers post card views of sailboats in the offing and the Washington skyline beyond. Tool back to Old Town to lunch or dine at the casually sophisticated Chadwick’s between Big Bikes and The Torpedo Factory on Prince or merely reward your efforts at Ben and Jerry’s on Union Street.

The entire Mount Vernon Trail runs 18 miles from Roosevelt Island at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Easy biking south of Old Town is barely impeded  by the bikeable windy Woodrow Wilson Bridge and its handsome, canted Art Deco tower.


At 9:04 PM, Blogger kt said...

Ooh, I think I remember the Torpedo Factory...we went there, yes?

And though my kester will probably be hating me for saying so, sure, I'll bike! Let's go!


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