Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Jo Ann and I departed on Saturday, July 23 for a week-long trip riding in North Carolina. We set Fort Payne, AL as our destination for the first night. The day was mostly cloudy with light showers until we reached Meridian, MS. We took the first exit in Meridian to don our rain gear as we could see the rain ahead. And did it rain! It came down in buckets! There were even a few cars pulled over on the side of I-59 because of the decreased visibility.

Once we crossed the Alabama state line, the rain was reduced to a light mist. We encountered a traveling motorist who remarked that he couldn’t believe that we had ridden through the downpour. As the clouds cleared up, the temperature began to rise. Between Birmingham and Gadsden, traffic came to a screeching halt. There was a problem with an 18 wheeler on the highway ahead and both lanes of the interstate were blocked. It took 20 to 30 minutes for traffic to start flowing again. With temperatures now in the 90’s, it proved to be a hot break. We finally reached Fort Payne, where we stayed for the night.

Sunday we rode through Chattanooga TN then turned off the interstate at Cleveland TN to take US 64 then TN 68 up to Tellico Plains TN. After lunch at the TelliCafe, we began our ride on the Cherohala Skyway. We took a side road off of Cherohala to Bald River Falls. On the return to the Cherohala we encountered some light rain, but by the time we reached the skyway, the rain had stopped. We dodged the rain the rest of the way on the Cherohala, riding wet roads on the North Carolina side.

From Robbinsville we rode NC 143 then US 19 through Cherokee toward Maggie Valley. Cherokee has changed quite a bit since we visited years ago. The casino has led to new hotels and motels sprouting up around it. Between Cherokee and Maggie Valley, we encountered another hard rain, donning our rain gear. We stayed in Maggie Valley Sunday night.

Monday dawned cloudy and cool. We returned to Cherokee for a souvenir stop then entered the Blue Ridge Parkway off of US 441. We were in and out of the clouds on this first portion of the parkway and it was very cool. As the sun broke through the clouds it warmed up to the mid to upper 70’s. Sure was pleasant riding weather. Jo Ann took pictures while riding and we stopped at a number of scenic overlooks. Traffic was light to almost non-existent. There were more motorcycles on the parkway than there were autos. As we were nearing Asheville, the weather was getting ugly, so we stopped there for the night. Good thing we did, as another strong shower came through. We donned our raingear for the last time while riding to the restaurant for supper.

Tuesday was the first clear and rain free day of the trip. Cool temperatures made riding a pleasure. We continued north on the parkway, stopping at the Folk Art Center before proceeding to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The climb up Mt. Mitchell put us back in the clouds. I took the hike up to the observation deck and was treated to the “stunning” view of clouds. Visibility in every direction was limited to the trees around the observation deck. After waiting nearly twenty minutes for the clouds to lift, I slowly walked down to the parking lot with much the same view as before. We waited around the parking lot for a while passing time. Finally the clouds began to break up and I was able to hike back up to the observation deck to take some pictures toward the east. The western side was still in the clouds when I retraced my steps back down.

After lunch at the restaurant on Mt. Mitchell, we proceeded north on the parkway. We stopped to visit the Minerals Museum just off the parkway, and then continued up to Boone, NC. We hit Boone right at get-off-work time, so traffic was very heavy. We did find a nice Sleep Inn where we stayed. This motel was the nicest and cheapest of the whole trip.

Jo Ann wanted to ride the Great Smokey Mountain train from Bryson City through the Nantahala Gorge. Morning rush hour traffic building, we decided to ride north on US 421 then catch the parkway where it crosses 421. We then headed south on the parkway. We stopped to hike to Linville Falls. The hike was supposed to be about 6 tenths of a mile according to the Park Ranger, but it seemed a lot longer than that. Jo Ann only made it half way; she stopped at a rest spot on the trail. I continued on and finally reached the first lookout spot. The view was great. After taking a few pictures, I proceeded to the next overlook which was only a tenth of a mile further. Another great view. The hike was a lot more rugged than we expected. We definitely got our exercise for the day.

After our “morning exercise” we again headed south on the parkway. The weather was perfect for riding. There was more traffic on the parkway today than previous days, especially a lot more cars and seemed to be less motorcycle traffic. The lower portion of the parkway was cloud free this time so we got to see the views that we missed on our way north. We stopped in Bryson City for the night. We were told by the desk clerk at the motel that the cheap seats (open air car) were sold out for Thursday. I placed a call to the railroad ticket office, but they were closed for the day.

Early Thursday morning, I got a call back from the railroad ticket office and there were openings for the ride. We booked our tickets then headed to the depot. The ride to the gorge was nice, but rough with the train rocking a lot. The tracks followed a creek or river and Fontana Lake. There was a lunch stop in Nantahala Village then the return the same way. We saw lots of white water rafters along the route. After the train ride, we visited the Train Museum near the depot where there were hundreds of model trains set up and on display. We then headed back to Maggie Valley to stay at the same Microtel we stayed at earlier in the week.

Since Friday was to be our last day in North Carolina, we took the Blue Ridge just south of Maggie Valley and rode it north to the exit to US 23/74. We then took US 23/74 south, bypassing the traffic in Cherokee and Bryson City. We exited to US 19/74 and rode this through the Nantahala Gorge. We then took US 129 to Robbinsville then rode the Cherohala Skyway back into Tennessee. After another lunch at the TelliCafe, we returned to Chattanooga TN by the same route we had taken to North Carolina. Our destination for the night was Decatur AL where we stayed with friends Pam and Tom Werstler. For supper Friday night, Pam and Tom took us to Wintzells Oyster House where I had my usual oyster poboy.

Saturday we took I-65 south to Brierfield Ironworks State Park to meet with the Alabama BMW club for their monthly meeting. We exited I-65 in Cullman AL to view the progress made where the April tornado ripped through town. There was still a lot of debris visible, but quite a bit had been cleaned up.

Riding I-65, Jo Ann commented that it was nicer riding in the cool mountains than it was in hot Alabama. When we reached the “I 59 Exit 2 Miles” sign in Birmingham, traffic was at a standstill. It took us about 20 minutes to do those two miles and by then we had had enough. We exited on I-59 west then took the I459 loop around Birmingham. It was cooler moving rather than sitting in the heat. We arrived at Brierfield just as a shower was approaching. We rode around the park loop looking for club members and the bunkhouse we were supposed to stay at, but could find neither. We then went back to the park store, where we met up with some club members. It was then that the rain started in earnest. After a break in the rain, we followed one of the club members up to the bunkhouse.

We had a good time with the club members. Bayou Biker members Bob and Wanda were also there. Saturday night there were 16 of us sleeping in the bunk beds with two also sleeping in another room of the bunkhouse.

After the Sunday morning meeting, it was time to head home. We did run into a couple of hard rain showers in southern Mississippi. Other than that it was hot! There was a traffic tie-up in New Orleans, where I610 merges into I10. Once clear of that, the temperature indicator on my bike read 107 degrees. It dropped down to a cool 100 degrees by the time we reach I310, and then it was back up to 104 in Boutte. By the time we got to Raceland, it had cooled down considerably due to showers in the area.

All in all we had a good trip. This was Jo Ann’s first extended motorcycle trip since 1996 and she handled it real well.