A good beer tastes better when you earn it.
Or that’s what I keep telling myself as I wipe sweat and swirl my bike pedals on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile scenic trail in the state’s southwestern corner near the Tennessee and North Carolina borders.
A former rail line, the trail is a moderate grade and an easy bike, despite my huffing and puffing, and one with a tasty reward at one end: Wolf Hills Brewing in Abingdon, Virginia.
With another brewery in nearby Damascus and a winery at Alvarado Station, both near the Creeper Trail, it forms a bike-and-sip tour along wooded paths and trestles that traverse rivers and forest canopies in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains.
Still largely undiscovered, it’s a trek my wife and I take a couple of times each year when we spend a long weekend in Boone, an adventure hub with its own emerging craft beer scene, in western North Carolina.
The packed-gravel and dirt path stretches from Abingdon, a small town that dates to the American frontier days, eastward to Whitetop Station at the high end, a former depot that closed with the Virginia-Carolina rail line in 1977.
The bike trail
Our itinerary is a 17-mile round-trip section – the flattest and prettiest part of the trail – to Abingdon from Alvarado Station, an hour-or-so drive north from Boone through Mountain City, Tennessee.
We unload our mountain bikes at the station (21198 Alvarado Road, Abingdon), where a general store with ice cream and cold drinks sits next to a Bible church with Pastor Junior Gobble presiding.
Soon we are cruising deep in the woods, the path carved from rock cliffs along the south fork of the Holston River, riding like moonshiners, with empty growlers in our backpacks to haul beer back to North Carolina.
The highlights are the 12 wooden trestles that take us over the confluence of two forks of the Holston, through the treetops of a deep ravine and across a rolling farm.
The latter trestle, No. 7, is 454 feet long and 30 feet high, newly rebuilt and opened in April after a tornado destroyed it three years earlier. We pause to scan the aftermath still evident in the spindly trees on the nearby hillsides.
Beer, a biker’s reward
Once in town, Wolf Hills Brewing is just a right turn off the path and another couple of blocks to another right turn on Park Street, where it sits at the end in an old white house. It takes the name of what Daniel Boone in 1860 once called the area after his dogs were attacked by wolves.
The small brewery hosts a long list of craft brews, from the Creeper Trail Amber to the Whitetop Wheat, along with plenty of yard games and live music on the weekends. A tasting flight goes well with the lunch we packed for the ride.
The bike back to the car seems less enticing at this point, but we are pushed by the fading sun and encouraged by knowing it’s a slight downhill ride back to Alvarado Station.
Across the river from the station’s parking lot, just a short ride down the road, is Abingdon Vineyard and Winery, where a flight of red wine is a nice detour from craft beer. On the way back to Boone, stop at the Damascus Brewery, a still-young nanobrewery, just off the trail and main road north from town.
The more adventurous can use Damascus as the launch point for a 31-mile round-trip trek to Abingdon, hitting all three sip detours along the trail.
But for me, a shorter ride logged enough miles to earn a good beer.