So, true to the plan, I get Betty to look for the town of Montebello, which appears to be roughly my closest point to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and pack the bike. In the car park, I meet Mark Krogh, a carpenter from Onancock, Virginia, who asks me whether I’ve come over to see how the colonies are doing
. He’s 3 years off retirement and is renovating an 18th Century house near South Boston (just up the road from Clarkesville). We talk for half an hour or so, and I meet his wife and son, Scott (who shakes my hand and calls me ‘sir’). Scott has just finished a history degree. After discussing the Civil War (which he calls the War of Northern Aggression), the American War of Independence (Revolutionary War) and the French (‘be honest, Mike, you guys have never
liked them…’) and exchanging Email addresses, we say our goodbyes – I’ll definitely be in touch with them if I’m their area later in the trip – good people.
It’s fairly cold this morning, but the bike’s going well, I have a plan (of sorts) and the roads are quiet, well surfaced & dry. Who could ask for more? I ride through undulating countryside, sparsely populated by large timber houses, some of which are quite impressive.
Joining Highway 15, I note that the Virginia State Troopers are not averse to using unmarked patrol cars, as a car driver coming the other way has discovered to his cost… In the distance, I soon catch my first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains – which really are
blue – I’ll have to try to find out why…
Soon I’m climbing up into the foothills, still heading towards Montebello. The road gets narrower and the surface slightly worse – the sign, I suspect, of it being covered with ice & snow for extended periods of time. Snow appears, banked up at the sides of the road, and salt and grit make their first appearance.
I slow down and concentrate on the road surface…
I’m now getting quite cold, and wish I’d had a hot breakfast. The heated grips are doing their best and I’m wearing my warmest gloves (Gerbings, but not heated, of course :(). I eventually get to the Blue Ridge Parkway to find – it’s closed. Bugger!
I ride about a mile and a half of it, until I come to another barricade & then turn back and retrace my steps to a little town called Rockfish Gap. I have lunch at a small restaurant and plan my next move. I speak to the waitress, Dolly (no, really), while I wait the 35 minutes it takes to serve me the ‘Special’ – salmon, mashed potatoes & broccoli (I think they were waiting for the broccoli to finish growing). She asks around and comes back to tell me that the Skyline Drive – a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs North through the Shenandoah National Park – is open to the North. I finish my meal and set off for Stanardsville, the nearest junction where I can join. After a cold, but very pleasant, ride to the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, I stop at the gate and talk to the 2 Park Rangers on duty there. Yes, the Skyline Drive is open to the North, but I’m to take care as there is some ice and snow on the road in places. They are polite, well informed, efficient and have a good sense of humour – these guys shouldn’t even think
about applying to become Customs Officers…
I start the climb up onto the Skyline Parkway. It’s sole purpose is to provide a scenic drive, one it fulfils very well. There is a 35mph speed limit, which is about right as, if you went any faster, you’d miss some spectacular views.
It’s approaching sunset and I’m very aware of the number of signs warning of deer, and also that dusk will be a time when they will become more active. Having hit a small deer in the UK once whilst driving my car, I’ve no
wish to try doing it on a bike…
When Shenandoah National Park was originally authorised by Congress in 1926, deer had been hunted to extinction in the area - amazingly, all the estimated 5000 deer in the Park are descended from 13 white-tailed deer released there in 1934.
There is light, but steady traffic. As sunset approaches, most of the vehicles are stopped in the scenic lookouts – it is Valentines Day, after all ;)…
I’m getting quite chilled, and shuddering from the cold now & again. It’s well below freezing up here and I know the temperature will drop sharply after the sun goes down. I slowly make my way down to the next exit (Sperryville), join Highway 211 and start looking for a motel for the night.
I cruise quietly along the 2 lane dual carriageway, until, in what is becoming a habit, a Virginia State Trooper indicates he’d like to discuss something with me. I pull over and put on my best ‘stupid Englishman’ act (imagine Hugh Grant with short grey hair & a weight problem). The (very polite) trooper tells me that he’s clocked me doing 67mph and that this highway has a 55mph limit. I tell him I‘m terribly sorry and give him my Driving Licence. He sees I’m from the UK and suddenly he decides he’ll warn me instead of giving me a ticket (huzzah!
) – he admits a lot of people get fooled by the size of the highway (these 2 laners are often 65mph limits). He asks me where I’ve been today and I explain my route. He agrees that getting out of the National Park by nightfall is a good move, but says that he’d be more worried about bear than deer. Gulp :( – I tell him I’ll never ride through a forest again! He laughs and recommends a couple of motels in the local town, Luray Caverns (which sounds like a cabaret singer…). I thank him – if all LEOs are that polite (& forgiving), I’ll be OK ;)…
I check into the Best Western in Luray and find there’s no local Internet connection for my Service Provider – damn! – no mobile ‘phone signal either :(.
Rather than face the ignominy of eating alone in the restaurant on Valentines night, I get a take away burger from the place next door, type up my journal & watch TV. Hope my girlfriend’s having a better time…(well, not too
much better :P…)
Might look at doing Washington DC tomorrow…