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  1. #1

    Default Bound for "The Glide"

    Hello RoadTrippers,

    Having traversed these paths dozens and dozens of times over the preceding +35 years, I hardly felt as though this evening's drive was the beginning of a RoadTrip----until I loaded the new Chevy Equinox with my lovely wife's "lite-travel" gear. OK, Diana Ross is aboard, time to set sail--the volume and mass of her gear makes it a RoadTrip --not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Tonight's drive was from Raleigh, NC to Watauga County, NC, some 200 miles, where we are fortunate to have a family-owned vacation home in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Over the decades since I matriculated at Appalachian State University, 4-laning and widening have made what used to be a 5 hour drive in a 1967 International Harvester Scout 800 into a 3.25 hour drive at 74 to 82 mph in a modern "crossover". The V6 was not in our original "green" plans, but the little I-4s were scarcer than hen's teeth during the short, dramatic Cash for Clunkers program, so we grabbed the AWD model which was available, a V6-powered unit with an embarrasment of options and gadgets. But let's face it: The Government was certain my 1990 four-wheel drive Suburban with 200,000 miles, running on 6 or 7 cylinders (out of 8 available), and with BOTH the front and rear driveshafts about to fall out from under it, was worth $4,500, and given that they own the very manufacturer of that venerable old truck, who am I to argue with them? For now, at least, I'm excited about the 3.0 liter V6, 6-speed Equinox. She's a little hot-rod when pushed, and when lugged down in 6th gear, she's a very modest little girl in terms of fuel consumption.

    We picked up around 3,500' of elevation along the way and it's in the low 40s here at 4,000' as of 0100 hrs. Sweet.

    Traffic was fairly light along I-40, US 421, NC 105, and the secondary roads leading up to our lair. I still pine for an FM radio frequency transmitter/receiver rig which will force left lane idlers into the middle or right lane, but it looks as though that will have to wait "until I'm King". Some say I'm a bit impatient.

    Today's sunrise (0715 or so) will see us departing for Damascus, VA, where the Virginia Creeper Trail, all 35 miles of it this time, awaits us. Rick at Blue Blaze has us booked for a pair of nice Trek cycles, high handlebar stem, well-padded saddle, 21 gears, and big, fat tires--everything mid-50s cyclists might want, and for the low, low rental fee of $12 (how's that for a plug?). If the approaching cold front and the showers it's vanguard will allow, we'll blow down from Whitetop Station back to Damascus in < 2 hours and will have some 3-3.5 to thoroughly explore and photograph the Damascus-Abingdon segment (virgin territory for Terry and I), arriving there in advance of the showers with any luck.

    Hot showers, pasta, wine, and a fire in the fireplace will fill the evening hours later tonight. No sunset likely, given the anticipated rains, but wait for Saturday and Sunday. The forecast is for awesome.

    An assault on Grandfather Mountain, followed by Art In The Park in Blowing Rock, a crystal-clear early autumn sunset from the deck, and perhaps more wine, are all on Saturday's agenda. Wish us luck.

    More later,


  2. #2

    Default The Glide + The Pump = Zzzzzzzzzz.....

    About 24 hours ago we left for Damascus, VA, some 60 miles west then north of our location near Blowing Rock, NC. The overcast skies and brisk southwest winds were just as forecast, as was a strong line of showers before a cold front approaching from Middle Tennessee. We booked a shuttle and geared up for only the first half of the Virginia Creeper Trail--the 17 mile all-downhill segment from Whitetop Station, VA back to Damascus, a section we've fondly referred to as The Glide.

    For the first 3-4 miles one need only ride the rear brake from time to time. After that, some mild pedaling is needed to maintain an easy pace, but the exertion required isn't even enough to cause one to break sweat. We got back to Damascus in a touch over 2 hours, as there were fewer photo stops than normal and given our concern over the approaching storms.

    But, back in cellphone reception territory just outside of town, my handy-dandy weather radar-receiving cellphone showed a Moses-like parting of the eastbound wetness, with its apex directly over Damascus and Abingdon, VA. With that as our inspiration, we stopped at Blue Blaze, paid the additional fee, and headed west on the second half of the VCT, a section we'd not ridden before. The route from Damascus to Abingdon takes you across a pastoral stretch of the Valley and Ridge geological province. More on those ridges later.

    Having studied the topos carefully and having looked at the published topographic profile of the trail, we knew we'd lose a bit more elevation for the for the first 8 miles, then pick it all back up, plus another 100', over the last 8 miles. The track was a bit soft in places from recent rains, and the downhill gradient so slight that rather vigorous pedaling was required. Nevertheless, it was a very nice ride once we passed the more or less industrialized western section of Damascus itself. We followed Laurel Creek through a gorge it had kindly cut through a sandstone ridge and thence into the valley of the South Fork of the Holston River, the headwaters of the once-mighty Tennessee River.

    From the crossing point of the South Holston Reservior (which pools up the river for some miles above and below the crossing), we entered a beautiful pastoral area completely away from roads. The rail trail punches through two ridges of shale sandwiched between karst-ridden limestone valleys, ridges named "River Knobs" and "Great Knobs", and across 5 or 6 long trestles over pastureland which had been built to allow the railroad to maintain elevation as it rose from the river to Abingdon.

    But it was uphill, and soft, for 8 miles, and we were each somewhat winded and cramping up a bit by the time we reached mile 0 at Abingdon. It was far from difficult, but we named the segment "The Pump" in order to distinguish if from The Glide. A short shuttle ride back to Damascus returned us to our little Equinox and the road back to North Carolina.

    Along the way we enjoyed a brand-new bypass segment of TN 91 between Laurel Bloomery and Mountain City, and we scrapped plans to go out to dinner, realizing once we got to the house and showered and rested a bit, there'd be no joy in saddling up for a 7 mile drive down the mountain and into town, after dark, and in misty rain and fog.

    But a grand feast was prepared by Mr. Stouffer in the form of a big lasagna. With a cold Rolling Rock and a long, hot shower taken while it warmed in the oven, we sat down to dinner, a glass of red wine (OK, two glasses), and a dessert of Edy's ice cream. Then bedtime for this cowboy. I enjoyed nearly 9 hours of sack time interrupted only by leg cramps.

    Today sees the cold front having passed overnight, bringing crystal-clear skies, so I had the rare pleasure of seeing a full moon (the Harvest Moon!) setting over Beech Mountain as I arose at 6:30. I can now see the entire horizon and can report the leaves are a-changing at 4,000' and above. Grandfather Mountain, just a few miles to my south and 2,000' higher, beakons. I think I'll be driving up this time, in deference to my aching legs and my bride's continuing slumber. Waking her now in order to get started on a hike seems unwise.

    So, some Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather, and perhaps a gravel road side-trip will precede Art in the Park in the town of Blowing Rock. More tonight or tomorrow.


  3. #3

    Default Grandfather Mtn, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and an escape to the Wannabe Parkway

    Anticipating crowds on a perfect bluebird weather autumn day, we reached Grandfather Mountain shortly after 9am. All the touristy things were there, and since it'd been nearly 20 years since we took them in, we visited the museum, the wildlife habitats, and of course, the Mile High Swinging Bridge. My "heights averse" bride even went across and then out on the outcrop on the far side. A stiff NW wind made the upper 40s temp feel like the low 30s and had the bridge rocking, rolling, and producing a cacaphony of whistles, wheezes, and groans.

    We had a look at the growing crowds as we descended and were greeted with lines along US 221 in both directions at the turn-in/ticket gate. Terry started backpedaling about Art in the Park over in Blowing Rock, citing crowds and parking hassles, so I offered a drive down to Mount Mitchell as an alternative. Having read Peter Thody's feature piece herein, I first called ahead to confirm all access was open, which it was. I then contemplated a +100 mile round-trip on the Parkway and figured it would be an all-day crawl, so Roan Mountain, TN jumped out of Page 32 of my DeLorme NC Atlas and Gazetteer. Remembering a special stretch of road not far from there, we exited the Linville area for Newland, US 19E, and the Tennessee line.

    Turning west on TN 173 at Tiger Valley School, we passed over Victory Hill Gap and descended into Limestone Cove, near Erwin. A few miles south on TN 107 brought us to Red Fork Road, aka Unaka Mountain Road (UMR), a public road within the Cherokee National Forest. The UMR is gravel for most of its dozen miles traversed between TN 107 and Indian Grave Gap, where TN 395 and NC 197 meet at the state line. Along the way are the Unaka Mountain Overlook and the Beauty Spot. The Overlook has been rehabilitated in recent years to the extent of the short access road having been improved and the brush which had all but obscured the view having been cut way back. At an elevation just shy of the peak of Unaka Mountain (5,180'), the Overlook provides dramatic long-distance views to the east, west, and south. The Beauty Spot, about 2 miles farther down UMR, is a "bald" along the ridgeline of Unaka Mtn where the Appalachian Trail follows the TN-NC state line for a spell. Its views are nearly as nice as those from the Overlook.

    The Unaka Mountain Road and the Overlook were reportedly built in the 1930s as Tennessee and North Carolina were competing for routing of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tennessee demonstrated presence of some wonderful scenery, but the route up and across the crest of Unaka Mountain was very steep and narrow, with many tight switchbacks, and the communities along the proposed route were deemed too small and isolated to support the expected tourism. As a result, the UMR is called the Wannnabe Parkway (OK, just by me) and remains an obscure, little known path--and a perfect destination for one with a high-clearance vehicle seeking to escape the crowds on the real Parkway. We encountered exactly two other vehicles between Limestone Cove and the Overlook, and no more than 7 or 8 more the rest of the way to Indian Grave Gap.

    At the far end of the UMR, we dropped down to Poplar, NC on NC 197 and visited the put-in park where rafters and kayakers enter the Nolichucky River and its gorge chockablock full of rapids. Right on schedule, a converted school bus pulled up, brakes still smoking from the descent, with 3 large rafts strapped to the top, and group of around 20 set sail down the river. I was reminded of a phrase from my whitewater days: The Nolichucky is a Class IV river accessed by a Class VI bus ride.

    Our intent was to circle back by Roan Mountain, a spot never visited by me despite decades of touring the region. Relying on my Gazetteer and a memorized road number sequence, I quickly missed a turn and ended up at Limestone Cove again, so we decided to forego Roan Mountain in favor of the late afternoon's brilliant sunshine on the deck and a spectacular sunset behind Beech Mountain.

    For a day which started off with the anticipation of less adventurous and purely local travel, we ended up on a RoadTrip after all, and were very happy for the way it all worked out.


  4. #4

    Default An extended drive home, and recon for the next RoadTrip

    Under a light overcast, we left the High Country of Watauga County by late morning, headed east for lower elevations, chores at home, and work duties. But, we managed to make a 3.25 hour drive into a 7 hour drive with a detour into the New River Valley for a recon of the New River Trail State Park.

    With duel southern terminals in Galax and Fries, VA, the NRTSP is a 57 mile long rails-to-trails facility which follows the New River and Chestnut Creek. It's pretty much the granddaddy of Rails-to-Trails in the region with some of the park opened as early as 1987. We checked out the Galax, Fries, the Byllesby and Buck damsites, Ivanhoe, and Austinville access points.

    A hop, skip, and 180 miles later, we arrived at home in Raleigh, with some 850 vehicle miles and 34 bicycle miles under our belts. It was a great RoadTrip and we're already hatching plans for the next one.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Very nice field report!

    Foy, I loved the descriptive narrative of your last trip -- sounds like it was truly an adventure.


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