The Journey Does not have to be Perfect to be Wonderful

The Virginia Creeper Trail
An Adventure for all Ages

One broken truck air conditioner + one overflowing toilet + one dead mouse + one lost bike helmet + one power outage + 11 bike fixes + 3 bike wrecks = one perfectly imperfect weekend!

Matt texted on Thursday, one day before we left for our Virginia Creeper Trail Adventure, “AC in truck is broken”!!  We were planning to leave for a trip that would take more than 5 hours the very next day, and it had been in the 90’s all week.  That sounded hot and maybe a bit impossible with two young children.  Our faithful mechanic could not work on our truck until after our trip.  Do we cancel or press on?  After praying, checking the weather, and my mother reminding me that our family went to Florida with no AC when I was young (unspoken memo: toughen up kiddo), we decided to roll down the windows and press on.

I had shopped, cooked, and packed for two days.  Then, as I began loading on Friday morning I saw IT!  The little black pellets that told me a small “friend” had taken up residence in our camper. YUCK!!!  That is the best adjective I have. I cleaned and searched to make sure the critter was nowhere in sight. My fingers were crossed that maybe it was already dead, or had left the camper.

I had finished packing; we were ready to hop in the truck when Ava yelled “Mom” with such fierceness that I knew it was something urgent.  Yes, our toilet had overflowed.  She was standing in toilet water, Matt was yelling to get towels, and Noah stood in the mess to be part of the action.  Finally, we cleaned up our mess and loaded up in the truck.  I needed a vacation!

Our journey to the Virginia Creeper Trail was unexpectedly cool.  I had prayed before we left that God would help us to tolerate the heat, and honestly it felt like He reached down and sent cooler weather our way.  Our trip up to Virginia was filled with cooler temperatures, beautiful views, and a mysteriously vanishing bike helmet.  Ava shed a few tears when we realized her bike helmet had blown out of our truck bed, but she cheered right up when we went shopping for a new one!

Greyson Highlands State Park in Virginia

Finally, after hauling our rig up a winding mountain with switchback turns and eight percent grades, we arrived at our campground.  We set up camp and drove 15 minutes to Grayson Highlands State Park. Imagine walking up a hill with wild flowers growing and wild ponies munching happily – this is Grayson Highlands State Park.   The Rhododendron Trail has wild ponies along the trail that are friendly.  As we walked up the trail, my children climbed on boulders and low tree limbs along the way.  About one mile in, we saw two giant rocks at the peak of the mountain.  We spent the rest of the hike climbing these boulders.  Ava announced that rock climbing was her new passion!

Greyson Highlands State Park 
Back at camp, we set mousetraps that night for our little friend.  Shortly after we went to bed we heard the telling “whap”.  Matt jumped up and cheered like he had scored a touchdown.  My kids had to hop out of bed and see the poor fella.  I was glad seeing a dead mouse did not gross them out as much as it did me.  I was feeling cleaner already!

Our Picnic Spot on the Virginia Creeper Trail

The next morning we started the Virginia Creeper Trail at Whitetop, VA.  The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 35 mile railway bed in southwestern Virginia.  We had planned to do the trail that runs about 20 miles downhill from Whitetop, VA to Damascus, VA.  The trail was picturesque, and I found myself admiring the former railway bridges and train stations along the trail.  The Green Cove General Store had items on display that would have been sold in the 1900’s when the railroad was in its prime.  I was far more interested in the artifacts in the General Store than my children who only wanted to play on the playground next door.  The trail runs along a wide river with places to wade and picnic.  We hiked down to the river and had lunch on a flat rock that overlooked a small waterfall.  The trail is not paved, but the crushed rock is easy to ride.  Noah’s bike was the only bike that had problems.  His chain came off about once every mile.  Rachel, at the Shuttle Shack in Damascus, told me that smaller bikes often derail their chains on the trail.  We took some tools, but we did not have the correct tool to move his wheel back to tighten the chain.  Learn from our mistake and make sure to plan for that problem on your child’s bike.  Noah wrecked three times, but he is so tough.  He just hopped right back on his bike.  We coaxed our kids to peddle hard with the promise of celebratory ice cream in Damascus!

General Store in Green Cove Station

I had arranged for a shuttle service, Shuttle Shack, to take us and our bikes back to our campground up on top of the mountain.  Rachel, who runs the Shuttle Shack with her family, was very helpful.  She and her father, Junior, were from the area, and provided us with many tips. Junior was our bus driver, and I enjoyed talking with him on the drive up the mountain.  He told me about the history of the area and great camping spots to check out next time.  I highly recommend Shuttle Shack if you want to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail; they will take you to the top and let you ride down, or haul you back to the top if you start from up there.  Shuttle Shack also offers bike rentals.  They were great to work with and made our trip easy!

We finished the day with s’mores over the fire, and watched our children run through the woods.  We were tired and energized at the same time.  Being in God’s creation seems to recharge and reconnect our family.  While Matt and I were sitting by the fire, we heard an odd scratching sound.  I said, “I hear another mouse”.  Matt said, “No we just lost power. That was our gas turning on for back-up”.  We were staying at a rustic campground, so we thought the power would come back on quickly. Of course, it stayed off all night.  We had a choice, a cold shower with low water pressure in the camper, or a cold shower at the bathhouse in the dark with good water pressure.  We chose the bathhouse and we laughed and squealed while taking the fastest showers in the coldest water I have ever felt!  Ava said, “Mom, we have had such bad luck. What else is going to go wrong?”  I don’t always have the right answers to questions like that, but somehow I heard myself say, “We have had a lot of things go wrong, but that is ok.  We have still had a wonderful trip.”

This trip had several “bumps” in the road, both literal and figurative.  I had prayed that God would give us discernment about pressing on with our plans once our AC died, and I am so glad we did.  We laughed and refreshed in honestly some of the most beautiful land that I have ever seen.  There is a bond that forms when your family plays together that cannot be bought.  It is fun to be entertained, but going on an adventure as a family cannot be duplicated.

Our mishaps and hardships on this trip remind me of life. Sometimes the hard stuff makes the best memories, teaches us the most, and creates true “grit” in our family.  The hard is what makes us a little tougher and a little more reliant on God.  I laughed more in that cold shower than I had laughed in a week.  Maybe the blessings are in the hard more than on the mountaintops.  Maybe things in this life truly don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful!

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