New River Trail bikamping
Last weekend, Mark, Dillon and I headed back to Virginia to spend Labor Day weekend riding and camping in New River Trail State Park. The park is a 57-mile linear stretch running along the New River, with a packed cinder trail created on an old railroad right-of-way – part of the national Rails-to-Trails system. The New River itself runs south to north, and the bike path has many trestle crossings and two wonderful tunnels.
We decided to ride from north to south, and made plans to camp at the primitive Cliffview camground at the southern end of the park. After some a little difficulty finding the northern trailhead and parking just outside of Pulaski (Xaloy?) we got the bikes packed up and headed out – Dillon on my mountain bike (fitted with rear rack and panniers), Mark on the Big Dummy, and I was on my trusty Long Haul Trucker.
The trail runs alongside the river nearly the entire way, with an almost undetectable 1% uphill grade (average) running north to south. The upper half of the trail – Foster Falls being relatively the mid-point – offers nice views of a fairly wide and shallow river, with spacious lawns and farms along the banks. For the most part, the riding is shaded, running through the woods along the banks.
Foster Falls is probably the most developed area along the trail – with a river outfitter, picnic areas, day-use parking as well as another primitive campground. We stopped here, intending to find someplace to eat lunch, and were told by the park attendant that a country store was “just up the road”.
*Note to self for future reference: when kindly lady says something is “just up the road”, chances are it’s a pretty significant detour by bicycle, unlike via her Buick!”
We headed off-trail in search of the country store, and after some searching and backtracking, we managed to find it. We stopped for a sandwich and some snacks, and ended up rejoining the trail near Austinville – only adding an additional 4-5 miles to our journey.
Let me just say this … an average 1% uphill grade may seem fairly imperceptible for a long while – but after about 50 miles, your legs will tell you that you’ve been doing some work. Nearing the end, I think we were just all anxious to see sight of the campground, as we were all ready to be out of the saddle for a while. Thankfully, Cliffview campground is a few miles before the actual endpoint of the trail (53 miles on Mark’s odometer) – and it arrived none too soon! Felt so good to park the bikes, unload and take a rest in the hammock.
We spent a restful evening at camp, had a some dinner, and hit the sleeping bags a little early. Sadly, the campground has no shower facilities – which would have been greatly appreciated. But it was quiet and comfortable, Dillon sleeping in the backpacking hammock/tarp, and Mark and I in our little tent.
Sunday morning we ate some breakfast and broke camp to head back down the trail – welcoming the fact that we would have the downhill grade this time. Although we could definitely feel the difference in our legs, it definitely didn’t feel like a downhill coast – we were continually pedalling.
One thing to note about the trail, in general, is the fact that it is multi-use for cyclists, hikers and horses … with cyclists and hikers yielding to the horses. Sharing the trail isn’t too bad. My bigger complaint would have to be the divots in the trail surface created by the horse hooves. It made for some bumpy riding in places where the trail surface was slightly soft.
Once again we decided to make our lunch stop near Foster Falls – this time in the picnic area with food we had on hand, rather than venturing off-trail again. We enjoyed a nice lunch, checked out the rafting/bicycle rental outfitter, and pondered the darkening skies. It looked like rain was on the horizon.
At one point (near Allisonia?), we were making one of the few road crossings, when a truck pulled up near us and the driver said he really would like for us to stop so that he could check out our Xtracycles. We were happy to oblige. It was kind of amusing – he was so excited “to finally get to see an Xtracycle – in person!” He and his wife and another couple were doing the same weekend bikamping – but on some pretty spiffy tandem bikes. We enjoyed talking to him, and hopefully left him with a very favorable impression of the Xtracycles.
Just after we left them, we started to feel the first drops of rain. After the last rainy trip on the Creeper Trail, I decided to immediately put on my rain jacket. Mark and Dillon decided to forego theirs. A mile or two later, the downpour started. By that time, there was nothing to do but count down the miles until we reached the car.
Although I didn’t mind riding in the rain (I was pretty dry and toasty with my jacket on), Mark and Dillon decided to speed on ahead of me, as they were getting pretty soaked. By that point, it didn’t make much sense for them to even put their raingear on – once you’re wet, you’re wet. I just rode on at my own pace, and eventually we all made it back to the parking lot and the car. Loading the wet gear and grit-covered bikes was the least fun part of the whole adventure, once again.
In the end: three bikes, two days, one night of camping, and somewhere over 100 miles of fun. I highly recommend New River Trail – a lovely ride, regardless what section(s) you choose to ride on, lightly travelled, and great for families.
Complete set of trip photos are up on my Flickr page, here.
Until next time…