Roads In Bad Shape After Rains

After nearly a month of rain over the mountains of North Carolina we can now be thankful the long period of drought is behind us though some of our roads are suffering damage. The rain is good news and is welcome to a region which had been parched dry along with much of the southeast United States. The bad news is the heavy rainfall has been taking it’s toll on the roads.

Thin soil on steep slopes is prone to slide when accumulated water adds weight and lubrication to the mix and reports of road damage is widespread. Minor flooding has occurred periodically in low lying areas while several small slides have occured around Asheville, Cashiers, and Brevard. Numerous trees have fallen causing temporary road closures throughout the region.

While I’ve heard of no major incidents, I urge visitors to be aware of the situation and exercise caution while riding through the area. Watch for gravel and sand, particulalry in turns, rocks fallen into the roads, and debris washed down steep driveways and side roads. You may also expect repair crews on the roads as things are put back in order.

On the up side, there’s no better time to take a tour of the watrefalls!

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Motorcycle Waterfall Tour


This video shows a dozen or so of the roadside waterfalls included on America Rides Maps “The Best Roads South of Great Smoky Mountains National Park – EAST“.

When combined with the campanion map “The Best Roads South of Great Smoky Mountains National Park – WEST“, nearly 20 roadside waterfalls can be enjoyed on your rides through the mountains of North Carolina.

Neither of these maps is purposely designed to focus on waterfalls, rather they guide you to the most exciting and beautiful undiscovered back roads which wind throughout the wild woods of the mountains just south of our nations most popular national park. There are plenty of other spectacular sights to see. Visit America Rides Maps to discover thousands of miles of two lane mountain roads packed with scenery, devoid of traffic, and more!

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Blue Ridge Parkway – Closed Section to Open on Schedule

The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the highest mountain east of the Mississippi which has been closed for nearly 1 1/2 years due to a slide is set to open on Friday, May 15. Located about 20 miles north of Asheville, NC, near milepost 367, the visitor center at Craggy Gardens will also re-open Friday afternoon.

Alternating one lane traffic will be controlled by flaggers or temporary traffic lights with a timed system used after dark. Repaving is occurring from milepost 359 (about 5 miles north of Craggy Gardens) to milepost 374 just north of Ox Creek Road. Visitors are cautioned to use extreme caution through this section of the Parkway as there will be loose gravel and rough pavement through the 16 mile stretch.

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Mountain Riding Tips #6 – Weather or Not?

Did you get any rain? What’s it doing over there? It’s blowing like a hurricane over here, what’s it like at your house? So begin many phone conversations amongst friends and family – in town. There are times when the weather is similar everywhere. When a major rainy front moves across the country or a cold spell comes through or the rare heat wave everybody shares in it. Most times though, the weather is far more localized, and we rarely share it equally.

Each cove and hollow has its own little weather system. Each town is different. As the weather moves across the mountains, it seems to get hung up on some, can’t climb over others, and funnels through some places more than others. Yesterday was a prime example. I’m waiting to do some filming south of me. With afternoon thunderstorms predicted, I knew better than to go over the mountain. Through the day we watched the clouds build to the south, billowing up higher and higher growing dark and angry. Resigned to doing yard work, I could hear the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance. Today I’m nursing a sun burn. The weather couldn’t make the climb over the hills.

So what’s a rider to do? Nearly every day through the summer there’s some chance of showers predicted. Do we believe the weather report or go out on our ride? Honestly, there is no way to know for sure. It’s always a gamble. But there are a few tips which will help you avoid a good soaking or skirt around areas where rain is more predominant.

First of all, the closer you are to the clouds the more you will find yourself in them and the wetness they hold. It is far more likely to rain at the higher elevations and rain harder. When the weather looks gloomy, avoid the high places. Sometimes the rain never makes it to the ground in the lower elevations. More than once, I’ve left the Blue Ridge Parkway onto one of the many great side roads only to ride out of the rain and even hit the sunshine leaving the storm behind me.

Another tip for summer riding is to take your time getting started in the morning if you want to get those long range views from the high places. With the cooler temperatures of night, the clouds come down and settle in the coves and valleys. As the sun comes up, it warms them and they rise out of the valleys and climb up the mountainsides. If you get up high too early in the morning, you’ll catch up to them before they’ve cleared the mountaintops and your long range views will be obscured by the gray-white mists. Take your time and enjoy a nice breakfast.

Some places get more rain than others. The mountains often provide a barrier that either prevents the weather from climbing over them or funnels it along them raining on one side but not the other. You are more likely to experience showers if you are on the north or south side of the higher elevations. Brevard, 20 miles south of me sees more rain than I do as it sometimes can’t climb over the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll see stronger storms on the Tennessee side of the mountains when it can’t make the climb over the Smokies to come south. Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain in the east, sees a lot of rain. I’d avoid it when the weather is iffy.

You can’t always avoid the rain, but often you can ride out of it and plan your rides around the places where it most likely. There’s no better feeling than to crest that ridge and see clear blue skies on the other side. It’s all part of riding in the mountains.

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Mountain Riding Tips #5 – Mastering the Curves – See Your Future

A few times each year I read about a motorcycle wreck nearby on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a small town so details travel fast, often not reported in the newspaper. The story is typical – somebody hit a guardrail in a turn and either them or both they and the bike went over it. The rail usually stops the bike. Most times, the accident is not related to excess speed. While not reported, the cause is pretty well understood – target fixation. Too much time looking at the view and not enough attention to the road.

We’ve all experienced it. We’ve seen that pothole, or road kill, or stick in the road, focused on it in an effort to avoid it only to run right over it despite our intentions. Or maybe you’ve looked down at the side of the road whizzing by only to find yourself drifting towards it. Or maybe you’ve had the parkway experience – focused a little too long on the view only to find your motorcycle has been magnetically attracted to it when you glance back at the road and that curve is suddenly upon you. What you see is what you get.

One of the tricks to mastering the curves is to learn to keep your eyes moving. Another is to look through the curve. Wherever your eyes go, your motorcycle goes. Always look as deep into the turn as you can, seeking the path you want your motorcycle to follow and exit. Scan well ahead of the bike looking for problems. When you see that patch of gravel, note it, then immediately look for your path around it, where you want to be to avoid it and once you’re beyond it. Look beyond the hazard.

Keep your eyes moving, darting from the obstruction to the path ahead. As it comes closer, train your focus at where you want to be, do not focus on the obstruction. The more you look at it the more likely you will hit it. Force yourself to keep your eyes down the road. Your peripheral vision will take care of the rest.

The views from the Blue Ridge Parkway are what make it what it is. So are the sweeping curves that follow the rise and fall of the ridgelines. Beware when the two cross paths. As you are clipping along enjoying the rock and roll of the woods flanked in green and you come around that curve and a vast and panoramic view explodes before you, plan to appreciate it from the side of the road instead of the saddle. Zip into the nearest overlook and take a break to enjoy it. If there’s no overlook, find the next one and swing around to go back and appreciate it by pausing at the side of the road. Snap some photos to share.

Enjoy the road. Enjoy the views. Beware of mixing the two.

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Sights From The Road – The Lynn Cove Viaduct

The Lynn Cove Viaduct is located at milepost 304.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway where it skirts Grandfather Mountain at an elevation of 4100 feet. It’s just outside the town of Banner Elk, NC. and not far from Boone, NC., convenient midway stopping points for a cruise down our nations longest National Park.

Completed in 1983, this was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway linking the northern parts through the highlands of Virginia with the southern section through the highest mountains in the east. Too long for a tunnel, the Lynn Cove Viaduct provides an elevated bridge across a section of mountain too steep, rocky, and unstable for a roadway. While it is one of the most photographed features of the parkway with it’s dramatic “S” curving platform, those photos you may come across are from a vantage point not easily reached from the road. Fact is, you may not recognize you crossed it while cruising along the parkway unless you’re looking for it and know where it’s found.

For a better view of it, exit the parkway and ride a few miles down NC 221, one of the best roads recommended on America Rides Maps NC008 – “Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock“. Pass the entrance to Grandfather Mountain, continue through a few of the wonderful curves that skirt the mountain below the parkway and look for a turn with a large gravel pull out. That’s where I got this picture, good enough to be used as the cover photo for the map.

For too many travelers, this area around Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock is overlooked. It’s a great stopping off point to pass a night, and you can see a few of the attractions with short rides between the towns. My explorations discovered a wealth of great backroads in the area with rides that extend acorss the borders into Tennessee and Virgina, enough to make a stay of a few days a rewarding expereince. The map lays out three recommened rides, and tempts you with more roads waiting your discovery.

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Sights From The Road – Alligator Rock

The jaws of Alligator Rock loom ominously over the roadway on NC 215 not far from Rosman, NC., near the point where NC 215 makes a brief intersection with US 64. Beleive it or not, it’s easy to miss Alligator rock as you zip beneath it – this section of road is very tight and twisty and your attention is more likely to be on the pavement, not the scenery above.

This view is from the north side and there is little to warn you it’s about to appear as you round the bend. If you are approaching from the south side, look for the stone entrance sign that tells you that you are entering the Pisgah National Forest. Alligator rock is on the next bend in the road.

NC 215 is full of spectacular sights and it’s long and twising climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway then down again to approach Waynesville and Canton is one of my favorite rides. There are roadside waterfalls, some obvious, some hidden, inspiring long range views from the higher elevations, and some of the most fabulous serpentine motorcycle riding to be found in the mountains of North Carolina. This is another one of the great roads featured on America Rides Maps NC001 – The Best Roads South of Great Smoky Mountains National Park – EAST.

I’ve heard a rumor there is a possibility NC215 is going to be re-engineered sometime in the future. It would certainly be nice to see it get a fresh coat of pavement, there are sections that are really starting to show their age, particularly up high. Unfortuantely, it seems they may try to relax some of the curves a bit and Alligator Rock will be one of the casualties of the plan. I’m hoping the economy forces them to cut it back a bit and just freshen up the tarmac. Leave the curves just as they are, it’s close to perfection now.

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Sights From The Road – The Bear Barn

One of the greatest things about getting off the main roads is the secret sights revealed, some beautiful, some awe inspiring, others curious. The mountains are full of old barns, enough to keep any “old barn aficionado” busy with his camera for the rest of his days. This one was unique though as it was also the curing rack for these couple of bear skins. They hung there for quite some time though they finally came down.

This photo was taken from one of the roads from America Rides Maps – NC001 “The Best Roads South of Great Smoky Mountains National Park – EAST”. It’s just 10 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, though you’d never know this hidden road was there looking down from above. That’s the beauty of my maps – they’ll lead you to sights and places few ever experience and put you on the most enjoyable roads found anywhere.

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Mountain Riding Tips #4 – Mastering the Curves – How to Loosen A Tight Turn

Here’s another trick from the motorcycle racetrack which has applications on the street and will improve your ability to carve through the curves by slowing the whole process down and making the turn less sharp.

These are not pure racing lines. Save those more elliptical and aggressive paths for where they belong. This is a softened interpretation more appropriate to day-to-day riding which will still achieve similar results without all the other complicated factors which come into play in a racing situation.

These diagrams show a section of road with a 180 degree turn. The red line shows the path taken by a rider who maintains his position in the middle of the lane throughout the curve. The blue line shows the path taken by a rider who adjusts his position prior to starting the turn and uses more of the road.

The first diagram shows taking the curve in the outside lane. Coming onto the turn, the rider moves to the outside edge of the roadway. One immediate advantage from moving to the outside edge of the road is he can see deeper into the turn – he can see more of it, more of what lies around the bend, and has more warning of any hazards ahead.

The second thing to note, is the rider begins turning sooner. This means more time in the turn, it takes longer to complete it. As both riders end up at the same distance down the road when the turn is completed, making the curve longer in effect slows it down. The blue rider takes more time to complete the turn.

Another way to look at it is to note the distance travelled by both riders. The red line is much shorter than the blue line. The curve of the red line is much sharper than the curve of the blue line. Taking the longer blue line makes the curve bigger. It’s not as sharp.

Note the position of my bike on the road in the photo of me just leaving the apex of an outside curve (above). See how close I am to the double yellow lines in the road. I started the turn near the outside edge of the road. I’m now at the tightest point of the turn and ready to start accelerating out of it. Because I was over at the far edge of the road I was able to see deep enough into it to know it was clear of traffic. If I had suddenly seen a car ahead, particularly one which had come across the yellow line, I was already out of the way on the far edge of the road. I was done with all my braking entering the curve at a speed I was comfortable handling at a steady throttle. If something appears in my path as I approach the apex of the curve, I have the entire lane to my right to move over and avoid it.

The last diagram shows taking the same curve in the inside lane. In this case, it is a much tighter turn, and effects are more dramatic and apparent. Note how much longer the blue line is than the red one, how much more time is spent between the start and end of the turn.The same advantages come into play here.

Don’t get locked into riding the center of your lane. Use all the road which is available and you’ll ride better, smoother, faster, and safer.

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Mountain Riding Tips #3

Mastering the Curves – Move Your Ass To Save It

It’s the classic mountain motorcycle demise. You’re clipping along, feeling your oats, enjoying the rock and roll through a series of curves feeling like you’ve got this stretch of road dialed in when suddenly the next curve throws something at you that wasn’t expected. Maybe it shuts down and gets tighter than you expected. Perhaps you grabbed a little more throttle than you should have coming out of the last one. Could be there’s a huge patch of gravel in the path you’d chosen. Whatever the reason, you’re coming in too fast and your sphincter seizes up.

The result too often goes like this – rider tenses up and sits bolt upright to react. Next he focuses all his attention on the problem – the patch of gravel, or most likely the edge of the road where he knows he’s going to go off. Taking your eyes off what’s ahead is a sure way to blow a turn. In desperation he grabs a handful of brake to try to kill his speed. The hesitation brings him too far into the turn and by the time he feels he’s got to lean the bike over it’s too late. Once that front tire rolls off the pavement it’s all over.

The more experienced rider may try to dive into the corner harder. Laying on the brakes, the bike is hesitant to pitch over, but he wrestles it down. Braking causes weight to transfer onto the front wheel and the back end gets light just as he’s really stomping on the rear brake. The rear wheel starts to slide. The bike pitches further on its side and something makes contact – a floorboard, foot peg, exhaust pipe, center stand, frame, whatever, and the rear tire lifts off the ground. The result is inevitable.

Admittedly, there is a point at which the speed you are coming into the turn is just plain too fast and there’s nothing even Casey Stoner can do to save it (he’s one of those racer guys for those of you that don’t recognize the name). But take a lesson from Casey, there is something you can do that will make a huge difference – move your ass.

For most of us, the idea of hanging off a bike with your knee and sometimes elbow sliding on the pavement, face only inches above the tarmac at 150 mph is sheer lunacy. It should be. That’s hardly “safe” even on a race track. There’s no place for it on the street. But there’s a reason those guys do it. By shifting their weight down low and inside on the curve, the bike can be kept more upright. More upright means better contact between the road and the tires. If the tires do break contact, the bike tends to slide and drift sideways instead of going down, at least most times.

There’s no need to start stitching knee sliders into your leathers, that’s not where this is going. But you can take a lesson from the pros that may save your ass from meeting the road. Learn to shift your weight in a turn.

It’s all about the center of gravity and relative mass. No wait, that’s a little too much out of the physics textbook. Put the calculator away. It’s so much easier to just go out and try it yourself. Shifting your weight, even just a few inches, has a dramatic effect when going through a curve. I’m not talking about hanging off the bike like a monkey. Just sliding your butt cheeks over to get one off the edge of the seat and lower your torso while dropping it to the inside of the turn will produce remarkable results.

It works on a bicycle. It works on a full dressed Harley. Try it. When the road tightens up, get in the habit of moving around a bit. Once you’ve made that initial adjustment, it’s easy to slide a little further if needed. You’ll have more control and better traction. While it’s a little more effort, that little effort could keep you out of the hospital, the repair shop, or worse when a curve throws more at you than expected.

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