Trails

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Damascus is the center point of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a trail named for the old ore-hauling train that ventured from White Top to Abingdon. Stories about the Creeper said it got its name because it moved so slowly when carrying a full load.

With half the trail remaining, we stayed overnight in Abingdon, planning to bike to Damascus for another shuttle ride.

Colonial trappings

Abingdon is a great little historical town of about 8,000 that bears all the trappings of colonial American architecture. Pictures of the main street are those from Anytown USA in that era. More than that the colonial style architecture was backed up by a robust hospitality trade. Great restaurants and a plethora of places to stay make this a wonderful tourist stop.

Personally, my favorite Abingdon haunt was the Wolf Hills Brewery, where they offered a Friday night tasting hour by rolling up the overhead garage door to the tasting room and offered their wares for all to try.

A great southern rock band added to the regional flavor. But the true flavor was in the brews—one of which was an award winning triple-IPA that had a nearly wine-like alcohol level. Caution advised!

Music heritage

Western Virginia oozes old-time music heritage. Just up the road from Abingdon, around a seemingly endless set of country curves on the Old Crooked Road lies the Carter Family Fold and Museum.

History points to the Carter Family as one of the true leaders in old-time, country and eventually bluegrass music.

A. P. Carter, his wife Sarah and “Mother Maybelle” Carter were the trio that first ventured out performing. Although A. P. Carter last performed in the 1940’s, the family’s music influence lives on today, in so many tunes rearranged, re-recorded and replayed by modern artists. To see that list of tunes and musicians impacted by the Carter Family at the old grocery store museum in Hiltons, VA is to gain insight into how wide their reach continues in today’s music world. In the 1970’s, the family constructed what is known as the Carter Fold, a performance arena built for hosting Saturday night shows. The intent was to keep the music traditions of the region alive.

Wow, they couldn’t have been any more alive than they were on the Saturday night we visited. Adam Steffey, the bluegrass mandolinist of the year, and his band, the Boxcars, was on hand. They rocked the house while the clicking of the blue ridge cloggers on the cement dance floor complemented their music. The Fold was alive with a crowd that represented the nation—Arizona, California, Alaska, Texas, Colorado and of course, Wisconsin, were some of the home states shouted out.

All this excitement miles from nowhere on a road that barely could handle oncoming traffic!

Yet, the crowd of 400+ people all braved the Old Crooked road to get there and get home—all for the love of the music.

My only regret is that the next day’s journey would turn us south, making it difficult to take it a notch north along the Old Crooked Road to its final stop, the Stanley Brothers Museum.

Off to the Parkway

Our next stop would be a sojourn on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, some two hours away, and a bit of driving to get there.

The Parkway is a 400 mile stretch

of pavement that runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains, a conglomerate of many peaks and ranges in Appalachia. You can get on or off the Parkway at any number of exits. But, while you’re on the Parkway, life moves slowly—top speed is 45 miles an hour. That’s really not a problem, since the Parkway is a gawker’s paradise. Many turnoffs, campgrounds and visitor centers dot the route, along with some private attractions as well.

Since we were travelling on Shutdown Sunday, most of the amenities of the Parkway were unavailable to us, though the road was open. Our entrance to the Parkway started near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, a quaint little town in the hills with a brewpub that turns out a great chocolate porter. Coincidence would have it that we sat at the tasting table with folks whose hometown was Appleton, WI.

On to the Parkway we ventured with a 100 mile afternoon drive in store. Of course, it’s impossible to pull into every turnout if you have a destination in mind, so we picked and chose. So many great views of the mountains and valleys— with so little time!

Add to that the good-news, bad-news situation of rain storms moving through the area and it made for interesting travel. From a bad-news standpoint, the rain clouds often obscured some of the best vantage points to the valleys below. On the good-news side, when we found breaks in the cloud cover, the views were spectacular. Not only did we see panoramas of the ridges and valleys below, we saw shrouds of cloud cover among them, and even rainbows at times.

Stopping at the orchard

With the facilities closed along the way, we were literally praying at one point to find a place we could get off the parkway or sneak off to answer nature’s call.

Just like that an answer to our prayers appeared in the form of the Altapass Orchard—a private run business on one of the inclines of the parkway. No shutdown for these folks, they were open for business in a big way.

Their venue was mindful of some of the wonderful orchards we have in our own Eastern Wisconsin back yard, yet surrounded by hardwood encrusted ridges, starting to burst with the colors of autumn.

A local bluegrass band had the cloggers out making their clickety-clack racket, as both young and old alike cavorted to the old-timey bluegrass sounds. All revelled in the joy of the harvest season, some dancing afoot, with others letting their taste buds dance over caramel covered apple slices.

Leaving Altapass, we climbed and descended repeatedly between 5,000+ elevations and 3,000 foot passes on our way toward Asheville, NC. Rains and traffic slowed our project into a monotonous ride that almost resembled a never ending video driving simulation.

Among the highlights of the late afternoon drive was the stop at Craggy Gardens, a high-altitude vista with views to the south and north alike. Even in this season when the rhododendron is no longer blooming, the Craggy Gardens offer one of the most incredible viewpoints.

With only an overnight to spend in Asheville, we had to leave with many unfulfilled suggestions and promises— there was talk of touring the Mt. Pisgah area or going west toward the Smokies, but even the best vacations have to come to an end, and we would resign to splitting the 13-hour drive over two days with some convenient stops for a easy bike ride or walk.

Perhaps this is a trip that can be best

savored as a story “to be continued.....”