On our way to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Oct 2-5, 2006

Monday, 10/2 – After a leisurely morning, we were ready to roll to Atlanta, only four or five hours away from our Tallahassee home.  We left around 10ish, with our bikes strapped onto the Prius.  Eating our sandwiches at a Georgia rest stop was spoiled by zillions of bothersome gnats (finished lunch in the car, then we had to open windows while driving to get rid of all the hitchhiking pests).  No problems in Atlanta, skyline quite dramatic in the blue sky.  Checked in at LaQuinta and after getting directions to the 366,000 ft² Ikea store on 17th St., we climbed back in the car.  At Ikea, we spent maybe four hours combing their aisles, browsing, inspecting merchandise and picking up several things.  “Shop till you drop!”  We even ate dinner in their cafeteria:  Swedish meatballs, which were actually quite good!  Pleased with our purchases, we drove back to LaQuinta and only got lost once.  Nice room.

Tuesday, 10/3 – Georgia Aquarium day.  Drove to a MARTA (rapid rail transit) station, and hopped on a train that was the exact opposite of rapid.  In due time, we made our way to the Aquarium, where we spent several magical hours ogling their fascinating exhibits.  Watching beluga whales swim in their huge tank ranked high on our list.  Enjoyed viewing the smaller displays of cuttlefish, garden eels, seahorses, etc.  Time flew!  For lunch, we shared halves of one ham and one turkey sandwich, both of which were excellent. When we’d finished pressing our noses up against all that thick tank glass, we ventured outside to downtown Atlanta.  Hiked up and down Peachtree Street, found Underground Atlanta (big whoop), got tired feet in the process.  Since we couldn’t make a decision on where to eat dinner, we walked to the MARTA station for (a more rapid) ride back to our car.  Spied a Chili’s at the car park and ate a fine dinner.  Returned to our room w/o getting lost this time!

Wednesday, 10/4 – Time to head north on I-75 toward Knoxville and eventually to Lake City TN (very nice drive), where we'll tour the TrailManor plant.  The tour was personal and very informative, and we rec’d lots of info on this pop-up camper, which we're contemplating buying.  More studying will be required.  After our tour, we had no plan and studied the map wondering if we should return to Knoxville or ???.  We elected to drive east toward Norris Dam State Park in TN (first dam built in the TVA system).  Serendipity led us to their Visitor Center, and the discovery of rustic cabins to be had.  We signed up for an overnight stay in Cabin 2, set in a beautiful and quiet treed hilltop near the dam.  We wound our way back down the mtn to the local IGA for a box of mac 'n cheez, a can of baked beans and fresh broccoli (fresh broccoli stumped the kid at the cash register, who didn't know what it was!) to cook for supper – all quite delicious cooked in the rustic kitchen!

Before dinner, we enjoyed a nice hike around a portion of the lake.  After dinner, while we cuddled on the swing inside the screened porch, we watched a glorious nearly-full moon rise beyond the trees.  Fireflies sparkled in the distance.  So quiet and peaceful.  This park is a  real gem.

Thursday, 10/5 – We'd originally planned to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail today, but with a high forecast for rain, we decided to wait till tomorrow.  Instead, we enjoyed coffee on the porch and walking around in the state park. One other (nearly invisible) couple was staying at a distant cabin; we had the park to ourselves.  Deer are plentiful, and seem unafraid of people.  The morning was fine, yellow and gold leaves rustling to the ground the only sound – the kind of morning where people hold hands while they meander silently over leafy paths.  After our cereal, we left (sort of reluctantly) for Abingdon VA, stopping first at the Lenoir Museum and 18th Century Rice Grist Mill, filled with Appalachian artifacts, just past the dam.

T'was another pretty drive today!  In Abingdon, we checked into the Quality Inn, then trod through the lovely old town with its antiquated brick buildings and bright flowers.  Warm day, but no rain, as had been predicted!  At the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail shop we verified our shuttle arrangements for tomorrow’s ride, then settled on dinner at the Tavern, thought to be the oldest building (1779) in town.  Jimmy allowed as how his Prime Rib was the best he’d ever eaten!  When we emerged at dusk, a thunderstorm was firing up, wind was whipping, leaves were blowing, and the predicted rain finally commenced to fall.  Let it – we returned to our clean Quality Inn room, and made ready for our 34-mile bike ride in the morning.

Tomorrow:  Day one on the Virginia Creeper Trail.


Virginia Creeper Trail, October 6/7, 2006

Friday, 10/6 – Oh boy, our first bike ride this trip! We were so looking forward to riding the length of the Virginia Creeper Trail, but a cold front blew across the state last night and we were met this morning by gray clouds, a chilly 54°, and a brisk north wind – topsy-turvy of yesterday's weather.  Never mind, we're game anyway.  We piled on layers, finishing with jackets, gloves, and long pants over our bike shorts.

A Rails-to-Trails gem, this trail stretches 34.5 miles from Abingdon, VA, thru the lovely town of Damascus (known as the heart of the Creeper), along the Laurel River and up to it's highest point of Whitetop Mountain near the NC state line.  Our shuttle van left Abingdon at 9 AM, aiming for Whitetop Mountain – where we'll begin our ride.  (A late start 'cause the mountain top is about 10° colder.)  Our van ride up to Whitetop on a winding, twisty road was gorgeous, with wild streams alongside amid the brilliant reds and golds of autumn!

Arriving at Whitetop around 10 AM, we stepped inside the Station for a look-see.  I bought a T-shirt and stuffed it in my bag, but it wasn’t long before I pulled it out and put it on (another – welcomed!– layer).  Not much pedaling was needed for almost the first half of the Creeper on the damp, leaf-strewn trail, as it was downhill with sharp curves and steep grades.  Meaning:  We didn’t generate any heat, and we got cold.  Our bodies were accustomed to months of brutal Florida summer heat, and not ready for this cool day!  A hot chocolate kiosk showed up at exactly the right time, and a cup warmed us nicely.

We ate our packed lunch beside a gushing stream, below one of the 47 trail trestles and bridges on this trail.  From Damascus to Abingdon, the trail flattened out – including a steady climb into Abingdon, which warmed us up.  Despite the all-day gray skies, our surroundings were beautiful.

Spectacular autumn scenery, in forest and field, farm and town.  We paused frequently to take photos.  We were in no hurry, either, and enjoyed every moment (esp. after warming up).  We got back to car around 5 PM, drove to a recommended pizza place and ordered.  We wolfed down that yummy pizza in our room.  After a nice hot shower, we fell into bed.  With smiling faces, we drifted off to sleep.  Great ride!

Saturday, 10/7 – We drove in drizzly rain a relatively short distance to the Brier Inn in Lewisburg, WVa, where we stayed last year (really pretty drive, tho!).  Near Lewisburg, we stopped at a laundromat to wash clothes. Cool weather continues, so we walked Lewisburg's main street with jackets on, visiting various shops – neat town with artsy inclinations.  Rain let up.  Enjoyed a fine dinner at Food and Friends, then returned to our room to monitor tomorrow's weather report and make ready for our bike ride on the 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail (our second ride this trip).  Tracy from Outdoor Adventures will wait for us at Lewisburg's trail parking lot @ 7 AM, for the two-hour shuttle, ferrying us and our bikes to Cass Scenic Railroad St Pk and the beginning of a new two-day adventure.  We have reservations tomorrow night at Jerico BnB in Marlinton, WVa, approx 27 miles down the trail.  Jimmy set the alarm clock for 5 AM.


Greenbrier River bike ride, Part 1, 10/8/06

The 77-mile tree-shaded Greenbrier River Bike Trail is another Rails-to-Trails gift. Located in the Allegheny Mtns, it follows the fairly shallow Greenbrier River as it swiftly flows south over rocks and boulders, at turns seemingly placid, with white water sprints.  It looks perfect for kayaking downstream (but we saw no boats whatsoever!). Leaves of green, yellow and red canopy the damp lane.  The quiet was pervasive. We biked alone, mesmerized by the beauty, passing an occasional "camp" or cluster of homes.  We stopped frequently to gawk and admire.

Sunday, 10/8 – Tracy from Outdoor Adventure met us @ 7AM, right on time, at the trailhead.  We parked our Prius, loaded our stuff on his truck, and drove up the river’s east side, within spitting distance of Virginia, north toward Cass Scenic State Park. The morning was lovely – cool and sunny.  Tracy was a good guide, full of info, pointing out interesting things, inc. a lone coyote stalking a deer in a fallow pasture, a flock of turkeys, deer, etc., as we drove by sleepy villages and farm spreads.  He dropped us off at the Cass trailhead, snapped two pictures of us, and bid us farewell.

Panniers and bags attached on our bikes and we're ready to go!

This first day to Marlinton, following the rapid-flowing Greenbrier River, would be the shorter of our two days on the trail, approx 24 miles.  And it was Outstanding.  We interrupted our ride often to take pictures of exquisite fall color and beautiful scenery.  The sun shone bright.  We spied deer, halted a groundhog in its tracks, picked windfall apples, rode on bridges over cascading creeks feeding the river and thru the dark and scary 511' Sharps Tunnel (work began in Sept 1899), all of it interspersed with meadows and woodlands and farms.

Discovered a downed young osprey in weeds near the path.  Left it alone.

We ate our picnic lunch on a bridge about five miles out of Marlinton.  The foliage was breathtaking. We located Jerico BnB a mile uphill from the trail on the outskirts of Marlinton, and checked in @ 2 PM – ours was a lovely first-floor room in a 100-yr-old home, situated on one of those cascading creeks, and oh-so-quiet.  We changed clothes and walked into town, visited the Railroad Station, and scoped out a place for dinner – it being Sunday, only one was open – and ate excellent dinner specials on a veranda overlooking the river and begging ducks on the bank below.  After hiking back uphill to the BnB, we parked ourselves in the wonderful Jacuzzi, followed by a leisurely stint on the porch swing in the cool mountain air, playing with the friendly resident cat.

After showering, we hit the sack, to be ready for our the rest of our big ride tomorrow.  We requested an early breakfast.  Slept like contented babies!



Greenbrier River bike ride, Part 2, 10/9/06

Monday, 10/9 – After a solid night's sleep, we were up early eating a hearty breakfast at 7:30, and back on the Greenbrier River trail at 8:30, dressed in layers again.  Morning was cool and foggy – temp a chilly 48°.  Damp leaves plastered the bike trail.  The fog burned off quickly on the path, but lingered, to our delight, on the hillsides, swirling among the colorful trees.

Jimmy and I were able to ride side-by-side nearly the entire 77-mile distance.
A real bonus.

We rolled by fields and flowers, forest and meadows, crowded sometimes by sheer rock walls, seeing birds, geese, and deer.  We crossed lots of small wooden bridges over tumbling freshets.  Such breathtaking scenery hour after hour!  With no one else on the trail, we pedaled on serenely, keeping our energy up with homemade oatmeal/date bars, as well as trail mix, apples, and Gatorade.  We gobbled our lunch of PBnJ and string cheez at a picnic table next to the river.

“I brake for caterpillars.”

Clean pit toilets are located every eight to ten miles.  Cool, fresh deep-well water is also provided.  You have to pump out of the ground first!

We eased into Droop Mountain Tunnel (402', completed in 1900).
It was even scarier than the first tunnel because of its curve.

Always something to see. (huge paper wasp nest)

We never tired of seeing the river, seemingly calm at times, but with rapids on every turn, and watched it widen as we proceeded south.  80+/- miles may seem like a long way, but the miles just flew by immersed in nature as we were on this trail.  Chipmunks repeatedly crisscrossed our path.  Jimmy ran over a three-foot black racer snake, startling both, but hurting neither!  We shucked our outer clothes as the day warmed, eventually trimming down to bike shorts and tees.

We stepped up the pace the last ten miles or so, suffering by this time from the dreaded burning butt bones!  Yet, fantastic vistas kept us entertained right to the end (so to speak) of today’s 53-mile ride, where the Prius awaited us, the cooler still full of ice.  We were tired, but happy.

I was very happy to see the Prius locked and safe, since Jimmy asked me yesterday in the first 500 yards of our ride, “You locked the Prius, didn’t you?”  I couldn’t remember (and neither could he) locking it, but we decided there was nothing we could do and refused to worry about it.  We just enjoyed our grand adventure.  God takes care of everything, even fools like us.  We returned to Room 279 at the Brier Inn around 5:30 PM, showered, ate dinner at nearby Bob Evans, and then crashed.

WOW, what a ride!


Into Virginia ... Oct 10th, 2006

Tuesday, 10/10 – It's no surprise to us that we slept ten straight hours over-nite, following our Greenbrier River bike ride yesterday -- we needed it!  This morning we drove the short hop from Lewisburg WV to Roanoke/Salem, VA, on winding roads amid autumn colors, a mighty pretty October drive.  In Salem, we hooked up with a Holiday Inn Express for the nite.

We stopped at the Roanoke Visitor Center first, ate Cuban food at the food mart, and then walked to the nearby Virginia Museum of Transportation, where we wandered for two-plus hours, beginning with the model railroad above.  So much to see here -- we walked all over the yard, climbed aboard full sized trains, sat in massive locomotive seats, cabooses, and so forth.  This museum's collection includes approx 2,500 transportation objects.  It's a great place to visit,  lots of fun, with much history represented.  We recommend!  We took lots of pictures, and even bought our condo a present.  

My engineer! 

Imagine the power!

When we left the museum, we returned to the Holiday Inn Express and washed our grungy bike clothes (from the past couple of days), whether they needed it or not (haha).  At the front desk we asked, "Where's a good place to eat dinner," and we were told about Mac and Bobs in Salem.  They had it right on – we had a superb dinner.  In bed early, and had a restful sleep.


GSMR! Oct 11/12, 2006

(Remember, we had no RV in 2006.)

Wednesday, 10/11 – From Roanoke, we made a decision to head south today, still in the mountains, toward NC and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (GSMR) in Bryson City.  Drizzling gray skies turned into rain by Bristol, TN.  Having the laptop computer and cell phones have proved very beneficial for us, as we could check weather, find things to do and places to stay online, and call for “price and availability.”  

We stayed at Ridgetop Motel in Bryson City, up a winding road, with a fine view of the Blue Ridge Mtns.  Room is kind of sparse, but so is the price.  Still, it’s clean and adequate; bed is comfy.  Made reservations for the train from Bryson City along the Nantahala Gorge, departing @ 9 AM tomorrow – despite predictions of MORE RAIN. We walked around Bryson City this evening, peeking in a few shops, and ate a fine Italian dinner.  The antipasto we ordered was so generous, that we had much of it boxed up to add to tomorrow’s lunch.  Rain falling at dusk chased us back to our room, where we snuggled under the covers to watch an old (1948) weird movie, “Naked City.”  Tis very quiet here. Slept well.

Thursday, 10/12 – Made it to the RR station by 8:15 on this crystal clear morning; we could see forever from our motel, across verdant valleys and hazy blue mountains.  No clouds, no rain, no fog… the sun came up bright and blinding!  (If we listened to every weather forecast, we’d just stay home!)

Ready to roll at Bryson City!

Our train was long and we were in the last car (closed coach – chilly jacket weather in the mornings and evenings).  With a few final blasts of the train whistle, we chugged off on a delightful 4½-hour excursion, carrying us 44 miles along the Nantahala Gorge and back.  

We traveled the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers, across Fontana Lake, with a one-hour layover at Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for our picnic lunch.  What an enjoyable ride!  Fall colors were marvelous.  Nantahala is a rip-roaring boulder-strewn, narrow river, foaming with rapids – very picturesque, but not something I’d want to be on or in; plus, the water is cold!  

At NOC, the engine detached, reversed, and then reattached to our car, so we were now the lead car.  We watched the process (photographed it!), and then hiked to a flat area of river rock for our fine lunch.  (Maybe by the time we get home we’ll be tired of PBnJ?)  Very lovely area.  After five blasts of the whistle, we departed for Bryson City.  Everything looked different on our return trip, and we sat spellbound.  At the gift shop, we bought our condo another present, not something we usually do.  

After the train ride, we drove to Fontana Dam (conductor’s recommendation) and walked around, across the dam. At 480' it's the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains! Awesome to look down.  

We spent another night at Ridgetop.  Asking about good places to eat, we were directed to Rilea’s, behind NOC (shorter distance by car), where we had really outstanding fresh trout dinners.  We have made terrific choices this trip.  Back in our room, we watched a bit of TV again before we turned out the light.  Tired.  But, oh so happy.