It’s been about a month since my family and I enjoyed our assault on Whitetop. OK, so in reality, it’s more like a jaunt from Whitetop. It’s still a 17-mile bike ride. OK, OK, it’s a 17-mile bike cruise, downhill. The greatest exercise you will get will be in your fingers as you continuously apply the brakes to slow your descent. But it is a gorgeous ride and I think most shuttles/bike rentals provide big cushy seats (I know ours did) so you don’t have to walk like John Wayne for two days after completing your one and only 17-mile bike ride of the year.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile trail open to bikers, hikers and horseback riders. It starts (top to bottom) near the North Carolina line at Whitetop Station and ends in Abingdon, Va. According to legend, the trail began as a Native American trading route. At the start of the 20th Century the route became home to the Virginia-Carolina Railroad. The trail got its name “Virginia Creeper” because the early steam locomotives had to creep up the steep grades to reach Whitetop Station.
The Creeper Trail was completed in 1984. It is maintained through public-private partnerships with the USDA Forest Service, the towns of Abingdon and Damascus and the “Creeper Keeper” volunteers. The trail was inducted into the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2014.
We biked the 17-mile section from Whitetop, elevation 3,500 feet, down to Damascus, elevation 1,900 feet, a drop of roughly 1,600 feet in elevation. Much of this section of trail follows Whitetop Laurel Creek through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The trail surface is crushed limestone and cinder left over from the railroad bed. It is hard packed and mostly smooth. Several bridges and trestles provide numerous scenic stream crossings.
This is not your wilderness experience. There are potty stops and even restaurants along the way. We went in the middle of the busy autumn season and we weren’t alone. In fact when we disembarked at Whitetop and saw the throngs — one group had 22 people riding together — I began to have misgivings. But 17 miles is a long way and people travel at their own pace and have their own agenda and things quickly get spaced out. There were several times when it seemed we were the only bikers on the trail. It took us a leisurely four hours or so to complete the trip including lunch at the Creeper Trail Café. The café is supposedly noted for its “world famous chocolate cake” and the impetus of the ride was to celebrate Denise’s birthday so we couldn’t pass it up. I don’t know how the cake registered on the wow-o-meter — I did notice there was none left on any of the plates. But I can definitely give a thumbs-up to the pinto beans and cornbread.
It was a beautiful scenic ride and the entire family from 11-year-old Maddie to 14-year-old Izzy to 39-year-old Mom and Dad had a great time. In fact, I think we are going to invest some of our Christmas money in a few pairs of those exercise “grippers” so we can get our fingers in shape to do the Creeper twice next year. I looked at a blooming-date list for wildflowers, and I think a late spring ride would be the perfect companion ride for the autumn cruise.