First Day of Winter – Let’s Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway!

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.

photo-wayne-at-lake-junaluska-dam

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….

Photo-Wayne-celebrates-at Waterrock-Knob

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.

motorcycle-at-fork-ridge-overlook-1st-day-of-winter

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.

Photo-first-day-of-winter-on-blue-ridge-parkway

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.

photo-wayne-rides-his-motorcycle-to-the highest-point-on-the-parkway

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.

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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!

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

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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

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Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rides – Meadow Fork Rd

Two good motorcycle roads are found along NC 209, a.k.a. “The Rattler“. They make a nice side loop on the popular motorcycle ride from Junaluska to Hot Springs in North Carolina. 

Photo-Meadow-Fork-Rd-View

A section of Meadow Fork Road which demonstrates the character of the curves through much of the ride.

Meadow Fork Road Map

Meadow Fork Road spurs off NC 209 about 7 miles south of Hot Springs. The road follows the twisty banks of a whitewater creek for quite a while climbing gently on the challenging and scenic run. It  leads into the Pisgah National Forest where it becomes one of many unpaved forest roads high in the mountains.

Photo-The-Rattler-Motorcycle-Ride

The 1.7 mile section of NC 209 which crosses the Spring Creek valley is the straightest road I can think of in western North Carolina. View approaching Caldwell Mountain Road

Caldwell Mountain Road meets Meadow Fork Road in 6.9 miles. 2.1 mile long Caldwell Mountain Road will take you over the mountain and down to meet NC 209 near the middle of the long straight stretch across the Spring Creek Valley.

photo-NC209-The-Rattler-motorcycle-ride-campground-sign

Caldwell Mountain Rd is easy to find. Ride to the middle of the long straight stretch of NC 209 in Spring Creek. Look for the sign for Meadow Fork Campground.

Caldwell Mountain Road and Meadow Fork Road form a nice loop on the west side of NC 209 when joined together. It’s a good way to vary the ride to and from Hot Springs and  see a few different sights.

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The sign may be a little crooked, but so is Caldwell Mountain Rd .

Both Meadow Fork and Caldwell Mountains Roads are paved, though if you miss turning at their junction you will run out of pavement before long when Meadow Fork Road reaches the National Forest. If you are on a dual-sport or adventure bike, this is one way to access the great unpaved roads that lead up to Max Patch bald and wind into Tennessee and the eastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (See map OR-1)

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One of the few long range views on Caldwell Mountain Rd. You’ll probably be looking at the road instead.

Both of these roads are easy to find from NC 209. Their junctions are well marked. There is a prominent sign for the Meadow Fork Campground which marks the junction and it’s easy to spot Caldwell Mountain Road cutting across the felids in the valley as you approach.

Photo-Motorcycle-Ride-Meadow-Fork

Never far from the edge of the roaring creek, Meadow Fork Road twists through steep rocky hill sides and small valleys and coves.

Caldwell Mountain Road has some nice curves on the climbs and a few brief long range views. The pavement is a little bumpy in places, but generally is pretty good overall.

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There are some very pleasant views along Meadow Fork Road and lots of places to pause and enjoy it.

Meadow Fork Road follows the Roaring Fork River from NC 209 as it carves through the mountains for 7 miles to reach the junction with Caldwell Mountain Road. The road  traces the bank of the river  making it a nice curvy motorcycle ride for the most part. The pavement is in good shape – a long section near the river washed out and was replaced a few years ago with nice new pavement.

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The junction of Meadow Fork Rd and NC 209 is easy to spot though it may come up on you quickly as you come around a curve on either side.

Neither road has scenery you’ll be framing on the wall, though in general it’s pretty nice with small remote and isolated coves and valleys, the whitewater river along the road, and lots of hundred year old barns and the like.

Photo-start-of-Meadow-Fork-Rd

Just a peek down Meadow Fork Road shows what lies ahead.

This side loop off NC 209 adds a nice diversion, a little something different, without adding a significant amount of time to the longer motorcycle ride on classic NC 209 – The Rattler.

photo-junction-meadow-fork-caldwell-mountain

The junction of Meadow Fork Rd and Caldwell Mountain Rd is easy to spot, so navigation of this ride is easy and you can focus on enjoying the roads.

Related – Map and info about NC 209 – a.k.a “The Rattler”

America Rides Maps Map #6 – The Best Motorcycle Rides EAST of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

_______________________________________________________________________________

Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch – Cartographer

Total Rider Tech Logo

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

_______________________________________________________________________________

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Looking for the Thaw

9 degrees this morning. There’s been snow on the ground, which is frozen rock hard, since December 18 last year. One of the furnaces is out and space heaters roar to keep the rooms tolerable. The repairmen are swamped and we’re in better shape than some. They’ll get to us.  What firewood is left is reserved for emergency use and used sparingly when needed once the sun goes down. I can’t remember the last time the daily high was above freezing or even close. Temp’s in the 20’s are starting to feel warm. When we got our most recent newspaper, before the  snow covered the road again, there were hints that warm weather was coming. I hope so.

Photo - Lake Junaluska frozen and snow covered

Lake Junaluska, NC, frozen and covered with snow

We’ve made the most of the situation, and had to get out to relieve the cabin fever from time to time. I still keep several hundred pounds of rocks in the back of the truck to get traction when needed on the icy patches and when the roads are  still white in the shady sections. The motorcycles sit frozen like statues in the car port and I fear I’ll find the batteries have succumbed when I go to start them once warmer weather returns. The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed of course, and the reports coming in tell of significant damage from downed trees which may take months to clear. Parts remain inaccessible even to the snow plows to evaluate the conditions.

The photo shows nearby Lake Junaluska on a Sunday walk. It’s frozen over and covered with snow. For the first time in my experience I foolishly dared to walk out on it to find the ice quite solid. Only a pure idiot would dare a crossing, and would likely discover there are parts which are only thinly covered. I may be foolish, but fortunately there is a limit. The video was made by my wife playing with her new toy, a “Flip” camera. It only took her a few minutes to put it together and I suspect we’ll have a lot more video to show for it.

Everyone eagerly anticipates the return of normal weather and rumors of highs in the 50’s later this week fill my heart with both joy and dread. There are chores waiting to clean up the damage and set things back in order, plumbing repairs, yard work, and then there’s the motorcycles. I hope they’ve survived.

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