Yet another day starting with a hotel breakfast, and like many on this trip that means oatmeal made with hot water and a cup of black tea. I’m getting to like the latter, but the former is not a patch on the Quaker’s porridge I start the day with back home. This hotel also had wi-fi that seemed to only connect for a minute or so before dropping the connection, making my early morning conversation with Tracy difficult and not setting me up for the day ahead in the best of moods. That quickly passed, as soon as we left the hotel and started riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway Road.
This road, as the name implies, follows the ridge along the Blue Ridge mountains from Virginia through North Carolina. We were on the North Carolina section, but that didn’t stop me thinking of the Laurel and Hardy song “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia”, which I ended up singing in my helmet repeatedly as we rode along. The road has a 45mph speed limit with fitted perfectly with the pace of riding appropriate to such stunning scenery. As it wound its way along the ridge, the views over the surrounding blue-tinged hillsides were superb. We followed this road all the way to Asheville, were we left it to drop down the steep hillside and into town. Here we met up with Don again (he’d left us the day before Baltimore) at a Trader Joes (where we went so Aaron could get a supply of his favorite (sic) organic walnuts). Don lives about 60 miles from here high in the mountains outside Franklin in the Nantahala National Forest. We rode to his house on the highways, arriving at a gate off the main highway before entering the private driveway that leads to the few houses on the mountain that includes his. The driveway was an experience in itself, with a very tight, uphill, off-camber left turn leading to a single track road that rose up a very steep incline before levelling off, becoming gravel for a section and then another tight, steep, uphill dirt section that led to his house. Off to the right of this narrow road all the way up was a drop-off into the forest itself. Not a road for those of a nervous disposition or afraid of heights!
Don’s house is in a remarkable location, though, with a spectacular view over to the distance Smokey Mountains from his veranda. But it was still early, only about 3pm, so we opted to drop off our luggage and head back out down the scary driveway for a “short 100-mile loop”. This took us on some truly fantastic roads that skirted through Tennessee and Georgia before retuning to North Carolina. On the way we stopped off to admire a waterfall called “Dry Falls” (it wasn’t dry) and to admire the view at a spot where the local NRA (National Rifle Association – America’s gun lobby group) had been applying graffiti to drum up support for their cause (which included on proclaiming “ban Democrats, not guns”). The riding was really enjoyable, especially with the bike so much lighter without the panniers and luggage aboard. Back at Don’s by 6:30pm we were just in time to sit on the veranda and watch the sun set over the Smokey Mountains.
A perfect 295-mile riding day needs a perfect meal to end it and this was just such a day. Heading out in Don’s Honda pickup, we drove to the Haywood Smokehouse BBQ in Dillsboro, where the barbequed brisket and ribs were cooked to perfection. The star of the meal, though, were the “Burnt Ends Beans” – baked beans with bits of the burnt ends of the brisket mixed in – I could have eaten a big bowl of these on their own and been happy. Of course, this was washed down with some local craft IPA ale too. A great end to a great day!