Day 4 – Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway

Front Royal, VA – Rocky Knob, VA

284 miles

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Nirvana. Today was utter motorcycling nirvana. I have never ridden on roads so perfect, spellbinding and totally intoxicating. I swear, I started giggling for the first ten minutes. Skyline Drive is that good. Everything about it is simply perfect. You feel like you are racing on a surface of black glass with the most gorgeous lush scenery as the backdrop. Everything smells alive and fresh. Car or motorcycle, it doesn’t matter. You have to go and see it. Seriously.

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Despite the best laid plans, it took me more than 45 minutes to pack up my tent at Gooney Creek (I still can’t type that with a straight face) and saddle up on the bike. I’m still catching my groove regarding my gear and it took me a bit longer to pack up than I anticipated. I skipped breakfast and rushed to get to Skyline Drive to salvage my plan to hit the park early with a minimum of traffic to enjoy the pristine roads.

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And the plan worked. I started on Skyline Drive at the top of Shenandoah State Park at 7:45am. For the next ninety minutes, I had the entire Parkway to myself. I felt like the luckiest person on Earth.

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Not. Another. Soul.

It was, without question, the most incredible experience I’ve ever had riding a motorcycle in my entire life. The road was like a dream. What makes the Parkway so special is that it feels more like a long driveway into a gorgeous manicured estate than a public road.

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But it’s not an estate. It’s a National Park. And National Parks have lots of critters that live in the woods. Within the first two hours, here’s what crossed the road in front of me.

Wild Turkey

Deer

Turtle

Countless squirrels

Snake

Hedgehog or Badger (they all look alike – I’m not being racist).

Guess what I hit? The turtle. Unbelievable. I felt miserable about it.

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Once I shook off the Turtle Incident, I continued being spellbound again and again by each crest and curve of Skyline Drive. The perfectly black sticky asphalt hugged my tires and inspired confidence in each turn. The lush green trees would bend on both sides of the road to create a shadowy canopy that would suddenly open again to stunning vistas of the Smoky Mountains that ran parallel to the road. Most of the time there were no settlements or man-made buildings visible from the countless overlooks. Simply rolling green hills and mountain peaks as far as you could see. It was simply breathtaking.

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Every mile or so, you can see a sign for an overlook area. You see, the biggest danger of this road is that the views are so captivating that it’s easy to stare off into the far away mist of the Smoky Mountains while a hairpin curve wanders up and smacks you in the head. Luckily, the wise designers of this road understood the power of the Park’s natural beauty so they set up countless rest stops and overlooks. In fact, there are so many pulloffs that one typically has each overlook to oneself. The vistas and the solitude combine to create very powerful memories.

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At one rest stop, I met John who was riding his red Ducati Multistrada north from Florida to Maine. We had a good chat like motorcyclists do talking about roads, routes and near accidents we survived. I think he was eying my GS’s superior load capability. But I was admiring his hot red fast Italian bike.

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The nice thing I’ve discovered about my trip cross country is that everyone smiles when they hear about the adventure. If you tell someone you’re going to Hawaii for two weeks, you’re a schmuck. Perhaps a lucky shmuck, but still the same sentiment remains. A long bike trip seems to bring the best out in folks.  People wish they were going with you, and shake your hand when they leave.

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I finished Skyline Drive by around 1pm and entered the first part of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Skyline Drive is a $10 toll road but amazingly the Blue Ridge is free is equally stunning. I’m just amazed that this beautiful resource is here for the taking.

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Despite the beauty and seductive roads of the Parkway, I still hadn’t eaten since camping the night before. Using my GPS, I found lunch at the Blue Mountain Brewery. I grabed a German Pale Ale and a veggie pizza before hitting the road again.

20110604-075955.jpg It was a pretty neat brewery. They grow a good portion of their hops onsite and the brick oven makes a damn fine thin crust. I’d go back there.

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Camping again tonight. I was going to camp near Roanoke but one of the park rangers recommended that I push on to Rocky Knob. He said the campgrounds in Roanoke were located in a gully that soaks up all the sun while offering little shade. After spending the day riding in 90 + heat, I followed his advice. Tomorrow it’s on to Boone, NC to see my old paragliding friend Bubba.

20110604-080227.jpgWHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: How amazing our National and State Parks are. I plan on visiting a whole lot more after this experience today.

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