“Just need to let you know that you are riding with a crazy group of people,” Dan, the Blue Blaze shuttle driver, stated matter-of-factly to the three non-relatives on the van. Yes, he was referring to my group - mom and dad, younger brother, sister-in-law, two nieces, husband and me.
“Yeah?” prompted one of the other passengers.
“Sure, these people will ride the Creeper in the snow, in thunderstorms, during tornado warnings,” added Dan. My family laughed and agreed with him. Dan was shuttling all of us up to Whitetop, where we would climb on our mountain bikes and ride the Virginia Creeper trail back down to Damascus.
Years ago, I read in one of my magazines (have I mentioned that I have a slight addiction to magazines?) about the Virginia Creeper trail in Damascus, Virginia. Later, some friends rode it and loved it, so I developed a hankering to try it myself. But it did not happen until last year, when my husband and I, along with my mom and dad, decided to tackle it one early spring weekend.
The Virginia Creeper is an 18 mile long, downhill biking trail. Riders can bring their own bike or rent one from the many bike shops in Damascus. Shuttle service is available to Whitetop, where riders unload and begin the fun ride back into Damascus. Shuttle service is also available to a drop off point in Abingdon, and bikers can then ride a mostly flat trail back to Damascus.
Last spring, my husband and parents and I planned our trip, but delayed our arrival by a day because of a snowy forecast. Three to four inches of snow fell the first night we were there, so we did not attempt a ride our first day. On day two, we bundled up and headed to the top. The descent was cold, especially with the wind hitting our faces, and soggy, but it was also invigorating and fun. We stopped frequently to rest and snack and to enjoy the beauty of the ride. We saw few others on the trail. It was late March, so the tourist season had not yet begun. Did I mention that it was cold?
We enjoyed the trip last year so much that we planned another one for this year over the second week in April. To last year’s group, we added my younger brother, his wife, and their two daughters. We rented a beautiful cabin in a terrific location. The cabin was situated on rolling hills on a farm just a short ways from Damascus.
Although rain, thunderstorms, and tornados were forecast for our first day of riding, we persevered, riding the Abingdon to Damascus trail. Despite the dire forecast, we made the entire ride with most of us avoiding any rain. Near the end we straggled out a bit, so the last two making it in found themselves in a brief rain shower.
We hooked up with Blue Blaze Bike Rental and Shuttle Service to provide us with shuttle service and a couple of bikes. We had used Blue Blaze last year, and we liked Rick, the owner, and Dan, the shuttle driver. They did not disappoint this year. Rick had added a member to the staff, Zoey, a 6 month old Australian shepherd. We met her when she bolted out the door. She evaded seven of us before my husband scooped her up and returned her to Rick.
Dan shuttled us to Abingdon, joking with us about our collective craziness for persevering despite the forecast. I laughed when I saw an ambulance and police officer parked at the drop-off zone. Inwardly, I wondered if their presence might foreshadow a less than promising finish to the day.
Finally, we were off. The Abingdon to Damascus portion of the Virginia Creeper follows along the Holston River. This portion of the trail is primarily flat, so it did require a lot of pedalling. We stopped frequently for water breaks. It is important to keep hydrated, and it is a great way to sneak in a few minutes of rest, which was important to me, since I have not biked much in several years.
Because of recent rains, the river was up. Most of the trail wandered next to the river, sometimes through private land. Strategically placed gates helped farmers to move and protect their cattle, while still allowing riders to continue along the trail. Sometimes the trail meandered between tall rock facings.
Because no one else was on the trail with us, and because we stopped frequently, we saw quite a bit of wildlife. Most of us saw wild turkeys near the beginning of the ride. Chipmunks were everywhere, and a fox squirrel was also spotted. We marveled at five deer who had ventured to the river for a drink. One of my nieces spied a large black snake in a tree, just off the path, and a second snake a little lower in another tree. My husband also spotted a young eagle.
The next day was Saturday, and we shuttled to Whitetop to complete the 18 miles back down to Damascus. Although the temperature was nippy at the top, the drop-off lot was packed. This ride would not be like the day before or even the ride the previous year. What appeared to be an entire platoon of Boy Scouts took off before us, but not without some initial communication problems, causing a bike jam at the starting point.
We followed the same modus operandi as the previous day, stopping for water breaks and to check on each other. The Virginia Creeper trail from Whitetop follows Laurel Creek down, and we found a spot with a couple of large, flat rocks in the sun, to use as our picnic spot.
We all enjoyed the ride from Whitetop much more than the trip from Abingdon. We did not encounter any wildlife, but we did not really expect to see any because of the number of people on the trail. When we were here last year, Dan, the shuttle driver, told us about the fish that could be found at trestle 33. We enjoyed watching them last year and again this year.
We caught one member of our group texting and riding, although she claims she was taking a picture, which of course is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, the youngest member of our group tried to drink (water) and ride, and she wrecked. She was not injured, and we all hope she learned her lesson.
I like nothing better than being active, outdoors, with family, so this was a perfect getaway for me. No one in the family bikes regularly, but we all made it through both sections of the trail. The youngest member of our peloton was ten years old and our eldest was 72 years old. Granted, I think we all had a nap after the Abingdon ride, but we were happy to be riding again the next day.
Be forewarned, though, if you are not biker, you may experience some saddle soreness after the first day. Learning from this from our first trip, I put a better (read: more cushiony) seat on my bike, and I invested in some riding capris with padding in strategic places. Both of these items I obtained from Bryson City Bicycles, where Diane helped me find what I needed.
We are looking forward to another trip in a year. The third time's a charm, so I am hoping for sunny skies next time!
Dan was kind enough to take a photo of this crazy group of riders before we headed down the trail.