A Creeper Trail Adventure!

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by Libba Armenta (Arborbrook Parent & Junior High Writing Workshop Teacher)

My family joined around 100 students, parents and faculty members in Damascus, Virginia, last weekend for the third annual Arborbrook Creeper Trail trip. We had heard nothing but praise for the trip and, even though it felt a bit ambitious with our young children, we decided to give it a go. The weather forecast predicted a 90% chance of rain, but inspired by the Creeper Trail slogan, “More than a trail, it’s an adventure,” we prayed for safety and loaded up the truck anyway.

No sooner had we carried our last bag inside the cabin than the skies let loose and it began to pour. Was this going to stop our fun? Of course not! Children flocked to the open field to catch raindrops in their smiling mouths. Some older students bravely entered the cool creek water and swam all the way out to the rock. Others mounted their bikes for an adventurous, slippery ride around the campground. Tent campers were invited to sleep under the covered porches of the cabins. Our Thursday evening bonfire may have been squelched, but not our sense of adventure!

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As families gathered Friday morning at Sundog Outfitter for bike and shuttle preparations, conversations seemed to center around rain survival and tall cups of morning coffee. The shuttle vans knew the way up the winding roads, but our stomachs did not. After a few minutes, passengers on the back rows of the van commiserated over feeling queasy. But before we knew it, we were greeted by mountaintop air, fresh, cool, and inviting. We climbed on our bikes, snapped a few pictures, and began the journey.

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The Creeper Trail was breathtaking and peaceful. Patches of the gravel trail were damp, but the tree canopy had spared most of our path from the rain. Every plant in sight showed signs of the Virginia summer’s gentle warmth and abundant precipitation. We watched the creek for miles, enjoying its gentle soundtrack. With quiet space comes a heightened awareness of all that is around. Think of the last time you looked as far as you could in every direction and found not one person. What a treat to enjoy the mountain breeze and beauty with the sense that they were, if only for a moment, just for you.

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The cheers and encouragement from passersby were plentiful. My favorites were directed at my 4-year-old son, who rode most of the trail on his own bike: “Way to go, big guy!” Another memorable remark came from a group riding a good distance behind me (thankfully): “BLACK SNAKE!” One group that finished shortly after us counted nine snakes; my family saw none. I give credit for this to a sweet prayer said by Jon Miller on Thursday as Mrs. Rosser’s kindergarten class prepared for lunch: “Dear God, I pray for the Creeper Trail and for everyone to be safe and for NO snakes.”

When hunger and fatigue compounded, families gathered at the Creeper Trail Café, a hot dog joint with splurge-worthy onion rings and milkshakes. You could see the trail’s mark on all the riders as they stood in line to order: matching mud splatters up our backs like a skunk’s stripes.

Fueled for a strong finish, we jumped back on our bikes. Breaking for lunch had re-distributed our group to some degree; what fun to ride in closer proximity to other families on the final stretch back to Damascus. Excited, energized junior high students breezed by as those of us with small children spent the last several miles coaxing our young riders to “pedal, push, come on!” Whether they whizzed to “Off the Beaten Path” for a double scoop of mint chocolate chip, or sought after the nearest shower, every rider seemed to relish the accomplishment of completing the 17-mile ride.

Back at the cabins, the sun was still shining and the creek was once again full of Arborbrook students. A crowd gathered at the water’s edge to cheer on a handful of swimmers as they ventured toward the rock. What a joy to overhear numerous conversations among adults and students alike, focused on hobbies and passions, family and faith. Junior high students threw the ball with younger students and parents of older children helped chase other families’ little ones. As we circled up for prayer before dinner, I marveled at the uniqueness and authenticity of the Arborbrook community.

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Dinner was delicious. The salads were fresh and colorful and some saint thought to bring Fritos for the chili. Mrs. Andrade carried out a pot of fettuccine Alfredo with chicken and the crowd rejoiced. The s’mores spread was elaborate. Cinnamon and sugar graham crackers with Nutella spread and a roasted, toasted coconut marshmallow ̵ now that’s bonfire-gourmet.

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My family headed in early to put our little ones to bed, but we continued to enjoy being serenaded by the echoes of conversation and laughter outside. I said to my husband, “Today was a child’s feast.” The weekend was a picture of what we desire for our children: that they be so enthralled with God’s best, that all else pales in comparison. This weekend our students ran, swam, climbed trees, frolicked in bare feet, splashed in puddles, played tag and hide and seek, biked, laughed, tossed rocks, shot rockets, roasted marshmallows beneath the stars among friends, and more. My children never even noticed that there was a television in our cabin; they were satiated with the bounty of God’s creation. Arborbrook community, you are a gem, and Damascus, Virginia, we’ll be back!

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-by Libba Armenta, Arborbrook Parent and Junior High Writing Workshop Teaher (photos by Malana Ennis)

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