Wake up on a Saturday morning in Virginia's mountains and you have so many different ways to go outside that it's nearly impossible to pick just one.
Kurt and Gail Rheinheimer pause from lunch to debate peak identification from a favorite Virginia mountain spot (in the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, near where the Appalachian Trail crosses Hog Camp Gap east of Buena Vista).
It’s a game of chicken my wife and I play every week starting about Thursday mid-day: If neither of us has said yet where we’re going outside on Saturday, there emerges a competition as to who’s going to come up with it.
I mean when you consider the Virginia mountain region – up north to Bath and Highland counties, on down along the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountains to where I-77 cuts a swath through Bland, Wythe and Carroll counties, you have more git-out-there lures than anywhere else in the state. And more than in a lot of whole states in toto. Especially when your east-west stretch is from the West Virginia line over to about 25 miles east of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Start with the 11 designated Wilderness Areas in the territory, many with the Appalachian Trail walking though them.
Or with the nearly countless miles of mountain-biking trails throughout our hundreds of thousands of acres of Washington-Jefferson National Forest.
Or the great flows of the James and the New, the Jackson and the Maury, the Pigg and the Blackwater. Or beautifully inviting impoundments with names like Carvins, Smith Mountain, Moomaw and Claytor.
Pick an outdoor love and you’ll find a way to enjoy it to the limits you pick (or ignore) in Virginia’s mountains.
And yes, Gail and I bike some, run some, paddle a little and camp even less; but we are mostly hikers in these woods, and have been just about every weekend for the last 10 years.
So last week, I had a couple of wanna-do’s up my sleeve as Friday evening rolled around and nobody’d said anything.
What she said into my thoughts was well, Kurt, we’ve got family stuff both days this weekend, so don’t get us too ambitious. As if she knew I was pining for either House Mountain up by Lexington or the Mountain Lake-area loop that takes you out onto Wind Rock via the AT.
It’s a huge compliment to our region’s bounty that I fell asleep Friday night with the perfect, right-nearby plan to spring on her Saturday morning.
You offer your girl (in my case The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All) that new piece of the Tinker Creek Greenway, by Exit 146 of I-81 – just a 2.4-mile walk to the Carvins Cove boat dock – followed by lashing the picnic-toting daypacks to a two-person kayak, and she’ll be on it.
The trail was as flat and easy as ever. And the kayak guy played on the Cove’s boat-rental reputation right away by telling us he’d need to see our drivers licenses, birth certificates and passports.
We figured two hours would be plenty out on the calm, clear water, even given our penchant for a leisurely lunch once we’ve earned it. It’ll be a half day next time. Plus I’m working on how to integrate the hike-bike we do out there sometimes – along the forest road to Sawmill Branch Trail, where you lock your bike to a tree and hike up to the AT.
Our Saturday last week is just the tiniest example of how to put your outdoor time together in Virginia’s mountains.
And since you’re ready for many many more, we’re immensely pleased to present you with Volume I, Number 1 of LifeOutside. Because in these pages, you’ll find recommendations from some of the most passionate outdoors people in the state, let alone the region. From people who build the hiking and biking trails to people who will guide you down a river or into a wild cave. And many more, all with ideas on where to go outside and play.
And speaking of our mountainous outside and all of its wonders, there are two people who deserve special thanks for the fact that Vol. I, No. 1 is in your hands.
About the time last year that he came to town to help head up LeisureMedia360, Steve Beyer started getting his feet wet in Roanoke by stopping by this big field of tents and people and dogs and beer and music and fun that he came across.
“Holy cow,” he came into the office gushing, “do you guys know about this GO Outside Fest thing?!”
We did, but we didn’t have the vision that Steve did to go talk to Pete Eshelman, the force behind RoanokeOutside.com and the festival. Here a year later, Steve’s got us a new magazine and Pete is about to host the fourth annual GO Outside Festival at Rivers Edge along Wiley Drive in Roanoke. Details are on page 26.
See you there, and see you out under our beautiful Virginia mountain skies.