The best part of this experience was that I hadn’t really ridden a bike before. My boyfriend always wanted us to bike together, but I never had the confidence to bike alone. We thought of an interesting solution: tandem biking.
Here are 11 things I learned while tandem biking along the Virginia Creeper Trail.
1. Go when the leaves start changing color
Out in what felt like the middle of nowhere in Virginia between the towns Abingdon and Damascus, the Virginia Creeper Trail offers everything you need in a mountain trail: bridges, old railroads, slopes, streams, rolling fields of farmland. The only thing that could have made this trail better was if I went in the fall. I’m sure when the leaves change to shades of gold, orange, and red, the trail’s beauty peaks.
2. Ask and you may receive freebies
My boyfriend Ryan and I drove up to the “Shuttle Shack” in the cutesy town of Damascus for bicycle rentals and shuttle services for the Virginia Creeper Tail. The shack is family owned and operated, and the service was friendly. They even gave us free water bottles, helmets, and emergency tire repair kits with our bike rentals. See what you can get from your rental company for free and they might surprise you.
3. Have the less experienced rider in the backseat
I was nervous out of my mind. I had sworn off bikes since crashing a tricycle as a toddler. After some pre-tandem bike research, I found that the person in the backseat is better off with less biking experience. I thought this was ridiculous. When is less experience ever better?
I realized that my inexperience helped with my ride because I didn’t try to take control. On a tandem bike ride, all steering and control go to the front rider. An experienced backseat rider could be stressed by their lack of control.
4. Put the most experienced and strongest bicyclist in the front
By the end of the trail, Ryan was exhausted because the front rider does a lot more work. The front rider is responsible for steering, braking, and keeping the bike balanced. I recommend putting the strongest and most experienced biker in the front.
5. Take your time and enjoy the trail
With our rentals, we took a van up the windy mountains roads to the start of the trail. On the way up, I read the trail brochure. I recommend reading what you can to take in everything the trail has to offer, including history. The history of the land provided a greater sense of place.
The total length of the Virginia Creeper trail is 34.3 miles. The trail began as a footpath for the Native Americans. That, of course, didn’t last and the trail became useful for European pioneers such as the famous early explorer, Daniel Boone. A railroad using steam locomotives was built on the trailside to transport timber, iron ore, goods, and people. Eventually the trail gained its name, sharing the title of a vine that grows in the area.
6. Dress deliberately
As we went during the hot summer, I wore basic jean shorts and short sleeves, nothing fancy. I never got too hot in the summer air from the constant breeze as we set off downhill. Ryan put on sunscreen, but I didn’t and did not end up with sunburn as there was a generous amount of shade.
How I appropriately dressed for the weather and trail was pure luck. My advice for the summer or fall season: dress light and tie a light jacket around your waist or keep it in a backpack. That’s my usual outdoor get-up. Of course this also depends on where and when you are biking, so keep those factors in mind. But no matter where or when you go, helmets are always a must!
7. Take breaks
Bikes travel so fast that it can be difficult to enjoy certain aspects of the trail. Taking breaks allows you to take in things that could be missed.
As an animal lover, I took note of every living creature on the path. Butterflies flew past the trail with a love of the wildflowers. We rode by horseback riders. We even saw a groundhog, the tubby creature crawling up a mountainside.
Not all the trail was nature. Our most noteworthy break was the Green Cove Stop. It was a post office, general store, and freight office back when the old railroad was in operation. Now a souvenir and snack stop for bikers and hikers along the trail, this was a great place to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the atmosphere of the old railroad.
8. Enjoy the attention
Tandem bikes are hard to come by on the average trail, so prepare for a lot of attention. Ryan and I gathered commentary from everyone we rode past. I overheard a little boy say to his mom, “I want to do that with you!”
9. Opt for gel seats if you’re a beginner
The bike seats were uncomfortable. My butt ached for two days after the ride. During the ride, I even had the courage to even stand up on the bike pedals to give my butt a break. I suggest getting gel seats or even bringing something of your own to sit on if you’re not used to riding bikes.
10. Capture the moment
Ryan’s father rode up behind us on his bike, taking short videos of us riding. We took selfies with our helmets and some photos of the wildlife. If you are planning to have fun memories, why not preserve them?
11. Prepare to have your trust challenged
This was a great trust building exercise. If I ever needed to stop or if Ryan wanted us to speed up, we had to communicate. Some long term couples aren’t able to tandem bike together, a fact that made me appreciate our communication skills as a couple. There was a moment when Ryan pedaled too fast and I had to lift my feet from the rapidly spinning pedals, but it only happened once.
The ride was such a new experience for me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. If biking isn’t usually your thing, bring an experienced buddy. If you just want to test the amount of trust in your relationship, take a tandem bike ride!