Thursday, June 29, 2023 - Today we made the exciting drive from Fries, VA to Laurel Bloomery, VA and the Old Mill Music RV Park. The quality of the roads was great, but they were two-way and narrow with lots of turns. Quite often the RV would be crossing over the centerline, so I had to be very careful. Luckily, there was very little traffic on the road. The 100 mile trip took us fours hours to complete. When we finally arrived in Laurel Bloomery, I missed the turn into the RV park and had to drive for seven miles to Damascus before I could turn around. Once we arrived at the RV park, access was easy and the RV sites was excellent. Level, large, and backed up to a small stream. A very nice place to stay. The owner is super nice and made us feel right at home. Nice people in this neck-of-the-woods. The name of "Laurel Bloomery" comes from the fact that the hills are covered with mountain laurel and the town has a "bloomery" which is a processing plant that crushes rock and extracts iron ore and other metals from the rock. So, the "bloomery" is a rock-crushing plants.
Note: Damascus has seven bicycle rental and shuttle shops that ferry people and bikes up to the top of the Virginia Creep trail. There are two more such shops on the trail itself. So, there are nine shops that are dependent upon the Virginia Creeper trail for its success. In fact, the entire town is based upon the trail and bicycling in the area. There are also several excellent motorcycle roads in the area such as "the Tail of the Dragon" and "the Back of the Dragon." One is eleven miles long with over 300 turns and the other is over 32 miles long with over 400 turns. There are no cross roads on these roads and there are no homes where people might have driveways leading out to the road. It is motorcycle and sportscar heaven. The turns are even banked to accommodate turns. Thankfully, it is a one-way road, so you don't have to worry about opposing traffic. People come from all over the world to ride these roads and Highway 58.
Friday, June 30, 2023 - It is raining, so our trip to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail is on hold until tomorrow. This trail has some grade to it and coming down the hill with water on the trail can be a challenge. This is a very famous rails-to-trail route in the state of Virginia. An old railroad line with a steep (five percent which is steep for trains) gradient forced the trains to "creep" up the hill hence the name the ":Virginia Creeper." We headed into Mountain City which is about ten miles south of Laurel Bloomery to the local McDonald's restaurant to use the WiFi. Where we are parked in the RV, there is not cellular service and very weak WiFi provided by the camp site. We tried to make a cellphone call and couldn't unless we went to the WiFi calling mode of the IPhone. This is a first for us. We looked online and looked to both sides of the main road through town to find a restaurant. No luck. We then decided to head over to the local McDonalds to get breakfast and to use their WiFi to update the blog. You may not realize that most McDonalds have free WiFi capabilities, and it worked very well. We stayed at the McDonalds for about three hours working on the blog and Lisa was able to research our trip and the next stops that we plan to make. After breakfast, we decided to drive to the town of Damascas, Virginia which is right in the middle of the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail. The town is small and depends mostly on the Virginia Creeper Trail for tourism and bringing people to the town. We drove from one side of town to the other and that took two minutes. We found a great place to park when we ride the trail. We also noted that there are about five major bicycle shops that live off of taking biking tourists to the top of the Virginia Creeper (17 miles to the east) so that they can coast all the way back to Damascas. All sorts of families make this trip. It costs $38 to rent a bike and be shuttled to the end of the trail at Whitetop. You can just shuttle with your own bike for about $20. So, we found a nice little diner and had lunch.
While eating lunch at the counter, a man named Tobias came in and sat next to us. Turns out that he is from Switzerland and is in the states riding his motorcycle from coast to coast on very curvy roads. It is a special route called “Back Country Discovery” that provides routes for people from all over the world. In fact, after ten days of riding from Canada to Damascus, this was Tobias’ first day off. Tomorrow he is scheduled to ride the “Back of the Dragon” which has over 400 turns on it and no crossroads or driveways on the entire 32-mile length. This is an internationally renowned motorcycle route. Tobias is by himself and will end up in Oregon at a town on the Pacific Ocean. He is on a smaller sport motorcycle and has a three-gallon tank that will take him about 200 miles. It is amazing who you meet along the way.
We returned to the RV. We found that the day had turned into a very nice day with white, puffy clouds all about. I decided to fly the drone and take some photos and video of the RV park. The owner, Mike, has only had this site open for about two years, so he could use the photos and videos to help promote the site.
After getting back to the RV, we decided to take the bikes and “play around” on the Virginia Creeper. We drove the park in Damascus and got set up on the bikes. We each had one water bottle. I decided that we should head to the east which is up the hill towards Whitetop. Whitetop is the end of the trail and about 17 miles away. The trail was excellent along a beautiful river. The trail is a rails-to-trails route, so it is a continuous climb from the truck up the river canyon. The grade is about two percent for the first five miles, or so, and then is steepens up to about five percent for about 12 miles and all the way to the top. There are no respites!! Even though we started at 4:00pm, we knew it did not get dark until about 9:00pm, so we kept going. At the half-way point, I decided to continue all the way to the top. Many people have told us not to ride up the climb, but to take the shuttle. They said that it is too hard. We found that it is challenging, but we were able to make it all the way. The only problem that we encountered was that we did not have enough water. I used up my water before the top and was sweating profusely on the climb. Lisa had about a quarter of her bottle at the top which I helped her drink. I was pretty-well beat up by the top and was glad when I saw the destination coming into view. We turned around and headed back down the hill. You do not often realize how much you have been climbing until you start the downhill leg. Seventeen miles and, basically, did not have to pedal at all. For families, this is an easy shuttle and ride down the hill. We got back to the truck at 8:30pm after 35 miles on the trail and were ready to take a break. Unfortunately, the ice cream shop was closed, so we had to pass up the dessert phase of the ride. Lisa did an excellent job of riding up and down the hill. There were a large number of trestle bridges and sometimes the transitions from trail to bridge were several inches high. Lisa learned how to pull up on the handlebars to get up onto the bridges and then to hold tightly when coming off the bridge. The trail was excellent for the ride with it being as wide as a smnall road and smooth most of the way. You just had to pay attention to the terrain. In some places, it narrowed to near-single track size, but it was very easy to navigate.
We returned to the RV and had dinner and began the process of re-hydrating. I take salt to replenish the salt that I have lost and eat two Tums since they help me avoid getting cramps.
Saturday, July 1, 2023 – We had a little drizzle rain last night, so we decided to stay at the RV for the morning. We needed time to recuperate from yesterday’s ride. It also gave me time to catch up on the blog.
We then decided to take a drive to Grayson Highlands State Park to have a picnic and check out the views that are supposed to be very nice. We took a GPS-guided short-cut road to get to the park that put us in the back country on a dirt road. I used four-wheel drive on this section of the road. It is good to go into four-wheel drive periodically to keep the parts functioning and lubricated. The park is very nice and offers a picnic area, visitor center, and several pull-outs with good views. We enjoyed the views and had lunch at one of the view points. We explored the visitor center and a replica homestead with lots of old buildings. After a couple of hours at the park, we headed back to Damascus to reserve a bicycle shuttle up to Whitetop for the next day. We had already ridden up to the top of the trail and coasted back, so we decided that we would shuttle up to the top to experience the "adventure" and then coast back for 17 miles to Damascus and then continue for another 17 miles to the town of Abingdon on the other end of the trail. This would give us just over 50 miles of riding on this trip.
Sunday, July 2, 2023 - We decided to take the shuttle up the hill on the Virginia Creeper bike trail and then do the 17-mile coast back down to Damascus. It costs $24 each to have our bikes and ourselves taken to the start of the ride back at Whitetop. The weather was pretty good when we left Damascus, but as we approached Whitetop, it began to sprinkle. Storms seem to come and go around here, and since we were committed to the downhill ride, we took off for Damascus. As we rode down the hill, it began to rain harder until we were riding in a full-fledged downpour. The trail began to have puddles and, luckily, the traction was still good. We did not have rain gear, so we became thoroughly drenched with mud covering the bikes. I do not have fenders, so the back half of my body became covered in black mud. It surely turned the ride into an adventure. After about another eight miles, the rain began to lighten up and all we had to do then was contend with water on the trail. It made the ride less fun and more of an adventure. It was cold too. We stopped at a small concession stand about eight miles short of Damascus and ordered chicken tenders with fries for a short snack. It warmed us up for the rest of the trip back to Damascus. When we arrived in Damascus, we loaded the bikes on the truck and took them to a spray carwash where we cleaned the bikes and ourselves too. It was then time to head back to the RV to take showers and relax for a while.
We decided to drive the route to Abingdon on Highway 81 to see if this would be a suitable route to take the RV when we leave. We decided that we can make the trip without any damage to the rig and this will put us on Highway 81 to Knoxville, Tennessee and then north on Highway 75 to Lexington, Kentucky. While in Abington, we stopped at a Dairy Queen for a "snack." We have also had several recommendations in Abingdon for places to eat, so we decided that we would check them out. We made a short stop at WalMart for food and diesel before heading back to the RV. Abingdon is quite large compared to Damascus.
Monday, July 3, 2023 - We decided to drive all the way to Boone, Kentucky because we had heard that it was a very nice town and, most importantly, we had to do the laundry and this was one of the closest laundromats in the area. The town is a "touristy" town with lots of shops to visit in the old town section. We did find a laundromat to use. It was a little "sketchy," but the people did not bother us as we went about our business.
Tuesday, July 4, 2023 - We drove into Damascus today to ride the Virginia Creeper trail from Damascus west to Abingdon and back. The ride is 17.5 miles each way and we have been told that there is just 100 feet of elevation change on the ride. Out and back, 36 miles gave us about 400 feet of elevation climb. The ride to Abingdon was pretty easy with just a climb gradient of one percent in a couple places. We stopped to visit at the Virginia Creeper Visitor Center in Abingdon at the end of the trail where I took some photos of photos of the trains that used this railroad. In addition, the train that actually made the last run up to Whitetop is on display next to the Visitor Center. I will add these photos to the photo gallery. On the way back to Damascus, we came across a downed tree that fell across the trail. The tree was about two feet in diameter and I was able to lift both bikes over the trunk so that we could continue. It had not been there when we rode through about an hour earlier. We arrived back at Beaver Dam Park in Damascus. The previous night, there had been about 7,000 people at this park for a fireworks display that we were told was very good. We then drove back to the RV to begin packing bikes and other items for tomorrow's departure at 8:00 am.