Finding a New PAL on the Mount Vernon Trail


My trusty trailer, undaunted by unplowed paths.

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of going for a ride through Arlington. I meandered my way around the County, opting to ride on streets rather than on paths until I got to Crystal City. Once there, I got the urge–as I often do–to ride my favorite bike path. I began down the access road, but was quickly and unpleasantly surprised to see that the snow deposited by our little flurry a week ago (#PALvsJONAS) had yet to be cleared. “Surely,” I thought, “this is a fluke. The rest of the trail must be clear.”  I persisted, struggled through the slippery, slushy mess and found what I was searching for: clean, bare pavement at last. And then, to my dismay, a few minutes later I was mired in more snow! This was a pattern I quickly became used to: patches of perfect pathway interspersed with stretches of snow, slush and slippery ice. Nevertheless, I persevered until under the fourteenth street bridge I found the thickest piece of ice yet. I groaned. But…
What to my wondering eyes should appear...

Meet Josephine! To her, snow and ice = a good afternoon’s work.

Standing on the other side of this patch of ice was a woman. My savior. She told me her name was Josephine Liu. In her left hand was a device for breaking up ice, and in her right, a red plastic snow shovel. After I introduced myself, she handed me the red shovel, and I pitched in to help. The snow was packed into a thick sheet of ice, and our progress was measured in inches, rather than feet. People walking, jogging, and on bikes stopped to thank us and cheer us on. One man, an ardent bike commuter and trail lover by the name of Rob Plum, stopped and joined in!
Bob just being Bob.

Rob just being Rob!

I asked Ms. Liu what her motivation was behind clearing the trail: “It’s not just me,” she explained. She had read a January 25th letter from DDOT on the WashCycle blog that explained how the Mount Vernon Trail was under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which doesn’t clear snow off of trails.1 Then she discovered that other people she knew through the Washington Area Bike Forum community were organizing to clear the path. “It’s my daily commute”, she explained as she scraped ice off the path. Liu regularly rides from her home in Alexandria to her office in Penn quarter by bike. I called Josephine a couple days later to let her know I was writing this post about our adventure. She didn’t answer the phone. The next morning I had an email from her: “Sorry I didn’t pick up”, she wrote. “I was out shoveling the trail.”

Job well done, new PAL!

  1 The Mount Vernon Trail, along with the DC portion of the Capital Crescent trail and the Rock Creek Trail, are maintained by the National Park Service. Only the DC portion of the Capital Crescent Trail is regularly cleared of snow. According to this article, NPS may consider plowing the Mount Vernon Trail in the future.