I see mountains when I close my eyes – Blue Ridge Parkway trip day 5

Atop Grandfather Mountain, NC

Atop Grandfather Mountain, NC

Share the journey — read the Blue Ridge Parkway Ride blog series.

When Brian and I visited St. Petersburg, I’d see onion domes when I closed my eyes. In Istanbul, I saw minarets. On this trip I see mountains. Now that we’re in North Carolina, the ridges look less like really big hills and more like actual mountains. And today was a mountain day!

After another late breakfast —the Inn at Yonahlossee didn’t begin breakfast until 8 — we left Boone under abundant sunshine (as the Weather Channel described it).

I really geared up for the cold weather I anticipated atop Grandfather Mountain. I broke out the heated jacket for the first time on the trip. Wow — you could ride in Antartica and be ok with that toasty little thing on. But the additional cord (on top of the one for the helmet sound system), not to mention the camera around my neck, got to be cumbersome. I wish there was a way to have all these niceties without so many cords. I walked away from the bike at least twice today, forgetting I was tethered by my helmet mike cord.

One of the landmarks we’ve been waiting for on the trip was Linn Cove Viaduct, an S-shaped bridge hugging Grandfather Mountain. We made the approach from the north today and got to see this engineering marvel from a distance, and ride the most complicated bridge ever built.

Headed up Grandfather Mountain

Headed up Grandfather Mountain

We tackled Grandfather Mountain next, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, and privately owned. The mountain is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve. All that is great, but I mainly wanted to see the bears, and my dad wanted to cross the Mile High Bridge. I thought we may do neither when we pulled into the entrance gate and the attendant told us we couldn’t take the motorcycle trailer up. But no worries, she said to leave it in the parking lot and they’d watch it. Then she gave us a somber warning about the switchbacks and required us to read an ominous paragraph about the dangers to motorcycles climbing the mountain. “They have fallen down on the switchbacks,” she said. My dad, who has driven his bike up the half-gravel and guard-rail free Pikes Peak in the Rockies acknowledged her warnings but told her not to worry about us. I was a little nervous, but sat as if glued to the seat.

It was a fun trip up, and I needn’t have worried. We had the summit to ourselves, except for a work crew constructing a new visitor’s center up top, and made the obligatory bridge crossing. My dad of course strode across the squeaking swaying bridge like it was a sidewalk. It made me queasy but I crossed too, stopping to take pictures of the incredible mountain country around us.

Kodiak, a cinnamon-colored black bear

Kodiak, a cinnamon-colored black bear

We visited the animal habitat on the way back down, and I delighted in looking at the big black bears up close. While I have mixed feelings about them living in captivity, one of them had been rescued from a roadside circus, so I’m sure it has a better life now begging (park approved and sold) treats from the tourists. They acted just like overgrown puppies.

We checked out a bald eagle and white eagle, a cougar (!), an otter who stayed hidden in his trash can and the deer before going back down the mountain. I loved the sign warning visitor not to tease the cougar.

Back on the parkway, we headed south again and pulled off in Little Swizerland at lunch time. What a cute little mountain town, with a cafe, general store and fantastic book store. It was grilled cheese again for lunch today, but this cafe served a “grown up grilled cheese” of smoked gouda and blue cheese on marble rye. I also picked up a bread, cheese and fruit plate for a picnic lunch tomorrow. As we backed out of our parking space in front of the cafe and store everyone eating outside turned to look. I have definitely observed the fascination many people have with the motorcycle on this trip. But this was a first — one guy actually videoed us with his camcorder as we backed out and drove off. Seriously!

Atop Mt Mitchell

Atop Mt Mitchell

We soon reached the detour point where the parkway is closed, but on the advice of the MINI drivers we met earlier in the week, we continued south in order to take tiny route 80 to 70 and I 40. But we couldn’t pass up visiting Mt Michell, the highest point east of the Mississippi so we continued past our turnoff to go there. Even if we hadn’t driven to the mountain, the views alone on this stretch made it worthwhile. And the best part was we got to backtrack and see them twice. We must have looked like a pair of those bobble-head dolls as our heads swiveled left to right to take in the mountain views. Of course the views from the top of Mt Mitchell (6.578 feet) were just stunning. But we had to go back down the mountain and resume the ride.

It’s too bad about the detour, but it turned out that route 80 (a little squiggly grey line on the map) was a blast — switchback after hairpin turn after switchback. My dad leaned that bike into those curves util his foot peg scraped the ground. It was a “wheeee!”-inducing ride.

A quick stretch down 70 and an eyes-squinched-shut 10-minute-hop on 40 and we were back on the parkway. We stopped in the new Destination Center where I’d heard about a movie they show that tells the story of the Parkway through a father/daughter motorcycle trip. How perfect for us to watch that! However they had just screened it for the last time today, and despite my plea (“but we’re on a father daughter motorcycle trip, can’t you play just a part of it for us?”) we didn’t get to watch it.

We cruised the last bit of our route today, arriving below Asheville early enough to walk to dinner near our hotel (yes, I ate at a chain restaurant, but at least I didn’t have to put a helmet back on after my shower) and relax a while before our last day.

Tomorrow will be a long one. We’re finishing the parkway, riding the legendary Tail of the Dragon, and heading back to my parent’s house avoiding Knoxville and I 75. You probably won’t hear from me again until Thursday.

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