Date: November 13, 2009
From: Damascus, Virginia
Route: Virginia Creeper Trail to Green Cove to Hwy.58, Hwy.600, Hwy.603
Miles Today: 33 miles
TOTAL MILES: 3,362 miles
Top Speed on this trip: 54.1 mph
Weather: Sunny and Glorious
License Plates Collected: 5 Montana, 8 Wyoming (2 motorcycle) and 1 Idaho (found in WY), 2 Colorado, 1 Kansas (Gifted from David of Baldwin City), 1 Missouri (To be sent to Grammy’s by our new buddy, Kansas City firefighter Shawn), 1 Illinois, 4 Kentucky (2 Gifted from Beth and Garry Feltus, one gifted from cousin John, one from Hwy. 127)
Flats: 10 (#10 Today on White Top Mountain Climb)
Broken Spokes: 3
Cracked Rim: 1
Friday the 13th was full of surprises. The first wonderful surprise was the Virginia Creeper Trail. We had a glorious morning riding 14 miles of this beautiful rails to trails from Damascus to Green Cove Station. "The Virginia Creeper is a shared-use trail connecting Abingdon, Virginia, with the Virginia-North Carolina border, 1.1 miles east of White Top Station, VA. Total Length: 33.4 miles" (Publication of The Friends of Mount Rogers, The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area). The surface is black cinders of crushed coal and though there were a few wet mushy patches and some larger rocks to dodge we found the conditions were suited to our bike. We had warm weather and the sunlight filtered down through the trees keeping us warm and providing gorgeous views of the mountains, fast rushing creeks, and the moss and ferns that covered the trees and rocks. Signs of beavers lined the banks of the creek and a mass of rhododendrons covered the forest floor. I can only imagine how beautiful it is through here when the rhododendrons are in bloom. The Virginia Creeper has about 50 trestles and bridges in all. This made for many lovely creek crossings but the bridges were slick and getting off and on some of the bridges was a bit tricky. On one of our entrances to the bridge the boards were raised up and really slick and fortunately Mike braked to a stop just after getting the front wheel up and over the hump. The front wheel slipped between two boards and Mike said, "It is a good thing we came to a stop or we would have "tacoed" that wheel." That would have been ugly.
On the trail we met Sue and Mac McClanahan from Bristol who were out for a day ride and we had a nice long visit with them at the High Trestle (550 feet long and about 100 feet tall). They talked to us about the town of Abingdon at the head of the trail which is home to the Barter Theatre and where many folks find it an ideal place to retire or relocate. Later I was talking to Buck at Jerry's Restaurant in Troutdale and he told me that folks used to bring eggs, etc. in exchange for a theatre ticket and thus the name Barter Theatre came about. The owners would use the food to feed the actors.
Sue and Mac would turn around and head back to Damascus at this point in their journey. The grades got steeper at this point but compared to the climb on the road the Creeper was fantastic. Most people take a shuttle up to White Top Station and ride down the trail. They can pretty much coast the whole way and just soak in the beauty of the trail. Sue and Mac also told us about Lawrence who is a legend of the trail. He is in his 80s and rides from Abingdon to White Top Station and back everyday. That is about 70 miles a day. He has logged more miles on the Creeper than anyone and was awarded a Titanium bike that he continues to ride every day. He was out today but we never crossed paths with him…
Our TransAm map advised us to take the Creeper to Creek Junction and then get back on our route but the folks at Adventure Damascus said we could go further to Green Cove Station and still easily rejoin our route so we decided to do this. However, this information put us way off our route as once we left Green Cove we turned right onto Highway 58 and did a considerable amount of climbing before we reached a Highway 58 sign and started questioning where we were. After stopping someone for directions we realized we had to keep climbing to White Top Station. Fortunately there was food and we refueled before the final brutal climb up White Top Mountain at 5,344 feet. We had to cut over on Highway 600 and then over on Highway 603 to be back on our way to Troutdale. The sun was still shining and we marveled at the miles of Fraser Christmas Tree Farms but it was chilly when we left lunch and headed up the mountain. We warmed up in a hurry and had to make several stops while climbing this steep grade. We were rewarded with amazing views from this second highest mountain in Virginia. (Mt. Rogers is approximately 400 feet higher at 5,729 feet.)
On one of our stops Gregory and I heard the dreaded sound of air leaking from our rear tire. We found the puncture but it was a slow leak and the tire was still hard so rather than stop on the side of the road with no shoulder during a steep climb we opted to shoot for the top. Someone told us the top would be 13 degrees colder, and it was in the mid 40s up there. We didn't even take time to celebrate. I immediately layered on all of our jackets and covered our heads to retain our body heat while Mike began fixing the tire. The puncture was an old one we'd already taped and the grit worked its way through the tape. We decided to use the old tire we'd been carrying instead of retaping this one. The side wall wasn't looking so hot either. When Mike couldn't make the brake adjustments and had to pull all the packs and flip the bike over to get it done he lost it a bit. "Every time I turn around I have to fix something on this bike!" he ranted. He flung open the handlebar bag and the contents went flying as he dug for the allen wrench he needed. Gregory and I just stood there marveling as we said, "We can get that for you." Later that evening at dinner I acted out Mike's little tirade and Gregory and I had a rip roaring laugh. Mike just smiled but I don't think he found it as funny as we did. Actually it is amazing we could laugh at all considering our evening.
We had a 7 mile downhill coming off White Top but when we turned the corner and started up Highway 603, still 13 miles from our destination at around 5:30P.M., we knew we'd never make it. (We had to stop at the end of our downhill because our drum brake smelled hot. Indeed it was and when we doused it with water from the water bottles steam rose off of it.) The 603 Highway started us climbing again and Mike and I were killing ourselves trying to pedal to beat the oncoming darkness. Mike said, "Start looking for a truck." I did but the traffic was light and there were only cars. Then we had two dogs charge us from the left and we screamed and hollered for them to stay and get back. Just after we finally passed them three dogs charged us from the right. Again, more yelling, "Get back! Stay!" as we pedaled with all our might to pass this mob. My heart was racing and I just couldn't believe that here we were again in a nasty predicament way too late in the day.
We stopped for a quick rest and Gregory started to complain about his legs hurting but all we could do was ask him to get back on the bike and give us his best. He started to whimper and I just thought oh no Gregory, please hold it together. I shouted back, "We can't stop in the middle of nowhere, in the dark with no hope of getting a ride. Gregory we have to push on! Daddy and I are trying our best to get you there safe and sound." Mike and I knew we'd be riding in the dark for a while before we got in.
About 6 miles from Troutdale we came to Grindstone Campground in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. We had very little food but at this point Gregory was crying so hard we knew we could go no further. I started to get us registered to camp then saw a crew cab truck. "You wouldn't happen to know who owns that truck would you?" I said. "That would be me," says Bobby who is standing in the registration booth next to his wife who is handing me my paperwork. I explained that we had very little food with us and that continuing on just wasn't an option given that it was pitch black and my son was having a breakdown. "Would you consider giving us a lift into Troutdale? The church there has a hostel where cyclist are welcome." Bobby's wife pipes up and says, "You could do that Bobby. Then the little boy could get a warm dinner at Jerry's restaurant." He agreed and when he saw our bike his comment was, "You all got more bike than I got truck." We got it in there and Mike rode in back with the bike while Gregory and I squeezed up front with Bobby. As I mentioned before it was 6 more miles to Troutdale. We'd never have made it. We would have been camped on the side of the road. Even once in Troutdale, the church was hard to find and on top of a hill, of course. It was locked up tight but Bobby suggested checking with Jerry at the restaurant. He figured he'd know all about it. Sure enough he did and Bobby drove us back up to the bunkhouse located to the right of the church even further up the hill. We dropped our bike and gear and Bobby drove us back down to the restaurant where Jerry offered to drive us "home" once we'd had a warm and hearty dinner. We filled up on a delicious salad bar, Mike had baby back ribs and taters and I had some yummy grilled shrimp. We did desserts all around and were revived and happy to have survived this crazy Friday the 13th. Once again we were blessed that kind people reached out to us.