The Great Appalachian Valley is a gigantic trough that stretches 700 miles from Canada to Alabama. The eastern boundary, for most of its length, is the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Skyline Drive threads its way along the top of these mountains in north central Virginia for 105 miles; it will be our home base for the next four days. I'm thrilled at the prospect of introducing my two world-traveling riding companions to the scenic wonders of this gorgeous slice of America.
Day 1: Journeying Into Jefferson Country
I suppose there’s an obvious reason why lyrics from the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” are cycling, nonstop, through my head. The temperature is in the low 60s, it’s raining, and fog as thick as pea soup is obscuring Skyline Drive’s famous scenic overlooks. Christa Neuhauser, riding the Honda VTX 1300, is visible in my rearview mirrors, but her son Florian, riding tail gunner on the Triumph GT 1300, is just a wispy shadow in the morning gloom. I’m itching to crank up the Ducati’s marvelous 150 hp motor, but that would be suicidal in these riding conditions.
At Skyline Drive’s southern terminus, the route plunges down to lower elevations, out of the murky mist. Although our lunchtime destination is only 20 miles east of here on I-64, our path takes a circuitous route further south along country lanes that rise, fall and twist over a tranquil rural landscape. The Ducati’s light, surefootedness inspires confidence on the still wet pavement. I twist the throttle of this steel pony and it surges ahead of the other steeds, like Secretariat racing down the home stretch to win the Triple Crown. Well, at least in my own mind.
Charlottesville, VA is where our third president, and author of the Declaration of Independence, built his Monticello plantation, an architectural masterpiece that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thomas Jefferson also planned the iconic buildings and innovative curriculum of another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Charlottesville: the University of Virginia. We break for lunch at a café just across University Avenue from the sprawling campus. And I reflect on the astonishing intellect and accomplishments of this Founding Father.
Riding two-lane tarmac back north, we enjoy the scenic splendor of Albemarle County. The rolling green pastures are dotted with magnificent thoroughbred horses, ensconced behind expansive rail fencing. This equestrian landscape extends west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, those distant geographic sentinels disappearing high up into the mist. With the expectation of a warm shower and a hot dinner awaiting us at the Big Meadow Lodge, we eagerly ascend the mountain ridge and are rapidly enveloped, once again, in Skyline Drive’s netherworld of furtive, pale images.