We began planning this ride over 6 months ago with the purpose of riding the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from end to end. During that 6 months, we slowly booked B&B's to stay at and paid for them in full. We also stopped eating out once a week and took what we would have spent and put it aside for the trip. We purchased touring packs for both bikes and smaller necessities for a long trip. This ride took us 3149.5 miles in 11 days through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma before returning home to Fort Worth, TX.
Three Scenic Byways
We managed to ride 3 scenic parkways during this trip which included the Cherohala Skyway which spans both Tennessee and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs across North Carolina and Virginia, and the Talimena Scenic Byway which runs between Arkansas and Oklahoma. We also rode the Diamondback Motorcycle Route (226A) at BRP milepost 334 in the Little Switzerland area. One of the days during this ride marked our 20-year anniversary which I am grateful to have spent with Margaret. I made accommodations at Bed & Breakfasts for most of the trip as a nice touch of appreciation and celebration for our marriage.
Day 1 Fort Worth, TX to Jackson, MS
Pretty much uneventful, cool, overcast, beautiful riding weather until just before the Mississippi border when a sudden thunderstorm hit, and we were engulfed in water. Lightning, high winds, and a torrential downpour completely soaked us. It came up so quickly and there was no place safe to pull over to put on our rain gear so we just rode through it. We stopped at the visitor center just across the Mississippi River bridge and took some pictures before heading into Jackson and settling in for the night.
Day 2 Jackson, MS to Chattanooga, TN
Pretty day but some of the worst city highway roads I have ever experienced. Birmingham, AL was like riding on a camel trail until we left the city limits. We would have been better off riding Enduro bikes instead of our Harley's. After that, the road into Chattanooga was very beautiful and scenic even for an interstate. Upon arrival in Chattanooga, we took time to visit Ruby Falls and tour the cave with the underground waterfall. This was nice because by mid-afternoon it was getting a bit warm and spending a couple of hours in the cave allowed us to stay out of the afternoon heat before heading to our hotel.
Day 3 Chattanooga to Asheville, NC
This was the start of our planned scenic ride and we began by riding the Cherohala Skyway. Along the way, we met some riders from Ontario, Canada who were on their way back home via the BRP. They were a great group of people and we really enjoyed sharing stories and laughs with them. We took pictures of each other for lasting memories down the road.
The Uniqueness Of The Blue Ridge Parkway
They were the first of a whole lot of memorable people we met throughout this ride. From the Skyway we moved on to Cherokee, NC which is the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and began our 4-day 469-mile ride along the parkway. The BRP is a very interesting and unique 2 lane road. There are no stop signs, no traffic lights, no white lines to mark the edge of the road, no businesses, no gas, and a 45 mph speed limit. It was designed to be as minimally intrusive as a road can possibly be in order to highlight the natural beauty of the forest. Any service you may need has to be found by exiting the parkway and finding a town.
Riding The Blue Ridge Northbound
We rode the parkway from south to north and the ride began with a steep ascent as the road worked its way into the mountains. Scenic vista stop points were abundant and the views were magnificent and worth the stop. Mimosa and Magnolia trees were in full blossom as well as Rhododendrons, wild lilies, and many varieties of wildflowers. The temperature decreased rapidly as we ascended to higher elevations to a very comfortable riding condition. That was until we rounded a sharp corner into the next valley where we stopped at the Waterrock Knob visitor center which is the southernmost visitor center on the BRP at mile marker 451.
Dark Clouds Rolling In
We were looking across the landscape at a huge dark cloud that was moving directly at us at an alarmingly high speed. The winds had accelerated and we could feel the moisture in the air. We quickly donned our rain gear in preparation for the storm. It moved in so fast that we barely finished gearing up before the rain came down. We went onward for about 30 minutes in heavy rain until we passed through a tunnel into another valley.
Coming out of the tunnel the rain ceased entirely and we were enveloped in a heavy fog. I could hardly see 10 feet in front of the bike and had to slow down to almost a crawl for safety. You couldn't even see the lights of oncoming vehicles until they were nearly on you it was so thick. After about another half hour of this condition, we rounded a sharp corner that took us into another valley and the fog disappeared as the sun and the clear sky opened into the valley below.
Dangers On The Blue Ridge
This was how the entire first day on the BRP took place. Off and on between rain, fog, and sun. We met a few local riders that said they never know what the Blue Ridge would bring in terms of weather and what we were experiencing was the typical ride on the parkway. Another danger that I found out about on the parkway was other drivers.
I rounded a sharp mountain curve at one point only to be staring at another rider coming head-on at me in the middle of my lane. I quickly swerved and was able to prevent a head-on collision. Fortunately, the other rider either woke up or realized he was riding into oncoming traffic and moved back into his lane before Margaret had to encounter him. That shook me up a bit being so unexpected and we pulled over at a scenic vista so I could regain my composure. We closed out the day at A Bed of Roses B&B in Asheville, NC, and had an enjoyable evening wandering the historic downtown area, eating dinner, and watching the various street performers throughout the area.
Day 4 Asheville, NC to Sparta, NC
We headed out a lot later than expected because our B&B breakfast didn't even start until 9 am which put us on the road at 10:30 am, about 3 hours later than expected. Our first stop along the BRP was Craggy Gardens. We had planned on visiting the gardens because they were supposed to be in full bloom at this time of the year. The first issue we had was rain and fog again. As we pulled up to Craggy Gardens a fog had settled in eliminating any scenic views from the area. The park ranger in the station told us for some reason the flowers failed to bloom this year. He said we were welcome to wander the gardens but we wouldn't see anything memorable.
The Hike To Crabtree Falls
Since it was foggy and drizzling we decided not to stay and get wet just to see leaves without blooms. Our next stop was Crabtree Falls. We didn't realize what we had gotten ourselves into on this stop. We thought you just pull over, walk a couple of hundred feet and see a waterfall. BAH! I wish. It was a strenuous hike down and back up a very steep mountain trail that you often had to fumble across shale, logs, and loose rocks. It was 1.5 miles to get there going downhill and 1.5 miles back up the mountainside to get back plus it was humid and warm. This stop set us back another 2 hours and we were exhausted after the steep climb and still had a long ride ahead of us.
Far Behind Schedule
We had planned on eating in Little Switzerland and riding the Diamondback Motorcycle Route next. When we arrived it was 3:30 pm and since all of Little Switzerland closed down from 3-5 pm so we couldn't even get a meal. We wanted to ride the Diamondback but it was raining hard again so we reluctantly skipped that ride. We still had about 100 miles to go to get to Glade Valley B&B in Sparta, NC and mileage doesn't add up quickly on the BRP.
Five hours behind our planned schedule we arrived at our B&B, hungry, tired, and still had to find a restaurant and wash clothes. It was almost 10 pm before we were able to settle in. This was disappointing because it was a beautiful log cabin B&B and we had wanted to wander their property and relax during the evening on the large wrap-around porch. The day just didn't work out as planned.
Day 5 Sparta, NC to Roanoke, VA
This day was just a fantastic relaxing day. The weather was nice and cool, and we didn't encounter any rain or fog. We stopped at Mabry Mill to visit the historic water mill and take pictures and videos. Later at a scenic pull over where there was an old fort structure a couple pulled up on their Goldwing Trike, saw my Fort Worth HOG patch, and asked if we had ridden or trailer-ed our bikes from Texas. They seemed to like it that we actually rode the entire way and asked if we had eaten lunch yet. We had not so they told us where a local farmers market and sandwich shop was a short distance down the road and they would meet us there for lunch.
Local Riders Took Us To Lunch
We had a very yummy lunch with them and a couple of men who also rode that worked locally at a hydroelectric dam in the area. It's instances like these were people that ride just meet and share adventures and good times with each other like they've been friends for years. In the early afternoon, we arrived at Rose Hill B&B and were able to relax in the afternoon on the front porch. One of the wonderful sights we had seen at all of the B&B's we stayed at was fireflies. We don't have those anymore in Fort Worth and it was nice to sit outside in the evening and watch for the flashes of light from them. Margaret wanted pictures and spent the better part of the evening trying to get a picture of them right at the moment they lit up. That didn't work out too well.
Day 6 Roanoke, VA to Waynesboro, VA
Another fantastic day without rain or fog. Just beautiful cruising through the mountains and experiencing the sights the Blue Ridge has to offer. We stopped at one scenic vista and noticed some hikers with a dog. They were hiking the Appalachian Trail and had been on it for 2 months with another 3 months to go. To hike the Appalachian Trail is an incredible feat of stamina and endurance so I was quite interested in talking with them. They have a website that documents their adventures which I found very interesting reading. You can follow this link to find out more: Boots To Birks.
More Sights On The Blue Ridge
After riding for another hour or so we pulled over to take a break, stretch, and drink some water. The scenic vista we stopped at just happened to have a couple of people preparing to fly off the cliff on hang gliders. We stayed there to watch one of them take off and get pictures and videos of it. Neither of us had ever seen this in real life so it was a new experience for us.
We made our last stop at a restored historic farmstead where we explored the old homes and barns. Before heading out we met Chris (Doc) who we enjoyed talking at length. Doc had completed 2 tours in Iraq as a medic for which I want to give my thanks for his service to our country. He was moving soon to begin a new life and career and just enjoying riding before heading out. Our best wishes go out to you Doc in your endeavors.
Arrival In Waynesboro, VA
Soon we arrived in Waynesboro, VA, and arrived at Belle Hearth B&B. Our B&B was just a few blocks from the downtown area so we walked to a local restaurant where we ate dinner and I had a couple of Fat Tire beers to finish out the day. Afterward, we spent the remainder of the evening lounging on the porch of Belle Hearth and watching the rain as a storm came through.
Day 7 Waynesboro, VA to Spruce Pine, NC
Our riding plans had to be changed on this day after our experiences on the BRP. We had originally planned on riding 321 miles on the BRP back down to Spruce Pine where we had reservations at another B&B. Since we had so many setbacks due to weather and slower than expected traveling speeds on the BRP we took an interstate for part of the way. We figured even if we were able to maintain 40 mph, which was unlikely, it would take 8 hours of continuous riding on the BRP to get to our destination. Add in more time for lunch, possibly dinner, rest stops, and gas stops and we could easily be up to 10 or more hours which would be in ideal conditions and that was unlikely on the BRP.
New Route Back
We took I-81, then I-77, then US-221 to Blowing Rock, NC where we hopped on the BRP. US-221 was an incredibly nice ride and had some great twisties and scenery on it as well. It was a good decision and turned out to be a fun ride as well. Seeing as we made up quite a few hours doing this we headed to Little Switzerland to eat lunch and try to ride the Diamondback Motorcycle Route again.
The day was sunny and cool and we thought for sure it was going to work out. Within 10 minutes of getting on the BRP, the sky darkened and we rode the 40 miles to Little Switzerland in the rain. We ate lunch there hoping the rain would stop which it didn't. So we rode the Diamondback in the rain to experience it. Afterward, we headed to Richmond Inn B&B in Spruce Pine which was only a few miles away, and checked in early. Shortly after leaving the BRP and arriving at our B&B, the rain ceased and the sun came out.
Day 8 Spruce Pine, NC to Nashville, TN
Took some very nice scenic and curvy back roads to get to I-40 which would take us to Nashville. We encountered some heavy rain once and had to pull off the interstate until it passed.
Day 9 Nashville, TN to Dickson, TN
We had planned on going to Hot Springs but shortly after leaving Nashville, we were confronted with a huge black storm front looming before us. It was wicked looking so we pulled off the interstate into Dickson, TN, and had breakfast at a local restaurant. Our waiter found out we were heading through Memphis and said "Whoa! Memphis is getting flooded right now, those people are swimming!" That was enough for us to cancel the rest of the riding for the day and get a room. There were quite a few hotels in the area and the Best Western allowed us to check-in before noon. We stayed in Dickson until the next morning until the storm subsided.
Day 10 Dickson, TN to Hot Springs, AR
Sure enough just as the weather channel from the hotel room was reporting, Memphis had been hit hard. As we neared the city and far past it the fields and rivers were flooded. Sometimes it seemed as if we were on a bridge going across a lake area there was so much water. Many houses along the interstate had water up to the foundations and crops were under water. It was a good decision to have stayed in Dickson instead of trying to ride through that monster storm. The skies had cleared and it was a pretty day for the entire ride to Hot Springs.
Day 11 Hot Springs, AR to Fort Worth, TX
One of the reasons we chose to go out of the way to get home was to avoid any rush hour traffic we might encounter going through DFW. I ride through it daily and wanted no part of putting Margaret through that mess. We decided to ride the Talimena Byway again from Arkansas into Oklahoma and then back into Texas. The distance was longer but the scenery and roads were beautiful and we didn't encounter any traffic congestion.
Getting Baked In The Sun
When we came out of the mountains into Oklahoma the sun began baking us. For the last 10 days we had been riding in cool, overcast, sunny but not hot, fog, or rain and we didn't experience any hot temperatures. Now however we were back in our home area and the sun was scorching our flesh. We both got a bit of sunburn from the final afternoon riding from Oklahoma back home.
Overall the trip was an extraordinary experience and we are both happy and proud to have made it. Spectacular views, wonderful encounters with riders, good food, great lodging, and nice roads made this a trip of a lifetime for both of us. The only downside to the ride was the weather, which is unpredictable under any circumstance. It's also more difficult for us to have a good understanding of the weather conditions. We live in a region that has a completely different year-round climate than that of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It was just frustrating because it seemed that every time we accessed the BRP it would rain. Soon after we pulled off the BRP the rain would cease. The positive feature about that though is we were able to experience all types of weather conditions on the Parkway. Outside of snow and ice, we saw it. I would encourage every rider to make this trip at least once. It will bring a lifetime of memories in so many good ways.