No I did not drop acid.
With lousy air quality in the forecast for yesterday, I jumped in my car and drove 2 1/2 hours to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Rice, Virginia. This is one of the handful of parking places along the High Bridge Trail, a rail trail that runs about 31 miles from, well, nowhere to, well, no place. Before it gets there, it passes through the cute town of Farmville and goes over the High Bridge.
Trail users are required to pay a user fee of $4 per car. (Bring ones.) You have to pay more for parking with a trailer or if you are riding a horse. Although I did not spot a horse, I saw evidence of their presence. I suppose the higher fee covers clean up costs.
The trail has a firm crushed limestone surface that is on a par with the GAP Trail and much better than the C & O Canal towpath. It was dry and had been baking in the sun for a few days so it was almost as firm a surface as asphalt. Pretty much any commuting bike would work just fine.
The Rice trailhead is 7 miles from the eastern end of the trail. I headed east for my 14 mile warm up. The trail passes through farmland and woods. As with most rail trails, the view is obscured by trees and/or a berm running parallel. No worries. It’s still pretty.
Every few miles there are bathrooms. I didn’t use them but they looked like pit toilets. There is no water along the trail because heat stroke is the unofficial pass time of central Virginia.
After seven miles, the trail ends without much fanfare. I turned around and headed back to the car. Then kept going until reached the High Bridge 4 miles later. The bridge was an engineering masterpiece back in the mid 1800s. In addition to being long and high, it had two tiers. The top tier was for trains and there was a lower tier for people on foot or horse. The rail trail uses the top level.
Lee’s army used the bridge on its retreat from the relentless pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia after Richmond fell. Lee’s troops tried to burn the bridge but the northerners were too fast and made it across using the lower level, eventually catching the rebels at Appomattox Court House about 35 miles to the west.
The bridge deck is above all but a few tree tops. And it’s a long way down (125 feet) to the Appomattox River. It’s also quite long as you can see (2,400 feet).
A few miles beyond the bridge the trail passes through the town of Farmville, home of Longwood University and Greenfront Furniture.
I stopped at a gas station for some food. I actually bought real food: two apples, and a banana. Of course, I also picked up a candy bar, because I am without shame. More importantly, I bought 40 ounces of water. 20 went into my water bottles. The other 20 went into me. I had only ridden about 21 miles so far but I was zonked from the oppressive heat and humidity.
Being a bear of very little brain, I rode on. After another 15 miles the trail ends unceremoniously near the town of Pamplin. I think it is slightly uphill heading west because my riding speed was around 10 miles per hour heading west and 13-14 miles per hour on the return.
There isn’t much to see except trees, a deer or three, a groundhog, a bunny rabbit, some pretty impressive kudzu, a small logging operation, and a burnt out school bus. I suppose that’s the point. Even on a hot day, the High Bridge trail will take you away from your spreadsheets and meetings and bring your chill out.
When I arrived back at the car, I dismounted and was surprised by a gentle breeze. The car dash board told me it was 88 degrees. It was approximately as muggy as Baton Rouge in April. (Been there. Done that. Sweated through my suit.) This pretty much tells me that my 63-mile ride had left me roasted and toasted.
There was some discussion at home that the car I was driving had a faulty air conditioner. I am pleased to report that it worked just fine. In fact, I had to turn it down. I was frozen by the time I got home. When I opened the door of the car in my driveway, the disgusting swamp air of DC came crashing in. My windshield immediately fogged up. Gross.
If you decide to do this ride, I recommend keeping an eye out for peak foliage time (and cooler temperatures) in October. Instead of riding the eastern 14 miles, use that time to linger on the bridge and have lunch in Farmville.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that there is a craft brewery on the trail in Farmville. Because beer.