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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