Virginia Creeper Trail

By: Jorge Ballesteros

The Virginia Creeper Trail Campout is one of the Troop 26 camps each year that I am looking forward, because the concept, the setting and the views are all amazing.  To be out there in the middle of the woods with the freedom afforded by your bicycle makes it a thoroughly rewarding experience.  My kids, Andrés and Carlo, know that this is a campout I will attend even if they want to snub me (just kidding!).

The camp this year on May 20-22, had the added bonus of perfect weather, sunny and clear while still a little cool, which was great for biking.  We could not have asked for better conditions.  Perhaps the only downside was the closure of most of the bottom part of the trail (from Damascus to Abingdon), as a result of damage caused by the strong storms and tornadoes that went through the area at the end of April.  This affected the group that wanted to cover 51 miles for their merit badge requirement.

The camp this year was established at the Virginia Creeper Trail Campground, just beyond the Whitetop Station at the Virginia-North Carolina border.

The plan on Saturday was for the 51 milers to start early (around 7:00 AM).  This group was led by Dan and trailed by T. J.  The early start, however, did not happen as scheduled due to miscellaneous reasons, and that group left later than expected.  Thus, they were limited to 28 miles total.

This early group experienced a few incidents along the way:  one of them left Alex with some scrapes and bruises; in another instance, Austin had a tire blowout which required the inner tube to be replaced.  Unfortunately, the only inner tubes available were for 26” wheels and Austin’s is 24”.  A few tries to patch up the inner tube with duct tape failed, but another Scouts troop happened by, Troop 81 from Tennessee, and they graciously lent our group a new inner tube of the correct size.  So eventually everyone made it back safely to Damascus.  Dan got a new 24” inner tube to take to Troop 81 and gave them thanks.

The second group (the 17 milers) had a planned start of 10:00 AM, and so it was.  This group was led by Andrés, with Jeff checking the middle of the group and me, Jorge, bringing up the rear and also carrying the toolbox, just in case.  And thankfully so, because we kept having mechanical issues at each stop!  There were several shifting mechanisms that would not downshift or would ‘grind’ when shifting;  then we had a loose seat.  The most interesting issue we had was when a ticking sound was reported in one of the bikes. 

Upon inspection, it was discovered that the kick stand of the bike was almost completely loose and it was occasionally touching the spokes of the rear wheel!  Fortunately, it did not actually tangle with them.  The consequences could have been terrible.  These small faults, however, were positive learning for those troop members that saw how to diagnose them and how to fix problems on the go.

The 17 milers had a few spills as well, mainly Ian, who left his braking too late on the first stop, and almost hit others before falling and scraping his knees and arm.  Carlo immediately sprung into action with his First Aid Kit, cleaned the injuries and applied a bandaid.  Unfortunately, a little later Ian again got in trouble as his front wheel got into a groove and he tried to get out of it by turning, whereas the front wheel spun around and threw him face first into the mud.  Fortunately, the ground was soft and there were no more significant scrapes, but he hit hard, and he took a while to get back up.  He was fine; only his pride was injured this time.  Later he discovered specks of mud on his nose!  Another incident happened to Jeff due to a rider of another group that did not give proper right-of-way and caused Jeff to hit the railing of a bridge, leaving him with some cuts in his arms and legs.

Nothing was serious, however, and we made it to Damascus before noontime to meet with the earlier group and enjoy our well deserved ice cream.

We were scheduled at Sun Dogs by 2:00 PM to get our bikes loaded onto the trailers for the shuttle back to camp, when I decided to go on with a thought I had been harbouring on the way down the hill:  how about riding the bike back to the campground?  I talked to Dan and he just said, “be safe and enjoy”.  No one else took Dan’s offer to join me, so I grabbed my bike and the toolbox and hit the trail back towards Whitetop and the campground, about 18 uphill miles away.  The initial estimate was two hours.

The first 6 miles were not difficult, with just a mild grade.  Actually, I spent a lot of my energy instead asking (actually, in most cases, yelling) for riders going downhill to give right-of-way, rather than pedaling.  A lot of riders do not respect the rules unfortunately.  We had made sure our troop members knew the trail rules before starting the trip.

I was able to keep my 21-speed bike in 15th gear or higher most of the time on those first 6 miles.  That made me think I could stay in the higher gears all the way to the top… Yeah, right!  Then came the real hill and I was down to 3rd, 2nd or (most of the remaining part of the trail) 1st gear.  You really have to pedal hard and can not stop!

Well, three hours later (the estimate proved very optimistic, obviously), and after sweating a lot, I was back to camp.  Not bad for the oldest guy (at 52) of the group, riding a bike that was picked up from the trash, which I have had no chance to get serviced yet!  Roundtrip distance was about 36 miles.  Better still, my muscles never got sore, not even in the following days; only the “seat of the bike” hurt, but just a little.  I am ready for more…

We ended the day with a lot of fun at the stage in the campground enjoying a campfire program with skits and songs provided by members of our troop, as well as by other troops and dens camping there, including a Girl Scout troop, who were invited by our able Scoutmaster, Dan.  The program’s MC, Austin, was also great, as well as the ‘Swedish Tree Climber’, funnily performed by T. J.

This was an experience to remember and repeat.  See you Virginia Creeper Trail next year!

Enjoy the pictures…

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