Hiking, Paddling & Trail Running in the Blue Ridges. Oh yeah,and Motorcycling!

The Blue Ridges

Quiet. Peaceful. Haunting. Beautiful. These adjectives are an apt description of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The beautiful blue shade one sees in the early mornings is a spectacle worth getting up early for, a result of the sun rising above the horizon and it’s rays bouncing off the clouds that have settled overnight. Hence, the name.

Quiet. An adjective that one cannot use to describe many places anymore. Except here, in the Blue Ridges. You can hear birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, a farm dog barking way off in the distance, a cow mooing from a pasture. And you can hear nothing, absolutely nothing, in between. No cars, no phones ringing, no music blaring, no construction noises and none of those damn leaf blowers. This is what Roo and I came here for this weekend: to escape to peace and quiet in an idyllic setting.

Except for one particular sound. The bark of motorcycle exhausts. What, what? The third weekend in July is our moto club’s annual rally in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Our wonderful mom & pop motel is the Big Lynn Lodge, and it sits right by two of the best motorcycle roads in the East: The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), and North Carolina 226A; The Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route.

Friday: Chasing the bigger latitudes

This year we took a different approach to this rally. Roo’s back was acting up, as such she didn’t think it wise to be perched on the pillion seat of a motorcycle. So she drove her car while I straddled my NC700XD and rode to the Big Lynn Lodge. As we were heading to the Blue Ridges, there was only one road appropriate to take us to our destination: The Blue Ridge Parkway. I had a blast negotiating the curves of the BRP while setting the NC’s transmission in auto mode, Sport Level 3 (highest). A stop for lunch at Mount Mitchell State Park, home of the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi River, then onward as we rode to bigger latitudes and cooler temps. Five hours later, we pull into the Big Lynn parking lot amid motorcycles and our people.

If I did dirt, this would be the bike I’d do it on……. 

After unpacking the car and parking the NC in front of our room, we cleaned up and went out to say hello to friends we hadn’t seen since last year’s rally.

Roo (right) greeting her moto-buddy, Barbara. Barb rides a Yamaha FZ-09

Three members of our club are accomplished Blues musicians, and on the first night of the rally each year they donate their talents to entertain their fellow motorcyclists.

The Alligator Blues Band

They always put on a fantastic show playing and singing classic blues and jazz with a bit of rockabilly thrown in. Awesome!

Saturday: Peace and quiet with Ma Nature

This is the day Roo and I would really decompress. It has been an emotionally and physically fatiguing past few months. The chill out started with the ride up to Little Switzerland on the BRP yesterday. We all know the therapeutic value of riding a motorbike. Seeing old friends, catching up, and a couple of adult beverages got us in the chill groove. Today, Mother Nature would take over.

After a communal breakfast in the lodge, everyone geared up, fired up their bikes, and went out on their respective routes for the day. Except me and Roo. We hopped in Roo’s Nissan Versa and turned onto the BRP. It was 9:00 AM. A beautiful, crisp morning. We drove about ten miles, the only vehicle on the road. We pulled off to an overlook and shut the engine. We heard ………………. nothing. Nothing but the breeze rustling the leaves and birds chirping. It was heaven.

Our first stop was to Linville Falls. Beautiful and breathtaking. We would hike out to the falls overlook, then hike down into Linville Gorge.

On the way out to view the falls, we came upon this very, very old pine tree. The trunk of this pine was tremendous, as you can see below:

Roo the tree hugger

We could hear the rushing water of the falls as we got closer and closer. Just the sound of rushing water is enough to make me relax. Don’t even have to see it. We did, and it was gorgeous.

Linville Falls

That’s a long way down into the gorge, and that’s where we’re headed next. We are a few hundred feet above the falls, and the falls drop another few hundred feet into the gorge. It’s going to be quite the hike, especially climbing back out!

Linville Gorge

Our descent started on this staircase, the only man made steps into the gorge.

It continued on rooted and rock strewn singletrack through rock tunnels like this:

Halfway down, I looked up along side the wall of the gorge and took this photo. The tree gives some perspective of the depth of this gorge, and we were only about half-way to the bottom! Looking up while going down!

Getting closer, we can now see the Linville River, below the falls. We’re almost at the bottom of the gorge!

Finally! We break through some dense foliage and climb around a couple of huge boulders, and we hit bottom! Standing on the banks of the Linville River at the bottom of the Falls.

Some folks were here already swimming in the river.

This photo of Linville Falls was taken from the banks of the Linville River at the bottom of the gorge.

We pulled up some rock and relaxed, just taking in the astounding beauty of this place. After a while, we started the climb back up. Wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. It pays to be in good physical condition!

Back in the car and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for our next adventure. Paddling and trail running at Ray Price Lake, right on the BRP. In a very unusual role reversal, Roo wanted to trail run, and I wanted to do the chill thing and paddle on the lake. She changed into running gear and quickly took off down the trail. I rented a canoe and serenely paddled out onto the lake.

Ray Price Lake

What a gorgeous lake. Paddling here in a canoe had me seeing flashbacks to Boy Scout camp as a kid, paddling lakes in Upstate New York.

I came across this beaver dam in a backwater section of the lake. How cool!

Interesting flower.

Photos from amidships

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What a wonderfully decompressing day. Outdoors all day long, a wonderful lunch in a fantastic Italian restaurant in the town of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and driving the Blue Ridge Parkway for hours. The sun is setting, it’s getting darker on the Parkway, and it’s supper time for critters moving about, as we head back to our motel and our moto buddies.

Sunday: “One more cup of coffee before I go, to the heat in the valley below.” (Bob Dylan paraphrase).

Yes. Heat. Lots of it is forecast for back home in South Carolina. Triple digits worth, topping out at 101 degrees F. But right now, early morning in the Blue Ridges, it is wonderfully cool. Roo and I pack up her car, then head into the lodge for breakfast. Everyone is geared up and wanting to get on the road early. Some have hundreds of miles to travel. We, too, are anxious to get an early start., so I can minimize time spent in the heat and humidity. As soon as the NC’s headlight is tilting downslope, the temps begin their upswing.

Hugs, handshakes, goodbyes, and everyone is heading out. The sound of motorbikes is everywhere. It’s not quiet, but that therapeutic sound is a fitting end to another great rally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering the Bigger Latitudes

 

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Jeez, it’s hotter than hell, and has been for weeks now, here in South Carolina. Temps and humidity in those numbers that begin with a 9, every day. Roo and I are looking for relief, and so early on a Friday morning, late in July, we packed up the ST and headed for the bigger latitudes.

It so happens that our moto club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA), is hosting a regional club gathering in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Even the name, Switzerland, evokes images of snow capped mountains and cool, fresh, mountain air. We do this event every year, riding the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway to our destination. Along the way, we always stop for lunch at a favorite place, especially looking forward to not only the meal, but more so to the precipitous drop in temperature. Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina sits right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and has a great restaurant that serves up really good road food. As we turn onto the state park road, we begin the sinuous climb up Mt. Mitchell, watching the ST’s on board air temperature gauge reading steadily decline. At 6,684 ft., Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. You won’t see a snow capped peak here (in summer), but oh my god the relief from the heat was fantastic, reading a wonderful 72 degrees.

Views from Mt. Mitchell

Always a good sign!

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The grounds around the restaurant are beautiful with wildflowers, bees, birds, and Roo too!

After lunch we’re back on the Blue Ridge Parkway enjoying our ride to Little Switzerland. At 3200 ft. elevation, Little Switzerland is a jewel of a village with some of the best motorcycling roads around. By late afternoon, we pull off the Parkway and roll into our accommodations for the weekend: The Big Lynn Lodge.

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The road that the Big Lynn Lodge sits on is NC 226A. Prior to the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930’s, this two lane, carriage road was the main thoroughfare connecting the villages of Spruce Pine and Little Switzerland, North Carolina. It was also a toll road, and right in front of the Big Lynn Lodge stand the two toll gate columns from almost a century ago.

Toll gate columns dating from the 1920’s.

After checking in, we unpacked the beaST for the weekend, popped a couple of beers and sat on the porch of our room and enjoyed a most gorgeous view we never tire of.

Our rooms

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The view from the porch

Time to wander around and meet up with old friends and make new friends before dinner and the evenings entertainment. One high profile personality was here, or at least his machine was. We never actually saw him or his sidekick.

Who are you? …….. “I’m Batman

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Some bikes, some bikers, all surrounded by natural beauty

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After dinner, we had live entertainment from a blues band whose members are also members of the MSTA. Hailing from Morganton, North Carolina, they call themselves The Alligators Blues Band, and they can belt out the blues like nobody’s business!

Barbara (left) and Barbara & Roo (right) with a ringside seat. The Alligators are playing in the background.

The Alligator Blues Band

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Later that night, as the band was winding down and packing up, someone pointed to the sky and said, “Look! It’s a Blood Moon!” Everyone looked, and sure enough, there was a beautiful orange/red moon hanging in the sky. Unfortunately, my little Canon wouldn’t pick it up, so here is a pic off the web pretty close to what we saw:

blood

It wasn’t a “true” blood moon, as they only happen when there are four lunar eclipses in a row, or what is called a lunar tetrad. My guess is the moon looked red to us because of atmospheric conditions beyond my comprehension. It was beautiful though.

The next morning, Saturday, Roo awoke with a bad backache, and didn’t want to chance making it worse riding pillion. So, she opted to stay behind and relax in the beautiful surroundings of Big Lynn Lodge.

When we come to this gathering, I have only one ride in mind: riding the Blue Ridge Parkway northbound as far as time will allow. I love this road. There are twistier roads, and there are faster roads. But, to me, The BRP epitomizes motorcycling at it’s best. And so, off I went, spending a fantastic day on the Parkway, with a side stop at a wonderful Italian restaurant that serves up authentic Italian cuisine, a rare find here in the South.

Views from the Blue Ridge Parkway

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A full day of fantastic riding on the BRP under my belt, I roll the ST to our room. Tonight is our final night here, and after dinner the event coordinator gives out door prizes, all moto related of course.

The swag table. Roo won the large Nelson Rigg Dry Bag in the photo to the left

Calling out the numbers for door prizes

The main dining hall, where everything happens!

Apres door prize giveaways, everyone mingled, drank adult beverages, some started packing up their motorbikes to leave really early in the AM. Roo and I hung out with friends before retiring for the night.

Barb & Roo (right) in the library. Barb rides a Yamaha FZ-09

Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes and pointed the ST downhill and into the oppressive heat. But for two days we cooled off, chilled out, and caught up with motorcycling friends. Just doesn’t get any better!

Getting a Quickie in Little Switzerland, North Carolina

006Quickies can be fun. They can be exhilarating. And they can be satisfying. Now before your thoughts go flying in the wrong direction, let me elaborate.

Our moto club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA), holds an annual gathering in Little Switzerland, North Carolina with moto central being the Big Lynn Lodge, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Last year I failed to make this years lodge reservations, and thus failed to get us a room.

Thursday AM, the first day of the gathering, our phone rings. On the other end is our friend from Virginia and fellow club member, Barbara, telling us that a room has opened up and instructing us to book it NOW! Taking direction well (she has a theater background), Roo booked it for Saturday night, and we were on our  way to enjoy a quickie!

Roo, still recovering from knee surgery, drove her car, lovingly named the “nerdmobile” (Roo is a little nerdy), while the beaST and I danced our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Little Switzerland. We arrived just as other club members were returning from the days ride.  Let the party begin!

The beaST and the “Nerdmobile”

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Our accomodations. Nothing to look at on the outside – luxurious on the inside!

002The view from our balcony

018 The Big Lynn Lodge

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The Big Lynn Lodge has a unique setup, in that the room price includes a sit down full breakfast and dinner. It is an old mom & pop mountain lodge, bordered on one side by the Blue Ridge Parkway, and on the other by this:

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It also sits right on NC 226A, another named, curvaceous motorcycle road: The Diamondback Motorcycle and Sports Car Route.

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Motorcycle Sport Touring Association, an AMA chartered club, put on the event

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Anybody wanna dance?

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Our event director, Dave (right) with Roo helping with registration

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Our gang (L-R); Jim, Barbara, Tree (yes), Rick & Roo

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The MSTA is a national club with state chapters. We have events all over the country with a national gathering in June every year alternating east coast, central and west coast locations. At this event we had members from Ohio, Virginia and even Florida come over to ride the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.

Dave officiating the door prizes

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Our buddy, Barbara snags a ballcap. She rides a new Yamaha FJ-09 and loves it!

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Roo scored a ball cap and a Butler Map of the Southern Appalachians!

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Roo loves her elder statesmen motorcycle riders, with a special affinity for two of them who show up here every year:

Roo gets a shot with Doug, route planner extraordinaire. Roo says he’s cute as a bugs ear.

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Roo gives her other elder heart throb, Syd, a cheek smacker. Syd is the  quintessential Virginia gentleman. Post ride, Syd is never without a libation in hand. 

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The Roo sammich. Look close enough and you’ll see the classic Roo blush!

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A late night of re-connecting with friends and connecting with multiple glasses of wine made for a bit fuzzy wake up on Sunday. Nothing a few cups of coffee and a high protein breakfast couldn’t take care of. After the delayed, then delayed again goodbyes, everyone was geared up, and with the sound of motorbikes permeating the beautiful mountain air, bikes and their riders were going in multiple directions towards home.

Roo got in the “nerdmobile” and headed home. Me and my ST headed out and took NC226 down the mountain. I laughed  inside my helmet as I came upon the familiar warning signs just as this road takes a sharp downward dip and the twisty parts begin. Nowhere else in these mountains have I seen signs reading like this:

No safe place to pull over and shoot a photo, so I pulled this photo off the web. Makes me smile every time. Let’s play!

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A mere 24 hours felt like we were away for three days. Being with the right people, in the right place, at the right time can do that. Was this quickie fun? Absolutely! Was it exhilarating? You bet! Was it satisfying? Oh yeah, baby. With respect to Mick Jaggers plight, we got  loads of satisfaction on this mini trip!

Contacts & information:

The Motorcycle Sport Touring Association

Big Lynn Lodge

Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route