On this mini-vacation we took advantage of every benefit that retirement offers. That is, we left home on a Monday and avoided all the summertime, weekend traffic. We drove east from our home in the Kanawha Valley in western West Virginia and almost 200 miles into the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to the town of Abingdon, Virginia.
So many small mountain towns in Appalachia are has-beens nowadays. A hundred or even fifty years ago they may have been prosperous, when mining and timbering were in full swing and those industries relied on lots of labor. All of those miners and timbermen needed butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and thus the little towns in the mountains thrived for generations.
Lots and lots of those once-prosperous places are nearly ghost towns now. The storefronts on Main Streets empty or housing second-hand thrift stores. Not Abingdon. Even though this town is high in the Appalachians, it has escaped the economic bust that has affected the region all around. This place is prosperous, well maintained and busy. It boasts a live theater – the “Barter” – a four or five star resort hotel – once the “Martha Washington,” now “The Martha” – and lots of unique and upscale eateries.
But we come here in the first place for access to the Virginia Creeper Trail. We are avid cyclists and this trail – all 33 miles of it – is just our speed, just perfect for our tastes. It’s an abandoned railroad bed, now restored and surfaced with crushed gravel. It’s railroad grade, of course, so that means the hills are gentle, gradual climbs or descents. And the crushed gravel surface makes for easy riding. We both ride so-called “fitness” bikes. They are one step away from true road bikes in that they have tires that are just a bit wider and flat, instead of dropped handlebars. Even with our narrow tires we have no trouble on the surface of this trail and we average about ten miles an hour when the two of us travel together.
The trail follows mountain streams and you are never far from a breathtaking view of some whitewater turn in a creek or river. This time of year, moreover, you are almost always completely entunneled in the forest canopy. It makes for cool and easy riding.
This morning we were on the trail just after nine o’clock headed for the town of Damascus, some 16 miles east. On this Monday morning, we had the trail almost to ourselves. (Another advantage of retirement.) There were a few walkers near some of the towns, but we travel at a modest speed and we were never passed one time today, either on our way to Damascus or our way back.
We really enjoyed our cool morning. It had rained hard the night before and the streams were high and rushing. We stopped in the little town of Alvarado, at about our halfway point, and watched some kind of bird of prey work the river there.
We knew we had all of that coming. We expected the natural beauty and the accommodation of the well-maintained trail, but we did get a nice surprise in Damascus.
We’d planned to eat lunch there and rest before starting our return. Sixteen miles through cool forest is enough to work up an appetite, even if the pavement is smooth and the grades gentle. We’d heard of a coffee house there called Mojo’s Trailside Cafe and planned to make that our landing. Damascus is a neat little town, too. Built around the tourist trade. It’s here that the Virginia Creeper Trail intersects with the continent-long Appalachian Trail and, in season, the town bustles with the comings and goings of hikers and bicyclists.
So Mojo’s sounded like a good place, but it was better than we expected. We’re primal eaters, so I ordered a salad called the “Chop-Chop” and my wife had the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, without the bun. Both were absolutely delicious! This place serves good food! Everything about my salad was just right. The lettuce deep green and crisp, flavorful tomatoes, excellent bleu cheese dressing and no skimping on the bacon and crushed boiled eggs.
My wife’s platter was amazing, too. Lots of thin slices of savory beef, not overcooked, and plenty of melted cheese covering it all up.
I was so impressed (and happy) that I asked to meet the chef. The guy who made our stuff is Tom Hubbard and he works in the kitchen there with chef TJ Caudell.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood of the town of Damascus, Virginia, you’ll have to give Mojo’s coffee house a try. You won’t be disappointed.