The Virginia Creeper Trail, or as I like to call it “The Trail of Doom” (a repost from 2010)

In the beautiful, quaint, and tiny town of Damascus, VA, you will encounter many vacation-worthy locations. There are wonderful coffee shops, antique resale stores, but the biggest attraction in Damascus- besides the breathtaking views-  is the Virginia Creeper Trail. The Trail is a 30-some odd mile stretch of dirt that takes you through the most beautiful sites in God’s country. Travelers may explore on foot, on horseback, but the most frequent form of transportation is the bicycle.

I was a little hesitant to go on this cycling trip when asked by my sister considering I haven’t been on a bicycle in over 18 years. You’ve heard the old expression, “It’s just like riding a bike…”? Well, I was trusting that this would be the case. So I loaded up with about 35 other people from my church, children and adults, and we headed out for our adventure to Virginia.

The weather could not have been more perfect. I’ve always loved this weather. The air was crisp enough that most people had on their shorts and t-shirts covered with a sweatshirt or light jacket. The sky was perfectly blue dotted with puffy white clouds. You could feel that fall was just around the corner.

After an hour and a half drive we arrive at our outfitter. Everyone stood in line to be fitted for their bikes. Mine was a lovely purple and silver little number. I didn’t even attempt to ride the bike at this point for fear of making a total fool of myself in front of the “professional” bikers.

Once everyone has been fitted all bikes are loaded onto trailers attached to several vans and we are all transported up the mountain to our drop off destination. Our group would be traveling a 17-mile stretch of the Trail. For people maintaining a leisurely pace this ride would take about 2 ½ to 3 hours. I was nervous, but still very excited. I’ve needed some alone time in which to clear my head and this trip seemed like the perfect opportunity. What could be more peaceful than riding through God’s creation and just taking a deep breath?

When we reached the top of the mountain we all unloaded and selected our bikes. Still too nervous to attempt to ride the thing, I gently pushed my bike to the public outdoor restroom. Without going into any detail and not wanting to take anything away from the stunningly beautiful scenery, I would suggest that anyone planning to make a trip to The Virginia Creeper Trail use a restroom facility BEFORE you arrive at the Trail. Frighteningly yuck.

It’s time to begin. I get on my bike s-l-o-w-l-y. Once I have achieved some sense of balance I start to pedal. I did it! It wasn’t hard at all! So away we go. Most people come to the Trail with friends and although you may start with your pack, you will most likely end up biking at your own pace, falling behind or speeding up and waving at your pals as you go by. I had decided that I was going to attempt to stay with Jessica so that we could have a little sister bonding time. Her girls, Neely and Emma, were also with us (ever so briefly) until they decided that they were tired of riding with the slow old people and zoomed off to ride with their friends.

It’s difficult to put into words just how refreshing this moment in time was. The trees are just everywhere. They are tall and majestic. The leaves haven’t fully started to turn yet, but you could almost feel the colors wanting to burst out of them. At some places along the Trail you are riding next to a slow-rippling stream. The sound of the water was enough to put you to sleep if you’d let it. There are lots of people on this trail. Friendly cyclists who would announce, “Passing on the left” as they would ride past you. Jess and I are talking and sharing stories as we travel our course. A sweet gal from our church is laughing as she rides by and tells us that she has coasted the entire way, not even having to pedal once. I admit I’m a little envious because I’m already feeling the sting in my upper thighs.

At some point, around mile 6, I started to feel brave. With the exception of having to stand up on my pedals at various intervals to make the appropriate butt adjustments, this ride was absolutely perfect. So I decided it was time for me to venture ahead. I find myself up ahead of Jessica, catching up with our friend Cindy the coaster, as I make my way through this picturesque countryside. Suddenly I’m so overwhelmed with God’s power and awesomeness that I begin to sing to Him out loud. I’m singing and riding and riding and singing. God is so good. His creation is so lovely.

In the movie “City of Angels” there is a scene in which Meg Ryan is riding a bicycle on a presumed to be empty highway. She throws her head back and takes her hands off the handlebars. This was me. I was having my Meg Ryan moment (only without the overly collegan-injected lips). Then it happens. Just as Meg encountered a horrible distraction during her ride, so was I about to encounter mine. When I looked at the trail ahead I realized I was going too fast for the turn I would need to make. Foolishly I grabbed onto the front brakes with all of the strength I could muster and my front wheel began to skid on a group of wet leaves. Before I could even process what was happening, my bike nose-dived off the 20-foot embankment which was to my left. I knew I was going to be killed. I’ve always heard that when you think you’re about to die that your life passes in front of your eyes. Mine did not. I only remember thinking, “This is going to be really bad” so I shut my eyes and hoped for the best.

It happened very quickly. I do remember that my bike flipped over with me still on it as I was careening down the cliff. I was being thrown and then dragged face first through bushes and grass and those horrible little stickers and thorns. I felt a lot of pain in my legs, arms, neck and face. When the momentum died and I finally came to a stop all I saw was blood… everywhere. I was coming from my face, my hands, my legs- not pretty. I needed help. I began to call for Cindy, my coasting friend. Obviously Cindy had coasted too far ahead to hear my screams for help. I then remembered that Jessica was somewhere behind me. I started shouting her name. I realized that because I was so far down the embankment that no one would be able to see me if I remained flat on the ground. I had to stand up. I was very shaky, but managed to slowly push myself out up of this blasted beautiful scenery and continued to shout for Jess. We determined later that I had screamed for her 3 times before she was able to hear me. On my 4th scream she says, “Amanda, where are you?” This is when I lost my resolve and started to cry. “I’m down here, Jess, and I need help.” Just as I got the words out three cyclists who just happened to be riding along the stream stopped to offer assistance. One of them came to me and gave me her hand to help me out of the brush. Would you believe that one of these total strangers was a nurse?  She checked me all over and then began whipping out Band-Aids and Neosporin like nobody’s business. She had a virtual walk-in clinic in that backpack of hers. As I’m being tended to I carefully (because my neck is incredibly sore) look to the top of the embankment and I see Jess. She is very upset and is saying to me, “I don’t know how to get down to you.”

Now, I must interject here to give a little background so you readers can get full appreciation of this next aspect of my story. I have a wonderful friend who goes to church with me. I’ve promised not to use her name here, but most of you can probably figure who she is. This friend is one of those women who have the sweetest, kindest voices you have ever heard. She’s the kind of mother you can’t EVER imagine raising her voice. My friend had made the trip with us and was standing by Jessica at the top of the embankment looking down on the carnage. I hear her say, “Oh Amanda, I’m coming” and just like Wonder Woman she starts sliding and scooting and falling her way down the cliff to me. Then this is the exact conversation as I heard it coming from her dear, little mouth in the sweetest of voices- “Oh, Amanda!”…… “Oh, HORNETS!”…..”Oh, $%^&!” When she reaches the bottom of the embankment she is a blur of jumping and slapping trying to get the hornets off of her from the nest she has just put her foot into. Looking back it was quite the comedy, but at the time… trauma.

By this time a huge crowd had gathered, both people from our church group and total strangers stopping to observe the chaos. Jess had learned that if she went further down the trail there was a cut through to get down to me. She and her husband and our pastor walked over and stood to my left. Jess starts examining my scratched, cut, and bleeding legs and offers to help with the onslaught of Neosporin and Band-Aid application. As she’s moving my legs to get to the cuts, I come to a most unfortunate realization- I have split my shorts completely down the front seam. I realize the importance of being doctored at this time, and am most appreciative of everyone’s help, but I also painfully aware that the entire world has a bird’s eye view of my drawers. Jess and I get a little tickled as I’m attempting to maneuver my shorts, not move my neck, and hope that total strangers and church members aren’t accidentally participating in the peep show.
I would say the entire ordeal took about 20-30 minutes start to finish. After I was fully bandaged several people offered to help me stand. I was a little shaky, but managed to get to my feet. My brother-in-law Jeff looks over to me and says, “Well hey, Amanda, we only have 11 more miles to go!” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? All I’ve been thinking about is my possible paralysis and spinal injuries. It never even OCCURRED to me that I’d have to continue riding out of this deadly terrain! There was no other choice. I had to get right back on that vehicle of doom and ride myself out of these Virginia hills. And I did just that. Sure my neck was stiff. Sure my butt was still sore as we rode. Sure I was smart enough to tie my long-sleeved white shirt to the FRONT of my shorts- making me look like a waitress at Denny’s. But you know what? I had an awesome ride. I had a great time with my family. At the end of that ride I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Let me share with you what I learned about myself and our God…

There will be times in our life that we know something bad is about to happen (or is currently happening). Something so bad, in fact, that we’d like to just close our eyes and let whatever happens happen. I learned that even though God may allow us to fall down, He provides us with wonderful people to help us recover and gives us the strength to keep moving. Getting back up on that bike confirmed to me that no matter how difficult my days seem to be lately, there is nothing that I cannot do with His help. My ride could have ended much worse that day. My life circumstances could have ended much worse than they have. I have no doubt that God is in control of each move that I make.

I plan to make another trip to The Virginia Creeper Trail very soon. I welcome anyone of you to join me. Would you please just remember to pack some Neosporin and Band-Aids in your backpack?

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