By: Nolan Shigley
The Blue Ridge Mountains dominate the Waynesboro skyline as Shenandoah National Park and its southern district veer north while the Blue Ridge Parkway and its trail system travel southward. Both national parks provide an adventurous playground for nature lovers, while Waynesboro acts as the hub for outdoor adventure. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, just west of Rockfish Gap, the mountain town that provides a place to rest for backcountry enthusiasts has now become an attraction for beer geeks as well. In the company of a 60-year old running partner, Bob Weaver, the rocky, rooty, rugged single-track of the Blue Ridge’s deep wilderness has become our trail-running home as pints of ale await us down in the valley.
Our initial trip to the area was an easy jaunt up Bear Den and Calf Mountains in the southern tip of Shenandoah National Park, heading out from Jarman’s Gap. A warm June day found us running among wildflowers along the Appalachian Trail and over its more gentle peaks. An appropriate section to begin a season as the trail is less technical and the inclines are forgiving. Views of a meadow full of buzzing pollinators, lush rolling mountains and a distant glimpse of Waynesboro down below greeted us at the end of each climb.
On a recent cool, densely foggy autumn day, we followed the fallen leaves that littered the Appalachian Trail from Rockfish Gap to Humpback Rocks. This particular stretch of AT is pretty popular with those who want a quick spot immediately off of I-64 and becomes increasingly busy once the trail reaches the Humpback Rocks area. Rain had brought swollen creeks and streams that spilled down the mountains and created slick rocks. Rustic ruins of homesteads and cemeteries provided ghostly scenes in the thick mist. Settler history is rich in this area, and there is evidence throughout the deep forests. The visitor center off the Blue Ridge Parkway illustrates this further, with relocated 19th century cabins and farm structures. On a clear day, a demanding climb up to the rocks provides hikers and runners short of breath commanding views of the Shenandoah Valley, distant Alleghenies and nearby Three Ridges, along with countless other ancient mountains.
Two other quick trips from Waynesboro include brilliantly scenic panoramas in the south district of Shenandoah. One of the countless superb circuit routes of Shenandoah, Riprap Hollow, includes plenty of the Appalachian Trail, which provides the spine for most circuits throughout the 100-mile long park. The challenging Riprap course leads to the deepest pool in the park, but even on a balmy day, the water can chill you to the bone. Like so many of the trails in the south district, epic views west of the Shenandoah Valley include our gathering place along the South River that quenches our thirst after tough days in the mountains. Turk Mountain is a short, but challenging climb up to a craggy spot that provides splendid vistas of the valley. A popular hike due its distance, Turk Mountain is the perfect add-on to a long day of trail running.
As our legs fatigue and we have our fill of Blue Ridge vistas, we yearn for glasses of freshly brewed craft ales. The newly opened Basic City and Seven Arrows breweries regularly douse the fire in our throat caused by climbing single-track for hours at a time. Basic City Beer Company was our first taste of Waynesboro as we showed up on a blazing summer day. The brewery commemorates the “lost town” of Basic City that was once thriving with industry, while sitting
at the crossroads of two major railroads. However, the city soon fell to the hardships of depression and that forced it to consolidate with Waynesboro. The edgy industrial structure of Basic City Beer Co. pays homage to this once thriving economic town with its many reclaimed materials, as it functions out of a former industrial complex.
On a typical humid Virginia June day, it was best to enjoy light ales and lagers in the comfort of the air-conditioned brewery. Thank you to those of the Industrial Revolution! The Waynesbeeroh lager is an appropriate choice to begin with, as it is light with hints of lemon for a refreshing quench. Basic City has an ample selection of hoppy, citrusy IPA as well that provides the perfect pint after a tough day in grueling temperatures. The Bask DIPA is described as a “tropical juiciness” due to its intense amount of mosaic, amarillo and citra hops. Highly drinkable and coming in at 7.6%, a couple of these and you might have the feeling you were at a much higher altitude than the surrounding Blue Ridge could provide.
While Basic City recalls the historic industry that once thrived in Waynesboro, Seven Arrows celebrates the natural side of the region. The brewery’s name derives from a Native American prayer that pays respect to the earth’s creation. The artwork decorating the brewery also demonstrates the passion for wilderness and the region’s favorite natural features. Appropriately enough, the owners of the company are both ultra-runners as well, so Weaver and I felt completely in our comfort zone.
On a chilly November evening when the early sunset had arrived, we relished hearty rustic glasses of ale that remind us of autumn. The piney, spicy Eventide Red IPA has earthy flavors of fallen leaves. With a nice caramel malt profile, it is the perfect beer to replenish those spent calories. The malty Hermenator Dopplebock with flavors of dark fruit was another excellent choice for the cool temperatures, but our favorite may have been the Misty Trail Pale Ale. No other beer could have more appropriately summed up a day of trail running in the dense fog under peak foliage. The freshly wet hopped ale reminded us of the damp conditions outdoors with a golden color reminiscent of the American beech and hickory trees, and the cozy toasty notes like the cabin campfire we had come across shortly before.
Whether you are trail running the countless miles of Blue Ridge wilderness, hiking across the country, skiing the slopes or paddling the South River, Waynesboro is divinely placed among the adventure. The town is a designated Appalachian Trail Community and easily accessible by any means of transportation. Thankfully, Waynesboro is now a place to fill a growler after sipping craft beer in historic surroundings as well.