Last Spring Break Dad and I camped near Damascus and biked the Virginia Creeper Trail starting in Damascus and going up to the end of the trail at Whitetop Station. Today's plan was to start in Abingdon, at the "beginning" and ride to Damascus, which is the halfway point. It was 16 miles one way for a 32 mile ride.
From Damascus to Whitetop the trail climbs continuously - it's 1600 feet of elevation change over 17 miles. It's a great downhill ride, and it's a tough uphill climb! Last year Dad and I rode up, and then back down, most people get a shuttle from Damascus and only ride down! The trail from Abingdon to Damascus is more rolling, it actually gives the appearance of being flat, but it's not. It's more subtle elevation change! The 16 miles from Abingdon to Damascus is much easier than Damascus to Whitetop, but it's not as scenic.
The trail from Abingdon starts out going through neighborhoods, but quickly you are in the woods! The trail follows a river, not sure which one, I think it changed rivers several times! Then the woods thin out and there are farms and cows! Then it's back in the woods with the river on the side, this river is a deep, wide, slow moving river, very different from the creek that runs alongside the trail up the mountain. One interesting point along the trail was Trestle 7, about mile 6 or 7. The trestle is out in the middle of a rolling farm and the trestle was destroyed when a tornado ripped through in 2011. You can still see the damage to the trees on several hills near the trestle. They rebuilt the trestle and just reopened it last April. There is also a rest area & cafe about halfway - Alvarado Station. I didn't take many pictures, my phone was buried in my backpack!
The last three miles into Damascus the trail follows US58 and it's not as scenic. It's also going uphill, slightly, but enough that you feel it, and this was where the wind started whipping. Heading into the wind, uphill, wasn't too fun, but I made it to Damascus!
Damascus is a great little town! In addition to the Creeper Trail the AT runs right through Damascus! In fact there are two spots where the AT and The Creeper are together! The town is filled with hikers and bikers and services! When I first rode into town I arrived at the town park by the caboose. I pulled up to a picnic table and had a snack. It was sunny and warm and only 11:15. I wasn't ready to turn back. I considered getting a ride on the next shuttle to the top and riding down, but I'd still have to ride back to Abingdon and that seemed like it would be too much. (It did later occur to me that I could have gotten a shuttle back to Abingdon!) There was a map of the trail that I was studying and it occurred to me that I should ride up a little ways, if I rode up to mile marker 20, that would give me a 40 mile ride! I'd never done a 40 mile ride, no time like today right? Life is too short!
After a snack I headed out of Damascus, up the trail. It was only 4 miles, and it wasn't even the steep part of the uphill, but it was tough! Riding down though was fun and I was kinda regretting not just getting a shuttle to the top. The creek & the rhodendron really reminded me of Little River Road in the Smokies. When I was driving that road I was wishing I could bike it, now in know I don't have to go all the way to Tennessse, I can just ride the Creeper Trail. And, as a bonus, there were no people on the Creeper Trail! None. Beautiful sunny day and I barely saw anyone! I guess they are all fighting for parking spots at Clingman's Dome!
After my 8 mile up and I back I was ready for some ice cream! I'd wanted a milkshake from The Dairy King, but I didn't see the Dairy King, it wasn't where I thought it was, but I found another ice cream place! They were out of milk for a milkshake but they had peanut butter cup! Good enough!
After my ice cream I went to check out Mount Rogers Outfitters and then got back on the trail heading back to Abindon. This was when 40 miles started to seem like not so great of an idea. Remember, I've barely ridden my bike all winter and first opportunity I try and set a personal best! Well, I had no choice but to keep riding! My thighs and my butt hurt! I ended up taking lots of breaks and doing lots of yoga stretching by the side of the trail. When I was riding into the wind coming into Damascus I was thinking I'd get to go with the wind on the way back. Yeah, not so much. Wind must have shifted. It was gusty and when I was in the woods I was sheltered so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but it was still annoying.
Finally, after several rest stops over the last 5 miles, I arrived back at Trestle 1 and the parking lot! I was so happy to see my van! I had some more snacks, changed clothes and started thinking about where I was going to sleep tonight! I am really happy that this worked out the way it did! When I first started thinking about Spring Break I knew I wanted to ride my bike, I'd wanted to do a portion of the Greenbriar River Trail in West Virginia, but with no open campgrounds I couldn't. I almost didn't even bring my bike to the Smokies because there are so few places to ride! I'm so glad I did!
I'd thought I'd go to a Hungry Mother State Park, I figured I could camp tonight and explore in the morning. When I got there, after coming down a huge hill (remember, the van may or may not be having a problem with going up hills), I discovered that the campground wasn't really in the park. There was nothing to do right by the campground and getting to where the trails were involved more big hills for the RV. It was also $30 a night. I knew I'd worry about whether the RV would make the hill all night so I opted to find another place to stay.
There was a WalMart in Marion, Dad and I stayed there last year, but there were some teenagers hanging around that night and I wasn't sure I wanted to stay there on my own. I'd seen a billboard for a Cracker Barrel at Wytheville which was 20 miles up the road so I headed there. I didn't see the Cracker Barrel (I'd gotten off at the wrong exit), but there was a WalMart. There was another RV, a big class A, settled in - slides out, jack stands down, so I figured they were staying so I pulled in behind them. Other than taking my trash to the trash can I didn't even go in WalMart. It did strike me as very funny that I was bringing my trash into Walmart - usually it's the other way around!
I like staying in campgrounds because I sleep better, but I feel like I have a more relaxing evening when I'm at WalMart (or other non-campground). When I'm in a campground I always want to go see stuff, take a walk, take a hike, see the place, but in a parking lot there's nothing to see so I sit, read a book, write my blog, check email!