I've been talking for more than a year about riding the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. An opportunity has popped up so, unless the weather is horrid, I'm going to do it.
A group of us from work are going to a meeting in Charlottesville, VA 27-28 September. That's perfect: it's the time of year when I wanted to do the ride. It will be getting cool but before the peak leaf season when traffic on the Parkway gets bad. And Charlottesville is 30 miles from the Parkway so I'll ride down to the meeting, following the other guys in a van. After it's over, I'll let them bring my suitcase back, change clothes, and head south.
I've worked out daily distances of 300-330 miles. That's less than I often do on my Saturday rides, but since I'll be on very twisty roads, the pace will be slow. My idea is to spend the first night in Hillsville, VA, the second in Bryson City, NC (which completes the Blue Ridge Parkway). Then ride the Cherohala Skyway in NC, cut through the Smokey Mountain Park, and spend the third night in Abingdon, VA. Then I'll go through Southwestern Virginia and into West Virginia, mostly on Route 16, and spend the fourth night in a town called Weston. Then I'll be back in Carlisle by Sunday afternoon.
The trick on this is to maximize the time on twisty mountain roads but end each day at a town big enough to have motels and restaurants, while keeping the daily distance in the target range. As I built the route, I focused on towns with a barbeque restaurant.
There are dozens of interesting looking, twisty roads in West Virginia, but I can only get so many in on this trip. Later in the fall or next spring I'd like to spend about three days riding just there. I may need to see if I can revive my West Virginia accent in case I'm captured by locals or something.
In the Beginning
Driving a car, your relationship with the road is like that with a friend. Bumps are softened. On a motorcycle, the relationship is much more intimate, like that with a lover. You feel every small bump and dip.
Me, November 2011
This is the unfolding story of motorcycling and me. While I'd toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I'd never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school so I considered myself expendable. I'd just spent two years with every waking moment was consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.
My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So I gravitated to riding.
As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was that riding a motorcycle would save money given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was that royalties from the book would pay for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed that having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles, and manual transmission cars for years, I'd pick up motorcycle riding easily.
These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn't sell enough books to cover the costs. And learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life, I've always wanted to be where I'm not. And I'm rushing to get there.
In the few years since I began riding, I've fallen passionately in love with it. The average American motorcyclist rides 1800 miles per year. I did 16,000 my first year, 18,000 the second, and over 20,000 in the third. I've continued to average 15,000 to 16,000 miles per year even when I began writing a weekly column that eats up much of my Sundays. At night I often dream of squiggly lines on a map. Seriously.
When everything is clicking--I'm alone on a winding country road, I've got my "A" game, the music is in a groove--I sometimes forget the motorcycle is there and feel like I'm simply flying. If you don't want to take my word for it, trust Alton Brown.
Luckily, I live close to some fine riding, with twisty roads over mountain ridges, large state forests, miles of farmland (which often requires dodging Amish buggies), charming little towns (each different from all the others), and lots of historic sites. There's always somewhere new to see. (Here's a map of my favorite routes and road food). I particularly like combining riding with photography--one of my other passions.
When I began this blog I was riding a 2010 BMW R1200R. In BMW jargon, this bike was a "hexhead" (named because the engine cylinder covers are hexagonal). So these are the "Hexhead Diaries." I'll update them regularly with stories and pictures. Stay tuned!