From Washington DC we headed south and west to Damascis, Virginia and The Virginia Creeper Trail. Always in search of good trails to ride, Jim found this one in the very far southwest corner of Virginia. It is called The Virginia Creeper because of the increase in elevation from Damascus to Whitetop Station, a steady increase of about 1700 feet over 18 miles. When we were investigating the town, we found that most people get a shuttle with rented bikes to the top, then coast the 17 miles back down. We planned to ride the whole way, of course.
When serious logging began with the coming of the railroad, the trains creeped up the mountain carrying the logs from the forest, thus the name Virginia Creeper. By 1930, the forests were completely clear-cut and the railroad began to fail. Almost all the native wildlife species, alongside the trees, had been wiped out, deer, elk, bear, beaver, otter. The beaver was believed extinct in 1911 in Virginia. We Americans are really good at decimating our environment. The forest is grown back now and the meadows have recovered but in the early 1900s, the settlers described trees with 12 foot diameters. Unfortunately, those are gone forever. In an ironic aside, they did leave a few old growth trees which still remain, due to low branches or twisting trunks that wouldn’t make good lumber. One such white oak in Abingdon has a 19 foot diameter.
We found a practically deserted campground in Damascus with the bus backed up to the creek and just behind the trail where we set up shop for riding the entire trail from Abingdon to Whitetop Station, a total of about 70 miles. Damascus was a great jumping off point, the town has several bike shops, places to eat and interesting architecture. Plus they have alleys, so fun to ride.
Since we were in the middle, we basically rode the whole distance twice. The first day after getting our brakes adjusted on the bikes, we took off for Abingdon, about 17 miles. It was a fairly level ride but increased some in elevation as we neared Abingdon, a good preamble to the other section where the elevation was much steeper. There were lots of high trestles, over 100 on the entire trail. The meadows were loaded with flowers and we rode along for miles with the river on one side and the bluffs on the other.
On the Damascus to Abingdon leg, the trail narrowed to a very small track in some places and we encountered some wildlife.
We made it to Abingdon just fine but as soon as we got there it started raining! Not again! Fortunately we rode out of it fairly quickly and the rest of the way back was fairly dry. We took a day off before heading on to the other steeper section of the trail and explored Damascus.
The Old Mill House was a good restaurant and we ate there after our successful ride to Whitetop Station. They had ducks too!
After a day of rest, we headed for Whitetop Station. We knew the elevation increase would be interesting but it was very doable and pleasant. We met some of the folks coasting back down and it looked like some of them hadn’t been on a bicycle in ages; they looked terrified. The meadows rolled alongside and we passed fields loaded with pumpkins. It’s getting to be that time of year.
Another monster tree at Green Cove Station; getting close to the top.
The miles went by more slowly now and we took about two and a half hours to reach the top. But we made it!
Coming back down was a breeze; the miles flew by in contrast to the climb to the top. It was fun to coast back down after having ridden up, very rewarding. It didn’t take long at all to get back. We celebrated with dinner at the Old Mill House restaurant where they served up a good sized piece of local brook trout. Delicious!
Next stop: Asheville, North Carolina to see the Biltmore Estate.
More photos on Flickr.