“It might get worse, but I don’t know how…”
That was Harry’s quote I remember coming through my helmet speakers as we descended a twisty mountain road in dense fog, and pouring rain on Tues, 27 May. We were an hour to two into our ride down the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Waynesboro, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina.
We had set a goal to ride the length of the Parkway, cross the Smokies, and meander back north over a 72-hour period. Now, a few hours into this adventure, we were both wondering what we were up against. One can stay pretty dry on a motorcycle at speed with today’s gear and a motorcycle’s wind protection, but at 25-35 miles an hour in a downpour, you are bound to be damp, even with Gore-Tex.
Harry, coming from Washington DC, and I coming from Norfolk had met on time at a small visitors center 5 miles into the parkway. We had both already ridden through at least an hour of rain, and as we discussed the plan under the small overhang watching the rain pelt our bikes; we knew we had a few more wet hours ahead. Syncing our different brands of FRS radios for the first time through our Autocom systems, we established a comm.-link and started rolling.
Setting out, we made a series of quick stops so I could make gear adjustments to some of the farkels I was trying for the first time.
After that, our mantra was to head south and beat the rain…Picture this, because you will see no pictures posted here as I didn’t want to stop to take them… steep mountain roads, sharp turns, deer just standing in the road, dense fog that cut visibility to 15 feet on occasion, and pouring rain… that’s the picture for our first 4 hours.
After about 110 miles ours of this as we approached Roanoke from the north, we debated leaving the Parkway to get on I-81 and try to get south out of the rain quicker and then get back on the parkway. We made our first real stop of any type at Virginia explore Park (MM#115), where we ate, got off the bikes, dried out a bit, rearranged gear, and examined our situation. It’s was one of those times when laughter was the release for the tension for the technical riding we had been doing for the last three hours.
The sky was starting to lighten and we thought maybe we got this whipped. Harry had led the majority of that first section and I led the way from the rest stop into what we thought would be the breaking sunshine. Then the heavens opened up again, but as we again debated heading over to I-81, even going as far as routing us there on our GPS’s, the rain slowed to a trickle and then a mist. We decided to stay on the parkway as planned and headed to Fancy Gap (MM #200) where we were going to get gas.
Days later we would look back to those first 4 hours and marvel at the speed we continued on the roads (25-40mph) in those conditions. It is obvious after a few hours, you know the limitations of your tires and braking, and were able to adapt to the conditions and keep a pace going.
Lunch was the plan at Fancy Gap, but after filling up our tanks, we realized we were not really hungry and both of us wanted to keep going to break into clear weather. So off we went again on a stretch now that open up some, with longer straight-aways, and sweeping views. Finally the rain halted, sun broke through the clouds and for the first time, we were on wet roads, versus running water over the roads. Then the roads were damp, and finally dry pavement for the first time since leaving my house earlier at 0500! We continued our press southward, enjoying the ride completely now, passing more motorcycles than cages, on the limited access two-lane road. Tempting fate, we pulled over momentarily to put on our sunglasses. We kept up until reaching a small visitor center at Blowing Rock (MM#300). There we stripped relaxed for about 15 minutes and munched on the health food. Harry on an apple and nuts and I, on a homemade chocolate – peanut butter brownie I bought in the gift store!
Being able to communicate while riding added an unexpected element of safety and entertainment to the trip. Our Autocom setups worked flawlessly. We could warn each other of approaching 4-wheel or 4-legged hazards, gravel in the road, or dangerous curves. We could discuss where to go or when to stop. However, the most enjoyable thing was just being able to share what was on your mind from time to time. Thankfully, neither of us was so chatty that it was intrusive or ran down the batteries in our FRS.
We knew we had about 90 miles to go to Asheville where we would stay the first night, so we set off to tackle those miles. Electrics were needed that day as the wind was quite cool at 5,000 feet and we were still damp from the morning deluge. The last 90 miles went fast across gaps and high ridges passing Mount Mitchell, highest point east of the Mississippi. It was only the last 30 miles, when I was leading that I really had to concentrate to make good turns and good entrances to corners as the road quality deteriorate those last miles into Asheville, the only such place on the Parkway. (MM#387) Once in Asheville we found a nice hotel right off the drag and quickly unloaded and showered.
We had dinner at the closest place we could walk to, a local Applebee’s. The hostess walked us to our table, but after riding all day, the wooden chairs looked awfully uncomfortable. I asked if we could sit in a booth “… with those soft cushions.” She gave me a perplexed look, so Harry chimed in, “He just had an operation.”
Over dinner we discussed plans for Wed and decided to finish the last of the Parkway from Asheville to Cherokee NC, climb back over the crest of the Smokies on 441 and through Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, stopping by to see my 95 year old grandmother and grandfather before heading up route 19 up through VA to Beckley WV.
Mileage: 559 miles
Total time: 11.48 mins
Avg Speed: 47.3mph
The next morning dawned CLEAR! And SUNNY! And CRISP! With John Melloncamp in my helmet speakers, we set down the MOST beautiful part of the parkway! Great roads, endless views, beautiful alpine environment, and no traffic. We stopped at the highpoint on the Parkway (MM#432) since I am a high pointer.
We then drifted down the mountain to the end, which came way too soon. (MM# 470) After 1.5 days on the parkway, entering the real world is abrupt and you must get on your toes again for all of the cages trying to kill you. We blended in with a slow moving train headed up to New Found Gap through Smokey Mountain National Park, my old stomping grounds.
We were quite the spectacle and center of attraction when we stopped at the Gap to freshen up. Several tourists came up to ask about our bikes, GPS or hydration systems. One guy asked if we wore outfits that matched our bikes so we knew which one to get on. Then, an elderly woman stared at me and said to Harry, “Yer buddy thar shor laks ray-yed, don ney?”
I have never and will probably ever again, get through Gatlinburg with absolutely no traffic at 1100 on a Wednesday but it worked this day and we found ourselves through tourist Mecca in quick time, reaching my grandparents’ home about 1200.
After a short visit, we had to pay our dues, and jumped on the high-speed rally course known as I-81. I remember when this relatively new interstates had little traffic, but now truck traffic averages 75-80 and its bumper to bumper, almost worse than I-95!
But we only needed to get past the VA state line and then escaped after a gas fill up in Abingdon and settled on the great unrestricted 4 lane known as State Road 19. Following it, even when it narrowed two lanes twisty over mtn passes; we took it all of the way to Beckley after a short ten-mile stint on I-77. Arriving in Beckley, we fell into our arrival routine: gas up, use the SPIII to find the nearest cluster of hotels, and then circle the options to find an older style place with exterior doors so we can park in front of our rooms.
Miles: 376 miles
Total Time: 10 hours
Same routine, just earlier, we quickly showered, changed and ate our fill before retiring to the rooms to watch a weather system move back toward us from the west. Walking over to the Dairy Queen, we knew we would have rain that night and in the am for our ride home so we covered the bikes and headed to bed. Before I was asleep, the rain was falling and when we awoke, the same. Breaking out all the electrics, we loaded up quickly and decided to ride down the mtn east on I-64 and have breakfast in Lexington, VA
Once again, riding conditions were tough, particularly with the sudden patches of dense fog. Each time we rode into a fog bank, we’d wonder how far behind us the last 18 wheeler was.
We were once again the center of attraction as we circled the Redwood Family Restaurant with its big windows and parked in front of the breakfast crowd. Undressing under the overhang, we quickly went inside for a hearty breakfast. We both sort of lingered over breakfast, not because we did not want to get back on and ride in the rain, but rather the realization our quick escape was coming to the end. We had found we had entirely compatible riding styles and enjoyed the same banter and thoughts. Sliding back on to I-81 at 70 mph, a semi attempted to come into my lane (left merge) but the ST accelerated past it and into an open area. From there, it was try and find a pocket of no semis and we were fine. The rain finally stopped as we were prepared to spilt at I-81/I-64 and we exchanged farewells over the radio…it seem strangely silent without Harry talking in my head. As I headed east, Harry headed north and another three hours of rain through Richmond, I was soon pulling into my garage at home, tired but happy. The Blue Ridge parkway is such a great road; it could be done annually and not be grown tired of, at least my opinion. Harry and I found that our riding styles complimented each other so we do the 48/8 in 2004; we should be in good shape as partners!
Total time: 5 hours
Total Miles: 1278 miles in 2.5 days
Total time: 25 hours. 2 mins
Average Speed: 51.2 mph
2002 BMW K1200LT-C – Harry
1997 Honda ST ABS – Bob