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!

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Virginia Creeper: Abingdon to Damascus (17 miles)

Although I have biked the lower half of the Virginia Creeper Trail from Whitetop Mountain to Damascus multiple times, I had never biked the upper half from Damascus to Abingdon. The lower portion is downhill and crosses numerous trestles and creeks through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It offers spectacular scenery in the fall, which attracted my husband and me to this trail over 20 years ago. On a later trip, we brought our two teenage daughters to experience this scenic, easy trail. Our most recent ride on the Whitetop portion was in 2004 with Joyce and Ron. Due to the steepness of the lower portion of the trail, most cyclists take a shuttle to the Whitetop trailhead and ride downhill. On all of our previous trips, we utilized the shuttle services provided by Mt Rogers Outfitters in Damascus; however, there are several more options now.

Joyce & Martha @ Abington Trailhead

Joyce & Martha @
Abingdon Trailhead

On this trip, my husband, Ed, dropped Joyce and me off at the Abingdon trailhead at 10:30 AM on a drizzly, surprisingly cool July morning. Unlike the southern portion of the trail, the ride from Damascus to Abingdon is almost flat. Although most of the trail is tree canopied, there are open sections through lush green pastures. We passed through many fenced cattle fields, which required dismounting our bikes to open and close the gates at each end. One of the highlights of the ride was a newly constructed trestle in an open field overlooking the surrounding hillside.

Trestle on Hillside

Trestle on Hillside

About one mile north of Alvarado, Joyce had a flat tire. Fortunately, we had tools and a spare tube. Since the flat was on the rear tire, it required a little more work to disconnect the brakes and to release the chain from the derailleur. Joyce has changed a tire before, but I have only watched :-). We worked together to remove the punctured tube from the tire. Based on advice from our local Trek mechanic, I suggested that we take the tire off the rim before inserting the new tube. Using the portable pump that I had mounted on my bike, I pumped a little air into the tube to give it enough shape to prevent it from slipping out of the tire while we remounted it on the rim. We finished pumping up the tire, placed it back on the bike, and reattached the chain. The trickiest part was the brakes; thankfully, Joyce remembered out how to reconnect them :-). Within 30 minutes, we were back on the trail.

Creek along Trail

Creek along Trail

Since cell service was spotty, we were not able to call our husbands to notify them that Joyce had a flat tire. We attempted to text them but weren’t certain that our texts were received. Hoping that they would not be too worried by our 30-minute delay, we proceeded to Damascus. The trail paralleled a beautiful creek on our left, and we repeatedly complemented each other on our teamwork and maintenance skills while riding slightly downhill toward our destination. We met Ed and Ron at the MoJo’s Trailside Cafe for a delicious lunch before driving on to Fries, Virginia where we plan to bike the New River Trail.

Caboose in Damascus

Caboose @ Damascus Trailhead

Joyce has been trying to persuade me to ride this portion of the Virginia Creeper for several years, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity – it was definitely worth a flat tire!

Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 3 (John Pennekamp SP to Channel 5: 31.3 miles)

Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory

Blonde Giraffe Key Lime
Pie Factory

This morning we ate breakfast at Mangrove Mike’s (a block south of La Jolla Resort) and then drove both trucks north to John Pennekamp State Park. Joyce and I biked south while Ed and Ron purchased glass bottom boat tickets and parked one of the trucks at the state park. After 10 miles, we met them at the Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. Since the pie factory was not open yet, Joyce and I continued riding south while Ed and Ron waited for the store to open.

Giant Lobster

Giant Lobster

We stopped to take photos of the giant lobster in front of the Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery. Our next stop was the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park (MM87.7). Ed & Ron met us in the parking lot, and we ate our key lime pie slices at a picnic table behind the visitor center.

Windley Coral Reef SP

Windley Coral Reef SP

Walking to both the Windley Quarry and the Flagler Quarry, we saw several hundred feet of exposed coral. The formations were very intricate; in some places, you could see outlines of fish and other ocean creatures carved in the coral.

Hurricane Monument

Hurricane Monument

We resumed our bike ride south toward Islamorada where we met Ed & Ron at the Hurricane Monument – a tribute to the 200+ individuals who lost their lives in the 1935 hurricane as they tried to escape the islands by train. This hurricane destroyed many of the railroad bridges through the Keys, and the haunting remains are a vivid reminder of this tragic storm.

Ron decided to join us on the last leg of our bike ride from Islamorada down to the Channel 5 bridge. This 10.1 mile portion of the trail remained bayside and crossed five bridges. Although four of the bridges required that we bike with the traffic, the scenery was so gorgeous that we did not mind. At the crest of the bridge over Lignumvitae Channel, we spotted Robbie’s Marina, which is a popular kayaking launching spot for those wanting to paddle out to either Lignumvitae Key or Indian Key state parks. Just beyond the marina, the trail turned away from US1 and passed beautifully gated homes with lavishly landscaped lawns.

Martha on Channel 2 Bridge

Martha on Channel 2 Bridge

Approaching the Channel 2 bridge, we caught a glimpse of kite surfers at Anne’s Beach. If I was younger, I would have loved to try this sport! The pedestrian bridge over Channel 2 was lined with fishermen, but I hardly noticed. This was our last bridge, and I decided to savor the moment. On the other side of the bridge, we biked about a mile to where Ed was parked. We loaded our bikes and drove back north to John Pennekamp State Park for a picnic lunch before our glass bottom boat tour.

Glass Bottom Boat

Glass Bottom Boat

We thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour ocean tour of the coral reef, located six miles offshore. We spotted a shark, stingray, and several other types of fish. I was amazed at how clear the water was, and I was sad when the captain turned the boat back toward the coast. The sun was setting as we pulled into the dock, and we saw a few majestic herons perched along the mangroves.

Anhinga in the Everglades

Anhinga in the Everglades

Joyce and Ron drove north to Miami for the night, and Ed and I returned to Islamorada. We ate dinner at the Lazy Days Restaurant (excellent) and spent one last night at the La Jolla Resort. The following morning, we stopped briefly at the Everglades National Park on our way to Clewiston where Ed and I met almost 40 years ago.

Alligator in the Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades

The town had changed dramatically, but we were still able to locate the church, our apartments, and the home where we lived for one short year prior to moving to south Georgia. We drove back to the Miami Airport, turned in our rental truck, and flew back to Atlanta. I enjoyed the Keys and understand why many folks, including several presidents, have made this a frequent vacation destination.

Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 2 (Channel 5 to Big Pine Key: 33.8 miles)

Biking over Bridge

Biking over Bridge

After a good night’s sleep at La Jolla Resort, we ate a filling breakfast at Bob’s Bunz where we also purchased a few cinnamon rolls to eat later on the trail :-). Joyce and Ron followed us in their truck to the south end of the 7-Mile Bridge (MM42) where we unloaded the bikes for the morning ride. Ed decided not to bike today, but we appreciated his willingness to provide shuttle service for us. Joyce, Ron, and I biked 10 miles south to Big Pine Key, crossing five bridges with traffic (no separate bike bridge). Although the noise and close proximity of the traffic was a bit unnerving, the bike lane was sufficiently wide enough to feel fairly safe.  However, it was much windier (15-20 mph) today; in fact, when we crossed Spanish Harbor, I felt my bike being blown toward the passing cars. I gripped my handle bars tightly and pedaled faster. Despite the swirling wind, we met Ed at the CVS in Big Pine Key in less than an hour.

View of Gulf

View of the Gulf

We picked up Ron’s truck, drove back across the 7-Mile Bridge, parked his truck at the Marathon Trailhead (MM73.2), and drove a couple of miles north to the Stuffed Pig for a barbecue lunch. Afterward, Ed transported us to the south side of the Channel 5 bridge at MM73.2 (just south of Islamorada) where we resumed our bike ride. Ed did some sightseeing while Joyce, Ron and I biked south toward the Marathon Trailhead. Fortunately, all four bridges had separate bike/pedestrian walkways, and we only had to cross US1 twice. Considering the wind, I was thankful for the barricade between us and the traffic.

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm

Along the trail, we met Ed at Long Key State Park (MM69.8) where we took a 1.2 mile hike on the Golden Orb Nature Trail. Although we did not encounter any namesake spiders, we did pass several avid birdwatchers in pursuit of a rare dove which had been spotted the previous day. After the hike, Ron decided to quit biking and to ride with Ed to Duck Key where they watched fishing boats dock at the marina. Although our next stop was supposed to be Curry Hammock State Park, Ron & Ed met us near the entrance and discouraged us from taking time to visit the park. When a local couple concurred, we decided to skip the park and to take a brief break to eat our cinnamon rolls instead :-).

Poisonwood Tree

Poisonwood Tree

This portion of the trail through Grassy Key was separated from US1 by a tropical hammock. Joyce and I rode side by side and could actually carry on a conversation without the noise of cars drowning out our voices. Before we realized how far we’d ridden, the town of Marathon appeared on the horizon. This was one of my least favorite portions of the trail because we rode along the highway for six miles, passing numerous businesses and crossing several intersections. I was thankful that I had purchased a small rearview mirror prior to our trip, which helped me see approaching cars that might be turning directly in front of us.

La Jolla Resort

La Jolla Resort

After biking through Marathon, we met Ed and Ron at the north side of the 7-mile bridge. I decided to ride out on the old train bridge toward Pigeon Key, a restored work camp from the railroad days. Joyce and Ron followed on foot. With the sun setting directly in front of us, this was a perfect ending for the day. We loaded the bikes and returned to La Jolla Resort. After a quick shower, we drove to Morada Bay for dinner. Since there was a long waitlist, we decided to walk over to the Bass Pro Shop to see Hemingway’s fishing boat on display. Returning to the restaurant, we were seated at an outdoor table; however, the night air was too chilly, and we had to ask the waiter to move us inside to finish our delicious prime rib dinner :-). I collapsed into bed and almost slept until the alarm rang the following morning!

Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 1 (Niles Channel to Key West: approx. 29 miles)

Although the Overseas Heritage Trail (OHT) is not a Hall of Fame trail, it possesses a few traits that appealed to us. It is a long (106.5 miles), scenic trail located in a warm spot (Florida Keys) for a winter bike ride :-). Joyce and I invited our husbands to come along on this trip, and we plan to integrate sightseeing activities as we bike from Key Largo to Key West.

 

Cigar Store on Duval

Cigar Store on Duval

We flew from Atlanta to Miami yesterday, rented two Ford F150 trucks from Royal Rent-a-Car, and drove to Key West. The drive to the southernmost point in the United States took longer than expected due to traffic and slower speed limits. After we arrived in Key West, we checked into the Sunrise Suites and drove to Duval Street for dinner at Abbondanza (Italian restaurant constructed from three cigar maker houses). After dinner, we strolled up Duval Street before returning to our condo for the night.

 

Sunrise @ Higgs Beach

Sunrise @ Higgs Beach

This morning, we decided to set the alarm early so that we could watch the sunrise at Higgs Beach. We drove both trucks to the beach and walked out on the pier to soak in the sunrise. Leaving one truck parked at the beach, we drove the other truck to the Southernmost Beach Cafe for breakfast.

 

Southernmost Beach Cafe

Southernmost Beach Cafe

The food was excellent and the scenery from the outdoor cafe, located just a few feet from the ocean, was spectacular. After breakfast, we drove north to the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key where we took a brief hike to the Blue Hole Observation Platform. We spotted one alligator but no deer. Since the refuge visitor center is located in the Winn Dixie parking lot, we stocked up on a few drinks and snacks.

 

IMG_0648

Ed & Martha on Bridge

Originally, we planned to park our truck at the visitor center and bike back to Key West (32.4 miles); however, since a portion of the trail and two bridges below Big Pine Key were not complete, we decided to park the truck at the south end of Niles Channel (MM27.2) and start biking from there. This portion of the Overseas Heritage Trail weaves back and forth from oceanside to bayside, which meant we had to cross the busy US1 highway numerous times. Portions of the trail were separated from the highway by a barrier of trees, and we enjoyed these brief respites from the cars and trucks whizzing by us. Fortunately, all seven of the major bridges below Niles Channel have a separate bike bridge. Personally, I enjoyed riding across these bridges because I felt safer and because we got a closer glimpse of the breathtaking water on both sides. Several fishermen had staked out their favorite spots along the pedestrian bridges, and it was fun to occasionally see them reel in a fish :-).

 

Baby's Coffee

Baby’s Coffee

At MM15.7, we stopped at Baby’s Coffee located in the Saddlebunch Keys. We purchased sandwiches and ate our lunch on one of the picnic tables located behind the coffee shop and the Baypoint Market. After lunch, we resumed our bike ride oceanside, crossing several short channels before returning to bayside as we approached Key West. The OHT splits as you enter Key West, but we chose to turn right onto North Roosevelt and follow the trail along the bay. Prior to our trip, I printed the Google Map bike directions from the end of the OHT to the various sightseeing attractions in Old Town. These directions helped us navigate the streets to our first destination, the Harry Truman Little White House.

 

Little White House

Little White House

We parked our bikes and purchased tickets for the 45-minute tour of the Little White House. Ed realized that the naval base where his Mom & Dad were stationed was the same location where President Truman and five other presidents stayed while visiting Key West. I enjoyed the historical tour through the two-story naval officer housing building that had been remodeled for President Truman and his wife in the 1940s. Apparently, Truman much preferred the Little White House to the ostentatious White House in Washington, D.C.

 

Hemingway's Home

Hemingway’s Home

After our tour, we pedaled our bikes a few blocks to the Ernest Hemingway house. Although we expected a self-guided walking tour, we were fortunate to arrive at just the right time to join a tour guide who made the home come alive with stories and historical facts about Hemingway and his four wives. We spotted several six-toed, polydactyl cats roaming and sleeping quite luxuriously on the furniture throughout the home. Supposedly, these cats are all descendants of a white, polydactyl cat that Hemingway received as a gift from a ship captain. At the conclusion of the tour, we were allowed to take the stairs up to Hemingway’s writing studio. Although I wrote a research paper on Hemingway in high school, I don’t think I realized how many of his novels and short stories were actually written in Key West.

 

Flamingo Crossing

Flamingo Crossing

Next, we biked a few more blocks to Flamingo Crossing, an ice cream shop located on Duval Street. I treated myself to a double scoop of mango and key lime :-). We ate our ice cream outside on a patio table and rested for a few minutes before proceeding to the official southernmost point of the continental U.S. Remarkably, there was a line of tourists patiently waiting in line to have their pictures taken in front of the buoy, which designates this geographically significant location.

 

Southernmost Point

Southernmost Point

We pedaled about a half mile back to the truck we had parked at Higgs Beach this morning. We loaded our bikes, drove to Niles Channel to pick up the other truck, and drove north to Islamorada where we had reservations at La Jolla Resort. After unpacking, we drove to the Islamorada Fish Company (owned by Bass Pro Shops) where we ate dinner outside along the bay. It was kinda chilly, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fried shrimp that I ordered. Finishing dinner after 9 PM, we drove back to La Jolla and I fell asleep within minutes after my head hit the pillow.

Wabash Trace Trail – Take Two

In May 2013, Ed (my husband) and I biked a brief portion (14 miles) of the Wabash Trace on our way to South Dakota. Since Joyce hadn’t ridden the Wabash Trace, I agreed to ride the whole trail with her. Ed offered to drive us to Iowa and to provide shuttle service for us 🙂 . We left Atlanta on Friday morning at 9 AM and drove 10 hrs to Columbia, Missouri to spend the night. We stayed in a brand new Candlewood Suites Hotel and ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant close to the hotel.

Trump Exiting Helicopter

Trump Exiting Helicopter

While driving to Iowa, Ed joked about going to the Iowa State Fair to see the presidential candidates while Joyce and I biked the Wabash Trace. After looking at the maps and candidate schedule, we decided that ALL of us should take the detour to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on our way from Columbia to Council Bluffs. After two hours of searching on Twitter, etc., I discovered that Donald Trump planned to land in one of his helicopters at a baseball field near the fairgrounds. According to the press release, Trump planned to hold a brief press conference and to give some lucky kids rides in his helicopter prior to going to the fair. So, we decided to get up early and drive four hours to Des Moines in hopes of getting to see his dramatic entrance to the fair! When we arrived at the baseball park, there were less than 50 people waiting to see Trump. The media release that I found online specifically stated that the landing site was not to be shared with the general public, which explained the small crowd. We asked the policeman stationed at the park’s entrance if we were allowed to stay for the press conference, and he said “Yes.”

Trump Speaking to Press

Trump Speaking to Press

We parked our truck and walked over to the ball park where we staked out a spot along the outfield fence directly in front of the microphone where Trump would address the press. The crowd grew to about 200, but most of them were press or Trump Team staff members and their children. There were 2-3 secret service agents and two local policemen. After a short wait, Trump’s helicopter came into sight and circled the adjacent fairgrounds a couple of times before landing on the pavement in front of us. After exiting the chopper, Trump walked to the microphone and answered questions for about 20 minutes. He welcomed the children and asked them to come stand with him. After his speech, he took a chopper ride with some of the children and newscaster, Martha Radditz from ABC. The helicopter pilot continued to give rides to groups of children while Trump and his staff rode by golf cart to the fairgrounds. We followed in our truck and three cameramen, including one from CNN, asked to hitch a ride with us. When we arrived at the ticket gates, Trump had already entered the midway and was surrounded by hundreds of Iowans. We were thankful that we got to see and hear him without the crushing crowds 🙂 .

Council Bluffs Trailhead

Council Bluffs Trailhead

After our Iowa State Fair drive-by, we drove two hours west to the northern terminus of the Wabash Trace in Council Bluffs. We unloaded our bikes, geared up, and started pedaling about 4 PM. Ed went to check into our hotel, and he later met us at 7 PM in Malvern, 22 miles south.

Tree Canopied Trail

Tree Canopied Trail

Despite the summer heat, Joyce and I enjoyed the ride; there was a nice breeze and the trail was predominantly tree-canopied. I was relieved that the crushed sandstone trail was hard-packed with no visible ruts or debris. Our 2 ½ hour ride went by quickly as we pedaled past beautiful Iowa cornfields. We arrived in Malvern 30 minutes earlier than expected so we parked our bikes, purchased a cold drink at C&M’s Café, and waited for Ed at a wrought iron table on Main Street. Other bikers who purchased ice cream cones at the café told us about their 3-day biking and camping adventure on the trail.

Quaker Steaks & Lube

Quaker Steaks & Lube

Ed transported us back to the Holiday Inn Express in Council Bluffs. After a quick shower, Ed and I went to eat wings at Quaker Steak & Lube, a unique car-themed restaurant, while Joyce chose to eat free Saturday night pancakes at the hotel. We got a good night’s sleep and ate a scrumptious breakfast, including decadent cinnamon rolls, before leaving the hotel. Ed dropped us off in Malvern about 9 AM, and we pedaled 41 miles south to Blanchard, which is located on the Iowa-Missouri state line.

Bridge on Wabash Trace

Bridge on Wabash Trace

I enjoyed the first 20 miles of our ride from Malvern to Shenandoah. Although the trail climbed and descended numerous hills, the climbs were not steep or long. Today, we saw more soybean crops, and there were numerous wooden bridges spanning small rivers and creeks. Most of the bridges were short; however, there were a few longer ones with iron trusses. We noticed numerous large red-tail squirrels and countless butterflies of all colors. Until we reached Shenandoah, the trail was mostly tree-canopied. We spotted several large walnuts on the trail and noticed more wild flowers today than yesterday.

Wildflowers & Corn Fields

Wildflowers & Corn Fields

We stopped in Shenandoah to eat a snack and to call Ed to let him know that we were running about 30 minutes behind our anticipated arrival time in Blanchard due to the hilly terrain. Leaving Shenandoah we had a difficult time finding the trail. After a brief period of feeling lost, we were able to spot the green bike route signs directing us back to the trail.

Shenandoah Station

Shenandoah Station

Below Shenandoah, the trail was much more exposed to the sun. In addition, this portion of the trail was not well maintained. Encountering tree limbs every few feet made it imperative to keep our eyes fixed on the trail to avoid the frequent obstacles. There were also several sections of loose gravel, which made traction a little treacherous. Since there were very few bikers on the trail, we encountered numerous cob webs spanning across the path. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this portion of the trail as much the northern part. The trail conditions and afternoon heat made the last 10 miles more challenging. At one point, I stopped and poured my water bottle over my head to cool off 🙂 . When we arrived in Blanchard, Ed was waiting for us about ¼ mile from the abrupt, non-eventful trail end. As I pushed my bike through the thick grass leading over to the street where Ed was parked, I was extremely thankful that we completed the 63-mile trail without getting a flat tire!

Roseman Bridge

Roseman Bridge

After loading our bikes, I persuaded Ed and Joyce to drive two hours out of our way to Madison County, home of the famous covered bridges where the movie Bridges of Madison County was filmed. En route to the small town of Winterset, the home place of John Wayne, we ate lunch and a hot fudge sundae at McDonald’s. About two hours later, we arrived at the dirt road leading to the 107-foot Roseman Bridge, which was built in 1883. I relived the scenes from the movie, snapped a few pictures, and browsed the gift shop located adjacent to the bridge. We decided to drive through Winterset to see John Wayne’s birthplace on our way to the Holliwell Bridge located about 3 ½ miles southeast of town. The 122-foot Holliwell Bridge was built in 1880 and was also featured in the film. Despite the extra driving, I am extremely thankful that my husband agreed to this side trip; we may never have this opportunity again!

We plan to drive to St. Louis tonight (ETA midnight) and back home to Atlanta tomorrow. Originally, when we planned this quick trip to Iowa, I did not anticipate any opportunity for sightseeing. However, we not only saw a press conference with the Republican front-runner for President but we also visited the beautiful covered bridges of one of my all-time favorite movies. Biking the Hall of Fame trails started out as a dream, but Joyce and I made it a reality! If you have a dream, don’t allow the mundane obligations of life to silence your desires, confining your dreams in a box…live each day to its fullest!

“…realities that kept the music silent, the dreams in a box.”
Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

 

 

Upper Great Lakes – Day 6

Cabin @ Ruttger's

Cabin @ Ruttger’s

The bright morning sun shining through the glass doors of the cabin woke us up early. We packed our gear and took a walk around Ruttger’s Resort before breakfast. Joyce had made arrangements with Enterprise Car Rental at the Bemidji Airport to send a driver to pick us up around 8:30 AM. Krista, the Enterprise driver and native Minnesotan, told us that she is a photographer and avid Loon follower. In fact, she planned to go to a nearby lake that evening to listen to their haunting, yet musical birdcalls.

Headwaters of the Mississippi

Headwaters of the Mississippi

After renting the car, we returned to Ruttger’s, loaded our bikes, and drove to Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi. Joyce took off her socks and shoes and waded through the water while I captured this moment on film.  It’s hard to believe that the Mississippi River runs 2552 miles from spring-fed Itasca Lake in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Wanting to learn more but running short on time, we exited the state park and resumed our route to the Fargo Airport.

Great Northern Bicycle Company

Great Northern Bicycle Co.

Prior to our trip, we made arrangements with Great Northern Bicycle Company to ship our bikes home. We were impressed by the professionalism and efficiency of this well-established bike shop located in the restored train depot in downtown Fargo. Within minutes, they checked in our bikes and helped us complete the paperwork so that we could get to the airport to catch our flight.

The Fargo airport was smaller than we anticipated. We returned our rental car, purchased sandwiches to eat on our flight, and went through security (my selfie stick aroused suspicion so my bag was searched) to our gate. After a short connection in Chicago, we returned to Atlanta. I was glad to be home to my husband and family, and I felt a rewarding sense of satisfaction for reaching my goal!