I have a new favorite place to ride. Selfish being that I am, the only reason I'm exposing it here is because I know my readership is so minuscule. And of those who do follow my babblings, most are not local, so the chances are slim that this wonderful gem of a place will become overrun due to my glowing review.
I first heard of the Gwynns Falls trail a few years ago but never took the time to look into it. While blowing some $$ recently at one of my favorite local bike shops, I noticed a stack of brochures for the trail that included a full map, so I grabbed one. A quick look showed that it passed through some areas of town that I thought might be more than a tad sketchy. So, while my curiosity was definitely aroused, I was also tentative about riding my snow-white, lycra-clad self through neighborhoods where I'd stick out like a sore thumb. So I did some googling, which led to two accounts of people being punched in the face or hit with rocks by miscreant youth in one specific area. Aside from that, though, the intarwebs turned up nothing but mentions of how nice the trail is. No one I found to ask about it went into much detail, but all said that it was an excellent ride.
With this weekend being a holiday one, my cycling options were limited. Everyone and their brother would likely be out on the rail-trails and at the parks where I like to ride, and I wasn't in the mood for crowds. That left either a rural road loop I've done a couple of times up above Frederick or, possibly... Gwynns Falls. Would the Labor Day hordes find their way onto this supposedly lightly trafficked trail and spoil my bid for solitude? Only one way to find out...
The trail begins at an exposed and barren commuter park'n'ride lot. How misleading. It quickly drops from the concrete wasteland into Leakin Park, a huge, amazingly natural urban park that was almost intersected by an interstate. I've been told that it was dramatically saved by MD Senator Barbara Mikulski and a crowd of protesters standing in front of a bulldozer, literally preventing it from tearing into the forest. If that's the case, I'm grateful and will continue voting for Mikulski each and every time she runs for re-election. (Now, if only she'd spearhead a crusade to clean up all the garbage along the creek...)
Within Leakin, the trail is a tangle of off-shoots leading to spots like the Carrie Murray Nature Center and the historic neighborhood of Dickeyville. The route I took by-passed these detours (leaving more for me to explore on future rides) and meandered along Gwynns Falls creek, transitioning from smooth pavement to old abandoned road to a crushed stone and dirt mix, and back to another stretch of abandoned roadway that finally, after 6.5 miles, spit me out into urban neighborhoods. This was the sketchy part, though the few people I encountered were perfectly pleasant. Another mile or so later, I was in the industrial area next to Ravens Stadium, passing old warehouses with fantastic architecture and bouncing over railroad tracks. From there, the trail heads either to Inner Harbor or down along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to Middle Branch and Cherry Hill parks. For my first run-through, I kept things short by heading in the direction of the Harbor via a brief jaunt through the re-gentrified section of Federal Hill.
After walking through the crowds on the Harbor promenade, I locked the bike up and headed into the food court. It didn't take long to snag a greasy soft pretzel and lemonade and return to the bike, where I sprawled in the grass and ate, watching the clouds and gulls floating over the Harbor... totally, surprisingly, at peace with the throngs of noisy tourists.
The ride back was as peaceful and solitary as the ride down, easier because it was simple to re-trace my way, yet also ever-so-slightly harder because I was heading back up, literally, to Leakin Park. I was amazed at how few people I encountered throughout the day, aside from the Inner Harbor crowds, and I can't wait for the chance to get back up there. Next time, Dickeyville and Cherry Hill Park. And photos, in order to document the awesomeness of the best damned trail I've found yet.