The plan was for the four of us to meet northeast of Atlanta for breakfast and then head to the Blueridge Parkway to go end-to-end in four days. We had talked about and planned this trip over the last three months and it was finally happening. With an upcoming surgery I thought this would be one great long ride before I was sidelined rehabbing some new hip hardware and having my 3 buddies along made it extra special. Like I said – that was the PLAN… Little did we know we would be tested even before we started. No sooner had two of our crew sat down to sip coffee, when my cell rings and it’s one of our buddies. He’s managed to miss a turn on a country road on the way to breakfast and has gone off into a ditch. He’s shaken but OK. So rider number 3 shows up and we go find our fallen brother. Sure enough – scratched up but good. We upright the bagger and motocross it out of the briar patch it rested in for over 30 minutes. Unfortunately this V-Twin had spent a little too much time (almost) upside down and the engine oil filled the clutch basket, rendering our buddy done before ever getting started.
Following a hand-held breakfast and some tough decisions, only three of us (Two Harleys and an Indian) head north towards Clayton, GA. Due to our delays we end up in Highlands, NC hungry and by sheer chance run into a very cool group of Cushman classic scooters. After a killer lunch and a bit more planning, we roll west and north towards Cashiers, Toxaway and NC Hwy 215 which would get us to the Parkway about 46 miles north of its southern end at Hwy 441 (Milepost 469.1). The highest point in the Parkway is actually at Richland Balsam Trail so we decide to head south first and stop there for a few pictures at the Richland Overlook (MP 431.4). So far the weather is good and as we rise in elevation the temperature begins to drop nicely – another part of our plan and a welcomed climate change, considering the last two months of 95+ temps we’ve endured at home.
OK – so let’s back up a little bit. As I shared earlier, we had planned this ride over the last two months. We used the Blue Ridge Parkway Site and we had also downloaded the Blue Ridge Mobile App. I had used these tools to determine where we might stop for the night. Disclosure – I travel a decent amount for business during the year so I really like knowing where I’m laying my head. But let’s be brutally honest here, that mentality typically flies in the face of the conventional freedom of motorcycle riding experience – and we all talked about this. So again, to be honest (and this plays a part on Day 2) I had booked night one in Blowing Rock, NC and night two in Lynchburg, VA. OK, back to our story…
So we finish snapping a few images at the Richland Balsam overlook and mount up to begin the ride north on the Parkway. Again, we are probably running about 2-3 hours behind our originally scheduled departure and roll through the Asheville, NC area around 6PM. We stop and check the BRPW app (Caution – cell service at these elevations is spotty at best) and see that the exit for Blowing Rock is probably 3-4 hours up the road. The Parkway views are beautiful in daylight but at night, not so much. Plus, the wildlife begin to move and cross the road making the next few hours quite questionably safe. Much like our morning, decisions must be made as our reservation at the Chetola Resort is not cancelable, and a deviation from our original plan is again required. We decide to jump off the Parkway and catch I-40 and some state highways to get to Blowing Rock before 9PM. Sure enough, we roll in and check in at 8:30 and are able to catch a great dinner in the bar that night. Whew. We were tired and dirty but day one was full of great stories, views and rides.
Following a decent night’s rest and a massive breakfast buffet, we check out, load up and head out looking for fuel. Blowing Rock is a beautiful little town. Not much going on, but the vistas and quaint downtown area are quite nice. During our fuel stop a local shares a quick side route to the closest Harley Davidson dealership in North Wilkesboro, NC. After a sunny morning ride up the Parkway we exit at Hwy 421 and ride east to the dealership. Time to score a couple of t-shirts and poker chips for the collections. We chat up one of the sales guys and also check out the new Harley Iron Balance electric bikes. It was sunny and we chilled for a bit deciding to hit an early lunch at this sushi place a few doors down from the dealership. Again, a stop we hadn’t planned but we were enjoying the area and pace of the day. Yet we figured if we were going to make Lynchburg, VA by nightfall, we better get rolling. Little did we know we were burning quality sunlight riding. We ride back up Hwy 421 a bit to NC Hwy 16, which takes us due north to the Parkway near Glendale Springs. Now we are back on plan and heading towards Virginia – along with some cloudy weather. We stop at MP 238 Doughton Park overlook and check out the”other Stone Mountain Park”. Being from Atlanta we didn’t realize there was another Stone Mountain in the US. As we continue north the weather grows more suspect and cloudy.
We did plan for rain and we all had the proper gear, but what we didn’t plan for was 40+ miles of loose gravel on the Parkway. I had read this was the case in a Facebook post but assumed that rider was referring to a few small patches – not 40 miles of gravel road! Sure enough, just inside the NC/VA line we see signs for “Loose Gravel” and here it is, the entire road covered in gravel. The minor blessing was that the road was small hard packed gravel, so speeds around 35-45 MPH were still relatively safe. We ended up behind another biker a little less sure of himself and was cruising at closer to 30. Once we passed him it began to drizzle and clouds started rolling in. Truth be told, we were actually riding inside rain clouds at this elevation and the sun was sinking fast. The rain intensity picked up enough that we decided it was time for the rain gear. Luckily we rolled up to the Rocky Knob Visitors center. Even though it was closed there was enough overhang for the three of us to dry off and suit up. A lone rider from Connecticut on a turquoise and white Heritage Softail rolled up in the same situation. After some brief conversation we were ready to get back at it in the wet.
Still 3 hours from Lynchburg with rain and gravel slowing our progress significantly, we are suddenly slowed by yet another hazard – wildlife! Our tail guy spotted a bear on the side of the road, and I was leading and began dodging small doe and fauns. One large doe literally went “Deer in my Headlight”, just standing in the middle of the road staring at me. She finally moved as I slowed to about 4 feet in front of her. We estimated to have seen between 14-18 deer crossing the road or on the side of the road. After another hour of riding in dusk/dark rain we came up on MP 121 and the exit for Hwy 220 to Roanoke and Rocky Mount. After finding a bank drive-thru to seek shelter from the rain, I called the hotel chain and moved our reservation to Roanoke. Turned out the property was 2.5 miles from where we were so we pulled up, checked in and cleaned up for some dinner. Yet another day where our planned ride went nowhere near where we expected. But it was OK – we had fun and we pushed each other through some trying riding conditions and made some amazing memories on the day.
After our complimentary breakfast we load up with no plan per se this time. We check our weather apps and decide to start out taking a quicker route south toward home thinking we can stop somewhere around Asheville, or Cherokee, NC. We roll through Rocky Mount and Martinsville, VA and stop in Mt. Airy, NC for fuel. After the break we decide to head down I-77 and roll back through N WIlkesboro re-entering the Blueridge Parkway at Hwy 421. We wanted to ride the Parkway through the famed Linn Cove Viaduct that curves around Grandfather Mountain near MP 304. The viaduct is an amazing man-made structure completed in the mid 1980’s and was designed to complete the Parkway without interrupting the delicate ecosystem of the mountain. After a brief rest and a few solid photo ops, we head south and exit the Parkway near Linville Falls and Hwy 181 rolling southwest towards Asheville. No sooner were we entering Asheville’s eastern suburbs that we experience another batch of showers. We locate a church with a portico for shelter and don our rain jackets continuing to Asheville. We roll onto I-40 heading west through Asheville and the rain continues to intensify so we exit and find a gas station with cover to determine our next move. There happens to be a steak place next to the station so we decide to snag dinner and see if the rain will ease up – which thankfully it does. During dinner we locate some hotel rooms close by and get checked in time for some Crown and cigars.
Sunday morning we awake and grab some grub, ready to roll home. We fuel up, get our mapping software dialed in and opt to head to Brevard then on to Sapphire Valley, Cashiers and Highlands, NC. During a fuel stop we decide to make for Clarksville, GA for lunch at The Attic then on home. Sunday’s weather was cool in the morning and once we roll through Highlands, the clouds opened up to a clear blue spectacular sky. During lunch we talk about our previous three days of riding and our experiences. We all agree that in the end, whether you plan a ride in advance, follow a plan, deviate as needed, or simply jump on your bike and head, out the focus is on the ride itself.
A planned ride can sometimes overtake the true meaning and purpose of riding a motorcycle. Anyone who rides knows the real plan is just to ride, because the journey on two wheels is the destination. Over planning a multi-day ride can detract from the sheer freedom of the open road, and the ability to create memories and stories for years to come. I have to be honest, when we started talking about this trip I downloaded the Blueridge Parkway App, pulled up their website and built a Google Doc that I shared with our crew. I started looking at mileage and distances and where we might end up to book hotels and find spots for dinner. All that effort was fairly useless after we started late on day one. If you toss in the bad weather and loose gravel into the mix we never had a chance to reach our destinations on day one and two. But in the end, we pushed each other through some trying riding and still had a blast. Whether you plan your ride or not, the focus should always be on the camaraderie experienced and the memories you make when riding multi-day touring rides with your friends. This is what motorcycles do best for us.