The Virginia Creeper Trail lies along an old rail road bed and stretches 34 miles end-to-end.  Thousands come each year to bike, hike and enjoy this historic trail, which was once the highest service standard railroad gauge east of the Rockies.  Now, this trail runs through private property, the Mount Rogers Recreation Area and crosses the Appalachian Trail several times, even becoming part of the trail for about  150 feet.

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Campsite in the Early Fog

As part of Boy Scout Troop 502 in Charlotte, North Carolina, we spent a weekend camping near Damascus and enjoyed the 18 mile stretch from Whitetop Mountain down to Damascus.  There were many wooden bridges and one steel girder bridge that all cross the Green Cove Creek and Whitetop Laurel Creek.  With plenty of places to stop and rest or eat a packed lunch, there were also mile markers along the way.

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Shooting Photos With One Hand While Riding

I brought a Leica MD Type 262 along with a Summilux 50 ASPH lens that housed a 2-stop neutral density filter.  An extra battery just in case and my favorite camera strap held the camera close to me when riding.  I love the Artisan and Artist ACAM E25R Easy Adjust Strap and use a black one for every Leica camera body I own.  The heavy canvas is strong and the wider strap sits well on my shoulder.  It has leather tabs to protect the side of the camera where the ring attaches to the strap lug.  But, the most important feature is the variable length.  There is a plastic D-ring on the strap that can adjust then length by simply pulling with one hand in either direction.  So, I kept the strap in a short length while riding and with a motion like unzipping a jacket it was long and I could take photographs.

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The Perfect Tree Canopy

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Mountain Laurel in Bloom

We encountered significantly varying amounts of light between the overcast day and biking through narrow rock outcroppings that had mountain laurels and rhododendrons covering us like a roof.  The bridges were open above and light poured in where the river and creeks were crossed.  The neutral density filter let me use narrower depths of field than I might otherwise have gotten and I simply boosted the ISO to 1600 if we were in the shade.

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Taking a Break

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Checking That Everything Works

I was never worried about the Leica MD, partly because there was no LCD banging against me as we rode.  At one point, I used one hand to set a guessed exposure of 1/125 second and f/4.0 at ISO 200.  Then I tried to rotate the focus to about 10-15 feet away.  The other hand was steadying my bicycle as we cruised down the trail at a good speed.  I held up the Leica MD and fired a few shots of the bikes in front of me where my two sons led the way.  I tried getting one shot with the sunlight highlighting my younger son as it peeked through the trees.  After three shots and almost losing my balance, I decided to call it quits.  I wouldn’t know for another day if I had gotten a good image or not.

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Atop High Rocks for Lunch

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Waiting for Others to Catch Up

We saw US Forest Service Rangers on bikes ensuring people’s safety and even some taking the challenge of biking up from Damascus along an 18 mile uphill ride.  Our group?  We stopped in Damascus, Virginia to return our rented bikes and partake in some refreshing ice cream!  This is a trip I’d like to do again and I’d take the Leica MD and probably the same lens.  The only difference is I would also take my monopod so I could try to get some images of the rivers.  They were spectacular, but even I cannot hold a Leica still for 1/4 second shot.

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Waiting for Ice Cream

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Pulling Everyone Together to Depart

About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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