Chocolate Chase 10k (Lewisburg, WV)

This race kicks off the annual Chocolate Festival in Lewisburg, WV.  My husband somehow stumbled upon this little gem of a festival a little over a year ago. He told me about it and I checked it out online: Cute, active, progressive little mountain town? Check! Local road race? Check! More chocolate than you’d ever care to eat? Check! This was right down our alley. We attended last year and immediately planned to return this year.

The Chocolate Chase 10k benefits the Hospice of West Virginia. It is a point-to-point race that starts at the local (teeny-tiny) airport and winds its way through rural countryside to the finish in front of the courthouse in downtown Lewisburg. There is no shuttle, so it takes a little forethought if you don’t know anybody in town to shuttle you to the start. I brought my bicycle, as I had the year before, and dropped my husband off at the airport, where he would sit for roughly 2 hours while I drove back downtown, parked and rode my bicycle back to the airport.

The bike ride was a lot colder this year than it had been the year before. Actually, it was painfully cold and I remember nothing of the ride except for the awful pain in my hands that radiated up into my chest.  And passing a runner, and being very jealous because he looked a lot warmer than I was.  Oh, and I remember snot bubbling out of my nose as I tried to greet said runner.

I had been struggling with the thought of this race ever since we’d registered for it more than a month before. I had just started running again after about a 4 month running hiatus due to an injured IT band, and I desperately wanted to race it. I desperately wanted to run fast, period.  Right before I registered, I’d asked my physical therapist if I’d be able to race it. He basically said that although I probably could race, whether I actually should race depended on whether or not I wanted to continue to be able to run after the race. The furthest I’d run in months was the 5 miler I’d done the previous weekend. So I knew that I needed to take it easy and not push the pace if I didn’t want to end up re-injuring myself.

So I lined up in the back. My Garmin was being finicky, so I was fiddling with it. I was the very last person over the start line. I enjoyed the atmosphere at the back of the pack. People were chatting, laughing, talking about how they hoped they would be able to make it all the way. I looked up and saw the back of my husband as he turned the first corner. It was the last I would see of him until the finish. I looked around at the beautiful countryside and forced myself to enjoy it. I reminded myself how lucky I was to be able to run at all.

Even at my steady, controlled pace, I was passing everybody who had started out too fast. At about mile 4 I caught up to a man who I’d been following for the previous 2 miles. He seemed to be going at a pace that felt about right, so instead of passing him, I stayed with him. We talked. His name was Gregory. He had run another race on this same course in the fall. He told me he’d been too lazy to run lately, and that he was definitely feeling it.

He pulled ahead of me when we saw the finish line, as I had no intentions of sprinting to the finish. He turned around and we congratulated each other. I found my husband. He had run really well. My time was six minutes slower than I’d run last year.

I tried very hard to not let it bother me. But it really bothered me. A chocolate festival is not the place you want to find yourself when you are absorbed in self-pity. It had taken me decades to come to the realization that overeating never makes anything better. For whatever reason, I refused to recognize this truth and proceeded to eat myself into a chocolate-covered stupor. On the drive home I remembered that not only does overeating not make anything better, it makes things much worse. Now I was cranky and feeling sorry for myself AND I had a stomach ache.

This morning was beautiful. I drank my coffee on the front porch. After work I went for a run at Sugar Hollow. It was unseasonably hot, and on the way back to my car I stopped at Snake Hole and waded into the water, which was crystal clear. I looked up at the incredibly blue sky and the spring-green leaves on the trees. I smelled the salty sweat on my forehead and felt the cold mountain water wash it away and I remembered how unbelievably lucky I am to be able to run.

Walnut Creek

Distance: 15 miles of trails
Walking: yes
Running: yes
Biking: yes; mountain
Dogs: yes
Kid-Friendly: yes
Wheelchair/stroller accessible: Not really. There is a small portion (less than .25 miles) of paved trail.
Fee: Memorial Day through Labor Day:  $3 Adult/$2 child for residents of Albemarle County ($4.50/$3 for non-residents)

Check out the county website.

Take a virtual tour.

Walnut Creek Park has a lot to offer in the way of outdoor recreation. There is a disc golf course and fifteen miles of trails for hiking, trail running or mountain biking all situated around a beautiful lake. During the summer months, there are lifeguards on duty at the beach, and canoes available to rent.


There is a new playground located in the woods adjacent to the far parking lot.


The trails range from smooth to fairly technical.


Running at Walnut Creek is a treat for me. There are two loops that I like to do depending on how far I want to run.

Short loop (about 3 miles): This loop combines the Blue Wheel Trail with a small portion of the C’ville Bike and Tri Just Climb It trail. Beginning at the far parking lot (the one with the picnic pavilion, bath house and swimming beach,) Turn left at the far end of the parking lot and follow the steep rocky trail down and across the grassy dam. As you cross the dam, the lake will be on your right. Enter the woods directly in front of you and begin climbing with the lake still to your right. This is the Blue Wheel trail. After about half a mile, there will be a trail (also marked blue) on your right. Turn right. In a little over a mile, the trail will dead end back at the trail you started on. Turn right and follow the trail down. After a while, there will be a creek on your right and then a steep climb back up to the dam. Turn right out of the woods and cross the dam again. This time, look for a trail off to your right. Turn onto this trail and the creek you were running along before will now be on your right. The trail turns and climbs back up toward the road. When you hit the road, turn left and take the road back to your car.

Walnut Creek 3 mile loop

Long Loop: (8.8 miles) This loop combines the short loop with another, longer loop. I start this one in the lower parking lot (the first one on the right after you enter the park.) Look for the trail that heads toward the lake near the entrance of the parking lot. Follow it along the lake and across the foot bridge, then turn left onto Luke’s Loop, then bear left onto Wilkin’s Way (red). Keep to the left to stay on Wilkin’s Way until you come to the Bike Factory trail (blue) on your left. Take this trail until it comes out at the entrance road, near the gate. Cross the road and take the trail (orange) into the woods. This is C’ville Bike and Tri’s Just Climb It trail. Follow this trail all the way until you come out at the dam. At the top of the hill, turn left and cross over the dam. Take the trail to the left (blue) and continue down, along the river and then back up. As you near the top of a long, gradual hill, look for a trail (also blue) on your left. Take this trail until it intersects with the trail you started on. Turn left again and follow the trail back down to the dam. Cross back over the dam and follow the trail up to the parking lot. Cross the parking lot and take the trail to the left of the playground (facing it from the parking lot). When you get to the grassy, open area, continue to follow the trail across and into the woods. The trail will take you back to the parking lot where you started.

Walnut Creek 8.8 mile loop

Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival

September 24, 2011

My husband and I arrived at the downtown mall at about 1pm. It was cloudy and threatening to rain, but we could tell right away that the weather was not keeping people away.  We turned off of the mall and were greeted with a number of vendors at the food court. Nearly all of the food court booths were from local establishments; Maharaja, Royal Indian, Grapevine, La Cocina Del Sol. There was also a booth selling food from an African restaurant in Richmond.


We crossed Market Street and entered Lee park, which was packed with informational booths representing a wide array of businesses and advocate groups. There were representatives from Vegetarian and Vegan magazines and publications, animal rights activists, local health stores and yoga studios, vegan products and a number of local animal shelters with cats and dogs up for adoption.


There was live music and a number of freebies. I picked up free copies of Vegnews and the Vegetarian Journal and free samples of Nature’s Path granola bars, RawRev bars and Equal Exchange chocolates.


When it was time for lunch, I really wanted to try the African food, but when I made my way over to their booth, I noticed that they were serving on styrofoam plates. They weren’t the only ones.  Both Indian restaurants were, as well. I went back across the street to Greenie’s and got their grilled root vegetable on naan sandwich instead. They were serving all of their food in eco-friendly containers. The root vegetables were delicious, but the naan was pretty average. It was a little dry and not really soft and I wished they had a whole wheat option. But, I’m just being extra picky because I had high expectations. It was still a very tasty sandwich.  My husband opted for the vegan General Tso’s from the Whole Foods truck. He said it was pretty good, but sort of squeaky on his teeth. He is not a vegetarian, and the texture of the tofu was a little strange for him.  I picked up a vegan brownie from the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar booth on our way back to our car. I split it with the hubby. We both thought it was good; moist with walnuts and a subtle coconut flavor.


All in all, it was a nice way to spend a cloudy afternoon in Charlottesville. I was hoping for a wider variety of actual vegetarian and vegan food and I’d like to see the Festival require all vendors to use eco-friendly containers. But again, I’m just being picky. The festival is coordinated by volunteers and I’m really happy to see a festival like this in Charlottesville.

Pen Park

Fitness trail: 0.5 miles (not quite, according to my Garmin)
Nature trail: about 3 miles round-trip

Walking: yes
Running: yes
Biking: yes; mountain (good for beginners)
Dogs: yes
Kid-friendly: yes
Wheelchair/stroller accessible: yes

Pen Park is a great place to spend the afternoon. It has tennis courts, a baseball field, picnic shelters, a playground and fitness and nature trails.


To get to the trails, turn left just before the tennis courts and follow the road down to the parking area. The trailhead is located behind the picnic shelters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fitness trail is paved, and there are several exercise stations along the way.


The nature trail is wide and sandy. There is a fairly significant climb at the beginning, but then it levels out. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The playground is excellent, with separate sections for younger and older kids. The spongy surface is great for keeping kids safe, and also perfect for doing a few strides or high skips!


To get to Pen Park from Route 29, take East Rio Road to the stoplight at the intersection of Pen Park Drive. Turn left.

From town, take Park Street to the stoplight at the intersection of Pen Park Drive. Turn right.

Hike to Blue Hole

Distance: about 3 miles round-trip

I love this swimming hole!  The water is always refreshing and it’s usually less crowded than Snake Hole (the other swimming hole at Sugar Hollow), which is on the North Fork Moormans River trail. It is a steeper and longer hike to get to Blue Hole, but well worth the extra work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can’t tell from the picture, but this swimming hole is quite deep. There are places where I have not been able to touch bottom (not that I’ve tried too hard.)

There used to be a rope swing. You can read about that here.

Directions from Charlottesville:

To get to Sugar Hollow, take Barracks Road away from town. Barracks road turns into Garth Road. Continue several miles. At White Hall, you will come to a very sharp turn in the road . Piedmont Store will be directly in front of you. Garth Road takes a sharp right. You want to stay straight, keeping Piedmont store on your right as you pass it.

This is 614. Continue a few more miles. Eventually you will climb a steep hill and see the dam and then Charlottesville Reservoir on your left. At the top of the hill, the road turns to gravel. A little beyond this, you will come to a parking area on your left.

Park here.

IMG_20140709_121559You want to take the Moormans River trail along the South Fork of the Moormans River. The cement post will point you in the direction that you want to go (as of today, December 10, 2016, the post is lying flat on the ground.) You do not continue up the road you drove in on (which is now blocked by a red gate.)


IMG_20130410_144919_876From the parking area, walk around the metal gate and follow the crushed gravel path that leads to what is usually a rock hop across the river (lately it’s been a ford).

IMG_20140709_121422The trail continues on the other side of the river. It is about a 1.5 mile hike up to Blue Hole, which will be on your right. You will have to climb down from the trail to get to it.

If you come to the intersection with the Turk Branch trail, you have gone too far.

Blue Hole Elevation

Blue Hole Hike Elevation Map – One Way

Happy swimming!

The Trail at Monticello

The Saunders-Monticello Trail

Distance: about 4 miles round-trip

Walking: yes
Running: yes
Biking: yes (better suited for mountain bikes; trail closes to bicycles in inclement weather)
: no (dogs are allowed on the secluded farm trails, but only on a very small portion of the Monticello trail)
Kid friendly: yes
Wheelchair/stroller accessible: yes

Once I discovered this trail, I couldn’t believe that I had lived in Charlottesville for so long without knowing about it. It is now one of my favorite running spots and I take all of my out-of-town company there to show it off.

If you park in the large parking lot off Route 20, the trail takes you under Route 53.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail then winds up the mountain at a gentle (no more than 5%) grade. There are several boardwalks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter you cross back over 53 via Saunders bridge, you continue through the Monticello gate, past the picnic area on your right to the end of the trail. The trail ends at the Monticello bus parking area. If you wish, you can continue across the parking lot and visit the Monticello store and museum. Or, you can turn around and head back to your car. If you arrive at the Monticello gate before operating hours (as I usually do) you will be greeted by a Monticello employee who will politely tell you that you need to turn around.

 As you head back down, look through the trees off to your right and you will glimpse some views of Charlottesville and the mountains beyond.

IMG_20140417_093812There are several benches along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe distance from the parking lot on Route 20 to the Monticello bus parking lot is 2.1 miles (4.2 round-trip).

Monticello Saunders trail elevation profile
Monticello Saunders Trail round-trip from parking lot on Route 53

Directions from Charlottesville:
Take Route 20 South out of town. You will pass Piedmont Virginia Community College on your right and the Trail at Monticello parking area on your left.  You will have to make a U-turn at the intersection of 53 and backtrack to the Trail at Monticello parking area, which will now be on your right.

(***update: It was just brought to my attention that it is now illegal to make a U-turn at the intersection with 53. You can make a left, then turn around in the small parking lot on the right to get back to the larger lot off of 20. You could also take Avon Street Extended South out of Charlottesville, then turn left onto Mill Creek Drive just after the Food Lion. This way, you will pass Monticello High School on your left, then make a left onto Route 20 at the traffic signal. Going this way, you will continue straight through the intersection with 53, then turn right into the large parking lot pictured below.)

IMG_20140828_185852There is an additional (much smaller) parking lot on Route 53. If you park at this lot and, facing the trail, choose the path to your right, it is exactly 4 miles round-trip to the Monticello bus lot and back. If you take the path to your left, you will finish just shy of 4 miles.

You can also access a network of singletrack trails from here.