Already the longest paved bicycle trail in the East, the W&OD is blazing a bikeway through Northern Virginia's traffic-clogged suburbs directly to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Following the path of the long-extinct W&OD Railroad, the $5 million trail of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is already at Ashburn near Goose Creek, 30 miles from its start in Shirlington, and will reach Leesburg and Mile Post 35 this spring.

The park authority is building a bicycle bridge over U.S. 15 west of Leesburg this summer, but there the money runs out, say park officials. The final nine miles to Purcellville or a further extension to Bluemont and its new mountain-top Bear's Den Youth Hostel are several years off.

But getting to Leesburg with a trail is like opening up the West for cyclists.Not only will it be a popular destination for day-tripping bikers -- and horse people since a parallel horse trail is being constructed beside the bike trail -- but it also opens up scenic backroads in Loudoun County and an easy route to White's Ferry across the Potomac River into Montgomery County. Several bike clubs already have mapped out rides using these roads.

The W&OD trail, started in 1977, is still a somewhat barren trail beside power lines where tall trees may never grow, which makes for hot cycling in August. But you can stop for a swim in Goose Creek. The park authority has put all its funds into building the trail and little so far into landscaping. "Just wait till we get flowers and shrubs in there," says park spokeswoman Dorothy Werner.

And like all bike paths, it has its hazards. It's narrow, often crowded and crossed frequently by roads with heavy traffic.

But it provides an alternative to those roads and, in the distance, a view of the mountains.