June 9, 2017

Biking the Virginia Creeper Trail ~ Whitetop to Damascus

  • 18.17 miles
  • 5:02 duration
  • Two geocaches found
  • One DNF (Did Not Find a geocache)
  • One beautiful waterfall

This has been a very busy week in my office. My co-worker Amber, my boss Walter, and I have received, inspected, stored, loaded on the truck, delivered to Maryville, and unloaded 817 backpacks filled with school supplies. These backpacks were donated by the churches in the Johnson City District to be sent to schoolchildren in the African country of Liberia.

Since we worked so hard this week, Walter decided that we needed to take Friday off and have some fun. He suggested that we bike the Virginia Creeper Trail, and that we invite our spouses to come along. Sadly, my spouse and Amber’s had to work, but Walter’s wife, Lisa, was happy to join us.

The four of us met at 8:30 am in our office parking lot, and headed for Virginia. We had reservations for the 10:30 shuttle, which meant we were supposed to be in Damascus at 10:00 am. Walter, Lisa and I had our bikes in the back of Walter’s truck, but Amber had reserved a rental at Blue Blaze Bike and Shuttle Service.

When we neared Abingdon, Lisa suggested we first stop off at the White Birch Juice Company since we were running ahead of schedule. I ordered the yummy Berry Loco Bowl, a freshly made frozen concoction that included berries, almond butter, coconut, acai, flax oil, and homemade granola. I was also inspired by the lovely message painted on a cabinet in the ladies room: You are beautiful! You are loved. Have a lovely day!

We rolled in to Damascus a few minutes after 10:00, unloaded our bikes, and checked in with Blue Blaze for our shuttle ride. The staff helped Amber find and adjust the right bike for her, and then made some quick repairs and adjustments to my bike. I offered to pay for their assistance, which they refused. I highly recommend this business. They are knowledgeable, helpful and very friendly.

At last we boarded the shuttle and began the trip up the mountain. Walter and I had a pleasant chat with a retired couple from Louisiana who just moved to Sevierville in January. They are Creeper Trail veterans, but had with them their 15 year old grandson who was excited to be riding the trail for the first time.They were just three of the hundreds of people we were to see on the trail.

Arriving at Whitetop, we unloaded and prepared for the ride. I wasn’t certain what to expect, but was eager to hit the trail. The weather was cool for a June day, but we had come prepared. Once we got moving, I was glad for my fleece hoodie as it was quite chilly and breezy as we started down the trail.

Walter suggested we stop a short way down the trail to see an area where they grow Christmas trees. When we pulled to the side of the trail, I could immediately smell the lovely aroma of evergreen trees, which grew stronger as we followed a short trail to the tree farm. I commented that I wished I could somehow capture that smell with my camera. Scented candles and air fresheners never do it justice.

The creeper trail is one of our country’s oldest and most prestigious Rails to Trails projects. Built along the route of the Norfolk & Western’s Abingdon Branch, the trail is just shy of 35 miles long. The route from Whitetop station to Damascus is 16 miles long. Not long after the railway began carrying passengers and freight in the early 1900’s, it was dubbed the Virginia Creeper, probably because of its meandering route through the mountains.

Along the route are restored train stations such as the one at Green Cove, our next stop. This building serves as a general store and museum. Walter was excited to show me his two favorite O. Winston Link photographs which are hanging here. One of these is a photograph that was taken at the Green Cove station called Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper.

Much of the trail follows Laurel Creek, which gave us unending views of beautiful cascades. The trail crosses over this and other creeks along the way on old railroad trestles that have been restored for trail use. We stopped off at one popular cascade for photo ops and while there began discussing the number of geocaches that are along the trail. I had decided I wouldn’t be trying to find any caches (except for one Walter was planning to show me) since I was the only cacher in the group. When my companions insisted that I show them how to find a geocache, I pulled out my phone to see what was nearby. Knowing cell service may be sparse (it was actually non-existent on most of the trail) I had saved the nearby caches on my phone, and saw that there was one within a tenth of a mile down the trail.

We rode down to that point, and began our search. Unfortunately, we did not find (DNF) it, so that first experience for them was a bust. When we got back on our bikes, Walter instructed me to let them know when there was another cache we could search for, so a little further down the trail we stopped once again. After a brief search, I was certain this would also be a DNF, but then I realized that the landmark we were using (as described in the description on the cache page) was the wrong one. We then moved our search to a new location, I climbed the hill to search and again came up empty. Returning to the trail, I checked the coordinates one more time, oriented myself to the landmark, and realized there was a spot even further up the hillside that matched. I made the scramble to that location and was treated to the sight of the cache container. I was happy to make the find, and my colleagues were duly impressed by my perseverance and ninja skills.

Our next stop on the trail was at Taylor’s Valley where we had lunch at the Creeper Trail Cafe. This was a very popular spot with good food. We chose to sit outside under a picnic shelter to eat and continued to marvel at the perfect weather we were experiencing. I had finally shed my hoodie as the day warmed, but it still was not uncomfortably hot.

Back on the trail, we rode a little further and then left our bikes to follow a footpath into the woods in search of Lewis Falls. Since the first time I told Walter that I enjoyed geocaching, he has been telling me of a geocache that his brother-in-law showed him at this location. He warned us that it would be about a 10 minute walk, and then a steep uphill climb, but we were all game.

The climb was indeed steep, and we had to do some serious bushwhacking to reach the falls. I’m not convinced that we took the easiest route up, but that is not unusual in geocaching. However, the view of these 50-60 foot falls was worth the climb. To reach the geocache I had to once again employ my ninja climbing skills, making my way up to a rock ledge behind the falls about 20 feet up from the pool they flow into. The cool water felt nice.

The scramble back down to the trail was just as challenging as the climb up had been, and I broke a sweat for the first time. I was wishing I could be back in the spray of the waterfall by the time we reached our bikes. Once we were moving down the trail again, the cool breeze created by our speed helped to cool me off.

Walter pointed out another spot along the trail where the creek creates a natural water slide over the rocks, but we decided to leave that adventure for a warmer day. I believe it would take multiple trips to discover all that this trail has to offer. I definitely want to return when I can devote time to finding the numerous caches along the trail.

The trail soon began to level out more, making it necessary to actually pedal rather than just coast. However, none of the rest of the ride was strenuous. For someone wanting a real workout, riding the opposite direction would certainly be the ticket. But, if you are just wanting a relaxing, fun adventure, from Whitetop to Damascus is the way to go.

We rolled into Damascus five hours after we started our ride. One could easily do this ride in a couple of hours without all the stops, but that was not our goal of the day. This was an excellent adventure with some great folks, and I am thankful for the opportunity to spend time with them in a setting outside the office. I guess you could say this was our last hurrah together since Walter and Lisa will be moving to Morristown soon. We will truly miss them.



3 thoughts on “June 9, 2017

  1. Rob

    Years ago when I was in Scouts, we made this one of our yearly day-adventures. We would actually start in Damascus and ride up, then back down. It took us about 3 hours to go up to White Top. And then of course with it being a group of 15+ teenage boys, coming back down was an all out race! That would take about 45 minutes. Good times…

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