Monday, March 23, 2015

First Spring Ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway

March 16, 2015, just three days before the vernal equinox.  

I usually don't go far up the nearby Blue Ridge Escarpment in winter because there might be ice or sand on the roads.  But spring is coming quickly to South Carolina, and the days are mostly warmer.  We have had some in the 70s and 80s.  One of the evenings has been warm enough to sleep with the window thrown wide open.  The fresh air and the sounds of birds welcoming the new day were treats, both. 

Sounds like extra good riding weather to me. 

I decided to look and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway is open yet by consulting their real-time website.  It showed that it was not open toward the north at NC-215, the closest entrance to my house, but it was open north from US-276, which is further to the east of 215.

I decided that I would go for a spin and see what I could of the mountains.  I suit up, but with light insulation because it is in the mid-60s already.   It is nice not to have to bundle up so heavily for a change. 

I go up SC-135, then SC-8, and US-276.  There are a bunch of bicyclists laboring up the hill, so I have to be careful, especially because there are so many curves.  The sight distance is generally good on this road, so it is not too much of a problem avoiding them.  Most are smart enough to ride single file.  They appear to be part pf a group, probably the usual March training that London, Ontario, Canada-based coach Chris Helwig of conducts from nearby Table Rock State Park.  Many of their jerseys had the province name Ontario on the back, so that is likely the case.  They have better riding etiquette than most

There are some of the same group coming back down the hill, too.  They trust their skinny tires more than I would.  Look at that guy on the left.  He is just straightening up after a tight turn. 

276 goes past Caesars Head State Park, a place with a great overlook down the steep slope of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. As I pass the entrance, take a look at the beautiful clear sky we have this day. 

I don't stop at Caesars Head, because I want to get to the Parkway.  I continue on past YMCA Camp Greenville and Pretty Place, cross into North Carolina, and go until I see a sign for Dupont Forest.   I make a right on Cascade lake Road, then another right on Staton Road.  This second right is easy to miss, and the road almost immediately turns to gravel if you continue straight.  I miss it and have to turn around.

Is should tell you that there is another place to go that starts right about where you turn off 276 onto Cascade Lake Road.  It is Reasonover Road, just after the fire station on the corner, and leads to Green River Road, a gravel road that is passable on a street bike.  I went there in September of 2009, and one of my "dualsport-for-a-day" rides.  

Back to today's ride, it is said that the gravel part of Cascade Lake Road, is a good place to ride a dirt bike, but I have not ventured very far along it on my Ninja.

I stop at the new visitor center for a potty break. 

They have a few displays inside that describe the history of the park and available activities.  The Dupont Company had a plant here for some 30 years that made X-ray film.  The plant is gone, but the surrounding forest is a good place to sight see, hike, and mountain bike.  Just as there were a surprising number of bicyclists out on a weekday, there are a surprising number of people here as well. 

A lake near the visitor center, aptly named Dupont Lake, is quite picturesque,

but it has a tall fence around it and signs warning not to go near. 

I suppose there is some environmental problem.  Nevertheless, the view is pretty.  

I continue on through the forest, make a couple of lefts, and find myself on US-276 again.  I have bypassed the town of Brevard North Carolina.  It is usually busy, as it is a popular retirement town and tourist stop.  The annual Brevard Music Festival is held here. The highbrows flock to it. We'll have to go some time. 

I climb the continuing grade on 276, passing Looking Glass Falls and the Cradle of Forestry, both good places to stop

Another motorcycle, riding two-up and I get behind a young woman in the little red car who is going quite slowly. 

There is no passing on this road, so I stop for a few minutes to let her get ahead some.  That is effective for a while, but I catch her again nearer the Parkway entrance. 

She turns right onto it, and I have to do the same. 

I stop at the first overlook to the south of the entrance for a few minutes.  (To let the little red car get ahead again.)  A large sign says that the road is indeed closed in that direction at Black Balsam, where there is a road that provides access to the summit of 6214 foot Black Balsam Knob.  I decide to go that way for as far as I can, then turn back north to an exit near the North Carolina Arboretum not far from Asheville, NC. 

There are occasional spots where ice has fallen onto the road shoulder in the shaded rock cuts. 

I stop a few times, but the road is clear and there isn't much traffic, so I enjoy the ride.  The speed limit is 45, and that provides a good enough experience of the curves for me.  There might still be some ice or fallen rock, or sand on the road.  Besides, the fines for speeding are enormous. 

One other hazard is prevalent on the Parkway -- stopped motorists.  They are looking at the scenery or have stopped to take a picture in just the right spot.  I run across this idiot, stopped in the driving lane on a bridge so he can get out a take a picture. 

Going north, there are several tunnels to go through.  They are cooler inside, and, indeed, you must watch for ice in them even when the outdoor temperature is above freezing. 

Some of the tunnels are curved, like this one. 

Here is some of the pretty stuff I have seen today. 

Even with the trees and flowers still asleep, the views are great. Just stopping and listening to the wind in the trees is a peaceful pastime here. 

Soon enough, I reach the intended exit, and leave the Parkway.  I regret having to do this, because it is such a nice day to ride. I feel that way rather often near the end of a good ride

I fill up the tank, then head toward I-25, and US-25.  These are superslabs, and quite boring, but relatively quick. 

Here is the route for the day: 

Click here for an interactive map.
I have ridden almost 160 miles, on clear rods, in warm weather, in a wonderful part of God's creation.

Oh.  There is one event that occurred at the very end of this ride I have not described.  No, I didn't wreck, and I am safe, but it was a little worrisome.  I'll tell you about it next time.  

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