Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway, all the way (Day 2)

Day 1.

This was the day I would start my journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Having traveled all the way to its southern end via busy freeways, I was looking forward to scenic beauty, unspoilt nature, solitude and a leisurely ride.  The day more than fulfilled its promise.

As I woke up, it was 6.30am.  I had planned to start my ride at 7.  But as I looked outside the window, it was still foggy and cold.  With my jeans and socks still wet from the day before, I was in no mood to ride shivering in the fog.  I decided to wait a while till the sun came up and went back to sleep.  Got up again at 7.45, and the fog was gone and the sky was indeed much lighter.  The weather forecast predicted some rain, and the uncertain weather was going to be part of the adventure.

After a quick shower and pack-up, I started from the motel at 8.15, waving goodbye to the inept reception man.  From Maggie Valley, I had to go west for around 20 miles till I reached the southern end of the parkway at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and then turn back from there.

As soon as I got on the southbound Parkway, I realized what a beauty it was.  Tunnel after tunnel, vista after vista, lush valleys on both sides so green that it hurt the eyes.  And this was just ten minutes into the ride.  The tunnels were long and dark, and named inventively to be sure: "Big Witch Tunnel" and "Bunches Bald Tunnel" were two of the most memorable.

The longest tunnel is the Pine Mountain tunnel (almost 400m long) at milepost 400.  As one entered the tunnel, one had to remove the dark sunglasses to be able to see where the road was going.  The parkway does not have white lines on the edges (to give it a rural feel, as per a collection of FAQs), and one has to be extra careful not to go off the road in low-light conditions.

So I was at the south end, and the scenic journey had started in earnest.

My breakfast was to be at Pisgah Inn, after 60 miles or two hours (counting the time spent admiring and photograping the views).  I wasn't sure if I would be able to reach the inn before the end of breakfast hours, but never mind!  It was almost 9am.

As I continued up north, there was hardly any other vehicle on the parkway.  I met a fellow motorcyclist who was just doing a ride till Asheville (85 miles).  We both reached the highest point of the parkway together, and I asked him to click a few photographs of me and the bike.

Today I was dressed in layers, and wasn't cold at all.  Everything was just wonderful.  The sky was overcast, and the clouds hung below, over the valley.  It made the view almost unearthly.

I continued through the tunnels and the vistas.  As the day progressed, there were a few more vehicles on the road.  Motorcyclists still outnumbered cars!

At Pisgah Inn at 10.35am, I was told that though the breakfast time was over, they would still serve me from the breakfast menu.  The restaurant was almost empty but had great views.  I sat near a window overlooking the valley, and had a leisurely breakfast with many cups of coffee.

There was no cellphone reception at the restaurant.  I wanted to check on my parents who had just returned from a cruise vacation but that would have to wait.  In the parking lot I chatted with some other visitors who were extremely mellow and friendly.  With one I discussed the evolution of Toyota's RAV4.  She was driving a V6, which Toyota doesn't make anymore.

I was on my way again.  As noon was approaching, the greens of the valleys were becoming even more vivid.

Further north, most traffic disappeared into roads heading toward Asheville.  The road was empty.  At milepost 370 (now almost 100 miles from the start), was the Craggy Gardens visitor center.  The region is so named because of the rock formations, though the region is dotted with shrubs and rhododendrons which bloom spectacularly in June.

I stopped at the visitor center and bought a Blue Ridge Parkway lapel pin for my leather jacket.  After all, I was doing it "raw" on the motorcycle, all the way in two days.  The jacket could do with a memento of the journey.

Even though the speed limit was 45mph, with many curves and turns marked well below that, most vehicles were doing 50-55mph on the straight stretches.  I saw only one police car on the parkway in two days (the radar aimed at oncoming vehicles), but the folklore is that they don't bother one unless one is doing more than 55mph.

Another hour on the pretty parkway, and I was at the amusingly named "little Switzerland".  It was lunchtime.  It was very picturesque, had a few bars where dozens of motorcycles were parked, but there wasn't any gas station.  I hadn't filled up at all today, and I was 160 miles into my 200 miles limit.  I had planned to get gas when I stopped for meals.  So I went westward instead, into the town of Spruce Pine.  It had a weird gas station where there were self-service pumps as well as attendant-served pumps.  And some pumps had 100% gasoline without any ethanol blending, suitable for very old vehicles.  (on a digression, check out the raging controversy about E15 gasoline-ethanol blend)

After a quick lunch, I was on my way again.  I was only halfway done, and was 150 miles away from my stop for the night.  Given that I could do 40 miles per hour on average (with stops factored in), my destination was 4 hours away.  It was already 2pm.  But the days are long in summer, and the ride was fantastic, and I wasn't tired in the least.  The beauty of the parkway was invigorating and rejuvenating.

As I proceeded further north, the parkway was closed for repairs at two places.  The first closure (and detour) was at milepost 276.  This was a short detour and very pretty.  I passed through farmlands and pastures which were picture-perfect with their gentle slopes and rolls of hay.  The second detour, at milepost 243, was much longer.  The detour took me through a town named Sparta.  I guess if I asked one of its inhabitants (especially his wife) to give me some water, they would launch into this speech:

The detour unfortunately made me miss riding alongside the famous "Stone Mountain State Park".  Here is a photo of this park from Wikipedia:

Soon after the two detours, I stopped on an overlook to call my parents.  A few bikers were hanging around as well.  They were somewhat miffed with the "f'ing detour".  "It took us all the way through Sparta, huff huff."  I nodded in sympathy.

Continuing through Cumberland Knob, and the Groundhog Mountain, I reached the tenderly named "Meadows of Dan".  The "Blue Ridge motel" that I was to stay at was supposed to be close by, but I had no cell reception.

I had realized the day before that it saved time to do the errands and have dinner before checking into the hotel for the night.  The town had 5-6 motels, a few restaurants and a couple of gas stations.  The gas station people were the friendliest ever!  The gas stations were across the road from each other, with a price difference of 1 cent per gallon.  I filled up on gas for the next day, found out where the motel was, and had a "southern" dinner of ribs and corn bread and mashed potatoes.  It was too much food, but the ribs were great.

The motel was hardly a quarter mile away.  The check-in person was a rather jovial and friendly old man who had interestingly lived and worked in Herndon, my home town at present.  I asked for recommendations on where to have breakfast in the morning, and he secretively told me to go eat at the Mabry Mill a mile up the parkway ("but don't tell my neighbors I sent you there!").  I shook his hand, wished him good night, and called it a day.

Thankfully, the room on this day was much more "standard".  It even had WiFi.  I checked the history of the Mabry Mill where I was to dine tomorrow morning, and drifted off to blissful sleep.


Arun Kumar said...

hmmm.. pretty detailed and interesting. reading through your two days journey and the pictures in between made me feel for a moment as if I myself was traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway :) Looking forward to Day3!


Anonymous said...

Oh, how I love thy Travel logs!:-) Inspiring morning read.