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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 300 Mile Test for the NC700XD

The big test day for the NC had us turning 300 miles round trip with heat, then very cool temps, rain, then cold rain, dry tarmac, then tarmac flooded over.

Our group of 12 bikes left Greenville, South Carolina, for the mountains of North Carolina, amid a beautiful, sunny morning. Temps were up, but we knew heading into the mountains, things would cool down quickly. Our first destination: Mt. Mitchell State Park, home of Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain peak east of the Big Muddy (Mississippi River) at 6684 feet.

No rain was in the forecast along our entire route according to Weather Underground. So rain gear stayed home. The ride up was awesome! Comfortably fast paced, no Ricky Racer antics by anyone, with the ride leader doing a good job of keeping everyone together. Lunch was at the Mt. Mitchell restaurant, and having eaten there many times, I must say this time the meal was truly forgettable.

Leaving town in traffic, I kept the NC in automatic, Sport mode 2 (out of 3). This was also a good setting for the sweeping curves we encountered on the ride north. Our approach road to the Blue Ridge Parkway was NC226A, a.k.a. The Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route.

For this super twisty and super fun section of road, I switched the NC from auto, to manual, on the fly. No drama. Whatever gear the automatic mode tranny is in, the same gear is selected by computer for manual mode. Now I was in full control of gear selection. Upshifts and downshifts with the buttons on the left handlebar were fast and smooth as we negotiated the tight curves and switchbacks of 226A. I know I am now becoming one with this motorbike as I only grabbed for a non-existent clutch lever once, and wiggled my left foot for a downshift only once!

Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I switched back to automatic mode, but this time in Sport Mode 3. This was perfect for the continuous curves on the BRP.

The stock tires on this bike are great. She is shod with Bridgestone Battlewings, a 90 percent road, 10 percent off-road (????), ok, hard fire road, tire. So far, since getting the NC, I have only tested them in dry conditions, and they are excellent! They grip like nobody’s business, and give really good feedback from the road. Unbeknownst to me, I would get the chance to test their wet road worthiness big time, in a few hours.

At one of our rest stops, we came upon a hopped up Polaris Slingshot in a parking space. For those of you unfamiliar with the Slingshot, it is a three wheeled  (two front, one rear), open cockpit, steering wheel vehicle. Supposedly, it has a pretty powerful power plant right out of the box.

Polaris Slingshot

I have heard it been said by those not enamored with this vehicle, that it has all the inconvenience of a convertible, and none of the fun of a motorcycle. So why? Not sayin’, I’m just sayin’…………….

The afternoon was getting on, and as it was , my ETA home was going to be around 6:30 – 6:45. Beady little eyes will start wandering about in these here mountains looking for supper along the roadside soon, so I split from the group and headed down the hill. Then the skies opened up.

Big time rain! No where to pull over, mostly because I couldn’t see! Thankfully, the bucket drenching only lasted a couple of minutes, then reduced itself to a steady shower. But at least visibility was good now, and, a perfect real world wet test for the Bridgestone Battlewings!

The roads were soaking wet, so I slowed my speed and significantly reduced my lean angles; no Moto GP rain tire leanings going on here! The Battlewings performed admirably. Coming out of curves while rolling on the throttle produced a steady grip of rubber to road as the bike straightened up. No sphincter puckering slippage at all.

Some sections of road were flooded over, not deeply, but enough to see a small current running through the water. Plowing through, there was not the slightest hint of hydroplaning! I was duly impressed with these Battlewings! Now, the only thing to ascertain is their durability through this year. I’ve had them from mile 0, so we’ll see what number rolls up on the odo at the end of the year and what the tread wear looks like.

Not all is peaches and cream with the NC, however. My biggest complaint, and a major one, is the seat. Up to 150 miles or so, it is ok. Beyond that, it gets very uncomfortable. For some reason, Honda developed this seat with a forward slope, which pushes you into the frunk. About 125 miles out, you begin to lack feeling in your nether regions. No bueno! Fortunately, the ergos of handlebar and foot pegs on the NC are similar to the Africa Twin, which allows me to stand up and steer comfortably, and get blood moving again!

I had this problem with my ST1300 as well, but solved it with Beadrider seat beads. Can’t do that with the NC though. The NC’s seat height at 32.7 inches already puts me on the forefoot/balls of my feet. Beadrider adds about another half inch of height, which would put me on tip toes. No, no, no. So, a new seat is on the list of add ons, sooner than later.

I was very happy with this motorbike prior to this road test. Now I am truly in love with this machine. She performed flawlessly throughout the varied conditions of this test. Once the seat is changed out, she will be the perfect bike for me at this stage of my riding career. The adventure continues!

 

 

Three National Parks, One Great Road Trip, Celebrating America’s Best Idea – Final

national

1916-2016

Looking Into North Carolina

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I awake in Sparta, North Carolina, to another picture perfect day. It is in stark contrast to the ominous weather that hurricane Matthew is presenting to the Florida coast, as it whirls it’s way up to my home state of South Carolina and beyond. I am heading west, deeper into western North Carolina and hundreds of miles from the coast. By the time Matthew breeches the Carolina’s, I will be safely tucked away at home. No worries though. I live in the western part of the state, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, over two hundred miles from the coastline.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun in 1935, yet was not completed until fifty-one years later in 1987. The final piece of the puzzle, so to speak, was put into place at Grandfather Mountain, here in North Carolina. The two halves of the Parkway met here, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the southern terminus, and from Shenandoah National Park, at the northern terminus.

In order to preserve the environmental integrity of Grandfather Mountain, which is now a Unesco Biosphere, engineers decided to build around the mountain, rather than blast the Parkway through it. Thus was born the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering marvel that minimized the impact of construction on Grandfather Mountain.

Linn Cove Viaduct

linn

139

There is a visitor center at the south end of the viaduct which shows a short video of how the bridge was constructed. Very interesting! Outside, there is a short trail that leads under the viaduct where you can see the construction of the pilings and the bridge hugging the side of Grandfather Mountain.

Amazing!

I’m in very familiar surroundings now, riding the section of the Parkway that I ride all the time, even as a day trip! Lucky me! Tonight is a camping night, at Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground, a mere ninety miles from my home. I won’t go into any camping details here. You have read plenty about this campground in previous posts (it is one of our favorites). However, I will always write or post pics of our canine bretheren:

What’s a campground without a camp mascot? This is Sadie. She is one sweet dog.

The next morning, I awoke to the one wet day of the entire trip. The dew point was high, and a heavy drizzle had fallen all night. Outdoor gear was getting packed away wet today. Clouds were hanging low over the campground, and Cold Mountain, the “hill” I have to climb to get back to the Parkway, was totally obscured. But, it was absolutely beautiful.

The ride up Cold Mountain was slow going. At times all I could see was my front wheel as I climbed through the low cloud cover. Finally reaching the ridge and pulling onto the Parkway, I pull over to take in the beauty:

From here, the Parkway ascends to it’s highest point. Virginia boast’s the lowest point on the Parkway, while North Carolina boast’s the highest:

158

Though beautiful, the eeriness of the fog doesn’t escape me

Ghost Riders?

163

A group of Can-Am riders at the Highest Point

167

From here, the Parkway begins it’s long, gradual descent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I ride down out of the clouds into beautiful mountain scenery.

Twenty or so miles later, my journey ends at MM469. The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at a T junction with US Highway 441. Four days of blissful riding on Skyline Drive and the BRP abruptly ends. Traffic, people, noise, gridlock, aarrrrrggghhh! Welcome to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

smoky

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Established June 15, 1934

Size: 522,427 acres (800 square-miles)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the park system. Nine million visitors per year come to this park. That’s twice the amount of folks who visit Grand Canyon National Park at four plus million. I circled the Oconaluftee Visitor Center parking lot three times before a space opened up.

173

The only road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park is US 441. Today, Friday, traffic is heavy, but moving. As popular as this park is, the 800 square miles of rugged land between North Carolina and Tennessee are some of the wildest areas east of the Mississippi River. Finding solitude here in the Smokies isn’t hard, but you are going to have to work for it, battling traffic on weekends to get to any of the trailheads in this park. The symbol of the Smokies, The American Black Bear, serves as an example of this parks remoteness once away from cars and people. With over 1500 bears roaming the park’s interior, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest protected bear habitat in the East.

174

I pulled into the open parking space so fast I almost dropped the beaST! I took a stroll into the Visitor Center, feeling awkward in this throng of people, having not seen crowds in over a week.

175

This Visitor Center has a Mountain Farm Museum, again, depicting farm life in Appalachia in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

181

178

Ha! Kidding! Here’s the house mentioned:

176

More farm scenes

After taking these few pictures, the crowds started closing in. People everywhere! I carefully backed out of the parking space and made my way through the traffic. Oh! To be back in Shenandoah just starting out, just me, my ST, and the peacefulness and beauty of the surrounding landscapes.

I am, however, satisfied with my personal celebration of the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. It was one great trip. Now I head deeper into Western North Carolina to mingle with the world travelers of Horizon’s Unlimited, for the weekend, at Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge. But that’s another story.

Three National Parks; One Great Road Trip; Celebrating America’s Best Idea – Part 5

national

1916- 2016

I love motorcycling the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. It is, perhaps, my favorite section of the BRP, although I enjoy all 469 miles of it. The Virginia segment is generally rural, pastoral, and rolling, where the road meanders through beautiful farmland. In contrast, the North Carolina side is rugged and mountainous, with significant elevation changes and breathtaking mountain vistas.

Today is my last day traveling the BRP in Virginia. Perhaps because I only get to ride the BRP here maybe once or twice per year is the reason I treasure it so much. The North Carolina segment is pretty much in my backyard, only eighty miles away from home, so I do ride it frequently.

It’s a longer travel day today, so I leave POO early. The Parkway begins an ascent as I make my way towards the western side of Virginia. Parts of the Parkway are shrouded in fog, and as I crest the ridge, I notice the fog climbing up the north side, over the road, then down the south side. I stop to take a photo:

The fog burned off as the sun rose higher in the sky and warmed up. I rode through the beautiful Virginia countryside for a few hours, then decided to stop for lunch in an idyllic setting.

096

I had purchased a “to go” lunch from POO, and found this beautiful location to enjoy it. After eating, a short hike took me around this cabin and through the woods for about twenty minutes. I did it in a counter clockwise direction. Had I done it clockwise, I would have seen this:

100

Doesn’t say anything about protecting oneself, though. Thankfully, I didn’t cross paths with any large, furry mammals with teeth.

Back on the ST, I continue rolling southbound, with but a few miles of Virginia yet to traverse. I’m now close to where I spent my first night’s camp on this trip, and so it is very familiar territory. I pull off the Parkway at Tuggles Gap, near Floyd, Virginia. Roo and I have traveled here many times and even stayed one night in this ramshackle mom & pop motel:

The motel leaves much to be desired, but the restaurant is great, and is a very popular eating spot for motorcyclists. The riding in this area is exceptional, with everything from twisty mountain roads to two lane country byways.

Right up the road, on the BRP, is my final stop in the state of Virginia. This historic site is probably the most famous, and most visited site on the entire Parkway. It is definitely known to have one of the most photographed spots by visitors; so much so that other states have used photos from here to promote tourism in their states!

Mabry Mill

013

This is the famous photograph used in countless advertising campaigns and tourism ads in states where it doesn’t even exist! That is the Blue Ridge Parkway curving off to the left. Below is a photo taken in 1937 of the mill, taken at very near the same spot as I took mine:

115

The mill was built in 1903, and provided blacksmith, wheelwright, and sawmill services for residents in the area. In 1905, a gristmill was added. By the 1950’s the mill was already in a state of disrepair. In the 1960’s, local residents, and later, the National Park Service, began restoration of this important landmark. The National Park Service began gathering other buildings from the local area to restore and display here as well.

Other Mill Photos

The final twenty-five miles in Virginia roll under the ST’s wheels. I cross the state line into North Carolina and bid Virginia farewell for now. Tonight, I hang my helmet in the tiny hamlet of Sparta, North Carolina. Tomorrow, the adventure continues.

Final post: An engineering marvel: the BRP finally comes together; So familiar, it’s like coming home; Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Three National Parks, One Great Road Trip, Celebrating America’s Best Idea: Part 4

national

1916 – 2016

It’s Tuesday around noon, and I’ve put a mere 100 or so miles on the odo, the shortest day on the bike thus far. I roll into the parking lot of my nights lodging and shut the ST down for the day. Hiking is on the agenda for this afternoon, after a welcome lunch in the lodge. Roo and I stayed here ten years ago, and loved it. To make it even more special, we had an exhilarating wildlife encounter right here on the grounds, but more on that later.

Remember this photo from an earlier post? Note the sticker………..

011

This is the inspiration………

070

 The Peaks of Otter (POO) Lodge sits right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is one of only two Parkway Lodges that are overseen by the National Park Service.

The Lodge

063

Inside the lodge, I immediately went to the gift shop and plunked two POO stickers on the counter. I said to the little old lady working the register, “I just couldn’t resist.” She said with a sigh, “nobody can.” So, if you are traveling on the BRP in Virginia, stop at the POO and git yer sticker!

The Peaks of Otter are three mountain peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Abbott Lake and The Peaks of Otter Lodge:  Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill. The name, Otter, supposedly came from a early Scottish settler and family whose last name, Ewing, was pronounced like Otter, when spoken in Gaelic, or their clan name. The origin is unclear.

Sharp Top Mountain

065

The POO property is beautiful, with man-made Abbott Lake being the centerpiece. Trails go around the lake, as well as up all three mountain peaks, Sharp Top being the most difficult. Adirondack chairs grace the lawn inviting you to sit a while and take in the natural beauty, which I did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rooms here at POO are very comfortable, but definitely not high end. My room was on ground level, all have patios or balconies facing Abbott Lake. At first glance, maybe even second and third, it looks like you are walking down a prison cell block:

POO Prison?

073

I was in cell 200

072

The rooms are excellent, and the view out back of Abbott Lake and the three Peaks of Otter is gorgeous.

After a scrumptious lunch in the lodge restaurant, it was time for a serious hike and work up a bit of a sweat. I chose to climb Harkening Hill, one of the three Peaks of Otter, which has a trail leading up to Johnson’s Farm, a homestead from the 1800’s. About a quarter of the way up the trail, I came to a clearing, and saw this looking at me:

074

I stopped, and started to raise my camera, when more eyes wanted to check me out:

075

 Not satisfied, they wanted a closer look. So, closer they came…….

076

and closer still ………

077

At about twelve feet away, they realized there was no food to be had from me, so over to the bushes they went:

078

Four beautiful does, maybe fawns, they looked pretty young. But never once did they display any fear of me. Another enchanting experience.

Back in 2006, when Roo & I were here at this same clearing, a female black bear and her two cubs caught us by surprise as they emerged from another trail not twelve feet from us. We stopped, standing perfectly still, barely breathing, as they came into the clearing. Momma bear hadn’t seen us or caught our scent yet, as her two cubs pranced into the clearing. Suddenly, she whipped her huge head around as she caught our scent, and stared at us. Roo started snapping photos. Funny thing was, the look on the bear’s face showed no fear, anger, or aggression. It was, quite frankly, calm, peaceful and inquisitive. Roo got the photo. Immediately, she turned her head, nosed her cubs into the clearing, and trotted off. I can’t describe the feelings we felt then, and still do whenever we think about that surreal moment. The photo hangs in our living room to this day.

Across the clearing the trail continues and takes a sharp upward slant, beginning the climb up Harkening Hill to Johnson’s Farm.

080

Johnson’s Farm

082

Scenes from Johnson’s Farm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Dusk was setting in, so it was time to head back down Harkening Hill, hill being a misnomer, as this is definitely a mountain, albeit, a small one. Back at the lodge, I got cleaned up and headed for the restaurant for a delicious meal. To my surprise, there was a team of two musicians playing Appalachian mountain music during dinner. The mood was perfect: mountain music, a rustic atmosphere, great food, and a Scottish Ale. A perfect day. To put one more exclamation point on the day, I ventured outside to the lake and encountered this beautiful scene:

092

Tomorrow I continue my journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway as I enter North Carolina.

Next Post: Goodbye Virginia; The mountains are calling.