Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway - End to Ender

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live in the beautiful state of North Carolina, a state that has scenic mountains in addition to the amazing beaches and waterways. Since I was little I have always spent my weekends in the mountains of North Carolina. With my constant visits, I have gotten spoiled and realized after visiting Florida how lucky I am to live in/near the best motorcycle playground on the east coast.

One of the most popular roads in the Appalachian Mountains, The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is loved by more than just motorcyclists. On any given day riding the BRP one might encounter, hikers, RV's, horses, bicyclists and Floridians. Now in the past 5 years since the McCrary family has been riding street bikes we have always found ourselves on the BRP at some point during our rides and often we used it as a connector to the next road along our ride. With this, we have been on pretty much every part of the parkway at some point or another.

Some time ago, Dad came up with the idea to ride the parkway from one end to the other, in one ride. After this, we would know for certain that we had been on every mile of the 469 mile Appalachian tour. So the plans began...

We looked at doing Skyline Drive along with our ride and figured it would take us a good 3 days to complete this trip, but we would have to stay after it. We made a couple attempts to make this ride happen, however, school and other activities kept holding us up. To make things more interesting, last spring I had posted a video on YouTube of the BRP and was sent some information from the BRP foundation in regards to a certificate that is given to those that have been over the entire parkway. They called it the End to Ender. No need for documentation/proof, its an honor system thing. Once complete, the foundation sends out certificates to congratulate you.

Finally, after we got back from Florida and in between job interviews, Dad and I worked it out to make the BRP End to Ender ride. In order to do this ride on a budget we decided it would be neat to camp the two nights we would be on the road. While this would save us some money, it added alot of planning to the trip as we have never camped while riding the bikes before. We began looking for campgrounds within reasonable mileages for our days and were coming up rather short. However, after posting on the MTF about our ride some one mentioned the motorcycle camp grounds that are around the BRP. Duh! The first campground was in Stuart, VA off Hwy 58 which is one of our usual riding destinations. The second, The Iron Horse Lodge, which was on 28 outside of Robinsville, NC. These would work, but only if we decided to avoid Skyline Drive. After some thought , we agreed that starting at mile post 0 in Staunton, Virgina and head south to Cherokee, NC would be our best bet.

Fortunately for us the weather was looking good as far as that dreaded "r" word was concerned, so we grabbed the tents, sleeping bags and a few straps and began to figure out just how in the world we were going to pack for this trip.

The FZ' loaded up with the sleeping bags strapped to the seat via the luggage rack and grab rails.

Dad carried the tents using the same type of straps.

In order to pack light I only carried the basic toiletries: small shampoo, a bit of soap, a small thing of D.O. and a towel. To save space I didn't carry a pillow but rather a rolled up fleece blanket. I figured it would be warm and wouldn't need the blanket and could use it as a pillow. But I didn't want to leave home with out a blanket in the event it did get chilly, we were staying in the mountains after all. In addition to this I carried my flip flops, a pair of shorts, a couple T's and a spare pair of compression shorts. (Along with my rain gear)

We set off that morning (forgot what day it was now) and headed up I85 to Hwy 29 up through Virgina. On the way we made a quick pit stop and met our buddy Todd in the double digit large car. He hadn't seen the bikes yet and he had been wanting to show off the chrome in that 65mph pumpkin of his!

From there we got on 130 or 60, I honestly cant remember, but it was twisty! It was rather scary to be honest! It was the first time in several thousands miles that I have rode some serious corners and I felt a bit rusty. It honestly took me till day 2 of the trip to get comfortable in the corners again! From there we headed up 81 to 64 then on to the start of the BRP!

First Blue Ridge Parkway entrance sign!

We couldn't find a mile marker 0, so 1 worked for us!

Starting down the parkway, Dad and I found ourselves really enjoying the ride. Dad had been on the beginning of the parkway before, I think. The top of the parkway was much nicer than I had expected, due to what I was used to in Virgina. In my opinion, the NC side of the parkway is much nicer due to the elevation and road surface.

As we made our way down the parkway we made a couple stops to look at campgrounds that we were considering. One of which was Otter Creek. It was right off the parkway and was very basic. Small sites, enough for one tent each, a small store with coffee shop. However there were no showers. :(

Back on the road things were starting to flatten out, so I took advantage of the time and started playing with the camera...

When I stood up to stretch at one point I noticed this view. Kinda neat I thought!

Then I got to thinking about the chain and rear wheel...

Oh, hey there!

Dad though it would be neat to get a picture of him right, and I mean right, on my butt. I turned around after taking this shot to realize he was only a couple feet off my rear. While this may have not been the smartest thing in the world, Dad and I have been riding together for 18 years now and if there is one person I trust to do this kinda stuff, its him.

A bit later, and honestly I have no clue where we were, we found this! We were relieved to find out this was a church. (We thought it was a house at first) So we turned around and took some shots. Then I started getting all artsy-fartsy.

Always waving, no matter the terrain. (excludes ice and snow)

Now to be perfectly honest, I have lost track as to where I was at what time with all my photos, but at some point I started running low on fuel near Roanoke. So Dad and I found the next exit on the parkway and headed into town looking for fuel. We had got used to the cool temperature up on the mountain and when we started into town it felt like we were dropping into an oven! After getting fuel, we high tailed it back to the mountain to cool off!

A couple hours later we made our way into Stuart, Va and stopped at one of the restaurants there in town. Figured we would grab a quick bite to eat before we headed to the camp ground and settled in for the night. When we pulled into the camp ground we were surprised to see the place lined with bikes of all types! There were probably 30 or more there most sitting around the picnic tables bench riding with there fellow riders.

We made camp the first night just up from the creek next to a couple trees and then headed up to the fire pit to join the crowd for some cold drinks and story telling.

Camp site no.1 in Stuart Virgina

We got up the next morning, took our showers in the bath house and grabbed a cup of coffee on the way back down to the tents. It was 10am by time we got loaded up and back on the road again. We stopped for fuel at a little country store where they sell fresh produce and what not. So for breakfast I had a fresh banana and granola bar!

At this point, I was back on a section of the parkway I was familiar with. Before this trip, I hadn't been further north than Hwy 8 at Tuggles Gap.

As we carried on south the outlooks became more popular and as it was getting close to lunch time which ment that Dad and I were due for a stretch break. So we found the next pull off, got some pictures and looked at a map.

Matching tags and tag backs!

When I looked at the map I realized that we were getting close to Boone, and we were due lunch soon. So I asked Dad if he was in the mood for the best greasy burger hes had in his life. I had no trouble getting him to agree to that one, so off we headed to Boone Drug for a Parsons Burger!

Going back a bit, Alicia and I ate lunch at Boone Drug after the IBA Rally breakfast last August. We get there and she orders for me, we both get the burgers and fries. The food comes out and before I know it she has her burger gone! They were good! Dad thought so, too.

After lunch we walked around Boone and went into the Mast General Store just to check things out before heading back up on the mountain.

Some really neat tunnel (no clue where)

One of the large attraction areas in the Asheville region is Mount Mitchell. Dad and I have been by it a couple times but never made the trip up to the top to see what its like. Well, seeing as how we had time and were there, might as well right?

Its about 3 miles off the BRP and the road up it is a climb! But man does the air clear up and smell of fir trees! We parked next to a group of Wings, grabbed our cameras and began walking around snapping a few pictures.

Talk about a view!

We made our way up to the summit which was another 1/4 mile hike UP hill. But it was well worth it! Unfortunately all the pictures I took from up there show dirt on my lens which bugs the heck out of me... After taking some pictures and struggling to get some text messages out we made our way back down to the bikes to head on south.

Back to the bikes, and we packed away the cameras, suited up and starting making the decent. That's when it began. As we worked our way down we ended up catching a car that left shortly before us, a prius, yes a prius. How it made it up that road I will never know. Now there are only a few things that can get worse than following a prius down a mountain, and of those things is following a prius with Florida tags down a mountain. Guess what...

Well after making this startling observation, I let Dad know what we were up against and he began to howl with laughter. I didn't see what was so funny, this was seriously going to suck. I wont go into details why this bothered me because most of the people reading this are aware of the Flor-idiot driving style and the way the roads are in that state. Well when we made it to the bottom of the access road I was praying that they would head north, the opposite direction we were. ( I couldn't be so lucky)

So off we went, "chasing" the most hypocritical sales gimmick since those vibrating belt "exercise" machines in the 50's and 60's.

This guy was driving like a typical Flor-idiot, he would get those batteries nice and hot in the straights but then when he saw a corner I thought he was going to blow the bulbs out the brake lights. This made it extremely hard to get around him because the straights on the parkway are rather short and to make passing easier, the car being overtaken usually has to be going rather slow to get around safely. So this went on for a while until we got to where the road was cut out of the mountain and the rock face was exposed. OMG! The Flor-idiots were in amazement! The car slowed down to virtually a stop, in a corner no less. The passenger window was rolled down (I'm assuming the heat was on) and a out came the passengers arm with a video camera to record the rocks, yes the rocks. No, there were no animals or crazy things on them, just large amounts of rock! Alright, so I know what your thinking, "Bryan, your being a bit harsh. They were from Florida, so rocks, trees, mountains, corners and comfortable weather are strange to them." Yes, I realize this and their idea of a rock is a large clump of wet sand and any mound over 3 foot high is more than likely man made, I get it. But this didn't happen once... this went on for miles!!!! The driver would romp on it in the straights, brake like hell for the corners and the video camera came out every time we passed rocks. Oh and you can forget the idea of them pulling over at turn offs, they probably thought that was a waste of pavement and were thinking our D.O.T officials are idiots.

Finally, after several miles we caught up to some one that was going slow in the straights. This held up the Flor-idiot and his nickel factory machine for long enough in the straights that Dad and I were able to sneak around both him and our hero at the moment. Whew! We were finally able to exceed 10 MPH through a corner! Time to kick it up a gear and make our way south.

Now we were scheduled to be at the Iron Horse Lodge for dinner that night, which was being prepared at the lodge. That night they were serving prime rib, potatoes and other vegi's at a fairly reasonable price. Dinner was to be served between 6:30 and 8:30 if my memory serves me correctly. At the rate we had been going we would be cutting it close and Dad and I wanted to stop at the peak on the parkway to get some shots and we still needed to stop at the last mile marker for pictures as well. So off we went!

This was short lived as part of the parkway was closed due to a rock slide in the winter. The detour took us a little bit out of the way but ended up putting us on 276 off 64, which is one of my favorite roads. A couple guys on H.D.'s had been following through the detour since they were on the same ride we were. Dad got stuck behind them due to traffic and after I realized where we were I got on the radio letting him know that it would be in his best interest if he got around them before turning off 64...

Hanging a right on 276 in front of Pizza Hut, I kicked it down a gear and grabbed a handful. Motor was winding up, yes I had to wind it up, as I passed the truck advisory sign! Time to Play!

Traffic was a bit higher than I was used to but most of the drivers were nice and pulled over for me. I waved with my left hand as I twisted my right... I was loving life; braking late, diving in hard, dragging the peg feelers and making that 600 sing. Then I caught a group led by Gold Wing followed by a two cruisers and a Silver Wing. Doh!

The guy on the Silver Wing motioned me by at which point his buds followed suit when safe. However I think I kinda upset the Wing' cause when he waved me by his motion was rather rude. Oh well... a couple more miles of bliss and I was up to the parkway again. Going back to the off road days when I used to leave my Dad in my dust, I made it a point to get to a stopping point and pull my helmet off as fast as possible to make it look like I had been sitting there a while by time he rolled up. (snicker) Once I got the parkway I felt that this would be a great time to go back to those days. There was a small pull off at the intersection of the 276 and the BRP so I pulled in, threw the bike up on the center stand and started rushing to pull my lid off. Just as I got the strap loose Dad pulled up on the parkway! Damn, busted! But I was impressed!

We stopped for a bit, looked at where we were on the parkway and what we had left. At this point we realized it was going to be tough to make it to dinner that night. So we called the lodge and let them know. We explained where we were and the time frame we were looking at. To our surprise they said they would hold our dinner for us for a while after if need be. We just needed to let them know when we were getting close if possible!

About the time we were loading up a fellow rider came in on an older bike and at this point I have forgotten what it was exactly, but he was a local just out for an evening ride and looking to someone to talk to. 20 minutes later we finally got on the bikes and were on our way. He was nice guy and all, but we really need to be getting going.

A bit later we found ourselves climbing in elevation, ALOT! Then we found this...

Photo ops next to sign!

Then I got all artsy fartsy again...

The Flor-idiots would have gone crazy to see this one...

Looking to get back on the road after a long photo break we knew we were never going to make dinner, but as usual there was no cell service to be had. So we headed on down the mountain and with out going into too much detail, Dad and I came off that mountain! That was a hoot!

I took a moment to catch a picture of the sunset as we made our way off the last part of the mountain.

A little bit later we found ourselves at the end of the parkway, 469 miles of the greatest road ever made! It has its high points and it has its low points, but over all this is such an amazing road and I am so fortunate to live so close to it.

By the time we got off the parkway it was already 9:30 and we were still a bit from the lodge. But we kept on getting it hoping to be there by 11 or so, however after making a wrong turn and having to back track we ended up rolling in around midnight to the Iron Horse Lodge after catching dinner at McDonalds in Cherokee. We have ate better on our rides, but I be dang if it wasn't worth it to miss that prime rib. While we were on the BRP we stopped and saw so many things and enjoyed them while we could. Totally worth two McDoubles and a small fry...

So we rolled into the Iron Horse Lodge around oh midnight. Even in the dark we could tell we were at a nice place. We pulled in and walked into the lodge since it was unlocked. A few people were sitting inside at a table having a few cold ones and playing cards. We asked if they knew what we were to do and they explained the lay out as best they could. (They had been drinking for a while)

We found ourselves a spot right next to a running stream and under a couple a trees. I left my head lights on so we could see as we attempted to put up our tents and set up camp.

The next morning we got up and back on the road after a nice hot breakfast in the lodge. We headed south down into Georgia and made our way down Wolf Pen Gap Road. Dad and I had some fun making our way through the Georgia mountains, however as usual we found ourselves stuck behind the Floridians... However this one was in hiding.

Once out of the mountains we found ourselves on I40 just outside of Asheville. About 15 miles outside of Asheville we ended up getting stuck in some construction traffic. Then strangely enough we found ourselves riding with a fellow IBA member! How cools is that?
We were back home a few hours later with over 1200 miles on the clocks. What an amazing ride! It really was alot of fun and opened up a completely new side of riding for me. Motorcycle camping.

A couple days later we applied for our End to Ender certificate and within the week we received them.

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