Riding the Ridge

April 25, 2013

I assure you that if you decide to drive, ride, bicycle or hike the Blue Ridge of Virginia and North Carolina you will not encounter any dinosaurs or cave people. I promise. I have confirmed that they all reside in the valleys below.

Wilma Flinstone

In my first day on the Blue Ridge Parkway riding south through Virginia I observed innumerable grey squirrels scurry from the road, and countless others  that obviously couldn’t decide their retreat route and so became road kill. Mostly during dawn or dusk deer grazed in green meadows that seemed manicured throughout the length of my route. And on my first evening my greatest gift was seeing a black mass on the road in front of me and realizing moments later it was a young bear. As I quickly slowed, stopped and started to remove the lens cap from my camera, it bounded up a hill and into the vast rhododendron forest I had been riding through at the time. I only encountered one dinosaur and a cave woman when I descended the parkway at midday for gas and a bite to eat.

My trip south from West Virginia on Monday morning started by unintentionally backtracking up along the West Virginia/Virginia border. I am trying to not use a map as much as possible so I can just go where the road takes me. I’ve mostly resorted to maps and my GPS when nearing a destination or friend’s house.  My backtrack on Monday was caused by thinking I was going south when I was really going north. I also added extra miles yesterday when I ignored detour signs on the Blue Ridge telling motorists the road was closed for maintenance starting at the Pisgah National Forest. I kept thinking I’d find one more exit from the parkway. Alas, I traveled one detour too far and had to backtrack 15 miles. No worries. I got to ride through some of the tunnels that are part of the fun of the parkway.

Little Switzerland

Double Tunnel

ShenandoahAs I recollect my ride across the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, BlueRidgetwo distinct characteristics remain in my head. Climbing out of the Shenandoah Valley up the Skyline Drive the lower elevation was lined with the bright purple flowering Juniper tree and dotted with the white flowering Dogwood – two of my favorite trees from my childhood memories of growing up in southern Pennsylvania. They’re two trees you rarely see in northern New England.

Later in the day as the Skyline Drive merged into the Blue Ridge Parkway and I climbed into elevations where the trees were just starting to break open into red buds, I entered vast, huge rhododendron forests. I had never seen rhododendron this large other than in Nepal when I hiked the Annapurna circuit in 2002. There, the rhododendron were so large you couldn’t fit both hands around  the trunks of the trees. Yes, they were tree-sized, not just ornamental bushes we plant in our yards. On the Blue Ridge the plants reached heights of 15 feet or more and appeared to stretch endlessly into the forest cover beyond the road. I imagined what it must be like to drive down the road when they’re all in bloom. There was something about the forest that made me feel like I was on the Yellow Brick Road. The states of Virginia and North Carolina should just paint the road yellow.

All along hundreds of miles of ridgeline roadway the scenery changed from panoramic views of blue mountains, bucolic scenes of grazing cattle, a few quiet and solitary ponds and lakes, and some preserved historic cabins and farms where homesteaders once lived off the land in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Here are some pictures from along the parkway.


Repair Me

Cemetary and Fields



Brinegar Cabin

Scottish Highland Cattle

North Carolina

Crossing the Blue Ridge and camping for two days, I had to deploy my solar charger for the first time in order to charge my iPad and phone


WelcomeComing off the parkway at Route 80, I drove down the most serpentine road I had ever seen or experience in my life – ever, anywhere in the world. And I’ve been on some winding roads in Europe. None compared to this road. Motorcyclists, take note: If you want the ultimate – albeit short (about 10 miles) – experience of riding one hairpin turn after another, take the Route 80 exit off the parkway.

Riding into Asheville I had to ditch it under an underpass for 30 minutes while I waited for a heavy, warm rain to pass. I met Mark and Shelley, two other bikers, who did the same in order to don their rain gear.  MarkNShelleyThey gave me some pointers on roads and places to explore in and around the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I arrived in Asheville around 6 where I’m now staying with Charles Hill, who graciously offered to give me a bed for a couple of nights at the request of my friend, Pamela Cubbage. from Putney, Vermont. After an outrageously delicious dinner cooked by Charles we walked to a local brew pub for a couple o’ pints and philosophy.



I’m likin’ Asheville. The vibe resonates with Brattleboro, Vermont, but on a larger scale. Short sleeves and sunshine all day today. I can take that in April.

Tomorrow it’s on the road again. Roads west into the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. A first for me.

If you’re new to this blog, check out my blog archive here in order to catch up on my travels to-date.


All content Copyrighted © Stephen Tavella

2 thoughts on “Riding the Ridge

  1. Hi Steve. It’s Shelly & Marc from under the overpass in N.C.! Sounds like the rest of your trip was fabulous! We are enjoying your website and looking forward to warmer weather so we can get back on the road. Who knows, we may run into you again! If you find yourself in Maryland, we have a couple extra beds here. Safe travels….

    • Hi Shelly and Marc! Gee, I’m a bit belated with this reply. Sorry about that. I have been away from my blog for a while. I intend on getting back into it. The remainder of my trip was sublime. Nearly three months on the road. I hope by now you are enjoying some good biking in this warmer weather. Winter was hard in Vermont.

      Thank you for the invitation in Maryland. I may take you up on it!! Motor on and stop by from time to time. So nice of you to stay connected. Best wishes!

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