I’m waking up fresh off a weekend away with my best guy. We had a marvelous time, the kids had a marvelous time with their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin. As I sat down Monday morning to catch up on the newspapers we missed while we were away, I was so saddened to read of yet another tragic hate crime. The continued loss of innocent life is just staggering. It leaves me longing for Heaven. My heart and prayers go out to the families of all those affected. Come Lord, Jesus.
Not to gloss over that exceedingly sad news, but I do have something really fun to share with you. I don’t really have a bucket list, but I do, of course have a mental list of experiences I’d like to enjoy, places I’d like to see. I guess that is a bucket list, huh? Biking the Virginia Creeper has been on that list for about 5 years now. There is just something about being out in nature that makes me feel alive. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Add to that one-on-one time with my sweet husband and you have all the ingredients for something won-duh-ful.
For those of you not in the know, the Virginia Creeper is an old railroad bed transformed into a bike path. The total length is just under 34 miles. It runs from White Top Station, Virginia to Abingdon, Virginia. For you North Carolina folks, the trails lies just north of the NC line. The trail intersects the Appalachian Trail at several points so you will run into hikers, bikers and maybe even some horses along the way.
This was such an amazing experience, I wanted to share it with you. I’m going to give you the play by play of our weekend along with all the details on how we ate mostly paleo on this trip. If you’re really only interested in what we ate, I’ve added those parts in bold so you can skim through. I’m so sorry I didn’t take pictures of any of our food. I guess I’m not that kind of food blogger. I never think to photograph my food in a restaurant. I’m just thinking about eating it. Especially after riding my bike 40 miles!
Let me start at the beginning: last Friday morning, my husband and I took off for Damascus, Virginia, the mid-way point on the Virginia Creeper. We rented a little cabin right on the trail for the weekend.
As soon as we arrived Friday, it was about lunch time and we had a 40 mile bike ride ahead of us so we decided to eat lunch in the cabin. We sat on the back porch swing, overlooking the Creeper Trail and a lovely, flowing creek. I think they call it a river, but it wasn’t a big river.
I packed gluten free bread, roasted turkey, almonds, apples and some homemade paleo cookies just thinking we might need to eat lunch at the cabin. And I’m really glad we did! The ride was a more strenuous effort than I expected and when we reached the top (our initial lunch plan) it was after three o’clock and the station was closed.
Because Chris has diabetes, we always travel with snacks, even if it’s just a short trip, so we were loaded down with a healthy trail mix (almonds, pistachios, raisins, mixed dried fruit, Unreal Brand peanut chocolate candies) to snack on, but we certainly would have been in a bit of trouble if we had not eaten ahead of time. Not to mention, we would probably not have had the energy for the ride.
It took us about three hours to ride from our cabin in Damascus (the 15 mile mark on the trail) to White Top Station (mile 33.4) and then about a mile further to the North Carolina line (just to say we did it).
For the most part, the ride from Damascus to White Top was flat or uphill. I believe the elevation climb was a total of about 2500 feet. We did not see another sole riding up the trail with us. When we sat down to rest after riding to the official end of the trail, another guy had arrived at White Top Station so apparently he was behind us the whole way, but far enough behind that we never saw him. We’re fast, I tell you.
We stopped several times along the way to give our backsides a break from the bike and just to enjoy the scenery. Oh, who am I kidding? We stopped because we needed a break, but the beautiful scenery was a bonus. There were lots of spots with benches right on the trail (which is right beside the river). The weather was pleasant with a cool breeze and low humidity. It was an amazing day. I’m told fall is even more spectacular. Adding that to the bucket list!
There are two old train stations on this leg of the trail. We only made it into one of them – at Green Cove. It was part store, part museum highlighting the history of the Virginia Creeper Line which was active from the early 1900s through 1977. It was a fascinating and fun look back at this part of our country’s history.
Very important information: there are bathrooms along the trail. Three stops from Damascus to White Top and one stop from Damascus to Abingdon.
After a nice rest at the top, it was time to descend the 20 miles we had just climbed. And then collapse! The first part of the trip back was truly all down hill and we had to apply our brakes to keep in control. What a relief it was to not have to exert so much effort. But we were sore! Our shoulders were sore. Our hands were sore. Our derrières were extremely sore.
About an hour and a half later, we rolled back into Damascus, hopped off our bikes and into the jacuzzi/hot tub in our cabin. Never has a hot tub felt so nice!
We got cleaned up and headed into Abingdon (the town at the official start of the Virginia Creeper Trail) for some dinner. I would say that this area was not particularly paleo friendly. None of the restaurants even had a gluten free menu, but they were all accommodating and the staff seemed very knowledgeable about what contained gluten and what didn’t. If I were trying to eat entirely paleo, it would have been possible, but certainly very boring. My attitude while on a special trip like this is to avoid gluten at all costs and as for all the rest (dairy, soy, legumes, refined sugar, other grains) just go with it.
We found a little place for dinner called Rain. I really had my sights set on the filet mignon with lump crab and some sort of seafood sauce served over mashed potatoes and asparagus. But alas, the seafood sauce contained a roux (a flour, butter mixture used to thicken sauces) and I figured that sauce would make the dish. So Chris had the steak and I tasted a bit of the steak without the sauce (awesome!) and ordered myself the ahi tuna with rice, roasted tomatoes and asparagus. This meal also came with a basic house salad. Nothing special, but helped fill the vegetable quotient for the day. It was amazing and actually a perfect mix of hearty, but not heavy. Did I mention that I wore my heart rate monitor on the ride and burned just under 2000 calories?
After dinner, it was pretty late so we headed back to the cabin, took another soak in the jacuzzi, then hung out on the porch swing sipping a gluten free hard cider. Now listen, I hardly ever drink alcohol. In fact, wine is on my “red list” for foods to avoid. But I really wanted a little something else after dinner and this cider sounded so refreshing. And it was!
Day 1 over and we collapsed into bed.
Saturday morning dawned just as beautiful as Friday. I brought eggs, bacon and carrot, raisin paleo muffins from home (see Practical Paleo for the recipe). This was a really hearty breakfast to start the day. Oh yeah, coffee too, of course! Did I even have to mention that?
Then we took off down the trail. Ahhh, down. The section of the trail from Damascus to Abingdon only has an elevation change of less than 1000 feet. The lowest point is somewhere in the middle of this section so it was a good balance of up and down. Though it really just felt flat the whole way. Which was fine by me! The section from Damascus to White Top was almost entirely wooded, running alongside the river. The section from Damascus to Abingdon is a little bit wooded and still does follow the river most of the way. But there is also a lot of farmland on this leg of the trail. You would be at the base of a mountain range (actually, they call them knobs not mountains) and have this beautiful view for miles around. Hay bales, tractors, gentle slopes. It made me want to put my hair in braids and run down the hill just like Laura from Little House on the Prairie.
We made it into Abingdon at lunch time, parked our bikes at the end of the trail and walked, I mean hobbled, a few blocks to an old hardware store, converted to the Bone Fire Smokehouse Restaurant. Almost everything here was gluten free so I had lots of choices. I chose smoked chicken, brisket, green beans and potato salad. The potato salad was not very good so I ended up skipping that, but I inhaled the meat and green beans. My sometimes gluten eating husband had a brisket sandwich (homemade hoagie roll) with housemade potato chips. His carbs looked really good!
Then we strolled a little ways down the street to Anthony’s Desserts for a sweet treat. They had lots and lots of choices, but the only gluten free offering was the ice cream. They didn’t seem ashamed of this either. Tsk tsk. I usually don’t like mint chocolate chip, but their’s was very good. Or maybe I just really wanted something sweet. I had such a huge serving that I couldn’t even eat it all. Chris had a blackberry swirl cheesecake that looked amazing.
After a stroll through down and a rest in a lovely little park, we made our way back to our bikes and headed “home.” This section of the trail, at 15 miles, but mostly flat, took us about two hours to ride each way.
We made it back to the cabin in time for a jacuzzi soak, some hanging out on the porch and then time to get ready for our night out. We had tickets to a show at the Barter Theater, but beforehand, of course we had to eat dinner. This day’s ride only burned about 1300 calories, but that’s still a lot and we were rightfully hungry! We chose 128 Pecan for dinner. Again, no gluten free menu, but they were very accommodating. I chose a pan sautéed chicken breast topped with garlic and butter (lots of butter) wilted spinach and smashed red potatoes. My dinner also came with soup or salad and because salad at restaurants often makes me sick, I chose the soup, which in this case was tomato bisque. I think sometimes restaurants don’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t want flour, so they fall back on butter and cheese for flavor. Do they really think that white flour has flavor? All that butter wasn’t necessary, but it was delicious. The next morning, my stomach was a little queasy, but I recovered fast. Gluten stays in your system an average of 6 weeks, wreaking havoc all the while. Dairy is out of there in 24-48 hours.
The play was great fun, but even after two cups of coffee at dinner, I found myself nodding off. A good night’s sleep was in order.
Sunday morning brought more glorious weather, though a little warmer than the past two days. Damascus is a definite trail town. All three towns on the Creeper Trail have a different feel. Abingdon feels like a wealthy, old town. There’s a fancy hotel, antique shops, the theater, and lots of nice restaurants. White Top is an old whistle stop for sure. Not much there besides the train station. Damascus is a through town for the Appalachian Trail and consequently has a decidedly hippie vibe to it.
We figured we couldn’t be so close to the AT and not hike a portion of it. Plus, we were up for more activity, but didn’t even want to look at our bikes. We found a “4 mile” loop hike that involved two local trails plus the AT and would spit us back out in downtown Damascus, near the only restaurant this whole trip that supposedly offered gluten free products.
This hike. I have some feelings about this hike. I think I’m a good sport and I truly love hiking. I’m so thankful that even with all my foot pain, I have good boots, good orthotics, good trekking poles and I am able to manage some moderate hiking. This trail was uphill for two straight miles (felt like much more). But worse than that is that it followed a stream and we were literally swarmed with bugs this entire time. I’ve never encountered anything like it. On top of that, the trail was extremely rocky. Not big rocks that you climb over, but the small to medium sized ones just perfect for twisting your ankles. We made it to the top though and eventually met up with the Appalachian Trail, which was much more pleasant terrain. There was still some climbing, but it was mostly downhill or flat with a couple lovely views. And we left that blasted stream and all those bugs.
What felt like days later, actually it was just three hours later, we made our way back to our car, drove to the cafe I had read about and settled in for lunch. Mojoe’s Trailside Cafe did indeed offer gluten free bread and could make any of their sandwiches gluten free. Both Chris and I had the daily special Philly Cheesesteak, which included peppers, mushrooms and onions. It took a long time, but it was worth the wait. We downed lots of iced tea and just enjoyed the air conditioning while we waited for our food.
We did a little shopping in town for souvenirs, then headed back to the cabin to pack up. There we found the cleaning crew impatiently waiting for us to clear out. I guess another soak in the jacuzzi was out of the question! The guy who manages the reservations, Dave, was super friendly and told me we could checkout whenever we wanted to. I guess he was wrong about that. Oops. We had zero cell service anywhere near Damascus and when we were about halfway home, I got a bunch of voicemail messages. One was from Dave. Here’s part of the message, “Well, Elizabeth, this is Dave. I guess the folks checking into your cabin are here and the cleaning folks are ready to clean. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you maybe check out? I don’t want to put you out or anything, but just whenever you can get back, we’d appreciate it.” Dave is a good guy and we would rent from him again. But we would definitely check out before heading out for the day!
We stopped for dinner at Wendy’s on the way home for a bunless burger and fries. I know their fries are contaminated because they fry breaded chicken in the same friers, but I took my chances. This was my last splurge meal of the weekend and I wanted to enjoy it. I had eaten pretty well the whole weekend. A couple Gluten Flam back home and I knew I would be fine. Oh yeah, we had some of those paleo chocolate chip cookies in the cooler and enjoyed those on the drive home as well.
If you enjoy biking, the outdoors, adventurous getaways with your special person, I highly recommend the Virginia Creeper and the River Trail Cabins in Damascus, Virginia. I would very much enjoy a weekend away at a fancy resort with fancy meals and fancy clothes and maybe a fancy spa service or two, but an outdoors-y weekend in a beautiful setting is really much more my speed.
I hope the travel food information is helpful to you. As I said earlier, I certainly could have eaten mostly paleo if I had wanted to. I’m sure plain chicken, beef, pork or fish, sautéed vegetables and salad would have been available. But food is fun and an important part of vacation for this family and I wanted to enjoy some special foods. Trust me, today it’s back to our typical meals of healthy meats, lots of veggies and the occasional starch in the form of rice or sweet potatoes.
Gluten free is so common now, you can probably manage to eat well at most restaurants and avoid at least that one bad guy. If you’re really set on staying paleo, just be prepared to eat kind of boring food. Or be “that person” and bring some of your own stuff. There’s no shame in toting your own salad dressing, coconut aminos, avocado oil mayo and the like. You do what you gotta do!
My last tip for paleo travel is to rent a place with a kitchen whenever possible. If you can even cook one meal per day, you will be so much better off than if you have to rely on restaurants 24/7. Breakfast is super easy with eggs, bacon, fruit, make ahead muffins, juice and coffee. Lunch can be deli meat, veggies, fruit, nuts and avocado. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Enjoy your summer travels! If you have great tips for eating well on the road, please share in the comments. There is a lot we can learn from each other!