Memorial Day weekend is here and it’s time to “get the hell out of Dodge” as the saying goes. I know of no better way than to load up the big Honda with camping gear and head to the mountains of North Carolina. This is a solo trip, as Roo had a big week at work and opted to keep the home fires burning for my return and catch up on snooze time with the beagles.
“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go……”
An early afternoon departure on Friday had me making a beeline northward to stay ahead of the supposed rain showers moving into the mountain area later in the day. Setting up camp in the rain is major suckage, so the most expeditious route was chosen. My destination and home away from home for the next two nights is Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground in Cruso, North Carolina.
Crossing into North Carolina and through the town of Brevard, I enter the Pisgah National Forest. Highway 276 is a beautiful two lane serpentine road that bisects the National Forest and will take me up and over Cold Mountain, then drop me down twisting and turning right to the doorstep of the campground. But first, a stop at the Pisgah Forest Visitor Center for a stretch, a drink, and the gathering of mental focus for the road ahead. Thankfully, being Friday, I had the road pretty much to myself. The hordes of people coming into the forest to camp and fish and just enjoy this beautiful place won’t begin arriving until tomorrow.
Pisgah National Forest Visitor Center
Pisgah Forest and Highway 276
Cresting the summit of Cold Mountain, riding under the Blue Ridge Parkway, the road banks sharply to the left and immediately drops down the other side. Highway 276 on this side of Cold Mountain is a 2nd gear road, with hairpin curve after hairpin curve along it’s four mile length.
The road up to this point was dry, but as soon as I dropped into the first hairpin, the road became decidedly wet. On top of the wet asphalt were very wet leaves, blown down from a torrential cloudburst that I had apparently just missed by minutes. Ah, mountain weather. I crawled down the road in second gear, minimizing braking and lean angle as much as possible. Coming into the valley below, Highway 276 begins to lengthen out with gentle sweepers and straight road. Up ahead, the sign post:
Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground (BRMC) is one of, if not the oldest, moto only campground in the southeast U.S. It is a sentimental favorite of Roo and I, being the first place we ever camped by motorcycle, and, it is the closest one to our home. It is a beautiful place, and the surrounding area is a motorcyclists dreamland.
Campground entrance: sacred ground for motorcyclists!
The Little Pigeon River flows under the bridge and winds through the campground.
The Buddha wishes safe journeys to all who pass on two wheels.
The downpour that preceded my arrival was all the rain to be had for the next 36 hours. After setting up camp, showering and getting out of my riding gear, I set about meeting other motorcyclists that were already here, and still others as they trickled in during the late afternoon. The big influx of bikers would happen tomorrow, Saturday, as the Memorial Day weekend officially begins.
Saturday morning I awoke to a most gorgeous day. Temps were very cool, and last night I considered it to be downright cold, but as the sun crests the mountains surrounding the campgound, temperatures rise and we are all surrounded by astounding beauty.
Home away from home
My route today would take me on a super twisty, circuitous route, for about 150 miles or so, stopping in a few small mountain towns along the way. The twisters start almost immediately as I head for Hot Springs, North Carolina via NC 209, a.k.a “The Rattler.”
NC 209 is a serious mountain road. Big elevation gain, twisty, technical tarmac with numerous switchbacks, and not much room for error. It connects Maggie Valley, North Carolina (home to the famous Wheels Through Time Museum) with Hot Springs, North Carolina.You will be worked over by this road, and a respite in Hot Springs is very welcome indeed.
Get your head on straight! This ain’t no joke!
Arriving in Hot Springs, I shut the beaST down and stretch my legs. Hot Springs, as the name implies, was built around the bubbling springs that are in the area, and was a vacation destination for the well heeled of Asheville, North Carolina in the early twentieth century. Today, it is just a small mountain town boasting a few restaurants, lots of bikers, hikers, paddlers and sports car enthusiasts, and yes, hot springs.
Hot Springs, North Carolina
Motorcyclists come from all over
A river runs through it
Hot Springs is also famous for the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katadin, Maine, a distance of approximately 2200 miles. The AT, as it is universally known, runs right through downtown Hot Springs where through hikers (hikers that hike the entire trail continuously) stop to re-supply before heading back out into the wilderness. The sidewalk in Hot Springs is actually the trail:
The Appalachian Trail symbol is embedded in the sidewalk
Having rested up from running The Rattler, I fired up the ST and headed down the other side of the hill. Here, NC 209 ends and US 70 begins. US 70 is a two lane highway with fast sweepers that have you doing 70 MPH down the mountain without even trying. My next destination, for lunch, is the small hamlet of Marshall, North Carolina, just 10 miles down the road.
Marshall is an old railroad town that was built right alongside the French Broad River, connecting the smaller mountain towns with the city of Asheville. Today, Marshall, like Hot Springs, is a haven for cyclists, paddlers, hikers, old hippies and young hipsters looking to escape the hustle bustle of Asheville, just 30 or so miles to the south.
The French Broad is a beautiful river running south to Asheville, NC. The bridge traverses the French Broad to a beautiful park from downtown Marshall.
Downtown Marshall, North Carolina
By now, I was very hungry. My plan was to eat at a favorite establishment called the Good Stuff Cafe. But as I walked downtown, I noticed a new restaurant right next door called Zuma Coffee, so I thought I’d give it a try. Any eating establishment with the word coffee in it’s name gets my attention.
What a great place! Inside I met two other motorcyclists and a very talkative, but interesting, cyclist. The food was delicious and the coffee was excellent. This is my new go to eating establishment in Marshall!
Cobb Salad a la Zuma. Protein, fat, leafy greens and caffeine to ward off any afternoon low sugar blues! No bueno when on a motorbike!
After lunch, a short walk through downtown brought me to this 1940’s styled gas station turned diner, which every time I come here, is closed.
However, one thing stood out that immediately caught my eye and had me running across the street to investigate:
“I’ll take TWO please!”
BEAGLES FOR SALE! I can fit one in each hardcase! Ha! If only…….
After lunch it was back on the big Honda and rolling down US 70 once again. A couple of miles later I turn onto NC 251, aka River Road. The 251 parallels the French Broad River with gentle sweepers and astounding views all the way into the city of Asheville. On the outskirts of Asheville, I take the slab for a short distance to get to one of my favorite motorcycle roads, the Blue Ridge Parkway. A stop at the Mount Pisgah Inn is a tradition of mine when on the Parkway to mingle with other motorcyclists and take in the astounding views.
A great place to stay when traveling in the Blue Ridges
The view of the mountains from the Pisgah Inn is captivating
The Blue Ridge Parkway
It is now late afternoon and time to head back to camp. I exit the Blue Ridge Parkway onto Highway 276, and enter the hairpin turns of Cold Mountain once again. This time though, the roads are dry, and the beaST and I are able to have some fun as we slice our way into the valley. Back at BRMC, I roll to my campsite and shut the ST down for the night. Tired, but a good tired, having come from a full day of negotiating technical mountain roads on a motorcycle. Time now for a shower, and a quick nap, then on to participate in a BRMC Memorial Day tradition.
Every Memorial Day weekend, on Saturday, BRMC cooks up a scrumptious BBQ dinner with all the fixin’s (as they say here in the south). I don’t get real excited aabout BBQ, and actually, this is the only time each year I eat it, it’s that good. Pulled pork, chicken, or beef BBQ, your choice. I opted for the pulled pork (got to go authentic you know):
Pulled pork, slaw, and pasta salad. Wine with BBQ? I stray from southern tradition.
The finishing touch: apple pie! Delicious!
Around the campfire once again that evening, everyone was recounting the tales of their respective moto adventures this day. I didn’t last long as I was bone tired. Off to my tent at 9:30 PM.
Sunday we awoke to impending rain showers, and it actually did start raining as I was packing up my tent. Everything wet and loaded on the ST, I walked to the pavilion for my traditional one more coffee before I go. Chatting with other riders, waiting for the rain to let up, it was now time to go. Rain gear on, V4 fired up, roll out of the campground. I opted to super slab it home, as the roads were slick and I didn’t feel like climbing the Cold Mountain switchbacks in this weather. Good choice, it turns out.
Home before I know it, it’s dry in South Carolina. Roo and the beagles run out to greet me, always a fantastic greeting. Do I have a surprise for them? You know, those two beagles in the hard cases……..