The Fascinating History of the Virginia Creeper Trail
Get ready for an epic adventure on the Virginia Creeper Trail! This legendary 34.3-mile recreational rail trail takes you on a journey from Abingdon all the way up to Whitetop Station near Mount Rogers, passing through Damascus along the way. Fun fact: the trail gets its unique name from the native Virginia Creeper plant and the steam engines that used to "creep" up the mountains, carrying heavy loads of people and iron ore.
Now, let's dive into a bit of history (don't worry, I'm not a history nut, but the backstory is pretty cool). The trail's origins date back to the time when it was the Virginia Carolina Railroad. Unfortunately, after facing the Great Depression and devastating floods, the train ran its last ride on March 31, 1977. But fear not! The cities of Abingdon and Damascus stepped in and purchased parts of the trail, transforming it into a spectacular hiking trail.
Fast forward to today, and the Virginia Creeper Trail has become a sought-after adventure for people from near and far, earning a well-deserved spot on many bucket lists. Now, let me confess—I did my fair share of research. I talked to friends who've conquered it, chatted with friendly locals who assured me it's a breeze, and even confirmed with the bike shop that this trail is a piece of cake. But here's the catch—many of us (including yours truly) haven't biked 34 miles straight, and some of us haven't even been on a bike in ages. But guess what? One of my brilliant friends dropped a bombshell: there's beer at the local cafes along the way. Yes, you read that right—beer! Naturally, we got all fired up, and without a second thought, 16 of us screamed a resounding YES! Let's do this!
So buckle up, my fellow adventure seekers, and get ready to embark on a thrilling journey along the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's going to be a wild ride filled with breathtaking scenery, fascinating history, and maybe even a pit stop for some well-deserved brews. Let's make memories that'll last a lifetime!
Our Adventure Begins
Picture this: it was the morning of July 31, 2021, and we were ready to conquer the world! Well, maybe not the world, but definitely the crowds of people swarming around us. With unwavering determination, we fought our way through the chaos and finally found our path onto the trail.
To kick things off, we hopped aboard the Abingdon to White Top shuttle, eager to experience the thrill of riding downhill. "Piece of cake," they said. "Super easy and loads of fun!" Little did we know what was in store for us. We set our sights on Damascus, a mere 17 miles away, where we planned to refuel with a hearty lunch.
As we began our descent, nature's beauty unfolded before our eyes like a breathtaking masterpiece. But that's not all we discovered along the way. Imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon these adorable little cafes and even bathrooms! Who would've thought those old train stations could be so charming? The cafes seemed to multiply magically, ensuring we never went thirsty or hungry. Drinks and snacks were aplenty, keeping our energy levels up as we pedaled along.
Now, here comes the bummer moment: no beer! Can you believe it? Either they decided to banish beer from existence or my mischievous friend had played a trick on us. Oh, the disappointment! But fear not, my friends, for we held onto a glimmer of hope. We knew that Damascus, our ultimate destination, would be our salvation—a promised land where ice-cold brews awaited us. (Sorry to my dear friends who had their hearts set on beer along the way.)
We couldn't resist the allure of Wicked Chicken, a place rumored to serve food that's absolutely to die for. But first, we made a pit stop at the delightful Damascus diner and stumbled upon a charming county store in town. Time seemed to slip away as we meandered, snapped photos, and lost ourselves in the experience, resulting in a 2.5-hour wait for lunch.
The Final Stretch
As we approached the final stretch towards Abingdon, a few people started dropping hints about a slight incline. "No big deal," I thought, considering it's an old railroad trail—how steep could it be, right?
Undeterred, we pedaled on, the wind whipping through our hair, providing a refreshing respite from the heat. Thankfully, some of the ladies in our group had the foresight to bring proper water bottles, unlike my ill-fated choice of disposable plastic ones. Every time I placed one in the bike holder, it seemed like I was creating a makeshift waterfall down the trail. Little did I know, the bike holder had punctured my bottle, leading to a rather comical situation.
But wait, this is all building up to our grand finale, so hold on tight and stay with me for the thrilling conclusion.
Now, let's talk about those last few miles after Damascus. Oh boy, did our smiles quickly transform into a "WTF" attitude! It was like the shade decided to take a vacation, leaving us at the mercy of the scorching sun, burning our backs with relentless heat. And to make matters worse, it finally dawned on us that the seemingly innocent 3% railroad grade incline was going to be pure torture for the remaining 8 miles. Can you imagine? We had just ridden a whopping 26 miles, only to be faced with an uphill battle when all we wanted was to savor the final stretch.
Now, I consider myself quite fit, but let me tell you, I huffed, puffed, and complained "are we there yet?" more times than I'd like to admit. We had to dismount our bikes several times to give our thighs a breather because, let me tell you, they were on fire! And our poor butts? Well, let's just say it felt like we had been riding horses instead of bicycles (I even aced my 30-day squat challenge thanks to this adventure). Pro tip: If the bike shop offers gel bike pads for a mere $5, do yourself a favor and invest in them. Your posterior will thank you later. Lesson learned, my friends.
Just when we thought we had endured enough, we stumbled upon some breathtaking farmland with stunning bridges. But guess what? We still hadn't reached level ground, and every time we thought we hit a mile, it turned out to be a cruel joke—only 1/4 of a mile conquered.
Just when we thought we couldn't take it anymore, we finally reached the outskirts of the city, desperately hoping to find a water fountain since most of us had run dry. And guess what? A local hero came to our rescue! He kindly informed us that we were operating the water fountain all wrong. Can you believe it? We were saved by a water fountain user manual!
But that's not all the local had to say. He had a mischievous smirk on his face as he revealed his secret enjoyment of watching clueless tourists like us struggle with that darn incline. According to him, it's a pain in the butt that will kick your behind! However, he did offer a glimmer of hope, assuring us that the last mile was somewhat flat. Hallelujah!
With newfound determination, we kicked our butts into gear and pushed through. And let me tell you, reaching the Virginia Creeper trail head felt like the grandest finale of all—like a "holy $%#$ I just did this" moment. Despite being on the struggle bus for the last couple of miles, I couldn't help but feel immensely proud of myself. It was an incredible sight to see the accomplishment radiating from the faces of my fellow riders, as we finished together, a victorious tribe.
Returning to the parking lot, I was greeted by an empty space where the cars once stood. Turns out, everyone had made it off the trail faster than me. I guess I was just savoring the sweet taste of victory a little longer!
My final thoughts........
I was so excited that I had so many come hang out and from all over Virginia and Tennessee. I got to meet so many new people. I was super stoked that the awesome power couple of Our Travitude wanted to join on this adventure and bring 2 of their friends from Tennessee. I loved talking to Kendall through social media and follow their adventure that we finally meet in person and totally forgot to take a picture.
Everyone who said it was easy lied.
Note: Avoid wearing jean shorts during long bike rides in scorching summer weather. Trust me, I learned the hard way with painful jean burns on my legs and an atrocious tan line.
Also, reconsider carrying a full-frame Nikon camera around your neck while biking 34 miles. It may not be the most practical choice.
Imagine hearing the final countdown in your head as you cross each numbered bridge—48 in total—on your way to the ultimate destination: the Creeper Trail sign. It's a triumphant ending you won't want to miss.
Loved loved loved where I rented the bikes. If you have 10 people you get a group discount. They gave me the 411 and laughed every time I called when I am trying to over prepare lol. Check out the Virginia Creeper Bike Shop. I had a comfort bike. I wonder how bad my butt would have hurt on the mountain bike???
Best ending: I got to camp on the river that night and listen to the sound of the water and get poured on during a storm. It was a magical night. Thanks to Riverside Campground.
As I sit here contemplating this wild ride, I catch myself saying, "I'd never do this again... unless it's in the fall, with a pumpkin spice latte in hand." The scenery was absolutely stunning, but the real highlight was witnessing so many brave souls step out of their comfort zones and embrace the madness. That's the beauty of organizing meet-ups: watching people do the unexpected.
So, don't forget to join our Facebook group and jump into our next adventure. As for me, I proudly check off another crazy item from my bucket list. Life's too short to sit around—let's dive headfirst into the excitement together. Join me, and let's create memories that will make us laugh until our abs hurt (or at least until we need some extra squats to recover).