I was reading a description of the western section of the W&OD Trail that goes through the Catoctin Mountain(s) once you pass Leesburg. I'm curious about how hard the climbs are. It was described as a long but steady climb. I'd like to do a full run of the W&OD, out and back, sometime this summer. I'd like to know in advance what to expect out there.
I don't mind the hills. But I'd like to have an idea of what the route will be like before I ride there. I'll head out there no matter what, unless someone tells me that Mt. Everest is actually located in Northern Virginia.
There is a pretty good climb out of Leesburg, but it doesn't look too bad. I've never actually ridden that far out, but the elevation profiles (can be found here or here) should give you an idea of what you're facing.
If you've ridden out to Leesburg already, the rest of the trail isn't as tough, climb-wise. Since the W&OD used to be a rail line, none of the grades are that steep. The elevation profile looks bad, but considering that the scale is 600' over the total 45+ miles of the trail, it's not as bad as it looks. There's one point (Clark's Gap) where you (from leesburg) go through a small stone arch and then the road corkscrews up to cross Route 7, but it's a bump that's along the lines of the switchbacks in Arlington.
(Note that the power company is doing some construction, so there's a detour that takes you through a residential neighborhood. This bypass has some rolling hills.)
On the other side of Leesburg, there aren't many places to get water until you get to Purcellville proper. Trail's End bike shop (literally at the end of the trail) has cool drinks waiting for you.
I rode to Purcellville a few times last year getting ready for Louisville. The mountains are not mountains.
There are a couple of instances of longish hills (less than a mile), but none so steep that you will be hurting badly going up them.
You can look up the elevation profile pretty easily on the internet, and it is accurate (i.e. no hidden spikes on the real thing.)
Keep in mind that this trail was designed originally for TRAINS to go up. They don't do well on hills.
Don't let the elevation profile scare you. You're really looking more at some long, false flats rather than real climbs. Bigger issue if you're running would be the fact that the further out west you get, the trail is pretty exposed to the sun and there are fewer water fountains to refuel. That being said, out west it becomes less crowded and more beautiful :)
Thanks for the info, everyone. I read through the Bike Washington description before but I wasn't sure what they meant by long hills. (A mountain is merely a "hill" to some people, or vice versa.)
I've only ridden out to Ashburn so far but going all the way to Purcellville and back wouldn't be much longer than my previous long ride (10 miles further). I'll only be riding the bike though. I'm not quite ready to do a 90-mile run just yet. :)
Oops. I see that I mentioned doing a "full run" of the trail in the first post. I meant that figuratively -- on the bike. I'm not an ultrarunner, yet, so no 90-mile runs for me this summer.
I think you'll be good. The climb out of Leesburg up to Clark's Gap is only 300 feet of elevation change over about 4 miles. That's nothing even if it looks steep on the profile map.
One more thing, since you're riding not running(!). There are a lot of stop signs/lights/intersections on the trail -- a bit less the farther out west you get. I know it's frustrating to constantly have to stop and restart, but I've seen way too many accidents on that trail due to cyclists blowing through those stop signs and getting hit by cars, so be careful! (and enjoy the ride, it's really nice out there.)
Road the entire length many times in 2008 to prepare for IM Wisconsin. It is a nice ride once you get through Herndon. Plenty of places to get food and water. It is up hill and generally downhill back to DC.
Is the whole trail paved or does it turn to gravel/dirt at some point?
It is paved the whole way and pretty smooth. THere are a couple of bumps, mostly on bridges and where the pavement has buckled. But mostly it's smooth sailing.
The W&OD is a great ride - wide and very well maintained.
There is construction work going on in the Herndon area and beyond related to the new MetroRail Silver line to Tysons and Dulles. There are temporary closures at one point because work crews are installing steel beams over the trail. The closures are only supposed to last 15 minutes at a time and they should be finished with that part of the work soon.
There's also another detour near Herndon. I don't know what they're doing there but you have to detour off the trail and onto a parallel road. Much of that road is covered with fine gravel. The detour isn't that long, maybe a couple hundred feet. You can ride through on skinny road/tri tires but you should probably go slow on that section. You won't be able to make tight turns or stop quickly there.
Today there were many fallen branches and trees on the trail out past Leesburg because of the severe thunderstorms on Sunday. Fortunately the Nat'l Park Service had a clean-up crew. They were sawing through a large branch that was covering up the trail. About half a mile farther up, after crossing a major road, another large branch was completely blocking the trail. I was thinking about riding the entire W&OD today but I couldn't get past that branch so I turned back. I told the NPS crew about the 2nd branch so it should be cleared by tomorrow.
Even though I didn't make it all the way to Purcellville, I did come back and do several loops on the roads and parking lots in Arlington -- and I ended up doing my first century ride! It wasn't quite continuous riding because I had to make a couple pit-stops at 7-Eleven to replenish my Gatorade and water supplies but I ended up with 101 miles.
I still want to do a complete run to Purcellville and back this summer.
I forgot to mention that there is another detour in addition to the one I mentioned. This detour is near Leesburg. You head off the trail and down a hilly road in the suburbs. (Nice houses out there.) There's also a short section in some hilly fields. Most of the section is paved but there's a couple of brief sections on gravel, just 20 ft. or so.
Be prepared to shift to an easier gear after heading down one hill in the suburbs. There's a short but steep climb right after that. I got caught in the big ring and highest gear trying to climb up that short hill. I hope I didn't damage my front derailleur or chain when I had the chain caught between the two rings.