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!

New River Trail State Park – July 6, 2016

Bridge Crossing Creek @ New River Cabins

Bridge Crossing Creek @ New River Cabins

Wednesday morning was an 8:30 a.m. start. I’m sure Martha would have liked to begin earlier, as she is a much earlier riser, and I thought at first that I would be ready at 8:00 a.m., but finishing up breakfast of zucchini bread, banana, and orange juice on the cool porch cabin overlooking the creek and then getting my stuff on my bike took more time than I thought it would. But we did leave at 8:30. Martha had already ridden down to the beginning of the trail (about ½ mile) and back to meet me at the cabin, but she agreed to ride about 100 yards down so that I could be opposite our cabins and then turn around and start on our way. (I had pictured myself riding on the trail while eating breakfast and wanted to complete the reality of the situation by riding there.) Anyway, we said our goodbyes to Ron and Ed, who were going to handle the logistics of getting the car and the truck to their respective parking lots so that they could ride part way with us and then still have a car at the trail’s end. Ron was installing the bar ends that Tommy had given him for his birthday, so that he wouldn’t have to lean over quite so much to grasp the handle bars. (Which, by the way, worked just fine, and he looked a lot more comfortable as he rode in front of me on the trail.)

Bridge over New River

Bridge over New River

The first 12 miles was back to the junction where we had left the night before, following close to the creek all the way. The creek was actually as large as a river, and it was very scenic. That might have been my favorite part of the whole trail. And then just before the junction was a long trestle over the part of the river where the creek met the New River. That was great. And for my physical comfort, a clean toilet awaited me before we kept going along the New River. The weather was great—about 68 degrees—and shady under the canopy of trees, and right next to the water. During the next 14 miles along the New River, it was wider, of course, but not as many rocks to create any white water, and some of the time it was harder to see the water because of the trees and shrubs between us and the river. One really nice feature of this trail was the several picnic tables and even little parks situated alongside the trail. And it was well marked with these yellow posts/gates that helped us see where to go next at any intersections. The crushed gravel had quite a bit of packed dirt mixed into it, which made the ride fairly smooth. It was pretty scenery, and I think is near the top in my list of favorites. Our only problem was that the mist that started to surround us eventually turned to rain, and we had to stop to put on our rain jackets, which wasn’t all that bad actually, except when the rain stopped and the mist was thick and hot and we were in a sort of sweat bath with our rain jackets on. But it was all tolerable and not totally uncomfortable. About every hour I had to pee, but the trail was accommodating because about every hour we saw an outhouse. Not just an ordinary wooden outhouse, but a nice cement structure that even had hand sanitizer installed on the wall. Not a flush toilet but good enough to serve the purpose.

Foster Falls Trailhead

Foster Falls Trailhead

After 26 miles we saw Ed on the trail by the Shot Tower where he and Ron were waiting on us. I don’t think they had to wait too long—maybe 10 or 15 minutes. It was still raining a bit, so we decided to drive to Foster Falls and have our picnic rather than bike over there. That was good. It was a nice break, the area was pretty, and we found a little gazebo to eat under. Ron and Ed had picked up sandwiches at the Draper Mercantile before coming to meet up with us. So after lunch the rain had stopped and we headed back to Shot Tower (where in the early 1800’s they used to drop bits of lead down this 150 foot tower, where it formed into a ball and landed in a bucket of water as a round bullet for their shotguns.) We had to carry Ron’s and Ed’s bikes down the steep trail to the New River Trail, but we did it.

Ron & Ed on Trail

Ron & Ed on Trail

Then we started out on the next 20 miles. This section, according to bloggers, was the prettiest, and it was pretty as it paralleled the New River almost all the way, but the river was also sometimes camouflaged by trees. There were a few trestles, but not as many as we had on the first 26 miles and no tunnels (we had gone through two tunnels before we met up with the husbands). It was oftentimes shady, so that was nice, and fairly flat. In all, it was a good ride. The Hiawassee Bridge over the river was long and neat. Soon after that, though, we left the side of the river into the woods for about four miles, and the last two miles were noticeably more uphill than the rest had been. By the time we reached the Draper Mercantile, where Ron and Ed were stopping, Martha and I were ready to forego the last 4.2 miles and stop there also. It wasn’t supposed to be as scenic, the bugs were noticeable, it was hot, there was no river, and I guess my age was showing because I was getting tired after 46 miles. So we decided to just ride with Ed and Ron in the truck over to Pulaski where we cooled off in McDonalds with ice water and a fudge sundae. That was a good finish to a good ride.

We then all rode in the truck back to Shot Tower to pick up the Subaru and part paths. Ron and I drove back to the Brownie House and Martha and Ed went back to the New River Cabins in Galax.

Virginia Creeper – Trail July 5, 2016

This ride was only from Abingdon to Damascus. At the end of this entry I’ll say something about past rides from White Top Mountain to Damascus.

Scenic Bridge on Virginia Creeper

Scenic Bridge on Virginia Creeper

The scenery from Abingdon was just as pretty as I remember it from past rides on this section of the Virginia Creeper. The trail is composed of hard crushed limestone and dirt, it is well packed, and it is wide enough for two people to ride and talk. All this makes for a pleasant ride, plus the weather was exceptional—maybe in the 70s and no rain. We rode along the Holston River most of the time but also went through some farm lands, where we had to open and close some gates, which means private land and the owners are good about letting the trail go through their land. We crossed several wooden trestles either over the river or over wet or low parts of the land. It was really pretty. That area had had quite a bit of rain, so several places were a bit muddy, and my legs became covered with splashed up dirt. Oh well that’s part of the trip.

Creek along Virginia Creeper

Creek along Virginia Creeper

Surprisingly, I had a flat tire ½ mile northwest of Alvarado. Unfortunately, it was a back tire, which meant we had to deal with gears also. I was proud of us—Martha and I stayed calm, turned the bike over, released the brakes, removed the axis holding the rim, got the chain off the chain holders, and then removed the tire from the bike. Once off, we used my tools in my tool kit to remove the nearly flat tube and the old Teflon liner that looked like it was pretty well worn out. We got out the spare tube that I had brought along for just such an emergency. Martha said she thought we should remove the whole tire from the rim before we tried to put the replacement tube back into the tire. So we did that, and that process seemed easier than what I’ve done before, trying to put the tube into the tire while it’s still on the rim. Once in, Martha used her hand pump (glad she had it because I don’t know if I know how to use mine properly) to pump it up a little, and then we put the tire back inside the rim.

Joyce @ Junction on New River Trail

Joyce @ Junction on
New River Trail

That was a bit of a challenge, but between the two of us, we were able to do it. So with the tube in the tire and the tire back into the rim, we pumped the tube up more, and were pleased that it was filling up just like it should. Then when it seemed solid enough, we got the tire back into place on the axis, tightened the bolts holding it in place, and then got the chain back on, and turned it back over to rest on the tires. After we finished pumping it up to max, we put the brake back together and got on our way. We felt pretty good about the whole process. The biggest anxieties came from batting off the flies that kept getting on our legs as we tried to think and act, and then trying to get hold of Ed to let him know that even though we had texted him to meet us in Alvarado that now we got the tire fixed and he could just meet us in Damascus. (His lack of cell phone service was indeed an obstacle.) We had thought we should just exchange my bike with the flat tire for Ron’s bike. But we were able to fix it ourselves. The other problem with the flat is that during the entire event we didn’t even think about taking a picture, as it would have been a great photo of the only flat tire we have ever actually fixed on the 30 plus trails we have ridden.

Joyce & Ron Paddling on New River

Joyce & Ron Paddling
on New River

We eventually met Ed on the trail in Damascus near the restaurant, had a great lunch with Ed and Ron, and then we drove to Fries, Virginia, where we rented a canoe and had a nice hour float down the New River. After the canoe trip, starting at the New River Outfitters, we picked up the New River State Park Trail and rode 3 ½ miles to the junction where it meets the trail coming in from Galax, which we did on the next day. We then rode the 3 ½ miles back to the New River Outfitters where Ed and Ron were waiting for us. Then we drove to Galax to the cabins and then out to eat and then to bed.

As said earlier in the entry, the Whitetop Mountain to Damascus ride was done years earlier, in fact many times years earlier. We’ve done it with our sons more than once, with our friends (Ollie in particular enjoyed it), and with Martha and Ed. It is a beautiful ride in the mountains, crossing many old train trestles over high places, creeks, and river, and is shaded most of the time. The other great thing about it is the elevation decline, so that we are riding downhill most of the way. I hope someday my daughters-in-law can make this bike ride, as it is a very pleasant experience. The trail goes through some very small communities, again where land owners are allowing us to cross their pasture land, and follows streams several times. The only problem with this part of the trail is that either someone doesn’t get to ride it because he is the driver getting our bikes to the top, or we pay for a shuttle ride. Someday we might get ambitious to ride from Damascus to Whitetop, but right now it is a memory of only downhill riding.

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!