Bluegrass to Mountain Pass: the ride continues

My time in Kentucky was relaxing, though maybe too much. I can get into an extremely lazy rhythm when I have no pressing matters and all the basics are taken care of. I enjoyed touring bourbon distilleries and definitely needed some sleep, but the days started to pile on and I wasn’t getting things prepped for my next journey.

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Work did get done on the bike while in Kentucky.

I did manage to do some work, get the bike in for a recall notice, and replace my rear tire, but I was supposed to be reconfiguring the loadout in my trailer, cleaning the bike, knocking out articles, and routing myself for the next several hundred miles. It was a mixed bag at best, but when I finally hit the road south toward the Cherohala Skyway I was at least ready for it.

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Out the door and on the road.

I hit up Red River Gorge, which reminded me that if you’re within an hour of a major city you’ll end up in weekend traffic no matter how back-country the roads look, and no matter what state you’re in. I got stuck behind lines of Jeeps doing ten-under the speed limit, people in Corvettes toddling along and five-below the limit, and more than one Harley trike doing the same. 

Still I plodded on, making it into Tennessee and noticing the difference between the Volunteer State and the Bluegrass State.  The Mason-Dixon line is still real in the eastern part of these states, and the trailer parks, junk piles, and Trump flags increased dramatically. The kudzu– Creeping Death– also increased. These vines look beautiful at first, laying a canopy over everything alive or dead, but it is an invasive plant that smothers the light from entire forests. It gives any valley or hillside it covers an eerie feeling.

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As fantastic as the Cherohala Skyway is, it was full of traffic and not nearly as breath taking as roads on the eastern sloped of the Appalachians. I enjoyed the ride but was happy to end my day in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I also finally managed to check out Wheels Through Time, a vintage motorcycle museum where almost every display is in running condition. They will fire up several bikes each day for guests, and I even caught them giving sidecar rides to family and friends after closing time.

I was in awe of the displays, and got a bit of a VIP treatment because my friend Eric had been there ahead of time and talked me up as this legendary sidecar racer who was also in an awesome rock band.: it’s good to have a hype man. The machines are mostly from 1910-1955, and the displays are built up to look like period garages or race courses where the bikes might be found.

We grabbed dinner in town and then I stayed overnight on a back porch I found through the Bunk-a-Biker network (BaB). I had now already covered many miles on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), picking up its southern Terminus in Cherokee, NC.  The road was originally conceived during the New Deal era, giving people jobs building a road designed purely for recreation. It was extended and the whole thing wasn’t completed until the mid-1960’s, but it has a unique feeling in that there are no roadside tourist traps.

Because the entire road is a park, there are no commercial vehicles allowed and the maximum speed limit is 45mph, with the road deliberately designed to take you from viewpoint to viewpoint. My first stop though was the Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC, which highlights local craftspeople and goes into some of the history of the area. Quilting, straw dolls, woodworking, clothing design, pottery: it’s all there, along with a section about the actual building of some of the Parkway.

I continued north on the BRP meandering along at about the speed limit, but constantly running into people going 10mph slower. It’s a bit odd that I can pull a trailer on a motorcycle at 45mph and still soak up the views, but car drivers need to be going 35 or slower to do the same. Fortunately most drivers are also watching their mirrors and the overlooks are designed to let cars use them as turnouts without having to dive-bomb into an overlook full of tourists not paying attention to car traffic.

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The leaves were just beginning to change, with trees only having a few yellow branches here and there, with the occasional tree trying to turn red; I may have timed this trip to perfection. Crabtree Falls Campground was my destination and I was very happy with the place. The sites were way too close together, but the tent area was devoid of life; it was only me and two other campers sharing about 60-70 sites.

Life On The Parkway

My friend Eric decided to come out this way: he seemed excited to actually ride with me in his home turf. I had a place to drop the trailer so it was a great time to try out local roads. We first rode to Little Switzerland using a circuitous route because the BRP was closed just north of the campground due to a landslide.

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Myself and Eric at the Crabtree Falls Campground.

We grabbed some food at the Switzerland Inn then took on Hwy 226A, looping around to Hwy 80, which is absolutely stunning. Going west toward the BRP, it’s an uphill run that’s very tight, mostly devoid of driveways, and has near-new pavement. This means you can ride the road quite aggressively and rarely break the speed limit at all. The Chieftain is a 900lbs RV of a motorcycle, but it does have light steering, so on a smooth road that doesn’t upset the soft suspension, you can really enjoy leaning the bike over… I only dragged the floorboards 3-4 times the whole ride.

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Another night at Crabtree Falls Campground let me really fall in love with the area. The skies had low clouds (we’re about 2300ft up already) that seemed to race by, constantly changing the feel of the place. The poplar and alder trees were gorgeous in the winds, and when rain did fall it was usually light enough that the canopy of leaves negated the need to put on my rainsuit. What a slice of heaven.

In the morning I hiked to Crabtree Falls, which was quite a steep hike and on some fairly rocky terrain. My body let me know I’ve been neglecting it: on the downhill sections my knees struggled and on the uphill sections my energy drained so fast I’d have sworn I was up at 8,000ft elevation.

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Still, my body needed it. Despite stretching that night and the next morning though, I felt extremely sore as I rode out of Crabtree Falls on the BRP, the rock slide having been cleared just the night before. I will always remain attached to that area– and to the nearby Black Mountains Overlook in particular. I spent the sunset there twice. The first time I had a cover of “Hey Hey, My My” on repeat, from Battleme. It echoed off the hillside and filled my lonely corner of the world with sound as the sun walked across the valley below. The sun laid down its fan of rays as holes in the cloud cover moved along the sky.

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The second night it was another cover song: “In The Air Tonight,” by Protomen. A husband and wife pulled in that time, but when I asked if they’d like me to turn down the music they said no, and we enjoyed 10 minutes of panoramic sunset together. With the weather still good it felt like I could have lived there forever, but the mosquitoes were a serious annoyance, and the less I saw of them the more I knew winter’s cold was coming in.

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Northward On The Parkway

The stretch from Crabtree Falls to Hwy 18 and Laurel Springs is probably my favorite stretch of the BRP. There are massive views and elevation changes, few towns connecting, and the most photographed part of the BRP is on that stretch as well.  Called the Linn Cove Viaduct, you can look up pictures on your own. It was full of parked traffic trying to get pictures, and I’ve seen it enough to not need to stop. 

The BRP meandered on and gave way to endless views, but eventually it also gave way to signs saying “bridge out 11mi, local traffic only.” My GPS also said, turn right in 11mi, so I decided to chance it. Sure enough, the bridge was about 1/8mi before my exit, but the actual blockade was right where a dirt road intersected the Parkway. A quick look at the maps showed I could follow it around to Hwy 18. I saw the bridge along the way (it was definitely out, as in, not there at all) and then I dropped onto the Highway.

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This is a place I stayed with my ex-girlfriend Kate when we did our 2020 trip, and something in my head made me decline to stay at Wild Woody’s again, despite really liking the place. Instead I stayed next door at Freeborne’s, which, at $88/night, wasn’t much of a motel. People partied (there’s also a bar and it was Friday) until about 11:30pm and the walls were paper thin to where I could hear my neighbors’ snoring. Just the same, it was clean, well equipped, and a warm place to get a shower and sleep. 

Next up will be the run into Virginia, where the BRP ends and another park– the Shenandoah National Park– and its Skyline Drive attempt to continue the mojo of the BRP. We’ll pick up there next time, but until then, slideshow:

One thought on “Bluegrass to Mountain Pass: the ride continues

  1. Benson says:

    Great to finally ride with you, I was/am stoked about it for sure, and especially after getting rained out in `20 and not riding after we met at Woody’s.
    Glad to be a part of this great adventure of yours this trip, and getting off work to ride my favorite roads(nc80/and nc226a) midweek with you was really a treat for me. Sleeping on the concrete picnic table was a challenge, but it was worth it in the end.
    I usually only get to ride on the weekends, when there are ten times the people I have to pass over the DY.

    Liked by 1 person

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