Like everything else in the pandemic, this trip was put together at the last minute. My frequent riding partner Lyman lives in Austin TX. We wanted to get together to bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A friend of his suddenly had a family emergency in Hendersonville NC and the friend decided to drive the 1,100 miles from Austin TX. Who wants to fly anymore? Lyman caught a ride for himself and his folding bicycle. The guy let Lyman off early in the evening at a cheap motel on the fringes of Asheville NC. The following morning I drove the four hours from Chapel Hill NC to Asheville. We used the motel parking lot as a starting point for a three day bike ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I parked my car and pulled my bicycle out of the back. Lyman circled around on his Bike Friday.
The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches for 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. We obviously would be cycling only a small portion. During a covid-19 pandemic what would be a way to overnight on the Parkway without putting ourselves or anyone else at significant risk? Twenty-four hours before I left home I had reserved two rooms at the Pisgah Inn, elevation five thousand feet, one of the very few hotels that are right on the Parkway. From the Asheville motel it was thirty miles of road and three thousand feet of elevation gain (uphill!). We could then use the Pisgah Inn as a base for more cycling.
As a covid-19 mitigation effort Lyman and I decided it would not be that difficult for us to stay socially distant from each other for the entire trip. We bicycled out into Asheville suburbia. The Parkway was about three miles away. Once on the Parkway it was up and down for about four miles. After crossing the French Broad River the Parkway started climbing seriously. It was an overcast day. Pretty quickly it felt like we were lifting up into the clouds.
Yes, it was all uphill but if you put the bicycle in the lowest gear and kept pedaling the bicycle indeed kept moving. My shirt was soaked in sweat even though the temperature was in the sixties. We pulled over repeatedly.
I had made some peanut butter sandwiches. We stopped and ate those while sitting on a guardrail in the mist. About four in the afternoon we finally pulled into the Pisgah Inn. It sits by itself in the wilderness at five thousand feet, overlooking mountain ranges to the south and east.
We got separate first floor rooms next door to each other. Each had a large wide balcony overlooking the stormy sky. Occasionally the sun would poke through.
We had checked in across a plexiglass screen. Pisgah Inn seems to be taking the mask and social distancing thing seriously but they did not have outdoor dining. They do have indoor dining with tables spaced out. If you are going to worry about catching some disease how much fun would dinner be? When asked Pisgah Inn will let you take your dinner with real dishes and real silverware back to your balcony.
Elsewhere in North Carolina it was a punishingly hot summer day. Here at five thousand feet it was pleasantly chilly and drizzly. Comfort food like homemade chicken pot pie and red wine really hit the spot. We ate on Lyman’s balcony, outdoors and socially distant. Delightful.
The next morning the view out our balconies was brighter. I could poke my head around the barrier and see what Lyman was doing next door.
After breakfast we left for a daylong up and back bike ride further south. The hotel sells to-go sandwiches in the gift shop and we bought one to carry with us to split for lunch. South of the Pisgah Inn the for the first six miles the Parkway edges mostly downhill. It then starts mostly uphill for miles and miles, peaking at the highest point on the Parkway, sixty-one hundred feet.
There were a lot of motorcyclists. At one overlook this guy was using a selfie stick.
To get to sixty-one hundred feet we would have had to descend somewhat and then climb again. We turned around at fifty-five hundred feet.
There are picnic areas along the Parkway and we stopped at one to have our lunch. Hardly anyone was around. Later we passed an overlook where cars park for the quarter mile walk to a popular waterfall, the Skinny Dip Falls. It was startling to see so many people.
I am sure the waterfall is beautiful. While many were wearing masks and it was obviously all outdoors, during this pandemic we had no interest in joining any kind of crowd. We cycled on. Part of the time we were in the clouds.
The rhododendron was lovely.
We eventually made it back to the Pisgah Inn. Later on we ordered dinner and carried it back to our room. Lyman got mountain trout with blueberry butter, me pasta with grilled chicken.
We again ate seven feet apart outdoors on the balcony, enjoying the view and the vibe.
The next morning we “cycled” back to Asheville. I put that in quotes because so much of the way involved just piloting the bicycle downhill, it was like riding a motorcycle. At one point I stopped and looked back at Lyman heading towards me.
The Parkway does a good job of always appearing to be in the wilderness. Once we left the Parkway near Asheville we quickly realized we were back suburban America. We cycled through the tony neighborhoods of Biltmore Forest, then the Biltmore Forest Country Club.
We cycled uphill into downtown Asheville.
We sat far apart but shared a hummus plate at an outdoor table that sat pleasantly lonely at an establishment called Foggy Mountain. We then bicycled back to the car. I drove Lyman to Hendersonville before driving home. Just to finish our social distancing, for the half hour car trip we both wore masks and rode with the windows down.
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