Tuesday April 29
I left my mark on the carpet in the room. Oops. Nobody said the Strom was light.
Packing the bike back up is getting just a little quicker and easier. Or maybe I've just learned to not unpack as much overnight so there's less to do in the a.m.
First thing's first - head south to "tag" South Carolina, then motor my way northeast.
The plan is to get a good push on mileage so I'll have an easier day getting up to New Jersey to see my family. As much as I'm enjoying the solitude of the trip, I'm social by nature and the casual conversations with strangers while on the road just aren't cutting it for me.
I've not wrapped my arms around my sister for a hug in nearly a year. I'm overdue.
It was chilly, but the miles went by quickly out on the interstate.
At the state line, there was a truck loaded with cement blocks parked next to the sign. Maybe the driver was a wanted man in SC and afraid to enter? I don't really care what his reasoning was - it made for a sucky picture.
So I headed up towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. After reporting how enjoyable the Natchez Trace was, RocketBunny advised I'd enjoy the BRP.
I made it 10 or 15 miles in when orange signs blared the announcement that the Parkway was closed up ahead. I followed the detour signs down to I40 - "Parkway North Detour Exit 86".
I just got on at exit 55. This is one heck of a detour.
Um... did Robin need help finding it?
A few exits from my intermediate goal, I decided the restrooms at the Chamber of Commerce were calling me.
I stopped in, bought some post cards and a map of the Parkway for $1, and learned some local knowledge about the BRP around these parts. The woman at the desk advised I head up Route 80 as an alternate to the scheduled detour, then backtrack south to Mount Mitchell to see the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
As I made my way up 80, I realized this was going to be as twisty as the Dragon, or at least a close second. What had I gotten myself into? There wasn't even a sticker to be earned for this one!
I wasn't going to be able to take pictures along the way, and I needed proof that I tackled this one - so I rigged the camera on my left mirror stalk using my mini tripod and set it to take video. (I don't have video editing software with me, so that will have to wait until I get back home.)
It was nerve wracking. I did most of it in first and second gear, and there were two switchbacks that really had me regretting the decision to head up the side of a mountain. Making it even worse were the locals that would come flying at me using almost half of my lane.
Once atop the Parkway, I headed south but it wasn't long before the beautiful scenery was overshadowed by the sheer drop-offs, lack of guard rails, and overall altitude intensity.
Acrophobia sucks. It turns what should be a beautiful ride on a curvy road into a terrorizing event that seems to go on forever.
The more miles I'd backtracked, the closer I was to the goal of Mt. Mitchell. I couldn't turn back now - I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I could. This was NOT going to be another "Coronado Trail incident".
The overlook area was large and flat enough for me to safely park the bike and decide my next move.
We were so high up, there was still snow on the ground within the shade of the pine trees. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Spank tried to make a snowman. There wasn't enough, so he made do with a snowball.
What you can't see here is that Spank is giving the construction sign the finger.
We decided that we were cold and hungry, but there was no telling how much longer it would be before we'd reach anything resembling a town. Out came the Jetboil and some camp food for a mountain-top picnic.
We decided to head back, but the cold was overpowering my ability to stay relaxed through the curves and elevation. I needed to head back down off the ridge, but there was no way I'd take 80 again. Instead, I opted for the scheduled detour back down to Marion.
Which was just as bad as the ride up! 10 and 15 mph switchbacks, warning signs for trucks and RVs, and lots of blind turns. After a while I got tired of holding the clutch in, so I put it in neutral and coasted down feathering the brakes.
The interstate was boring, but I was just glad to be back on (mentally) solid footing. I'd made a full circle out of the BRP 'event' and lost a half day or mileage.
I motored east, heading for Greensboro.
My shadow got longer...
I was glad the setting sun was behind me and not straight in my eyes.
As I neared my intended destination, I was just getting my second wind. I needed to make up for the mileage I'd lost earlier so I pressed on for Durham, NC.
I made it there but got mixed up finding the hotel I'd selected - I hadn't loaded this section of the state into my GPS because I had no idea I'd be traveling this far east on the trip. I saw the glowing green and white calling me from a Starbucks sign and headed there to grab a cup o' joe and get my bearings.
I ended up at the Howard Johnsons, a very clean and friendly place just minutes from the Duke campus.
North & South Carolina