For Christmas, Carole gave me a gift certificate for a 2 nights at the Damascus Old Mill Inn in Damascus, VA. Damascus is in southern Virginia and its claim to fame is that it sits at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34 mile bicycle trail that I've always wanted to ride. The plan was to do both hiking and biking.
We loaded up the car in the am and I picked Carole up after work. Since Damascus is about a six hour drive, we decided to get dinner on the way down and then find a place to stay somewhere close to Damascus the first night. We ended up having a great dinner in Lexington VA at the Southern Inn Restaurant and stayed the night at a motel outside of VA Tech University in Blacksburg.
The next morning we drove another 90 miles south to Grayson Highlands State Park in Mouth of Wilson VA to some hiking before heading to Damascus. We ended up doing about 4.6 miles, combining several trails into a loop.
The view to the South includes the hills of both Tennessee and North Carolina.
From there we went down about 1,200 feet on the Big Pinnacles trail to do the Cabin Creek loop. The map showed a not-to-be missed waterfall that could be found in the middle of the loop. After about a mile and half we found a series of cascades that were nice but not fabulous, and no sign of the trail starting to loop. We followed what we thought was an unmarked trail further up the cascades and it turned out we were half-right: it was unmarked but it was not a trail. After backtracking and finding the loop path back, we did finally see the double waterfall (above) but not where the map said it would be.
From there we slogged back up the Big Pinnacle Trail to do the second side of the Twin Pinnacles loop, which took us back up to almost 5,100 feet where Carole celebrated the cloudless sky with several complex yoga positions.
We didn't see the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands but in addition to the non-stop views of mountains, there were many colorful displays of local flora, even though we were a few weeks early for the foliage peak.
From there we drove over hill and dale (many of each) down to Damascus, checked in to the Old Mill Inn, had a fine dinner of shrimp and grits and local hard apple cider as we sat and watched the ducks and geese battle for supremacy in the pond behind the Mill.
The next morning we stuffed our faces from the buffet breakfast to prepare for riding the full length of the Virginia Creeper Trail.
The Virginia Creeper Trail runs 34 miles from Whitetop Station to Abingdon VA, following an old lumber rail line that closed years ago and was one of the most successful Rail to Trail conversions back in the late 1990s. The rail line was used to take lumber from the top of the mountain over to the main rail line in Abingdon. Over the 17 miles from Whitetop to Damascus, the trail drops 2000 feet and then climbs back up a few hundred feet over the remaining 17 miles to Abingdon. Today, Damascus largely exists to service bike riders on the trail and AT hikers - there is not much else happening there.
Our plan was to ride the entire 34 miles - the easy way. We drove to Abingdon early Thursday am and the Creeper Trail Bike Rental-Shuttle service picked us and our bikes up at 0830 and drove us to the top of Whitetop. On the drive up we saw a small black bear scampering across the road.
The sun was out and the weather was perfect for a nice downhill ride. The first several miles is a pretty steep downhill over a rocky surface - we barely needed to pedal but sort of had to keep a death grip on the handlebars as the leaves covered the rocks and ruts. After about 5 miles, the sun disappeared, the temperature started to drop and light rain began to fall. The trail winds through mountain laurel and pine trees and following a very picturesque babbling brook most of the time. Periodically, the Appalachian Trail follows the same route as the Creeper Trail has dozens of bridges that cross the creek. There was evidence that horse back riders also used the trail - whenever I saw a steaming pile of such evidence, I would warn Carole by saying "Presidential candidate press release, presidential candidate press release ahead."
Coming in to Damascus, the rain stopped but it was still cold so at the 17 mile mark we took a break to warm up and down some hot coffee at MoJoes Trailside Coffee House. We met three guys our age who were on the back end of cycling across the country from Oregon to Yorktown, VA. We then hopped on the bikes for about 5 miles of level riding through Damascus, over more bridges - including one with a tunnel of lights that we walked through later that night after dinner.
From there it was 12 miles of slight but increasing uphill (don't listen to Carole, who claims it was a nearly vertical incline) to Abingdon over more and increasingly picturesque bridges. Abingdon is a cute, cute, cute town where we had great coffee at Zazzy'z and sampled all kinds of fancy schmancy olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the Abingdon Olive Oil Company.
The next morning we packed up the bikes and several bottles of olive oil and vinegar and got back on the NAFTA Highway (I-81) for the 6 hour ride home, after yet another great hiking/biking/eating weekend road trip.