North Carolina Mountains
In my younger, more impetuous days, my old buddy Rich and I were known for embarking on road trips that often defied logic in their timing and execution. Never sticklers for details, we'd throw caution to the wind and, on a whim, hit the road with reckless abandon. Not all of our sojourns were great successes, but none could ever be considered complete failures. No matter the situation, Rich's indefatigable spirit of exploration always carried the day. Even when the chips were down and things looked bad, he'd simply smile and say, "Where's your sense of adventure?
Bryson City, NC is the sponsor of this article.
Although Rich is gone, I like to think I carry a bit of his intrepid spirit with me every time I set off on another journey. As I'm securing the Givi Arrow bags to the bike for this latest assignment, I can't help smiling, knowing that Rich would be particularly proud. I'm about to leave on a three-day tour of North Carolina's mountains, hopscotching from one quaint mountain town to the next. It's a dream ride in most respects, but my mount this time out happens to be a 1972 Triumph Bonneville. I can attest to some experience with these early Brit bikes, and to say they can be temperamental is an understatement. The machine's notorious Lucas electronics are the butt of numerous jokes: Why do the British drink warm beer? Because Lucas makes the refrigerators. And never ride your old Triumph further than your buddy is willing to drive his truck.
A quick tickle of the Amal carburetors and three stout jabs at the kickstarter have me on my way. My first few rides on a real street bike were aboard an early seventies Triumph. Pleasant memories of high school and carefree romps about the Southern Maryland countryside come rushing back as the rpm rise from gear to gear creating a glorious din of ordered mechanical clatter singing in perfect harmony with the raw-boned, staccato exhaust note. You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that it gets any better than this.
Old Favorites and a Classic Ride
By lunchtime I've reached Black Mountain, home to numerous artists and craftspeople as well as Super Bowl champion quarterback Brad Johnson. Having spent a few years just up the road in Asheville, Kathy and I regularly rode to Black Mountain to explore the many galleries and antique shops and to lunch at one of the best pizza joints around, My Father's Pizza. Much to my dismay, they chose this particular Tuesday to close for renovations - just my luck. I walk down the street and have a tasty bowl of chili at Peppers, a restaurant decorated in all things Dr. Pepper. I stuck with mountain tap-water though. After all, it was past ten, not yet two, and well before four.
I head south of town in search of one of my old favorite roads. The big yellow sign warning of impending gloom and doom befalling truckers foolhardy enough to steer their rigs in that direction is a sure indication that my memory hasn't failed me. Route 9 is a great ride. Right off the bat, intense tight curves and steep grades come right at you. The old Bonneville's agility and friendly power make it easy to understand why this classic was the class of the field in its day. Even after 34 years, the Triumph's race-inspired pedigree still shines through.
As Route 9 ends, a quick left-right combo has me wheeling toward Hendersonville on Route 64. If you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, take the short ride east on 64 down to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Many of the breathtaking panoramic shots in one of my favorite flicks, The Last of the Mohicans, were filmed in Chimney Rock Park. Should you find yourself craving a stretch of the legs in Hendersonville, you're in luck. The downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the busy shops and restaurants located along the tree- and flower-lined North Main Street present a vibrant, cheerful character.
I continue west on Route 64 after a brief stop at the Oakdale Cemetery to see the real life angel that inspired the title of Thomas Wolfe's classic novel Look Homeward Angel. Arriving in Pisgah Forest, I stay on 64 and head toward Brevard. Aside from being a charming town with several nice eateries, antique shops, and a very cool toy store called O. P. Taylor's, Brevard holds special memories for me. Kathy and I chose to get married not too far from here and we picked up our wedding license at the Brevard courthouse. To this day we still do our best Bela Lugosi, dripping vowels as we tell people we were married in Trahn-syl-vain-ee-ah (Transylvania County).
Riding past Rosman I veer off onto Route 215. Stay alert, the nice, quiet, creek-side ride is but an overture to what's about to break loose. In the blink of an eye this tranquil lane becomes a maniacal twist-fest lasting until you reach the village of Balsam Grove (one store, two gas pumps: Cash Only). But don't exhale yet, it all starts again and continues until the Blue Ridge Parkway. Make sure to slow near the top - the views are second to none - and catch your breath because the whole wild ride continues down the other side of the mountain, offering challenges almost all the way to Waynesville. By the time I reach town, the idea of a room with a brew is sounding pretty good. The downtown is inviting enough but my planned stop for the evening is just a few more miles up the road in Maggie Valley.