So here it is, winter is officially upon us today and I spent the best of it on my motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. It was so warm when I took the dog out this morning I knew I was going to HAVE to get on the bike. The weatherman says rain is coming to the Smoky Mountains so I knew I’d need an early start.
I would have settled for a nice short ride - (if you believe that, you don't know me very well)
“Just a short ride” I told my wife.
If nothing else I’d top up the near-empty tank and make a short spin of it. Thinking of someplace close I could get a photo, I headed to the dam at Lake Junaluska. Sure looked like rain was coming. Got my photo, then where?
It’s been so unusually warm lately, I decided to ride over to Maggie Valley and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway was open. Slim chance of it, but just maybe….
Made it to Waterrock Knob! Enveloped in clouds, raining, but totally unexpected at this time of year. That would have been enough for most riders - it just goaded me to push on.
Passing the man made snow at Tony’s Tube World as I left the valley, I started to consider alternatives. If snow could linger down low, it would sure be too cold up high for the parkway to be open. If it wasn’t, I could always cruise over to Cherokee.
I turned onto the ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap, and sure enough, the gates towards Cherokee were closed when I reached the top. Oh well.
I stopped for a photo when I came down to the mile-high Fork Ridge overlook. You can see the cloud ceiling a few hundred feet above me and the clouds in the valleys below.
As long as I was here, might as well ride over to see if the gates were closed heading south though the chances were even slimmer as the parkway climbs to some of the highest parts in that direction.
Surprise, surprise, the gates were open and I rolled on the throttle!
I didn’t think I’d get far, but I might at least get a photo from one of the lower overlooks. As I climbed, I came nearer and nearer to the cloud bank that socked in the mountain tops. Still, the road was clear.
It was a good day for riding so long as you stayed down low. At 4000 feet, the Woodfin Valley overlook shows it's fine at the lower elevations. I couldn't resist going higher.
I was stoked when I reached Waterrock Knob. Totally enveloped in thick clouds and peppering light rain, I stopped for another photo. This was awesome and a rare occasion this far into the cold season.
I was happy as I continued towards the next exit at US 74 in Waynesville, dropping back below the ceiling of clouds and out of the rain.
I almost left the parkway at Waynesville (see my video of Waynesville), as the next section of the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to the highest point on the road. No way it would be open. Still, I was curious as to how far I would get and amazed to find the gates open as I crossed over the highway.
Can't believe it! I rode to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the first day of winter. Same day last year we got a snow that covered the yard until well into march.
I began climbing again, and before long was back in the wet cloud bank. Except for a few stray cars, I had the road to myself and enjoyed it with enthusiasm.
It was windy and poor visibility when I reached the high point, but it was another unexpected treat. Took another photo to remember it by.
I rode the rest of the way to Beech Gap and NC 215 in heavy wet fog (here’s a wicked ride nearby). No views to speak of, and lots of rocks and debris from the small slides that occur where rocky faces run close to the road. Winter thaws and freezes cause a lot of little slides during this season but it’s not much of a problem as no one is there to be affected by them.
Road condition has improved marginally since this fall photo of NC 215 following the resurfacing. Still plenty of loose gravel and slippery corners to negotiate. Not for the faint-of-heart. It will improve, but how much?
The ride home via NC 215 (see my video of NC 215)is unchanged from my last visit – the road is till a mess. If riding sharp turns on loose gravel isn’t your thing, you will want to avoid it a while longer until things clean up.
Same day last year, we got snow so deep it laid in my yard for 3 months. This year I’m riding. I think I like this year better!
Wayne Busch - Cartographer
Learn Total Control
- Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here - AmericaRidesMaps.com
Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech