Tammany Trace – Day 3

Since our Amtrak train was scheduled to leave Slidell at 7:57AM, we had set the alarm for 5:45. We showered, dressed, and ate breakfast at the hotel before biking the 2 ½ miles through a residential neighborhood over to the train station. Although the train was supposedly running early, it actually arrived 30 minutes late. During our wait, we met two nice ladies, one was a retired teacher and theology professor who used to live in Smyrna, GA and the other was visiting her daughter, a student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. After boarding the train, I slept until almost lunchtime. We decided to eat in the dining car again and were seated with a couple from Little Rock Arkansas who were staying in a roomette (something that Ed and I plan to do on our Great Lakes trip in May). He is a retired middle school music teacher and she writes technical government documents for a pharmaceutical company. After an engaging conversation and a good meal, we returned to the coach car where I tried to take another short nap, but the temperature was too cold! I decided to go to the lounge car where it always seemed to be much warmer. I worked for a couple of hours grading my students’ online tests and then joined Joyce and the theology professor for a discussion about religion. I ordered a salad from the snack bar for supper and also purchased a blanket so that I could sleep comfortably for the remainder of our trip. Although our train was more than three hours late returning to Atlanta, I still am an advocate of taking the train!

Joyce and I are already talking about our next bike ride, which will be the Hudson Valley Trail in upstate New York in the fall….


Tammany Trace – Day 2

Pool & Gardens

At 4:30 AM, I awoke to the sound of thunder and rain pelting down on the roof above my bed. I checked the weather app on my phone to verify that the storm was expected to end by mid-morning, and I quickly drifted back to sleep for a couple more hours.

Linda, the owner of the B&B, had prepared our breakfast before our arrival and placed it in our kitchenette. In addition to the spinach quiche and fresh strawberries in the refrigerator, there were also slices of banana bread and cranberry muffins on a glass-covered serving tray. While eating our breakfast in the terrace room overlooking the pool & gardens below, we realized that the rain had subsided.

HJ Smith & Sons General Store

I decided to take a walking tour of Covington following the map that Linda had provided us upon our arrival the previous night. I stopped at the HJ Smith & Sons General Store & Museum and admired the collection of antique farm equipment, hardware tools and transportation artifacts (stagecoach and hand-carved canoe) on exhibit.

Brooke’s Bike Shop

I walked over to Brooke’s Bike Shop, which displayed a wide range of vintage and new bicycles for sale and rent. Circling back to the B&B, I passed several charming shops and lamented that I didn’t have more time to peruse the local boutiques.

Southern Mansion in Covington

Joyce and I loaded our panniers on our bikes and thanked our charming southern hostess before embarking on a quick riding tour of Covington, the parish seat of St. Tammany Parish. I suspect that this historic  Northshore village attracts many tourists and locals who want to visit the specialty shops and enjoy the Cajun cuisine.

Covington Trailhead

With some help from a few local residents, we located the trailhead and began our 28 mile journey to Slidell. Heading east from Covington, the asphalt trail follows the original Illinois Railroad passageway. The Trace is lined on both sides with loblolly pines, live oak trees, and wetlands. Although it was still a little early in the season for alligators, I was on the lookout for them as we pedaled within feet of ideal gator habitat. We heard lots of birds (maybe waterthrush) that made shrill clicking sounds, and we saw a large turtle sunning himself along the banks of a swampy stream. When I turned around to take his picture, he quickly crawled back into the opaque water and out of sight.

Abita Mystery House

Between Covington and Abita Springs, we crossed the Tchefuncte and Abita Rivers. In Abita Springs, we saw the namesake brewpub and a vintage service station which had been converted into a mystery house full of southern Louisiana folk items and “junk.”

Liz’s Where Y’at Diner

Continuing east from Abita Springs, the trail turned south toward Lake Pontchartrain. We passed a large park and children’s museum about halfway to Mandeville. As we entered Mandeville, we turned south onto Florida Street and biked a couple of blocks to Liz’s Where Y’at Diner where we ordered a sandwich and chips to go. The service was fast and Liz, the owner, came over to personally introduce herself.

Dew Drop Jazz Hall

We pedaled back to the Trace and continued our ride through Mandeville. At the Lamarque Street intersection, we turned right and rode a few blocks to the historic Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall (dewdropjazzhall.com), which was built in 1895 and is considered to be the world’s oldest rural jazz hall. Jazz events are still scheduled on select Saturdays throughout the spring at this rustic wooden structure surrounded by majestic live oak trees.

Ruby’s Roadhouse

We followed Lamarque Street two blocks north of the Trace to Ruby’s Roadhouse – a local pub and a stage for local, national, and international musicians. Poking our heads into the smoke-filled bar was enough for two teetotalers from Georgia 🙂 . We jumped back on our bikes and continued three miles south to Fontainebleau State Park where we planned to eat a picnic lunch.

Pier on Lake Pontchartrain

Entering the state park, the ranger waived us through without charging us a daily use fee. I’m not sure whether he assumed that we were over 62 or whether there’s no charge for bicyclists 🙂 . We rode through the park and down to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain where we parked our bikes and found a nice spot to enjoy our lunch. Although it was a little breezy, the temperature was close to 70 degrees, and a young man was learning to paddleboard in the murky waters stretching toward the horizon. We spotted pelicans diving for their lunch and marveled at the expansive 24-mile bridge connecting Mandeville to New Orleans. After eating our lunch, we walked out on the fishing pier and then biked over to the restrooms at the campground before resuming our ride on the Trace.

Cypress Knees

The stretch from Fontainebleau SP to Lacombe was remote and marshy. There were cypress knees in the swampy waters along the trail, and we spotted a yellow flowering plant which we aptly named swamp flower since we didn’t know its true identity 🙂 .

Bayou Lacombe was the most stunningly beautiful area on the trail! There was a well-maintained restroom facility and drawbridge operator office located on the west side of the bayou. The southern waterway fed into Lake Pontchartrain, and boat docks lined the northern inlet toward the village of Lacombe. The ranger who manned the crane-driven drawbridge told us that there were several exclusive homes with large yachts further inland. Fortunately, we arrived to the crossing before 6 PM, which is when they raise the bridge for the night. Otherwise, we would have had to turn around and bike back to the previous highway crossing to bypass the drawbridge.

Lacombe Bayou

After leaving the bayou, we rode 7 miles east to the Slidell Trailhead, which is actually 4.5 miles from downtown Slidell. Currently, the trail ends near a busy shopping center, and we decided that it was too dangerous to bike along the highway to our hotel. We called Uber and were rejected at least twice because the drivers did not want to haul our folding bikes. Finally, we got a driver with a large SUV, and we loaded the bikes with no trouble.

We checked into the Best Western Plus about 6 PM and pushed our bikes down to our room, which fortunately was located on the first floor. After a quick change of clothes, we hailed another Uber car to take us to New Orleans. Our driver was British and extremely friendly and helpful. He gave us good advice about when/how to visit New Orleans and some safe tips for taking Uber back to our hotel later that night.

Streetcars on Canal Street

It took about 35 minutes to drive across Lake Pontchartrain to the corner of Canal Street & St Charles Street in the heart of New Orleans. As soon as we stepped out of the car, I felt much safer than I had during my previous visit to New Orleans about 20 years ago. Canal Street was so lit up that it looked almost like daylight, and there were police and streetcar monitors everywhere.

Eating Beignets @ Cafe du Monde

We took a streetcar for a few blocks and then walked toward Decatur Street to Café du Monde where we each ordered three French beignets and milk 🙂 . Realizing that Aunt Sally’s, home of the New Orleans famous pralines (pronounced prawline in New Orleans), was closing soon, I left Joyce at the café and scurried next door to purchase boxes of the decadent sweets to carry back home. I rejoined Joyce where we gorged ourselves on the powdered sugar covered beignets while listening to the jazz band playing on the sidewalk next to the cafe. Deciding that we were no longer hungry for dinner, we walked back to Canal Street where we boarded another streetcar that made a loop down St. Charles Street toward Tulane University. Although it was dark and the ride was longer than expected, we enjoyed seeing the magnificently decorated southern homes along the route. When the streetcar returned to Canal Street, we called Uber and rode back to our hotel in Slidell. We arrived at the Best Western after 11 PM…yawn!

Tammany Trace – Day 1

When I broke my ankle in October, my bike riding was put on hold for a few months. After several weeks of physical therapy and a month of persistent stationary bike training, I was anxious to get back on the trail. As soon as my orthopedic doctor released me, Joyce and I planned a trip to Louisiana to bike the Tammany Trace.

Amtrak Waiting Room in Atlanta

On Monday, March 5th, we boarded the Amtrak Crescent in Atlanta with our folding bikes and loaded panniers bound for Louisiana. The 12 hour train ride to Slidell, located on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, was relaxing and uneventful. We decided to eat lunch in the dining car, which was an unexpected treat. The food was delicious, and we enjoyed our conversation with two ladies from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Due to freight train traffic, our projected arrival time was delayed by two hours. Fortunately, we were not under any time constraints that would make the delay any more than a slight inconvenience. The soothing motion of the train is better than a sedative, gently rocking me to sleep. While Joyce read her newspaper and her next book club selection, I took a long nap. After my nap, Joyce taught me how to play cribbage, and we spent several hours in the lounge car playing cards and staying warm. The coach cars were colder than I recalled from previous train trips, and I had to put on several layers of clothes to tolerate the chill.

Camellia House B&B

Since our anticipated arrival in Slidell was delayed several hours, we decided to eat dinner in the snack bar onboard. After deboarding the train about 9 PM, we arranged for transportation to Covington via Uber. The 25-minute ride to the Camellia House B&B passed quickly as we conversed with our driver, a local resident who shared insights about the Northshore and his family.

Camellia House Porch

When we arrived at the B&B, Linda, the owner, greeted us and gave us a quick tour of the restored, southern home filled with antiques and modern conveniences. Our suite had a large bedroom, bath, and a separate enclosed terrace with a twin bed and kitchenette. We had access to a private porch with a swing overlooking the pool and hot tub in the garden below. Exhausted from a long day on the train and feeling the one hour time difference, I had no difficulty falling asleep.

Day 3 – Heritage Rail Trail & Torrey C. Brown Trail: Railroad, PA to Cockeysville, MD (22.6 miles)

Garden Waterfall
@ Jackson House

This morning, we fastened our panniers on the bikes before breakfast so that we could get an earlier start. Again, breakfast at the Jackson House was fabulous – eggs Benedict, grapefruit, and fresh blueberries & local cherries 🙂 . Pam, the owner of the B&B joined us for breakfast this morning, and we enjoyed listening to her describe the history of the 1859 inn which she and her husband have managed for the past ten years. Before breakfast, she let us take a quick tour of all three floors; each room has a private bath and is decorated in Pennsylvania Dutch style with beautiful antiques and handmade quilts.

Gunpowder River

After breakfast, just before 9 AM, we started biking south. Our return trek to Cockeysville was approximately 22 miles and mostly downhill, except the first 1 ½ mile climb to New Freedom. As soon as we passed the state line, we started descending; I actually reached a speed of almost 15 mph, even carrying the loaded panniers. The Torrey Trail is much narrower than the Heritage Trail in Pennsylvania; it alternates between two lanes separated by a strip of grass to a single track. We stopped at the Monkton Station for a brief restroom break and met a local man who bikes the trail twice a week. I can’t imagine the luxury of living so close to a Hall-of-Fame trail!

Monkton Station

After Monkton, we pedaled the remaining 7 miles to Hunt Valley LLC where we had rented the bikes two days ago. The owner greeted us, offering to help us unload our gear and volunteering to drive us two miles to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Hunt Valley where we ate lunch and bought gifts to take back home. The Walmart-sized market was filled with Amish furniture, a bakery, and a smorgasbord of food prepared with fresh local produce. What a treat! Based on TripAdvisor recommendations, we both decided to order chocolate chip cheesecake for lunch. We purchased sampler-sized jellies that can be carried on the plane and then ate our cheesecake while sitting on the beautiful, handcrafted Amish rocking chairs in front of the market.

Pennsylvania Dutch Market

Prior to our trip, Dotty, one of our Clayton State retiree friends, insisted that we locate and purchase Berger cookies before returning to Atlanta. The shortbread cookies smothered in chocolate fudge icing are baked in Baltimore and sold in many of the local Maryland grocery stores. According to Berger’s website, the Giant store, located a few blocks north of the Amish market, carries the cookies. So, to fulfill our promise to Dotty, we schlepped our panniers through parking lots and along the sidewalks to the grocery store. After each purchasing two large boxes of the cookies, we realized that the outdoor heat would probably melt the icing before we could reach the Baltimore airport. One of the store clerks overheard our conversation and offered to bring us small bags of ice to place underneath the cookies 🙂 .

Realizing that the lite rail was due in about 15 minutes, we walked as fast as our 60-70 something legs would carry us in the 80+ heat to the Pepper Station. As we approached the loading platform, we saw a digital sign indicating that the next train would arrive in 2 minutes. In a state of panic and not wanting to wait an additional 30 minutes for the next train, we attempted to purchase an MTA card. Neither of us were successful at navigating the confusing, complicated machines which dispensed the tickets. Fortunately, Joyce noticed an announcement on the screen indicating that the MTA was offering free fares during a two week period in June, including today! By then, a train approached and we boarded it without giving thought to the fact that it might be headed in the wrong direction. Before reaching the next station, we asked a few of the passengers if we were on the train to the airport, and they directed us to the train on the adjacent track approaching from the opposite direction. We quickly deboarded, crossed the platform to the other side, and jumped onto the other train. Collapsing into our seats and unloading our 20 lb panniers onto the seat in front of us, we sat back and enjoyed the 90 minute ride to the airport. Although we had to walk at least a mile to our gate, there were separate security checkpoints for each concourse, which made the check-in process much faster and allowed us to reach our gate almost an hour prior to our flight.

While reflecting on our three-day trip, I am extremely thankful for good health which allows Joyce and me to make these journeys. As long as we are physically able and our husbands are willing, I think both of us are committed to biking as many trails as our bodies will allow!

Day 2 – Heritage Rail Trail: Round Trip from Railroad, PA to York, PA (38 miles)

Jackson House Dining Room

I slept soundly until about 5 AM when the first morning light peaked through the garden door of the Jackson House cottage; the sounds of a few early morning commuters passing by the B&B on their daily commute to Baltimore served as my alarm clock. After dressing and recounting the previous day’s events for our blog, we walked to the main building for breakfast. Pam, the owner of the B&B, had prepared us a scrumptious breakfast, including homemade blueberry waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage, and fresh fruit. A couple from Harrisburg joined us for breakfast, and we enjoyed hearing about their biking experiences and suggestions for the Amish driving tour that we planned to make later in the day.

Bicycle Sculptures on
Heritage Trail

Since we would be returning to the Jackson House B&B this evening after our bike ride, we decided to leave our panniers and most of our gear in our cottage. We started biking on the Heritage Trail toward York, PA promptly at 9 AM. The first three miles of the trail to Glen Rock were noticeably downhill, and we chatted about the differences between this trail and the Torrey Trail from the previous day. The Heritage Trail is wider, better maintained, and parallels both the Codorus Creek and the rail line which carries tourists on a historic train ride from New Freedom to York. As the day progressed, we both agreed that the Heritage Trail, with its history and well-kept trail, was much more enjoyable than the Torrey Trail.

Hanover Junction Train Station

We briefly stopped in Glen Rock to locate the restaurant where we planned to eat dinner and then pedaled on toward Hanover Junction, which is touted to be the train station where Abraham Lincoln passed through on his way from Washington, DC to Gettysburg. The train station houses a small museum that we hoped to visit on our return trip this evening.

Howard Tunnel

The next 12 miles to York passed by quickly; the trail was almost flat, and the cool morning air beckoned us north at a respectable 10 mph pace. Although there were no significant towns or landmarks on this portion of the trail, the scenery was sufficient. Numerous chipmunks scurried across our path as it zigzagged back and forth from the left to the right side of the train tracks while crossing the Codorus Creek. Although most of the trail was tree canopied, we did ride through a few open corn fields. The highlight of this morning’s ride was the Howard Tunnel located between MM15 & 16. The tunnel, which opened in 1838, is the second oldest active rail tunnel in the United States.

York City Park

We approached the outskirts of York about 11 AM. This urban section of the trail took us by a golf course, several local businesses, a tree-lined park, and a transit station. Although there are plans for an extension of the Heritage Trail to John Rudy County Park, there’s still a 1-mile gap in downtown York. The trail ends abruptly near Market Street, but we had directions for navigating the streets to the Enterprise Car Rental on Arsenal Rd. Fortunately, most of the roads between the end of the trail and the rental facility had sidewalks, but the last .2 mile was along a four-lane highway. As we pedaled up Georgetown Street, passing small brick homes and a large cemetery, Joyce’s fender detached from the frame, causing her to stop abruptly as it slid forward into her pedals. We managed to use zip ties to reattach the front of the fender to the rack positioned above her rear tire so that we could finish the 1 1/2 mile ride to Enterprise.

Amish Horse & Buggy

Our Enterprise agent agreed to allow us to stow our bikes in their break room while we drove the rental car over to Lancaster County. Joyce had made the car rental arrangements, and I appreciated her willingness to drive. It took approximately 45 minutes to drive from York to Miller’s Smorgasbord (the restaurant the couple we ate breakfast with had recommended) in Ronks. As soon as we drove into the parking lot, I recognized the restaurant because my husband and I ate there on our trip to Amish country a few years ago. Joyce and I chose to eat the soup, salad, and bread bar instead of gorging on the full buffet. The food was delicious but was not an authentic Amish-prepared meal as we had wanted. After lunch, we drove to Intercourse, PA along rural farm roads where we passed several horse-drawn buggies and observed Amish men working in the fields. The rich, rolling acreage provides an ideal setting for dairy and vegetable farms. I’m always nostalgic about farming communities because my mother has shared countless stories about growing up on a farm in West Virginia. I love the tall, shiny silos and the black & white jersey cows – definitely a glance back to simpler times. Joyce and I decided to stop at a large Amish-run quilt shop in Bird-in-Hand, and I was astonished by the quality of the handmade quilts. I purchased some quilted coasters for my sister and perused the bolts of fabric, precut quilt blocks, and finished handcrafts.

Codorus Creek

We drove west on Hwy 340 past more farms and shops and decided to stop at King’s Kreamery in Lancaster to get our ice cream “fix” for the day. Our return drive to York was uneventful except brief detours around local traffic. Upon Joyce’s request, the Enterprise manager agreed to have one of their drivers transport us and our bikes back to the trailhead. The driver dropped us off a block from the York trailhead, and we resumed our 19 mile ride south to the Jackson House B&B at about 4:30 PM.

Penn State Master Gardener Project @ Hanover Junction

I decided to make a brief pit stop at a convenience store to buy Gatorade and to use their restroom and Joyce obliged. As we left the urban streets of York, we used our phones to check-in for our Southwest return flight home to Atlanta and then focused on the gratifying ride ahead of us. Our first stop was Hanover Junction, housing a train museum that opens every Wednesday evening during the summer from 6-8 PM for historical porch talks. With sunset approaching, we could not stay for the porch talk about the Confederate invasion of the station’s telegram office; however, we did take time to tour the museum and to speak with the agent about Lincoln’s stop at the junction. He shared a fascinating account of Lincoln’s penning the Gettysburg Address on the train from Washington, DC and described an encounter between Lincoln and a local newspaper editor on the platform at Hanover Junction.

Glen Rock Mill Inn

Pedaling on, we arrived at the Glen Rock Mill Inn for dinner at approximately 7 PM. This crowded restaurant seemed to be the local hangout on Wednesday nights, but the service was good and the food was delicious. After dinner, we biked a little over three miles uphill to the Jackson House B&B in Railroad. Pam had left us chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen table; we grabbed two apiece and headed upstairs to our cottage for the night. Terrific day and perfect weather – God is good!

Day 1 – Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail/Heritage Rail Trail: Cockeysville, MD to Railroad, PA (22.6 miles)

Train Signal on Torrey Brown Trail

In June 2015, we successfully completed our goal to bike all of the Hall of Fame trails; however, before we hardly had a chance to celebrate our accomplishment, the RTC awarded the distinction to four more trails 😦 . So, today Joyce and I resumed our quest by riding the Torrey C. Brown Trail from Cockeysville, a suburb of Baltimore, to Railroad, just above the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line. Although we had planned this trip for several months, I almost canceled at the last minute because I had to rush my 96-year old mother to the hospital the night before our departure. Thankfully, her diagnosis of shingles, unpleasant but not life threatening, meant that I could follow through with our travel plans.

This morning, with only an hour of sleep, I drove from my new home in Canton, Georgia down to Woodstock where I caught a shuttle to the Atlanta airport. Our Delta flight was scheduled to leave at 9:36 AM; however, after boarding the plane, we were told that the left engine required repair. Although this announcement was unsettling, I was still able to doze during the hour and a half that it required the mechanics to replace the faulty valve on the motor.

Upon arrival in Baltimore, we used Uber for the first time to arrange transportation from the airport to Cockeysville, approximately 30 miles north. Our young Asian driver initiated us to the Uber world by answering all of our questions about this new, popular means of transportation. The 40 minute ride passed quickly, and we agreed that Uber was definitely faster than the local lite rail system.

Martha & Joyce @
Hunt Valley LLC

Joyce had arranged our bike rentals with Hunt Valley Village LLC, an eclectic rental shop/petting zoo, which bordered the Torrey Trail. Jane, the owner, was extremely helpful as we loaded our panniers and gear onto the Schwinn hybrid bicycles. My husband will be proud of our ingenuity with using plastic zip ties to retrofit our panniers to the Schwinn bike racks. It took about 30 minutes to securely fasten our gear (panniers, cameras, GPS devices, etc.), but we were confident that the zip ties and bungee cords would keep our baggage secure for the next three days.

Hunt Valley LLC

At approximately 1:15 PM, we embarked on our 22+ mile ride to the Jackson House B&B in Railroad, PA, our lodging destination for the next two nights. The Torrey C Brown Trail, formerly the Northern Central Railroad Trail, derives its name from a previous DNR secretary who was instrumental in converting the rail line into a multi-use trail. The hard-packed gravel trail parallels the Gunpowder River, a tidal inlet of the Chesapeake Bay, for most of the 21 miles stretching north to the state line. Although the temperature rose to the low 80s, we felt a cool breeze riding along the tree-canopied trail.

Monkton Tube Rental

Our original plan was to bike 7.2 miles to the Monkton Station where we could rent tubes to float down the Gunpowder River. Unfortunately, our delay in Atlanta forced us to forgo the tubing; however, we hope that our schedule can be readjusted in order to squeeze in a brief float on our return ride through Monkton on Thursday. After chatting with the owner of the rental shop and some tubers in the parking lot, we resumed our bike ride and quickly noticed that the trail was now ascending at about a 2-3% grade. The next 14 miles from Monkton, MD to New Freedom, PA would be slightly uphill. Instead of focusing on the steady climb, I enjoyed listening to the birds and admired the hardwood trees and lush ferns which lined the trail. We spotted several rabbits and one deer as we pedaled north to the state line.

Little Falls

The next memorable stop was at Little Falls at MM 13. This scenic spot, carved by years of water flowing over massive rocks into a small cavern, was naturally framed by wild, orange day lilies growing profusely along the banks of the river. We took a brief break to soak in the beauty of the falls before resuming our uphill ascent. Bikers from the opposite direction seem to zoom by, reminding me of the load of my panniers on this uphill stretch. As we approached the state line, we expected to see a sign indicating the border; however, we entered New Freedom before realizing that we had already crossed into Pennsylvania.

Binky’s Ice Cream

The state line marks the start of the Heritage Trail, which spans northward approximately 21 miles to York, PA. We decided to eat dinner at Seven, a popular steak & seafood restaurant in New Freedom. My lack of sleep from the previous night was catching up with me so I appreciated the chance to stretch my legs, charge my phone, and savor the sirloin steak flatbread that I ordered for dinner. After our rejuvenating meal, we walked a couple of blocks to Binky’s – a much touted ice cream establishment, which resides in an old restored movie theatre. The lighted billboards displayed the name of the ice cream shop and the quote, “Don’t Grow Up; It’s a Trick,” instead of the title of the latest feature film. A snow cone stand occupied the original ticket booth, and the concession counter displayed a variety of ice cream flavors, including Zombie (chocolate peanut butter cookie dough), which was my selection. We ate our ice cream on the benches out front, and Joyce observed that this appeared to be the most popular place in town.

Jackson House B&B

After stuffing ourselves with dinner and ice cream, we pedaled the remaining 1 1/2 miles to the Jackson House B&B in Railroad, PA (every time I see the name of this town, I think of the board game Monopoly – not exactly sure because there’s no direct connection). Since we arrived to the B&B after hours, the manager had left our key on the kitchen table in the main hotel. She also left us homemade cookies and soft drinks 🙂 . We locked our bikes and carried our bags upstairs to a charming cottage, located adjacent to an 8 ft stone wall and man-made waterfall. The cottage had two beds, two reclining chairs, and a bathroom. It was equipped with a TV, fireplace, and a nice screen porch overlooking the small rural town.

I took a quick shower, plugged in all of my chargers, and collapsed onto the bed.

New River Trail State Park: Galax to Draper

After biking all of the Hall of Fame trails, Joyce and I started researching other rails-to-trails that we could ride.  I noticed that the New River Trail State Park is frequently listed among the top ten trails in the country, even though it is NOT a Hall of Fame trail. Joyce and I decided that this 57-mile crushed limestone trail in southwest Virginia would be ideal to combine with a trip to the Virginia Creeper. After biking from Abingdon to Damascus on the Creeper, we drove a couple of hours northeast to Fries – the southern terminus of a spur trail from the New River Trail.

Ed Kayaking on New River

Ed Kayaking on New River

Before embarking on the trail, we decided to take a brief float on the New River :-). Although I brought my kayak from home, we needed to rent a kayak for Ed and a canoe for Joyce & Ron. Prior to our trip, we made advance reservations with New River Outfitters to shuttle us to the dam in Fries where we put in above a short section of shoals. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing paddle on the New River! Truthfully, you didn’t even need to paddle; you could just sit back and let the current carry you downstream (the New River flows from south to north). The calm river meanders through the valleys separating the adjoining Virginia hillside on its way north to West Virginia where its whitewater intensifies, making an extremely popular rafting destination. Truthfully, I prefer the gentle current, and I was disappointed when we approached our takeout point sooner than expected.

Picnic Area along River

Picnic Area along River

Following our refreshing float, Joyce and I decided to bike north from the New River Outfitters to the Fries Junction and back so that we would not have to bike this 6-mile portion of the trail the next morning. The evening air was cool, and we thoroughly enjoyed this short ride along the river. During our ride, we commented about the availability of trail amenities (restrooms, camping, and picnic tables) and the condition (hardpacked and debris free) of the trail. When we returned to our vehicles, we loaded the bikes and drove about 6 miles south to the New River Trail Cabins in Galax.

New River Cabin

New River Cabin

We unpacked, took quick showers, and drove to Creek Bottom Brewery in Galax for dinner. Our food was delicious, and Ed & Ron took advantage of the locally crafted beer. Returning to our creekside cabins, we adjusted our shuttle schedule for the next morning and got a good night’s sleep. I definitely recommend the New River Cabins; not only are they affordable and adjacent to the trail, they are also well maintained and equipped with everything you might want, including a refrigerator, microwave, TV, fireplace, Jacuzzi, and a porch overlooking the creek :-).

Galax Trailhead

Galax Trailhead

Waking to a beautiful summer morning, I could not resist jumping on my bike and pedaling across the bridge and down the creekside path leading to the trailhead. Returning to the cabin, I prepared my bike for the day (mounted my GPS & video camera, loaded and attached my panniers, and checked the air pressure in my tires). Anxious to get on the trail, Joyce and I left a few minutes after 8:30 AM. Our plan was to bike 26 miles north and meet Ed & Ron at Shot Tower (MM 25). In the meantime, Ed & Ron would drop off their bikes at Shot Tower, park the truck in Draper (MM 6), purchase sandwiches for lunch, and drive back to Shot Tower to meet Joyce and me about noon.

Waterfall along Trail

Waterfall along Trail

The first 12 miles of the trail paralleled Chestnut Creek. We had an unobstructed view of the water for most of the trail from Galax to the Fries Junction. With a birds-eye view of the tumbling shoals and small waterfalls, we pedaled north. Prior to the junction, we encountered a tunnel :-). Although the tunnel was not very long, its sharp curvature made it difficult to see the other end. Before entering, I dug out my headlamp, and Joyce followed my light and the illuminated reflectors lining the outer edges of the tunnel. Within a mile after the tunnel, we reached the iron trestle crossing the New River. On the other side of the bridge, we returned to Fries Junction – the spot where we turned around the previous evening.

Tunnel on Trail

Tunnel on Trail

Turning right to continue north along the New River, we pedaled toward Shot Tower. This portion of the trail was mostly tree canopied with frequent glimpses of the river. The trail crossed the river several times, and we took advantage of these opportunities to stretch our legs and take photos. We passed two dams and one short tunnel on the 16 mile stretch between Fries Junction and the Shot Tower. Although there were a few dirt roads leading to the river, this portion of the trail was extremely remote. Thankfully, there were nice restroom facilities about every 3-5 miles.

Shot Tower

Shot Tower

About 5 miles south of Shot Tower, we encountered a brief rain shower. After stopping and putting on our rain jackets, the rain slacked off leaving us steaming hot in our rain gear. Not trusting the gloomy skies, I decided to tie my jacket around my waist instead of packing it away in my panniers. After a few miles, the showers returned, and I was relieved to have quick access to my jacket. The rain was more a nuisance than anything; in fact, the drizzle cooled the air and transformed the surface of the trail from loose gravel to hard-packed dirt. Just as the intensity of the rain increased, we saw Ed standing ahead of us on the trail. We parked our bikes, and he led us up the stairs to the Shot Tower State Park where Ron waited in the car. They drove us a couple of miles east to Foster Falls where we ate a picnic lunch under a covered pavilion along the river.

Martha on Hiwassee River Bridge

Martha on Hiwassee River Bridge

After the rain subsided, we drove back to Shot Tower (site where lead shot was made for fire arms in the early 1800s) where Ron & Ed biked with us for the remaining 19 miles to Draper. This portion of the trail was higher above the river level than the southern section. Although the river was visible below, we were disappointed that it was not closer. Above Foster Falls, there were more homes along the water. We noticed numerous boat docks, particularly near the Hiwassee River Bridge. This bridge, marking the confluence of the Hiwassee River and the New River, was a highlight of our ride this afternoon.

Draper Mercantile

Draper Mercantile

The last four miles leading to Draper were somewhat uphill. When I spotted Ed’s truck parked at the Draper Mercantile, I was relieved! Since the store was closed, we decided to load the bikes in the truck and drive to Pulaski for ice cream :-). Although we skipped the last 4.2 miles from Draper to Dora Junction, we later found out that this section is not only the least scenic part of the trail but is also uphill – we made a good decision!