The Virginia Creeper isn’t Heaven. But I’m pretty sure Heaven has a bike trail just like it.
The Creeper runs 34 miles of mostly compacted dirt and gravel along an old rail bed. It’s mostly well shaded, away from cars and right next to a pretty mountain stream. Sundog Outfitters shuttled us from Damascus to the top Whitetop Mountain, allowing us to cover the 17 miles back to Damascus in about 11 pedal strokes. Okay, we pedaled a little more than that, but it was nearly effortless.
Along the way we crossed trestles, saw bursts of mountain laurel, visited an old station house and put our feet in the cold creek. Right when I was getting hungry, a church fundraiser appeared at a wide spot in the trail, selling Hebrew National hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies warmed up by the sun. It was just about perfect.
I’ve been to a lot of outfitters and outdoors store, but Sundog — located right next to the trail — is my new favorite. It was a great place for local information and they were able to fix Jess’s busted bicycle rim (three broken spokes makes me think she’s been doing some pretty sick jumps when I’m at the conferences), and supply us with a much needed Bigfoot magnet for the back of the Fit. Part of the local knowledge they shared, in addition to trail tips and other info, was that Bigfoot is known as “The Wood Booger” in some parts of Southwest Virginia.
The cool thing about Damascus is that for a town of 815 had at least three nice-looking outdoor stores. The town lies on the Appalachian Trail, the Creeper and four other significant trails. Every May they have the Trail Days Festival when the AT thru-hikers pass through on the way from Georgia to Maine. Places like Crazy Larry’s Hostel and cute little storefronts really gave it a cool vibe. They do over-price their beef jerky, though. Supply and demand at work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
On the drive to Virginia, we doubled our elevation from 2300 feet mountains in North Carolina to 5000-footers in Virginia. We could tell from the temperatures and needed jackets in the mornings. The RV handled the climb admirably. We also saw Christmas trees everywhere and found out that Northwest NC and Southwest Virginia are huge Christmas tree farming areas.
The US Forest Service operates the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Southwest Virginia, including Grindstone Campground. For us, there wasn’t a ton to do here aside from a creek-fed swimming pool so we spent most of the time 25 mins away on the Creeper Trail. Everyone said the hike to Mount Rogers (the highest point in Virginia) was 7 to 9 miles each way with zero view at the top. That sounded like a good reason to not do it. Braden/Robin is also becoming very good at Uno and a few other card games. We mainly booked this campground because we wanted to be in that area and Grayson Highlands and Stone Mountain were full over the weekend.
In knew from the minute we pulled in and saw the signs for the Sunday night Barn Dance, that this was our kind of park. The dance didn’t disappoint and neither did the scenery, hiking trails and other campers. Though we were completely out of cell service and Internet, this park is our favorite so far. At the gift shop, they had a sign that said two of their trails had been named among the Top 25 hiking trails in the US. It seemed pretty farfetched that one park could have two Top 25 trails, but after hiking to the Pinnacles and then Cabin Creek Falls, I can’t disagree. Cabin Creek features a very pretty waterfall and Pinnacles has a great view from a really cool rock formation. And that didn’t even factor in Mt. Rogers’ famous wild ponies! The AT runs right through the park as well and they have frisbee golf. This park is absolutely a gem.
Even the other campers themselves were much more our kind of folks. No Luke Bryan music anywhere. We met several nice folks including some of the hosts and a former Army medic named Bryan and his 130 lb lab named Toma. They are section hiking the AT slowly but surely.
The programing at the park was good, though sparsely attended. I was excited to take my ukulele to the Appalachian Jam Session on Tuesday night but I was the only person who showed up with an instrument for the first hour. I stumbled through “Rocky Top” and “Folsom Prison Blues” before I accompanied a middle schooler singing “Some Where Over The Rainbow.” Braden and Jess attended a class on moths and Braden got to pet a possum with the ranger. While staying at Grayson Highlands, I had a work trip down to West Jefferson, NC which allowed me to pick up a cake for Jess’s birthday.
Add in the fact that we needed jackets in the morning in late June and I just can’t say enough about this park!
Rocky Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway
It was tough to leave Grayson Highlands, but we had to travel to Floyd, Va. for a work stop for me. We camped at the Rocky Knob campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway. While I’ve been on prettier sections of the Parkway in North Carolina, the views on this section were still stunning. I was worried about the curvy roads, but we met a nice family from Auburn who had rented an RV for the first time to drive the whole parkway. If they could do it, so could we! Braden enjoyed kicking the ball around with their kids. I got a $10 haircut at the Floyd Barbershop (with their Mayberry memorabilia) and got to check out the famous Floyd Country Store next door, which hosts renowned jam sessions every Friday night. We weren’t able to stay for that this time.
Leaving North Carolina was tough. I didn’t think Virginia could top it. I was wrong. So far, Virginia has been the highlight of the trip.
On to Texas!
Accidentally profound quote:
Braden: I think I stepped in horse poop. We need to go wash my shoe.
Andy: Don’t worry buddy, hiking is a good way to get rid of any horse poop you’re carrying around.
3 — Number of tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway that are too low for the RV. Lucky, we didn’t find them.
9 – Number of cars we’ve passed going the same direction as us. I told you we were taking it slow.