Every muscle in my legs ached, as I biked upon the Martha Custis Trail a couple weeks ago. It had been awhile, and I had forgotten how challenging this is, compared to the connecting W+OD. My knees swelled up, my hamstrings tensed up, yet somehow I was able to complete its what would normally be a short six mile ride. You are going to hurt on the Custis Trail. That’s a given, and those who want to engage in extreme exercise, will perhaps find some sort of perverse enjoyment from this. This trail does serve a purpose, as it links the more popular W+OD to either Georgetown, Downtown Washington D.C., or the George Washington Parkway Trail. Novice bikers should avoid this, but if you are in shape or can take the pain, it does provide a lot of access points to historical sites while cycling.
This trail has almost no road crossings. Considering how urban of an area this is, its a rare perk, although you will have to bike next to Route 66. You can either inhale some carbon monoxide from car tailpipes, or laugh at those stuck in the congestion, but I prefer just to “pedal on”. Or some may say “soldier on.” The first part of the trail that is connected from the Falls Church, VA side at the W+OD isn’t that bad. It’s a bit misleading, because after five minutes, you realize this won’t be a “simple stroll in the park.” Rather its a bit of an adventure, and the curves and hills that accompany them are a brutal exercise, and will give you a mental and physical workout that can certainly wipe out anyone.
One section, that makes me laugh thinking about it, is what I call “the corkscrew.” This is about halfway into D.C., where the trail goes into a circular corkscrew motion, and there are signs warning of the “path being narrow.” That’s an understatement, and you have to be careful on the downhill side especially, with regards to maintaining a reasonable speed. Going back up this “corkscrew” stinks, and you have to hope that other cyclists will return your consideration. The fences on the side can be a bit scary, and this is one of the most congested part of the trails. After you get through this maze, you’ll be in the “heart of Arlington, VA.” The buildings of D.C. will become visible, and while you can ride across the Key Bridge to Georgetown, its a better idea to connect to the George Washington Parkway Trail.
This will bring you to the downtown parts of the Nation’s Capital, where you can see the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, or the Washington Monument. Its also a bit easier to bike across the Teddy Roosevelt bridge, and the view of the Kennedy Center from here is impressive. If you go another couple miles South, is a great resting spot, and that’s Gravelly Point Park. Here you can lock up your bike, or simply place it next to you, and watch planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport. There are some picnic tables to relax at, that provide some shade, and if you get too tired, bike just a bit further to the Crystal City Metro for a ride back.
You are going to be challenged by the Martha Custis Trail. A lot of people avoid it, but even with the pain, its a great way of accessing all the Nation’s Capital has to offer. You get a bit of woods to bike through, along with urban areas, that are well marked for safe crossings in intersections. Another advantage of this trail, is that it isn’t as busy as many are in the area, when weekends can cause these recreational areas to look like the congested highways. If you aren’t sure your legs can handle it on a bike, try it as a hike instead. It might take a bit longer, but its a recreational area worth visiting.