All Those American Parkways!

July 31- Aug 9, 2011 – posted by Sandra

We traveled from Virginia to Mississippi using the Skyline Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherahola Skyway, the Tail of the Dragon and the Natchez-Trace Parkway.  In total, these parkways took us over 1,500 Kms (900+ miles), and dominated the American portion of our little road trip.  They provided some of the best camping spots & scenery we’ve had to date.

SKYLINE PARKWAY– The major north-south artery that takes you through Shenadoah National Park in Virginia and provides northern access to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).  It runs 170km (105 miles) and because it is a National Park, there is an entry fee – $10 each for us on the motorbikes.

We met some of the nicest couple and the craziest couple at the start of the Skyline Trail.  We camped at small roadside campground that received top marks in one of those online review sites (apparently those sites are not always 100% accurate… ).  It was over 100F again so we were dripping hot when we arrived.  The owner, Delores was a curmogeony 80-something with hair pulled back in a messy bun, who preferred to sit in her rocker on the side of the driveway so she could “keep an eye on the campers” (all 5 of us… ). The office was a one-room building completely filled from floor to ceiling with old photos, pottery, trinkets, magazines, clocks and newspaper clippings. A prime candidate for reality TV.  We asked her about a few of the photos (she seems to have been a model in her day), this appeared to cheer her up and she got us sorted.

We were sitting at our picnic table, staring at the 2 hot beers that we carried all day in our panniers when Patti & Paul, a couple from New Jersey were nice enough to come by, ask about the bikes, then invite us to their campsite where they were mixing fruity, slushy and ICE COLD drinks with a blender – It would have been rude to say no…  Thanks guys!

We popped in at McDonald’s the following morning to nab some free wifi and a coffee. On the way out, while were just about to hop on our bikes, a man with the name Brandon on his shirt hollered to us from across the parking lot… ‘are you from Canada?’

We chatted a bit and he & his wife were amazed that we hoped to ride our bikes down to Argentina.  He then literally took the next 25 minutes to tell us about the various ways in which we would probably die and how, with a little care a bit of luck we could avoid the horrific outcomes and live to see another day.  Methods of death included: exploding gas tanks, animal attacks, disease (meningitis, in particular), kidnapping, traffic accidents, natural disasters, and dehydration. I was putting in my ear plugs at the 15 minute mark – a sure sign that it was time for us to leave – but Brandon, if that is his real name, continued on.  And on.  We promised him that we were headed directly to the nearest Walmart to pick up the anti-bear air horn, mace, fire extinguishers, jerry cans, and 4 litre water containers we’d need to survive the next few days the as a means of breaking free.

As a result of of our discussion with “Brandon”, we didn’t start the ride until about 11am and the speed limit is only 48kmph (30mph).  Of course their are also numerous, scenic look-off points which drew us away from the trail as we made our way south, so the ride took us all day, despite the short distance.

After about the 50kms on the road, we were starting to really resent the slow speed.  I was mulling this deficiency over in my head at the exact same time a black bear lept across the road right in front of Jordan!  He had to brake really hard, the tires chirped and there was a whiff of burnt rubber in the air (and, maybe a little of something else?), but he somehow managed to keep it upright.  A tip of my helmet to your braking prowess, JPH.

We are used to seeing deer & moose on the side of the road – slow moving grazers which are easy to spot – if you are aware.  This little guy came flying out of the trees and disappeared on the other side as quickly as he came. I was completely freaked out for the remainder of the day.

Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)

“Be careful” or “Have fun”?

The 750Km (469mile) stretch of road is technically a National Scenic Byway built to connect Shenadoah Nat’l Park & Great Smoky Mountains Nat’l Park, NC.  The land on either side of the road is often protected forest and is maintained by the US Nat’l Park Svcs, though it technically is not a park.  There are over 100 bridges & 25 tunnels along the parkway to keep it whole and limit access from the surrounding highways, and trucks are not allowed.  The American government recruited stonemasons from Italy to build the bridges and most of the guardrails on the BRP and the results are beautiful.  Since many of the workers stayed in the U.S. there is also a substantial Italian heritage associated with the area.

Whereas the Skyline was lovely, the BRP was amazing!  Speed limits were much better at 72kmph (45mph), road conditions were perfect, and because we were not there during high season (fall must be amazing!), our ride was essentially traffic-free.  We rode the full 750km roller coaster of curves uninterrupted by cities or towns or bothered by commercial traffic and we stopped often to take in the stunning views.

And this is why they are called the Smoky Mountains

The map provided by the Visitors Centre for the parkway is excellent.  The parkway is organized by mileposts which are easily visible along the side of road.  The map provides points of interest and accommodation locations, as well as where to get gas & food or groceries (on the parkway or a few miles off, if you prefer better prices).

We camped two nights on the BRP – first at Mabry Mill (milepost 176) and then at Linville Falls (milepost 316) both cost only $18.  The camp sites were beautiful, and strangely empty.  Of course, instead of banking the extra funds, we looked at it as an opportunity to buy and enjoy some rare cold ones.

Jordan's panniers, they also hold camping equipment..

We have learned there is much see on either side of the parkway, as well.  My DLSR camera fell off my bike seat and jarred something so it was completely buggered (apparently this means “broken”, edit from Jordan).  Since I had just bought a nice wide angle lens for it, I wanted it fixed.  So, we got up early to make a pitstop in Asheville (milepost 382), about 100km away, riding through the heaviest fog we’ve had on the trip along the way. We capitalized on the 48 hours it would take to have the camera fixed by visiting the super cute town  of Greenville and touring BMW’s manufacturing plant and museum (BMW Zentrum) in nearby Spartanburg.

Smoky Mountains

the most photographed scene along the BRP - Mabry Mill

After Asheville, we popped back on to the BRP to finish up the last 87 miles and hit the highest point on the trail at 1,845m (6,053ft).  If you are lucky to have a chance to ride the BRP, do it on a bike or rent a convertible – you don’t want to hamper those 360-degree views with a roof!

Cherahola Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon, TN – The Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap, TN is revered by motorcyclist and sports car enthusiasts the world over for one reason, it has that is has 318 corners in 11 miles.  That’s right, 318 corners in 11 miles.  Jordan had been reading about the Tail of the Dragon for years, so when we planned our route from Canada to Argentina (well, we really haven’t planned anything, but you know what I mean) we made sure that it would include the Tail of the Dragon.

Tail of the Dragon

We decided to start the day off with the Cherohola Skyway as a warm up. The Skyway consist of more that 60 miles of winding, uninterrupted mountain roads.  It was a great ride and the weather was perfect, however had we not just ridden the entire BRP a couple of days before it would have seemed even better.  As it was, the riding was fast and steady, the views were impressive and we topped off the route with some delicious ice cream, conveniently located across the street from an excellent motorcycle accessories shop in Tellico Plains, NC.

We exchanged some words with some fellow BMW riders at the ice cream shop before heading off the the day’s main event, the Tail of the Dragon.  Incase you missed it, it has 318 corners in 11 miles.  It may be short, but it really packs in a lot over the those 11 miles.  This side of the Nurburgring there are not a lot of roads that offer so much in such a short distance.  We road it twice over two days and really had a lot of fun.  To top things off, we did not even add anything to the Tree of Shame, a tree covered in broken motorcycle parts donated by riders who weren’t quite able to ‘tame the Dragon’.

The Tree of Shame

Great riding aside, what made the weekend so special was staying at the Appalachian Inn in NC, a gift from our good friends Alex and Marina of the eatsleepRIDE.com team (link at left) – Thank you so much!  The inn was stunning, it is a custom built log house designed specifically as a B&B.  We really enjoyed our stay and highly recommend it.

The Appalachian Inn

Natchez-Trace Parkway – we arrived at the Natchez-Trace after some fantastic joy riding through Deal’s Gap and the Tail of the Dragon in the Smoky Mountains.  We actually stumbled upon it after enduring some of the area’s freeways in a bid to make time.  The freeways were not terribly busy, in fact  they were practically empty.  It was the uninspiring nature of freeway travel in general that had looking for better riding opportunities, and we soon found them.

Trampled into being by the Choctaw & Chickasaw Indians the 710km (440mile) trail that runs between Nashville TN & Natchez, MI is among the most historic roads in America.  We joined it near Cleveland – just north of the MI-TN border.  The scenery is among the best available in the deep south; forest, farmland, lakes, and swamps.  Like the other parkways, commercial traffic is prohibited, so is advertising.

The elevation was now closer to sea level, and the cool mountain air was replaced by oppressive heat & humidity.  We popped into the Natchez Visitor Reception Centre for some A/C but ended up hanging around learning about the fate of the Choctaw & Chickasaw as settlers moved into the area.

That night we stayed at Davis Lake campground.  Shortly after setting up tent and fixing a broken tent pole (broken by Jordan, I might add), we were approached by a seniors’ camping group who were very interested in our bikes, our trip, and most importantly, our marital status (we were in the Bible Belt, after all) and, when they asked us to join them for their potluck dinner, we could not refuse.

For me, the best part was the lemonade.  It was fresh, full of ice and extremely cold.  The best part for Jordan?  The fresh home-made ice-cream (of course) from a wooden bucket, these were serious RVers and were fully equipped.  The peach pie backed on site was also pretty darn good.  We chatted with the group for a few hours before making our way back to the tent.  One of the three Sandra’s in the group (I was the fourth) offered up an electric fan for us to use.  All the sites had electricity so we plugged it in, aimed it inside our tent and enjoyed the breeze all night long.  Thanks Sandra, I doubt we would have been able to sleep without it.

2nd best campsite so far

up at dawn

We really enjoyed riding on the American parkways, we would have done more  them if using them did not mean taking forever to get anywhere.  The camping was great, we met a lot of nice people, and we had some of the best (if not fastest) riding of the trip.

Cypress Swamp along the Natchez-Trace

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6 thoughts on “All Those American Parkways!

  1. Hi guys, just found your address. Patty found it in the bottom of her pocketbook. Great job with the blog we were so excited to see our names, Patty says shes famous now. We are getting ready for Mean Irene (Hurricane)..We will be biking up to Maine in Sept. to meet the same family and friends we met down on Skyline Drive when we met you guys. We didn’t forget you, just lost the address, get back to us and we will send a couple pics. Hope your safe, healthly, and happy. Lifes short make the best of it.
    Patty & Paul

    • Hi P&P! How was your ride along the Skyline? Sorry, I spelled Patty’s name wrong – it was a bit of a guess. I’ll send you a personal email with our address in it and the great photo of you two… we weren’t 100% sure you’d want it to be posted. We tell everyone about that shark story! We really had fun with you guys. Batten down the hatches and stay safe! S&J

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