1916 – 2016
A beautiful morning, Monday was. I crawled out of my tent early to get to the small bath house before anyone else, and to get an early start on the road. The sun was just coming over the horizon as I cooked breakfast and sipped coffee.
Today I will reach the first National Park of the trip, 150 miles away. Not as long as it seems. About 30 miles will be on VA 8, a beautiful, sweeping road through Virginia farmland. Then all hell breaks loose. The final 120 miles will be on the super slab, I-81. On a Monday morning. Commuters, trucks, and a motorcycle vying for space to get somewhere quickly. Nice.
Thirty miles of Zen-like riding come to an end as I lean the ST onto the acceleration ramp to I-81 North. I roll on the throttle as the big Honda’s V-4 responds with a growl and we merge into Monday morning traffic at 75 MPH. Trucks everywhere! My goal for the next 120 miles is to stay out of the slipstream of trucks and maintain my bubble. It’s a constant dance of acceleration, deceleration and lane changing. I click on my Mp3 and settle in for the ride. Destination Staunton, Virginia and Shenandoah National Park.
One hour and forty-five minutes later I see my exit signpost ahead: US250 STAUNTON. Rolling off the throttle and downshifting on the exit ramp, I see my motel across the street. Good to be off that highway from hell. It’s a little past noon as I pull into the parking lot. Check in, unload the beaST, eat lunch at the restaurant right next door. I’m excited. Sixteen miles to National Park number one. Fire up the ST and roll onto US250. Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you……….
Established: December 26, 1935
Size: 197,438 acres
” Keep your eyes open out there sir. We’ve had numerous wildlife sightings right on the road this summer, including bear. You be careful” the park Ranger said as I handed him my fifteen dollar entrance fee. “Yessir” I replied. Thank you for the heads up.” A two finger salute and I was rolling onto Skyline Drive, the 105 mile backbone of Shenandoah National Park.
That was no lighthearted warning the park Ranger gave. The speed limit along the entire 105 mile length of Skyline Drive is 35 MPH, precisely because of wildlife frequently using the road with other road users. Ten years ago when Roo and I made this same trip two-up, we came upon a black bear partially in the road having lunch! Scared the crap out of us both!
Eastern black bear
I swerved, not knowing what the bear would do, as it lifted it’s huge head to look at us, with leaves, twigs and grass hanging out of it’s mouth, chewing. Funny now. Not so much then.
Skyline Drive is the only public road in Shenandoah National Park. It begins in Front Royal, Virginia at Mile Marker 0 (MM0), and weaves it’s way south through the Park to Rockfish Gap at MM105. Rockfish Gap is also MM0 for the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I was traveling north, however I didn’t traverse the entire length of Skyline Drive. I rode about 40 miles in before having to turn around, as the sun was getting very low in the sky, and one doesn’t want to be on this road at dusk. It’s feeding time, and the natives get restless!
In the Eastern U.S., a cut in between mountain peaks where ancient foot trails, then wagon roads, and now paved roads exist, is called a gap. Out West, it is called a pass. Here in the Southeastern part of the country, we have Cumberland Gap, Fancy Gap, the above mentioned Rockfish Gap, and numerous others. But Roo and I have a hands down favorite, right here in Shenandoah National Park:
BEAGLE GAP! Who knew! Beagles are honored worldwide, of course! The Appalachian Trail (AT), also runs through Beagle Gap as it crosses Skyline Drive. At some point in time, Roo and I will have to take The Beagles to Beagle Gap. I wonder how many have been so far……
The beaST at Beagle Gap
Time to make my way back to my motel in Staunton. The light is getting dim, and beady, little eyes are beginning to twinkle along the side of the road. Tomorrow, I come back this way to Rockfish Gap, as me and the big Honda turn south for the first time to begin a blissful 469 mile journey on America’s Favorite Drive.
Scenes from Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive
Next post: National Park #2 – The Blue Ridge Parkway National Road