Monday, May 28, 2007

The Mountains Win Again

From that old Blues Traveler song, "The Mountains Win Again"...they sure did this past Memorial Day weekend. Just when you get comfortable with the beach and long to go back there again, the mountains step up and remind us to not forget them either. During the weekend, I told Kris and the kids this was better than Disney anyday (and a lot cheaper).

The weekend would be centered around bicycling the Virginia Creeper Trail between White Top Mountain and Damascus (in southwestern VA). We were told by other friends and family about it and it sounded like a great activity for the entire family. We started the weekend by stopping at Stone Mountain State Park on the way to Virginia for some hiking. Most of the trails here are moderate to strenuous but we found a nice short one with a round trip of a little over a mile (great for the family) and it included a big waterfall. We discovered forest fire remnants that was still smoldering. It must have covered several acres. The waterfall at the end of the trail was very big (over 200 ft). We then hiked back and found a local church serving BBQ chicken which Kris and I enjoyed while the kids had some food and ice cream at the local general store. We then drove on part of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way to Thistle Meadow Winery in Laurel Springs, NC. The owner, Tom, was a great and funny host and gave us a nice wine tasting, even some Crush grape soda for the kids to drink out of wine stuffiness at this place. Go visit Tom and his beautful place if you're in the area -

We arrived at our hotel, Quality Inn & Suites in Abingdon, VA. Not a bad place for $100 a night since it was a suite with a cordoned off master king bedroom for mom and dad while the kids slept on the fold-out couch in the other room. Plus, they had a decent continental breakfast where we swiped some extra bagels, peanut butter, and yogurts for our picnic lunch on the bike trail. We had reserved a bike shuttle at JCs Outdoors (formerly Ole Barn) in Damascus, VA. . Its conveniently located right at the end of the 17 mile stretch of trail we wanted to ride. We parked here, they took us and our bikes to the top of the trail at White Top Station. The entire Virginia Creeper trail runs 35 miles from Abingdon to Whitetop through the back country of Southwest Virginia. This 17 mile section from White Top to Damascus that we did has a gradual downhill grade most of the way that is perfect for families. Kris and our eight year old daughter rode their own bikes, and our five and three year old sons rode in a bike trailer attached to my bike. By the way...very near White Top Mountain...on the top of the next mountain over, there is a house with a red roof that you can see very clearly. Very near that house is the point at which the NC, VA, and TN state lines meet.

The kids did great throughout. It is a great family outing and most of the trail was indeed a slight gradual decline. There were stops every 3-5 miles that had restrooms, food, etc. The Appalachian Trail criss-crossed the trail a couple of times and we saw a few hikers. We also saw fly fishermen in the Holston river, some horseback riders, and even saw one guy run the trail. We saw him at the top of the trail as we took off and he passed us at the bottom when we were loading our bikes on the car. He was still going when we passed him in the car heading out of Damascus towards Abingdon. There are many bridges, trestles, and steep sections off both sides of the trail that were absolutely beautiful. The trail is unpaved with mostly black dirt and very fine gravel. We stopped and took a minor detour off the main trail to eat lunch close to the river with no one else around. It took us a little over four hours to complete the trail and we took our time and stopped several times. As you can see by the pictures, our three year old fell asleep in the trailer at the end of the trail. After we got our bikes loaded back up, we stopped at Abingdon Winery for some cheese & crackers and wine by the river. The staff was a bit stuffy compared to Tom at Thistle Meadows, but this place had a nice river to lounge by with your wine.

Here is a great web site with more info about the trail:

On Memorial Day, we woke up, drove the scenic route towards home again (through West Jefferson, back through Stone Mountain), and stopped by Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, NC. We had a brief wine tasting, ate at their restaurant (Harvest Grill) which was very good. This place is getting to be a nice operation with more growth in the area to come (new hotel and business center right down the street).

All in all, it was a great trip. For families that have young kids and want to get outside for some adventure and fun, this is it. For those who want more adventure, this is also a great place as you can do the entire 35 miles and/or try it uphill. We saw many people riding the trail uphill. There is also the Appalachian Trail, plus many other great hiking trails, and supposedly great fishing & fly fishing. And of course, the wineries were a nice plus too.
Look out for a brief video of our trip to be posted soon.

No comments: