Great Motorcycle Rides North of Asheville Discovered

It’s not often I have such a successful day when out exploring for new motorcycle rides to add to my maps but Friday was one of the best. Most of the roads I evaluate don’t measure up against my strict standards – low traffic, engaging scenery, and a challenging and fun motorcycle ride. Nearly every road I explored turned out to be good enough to add to my map of “The Best Motorcycle Rides North and South of Asheville, NC”.

Photo - river north of asheville

Most of todays rides were through the valleys near rivers. The twisty roads hug the banks.

The weather was ideal – atypically warm, sunny, and clear. The first hints of fall color were starting to emerge in places. Most of that is concentrated in the highest elevations right now, see the post to follow for some photos of the best color. The bulk of todays riding was searching out roads to link and connect to the already outstanding rides previously discovered.

Photo - river north of Asheville

I stopped here for a break along NC 197. It's a great ride as are the roads which connect to it.

I had been avoiding the area around US 19W due to the construction to widen the road to 4 lanes. Part of the mission was to discover the side roads which skirt around it. That construction will be going on for quite some time. I found a bunch of them.

Photo - The lake at roaring Creek, TN

You can see a hint of fall color near this lake along Roaring Creek Road in Tennessee.

I also located a nice loop ride south of Johnson City, Tennessee, a good road to make loops near Roan Mountain, and quite surprising, still more great rides near Little Switzerland and the Diamondback. Much of the riding this trip was down low, through the valleys and along the rivers which are rides you can do pretty much all year round, places to go  after the Blue Ridge Parkway has closed for the winter season.

Photo - Stopped near Roan Mountain

This road turned out to be a great way to make a loop ride when doing the popular ride over Roan Mountain. There is one very short but well maintained unpaved section.

I’ll be adding these new motorcycle rides to the map  The Best Motorcycle Rides North and South of Asheville, NC” this week. It’s almost done with the upgrade to the new and improved format slow but sure.

Photo - mountain view

The skies have been unusually clear lately and the long range views are outstanding.

I got some great photos of the start of the fall color in the higher elevations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll find some nice stuff starting near Boone and Banner Elk, in the area around Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains, not so much near Craggy Gardens, and then some north and south of Asheville. It’s still a little early, the peak will come next weekend, though it will continue through the lower elevations for a while. Next post will show you some color.

America Rides Mapshttp://americaridesmaps.com 

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

 

– 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

 

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The Most Challenging Motorcycle Ride Found? A day with the map guy.

I am either;

  1. Getting too old and out of shape
  2. Coming down with the flu
  3. Rode harder than I have in a long time

It’s probably a combination of the first point and the last. I awoke last night sore from the chest down due to throwing my bike around all day in my never ending quest to discover the best motorcycle rides in the Smoky Mountains. It was not planned to be such a day but it turned out to be quite an adventure.

I set out around 8AM for Shady Valley, Tennessee, home of “the Snake” motorcycle ride to make a delivery of motorcycle maps to the Shady Valley Country Store. Plan was to ride up, enjoy the Snake, make the delivery, then check out half a dozen roads nearby in hopes to add some to my motorcycle pocket maps. I knew one would just be a connector route. I didn’t have high hopes for many of the others, though a couple held promise.

It was beautiful and cool up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning. Skies were clear and bright. Even the half hour on Interstate 40 to Asheville was pleasant. There’s little traffic before 10AM once you leave the highway and I pretty much had the road to myself. I watched hopefully for bears north of the city, then enjoyed the run up the wonderful new sections of pavement to pass Mt. Mitchell. Looks like they’ve pretty much wrapped that job up. Saw one grouse, a few hawks, but no bruins.

Photo - on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Clear, cool, breezy morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Altapass.

I stopped to tweet my first photo at an overlook where I could count on cell phone reception. Though hurricane Earl was approaching the coast, here in the mountains no impact was expected. Even so it was noticeably breezy.

I hit one brief delay for tree work, and another for guardrail replacement. I surprised a flock of turkeys as I came near Little Switzerland. Passing Linville, I left the Blue Ridge Parkway at Roseborugh Road, one of those handy unmarked crossroads that descends through a series of tight turns to NC 105 at Grandfather Mountain. NC 105 took me north through the congestion of Banner Elk. Broadstone Road led me west of Boone to Valle Crucis. NC 194 led to US 421 which I followed through Mountain City and into Tennessee to reach Shady Valley.

A brief pit stop turned into a decent delay as I took time to chat with several riders, mostly locals, and return phone calls when the intermittent cell reception cooperated. I figured it would take a couple hours to see the roads I wanted, then I’d zip back home as I came.

Photo - Shady Valley Country Store

The sun was still shining at the Shady Valley Country Store though the winds were getting gusty. Things would change as the afternoon wore on.

The first few roads proved less than expected. They were a decent ride for a cruiser maybe, though it was not type of rural scenery that makes a road interesting. I explored another after a couple bikes passed in the opposite direction to find it intersected the fourth road at an unknown point. Still nothing special. I turned to backtrack on the fourth road so I would be sure to ride it end to end and was thrilled to find the short leg wonderful. Nice sweeping turns through pretty countryside. Hopeful, I spun about at the intersection with 197 and headed back. The remainder disappointed. Too much straight and only mildly interesting. It was worth adding to the map but not recommending highly. The natural flow dictated I bypass the next on the list meaning another backtrack to explore the better alternative.

The last of the most promising roads was accessed from US 321 near Watauga Lake. It was tight, it was twisty, but it didn’t appeal. It was then that serendipity  struck. Rather than continue on my planned path, instinct told me to detour onto another road. I followed it through turn after turn after turn and it went on and on and on. All the while I expected it would peter out  into a goat trail but it just kept going without letting up. Mile after mile on narrow, sometimes poor, blacktop it climbed through the mountains finally dumping me out at Banner Elk Highway. I pulled into an abandoned gas station to take my notes and decide how to describe it.

I kept asking myself, “But was it fun?” There was no doubt it was challenging, very challenging. It kept you on the edge the whole time. It never let up. I ride the Dragon routinely and this road is much more difficult and sustained. I’d come up on some traffic and had to simply ride behind it, no room to pass, so I didn’t feel I could give it an accurate evaluation. Nor was I sure what lay at the other end. Only choice was to ride it back and see where it came out.

As I turned about my heart sank. A school bus turned onto the road ahead of me. While it looked empty, this would still be an exercise in pain as it could only crawl through the narrow serpentine climb ahead. What a relief when it pulled off within a few hundred feet. It wasn’t long before I had my answer. This road WAS fun.

Unimpeded I rode it enthusiastically back as I’d come. A few miles in I remember thinking, “If you get out of second gear on this road, look down – you’re riding a moped”. I reached the point where I’d first turned on to it and continued past. The road name changed, but its character did not. I continued mile after mile carving through the exquisitely tight turns, dodging gravel patches, potholes, and debris now falling on the road from the increasing wind. I was so happy when US 321 appeared at the margin of the screen on the GPS. I’d found a new way to link a couple major roads. Awesome.

That ride was worth the trip. I stopped and entered the notes in my Blackberry. From there I turned onto US 321 to head on to check out the last couple roads. The weather was deteriorating. Skies dark, winds gusting, it didn’t bother me a bit. Shortly, I came up on another biker who suddenly veered off on another road back in the area where I’d just been riding. I circled back out of curiosity to see what business this cruiser guy had in such a rugged area. The road he chose was a superb cruiser road and I caught up to him just as he pulled into his yard at the junction with the first great road. Bonus! Instinct paid off again.

I returned to US 321 via the cruiser road to make time. It was getting late and the weather would soon add more to the challenge of these tight roads. After a short ride on US 321, I started down the last of them which turned out to be a disappointment. A few miles in I spied a road connecting to it I felt needed exploring and eventually found a better approach though I did waste a good bit of time on dead ends and gravel lanes. Plan was to take this road a few miles, then turn onto another to make my way back towards Mountain City. As I approached the turn, instinct took over again and I purposefully rode past it.

The GPS showed the road I was on getting tighter and twistier and it was climbing higher into the mountains. Thats usually a pretty good indication it’s going to deteriorate to nothing once it nears the top and the road grew narrower and more challenging as it went on. I considered just giving up on it, but something made me go on. The smell of fresh rain on a dry road filled the air and I started hitting dark patches of pavement. I was really questioning myself when I emerged  atop a pass with a rugged valley stretched below and signs warning of a steep descent and switchbacks appeared. It would have been beautiful in nicer weather, but the dark and angry clouds only hastened my urgency to continue on, dreading the thought of having to retrace my steps.

I’ve ridden a lot of miles in the mountains yet never seen switchbacks as tight as these. I plunged down through the valley wondering where I’d end up, hoping I’d find some landmark to steer me back to something familiar. When the road ended, I looked at the sign ahead to see I was on the road I’d meant to explore next. Another great ride found, and I was ready to wrap things up after this last road.

It was longer then I thought and I reached US 421 south of Mountain City. It was now 5 PM. Rain was coming down in sheets. I turned south towards Boone. The Friday evening traffic before the holiday weekend crawled and stalled in the rain. I dreaded the idea of going into Boone and  veered off on 194 to bypass it. More traffic. I stopped near Banner Elk to top off the tank and called home to let my wife know I wouldn’t be there for dinner. We discussed the weather, the traffic, and decided I’d prefer the exposure to the elements on the Blue Ridge Parkway over the hazards of this crazy traffic. It was the right choice. The rain let up once I got up high.

I coursed through the mountains in the twilight relatively unimpeded. It got cold but I made good time. Reaching Asheville, I merged into the traffic jam that clogged Interstate 40 all the way home. Arriving in my driveway as darkness fell, I’d had a successful day. I’d discovered some great roads. I had reason to go back with hopes of more. I had money in my pocket. Sometimes, a cartographers life is to be envied. I wish I had more photos, but I got swept up in the riding. Maybe next time.

wayne@americaridesmaps.com

America Rides Maps – from north Georgia to north Virginia, the best motorcycle rides

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

 

– 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

 

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Scenic Motorcycle Rides – Backbone Rock, TN

photo - motorcycle cruises through Backbone RockI went back to Virginia this weekend to revisit and explore some of the sights I’d passed while mapping the area

I’m pretty much all business when mapping – I only stop for three things; gas, to take notes, and when “nature” forces me to do so. Eating is a luxury typically left for the evening to make the most of the time on the road. This trip was to go back and savor some of the gems I’d just blown by previously.

One of my favorite loop rides is found near the point where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee meet, a 103 mile jaunt that takes you on some of the twistiest and most scenic roads. It’s listed on America Rides Map #4 – “Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock.

Heading south from Damascus, Virginia, on SR 133, you soon enter the National Forest in Tennessee and signs for Backbone Rock Park start appearing along the road. Round a curve and you find yourself zipping through the quick yet dramatic tunnel through Backbone Rock.

I stopped in to investigate.

The Empire Mining Company blasted through Backbone Rock in 1901 to lay train tracks for the Tennessee Lumber Company. Long gone, the rail bed became the roadbed which continues on towards Mountain City.

The ridge is about 75 feet high and 20 feet thick, though it narrows near the top. There is a steep trail from the parking area on the right just after you pass through the rock, though if you have any aversion to heights and walking near the edge of a cliff, you’ll never make it to the section of rock which straddles the road.

There are several hiking trails, picnic tables and campsites, a waterfall is about 0.4 miles on a foot trail. The area is popular for fishing and kayaking.

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

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– 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

America Rides Map #4 – “Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock

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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.

Wayne@americaridesmaps.com

>> Go to America Rides Maps.comhttp://americaridesmaps.com/

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