Blue Ridge Parkway, Part 2

bikes in heaven 

Day 2 of our 4 day journey was the meat of the trip. Our mission was to ride across the Linn Cove Viaduct at milepost 304 before we started losing daylight.  Having traveled Skyline Drive in the past (where speed limits are 30-35 mph and there’s lots of “touristy” stops along the way) we expected it to be somewhat slow going, so there was no time for sleeping in (buy our standards anyway). By my schedule we would reach the Viaduct at 7:00pm and pull into our Motel just before dark.

Jay and I are not morning people. The alarm clock went off at 7:00 AM (and this is vacation???) and both of us begrudgingly pulled back the covers & got up.  I opened the curtains and was greeted with the most glorious sight!  The sun had just risen above the peaks of the mountains and we had an amazing view from the top of the hill where our hotel sat.  The walkway to our room was a balcony overlooking the pool (not yet open for the season) which in turn overlooked the valley below.  The morning mist blanketed the valley and the sun was shining like a message from heaven — it was going to be a wonderful day!

sunset inn at afton

The Inn at Afton Mountain View Rooms

Knowing that there was no food on the premesis at the hotel, we had picked up some cold danishes at our gas stop in La Plata to bring along for breakfast.  It wasn’t very tasty but it did the trick.  Not wanting to waste any valuable road time we got right to the business of packing up the bikes.  Go Pro had sent me a replacement camera and handlebar mount to replace the one I lost last summer when it broke off after only a week or two of use, but I hadn’t really had a chance to mount it properly before the trip.  It was connected but not lined up properly at all…so I brought the phillips head screwdriver I needed to make the adjustments, and this was definitely the time to get it done. Jay had tied a black shoestring leash around it in case it broke again. This time it wouldn’t go bouncing down the road. Jay worrys about every detail!

We checked the gas and decided we had a good 50-60 miles left on our tanks so we could gas up about an hour down the Parkway.  Then we hit the road about 20 minutes ahead of schedule — a definite sign that things were going our way.

It had been pitch black when we rode in the night before and we missed our turn into the place, so we were a bit surprised on the way out exactly how close we were to the beginning of the Parkway.  As we pulled out of the driveway and up to the stop sign at the street we could see a huge sign to our left that read “Skyline Drive” and another to our right that read “Blue Ridge Parkway“…we were there!  So, right turn it was, and off we began on our adventure at mile marker zero!

Welcome To The Blue Ridge Parkway

The brisk morning mountain air was refreshing to my lungs, and it wasn’t as chilly as I expected it to be.  Counterintuitively, it was actually a few degrees warmer in the mountains that morning than it had been at home the day before!

the harley wave

I was pleased to find that the speed limit was 45 mph, and there was not so much “touristy” stops along the way.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is filled with sweeping curves and twists through the middle of nothingness.  I was almost immediately overwhelmed by all of the reasons I chose to grab life by the handlebars in the first place — the freedom, the power, the confidence, the beauty of the open road….  Jay on the other hand was almost immediately overwhelmed by his low fuel light and the lack of anything even remotely resembling civilization.  Only a few miles down the road we stopped at Humpback Mountain for a quick photo.  At this point we checked the map & found that the first interchange was 20 miles down the road and decided we better take it.

humpback mountain

So this “interchange” was like a little side road “ramp” that brought us to a tiny two-lane road with pavement in disrepair and a little blue sign that read “Services” with an arrow to the right.  OK, right it is I guess.  I was thinking that we probably ought to head toward the west anyway since I-81 runs along the Parkway just to the west, and even if we didn’t find any gas stations before we got that far there was sure to be one just off the Interstate.

We were then greeted with switchbacks, hairpin turns, steep downgrade, lots of gravel & debris in the roadway, no shoulders & pavement that just dropped off at the edges (sometimes down a cliff!), and a little bit of local traffic that wanted to fly in the other direction and had no intention of staying on their side of the yellow line.  The curves were more challenging than anything I’d ever ridden before.  Did I mention that downhill blind curves scare the crap out of me?!!!  We winded and twisted our way down the side of the mountain and eventually came to a railroad crossing and a small town (read: one general store).  Jay asked a guy in a beat up old pick-up where he might find gas, and the country gentleman in full hunting camo was kind enough to oblige.

Farther down the road, left on Rt-11, and then another turn a few blocks down.  Following along for another mile or two it was going on a 35 minute side trip and I knew that Jay had to be running on fumes.  Then just over the crest of the next hill we spied a gas station…right next to a sign to get on the Interstate!  Jay pumped his fist in the air to celebrate victory!  Deciding that we were not going to be likely to find a place for lunch anywhere near lunchtime (or any other kind of refreshments for that matter), we decided to stock up on road snacks — granola bars, Combos, Gatorade, and bottled water.

snacking on gas station food

Now being well behind schedule Jay suggested that we follow Rt-11 for awhile.  He said one of our friends mentioned he liked Rt 11 just as much as the Parkway.  Well, I don’t see why since it was a straight line rural divided highway.  We were able to cruise at about 60 mph though, so we did make up some ground.  Another crazy twisty VA byway (this time uphill, thank goodness!) made a spectacular ascent back up the side of the mountain where we once again joined up with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

across the valley

look at that pointy mountain

here we go

through the forest

riding up the mountains

riding into the sky

The morning was behind us and we had only made it to about milepost 60.  Despite the issues it had been a wonderful day already, so we just settled in to some long-distance cruising.  We rode for at least an hour at a time, often 5-10 mph over the speed limit.  Then we’d take a short break at a scenic overlook and have a snack before cruising along for another hour or so.  Somewhere along there was when I decided that this road must be heaven.

this must be heaven

swoopy turns!

One of my favorite parts of the ride was when we came around this incredible horseshoe shaped rim in the mountain. Bright yellow signs cautioned us to slow to 25 mph.  The road formed a long sweeping slightly downhill curve with a wall of rocks to our left and a cliff that dropped off to the right.  It was then that I saw “the sign”…  I am not entirely sure why it struck me as so funny, perhaps I was just in such a state of zen that I wasn’t thinking clearly.

beware motorcycles falling over cliff


All I could think of was “Caution — watch out for motorcycles flying over the cliff!” and I started picturing crazy stunt guys on dirt bikes jumping off the cliffs above us and landing on top of us… where did they think they were going to land anyway?  It was a long-ass way down!!! I was laughing my ass off!  There was a scenic overlook just around the bend, and as we pulled in Jay was laughing his off too.  Then he started laughing at me because I insisted on walking near 1/4 mile back up the road so I could get photos of the sign!  I also caught a picture of two motorcycles coming around the bluff. I hope they pay attention to the sign!

By this point I had shed several layers, switched out my gloves, and opened all the vents in my jacket.  It was finally getting toasty — like it was supposed to have done the day before.

The princess and the blue ridge

A few more hours along that magestic ribbon of asphalt, and my knees really began to cramp up.  It reminded me of some arthritis commercial I had seen on TV the night before.  I had been utilizing my highway pegs quite often, but there were times when I just needed the bike to feel a little more stable in tighter turns — so mid-controls it was.  And hours of riding without a backrest was starting to take its toll as well.  So to alleviate the backache I tend to lean forward putting my spine in a straighter position.  Problem is that this causes me to put more weight on my legs and makes the knees cramp up even worse.

stetching my aching back

It’s the pack mule and photgrapher again

two happy bikes

Our breaks became more frequent so I could stretch out my cramping legs and back.  We had planned to average 30 miles each hour for 10 hours in order to cover the distance we needed.  But having spent hours cruising at 45, 50, and sometimes even 55 mph, we were making up rapidly for lost time.  The sun was getting low in the sky when I pulled over at milepost 300 to turn on my Go Pro handlebar camera.  That was when it got good…

approaching the viaduct and losing sunlight

The highlight of the day & our mission for the trip — Linn Cove Viaduct.  The 7-mile section containing this engineering marvel was the very last section of the Parkway to be built.  It took them all that time to figure out how to build on this extremely complicated section of mountain.  Grandfather Mountain is very unstable, so they didn’t really want to build into it.  Instead they built this S-shaped bridge that is suspended on stilts and doesn’t really even touch the Grandfather Mountain.

The Viaduct

Viaduct 1

entering the viaduct

the money shot!

I always wanted to be an architect when I grew up, and bridges have always fascinated me.  I actually got a little choked up as we made the final approach.  The Linn Cove Viaduct was like nothing I had ever seen!  Not only that, but it was fun to ride too!

Just on the other side of the viaduct was a parking area where we stopped to congratulate ourselves on a mission accomplished and to put a layer or two back on.  The sun was starting to set so we knew the temperatures were going to be rapidly dropping.  We had intended to take the Parkway another 25 miles down to Rt-226 and our motel in Spruce Pine NC, but the parkway was barricaded.  So we went to Plan B which was actually an oversight when I printed my first map.  It was the original route MapQuest wanted to send us before I told it we wanted to stay on the Parkway…but I still had those directions in my packet.  (Thank goodness for small favors.)

Pack Mule and Photographer

So we trodded off down Rt-221 and Rt-194 which were filled with tight steep downhill curves & twists, switchbacks & hairpin turns…just like the last time we came down the side of the mountain this morning.  Somewhere along the way we passed “Foamhenge” which was a life-size model of Stonehenge (apparently made of foam) sitting up on a hill.  By that time I thought just about everything was amusing!

So we pulled in to the Pine Valley Motel at about 7:45 with just enough daylight to get unpacked before total darkness.  The staff was quite friendly and the room was much nicer than the night before.  The best part was a gas station across the street and a Pizza Hut next door.  Yay — hot food!!!  Unfortunately they did not serve beer at this particular restaurant (one would have gone down pretty smooth at that point), but the waitress was excellent and it felt so good just to eat a hot meal.

And so Day 2 was in the books at 344 miles. Stay posted for more on this adventure.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Part 1

Heaven is surely made of asphalt…and they call it the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A motorcyclist’s playground of 469 miles of twists and turns along a two-lane limited-access road through the Blue Ridge Mountains…it is sometimes referred to as “America’s Favorite Road.”  Construction began on the parkway 75 years ago as an effort to create jobs during the Great Depression (this year is the 75th anniversary).  The idea was to connect the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  The Blue Ridge Parkway picks up with milepost 0 in Waynesboro, VA where Skyline Drive leaves off, then it winds its way through Virginia and North Carolina.  Given a near perfect weather forecast at the same time as an opportunity over spring break, Jay & I decided to check it out.

Saturday began like a typical spring weekend, with a State HOG Rally committee meeting scheduled for early afternoon and a First State HOG Road Captains Meeting/Field Trip to scope out our planned poker run route in the morning.  We showed up to Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson Smyrna at 10:00 AM with the bikes loaded down with gear for a 4-day trip.  (That is to say my Super Glide had its normal tailbag packed and Jay’s Low Rider was loaded up with saddlebags, sissy bar bag, and a duffel bag strapped across the passenger seat with bungee cords.  He was my pack-mule for the weekend!)

We met up with most of the other Road Captains for a short meeting (aka shoot’n the poop in the parking lot), then headed out along the 52-mile route across rural mid-state Delaware that had been planned by our Head Road Captain’s oldest son Nicholas.  Fifty-two miles seems just the appropriate length for a poker run to me for some reason, and this particular route was great…beautiful scenery, easy roads, not too much traffic, and not too many turns either.  The day was a bit chillier than expected (barely reaching 70 degrees when the weather forecast called for 80 degrees), but the company was quite enjoyable and they all bid us safe travels for our trip.

As the rest of the group made their last turn up Rt-13 back to the dealership, we headed the other way down to Dover, DE to check out the host facilities for this year’s DE/MD State HOG Rally.  By the time the day’s obligations had been met, the sun was beginning to make its descent across the sky.  It was 3:15 PM before we got geared back up again and headed out on the road.

The first part of the trek brought us right back along some of the roads that had been included in the planned route for the poker run.  Then we rode down US-301 and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  After a short dinner/gas break in La Plata, MD we re-grouped and changed up some parts of the planned route.  The sun was getting ready to set and we didn’t want to be trying to read maps and directions in the dark.  So we created a less scenic (and actually longer) route that had far fewer turns. It’s a good thing Jay stopped at AAA and picked up some maps to bring with us.

Jay put me in charge of planning the trip, so I was also charged with leading the way.  At about 7:30 PM we were rewarded for our efforts as we were heading west straight into a beatiful purple pink sunset that was just amazing. By about 8:30 PM after leading for 5 hours and leading along unfamiliar and very dark country roads for near an hour, I was toast and I asked Jay to take over for me.  We had only one more road to go that connected to I-64 which would take us to our hotel for the night. It was a very dark hilly country road that pushed us outside our comfort zone (we usually do not ride at night, especially on out of state trips).

We arrived at the Inn at Afton at exactly 10:00 PM as they were locking the doors to the lobby.  It was old and weathered but clean…situated at the top of a hill overlooking the mountains directly between Skyline Drive (to the north) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (to the south).  And so Day 1 was in the books as 349 miles…

Keep posted for more on this story.