Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can the Blue Ridge Parkway Be Ridden in an Extended Weekend?

It was time.  We have been putting it off for years and we had to stop making excuses.

We would be committing ourselves to our first ever motorcycle weekend together!!  The dog sitter was booked, the destination was set and we would work out sleeping arrangements on the way.

Given it is actually Autumn and the leaves here are actually changing, we thought a great destination to take a relaxing ride to enjoy the weather, season, people, scenery, location, et. al. would be the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It would have all the adventure and mind-relaxing we could handle.  It starts in Cherokee, NC and winds its way 469 miles north[-ish] to Virginia, just south of Shenandoah.

Blue Ridge Parkway
We figured that 469 miles wouldn't be too difficult, even given the avg 45 mph speed limit on the parkway.  We were thinking we could get maybe a third of the way up on the first day and could reach the end on the second.  (I was secretly hoping to ride through Shenandoah as well.)  We could then hit the interstates for a long, but satisfying, ride home on the third day.

That is what we we all know...theory and reality rarely coincide on a motorcycle. :)

We weren't in any hurry, but managed to start out an hour later then we had hoped.  (As usual.)  We were hoping to make it to Cherokee before stopping for lunch.  Instead, we stopped in Clayton because we knew the lay of the land.  Wendy's was a welcome respite from the saddle and the manager was a fellow rider that enjoyed jawing some time away.  He introduced himself by way of asking who rode that pretty little blue bike out there.  I corrected his obvious lapse in judgment and told him the pretty little bike out there was the crystal gray one...and that I rode it.  He liked Mr. Oilburner's blue RT because it reminds him of his ST.  But he definitely wanted to know what I thought of the R since his friend had recently purchased his second one. 

Back on our way, we were headed for Cherokee and the start of the relaxing portion of the ride.  Cherokee, the little one-horse town, has turned into a one-stoplight town and is the gateway to the Smokies.  Knowing the season and the weekend we figured it would be busy, but didn't anticipate the tremendous traffic caused by mis-synced lights, road construction and vehicles.  Everyone and their mother was passing that traffic light today.  (In all fairness, Cherokee has more then one-stoplight.  And other people more interested in gambling would quickly point out the casinos.  Since I am not of the casino variety it doesn't top my list of things to mention about the city.)

While everyone else moving in our direction maintained a course towards the Smokies, we hit the shunned Blue Ridge Parkway.  The parkway is gorgeous, but it's max speed is 45 mph.  Dropping to 35 mph in many key areas for long stretches.  It is definitely not a highway that many people would take for any length of time if they needed to get somewhere.  If the intent is to actually enjoy the parkway it is perfect.  As quoted in the Disney movie Cars, "Cars didn't drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time."  That was all we set out to do: Have a great time.  If we made it to the end, we made it.  If not, oh well.

First Overlook...first stop...among many.
Our destination for the night was New Switzerland, NC, 135 miles up the parkway.  Add that to the 145 already ridden and we shouldn't have a problem.  Right?  Right??

If you want to enjoy any of the scenery by stopping at overlooks and taking pictures, breathing the air, stop at museums and craft centers and information kiosks...there is going to be a problem.  In addition, it is almost impossible to maintain 45 mph looking off into the horizon and seeing row upon row of peaks fading off into a blue haze.  Cagers have an easier time gawking and driving then motorcycles.  It is difficult to recover a motorcycle from a simple 2 second delay when returning your gaze to the road.  So we weren't quite as enraptured with the scenery, though we were doing our share of gawking.  But following cages doing this had our avg speed down to 35 mph.  Sometimes they would pull off and let us pass.  Sometimes we would pull off and let them get way ahead.

Ridge upon ridge disappearing into the blue haze of the atmosphere.
Sidebar: Is it my imagination or have people forgotten the simple courtesy of pulling over when 5+ cars have fallen into a line behind them?  I remember it being drilled into my head in drivers training to pull over and let people pass if I have built up a following.  People out here either never learned it, don't care and/or aren't courteous.  Many a time we experienced long lines of vehicles because someone couldn't or wouldn't maintain the speed limit AND refused to pull over at overlooks to allow people to pass.  Rant over...thank you.

The views were spectacular.  The colors weren't quite what we had hoped for as the trees were mostly green with a few beginning to turn yellow and many others opting to go right to brown and crispy.  We also didn't have our expectations very high knowing that next weekend was supposed to be peak for autumn colors.  We just felt lucky to be getting away and see the beginning of the color changes.

The colors are starting to show.

Our time [mis]management was apparent when calculating our arrival time at 7 PM.  That broke down to 5 hours on the parkway to actually cover 135 miles...  Which, as we found out, is reasonable if you actually expect to see anything and enjoy yourself.  Again...have a great time, not make great time.  :)

And as predicted, we arrived at the Inn near 6:30, a little saddle sore and ready for some libations to ease the muscles.

Dinner is served...with drinks...


Fried Green Tomatoes

Bourbon Pecan Trout for me.  Filet Mignon for him.

We were slow starting the next morning.  It was just beautiful and relaxing to sit on the patio and watch the leaves in the slight breeze.  The predicted 45F temps were nowhere around here, and it was an enjoyable 63F.  Yes, 63 can be very enjoyable when you are expecting 45!

We relaxed over breakfast and discussed our goals.  We had hoped to ride the entire parkway.  However, given our distance to time ratio from yesterday we weren't holding our breaths for that anymore.  I was game to try and make 120 miles and at least cross the Virginia border.  (One more state that I could add to my belt.)  We calculated that out and figured 3 hours one way, without breaks.  Hmm...we would give it a shot, but I wasn't going to be disappointed if we didn't make it.

It was blatantly obvious immediately that we were not going to stick to any type of time table since we only made it 5 miles down the parkway before having to stop at the Mineral Museum.

I've always loved peeling Mica.  Good thing this one was locked up.
Mr. Oilburner learns that sugar actually starts
out as a vegetable.  See Mom?  He does eat his veggies...
Beyond the perfect temperatures and the perfect, cloudless sky, north was definitely the direction to be traveling in as more colors were coming out.  We stopped at many overlooks (some not so much overlooky as looky-into the mountains above you) and had to take the required autumn colors or motorcycle shots.  I won't bore you will all of them, but will share some of my favorites.






Hungry is as hungry our next mission was Lunch!  Slightly unsuccessful as we chose a small city vs a big city of Boone, NC. The small city, Blowing Rock, was nice.  It is more of an artsy-fartsy town like Highlands, NC.  Which I normally wouldn't have any issues with.  But the wait times for even the pizza joint were 45 minutes!  We decided to order our pizza to-go and take it to the park up the street.  Half blessing, half curse because we probably would have been seated by the time we actually did receive our pizza...but at least we weren't going to have to wait another 45 minutes after being seated.  Unfortunately, I kinda pushed us into the decision because we were nearing the "full moon" phase of my hunger.  Either feed me or suffer the consequences...cuz I don't know exactly what will happen and I cannot be held responsible...

The pizza wasn't bad.  But I don't think it was worth a 45 min wait.
Discussing our options over lunch, Mr. Oilburner was leaning a little towards heading back to the Inn.  I was not game for this plan at all!  We had only made it about 40 miles down the parkway (in 3 hours!!) and I wasn't ready to turn back.  I wasn't willing to still try for the border, but didn't want to just head back.  So we agreed to continue up the road apace and just turn around when we felt like it.  Which turned out perfectly!!  We meandered up the road and passed a museum that I really wanted to stop at, but wasn't ready to stop after only 2 miles...  So we just rode and enjoyed the scenery.  It was changing a little up here in that there were houses and farm fields and horses along the road instead of the wide buffer of untouched forest.

When we felt the shadows getting a little long and thinking it was yet another 3+ hours back we decided to turn around.  And the next overlook to allow us this had these:


Though they were all beautiful, my favorites:

Edit: 1938 Chevy (Thanks Dad!)

Edit: 1931 Model A Ford with a '32 Grille Shell (Thanks Dad!)


We made it back to the Inn in decent time.  We did stop at the Moses H. Cone Park and Craft Center.  We lightened our bank account a little and took up some saddlebag space with a wonderful plate for my collection.  Now to get it home in one piece...  Otherwise the trip back was uneventful.  We did eat at a fast food joint to avoid the prices of the Chalet at the Inn.  And I tried a fish sandwich for the first time.  This trip was proving to bring out some interesting food desires in me...

Monday morning dawned perfect once again.  Mr. Oilburner stepped onto the patio a little before sun up and thought it was overcast.  Luckily it wasn't, and the stated 45F temps were still not there and we enjoyed another 63F morning.  We decided to snatch breakfast from the nearby Walmart last night and dined on Cheese Danish and bananas on the patio.  Yet again allowing us to be super messy (unintentionally...those danishes are difficult to eat without utensils, plates or napkins...) and people watch!

Breakfast of Champions.
Champions making horrible mess on the patio.
Just can't imagine drinking coffee from a pot that is
stored in a bathroom. Blech!! 

Packing up was like stuffing 10 pounds of shite into a 5 pound bag. We didn't purchase too many souvenirs...but we have never had a chance to get the packing down before. So this was a learning experience. It actually wasn't too bad, but I wanted pictures of our brightly colored stuff sacks.


Mr. Oilburner swears that bag liners will be his next purchase.  I'm not sold on them, but will see what he thinks of them.  It would be nice to just stuff it all into space bags in a bag liner and know it will fit instead of trying to determine which bags will squeeze, which won't and which ones will go together to balance the weight on each side.

All bags neatly stowed.

Required morning maintenance: check tire pressure.

Required ritual of lens cleaning.

Before shoving off, we patted ourselves on the backs for not being the last bikes out of the parking lot today.  The other couple hadn't even put in an appearance!  Yay us!  But we did take time for required safety inspections and tire pressure testing.  All good.  Even took the time to clean helmet lenses.  Usually they aren't already installed on heads...but you do it when you can.  :)

South was definitely the direction to be traveling in today!  The weather was absolutely perfect!  When we started seeing the colors we couldn't convince our selves they were hear when we came up two days ago.  We did confirm our suspicions that these hills were mostly green on Saturday by looking through the videos.  They may have been green two days ago, but they sure weren't any more.  These colors were bright and rich and just spectacular.  We wanted to stop everywhere!!




Mr. Oilburner insisted on a side trip up to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.  I was a little skeptical thinking about the switchbacks up Grandfather Mountain I saw the day before.  Or thoughts of Brasstown Balds numerous switchbacks.  But I swallowed my fears and am glad I did.  We frittered away another couple hours with the small hike to the observation deck and just sitting with snacks and drinks soaking up the sun and surroundings.  It was totally worth it.  In so many ways it reminded us of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  Just beautiful.












Wow.  Just wow.  We arrived just in time.  The peole started showing up as we were hiking down and the parking lot was getting busy by the time we had finished our snacks.  Time to hit the road.

We opted to ride the parkway home again.  It was a completely new experience riding towards the south with all of the autumn colors.  We knew the speed limit would delay arrival home a little, but the dog was taken care of and we weren't in a rush. 

Some leaves were starting to fall and previous cars vortices were kicking them back into the roadway.  Mr. Oilburner nicknamed me Dancing Leaves for the effect I had on them, swirling them around me when I rode through.  I enjoyed the couple of times I was able to ride through a new falling cache as a wind swept through.  A couple of leaves even managed to hitch a ride, we noticed as we stopped for a stretch break.


BRP_120 copy

We were saddened that the weekend was over.  Both wishing this trip would be so much longer and the roads would continue to unfold beneath the tires and we could continue discovering new sights.

Real life intrudes, and it isn't a bad thing...just a necessity...for the next time we can take such an adventure.  I hope your travels are good and full of beauty surrounding you.


So.  To answer that title question.  No, it is not possible to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway in an extended weekend if you want to see the sights, enjoy the culture and soak up some beauty.  We managed to ride about 400 miles of the parkway...which translates to 200 miles one-way.  But we do hope to go back soon and finish it up.  Many, many more pictures are available at Flickr in my Blue Ridge Parkway set.  Can also view them in slideshow format.

Things I learned on this trip:
-Find smaller "dress" shoes.  Not ones that take up 1/4 of a saddle bag and are inflexible
-Add eye wash and antiseptic cream/ointment to the first aid kit
-It is infinitely easier to repeatedly mount and dismount a bike in jeans instead of armored pants...but safety exponentially decreases (Thankfully nothing bad happened.)
-pack water and snacks :)
-laugh lots, lay down on picnic tables and look up


  1. Wow, what an awesome trip!

    As to the 5+ car rule: that's because you had Mr. Volk for Driver's Training! And I'll be you can parallel park, as well, right?

    I'm wondering why these photos didn't show up in my photo feed. Hmm. Looking into that, now.

  2. That was an ambitious plan! I'm glad you concentrated on enjoying the ride rather than reaching the end of the Parkway. So much better that way; besides it gives you a section to go back and explore another time.
    I miss seeing the fall color in the Appalachians. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You have some great colors in those trees. Very nice!
    Great ride report! I love riding through swirling leaves. :)

  4. Wow, with those speed limits and lots of turnouts, it sounds like Billie's and my kind of road :)

    A comment about this, "Cagers have an easier time gawking and driving then motorcycles. It is difficult to recover a motorcycle from a simple 2 second delay when returning your gaze to the road." I agree, yet I seem to notice things in a different way when I ride. Good choice of words, "gawking". I don't know what the word is for what I'm doing when I ride, but I know I like being able to get a good look at the things that call to me as I ride. For the longest time I settled for glimpses, but wasn't happy about it. One of the things I've noticed is since getting my little point and shoot camera is I'm allowing myself to stop or even turn around, go back, and take a photo. For the time being, it is less important to me how the photo turns out, than it is that I took the opportunity to really look.

    Thanks for letting me tag along.

  5. Nice! I've ridden about a third of the BRP I'm itchin to get back and finish it...your RR made my itch worse! :)

  6. Hi David,

    It was a great trip! Thanks for enjoying it too.

    I honestly can't remember who I had in drivers training...I think he did a good job anyway! :)


  7. Hi Rob,

    It didn't seem ambitious...until we actually got on the parkway. But yes, we are really looking forward to continuing on it. :)

    I'm glad to provide some images of "home". But I think you have an interesting trade off with the mushrooms. :)

    Merry Autumn!


  8. Hi Bluekat!

    Agreed, enjoyable riding through swirling leaves! The fall so fast though, such a short time of year to catch them! :) -Lori

  9. Hi Keith,

    I'll bet you and Billie could definitely do the parkway justice. Just budget about a week!

    As far as motorbikes vs cages...I would say motorbikers are connoisseur and cagers are gawkers. We admire, not gawk. :) I think it is because we are more of the enviroment while autos are in the enviroment. (Of course, bicyclists will probably make the same argument in relation to motorbike riders.)

    Good for you for being open to turning around and investigating. That is something I have yet to teach my impatience.

    Thanks for riding along! -Lori

  10. Hi Ken!

    I appreciate you reading and commenting. Yes, it is rather addictive to not have finished it, isn't it? Trying to work through the videos now and just think about what else was up the road that I have yet to see. Hope you can get back to it soon.

    Thanks for turning me on to your site. I'm going to hate reading your RR's and seeing your pictures. ;) Lived in South Salt Lake for a couple years. Wasn't riding then and know all of the roads that I have missed. I can daydream about them with your pictures.


  11. Great write up, and fantastic pictures. Autumn is my favourite time of year.

  12. Hi Raftnn!

    Spring and Autumn: the best times in the south (of the US)! Spring only lasted one week this year. So far Autumn has hung around for 3 (and counting). And here you are, working into Spring. :) -Lori

  13. A great RR! That is an area of the country where I've spent very little time. Your images really show the beauty of the area, especially at this time of the year. My list of places to visit just got longer.

    Thank you,

  14. Dear Beemer Girl (Lori):

    I took my time in responding to this blog episode as I wanted to read it at my leisure and to think about my own Blue Ridge Parkway experiences. At first glance, one is tempted to divide the total distance by the speed limt, and you come up with an 11-hour run.

    Fat chance.

    There are places on the BRP where a 45 mph speed limit is near death-defying. And a rider is so tempted to pull over and take a look at every vista... You eventually replace the speedometer with a calendar.

    But it is a great ride and everyone should do it at least two or three times. This was a great blog post. Your adventures always satisfy.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  15. Hi Richard,

    Autumn is always great for colors. But I somehow think the BRP would be great just about any time of year. Except winter, as they close the road. (Still great, just missing the bike.) :) I just love the undeveloped land around so much of it! I was truly amazed. Even moving farther north with more development, it still felt rural enough to not really intrude on the experience.

    I hope you will have the chance to enjoy it for yourself!


  16. Dear Jack,

    You are 100% correct: "Fat Chance" and measure your progress on the BRP with a calendar. Trying to do it in 11 hours is like hiking the Appalachian Trail in 4 months. You'll be able to say you did it, but you sure didn't enjoy the experience of it.

    We can't wait to go back in an attempt to finish it up. But your recommendation of two or three times is absolutely correct especially giving one the chance of seeing it three seasons.

    Thanks for the corroboration!