This content is sponsored by OrthoCarolina.
For Rita DuPont, the Physiatry Fellowship Coordinator at OrthoCarolina, cycling has been a lifelong passion. As a teenager, Dupont recalls riding her bike on the dirt roads around her childhood home in Cedar Grove, North Carolina.
"I’d come home from school and take off on my bike to clear my head," says DuPont.
DuPont, now 61, hasn’t slowed down much since those days in small town Carolina. But through her experience working at the OrthoCarolina Spine Center, she has seen plenty of people struggling with back pain. Her advice for staying healthy through adulthood is simple.
"I know that staying active makes such a difference," says DuPont. “If I’m lazy and I’m on the couch, I get back pain. Being active really helps me.”
DuPont has shared her love of cycling with her husband, Paul who, just four weeks after knee surgery in 2005, rode the infamous 24-Hours of Booty race in Charlotte.
For Rita, Charlotte’s extensive and growing greenway system offers excellent opportunities for a variety of rides. These flat, wide paths are the perfect place for a beginner to start riding and for an experienced rider to relax and enjoy some bike time. Here, she offers her list of favorites near town and a couple longer rides a couple hours away from the Queen City.
Four Mile Creek Greenway
Four Mile Creek is actually one of three greenways that connect and run through a variety of terrain in south Charlotte. When combined with both the Lower McAlpine Creek and McMullen Creek Greenways, the total path stretches for almost six miles. With pavement, gravel, and several sections of boardwalk, this greenway pleasantly meanders through tall trees and over small wetland areas teeming with life. Even when the greenway is busy, the wide path gives everyone plenty of space to ride. For a bit of solitude and a better chance at seeing wildlife, try an early morning spin at Four Mile Creek.
The greenway has several access points. A popular starting spot is on Pineville-Matthews Rd., just west of Johnston Rd. There is an outdoor fitness station here as well.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Another popular peddling path in Charlotte is the fully-paved Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Following its namesake waterway, it is currently comprised of several sections, totaling around 10 miles. DuPont suggests riding the trail between East Morehead and Brandywine Rd. This nearly three-mile parcel of path travels through one of Charlotte’s most historic neighborhoods and cuts directly through Freedom Park. This photogenic urban green space includes a paved path, grassy hills, and a seven-acre lake. Waterfowl are typically seen on the lake and sharp-eyed visitors may catch a glimpse of hawks nesting in the trees above.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway is easily accessible from dozens of locations, but beginning at Freedom Park offers convenient water and bathroom facilities as well as a pleasant post-ride picnic spot.
New River Trail
Not so close to uptown, but worth the two-hour drive, the New River Trail in southern Virginia is an amazing escape for bikers of all levels. The 57-mile trail is built along an old railroad bed, allowing for a smooth ride. Two tunnels and multiple water crossings, including the 1,000-foot long bridge at Fries Junction, add scenic variety to the trip. The rushing New River, a favorite of Virginia and Carolina paddlers, flows alongside the trail for almost 40 miles, with some amazing spots to have lunch and take in the view. If you’d like to make the day a multi-sport excursion, the Foster Falls area has boat launches and canoe rentals.
The New River Trail is well-equipped for any length of adventure. Four campgrounds are located along the trail, plus several basic bathroom facilities and a few spots to refill drinking water.
One of the most well-known "rails to trails" paths in the Southeast is the Virginia Creeper Trail. For 34 miles this rambling ride runs through forests and charming towns alike. The highest elevation of the trail is at Whitetop Station, which is about 3,500 feet, and is the starting line for those wanting a gentle cruise downhill. In the center of the trail, Damascus, Virginia, welcomes riders with restaurants, a brewery, and several yearly festivals. From Damascus to the trail’s end in Abingdon the path levels out and meanders through open prairie and alongside picturesque farmland.
There are several local businesses that provide both bike rentals and shuttle service, so you don’t have to ride back up the somewhat steep grade back to Whitetop.