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Blue Ridge Parkway. Second, it was home to the New River Trail State Park, and third, the Old Crooked Road passes right through Galax.
Sounded like a great jumping off point and activity center for us, especially since the Old-Time Music Heritage Center was just down the road. Of course, we had come to the disappointment that the center would not be open due to the fact it was considered a “government-run” entity.
Nevertheless, Galax serves as one of the jump-off points for the New River Trail, a state park that’s 57 miles long and 80 feet wide.
That’s right, just 80 feet of right of way for the trail and its maintenance comprise the state park. But, what a beautiful park it proved to be.
Knowing we would be biking, transported our own bikes along our 800 mile route to Galax.
It was the next 36 miles that would prove harder. We set out after a healthy breakfast with the aim of taking on a good chunk of the New River Trail. Morning mist in Blue Ridge Country seems to be an omnipresent condition. It’s really just clouds passing through, I guess.
Not wanting to get wet, we stopped at the local bike shop to get some information and pass a little time. A neighboring business host was kind enough to note that he normally takes the Galax to Fries Junction to Fries route as his half day bike trip.
Okay, we were up for the challenge. What we didn’t know at the time that is was a 36-mile round trip.
The New River Trail takes the route of the former New River Line railroad. As early as 1895, musical groups laid claim to the fame of this railroad by coining and singing the old-time song “New River Train.” We would eventually come to a historical marker commemorating the birth of this song in Fries, the town that would mark our halfway point.
Forging our way along Chestnut Creek was a fun ride with the gently cascading whitewater of the creek at our side nearly the whole time while we ambled through hardwood forests. Rock outcroppings and hills masked with dark green rhododendrons
Ten miles out, we came to the confluence of the Chestnut and the New River (a major waterway that runs throughout Virginia and West Virginia).
The ride from Fries Junction in to Fries kept us in full view of the wider New River.
We arrived at Fries not knowing what to expect. What we found was a quaint little backroads town with friendly folks and not a lot more other than that.
We rolled up to a great white building known as the Washington Inn—brimming with reminders of southern architecture. The inn was a large white structure, with a full-width veranda and large white columns out front.
Instead of the thriving pub or restaurant we expected to find inside, it was merely a locked up historical relic. We wiped the spider webs aside from the wooden rockers out front and proceeded to have lunch while watching the peculiar mail call routine of the day.
Vehicles would pour past the neighboring post office from the east by a couple hundred yards, then proceed to make a U-Turn on the state highway running through downtown, in order to park in the front row to gather their mail. While Ann was amused by the practice, I was reminded of yesteryear in Kiel, when “bombing the gut” was the fad, and making U-turns at either end of Fremont Street was allowable.
Getting to Fries was half the battle. We still needed to find our way back to Galax and our hotel. Only another 18 miles of biking would be needed, Yet, it seemed a little tempting to thing about the potential of taking the direct route on the highway, which would have involved risking life and limb versus trucks and cars on a route that lasted only 7 miles back. We opted for the safety of the trail.
Long and arduous, the trail still provided great scenery, great view of the river and stream, and an opportunity to greet other bikers.
The next morning, we set out for our
next destination, Damascus......Virginia,
Damascus is known as a town of trail
crossings. The Appalachian Trail, the Old Crooked Road, the Virginia Creeper Trail, and a whole lot of other crossroads converge in Damascus, a town of fewer than 2,000 people.
It may be the only town in America where the most prevalent entity is neither churches, taverns or Baptist Churches. Every corner of town plays host to bike shuttle businesses.
We arrived in Damascus by bike, but to get there, let me backtrack.
We started our journey from Galax by car, heading out Highway 58 on the Old Crooked Road.
Scenic meandering farmland was traversed at first by four lane highway, then two-lane highway. The ever-winnowing stretches of roadway that came next were segments that might appear next to a definition of snake’s trail or worse. Narrower each mile, the road grew more interesting as we climbed into some of Virginia’s highest country. Passing the Grayson Highlands, we ambled to our destination, the start of the Virginia Creeper Trail at WhiteTop Station.
With a little help from a shuttle guide later, I would learn that the bald-top mountain to the west was actually the North Carolina border, while the ridge to the north of it was Tennessee. Ah, the convergence of three states, all from one point of view.
From reading on line, we planned the 17 mile bike trip from White Top to Damascus with the understanding that it was best to go that direction due to elevation changes.
What we didn’t know is that the route is all DOWNHILL!
Some of our fellow travelers commented later that they thought they only had to pedal about 10 times for the whole journey. Yes, that’s an exaggeration but not by much.
Still aching from the grind the day before, the coasting trip to Damascus was a true blessing. Despite my experience with Wisconsin weather, this cruise through the shadowy fall Virginia morning highland forests left me a bit chilled, especially on the hands.
A convenient shuttle brought be back up to the vehicle, while Ann got to roam around the streets of Damascus.
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