Friday, April 7, 2017

Still Winter -- and Still a Good Time to Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway + Some Nostalgia

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Even through it is winter; we have had some very warm days here in South Carolina.  I took advantage of one of those days on the 21st of March to venture up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had not been there since October of 2016 because of the threat of cold temperatures and possible ice and sand on the roads.  The fall colors on that day were spectacular, by the way.  You can see them in the blog posting linked above.

On the most recent trip there, it was to be in the low 80s on the flatlands where I live, so it would be maybe 10 degrees cooler than that on the Parkway due to its higher elevation.

I checked my tire pressure, the oil level, and generally looked over the bike to make sure nothing was about to fall off.  I check my lights every time I ride, so I did that too.  It is always good policy to look things over so you don't have trouble on the road.

I put on a thin layer of fleece under my riding suit, guessing that it would be warm enough, but not too warm.


I finish dressing and get rolling.  The GoPro is on for those times when there is something interesting on the road -- good or bad.  In fact, just after I start out, a woman begins to pull out from a side street and into me.  She ignores my headlight modulator and a few anticipatory blasts of my horn.  There are several feet to spare, but I swerve away from her in case she is a lead foot.  Fortunately, she missed.

I continue on US-178 from Pickens to SC-11.  I continue following 178 through the most twisty parts to the north until I reach Rosman, NC.

There are a surprising number of bicyclists out today in the mountains.  Their leg muscles bulge as they labor up the hills, but they are rewarded on the downhill sections -- and some of them go faster than I dare on a few of those downward slopes!  They trust those little tires a lot, I think.

Here are four of the cyclists today.  

Yes, four.  There is one more behind one of the visible ones. 
Just beyond Rosman, I take a left onto a short stretch of US-64, but turn right almost immediately onto NC-215.  This part was paved a few years ago and remains in good condition.  It is quite curvy, and I am taking it easy in case there are any leftovers from the cold weather.  I don't see any gravel, sand, snow, or ice here.  Good. 

It is a little over 43 miles to the Parkway from Pickens.

Click here for an interactive map.
Both US-178 and NC-215 are favorite motorcycle roads for local and no-so-local riders.  Many of the motorcycle forums have postings from riders a good distance away who discover these roads.  We are indeed fortunate to live where there is this much beauty and challenge to be had. 


Right about at the place pictured above, just before the entrance to the Parkway, the temperature changes abruptly downward.  I can feel a chill that I had not felt so far on the way up.  This thermocline is quite pronounced today for some reason.  Still, I am not cold, fortunately. 

One of the picturesque overpasses that are a signature of Parkway construction comes into view.  The Parkway entrance ramp is just beyond it. 


I head to the north, and stop for a break at the first parking area.  This one says that there is a view, but the trees are so thick no view is visible.  A chainsaw might remedy that, but the tree huggers would get mad, I suppose. 

After searching for the illusive viewpoint, and as I am walking back to the bike, I notice that the red "record" light is still flashing on the front of my Go Pro.  I forgot to turn it off when I stopped.   My consternation with myself is visible, I'm afraid; within the candid video it was taking while sitting there, otherwise idle. 


I proceed along the Parkway at the speed limit of 45.  I am still watching for anything on the road that might be a traction problem.  In this stretch, I see not only another biker, but some ice left over from the cold weather.  It is present on the north side of a few rock cuts.  There is also the possibility of ice in the several tunnels because of water seepage and cold temperatures, but I don't see any today.  Fortunately, in fact, I don't see any sand or ice on the entire ride today. 


That other rider is making time, and I wonder whether he knows that the speeding fines here are north of $300.  I'll stick to the speed limit, I think. My wallet isn't that thick. 


I see much more beautiful sky and enjoy the road, turn by turn. This is one of the best roads I know of, both because it is curvy and because it is beautiful even in winter when the trees and other flora are not very colorful. 

Here is a wide-angle view from Pounding Mill Overlook at milepost 413.2, elevation 4,700 feet above sea level.   For reference, the highest point on the Parkway is 6,047 feet at milepost 431.4 (the other direction from where I entered the Parkway off of NC-215).  Easley is at 1,079 feet, so the climb has been a net 3,621 feet from home so far. 


It is hard to see in the photograph above, but the Parkway continues near the top of the distant mountains, and the upcoming route US-276 falls back down the escarpment. See the black line and white line, respectively in the copy of the above photograph below.


Here is another panorama from Pounding Mill Overlook, to the right of the view above.


You nature lovers will be pleased to know that this overlook is one of the best places to see monarch butterflies as they migrate to Mexico in early fall.

You should also note that from milepost 412, where US-276 crosses the Parkway, there are several places you can visit.  To the south:
To the north:
But for today, I continue on my way north, staying on the Parkway. 








I'll bet you didn't notice the view of Biltmore House, the largest private residence in the United States, in the above photograph.

Although it is the largest anywhere, it is several miles from here, so I've circled it in the copy of the same picture below.  Look just above the guardrail and to the left of the motorcycle cowling. 


It is so far away that it looks like a toy, but it is a grand place to visit.

I exit at milepost 393.6, elevation 2,100 feet, the French Broad River access to NC-191.  Located near here are:
You could go a little further north on the Parkway to visit a couple of other places:
I follow NC-191 for a few miles, then cut over to 1-26, then US-25 to get back home. 


It is superslab most of the way, but I cut off onto Gap Creek Road, a narrow two-lane, and wind my way to SC11, SC-8, SC-135, and on to Easley. 

I stop at Wildcat Falls right next to SC-11 for a few minutes. 


You don't really have to get off the bike to get this view. 


The pool at the bottom of the falls is a favorite place for families to bathe in the summer. 

Too soon, I am back in Easley, crossing the busy Norfolk Southern tracks to get home.



I am a bit nostalgic at the end of the ride today for some reason.  Looking back, my first time on the Blue Ridge Parkway was in April of 2008, just seven months after I bought this Ninja 650R, the only motorcycle I have owned thus far.  If you have been following my blog, you know that I started riding in my 57th year, and doing so was a significant departure from my otherwise nerdy life.

I'm still pretty nerdy, I admit, but I seem to come out of my shell a bit more with each passing year.  I can actually carry on a conversation with other adults on occasion.  By the time I am 90, I'll likely be a full-fledged extrovert!  I do note that I am much more extroverted than before, and motorcycle riding has helped that. 

I looked back and counted the number of times I have visited the Parkway on the bike.  It turns out that I have been there more than 50 times since that 2008 date, including several times to the Ridgecrest Conference Center Rally to Ridgecrest in Black Mountain, NC.  Perhaps that is why I have some feelings today about riding the Parkway: It is a beautiful road, and a joy to ride.  I am lucky to live close enough to go there often. 

There are also times near the end of an especially enjoyable ride, that I feel as though I don't want it to end; that the day isn't long enough for all I want to see and do on two wheels.   I have written about this before, and I sometimes still feel that way at the end of a ride.

Some day, when I am in my rocking chair at the nursing home drooling on my bib, I'll remember these days and these feelings. 


Well, it has been a nice day out.  I only went about 162 miles, but it was a warm-winter-day treat on some great roads.

Here is the whole route for today.

Click here for an interactive map.


More Parkway Information

  • A longer trip from 2014
  • A website covering attractions from Milepost 294, Moses Cone Park, to the Parkway's southern terminus at milepost 469.1, Great Smokey Mountains National Park

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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Other Side of Eastatoe Falls

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Back in 2009, I visited a waterfall nearby for the first time.  Its name is Eastatoe Falls, but it is also known as Twin Falls. The latter name comes because there are actually two waterfalls here that are side by aside. 

See:

The two falls are quite different from one another, the left being mostly a straight drop top to bottom, the right being a cascading falls. The two falls are along Reedy Cove Creek

I wrote about visiting the falls here.  You might recall that there is a little bit of narrow gravel road to get to the parking area, but not enough to keep most riders away.  It is a ¼ mile walk from the lot to the observation platform at the base of the falls, so you can make it even in riding boots. 

I had heard that the top of the falls has some interesting things to see, so I researched how to get there.  It turns out that there was once a railroad here owned by the Appalachian Lumber Company.  They built it to supply lumber from these parts to be used to make sewing machine cabinets at the Singer Sewing Machine Company that was located in Pickens South Carolina, a town I pass through frequently on the way to other places.

There is another way to get to the falls, but to the top instead of the bottom.  First, lets look at the map.

Click here for a larger, interactive map
Pickens is at the bottom.  The bullseye is the location of the falls themselves.  Balloon A is the parking lot for the bottom of the falls, where I visited a few years ago.  Balloon B is the parking area for the trail to the top of the falls. 

The latter parking lot is on Cleo Chapman Road not far off US-178.  Cleo Chapman starts just a little after  the place where 178 starts to get quite twisty on its way north.  Lots of bikers make the run from SC-11 to the North Carolina state line on US-178 because of the extensive curves, both easy and challenging.

The turn onto Cleo Chapman Road is at the scenic establishment shown below, 3.2 miles north of SC-11. The turn is on the south side of the seedy roadhouse called Bob's Place or, alternatively, Scatterbrains. You can't miss it, as they say.


The left turn is across traffic coming around a tight blind bend, so I use care.

Here is a closer view of the falls location and the two parking areas.

Click here for e a larger, interactive map
Cleo Chapman is very twisty and slopes sharply downward for a couple of miles. 

The parking lot (at Balloon B) for the trail to the top of the falls is about ½ mile from US-178 and has space for only two cars.  It is the gravel drive visible just before this sign:


There is a red gate closing off the parking area from the trail, and sign nailed high on a tree indicating the Twin Falls trailhead.


By the way, this is not a very good place to go wearing your bike boots. The terrain is hilly and rough in places, and the walk is a couple of miles


Walk around the gate, and go a few dozen yards to this little sign: 


Turn left and go another few dozen yards to a pair of gateposts on the right.  The trail starts there.

The wide unpaved, roads that go both directions from the sign appear to be fire roads, and do not seem to lead to any points of interest or views.  

After a while of going up and down on the sometimes-steep trail, you come to a place where the railroad right of way existed.  They have installed wooden stairs in some places to help you get up and down the hills.


You can see where the right of way was from the cuts and fills that were used to reduce the grades the locomotives hauling cars loaded with timber had to climb and descend.  The place where the greenery is in the photograph below is one of the cuts, now eroded to a U-shape.   


Despite the extensive cuts and fills, they employed six two and three truck geared locomotives manufactured by Shay to handle the steep grades.

All evidence of the wooden bridges and trestles themselves is long gone, other than the abrupt drop offs where they started and ended.  That is why the trail diverts from time to time -- to go around the places where there were bridges or trestles. 

After less than a mile of walking, I come to the first hard evidence of the railroad: a length of steel rail embedded in the soil.


And a little further along, some more rail. 


The Appalachian Lumber Company Railroad was established in the late 1920s, but met its doom only about two years later.  A storm caused trees and logging debris to wash down the creek, destroying some of the bridges and trestles.  Most of the rail was salvaged, but some was so difficult to remove and so twisted that it was left.

Take a look.



 






There is a date on one of the pieces of rail: 12 89 -- indicating December 1889 -- so the rail was not new to the lumber company railroad, but was purchased used.  That rail was manufactured in Scranton Pennsylvania.

It must have been quite a wash that went through here.  The lumber company couldn't afford to continue logging here as a result.  Some ten years later, the logging operati
on was restarted by the Poinsett Lumber and Manufacture Company, but using trucks for hauling.

The trail stops at the top of the falls near here: 


Please do not venture off the trail and onto the rocks at the brink of the falls.  
Many have slipped and fallen to their deaths here.


The railroad right-of-way extended to Pickens, but I have not located the right of way between here and there.  There is a remnant in a Town Creek Park in Pickens.  See the link to Mark's Photo Travel Blog below. 

The roofed observation platform near the base of the falls on the other side of the creek is visible from high above it on the trail.  I have been there several times before. 


It is centered in the frame above with the path leading to the parking area off to its left.

This is what it looked like from the base of the falls on an earlier trip: 


And a view from the platform that day:




Well, this wasn't much of a motorcycle posting, but it was a good day in the outdoors to see a local natural attraction from another viewpoint.

Come and visit us here in the Carolinas so you can see some of the sights and ride our great motorcycle roads! 


Links to More Info:

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gettin' Dirty on Winding Stairs

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You know that I have a tendency to go on gravel roads from time to time, even though my Ninja -- and certainly its tires -- are not really designed for that.

[OK.  So, what does that have to do with Winding Stairs, Bucky?  This?]

Winding Staircase in Spello, Umbria, Italy
Dave Burns Photography

No, not those winding stairs, though they are in a pretty part of the world, I understand.

Actually, near where I live in South Carolina, there is a road by that name.  I had a hankering to explore a little, so I looked at the map.

Click here for an interactive map.
(Cane Creek is mislabeled.  It is actually West Fork Townes Creek.)


Intriguing, don't you think?

Thirty-three miles to its east end from home, and only a little over 4 miles long.  Worth the trip, I'd say, to have a look. 

I do a little research and find that there is another name for the road: Cheohee.  An Indian name, for sure. It might actually be Tsiy’h, defined as "Otter place," from tsiyu; variously spelled Cheowa, Cheeowhee, Chewohe, Chewe, etc.  Here, it probably refers to a former settlement on a branch of the Keowee River, in Oconee County, S.C.  

Now you know as much as I do.  I guess we don't have to know everything about it to go ride on it, do we? 

I do go on to read that it descends from the east end to Townes Creek, then rises again on its way to SC-107.


I start out and make my way to the east end of the Winding Stairs, mostly via. SC-133 (Crowe Creek Road), SC-11, North Little River Road, Cherokee Lake Road, and Jumping Branch Road that circles the private Lake Cherokee.  These are easy roads with few significant curves, but they're a good way to get there.  The start of Winding Stairs is only about 12 miles away from Whitewater Falls, a destination I have gone to quite a lot over my years of riding 

I reach the start of the road, off Jumping Branch Road.  I stop and change the battery in my GoPro to make sure I don't miss anything.  While I am doing that, I scout out the road condition.

■ Dry.  That's good.  A showstopper if not.
■ Smooth.  Maybe recently graded.  Very nice. 
■ No significant loose sand or gravel.  Excellent. 

Set to go, then.  The road is pretty straight at first, and the riding is easy. There is a steep downhill, but not dirt-bike worrisome. 

Less than a mile in, I find a primitive campground.  I stop and look around while I have a slurp of water.

Looking toward the road in.

Looking toward the road leaving.
Lots of big rocks here.  The creek is not very high, so it isn't very photogenic today.  Being winter, you can see quite a ways into the woods.  There are no structures that I have seen anywhere yet. 

Just across the road is the trailhead for Winding Stairs Trail, a 3½-mile hike that is said to be good for beginners.  This end is the lower elevation; it climbs from here about 1100 feet to the Cherry Hill Campground up on SC-107.  To keep things straight (if you go for a hike), the creek to the south of the trail will be Crane Creek, while the creek to the north will be West Fork Townes Creek.  I'm glad to know that, but I don't think I'll do any extensive walking today.  These boots are nice and protective, but not made for walking.  
Besides, I still have the some more gravel to explore just ahead. 

Soon enough, I mount up again and begin ascending.  The road becomes more twisty.  I expect that a dual-sporter or trail bike rider would enjoy this, though it might be too tame for seasoned riders.  I take it slow and easy, in case of anything untoward like loose gravel or oncoming traffic.

I find that the whole way is easy enough for almost any street bike.  The surface is smooth, with only a little scattered gravel in the center and on the edges.  No deep gravel or sand.  There are a few short sections where there is washboard that rattles my fillings, but nothing much worse than that. Weighting the pegs helps me though those sections. 

I find a spot to stop and look over on where I have come. 

 

From down there... 


...and there. 


Pretty country. 

I continue to scan the surroundings and find no sign of humans.  No signs, houses, or anything else.  The only guardrails were at the bridge over the creek back there. 

After only 15 or 20 minutes, I emerge onto SC-107.  I turn south and run through some tighter curves.  I stop for a few minutes at Oconee State Park, then go through the towns of Walhalla and Pickens on my way home.  The state park has a lake and lots of picnicking and camping spaces.  It is a good place to visit on a hot summer's day.

I pass Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel, both at the same site.  The entrance is on the left in a blind curve.  Watch out for turning traffic there. 

Walhalla has the Oconee Heritage Center museum and Oconee Veterans Museum that are interesting to visit. 

I arrive home in too short a time.  I only had time to ride about 114 miles today, but I enjoyed the little twisty, gravelly bit on Winding Stairs.

Go visit it when you have a little spare time to wind around. 


Additional Hiking Information:

Other Destinations Nearby:

A Similar Trip With Some Fall Color
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