The old saying is "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."
Last weekend, my plan was to spend a very lovely spring weekend in Damascus, Virginia, to do the second half of the Virginia Creeper Trail (cycling). I figured in May, most of the cooler weather would have already passed by. I would bike the 17 miles over to Abingdon, spend a nice relaxing lunchtime and then pedal my way back to Damascus. All in all it would be an absolutely magnificent time.
You can hear the heavenly cackles from here, can't you?
I ended up staying in a different place than my last trip up, and it was perfectly lovely. It was a hostel, and my roomies for the nights/weekend were through-hikers except for one other biker. But oh my, what a nice group of people! Their tales and stories of the trail -- and most especially their kindnesses and good spirits -- made me almost think about hiking the AT, even if I had to section it out. Please note the use of the word almost there.......
With the cooler, rainier spring weather, spring hadn't quite sprung yet..... luckily, I was prepared (because it's been just as crazy here). So I awoke Saturday morning and dressed well for the trail: long-sleeved performance tee, thin knit (non-fleece) hoodie. But still not quite right -- especially on a gray, cold, windy day like Saturday morning was proving to be.... BRRR!! As usual, my procrastination and forgetfulness paid off: I had my fleece jacket from the winter in the car, as I had taken it off while driving one afternoon and just didn't take it back into the house. Wahoo! But still not enough.
Don't know if you've ever virtually visited Damascus but let me tell you a little about it. There are probably less than 1000 people year-round in town, but they have the kindest hearts and souls, and have whatever a trail hiker (or biker for the VCT) might need. I found a neck gaiter reasonably priced at Mt Rogers Outfitters, and got a minor repair taken care of by Adventures Damascus. Great, great people at both places. So.... after putting on the gaiter, pulling the thin hood up over my frosty ears, zipping up the fleece, and putting on the helmet, finally about 10:00 AM I got on the trail, heading toward the terminus at Abingdon.
God was snickering by this point. You see, in Damascus, the trail is still on a slightly downward slant from the trek down the mountain.... and in town, you can still coast a little. Once you're out of town -- not so much. I started pedaling and pedaling and pedaling and then "OH CRAP!" I had forgotten to start the Garmin Fit app. UGH! I had wanted to keep a good track of my time and distance. So I found an acceptable place and turned it on, knowing I'd be about 3 miles short from my starting point. I continued toward Abingdon. About 6 miles in, I pulled off for a moment -- the neck gaiter had to GO! I was starting to get warm! Stuffed it in a pocket of the fleece and off I took........
The trail finally stopped running parallel to the main highway, meandering just enough to make a cross-under not too far along. And the next thing I knew, I was in cow country. No, really. The trail at this point was going onto private property and I look over and it's an entire field of cattle. And they are looking really bored at this point, like, "(Deep sigh) Another human..... oh joy. Hooray. Don't ask us to moo, please. We're over it."
And I am still pedaling. Because there is no downhill. While I am descending very slightly in elevation, make no mistake -- the trail is flat. And you have no choice but to pedal your legs off. Budd'n, budd'n, budd'n. And I'm pondering if I should perhaps pull down the hoodie. I zip open the fleece. I even zip open the hoodie ever so slightly. And I'm pedaling along thinking, "Now how much further to Alvarado?"
Alvarado is the halfway point between Damascus and Abingdon. There is a stop there, a little restaurant, some restrooms, etc. Heard it's a delightful little place ..... and I'm sure it is, when it's open for business. But it wasn't open yet.... okay, the restrooms were (thank goodness, too!), but the store and restaurant were not. I had packed a few things to snack on: an apple, a "chicken salad kit" (small can of chicken salad and crackers), a miniature protein bar, and a pack of Perky Jerky (made from turkey). I figured that here was as good a place as any to refuel. As I was sitting there, the couple who owns the restaurant drove up to do some cleaning before they opened (this weekend, if I am not mistaken). They very graciously gave me a bottled water for the trip and I got to have a great moment or two with their little dog Gizmo. But the respite was over too soon, and the pedaling continued...
At this point, I was renewed in spirit and kept going, even though my legs were screaming at me, "REALLY? What did we ever do to you?" And the flat stretches through horse and cattle country continued, as did the gates. Gates? Yes. A lot of this part of the trail winds onto private property, mostly of livestock farmers. In order to keep the cattle in the correct pasture, the trail has lots of gates that only open one way (inward). So there's a little bit of stopping to open up and close up, but it's neat to see how the farmers and trail work together for everyone's benefit. My favorite gate segment had to be the ones separated by about 2 feet -- and the sign on each side that says, "Do Not Open Gates When Cattle Are Crossing"! (no worries, no cattle were near this one at that time)..... So on I trekked, and came upon another sign: "Caution: Steep Grade and Loose Gravel" .... were they serious? Did they not know I'd just biked some of the flattest land this side of Kansas, with only cattle gates and curves in the road to break up the scenery?
DOH! I was staring at a rollercoaster! My first thought was Lewis Grizzard's, "Oh Lord, how'm I gonna get outta this?" I got out by straddling the bike and walking down the steepest part of the hill, hopped back on the bike at the less steep part and let the momentum carry me..... about halfway up the hill. No choice then but to pedal HARD or walk the bike up. Of course I walked!!! Mama did not raise a fool! Besides, I needed a way to rest my now-nearly-numb hiney (this was around Mile 11 out of 17) and exercise some new muscle groups. Once the hill was conquered (ooh rah!) then --- flatness. Again. And six miles to go.
I rode some more and found myself having to stop every 15 minutes or so, not to rest my legs but my shoulders and neck. Oh my gosh, you do not realize how much of a strain it can put on your neck and shoulders to spend it hunched over a bike, whether a road bike, mountain bike or a hybrid. I was getting pretty tired by this point and thinking, "How much further!!" At one of my neck-break rest moments, a runner came along from my opposite direction, and I asked her how much further to the next station I remembered .... less than a mile -- Wahoo!!!!! Only that distance and I think a couple of more miles!!!
Yeah. You know where this is going, don't you? That station wasn't two miles from the trailhead..... it was four. Abingdon could not come fast enough. With another mile to go, I think I had begun praying for death to come and take me swiftly. I had long ago decided to chuck that original plan to bike it back. I just hoped a shuttle would still be available; there are lots of shuttles between Damascus and Whitetop but fewer between Abingdon and Damascus. I was almost at the point thinking that I would just strap my bike to the roof of a cab, if I had to do so! But these legs were not going to be pedaling back to Damascus, no matter what.
I finally made it to the trailhead and figured I would at least grab lunch. It was starting to be one of those Snickers(R) moments.... you know, the "you're not you when you're hungry" thing. I just didn't know who I was at that moment.... HA! It was now about 2:15, and I was thinking I'd sign up for a 3:00 shuttle if it was running. There were some nearby lunch places, so I figured I could do that, get lunch, and still be back at a decent hour.
"Yeah, we have a shuttle for Damascus, in fact it's leaving right now. Let me stop him, HEY!!!!!" he said, as he ran out the front door. "Got one to take back with you! Ma'am if you have cash, you can pay me or the driver, or I'll call Jerry and let him know you can pay him there." Well, of course I don't have cash ... duh. So I hopped on and was back in Damascus in 15 minutes. I paid the shuttle place, and headed over to Subway. I was still cranky.
Now the cool thing was, there was a group of college students in there, all from a nearby college in Tennessee. I saw that one was wearing a "(College) Baseball" jacket. So I inquired where the team was playing (as there aren't many other colleges in that area -- and you wouldn't exactly just swing through Damascus for a meal). No, not the team -- but it was that college's biking class! Yes, it's a one-hour credit class and you get to do fun stuff like bike all semester! Now granted, my college had sailing but it was a 3-hour credit and a wait-list a mile long. You had to be a junior to even be considered. The class came up to do the Whitetop-Damascus section. BRAVO!!!!!
I hopped back on the bike and made my way back to the hostel to unwind (now feeling much more like myself and glad to be off that bike!!). One of my hostelmates (the cyclist) did the stretch from Green Cove Station to Alvarado -- turns out that the section of the trail between Whitetop and Green Cove is closed. A culvert had collapsed and taken a section of the trail with it. They're working to reconstruct the culvert and the trail, hopefully very soon!
The other funny part: I use Weight Watchers' ActiveLink as my activity monitor. The default activity is always for walking, and you have to tell it that you've done a different activity. So after all that time and pedaling, it announced, "Congratulations, you have earned 1 activity point and reached 81% of your daily activity goal." Um, no. Just no. I reprogrammed it to reflect the four hours of bicycling -- at which point it said, "Oh, congratulations, you have earned 16 activity points and reached 262% of your goal." Yeah, that's more like it!
I will go back because I want to do the trail in reverse .... as well as get more pictures. The skies were so gray and gloomy, I just didn't want to get too many that didn't really strike me as keepers.