Wednesday, October 01, 2014

TOTD, Day 5

I was up early and breaking camp before sunrise.  My plans weren't firm: hit the Mingus Mill, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, head north.  Asheville, Hickory, Pachaug, and a few summits were on the list of "possibles."
In Cherokee, I found breakfast at the Pancake House.  Across the street is an entrance to the casino.  I was very tempted - even HQ was directing me to play - but I hadn't come all this way to sit in a casino and lose a couple hundred bucks: willpower prevailed.
Finances secure, I headed to the Mingus Mill, which was in operation grinding corn.  I spoke with the docent a bit about the construction: I was surprised so much wood could serve for so long in contact with water.  He explained it away to not painting Poplar, and White Oak being rot-resistant.  
I imagined the labor of the millwright, pictured decades of boot travel wearing the stair treads concave, and the comings and goings of wagons filled with grain and piloted by mountain people.
Inside belt-bucket elevators, a 3D puzzle of shuttered grain shafts,  and antique chaff-blowing equipment speak to what must have been pretty high-tech.  The mill is even powered by a head of water pressure in a penstock over a turbine, not a water wheel. The third floor is not accessible to the public owing the ghost that lives there, apparently.
Back outside the docent was pointing out the ghost to two couples in their 60's.  Everyone seemed very engaged looking for the image of the ghost (a pattern of dirt on the window glass, I think) save for one disinterested husband.  He turned to me and in a rich, folksy accent, said:

"This reminds me of a story.   There was a blacksmith, he was a-making horse shoes.  Well, he pulled some iron out of the forge, hammered it into shape, and set it on the stoop to cool.
A feller comes walking by, picks up the shoe... and puts it right back down!!
The blacksmith says, 'that's hot, huh?'
Feller says, 'just don't take me long to look at a horseshoe.'"

With that, he was done pretending to look for a ghost and walked away. Not seeing how that could be argued, I followed him back to the parking lot and mounted up.  

Minutes down the road is the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Seconds after entering, I was stuck behind a slow class A RV pulling a toad.  I crossed the DY to pass, feeling a bit guilty and reckless.   I hoped this wasn't foreshadowing the BRP.

Early on a random weekday between the start of school and leaf changing season, the BRP was pretty empty.  I settled in for a nice, uninterrupted cruise 5 mph over the limit, which felt fast enough.  A nice rhythm of sweepers carries you along the Blue Ridge, and ample pull-outs afford amazing views which after a few days start to lose some of their sizzle.  Still:

I rode until I started seeing signs for Asheville and pulled over to re-set.  I wondered how far I was from Biltmore Estate.  GPS said 4 miles.  It's hard to argue with the universe, so I exited the BRP and sat in bumper-to-bumper metro traffic for a few miles until I got to Biltmore.
The property is entered thru a large gate house complex after which you pass thru massive gardens for what seems like a mile.  A ticket building sits off to the side of the main admission plaza, so I entered for tickets.   A docent explained that the estate was a massive complex to which you paid general admission.   The main residence was a self-guided tour, and only one of several things to do/see.  They close at 5 or maybe 5:30, but it was already nearly 4PM.  General admission was $59.  I could not see spending $60 to have an hour to walk around a rich family's house before being shooed away.  I watched the film loop and contacted HQ, who again begged me to do something on my vacation besides ride around all day.
I decided to see Hickory, which might allow the option of overnighting in Asheville and having another crack at Biltmore the following day.  As there was nothing but riding left to do, I plotted a course to Hickory via Mt. Mitchell on the BRP.  I was starting to settle on the idea of riding the BRP all the way to Front Royal, VA -  the entire route end to end.

Another pleasant GPS surprise: I was directed out of Asheville via Twin Mountain Rd, which twists its way back up towards the BRP.  A heartening parade of sport and touring bikes was coming the other direction.  An hour later I was exiting the BRP for Mt. Mitchell SP.

Climbing Mt. Mitchell I passed the SP entrance, then a fairly elaborate restaurant, a ranger station, a campground (maybe I could camp here?) and eventually a sign that said "Summit, 2 miles."   There's only this one road to Mt. Mitchell, and you can only get to it from the BRP, and yet it seemed crowded with POI's.
On top, an expansive parking lot is abutted by a snack bar, gift shop, and museum.  The museum is actually pretty interesting, focused on the geology and formation of the mountains and Mitchell, for whom the peak is named.  I spent far too much time loitering around.  Outside the museum, a sign beckons something like, "summit, 200 yards".  A wide path of pavers leads into the trees.  You don't ride all the way to the top and not walk the last 200 yards, so...
The path was steep and tested my lungs.  Others were stopped on the hill catching their breath.  At the top, the clouds were hugging one side of the range, seemingly incapable of making the last big push over the top.  The peak was wooded; there was no krummholz as on Mt. Washington, despite the higher elevation.  Apparently latitude trumps altitude.  I took it all in, chatted with some people, and left when I'd had my fill.
I remember being impressed with the NC parks administration, and with how friendly the North Carolinians I'd met up in the clouds were.

I didn't want to be riding in the dark, so I got back down to the BRP, exiting at rt 80.  The road switches back a number of times and felt every bit of "the Dragon" in some stretches.  Motorcycling is just a whole different deal down South.  

Near dusk, I arrived in Hickory.  I zigged and zagged and took it in.  It felt familiar - much like home.  There are clearly more expensive and less expensive parts of town.  Some businesses seem to be thriving; some industrial sites looked vacant.  They have a big highway interchange, a hospital, and a "Robert Street, South St. Paul."  As much as one can get a sense of a place by randoming zig-zagging around it on a motorcycle in fading daylight, I did.  I'd live there.
Nearly out of day, I stopped at a CC's and checked in with HQ.  I decided to ditch Asheville and take the BRP as far north as possible.  That meant better positioning, so I calculated "Fancy Gap, VA" as a good spot to overnight.  I switched faceshields and hit the slab in the dark for another 100 or so miles.  I would miss a section of BRP between rt 80 and Fancy Gap, but still be able to cover all of Virginia riding the ridge which was paralleled me days ago coming down I-81.  I stopped at the VA welcome center - which was closed - and recovered the text from HQ with hotel arrangements in Hillsville, VA. 

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