Most riders and drivers prefer to wait for autumn's cavalcade of color for scenic tours along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. In the summer, these outrageous roads are packed full when loads of city slickers escape the lowland humidity for picnics and maybe some napping in the shade of high country trees. Me? I usually like to travel there during the quieter days of spring, especially in the month of April.
Ice and Snow
This trip out, I've chosen a very unusual motorcycle brand. Our companions are a Royal Enfield Bullet and the brand-new Sixty-5. Steve Benson, my riding buddy, rolled the bikes off the showroom floor and brought them down in his trailer from his Shreve, Ohio dealership. We met during the Cleveland Motorcycle Show and then and there started planning this particular adventure.
We unload the bikes in a cold drizzle in Front Royal, Virginia. The thermometer reads 42 degrees. But when you have the right riding gear everything is roger. Stoically, Steve pulls his FirstGear rain gear over his jeans and his checkered lumberjack jacket. I've been ready to roll, and watch as Steve arranges his ZZ-Top beard. Finally, we start 'em up and the Royal Enfield singles roll out of the city toward the ramp to the Skyline Drive.
At the northern entrance station I pay ten bucks for both bikes. Today's route is 105 miles to Rockfish Gap at the end of the Skyline Drive. Immediately the road snakes and winds upward steeply. The grayish ribbon soon becomes one with the fog and disappears. We can barely see the centerline. The ranger at the entrance notified us that restaurants along the Skyline Drive are closed; so, we're on our own. Ten miles in, we reach Compton Gap (2,145ft.) and snowflakes drop from the dense fog. Suddenly I see a shadowy figure and pull on the brake lever, approaching slowly. A deer herd, a group at least 15 strong, blocks the road. We pass cautiously, expecting more of the same in these weather conditions. After an hour, 45 miles, we pull in at Upper Hawksbill Parking at 3,630 feet. I had to stop; I'm frozen, chilled to the marrow. So, I try to warm up a bit by sprinting around the bikes a few times. Steve, amused by my antics, finally takes pity and opens his left saddlebag to pull out a thermos of hot tea. There follows a nice warm toast to the man who has thought of everything.
Eventually cruising downward, the atmosphere noticeably warmer with each 500-foot drop in elevation, we cheer up and the drizzle stops. Blue spots chink the blanketing bank of clouds. By five we arrive in Waynesboro, Virginia, and find a nice clean spot for rest at the Super 8 Motel. Pradip Pandit, the manager, is from India and his eyes sparkle when spotting the Royal Enfields.
The Longest Day
The blue skies and bright sunshine are most welcome, but not so the stiff cold breeze that shoulders its way inside when we open the door in the morning. The sign across the road says it's 33 degrees.