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    Sunday the 20th promised to be a great day. That is the day I started 

down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Up until a couple of months ago, I'd never heard 

of it. It's certainly no secret to anyone who lives within 500 miles of it, 

but, hey, I'm a Left Coaster.



    And I have a confession to make right here in public. Having grown up 

between the Olympics and the Cascades and having traveled in the Rockies, 

I've always thought of the little mountain chain back east as interesting, 

but really nothing more than foothills. Not real mountains at all. After all, 

the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi is only a little over 6,000 feet 

high. Why, shucks, ma'am, I've driven over passes in the Rockies way higher 

than that (I think I have a picture of me and MOKE next to a sign indicating 

10,000 feet +), and I wasn't anywhere near the tops of the mountain. And I 

can look out from my front porch at Mount Rainier and it tops out at over 

14,000 feet.



    Well, the next two days didn't exactly change my mind about the size of 

these "foothills," but it certainly opened my eyes to a different kind of 

stunning, mountain beauty. I can't say this is the best drive in the world, 

but if you ever get the chance to drive through this majestic area, do so 

without hesitation -- except probably in winter.



    There is a northern piece to this road called the Skyline Drive that 

starts in northern Virginia at Front Royal and runs a "mere" 105 miles before 

ending near Waynesboro and the start of the Blue Ridge. It is a recommended, 

scenic drive, but I didn't take the extra time to go that far north for the 

start. If it is anything like the Blue Ridge, take the time!



    This little jaunt along the tops of the southern Appalachians was started 

in 1935 as a scenic drive to link two new national parks (Shenandoah and 

Great Smoky Mountains). It was also part of the plan for recovery from the 

depression by being a way to put some of the unemployed to work. Since it was 

a government project, it wasn't completely finished until 1987; although, to 

be a bit more fair, many parts of it were done and used earlier and almost 

all parts were done by the 1960s. Elevation changes? You'll be as low as 646 

feet (higher than any spot in Florida!) and as high at 6,053 feet.




A welcome to 469 miles of wonderful driving and great scenery. Rockfish Gap at 1,900
feet.




    The section between Rockfish Gap and Roanoke I think is my favorite; 

although, choosing any one section over any other is really just choosing 

between various levels of "great." This first section didn't get as high as 

later bits, but still provided spectacular scenery and mile after mile of 

winding, well-paved roads. The climbs were also more gradual and I don't 

remember any third gear sections like would show up further on down the road.



    Very early on in the trip I figured out that this was motorcycle 

paradise. There were many out obviously enjoying the ride. (Many is a 

relative term. The road was never crowded during my entire drive.) Also, very 

early I was passed by an E-Type going the other way with the top down and 

containing two grinning people. The road is that good! I made a stop at one 

of the exhibits along the way (Humpback Rocks Pioneer Exhibit). Shortly after 

getting back on the road I was passed by the same E-Type going the same way 

as before. Obviously, the road and the car and the mood matched well enough 

that they had to have gone back the other way when I was off the road to run 

that section again. (This time the other person was driving.) The Blue Ridge 

will do that to you!



    Let me explain the road. If you really wanted to be stupid, you could 

bolt the slicks onto the 1440 and blast down the road at 9/10ths. But it 

isn't necessary, or recommended. Just drive smoothly near the Park speed 

limit of 45mph and get in a groove. (Zen and the Art of the Blue Ridge?) 

You'll find enough challenge to keep your concentration (especially on 3½" 

rims!) and still be able to anticipate the stopping points to look out over 

this incredible vista of mountains and valleys. Too fast and you'll miss half 

of the reason for driving the Parkway - the scenery. Also, be mindful of 

rocks on the road. I only encountered one, but it would have meant a busted 

sump if I'd been using 10/10ths. (As an aside, you are warned of possible 

rocks on the road by signs stating, "Watch for Fallen Rocks." With all the 

religion practiced in this part of the country I would have thought these 

rocks could have been saved.)



    Although I stopped a number of times along the way during the day's drive 

to take in one incredible vista after another, I didn't attempt to take any 

photographs. I don't think any would have done the area justice. And each 

time I stopped I thought about the people who must have first worked their 

way through the labyrinth of valleys and settled in to call this home.



    Besides the winding roads and the scenery, the other nice thing about the 

Blue Ridge Parkway is the absence of towns. This place has been kept as clean 

of "civilization" as possible -- a little too clean if you're running a small 

gas tank. Plan ahead! (You are provided with mileage markers along the road 

to help remind you of your position in the park. They are helpful if you are 

following a guidebook or the National Park Service's excellent map.)



    Just before mileage marker 217 you cross into North Carolina.




The second time into North Carolina.



    I intended to leave the Parkway for the night at Highway 421 to head west 

to spend the night in Boone - yes, that Daniel Boone. It was near here at 

Daniel Boone's Trace where he forged a path through the mountains to 

Kentucky. First, I ran into a section of the Parkway that was closed and was 

lead off onto a well-marked detour. It was well marked on the road but I had 

no idea where I was going. I stopped long enough to fire up the laptop and 

the GPS and followed comfortably along after that until I reached Boone. I 

don't know what it was, but the map and the roads didn't want to coordinate 

and I found myself in the middle of Boone (it's bigger than the name would 

imply!) and couldn't find the right road to the hotel. I finally stopped and 

spent some time looking at the maps and the GPS location. It was easy after 

that. (I know. It might have been easier to stop and ask someone for 

directions, but that would go against the Man's Road Rules Creed. Besides, 

the GPS was more fun!)



    EG and I had traveled 1,923 miles since leaving Miami.



    Monday the 21st, I went back east on 421 to pick up the Parkway as far 

back up the route as I could go rather than go the shorter route south to the 

Parkway. I didn't want to miss a mile that I didn't have to.



    The goal for the day was to get to Asheville with enough time to visit 

the Biltmore Estate and still get to meet up with another Mini owner. Since 

the drive was short I planned a few other stops along the way.



    The first stop was at the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center. The Viaduct 

was the last section of the Parkway to be built, is 1,243 feet long and is 

one of the most complicated roads every constructed. It runs along the side 

of Grandfather Mountain and was built with almost no disturbance to the 

mountain at all. No tunnels blasted or work roads built. Stop at the Visitor 

Center. The explanations there are better than I can do.



    The next stop was at Linville Falls Visitor Center just past mile marker 

316. A couple of short hikes wander through the trees to get to different 

views of nice falls. I dragged the hiking shoes I've been lugging around for 

weeks out of the boot and took a stroll for a couple of miles along the 

various paths to see the falls. Nice walk. OK falls. Worth the time for the 

combination, but don't expect to be "wowed" by the falls.



    The day's weather was a bit different with some mist appearing along the 

way and spectacular views out over the many valleys. I tried a photo but I'm 

afraid it doesn't do the scenery justice.




Many valleys with mist and fog in all of
them.




    The last stop promised to be the best of the day on the Parkway and was, 

sort of. The road into Mount Mitchell State Park takes off the Parkway at 

milepost 355. Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet, is the tallest mountain east of 

the Mississippi. As I climbed the road toward it the mist settled in and it 

was slow going. It cleared just a little as I rounded a corner near the 

Ranger Station where some roadwork was going on. I stopped while a backhoe 

blocked the path and I waited patiently. One of the Rangers finally came over 

and said I could go through to the top if I wanted but that they were going 

to complete the ditch across the road and I wouldn't be able to come back 

down for an hour or more. Because I was hungry I suggested I had better skip 

the drive but I was informed there was a restaurant near the top. OK. Stop 

for lunch and see the sights. I'd chance it. They moved the backhoe and let 

me through, the last car to go up the road for at least an hour. What they 

didn't tell me was that they'd just filled another ditch with a wide expanse 

of crushed rocks; loose crushed rocks; VERY loose crushed rock! Maybe they just 

wanted to see if EG and her 10" rims could get through. No trouble, but I was 

working hard to make sure I didn't get stopped. Once stopped I would have had 

to swallow some pride and beg help from any of the 8 or 10 people standing 

around watching the toy car.



    After stopping for lunch at an all but deserted restaurant, I continued 

on up the road to the parking lot near the peak of the mountain.




You may not be able to make out the 

elevation sign reading 6,578 feet. Also, from this side you can't see EG 

panting a bit. The third thing you might not notice is the absence of any 

scenery past EG. Those are clouds and more clouds. For viability one could 

see for, oh, four feet!




    From the parking lot one can take a short hike, more like a short walk, 

really, to the base of a tower at the peak of the mountain. I moved EG into 

this photo to show you the small distance to go. How many of the highest 

mountains in the Rockies or Cascades can you drive almost to the top and then 

take a short walk the rest of the way. Maybe, none.




The short climb left from the parking lot to the base of the
tower.





The elevation sign at the base of the tower.



    I climbed the tower and read all the very interesting signs about all the 

wonderful sights I was not seeing because of the clouds. I even took a photo, 

but it isn't worth wasting the space to show it!



    The trip down the mountain was a bit more exciting than the one on the 

way up. I was wondering whether the ditch project had been finished. Would I 

be trapped in the clouds forever? The clouds had really moved in and I was 

through the ditch areas and right in the middle of the construction crew 

before I realized what had happened. Even 15 mph was too fast to be driving. 

It took a while to get off the mountain into normal mist that allowed speeds 

all the way up to, oh, 30 mph. It wasn't misty in the car, and, looking at 

the fuel gauge, I noticed that getting to the next fuel stop in Asheville 

might be a bit tricky. I hadn't figured in the slow trip up and down the 

mountain.



    For some time the drive was into and out of mist with spectacular views 

when visibility allowed it. Also, the driving continued to be up and down 

more steep grades like it had been most of the day. There were several where 

I had to drop down into third gear.



    As I was descending I was watching the fuel gauge sink into the E-zone. 

Mind you, I wasn't in big trouble because I was carrying a 2-gallon gas 

container in the boot, but I'd rather not run the tank dry. That was about 

the time I hit the road construction and the road narrowed to one lane and it 

wasn't my turn to go. So I sat for a while, impatiently waiting. Finally, off 

I went continuing downhill towards Asheville. No problem. I should have as 

much as two or three drops left by the time I get there. Ahead I could see 

the junction for the turn to Asheville. It should be just around the corner. 

Then I saw the sign, "Asheville, 5 miles."



    Wait for the next exciting chapter. Will Chuck make it to a gas station? 

Why all the movie trucks at the Biltmore Estate? Who's Neal Weinmann? What do 

Thomas Edison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, several generations of Rockefellers, 

Henry Ford and at least eight presidents have in common?