Written by: Noelle Battle, Executive Director. Photos by: Ben Carpenter
Here at Bikepacking Roots, we love creating and discovering new bikepacking routes and sharing them with our growing community. However, we aim to do this within the context of supporting our broader mission. This means connecting our Routes work to other important aspects of our vision:
- Introducing individuals to new landscapes that may be undiscovered or at risk in order to:
- Inspire and empower bikepackers to be good stewards and advocates for the protection of wild landscapes.
- Connect authentically to local communities across the country and support their economic development.
- Building community among new and experienced bikepackers to further support these goals and foster personal growth.
As we expand our footprint across the country, from our historical focus in the vast public lands of the Western United States across the Great Plains and to the forests, farmlands, and more populated parts of the country our work will naturally evolve yet we aim to stay rooted in our values such as Community, Connection, Advocacy, Conservation and Responsibility.
As I continue to settle into my role leading Bikepacking Roots, I’ve been fortunate to travel around the country in the past few months and connect with bikepackers and communities in a variety of ways. One of my trips included a 3-day bikepacking experience on the Grayson Gravel Circuit in Grayson County, Virginia. This beautiful route is the newest addition to our Community Routes Project, and I believe the story of this route’s evolution is a great example of the type of work we are hoping to support and facilitate at Bikepacking Roots in the future.
I was invited to join this trip by David Landis, who I am excited to have as our Bikepacking Roots’ Regional Steward from Virginia. David is probably most known in the bikepacking community as the creator of the popular TransVirginia Bike Route. He also started and moderates the popular Bikepacking Virginia Facebook
group with over 3,500 members. David assembled a great group of bikepackers, writers and photographers to experience the Grayson Gravel Circuit and connect with local stakeholders along the way. The Grayson Gravel Circuit is a 143-mile loop version developed from the signature 72-mile route, the Grayson Gravel Traverse, which David created in 2022 in partnership with Grayson County.
The idea for the Grayson Gravel Traverse started with an opportunity identified by folks from the Grayson County Tourism office. Grayson County is a picturesque county located in Southwestern Virginia, not far away from the hugely popular bikepacking destinations of Western North Carolina. But the rural county has experienced very little tourism. Thousands of visitors every year visit the popular Grayson County State Park, but most only enter the county for that purpose and don’t stick around to contribute further to the local economy. Additionally, the county is situated perfectly between the terminus of two beautiful and popular rail trails, the Virginia Creeper Trail to the West and the New River Trail to the East. The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the most popular bike trails in the U.S., but due to the downhill grade, most riders are just shuttled into Grayson County to hop on the trail and ride downhill, out of the county, to Damascus, VA. Grayson County had a vision to give tourists a new reason to spend time in the county by creating a bike route connecting the two rail trails and utilizing the extensive network of well-maintained gravel roads in the county. This was an economical solution to create a great new resource from existing assets, and one that would appeal to a range of gravel cyclists and bikepackers.
This idea from county stakeholders turned out to be a perfect opportunity for bikepackers as well. When the county first reached out to David, he started studying the heatmaps on Strava, visualizations that can give riders an idea of popular bike routes in a given area. What he found was that there was virtually no heat in Grayson County at all, except a bit on the two main paved highways running east-west and north-south through the county. Bikepackers love getting off the beaten path, and most of Grayson County was still undiscovered. Another huge plus was the low traffic nature of all of the gravel roads on the route. The county is sparsely populated, just 15,000 residents within its 448-square-mile boundary, and without competing tourism interests, we hardly encountered any cars on most of the gravel roads of the route. Instead, we were greeted with vistas of the rolling mountains, idyllic farmland, and gently flowing rivers.
There truly were so many things to love about the route, a testament to the great care that David Landis takes in his approach to route creation. Tracy Cornett, Grayson County’s Director of Tourism Economic Development, summed this up well as we spoke outside of the historic courthouse in Independence, VA, “We are so grateful for the thoughtfulness that David put into this route. He has ridden close to every gravel road in the county and utilized the very best to create the full experience of the Grayson Gravel Traverse. Our county has such natural beauty that it is a perfect fit for adventure cyclists, and we are excited to welcome them.”
And feel welcome, indeed we did. Our group got to visit the majority of businesses that cyclists are likely to patronize on a trip through the county. It was a touching experience to see such genuine excitement from locals and to see how proud they were of the Grayson Gravel Traverse. A handy physical ‘Map and Route Guide’ has been created and it was prominently displayed in businesses and at other points of interest across the county. We were welcomed like family into places like the Grayson Highlands Inn, which was amazingly well-stocked with re-supply options and where we were treated to some amazing home cooking from the new owner, Paula. In addition to lodging, the Inn offers a great place to camp out back along a creek.
We even got to fit in a little dancing to some bluegrass music when we stopped for lunch at the annual Molasses Festival in Whitetop.
I’m grateful that Bikepacking Roots is able to be involved in a project like this. We are excited to see the bikepacking community grow and to contribute to sharing new places for people to get out and explore. Bikepacking is a means to connect people to landscapes, communities and one another. Through our work, we advocate that bikepackers minimize our impact and strive to practice “Positive Impact Bikepacking Practices.” I am excited to grow the scope of our work and to discover new ways that we can support the protection of wild places as well as the economic viability of communities through which we ride.
I hope you add the Grayson Gravel Traverse or the Grayson Gravel Circuit to your bucket list of bikepacking routes and discover the beauty of Southwestern Virginia.
To learn more about the route, check out all the information on the Grayson County website here.
You can also check out the route, and the library of all of our Community Routes shared to date here.