If you happen to be a resident of or a traveler to Southwest Virginia one of the must-do activities is a trip down the Virginia Creeper Trail either by foot or bike. The Creeper Trail is a 34 mile path from Abingdon to Whitetop Mountain that was fashioned from the remains of the rail line of the same name.
It is a wonderful venture through the forests and rolling hills of the area that crosses streams, pastures, open fields and wooded glens. Time on the trail any part of the year is a delight, but for me, Spring and Fall are particularly soul-stirring. The vivid post-winter greens are soothing and the bright, multi-colored scenes of the fall inspiring.
I grew up next to the trail, but that has been so long ago that then it was the actual rail line. The frequent runs of the train had slowed because of the declining need to ship the raw materials, mostly lumber, the Creeper hauled. The Creeper made its run only once or twice a week as I recall, and mostly at night.
Our house was about a mile from the track and a view of the railway was obscured by hills and forest between, but I could always here the rumble of the engine and the call of the whistle as the train wound through the “Knobs”.
My curiosity about the Creeper had been awakened at a young age and one of my preteen goals was to explore the rail line. As my age and mobility increased, so did my interest in the line. One day, when I was eight or nine, my cousin and I decided to cast off the bonds of caution and find out just where the Creeper ran through the knobs. Now we didn’t tell anyone of our plan, because, well, it really wasn’t a plan. More of a spur of the moment decision.
The creek that ran through our property and the two pastures took the path of least resistance through the fields and into the Knobs, so we followed the creek. We were into the least resistance thing. We climbed a couple of barbed wire fences designed to restrain cows, not boys, negotiated a few brier bushes and laurel thickets and in less time than it took to milk a cow, we stumbled upon the track.
Now where? To the right was Abingdon, but we didn’t know how far and anyway, we knew Abingdon, but to the left was what? We had no clue, but we did note that it led to the distant mountains. Decision made. Left to the unknown country and high adventure.
We only went a couple of miles that day, we were keenly aware of the time, after all we had to be back in time to “get the cows”. We stayed on the bed, eschewing the rails and ties, except for the two trestles we crossed, then we were obliged to use the ties. We tread carefully crossing the trestles, mindful not to get a foot caught between the ties and ever vigilant for the sound of an approaching locomotive.
No twisted ankles and the Creeper didn’t chase us off a trestle. In fact what we discovered was pretty much like what we left. A barn or two strategically positioned at the edge of a hay field. Wooded slopes transitioning to pastureland, cattle, heads up as we passed, grinding their cud, and heads back down after the new kids on the block were deemed no threat. We were cautiously aware of a couple of bulls that eyed us, but like their sisters, they eventually returned to their grazing.
Nothing new, nothing different, but at the same time, it wasn’t exactly the same. It wasn’t what we were used to, it was out of the familiar, we didn’t know where the next turn would take us, we didn’t know who or what we would meet along the line. No thrill, no adventure, but a quiet satisfaction of discovery. And, yes, we did make it back in time to “get the cows.”
© 2013, Bruce Denton. All rights reserved.