Going the Distance: Lawrence Dye has been pedaling the Virginia Creeper Trail for 15 years.

If you rode your bike around the Earth six times, you would still have to pedal farther to match the mileage of Lawrence Dye…and he’s 80 years old.

You have probably crossed paths with Dye if you’ve been on the Virginia Creeper Trail in the past 15 years. The Legend of the Creeper Trail has logged over 165,000 miles on the trail and shows no signs of slowing down even as he approaches his 81st birthday. Dye’s trail persistence has been intertwined with the Creeper Trail virtually since its inception as one of the premier rails to trails paths in the Southeast.

The last Virginia Creeper train ran in 1977, so nicknamed due to the slow crawl it took over the mountain railroad and the ivy that flanked its route. Through a partnership among the towns of Abingdon and Damascus and the U.S. Forest Service, the Creeper Trail was refurbished for bike, horse, and foot traffic and opened to the public in 1984. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1985. The trail stretches a total of 34.3 miles from downtown Abington to a mile past Whitetop Station at the Virginia-North Carolina border.

The trail’s transformation was not without controversy, however. Since the 15-mile stretch between Abingdon and Damascus runs through mostly private land, homeowners posed a significant roadblock to the trail’s creation. Despite the throughway being purchased from Norfolk and Western Railway, many landowners hoped to reclaim the land as their own. Lawsuits, heated town council meetings, and a series of sabotage attempts followed, including placing obstacles on the trail and the mysterious burning of a trestle in 1985. It was obvious there needed to be an advocate for the young Virginia Creeper and its purpose as a recreational, multi-use trail.

Dye began riding the Virginia Creeper casually after retiring as a state auditor in 1988. He began pedaling the trail in earnest beginning in 1990. Although he has ridden its length thousands of times since then, that first 17-mile trip was a doozy.

“I just rode from Abingdon to Alvarado and back. I didn’t have much problem doing it, but I got back to my house and tried to get out of my truck and I nearly fell,” he remembers. “I just wasn’t used to doing it.”

Legend of the Virginia Creeper from Summit Publishing on Vimeo.

Despite the inauspicious beginning, that first ride sparked a passion for the trail that shows no sign of fading. Despite the 3% grade heading from Damascus to Whitetop Station, Dye tackled the entire 68-mile round trip nearly five times a week for two decades. His career as an auditor and his acquired habit of record keeping made it easy to log his almost daily trips and the mileage began to pile up.

“It just started happening,” says Dye. “When I got to 50,000, I said, ‘I’ll step it up a little. If I do 10,000 miles a year over the next five years, I’ll get to 100,000.’ So that’s what
I did.”

“We’ve got our own Lance Armstrong right here,” declared Wayne Miller, current president of the Virginia Creeper Trail Club.

The nonprofit Virginia Creeper Trail Club was formed in 1989 to oversee the maintenance, promotion and preservation of the trail. Today, an estimated 200,000 people traverse the trail each year and is kept in shape by a network of club members deemed Creeper Keepers. But probably no one has done more to promote the trail than its most seasoned veteran and official Trail Ambassador. Dye has been greeting visitors, cleaning up trash and helping to change tires on the trail on a daily basis for over 20 years, a fact that does not go unnoticed by trail users, both local and from out of state.

“I ride it so much and I love it,” he says. “I meet people all the time and they know me. They’re looking for me and stop and take a picture. It promotes the trail and it’s been good for me.”

The large amount of Creeper traffic coming through town has been a boon to the local economy. So much so, an entire industry has developed around it including shuttle buses, restaurants and lodging. This puts a lot of pressure on the trail during the peak summer months, but Dye sees this as a continuation of the trail’s true purpose.

“The shuttle service provides a way for the whole family to use [the trail]. From Whitetop down, you can ride without much effort, if you can keep from wrecking,” he says, laughing.

Dye rides at a pace that belies his age. During his rides he is constantly on the pedals and moves with surprising speed. His use of the trail as a physical fitness regime is surely to be admired, but that is not the only reason he continues to ride. The natural beauty of the Virginia Creeper Trail, with its 47 trestles, river crossings, and pristine open pastures and rolling hills, is also a motivating factor. But what ultimately brings Dye back to the trail after all these years is the human element of the trail, its ability to bring a community and strangers together on common ground.

“Some people say it’s crazy to do it, but I do it anyway,” he says. “I meet people all the time from all over the world, and that’s a great joy.”

Ride with the Legend

Want to take a spin on the Creeper Trail with Lawrence Dye? You’ll have your chance on July 28 during the annual Ride With the Legend event. Lawrence and crew ride the entire trail from Abingdon to Whitetop and back in conjunction with the weeklong Virginia Highlands Festival. Think you have what it takes?

Tell us if Lawrence Dye is the most inspring outdoor person to you and more in the Best of the Blue Ridge Ballot!

Wolf Hills Brewing Company

The latest addition to Virginia’s craft beer renaissance is Wolf Hills Brewing Company in Abingdon. Brewing in small batches and distributing, for now, only in the Virginia Highlands, Wolf Hills has built a reputation for fresh and creative brews like their White Blaze Honey Cream Ale and Creeper Trail Amber Ale. You can find their beer on tap around town or stop in for a tasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.