The Year in Travel: 2016 from A to Z

The year 2016 was not a banner year for travel for me as there were no super long  cross country trips taken like I had done form 2012-2015. However, over the course of the year we did take a number of smaller trips and a couple of fairly long trips. I visited 11 states during the year and made it to some places where I hadn’t been for nearly 30 years. Even made it into towns from A (Abingdon, VA) to Z (Zanesville, OH) and one with an X too (Xenia, OH)!!

Here is a map that includes many of the places:

Abingdon, VA – Eastern terminus of the Virginia Creeper Trail
Zanesville, Ohio home of the Y Bridge
Julianne and David at Xenia Station on the Little Miami Scenic Trail

During the course of the year we visited a few major cities including Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We also visited Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.

Panoramic View of Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington
Julianne and Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV

A good portion of my travel in 2016 was related to rails to trails bike trails that my wife Julianne had desired to ride. We visited some lovely bike trails in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. While Julianne rode, I would take the back roads and meet her along the trails. This was until I got my own bicycle on my birthday in October.

All of us at Whitetop Station at the beginning of the 10 mile downhill Virginia Creeper Bike Trail near Damascus, VA
Flying to Houston from Cincinnati

We took one flight during the year which was to Houston to celebrate a calling for my son in church and to visit our grandsons. In late October, we also drove to Fort Worth, Texas for the funeral of my father. Not as joyous a trip, but we did visit a few locations along the way for fun.

Visiting my youngest grandchild Sam in Houston
Sumoflam and the FREE Stamp in Cleveland

Our trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh were predominantly because Julian sister Laura had moved from Idaho to the Pittsburgh area. So she met Julianne on a couple of the bike ride trips. She and Julianne also attended a conference at the Kirtland Temple and while they were there, I visited my family in Little Italy in Cleveland and also took some tours around the city with my sister Tina and her husband Jim.

Riding with Tina and Jim around Cleveland
Sumoflam at the Kirtland Temple
Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh

Then we visited Laura in Pittsburgh, we got to see a number of wonderful things in Pittsburgh including the Monongahela Incline, hey unique rail type system that pulled us up to the top of Mt. Washington where we had spectacular views of the city of Pittsburgh and the three rivers down below.

Bridges across Pittsburgh
Classic Neon of famed Dumser’s Drive-In in Ocean City, MD

The year ended on a high note as we took a long trip to Ocean City, MD where we stayed with Julianne’s sister and her husband Richard and their daughter for about a week on the beach. It was a wonderful trip! It was during this trip that we also visited Washington DC and the large LDS Washington DC Temple with all of its amazing Christmas lights. I also made my way up to Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, both of which I had not visited since the 1980s.

Welcome to Delaware…first time since 1986
Washington DC Temple at Christmas
The Washington Monument and the US Capitol in Washington DC
Old Paradise Cafe sign in Ocean City. What is a beach resort town without a flamingo or two?
I think I counted about 12 themed mini golf places on the main drag in Ocean City, including dragons, pirates and dinosaurs.
Township of Moon, PA (I have also been to Earth, TX, Mars, PA, Jupiter, FL and even Vulcan, AB

Of course, whenever we take road trips I always try to find the unique and the unusual whenever possible. And most of our trips were not immune from my searching to do so. On our trips visited such wonderful places as Friendly, WV, Prosperity, PA, Novelty, OH, Happy, KY, Eighty Four, PA and a few other unique named towns as indicated in photos below.  I even located a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio and a Bliss Happens Lane in Maryland!

Made it to Hope, AR, just before the 2016 elections. Hope is the home of former President Bill Clinton.
Meeting a Friendly guy outside the Friendly, WV Post Office
Happy Happy Happy…yes, there is a Happy, KY
I found Novelty in Ohio…
…and found Prosperity in PA
There is a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio
A Sugar and Water corner is in Chillicothe, OH
No Name Street in Millersburg, OH
Lost? Try going the Udder Way, This is in Yellow Springs, OH at Young’s Dairy
And I found where Bliss Happens in Maryland
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country in Damascus, VA

During the year we often ate at places that were focused on bicyclists and motorbike enthusiasts. One such location was in Oregonia, OH. It was way out of the way to get to. Then there was the place on the Virginia Creeper Trail which was almost impossible to get to my car but was built specifically for the bicyclists coming down the Virginia Creeper Trail.

In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
At Damascus Old Mill Inn in Damascus
The Little River Cafe in Oregonia, OH is most easily reached by bike. It is literally on the side of the trail. The road to Oregonia is way out of the way.
Elliston Place Diner in Nashville

In August, we got to visit Nashville and hang with my good friend and musician Antsy McClain. He took us around with a few other “field trippers” and showed us some of the sites of Nashville including music Row, some music dives and some good places to eat including the oldest diner in Nashville. We also have the unique chance to sit in a recording studio with Antsy and sing back up vocals on one of his songs!

Hanging with Antsy McClain at a dive in Nashville
Had lunch at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville. Great food and a large collection of one of a kind Antsy McClain art on coffee cups
Antsy McClain art on Coffee Cups — one of dozens of original pieces on display at Flatrock Coffee in Nashville
The Antsy Backup gang at the recording studio in Nashville
Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of the KFC Special Recipe

During the course of the year, I also took a few “staycation” trips within Kentucky. This included one on the bike trail with Julianne, but also to Ravenna,  where I visited hey famed café called the Wigwam. I also took a fun trip with my grandchildren and my daughter Marissa down to Cumberland Falls and then on into Corbin to visit the Harlan Sanders museum and restaurant which is where the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken got it start. During the fall I took a solo trip up into Red River Gorge to get pictures of the fall colors. I was about a week too late to get most of them, but that was because we were in south eastern Virginia on the Creeper Trail to see the beautiful colors down there.

Birthplace of KFC
Visiting Cumberland Falls with my daughter and her kids.
The Colonel and Me at Sanders Cafe
The fall colors as seen from the Virginia Creeper Trail near Damascus, VA
Visiting Kentucky’s Red River Gorge in November
Colorful trees and leaves line a small road in Red River Gorge
Story of Superman at Joe Shuster’s former home

Some of the other more unique places that I got to see over the past year would include the “Birthplace of Superman,” which was in Cleveland, as well as the house where the movie “A Christmas Story”  was filmed. Also while in Ohio, I visited the world’s largest geodesic dome in Novelty, OH. That was fascinating.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention the visit to Little Italy to see my birthplace and family.  I ate fine Italian cuisine at Mama Santa’s and had a great time seeing other sites there. Its the best Little Italy in the US!

Cleveland Water Tower
Murray Hill Rd….where I was born. Little Italy
Sumoflam with Mama Santa’s owner Papa Tio
The Wendy’s Original $150,000 Crystal Cheeseburger created by Waterford Crystal

During the year I also visited two fast food restaurants that had included museums in them. The Wendy’s restaurant in Dublin, OH had a whole section built in there with the history of Wendy’s and a large statue of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. In Canonsburg, PA, there is a McDonald’s restaurant that includes dedications and memorabilia of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton, both of whom grew up in Canonsburg.

Home of Wendy’s
“Where’s the Beef?” memorabilia from the famed advertising campaign in the Wendy’s Museum in Dublin, OH
Sumoflam with Dave Thomas statue in Dublin, OH
Bobby Vinton Statue in the Canonsburg, PA McDonald’s
Bobby Vinton Stage items on display in Canonsburg McDonald’s

It was fun for me to visit Xenia, OH and see the murals and the architecture and then also travel around some of the other areas nearby with Julianne and her sister and/or our grandchildren who rode  their bikes along some of the bike trails including the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

We visited the Little Miami Scenic Trail twice and each time had a great time.

Julianne, Marissa and the kids on the Little Miami Scenic Trail near Beatty Station, OH
We stopped at Young’s Dairy for some fresh ice cream on this hot day
One of Peter Toth’s 50+ Whispering Giants…this one in Ocean City, MD

Overall, I have to say it was a wonderful year. I saw dolphins swimming at sunrise on Christmas morning in the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland. We got to visit some of our great national historical sites in Washington DC. On many of the trips, it was fun to travel with the grandchildren and see the delight in their eyes they saw big waterfalls, giant statues and other interesting places.

Christmas morning sunrise in Ocean City , MD and greeted by a dolphin in the foreground.
Delaware Seashore Bridge
Another Peter Toth Whispering Giant in Bethany Beach, DE
Sumoflam at the Wigwam Drive-In in Ravenna, KY

On a final note, I have to say that we did visit a few interesting places to eat. A great taco place in Houston, and, as I mentioned before, the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY.  Also of note were the Crabcake Factory in Ocean City, MD and a Japanese place with a unique name Saketumi, in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Japanese food at the Saketumi Asian Bistro in Rehoboth Beach, DE
Enjoyed a nice Amish Buffet in Ronks, PA on the way back from Maryland

As I start a new position in new venture 2017, I look forward to traveling. The new company (PrecisionHawk) is in Raleigh, NC and so I will be taking a trip there in early January. Who knows what other delights I will find in 2017.

Following are a few other random shots from my trips in 2016:

Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa’s Restaurant in Cleveland, OH
We visited Texas in October. This was in Texarkana, TX
A shot with Elvis in Memphis
A large mural of a train welcomes visitors to Ravenna, KY
The Washington Court House in Washington Court House, OH was one of many unique buildings I got to visit in 2016
Cleveland Fire Memorial
Assawoman Dr. in Ocean City, MD
Visited Moon, PA in 2016. Visited Earth, TX in 2011. Earth vs Moon Police!
World’s largest Geodesic Dome in Novelty, OH
Many Unique Restaurants could be found in Ocean City and up in Delaware…
Fun with my wife at Chagrin Falls in Ohio
Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia – taken when we visited the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail
An old Mail Pouch barn in Brinkhaven, OH
Of course, you can always come across unique shop names, like this one in Houston
Killbuck Depot on the Holmes County Trail in Ohio
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
The Got Muchies Truck in Royalton, KY. Too funny for words
Had to add this sign…this place was one of our true 2016 highlights!
The 370 foot long Bridge of Dreams over the Mohican River near Brinkhaven.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Korean War Memorial in Zanesville, OH… hundreds of real helmets
Welcome to 84 Country – Eighty Four , PA
Sumoflam at Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop in Ohio
Holmes County Trail is in the middle of Amish Country. The Bike Trail is shared with Amish Buggies
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

 

(96)

A visit to Damascus, Virginia

Welcome to Damascus
Welcome to Damascus

Last weekend we made a trip to Damascus, VA with the goal of Julianne and our daughter Marissa riding their bikes on the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of many wonderful Rails to Trails bike trails that can be found in this part of the country.

 

Virginia CreeperI will have a different post about the Virginia Creeper Trail as part of my Bike Trail Series, but I wanted to post an article about the non-bike portion of our trip to Damascus, Abingdon, and Bristol, VA.  Besides the bike trail, there is so much more to see and do on a  road trip down to this part of Appalachia.

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We began our trip by leaving early in the morning on Saturday to drive to Damascus via the towns of Hazard and Whitesburg in Kentucky on US Highways 23 and 119. Once into Virginia, we passed through the small towns of Pound and Wise.

Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia at Pound Gap

The entire drive that morning was beautiful as we passed through the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia. The mountains were laced with fog and low clouds in this beautiful part of Appalachia.  Many of the plants and telephone lines were covered with the invasive Kudzu (also known as Japanese Arrowroot) plant…though obnoxious, it does have its own eerie beauty.

Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Welcome to Virginia
Welcome to Virginia
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn't find anything. Oh well...you have a photo of the sign
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn’t find anything. Oh well…you have a photo of the sign
Pound, VA
Pound, VA

Our first actual stop on the road was right as we entered the town of Pound. As we come down the hill there is a large mural painted on the side of a wall by the highway. As always, I stopped to grab a photo to add to my growing collection of wall murals from around the US and Canada. We then drove through the little village of Pound to see if there was anything interesting, which there wasn’t.  But, these small little towns always have a charm about them.

Pound Mural in Pound, VA
Pound Mural in Pound, VA – 105 feet wide and 25 feet tall painted by Kingsport, TN Tattoo Artist Ben Rigg and Simon Henry. Represents some history of the residents of the area.
The Crooked Road - Virginia Heritage Music Trail
The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

Along US 23 after getting into Virginia, we came across signs that said we were on “The Crooked Road.”  The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, following U.S. Route 58, but also with parts on U.S. Route 23.

The road winds through over 333 miles of scenic terrain in southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns.  Famed Bluegrass musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Joe Wilson, the Carter Family Fold and others, all hailed from this area.

Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Welcome to Whitetop, VA
Welcome to Whitetop, VA

From Pound we made our way into Wise, VA on US 23 and just continued on the road to Damascus.  Our trip eventually took us into Abingdon and then on to Damascus. From there we then went up US Highway 58 to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and near the top of Whitetop Mountain where there is a station called Whitetop Station where the bike trail begins (actually begins about a mile away in North Carolina).

Whitetop Station
Whitetop Station
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Green Cove Station in Virginia
Green Cove Station in Virginia

It was a beautiful drive up there and they departed on their ride down the hill. Whitetop Station is about 3500′ in altitude and Damascus is at 1952′, so in a 17 mile stretch they would drop about 1600 feet. (I’ll cover that in a separate Bike Trail Post)  After dropping them off, I drove a few mile back to Green Cove Station, which is another stop along the Virginia Creeper Trail.  It was packed with bikers, but is also a very scenic part of the route.

Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station
Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station

Both Whitetop and Green Cove have snacks, drinks and also sell some t-shirts and hats, proceeds of which go to benefit the Creeper Trail Association that maintains the trail.

The stations also carry a few tools and some spare tires, etc., that have been donated by other riders.

Certainly worth a brief visit to see their offerings if you are up that way.

A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove -- it is election season 2016
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove — it is election season 2016

This area near Green Cove is dotted with Christmas Tree farms and is a lusciously pastoral environment for both the bikers and those tat are driving the back roads. The scene above is indicative (and you can see the Christmas tree grove on the left side).

IMG_6760rev

At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails
At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails

From Green Cove I headed back down to the town of Damascus and drove around. Damascus touts itself as “Trail Town USA.” The reason for this is because many trails seem to converge into this town, most specifically the Appalachian Trail which is America’s most famous hiking trail and then the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail, which is one of the more well-known bike trails. There are apparently a few other trails that come through the area.

A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.

SunDog

Inside SunDog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd
Inside Sundog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd

The entire town is set up to handle this “trail traffic.” There are outdoor shops, a number of bike shops that sell and rent bikes, there are outfitters that provide the things needed for hiking and camping such as tents and sleeping bags. Many of the eateries in town also cater to this type of crowd, thus giving the town a very relaxed and very friendly atmosphere.  Sundog Outfitters was a great place for this and also has a large bike repair area with most of the items needed.  We know as we had to get a repair done  there during our visit.

A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

Another thing I liked about the town was the murals. I am always looking for interesting murals and wall paintings. There are 4 or 5 murals including the Trail Town USA mural (shown above) which features a large compass and a life size mural poster of the Appalachian Trail with a pioneer on it.  The Town Park features some interesting murals on the Restroom Walls…one of them I took has become one of my more popular Instagram photos. Following are a couple more I came across.

A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo on the Barber Pole
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
The Inn on Creeper Way - one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus
The Inn on Creeper Way – one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus (see their site HERE)

Unfortunately, as I noted above, Julianne’s bike broke down along the first few miles of the trail and she and Marissa ended up being stranded.  They made their way to the Upbeet Cafe and the Creeper Trail Cafe, located along the trail on Taylor Valley Road, but really way out of the way for a car from Damascus.  Map is below.

CreeperTrailCafeMap
Map of road to get from Damascus to the Creeper Trail Cafe and Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe Sign – near Taylors Valley, VA
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley...about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley…about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.

Actually, the Upbeet Cafe, where Julianne was stranded, is further north up VA 725.  Fortunately, a good Samaritan took her in a truck from the Upbeet to the famed Creeper Trail Cafe where I was able to find her and get the bike loaded.

As a result of the downed bike and the time required to drive to Taylors Valley and back to Damascus, we decided to call it a day and go again on the next day.  So, we drove back into Damascus, got the bike repaired at SunDog and then found our way to a place to eat.

At Damascus Old Mill Inn
At Damascus Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn

I am always about eating at local places when on the road and had researched to find that the Old Mill Inn in Damascus was THE place to eat in town.  There are many other eateries, but this one is along the river and overlooks a scenic waterfall.

The view from our table
The view from our table

The thing about this unique eatery is that the menu is upscale and the dining experience is nice, but they cater to the casually dressed bikers and hikers. We were given great treatment by Kara Maguire, who is related to the owners.  And we got a special treat when the Head Chef, John King, came out personally to serve us our unique and tasty dishes.  All this while we sat at a table overlooking the waterfall behind the mill.

A unique duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
A unique Muscovy duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.

The atmosphere was casual, but the dining experience was upscale. They first brought us some Asian inspired tacos as an appetizer. These were so good that they disappeared before I could even get a photo!  For dinner, Julianne got a vegan dish called Beet Risotto that included some root vegetables that had been steamed and spiced and were laid on top of the risotto. It was very tasty. I picked up a nice pulled-pork three cheese sandwich with their homemade “Mill Slaw.”  Marissa had a chicken curry sandwich which was also quite amazing.

Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
David had a Reuben sandwich with three cheeses and their homemade "Mill Slaw". Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for
David had a Pulled Pork with three cheeses and their homemade “Mill Slaw”. Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for

After dinner, we  spent the night in Bristol, Virginia. I had earned a free night through my Choice Hotels points and stayed at Quality Inn and Suites.  It was a nice restful evening as prepared to get up early the next morning to return to Whitetop.

US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus
US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus

Our drive up to Whitetop Station on Sunday was phenomenal! Along the roadway there were many places where we saw sunbeams coming through the trees, such as the photos that I have included below.  Reminded me of a reference to Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:3 in the New Testament that says: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Indeed, on US 58 near Damascus, we too enjoyed the lights from Heaven on that Sabbath morning.

The Ligfhts from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
The Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus, VA
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus

After dropping them off on the trail,  I made my way back down the road and visited a couple of the bridges and then went on to Damascus and did more driving around town to find old buildings, little bed-and-breakfast places and ultimately a place for us to eat dinner.

At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Shuttle Shack - one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
Shuttle Shack – one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus

On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a place along the trail called In the Country Bakery and Eatery. There are actually many places along the trail, some of which are actually a challenge to get to via automobile but have been built specifically to handle trail traffic. I

At In the Country Cafe
At In the Country Cafe

already mentioned the Upbeet Cafe and Creeper Cafe above. But on this day we stopped at In the Country which sit on the outskirts of Damascus. They offer sandwiches, baked goods and home made fudge. Their food was reasonable and they had indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the trail across US 58.

Bike Parking at In the Country - a popular place on the trail
Bike Parking at In the Country – a popular place on the trail
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus

On the same site they have a great ice cream place called Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream Shoppe.  It so happened that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day so we all indulged in ice cream.

They offered about 20 different flavors and also had some sherbets so it was perfect for a very warm day.

Ice Cream
Ice Cream
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path... LOL
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path… LOL
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA

After lunch and a little relaxing Julianne and Marissa took off for the remaining 13 or 14 miles of their trip to Abingdon, Virginia on the Creeper Trail. I too made my way to Abingdon via US Highway 58 and took a couple of detours to get photos of the trail with them riding on it.  I also found a couple of nice bridge shots along the way.

Apparently, the last few miles of the trail to Abingdon have a grueling gradual uphill climb, but not nearly the altitude change.  Indeed, Damascus sits at 1952′ while Abingdon is at 2087′, which means about a 100′ rise.  However, there was still some downhill from Damascus apparently.

Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA - one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA – one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
For obvious reasons....no parking
For obvious reasons….no parking
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don't think it works anymore -- HA
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don’t think it works anymore — HA
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Welcome to Abingdon, VA
Welcome to Abingdon, VA

I got to Abingdon much earlier than they did and was able to drive around the little town, which also caters to the biking crowd and to the hiking crowd.  I discovered a movie complex with great wall art so had to grab a couple of shots.  Always like fun Wall Art.

Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center - Abingdon, VA
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center – Abingdon, VA

Abingdon has a Virginia Creeper Welcome Center at the end of the trail and it includes many old relics from the railroad and also has the last train engine to ride along that railroad from the 1980s. The final bridge, bridge number one, is the end of the trail and in that vicinity there are other little things to see.

The Old Engine of the Creeper - last train to run the rails in the 1980s
The Old Engine of the Creeper – last train to run the rails in the 1980s
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead - Bridge Number 1
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead – Bridge Number 1
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon – after 37 miles

DSC_6819After we loaded the bikes, we departed for Kentucky via Bristol, VA where we had spent the night previously. Bristol, VA is one of those unique towns that actually is split into two states. The drive along State Street will feature flags of the United States and Virginia on one side of the highway and flags of Tennessee and the United States on the other side. There are theaters, and number of murals in the town and the fairly well known large archway that welcomes people to Bristol.

Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
Part of a large mural in Bristol
Part of a large mural in Bristol
State Street in Bristol -- left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
State Street in Bristol — left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Enter sign at Pal's Sudden Service
Enter sign at Pal’s Sudden Service

While driving through town we came across a fast food place called Pal’s Sudden Service.  We didn’t stop there to eat (we were already full), but I loved the unique building design — totally quirky.  And I really got a kick out of their  road sign — Exercise Daily.   The building only has drive thru windows and no other windows. But the giant hot dog and hamburger can’t be missed!  They apparently are located mainly in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, with 28 shops dotting this region.  The company got its start in Kingsport, TN, where the original Pal’s still sits with its giant Burger Holding Muffler Man statue (looks like I need another trip!)

A Pal's Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
After eating Pal's food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn't help but chuckle
After eating Pal’s food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn’t help but chuckle
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet

Our Drive back to Lexington from Bristol took us through Cumberland Gap and we were able to take the famed Cumberland Gap Tunnel which brought us into the town of Middlesboro.

Originally completed in October 1996, the tunnels each carry two-lanes of traffic.  Each tunnel was bored through 4100-feet of solid rock. At the tallest point, the tunnels are 30-feet high. Cross passages, located every 300-feet, connect the two tunnels and are equipped with fire extinguishers and phones for emergency use.

Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky
Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky

Since the mountain releases approximately 450 gallons of water every minute, thick PVC liner around the tunnels ensures that the bores stay dry. Air quality is monitored constantly by electronic sensors, and ventilation fans are located every 600-feet to keep air circulating in the tunnel. Variable message board signs are located in the Cumberland Gap vicinity to warn drivers of impending hazardous traffic and weather conditions or to direct traffic flow. AM and FM radio stations can be overridden with emergency messages as well.

Welcome to Middlesboro, KY
Welcome to Middlesboro, KY

The town of Middlesboro, KY is one a few towns in the United States or perhaps even the world, that is built completely within the confines of a meteor crater. We stopped there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some fairly good food. From there we zipped back up through Barbourville and Corbin and then back into Lexington.

Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA
Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA

It was a quick two day trip, but it was very fun and the scenery was amazing. The mountains of Appalachia especially in southeast Kentucky southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee are very beautiful. We look forward to taking another trip to the area in October when the colors should all be changed.   Needless to say, the summer brings its own variety of colors in the wildflowers, some of which I captured in digital form…another plus to a trip like this!

Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA

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Rails to Trails for Biking: An Overview

Julianne the biker!
Julianne the biker!

In recent weeks, my wife Julianne has taken to riding on bike trails around the upper Midwest. In the past few weeks she has ridden bike trails in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and will soon be on a nice trail in Virginia.

Yield signsShe is finding these very enjoyable and has done some with her sister and some with our daughter Marissa, and one even with the grandchildren.  As a support driver I enjoy taking her and driving the back roads to meet her (and the others) along the trail.
DSC_4726Many of my upcoming blog posts will cover some of these scenic bike trails, many which are called Rails to Trails. This post is an overview of these trails with links to my posts below and also brief details about the  Rails to Trails movement and some of the things that are going on with that around the country.
TrailLink
As some railroads have gone defunct or gone out of business, the rails have been pulled up and trails have been made to replace them. These trails include the bridges and trestles, assorted tunnels (some of which are very long) and, of course,  the wonderful scenery that these old railroad tracks pass through.
RTCLogoThis whole movement was started by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which transforms unused rail corridors into vibrant public places—ensuring a better future for America made possible by trails and the connections they inspire.   According to their website, the “RTC serves as the national voice for more than 160,000 members and supporters, 30,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America.”  It has been in operation since 1986 and the trails continue to get placed all over. The RTC History can be seen in detail here.
DSC_4022Julianne has fallen in love with these and I have too!  Currently I only provide vehicular support, but I hope to be on the trail with her in the near future after I am able to get a bike.  In the meantime, I am thrilled to drive the back roads nearby and see the small towns.  Those too will be documented.
Not all of the Bike Trails are “Rails to Trails” trails.  There are others such as the Legacy Trail in Lexington which has been built specifically as a bike trail…from scratch.  These too will be covered.
DSC_4724Much of the documentation on the bike trails centers on the trails, but little is written about the “support” roads that a driver would want to take to meet the riders along these long trails, if wanted or needed.  I have made efforts to document this in photos and will provide details in the posts on each trail…including maps when needed. (If links are not live, then the posts are still being worked on)
BlackPump2Finally, I have worked with Julianne to rate the trails.  She will rate them from 1 pump (poor) to 5 pumps (excellent).  Each separate post will include her comments about the specific trail.  Comments and details will be in each individual post, but the ratings are also shown below with just a couple of comments.

THE TRAILS

Following is a growing list of trails — long and short — that we have covered.  Check back here often as I will update links here and minor details as new trails are taken.

legacytrail_logosmall

BlackPump4THE LEGACY TRAIL – Lexington, KY (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

DSC_4870The first of the trails is perhaps our most visited due to proximity to where we live.  It is the “middle of the week” riding trail for my wife and occasionally my daughter who joins her on these trips.

The Legacy Trail runs north and south through Lexington among green spaces, neighborhoods and parks. The trail joins the Kentucky Horse Park and the Lexington YMCA. (There are plans to extend it south beyond the YMCA to the memorial art garden named for African American jockey, and multiple Kentucky Derby champion, Isaac Murphy).

DSC_4868This trail is about 12 miles long and is completely asphalt.  Julianne typically takes it form the Coldstream Parking Lot, so it is a bit shorter.  But, she adds an additional 8 miles with a ride along the roads in the Kentucky Horse Park.

OhioErieCanalway

BlackPump3Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail – Cuyahoga Valley N.P., OH  (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne and Laura on the Erie Towpath
Julianne and Laura on the Erie Towpath

Julianne and her sister Laura rode a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail while on a trip to Ohio in early May 2016. We made a visit to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park after we found that part of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath runs through that park.  Julianne and Laura rode about a 10 mile section of this 85 mile long path which actually runs from Scranton Flats in Cleveland down to Bolivar, Ohio.  While they rode the predominantly crushed gravel trail, I visited some sites in the National Park.

Montour Trail cycle logo
BlackPump4Montour Trail – Pittsburgh, PA  (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne at the Montour Trail in Pennsylvania
Julianne at the Montour Trail in Pennsylvania

On another trip in May 2016, Julianne visited her sister in Canonsburg, PA. Right outside of Canonsburg is the Montour Trail which actually runs from the northwest of Pittsburgh (starting at Moon Township), down through Pittsburgh and into Canonsburg area. It is about a 30 mile trail. The unique thing about that trail is that it also meets up with a much larger trail called the Great Allegheny Passage Trail.  Complete from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage connects with the 184.5-mile C&O Rail Trail to create a 335-mile non-motorized route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.  They hope to ride the complete trail in 2017.

DawkinsLine
BlackPump3halfDawkins Line Rail Trail – Swamp Branch, KY  (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne riding the Dawkins Line Trail in SE Kentucky
Julianne riding the Dawkins Line Trail in SE Kentucky

In early June 2016 Julianne and I  took a trip down to Salyersville, KY (actually to the small village of Royalton) in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. This was at the trail head of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail, the longest Rail Trail in Kentucky.  It is currently 18 miles long, but will be extended to 36 miles in the next year or two. The second half of the trail was to be completed and opened to the public in November 2015, but was still not completed on our visit. It will supposedly extend farther west into Breathitt County and will include access to the 1,556-foot Tip Top Tunnel. The trail passes by historical coal structures, goes over 24 scenic trestles and also includes the Gun Creek Tunnel, which spans nearly 700 feet. It was the first trail that she had been on with a tunnel.

MiamiValley
BlackPump5Little Miami Scenic Trail – Southern Section – Xenia, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne and David at Xenia Station on the Little Miami Scenic Trail
Julianne and David at Xenia Station on the Little Miami Scenic Trail

In mid-June 2016 we made our first trip to Ohio so Julianne could ride the southern portion of the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 78 mile trail that stretches from Springfield, OH (north of Columbus) all the way to Newton, OH (just outside of Cincinnati). On this trip she decided to take the southern half of the trail, from the main Xenia Station to the small town of Morrow (the trail actually goes all the way to Loveland, but it was a bit too far to ride that day.)  as of this trip, Julianne has been happiest about this particular trail, thus a Five Pump rating.

Signage on Little Miami Trail
Signage on Little Miami Trail

The trail is paved all the way and has lovely shady areas, some nice bridges and also links to a number of other trails that comprise the 330-mile network of paved, off-road trails in Ohio’s Miami Valley.  Eventually this trail will be a link in a trail that will go from the Ohio River in Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie in Cleveland (called the Ohio to Erie Trail).

 

 

 

NorthBend

BlackPump3North Bend Rail Trail – Cedar Grove, WV (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne and Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV
Julianne and Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV

In late June 2016 Julianne once again met up with her sister in West Virginia for a ride down the North Bend Rail Trail. It is a 72-mile trail in north-central and western West Virginia and is operated by West Virginia State Parks.  It is also part of the and is part of the American Discovery Trail.  On our June trip, we started at North Bend State Park and she and her sister rode west to Cedar Grove (Happy Valley).  The trail has 13 tunnels that were originally constructed by the B&O railroad. One of the tunnels, nearly 2000 feet long, is also supposedly haunted.

North Bend Trail signage
North Bend Trail signage

Julianne rated this trail a three due to the nature of the trail.  There are parts with rough, sharp gravel that are not conducive to hybrid tires.  But, on the other hand, the trail has some beautiful scenery.

Unfortunately for her, just after the long tunnel she got a flat tire and had to walk nearly five miles to meet me at the next location.  Cell service is scant along this trail and much of the trail is not close to any roads.

 

 

MiamiValley

BlackPump5Little Miami Scenic Trail – Northern Section – Springfield, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Julianne, Marissa and grandkidz heading off on the northern section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail
Julianne, Marissa and grandkidz heading off on the northern section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail

In early July 2016 we took our daughter and her three children and headed north to Springfield, OH to catch the northern section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail.  This portion of the trail runs form Springfield, goes near a great dairy (perfect for an ice cream stop!), passes through the artsy town of Yellow Springs and makes its way into Xenia and beyond.  Like the southern section, it is all paved and very scenic.  There are a number of side trails available.

TriCtyTriangleTrl-S

BlackPump5Tri-County Triangle Trail – Washington Court House, OH (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

One of the fun signs along the Tri-County Triangle Trail
One of the fun signs along the Tri-County Triangle Trail

We visited this trail in early July 2016, taking a trip up to the town of Washington Court House, OH.  Julianne rode the 32 miles into Chillicothe, OH.  Like the other Miami Valley trails, this one is paved all the way and also very scenic, though it has less shade than the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Also, unlike the Little Miami, there are many more rural areas without cell phone service.  But, Julianne said it was a fun and enjoyable ride.

Virginia Creeper

BlackPump4Virginia Creeper Trail – Damascus, VA (Click here for Trail Post with photos)

Click here for RTC TrailLink Details

Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and fun rides out there, the Virginia Creeper is about 33 miles of bike riding bliss. We visited in mid-July 2016 and took the drive from Damascus, VA to White Top Station in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.  From there the ride begins with a nearly 17 mile downhill glide on the crushed gravel surface.  The trail goes through luscious forests, passes by a number of Christmas Tree farms and over a number of bridges and trestles into Damascus (known as Trail Town USA), which is a perfect place to stop for a break before tackling the more challenging ride to the trail’s end in Abingdon, VA.

Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA - one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA – one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail

Damascus has a number of Shuttle companies that will take you and your bikes to White Top and then you can ride down.  You can also catch similar shuttles in Abingdon.

Julianne rates this a 4 1/2 only because the gravel trail can be tricky.  However, young kids and older folks all seem to enjoy the downhill ride.  The last 6 miles into Abingdon is a gradual uphill battle, but doable. Definitely one of America’s MUST VISIT trails.  That is why it is a Hall of Fame Trail.

Virginia Creeper is a Rail Trail Hall of Fame trail
Virginia Creeper is a Rail Trail Hall of Fame trail

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