The Blue Ridge Parkway - A Heavenly Highway
by Robert H. Miller
© 2014 RHM Co. Intl.
September is my favorite month to travel. It seems, no matter where in the world you find yourself, September has perfect weather. Either the summer is cooling or the winter is warming, the air is cool in the morning and clear in the afternoon and warm with sunshine all day long. - and beginning in September the majority of SUVs, RVs, and sightseers are gone from the Parkway.
For 355 miles the Blue Ridge Parkway tickles the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains then turns west for another 114 miles, skirting the southern edge of the Black Mountains, before ending at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mountains, mountains, mountains - get the idea? You won’t see a truck or a billboard along its entire 469 toll-free miles. Carving the thousands of perfectly-cambered, constant-radius, turns of “America’s most scenic drive” is a joyous experience. I smile for every mile of it and cry when I have to leave it.
Starting in Waynesboro, Virginia, this civil engineering wonder connects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469-miles of seamless black ribbon filled with deery-looking places where the forest closes in from both shoulders, damp corners hidden by overhanging oaks, and car drivers trying to keep you at a distance as you approach from behind, not realizing their panicked pace is merely idling along for a motorcycle. Riding the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a surreal, magical, and mystical experience best done in at least two days. More if you want to extend your joy. It’s as if your mind can’t comprehend so much unspoiled, uncluttered, and uncrowded roadway with non-stop curves and relentless breathtaking views.
From the northern entrance at Rockfish Gap, MM 0, to Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, MM 60, it repeatedly climbs and falls, 1000 feet at a time, in tight turns. Using the yellow center line as a guide, you try to keep your tires on your half of the road. Accomplishing this feat is the highlight of the Virginia section.
For the next 130 miles the Parkway maintains a 2000-3000 foot elevation, except for the decent to Roanoke River, as it reveals vistas reminiscent of Scottish Highlands. At the Virginia-North Carolina border, MM 218, the roadway breaks 3000 feet for good and becomes alpine-like as it travels through 23 tunnels cut straight through mountain peaks. You’ll pass the Folk Art Center, MM 295, where grizzled mountain craftsmen preserve Appalachian heritage and 6684-foot Mount Mitchell, MM 355, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. What you won’t pass are service areas. Along the entire 469-mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, fuel stops are now history. You must leave the Parkway to refuel, so plan accordingly and chose a station close to the Parkway. Helpful websites are http://blue-ridge-parkway-info.org and http://smokymountainrider.com. My favorite place to dine is the Mt. Pisgah Inn (MM 408.5). They have a great gift shop too.
The highlight of the North Carolina section is Linn Cove Viaduct, MM 304. This quarter-mile long piece of pavement is seemingly suspended in thin air as it clings to the side of Grandfather Mountain. After the first 462 miles of Parkway were constructed between 1935 and 1967, design began on the viaduct. With revolutionary “top down” construction methods used in the Alps, engineers used cranes to piece together pre-cast roadway sections and create the most complicated concrete bridge in the world. To minimize the impact on nature, the only groundwork was to excavate seven roadway supports. Even the concrete is tinted with iron-oxide to blend with the natural environment. The eight-mile “missing link” containing Linn Cove Viaduct took 20 years to complete and was dedicated in 1987.
If you want to say you’ve ridden the finest motorcycling road in the world, get your butt to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nowhere else can you scrape pegs and grind boots on 469 uninterrupted twisty miles of undamaged asphalt snaking up, down, across, and through ancient mountains. If you slow to the posted 45 m.p.h. limit at overlooks and service areas, the rangers will pretty much ignore what you do on the deserted sections. If you refuse to ride sensibly, the federales will run you down with a helicopter and treat you like a drug smuggler in a foreign country.
For its last 40-mile gasp the Parkway drops 4000 feet through towering cliffs and rock formations which glow like lighted monolithic walls as they reflect the setting sun. Here you’ll find the Black Mountains spreading out from each pavement edge like a green, swelling, sea. By this time, a wide grin will permanently crease your face and you’ll truly believe you’ve died and gone to motorcycling heaven. At Newfound Gap Road, MM 469, the Parkway ends and intersects US 411. You have just entered Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I’m a huge proponent of dual sporting. It really is the most fun you can have on two wheels and there’s no better way to hone your street skills than riding off-pavement. It’s July and the height of the dual sport season in the U.S. At this time of year you can still find cool days and you will find cool nights in my favorite place to ride - the Pennsylvania mountains. Here’s a review of the book where I found some good tips and explanations of several topics I’d never seen covered before and I’ve been dual sporting for twenty years. Enjoy!
Thanks to Ridin’ Ralph for the pics.
Book Review -
The Essential Guide To Dual Sport Motorcycling, by Carl Adams
Published by Whitehorse Press 2008
192 Pages - 8-1/4”x10-1/2” - $24.95 (List Price)
Available at Amazon Books - $18.35
by Robert H. Miller
© 2014 RHM Co. Intl
The author describes his book as “Everything you need to buy, ride, and enjoy the world’s most versatile motorcycles” and he does a good job of covering that vast territory. Where the author ventures into new material is with his chapters specifically on dual sport riding, describing the types of dual sport motorcycles, how to buy a dual sport motorcycle, tire selection, suspension tuning, mental preparation, long-distance dual sport touring, route mapping, and navigation.
The author evidently has a huge amount of dual sport time, but he doesn’t ever mention the complete dual sport experience of riding to a weekend event, participating in the event and riding home from the event all on your dual sport motorcycle. Perhaps it’s something he’s never done. He briefly covers dual sport touring in the opening chapter and then deservedly covers it much more comprehensively at the end of the book where he lists how to plan, what to take, and how to maintain your dual sport for extended rides. This is all very useful information seemingly never before published in book form. The book is sprinkled with these words of wisdom as well as loaded with full-color photos that are especially helpful in the tire selection, suspension, and navigation chapters.
In the third chapter, “Matching A Dual Sport To Your Needs” the author is right on target with the chapter’s title. Once a rider decides what he wants a dual sport motorcycle to do, and how much he wants to pay, it’s easy to choose which is the right one. The chapters on tires, suspension tuning, mental preparation, training, techniques, mapping, navigation, and touring trips are excellent. The author goes to great lengths to explain how a motorcycle suspension works off-pavement, how to troubleshoot off-road suspensions, the physics of off-road motorcycling, and techniques that are important to practice.
The author’s extensive dual sport experience is evident when he addresses the overlooked topics of “Riding With Others”, “Heat, Cold, and Dehydration”, and “Strong Body, Sound Mind”. The “Suggested Riding Apparel” paragraphs in the “Personal Riding Gear” chapter are especially helpful with their lists of gear for varying terrain, temperatures, and circumstances. The author’s effort is a very good first dual sport book. The only thing missing is coverage of East Coast dual sporting. There’s no mention of it. A beginning reader may think dual sporting can only be done in the desert West. A Foreword by an eastern rider may have helped here.
In the book’s introduction, the author makes a prophetic statement when he says, experienced off-road riders, especially those that have raced, “expect dual sports to be racing bikes with license plates and (they) miss the rich possibilities of dual sport”. This could only be said by someone who’s been there and done it. With credibility running this deep, you can’t go wrong with this read.
Heisler’s Cloverleaf Dairy Bar and Restaurant -
Good, Better, Best
by Robert H. Miller
© 2014 RHM Co. Intl
This is one of those motorcycle destinations that’s been occasionally popping up on the ride radar for the past ten years. A mention on a blog here, a newspaper article there, but never anytime everywhere. The fact it kept surfacing was intriguing enough to look for a reason to ride there.
Rumor had it that Heisler’s was located “up in coal country, near Tamaqua”, but that was only half-right. Not really near Tamaqua, but definitely in the heart of coal country, Heister’s is closer to one of Pennsylvania’s top off-road riding destinations, the area surrounding the town of Mary-D than anything else. It’s really on State Route 1013 - a narrow “Legislative Route” that runs between Route 209 at Tuscarora and the intersection of Routes 443 and 895 at New Ringgold. These Legislative Routes and their poorer cousins, the three-digit Township Routes (T-Routes) criss-cross the Allegheny Mountains that run southwest to northeast in this region of Pennsylvania and connect the valley roads, like Routes 209, 54, 443, and 895 that parallel the ridges of Broad, Nesquehoning, Pisgah, Mauch Chunk, and Blue Mountains. Mountains, mountains, mountains. You get the idea.
Heisler’s was established as a dairy farm in 1924 and in 1957 a pasteurizing plant that served area farmers was built a quarter-mile from the farm. On this new site they built the dairy bar and developed their own ice cream recipes. The restaurant came later, but the original ice cream recipes remain. Today, you can choose from the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries then top it off with a decadent dessert of one or more of their 40 ice cream flavors. There’s also the local Polish delicacy of pierogies if you want to be adventurous. Heisler’s offers an opportunity to work off those ice cream treats with a miniature golf course, driving range, and game room. There’re indoor and outdoor picnic tables in case the weather doesn’t cooperate during your visit. If you want to work up a sweat, Pennsylvania’s twistiest road, Route 125, is twenty-five miles west of Tuscarora. Every weekend the squidly riders that hang out there provide free entertainment.
Still a family business, Heisler’s is run by Leonard Ostergaard - the nephew of founder Morris Heisler. They’re a retail and a commercial enterprise supplying area stores with their Heisler’s Cloverleaf Ice Cream and their trademark CMP (chocolate, marshmallow, peanut) Sundaes. They’re also very proud of their Purple Martin colony that takes up residence every summer in their fourteen Purple Martin “condominiums” scattered on the property.
Open daily from April to mid-October, Heisler’s is a place where the food is good, the ice cream is better, and the roads are the best that Pennsylvania Coal Country has to offer. The website is http://www.heislersdairy.com. The address is 743 Catawissa Road, Tamaqua and the phone number is 570.668.3399. The GPS coordinates are N40 43.646/W76 01.416.