Dozens of motorcycles starting nearly at once. Must be close to 5:30AM, which the club I had met the night before had told me would be their leaving time for their own trip onward. Opening the door, I leaned against the frame absorbing the sounds and vibration…which most likely would be an irritant to other motel guests…but to me was music. I received the goodbye wave or thumbs up from nearly all, as they exited the parking lot and headed out on their journey.
I’ve been asked by non-riders why motorcyclists wave to each other…after all, Ford car owners don’t when they see another Ford go by…so what gives with bikers? Well, the short answer…is because “we know what others’ don’t”. It’s like a fraternity, with most that pass another biker giving a wave, the two-finger down salute, or a thumbs up to signify the freedom of the open road and the enjoyment of experiencing it on two wheels (or three if you have a trike) with the wind against your body. Another Harley adage is “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand”. Fits perfectly…only a motorcyclist knows the freedom you feel when you ride.
Breakfast was a trip to the hotel lobby, where the advertised hot breakfast was nothing more than cold biscuits, sausage patties, and something that resembled scrambled egg discs that could have been used for keeping water cool on the bike. At least the orange juice was colder, and the coffee hot. I talked with a motel guest a little about motorcycles and answered the questions he had about my journey, and I found out about his being in the area to attend his granddaughter’s graduation ceremony from high school.
With the bike ready to go again after a visit to the local BP, I easily found the Blue Ridge Parkway and found my way north again.
The road was surrounded by higher hills and smaller mountains more frequently once again. Peaks of Otter was an interesting pull off, with some nice views in the area and a chance to restock the liquid needs that I was having already from their lodge and trinket shop. More souvenirs went into the bike for the family, and I officially proclaimed the bike to be full.
Seriously, there are many, many scenic overlooks, as well as places to stop along the BRP for rest areas and food/lodging needs. There are many attractions and great riding roads off the Parkway as well. You could spend a month on this road, and never visit everything that’s offered within 20 miles of the main road. I guess this is why so many people I met said they come there every year on their vacation…and haven’t seen it all after a dozen trips.
There are lots of National Forests in and around the Blue Ridge Parkway. Much of the road is designed to run you through them for the best views. George Washington, Jefferson, Pisgah, Nantahala, and many more…at times you feel like your in deep in the forest, and other others you feel like you are flying about them.
Mid-day found me at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, on a little side pullover. Where was the sign that surely existed that let the adventurer know that one of the most beautiful roads in the world had now ended? I looked all around, and even asked another motorcycling couple that was already parked there where the end sign was. We all just shrugged our shoulders. Looking back, I could see the sign showing the beginning from the other direction…but no sign to mark any accomplishment for the traveler who had traversed the entire route.
What better thing to do than to ride into Waynesboro, and get a full tank of gas to start out on Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park? This side trip took thirty minutes, and found me right back to the pull-off I had previously been parked at. Looking forward, signs indicated the entrance to Shenandoah, along with the notice that this was a “entry fee park”, requiring $10 for a week’s pass for usage of the park. Also on a sign was the distance to different areas within the park, with Front Royal, VA being the exit point of the park from this direction.
In comparison to the BRP, Skyline drive is less than a 1/4 of the length…but still offers plenty of beauty, scenic pull overs, and amazing views.
On my third or fourth curve inside the park, right after the above picture was taken, I came out of a long right sweeping curve to find myself presented with one of the most beautiful things I know I will ever encounter in my life. So enthralled I was, the camera sitting in it’s case on the handlebars was totally forgotten, but I will never forget the next ten minutes of my life. Bear with me, as I truly do not do justice explaining what I had been given the opportunity to view.
Coming out of this curve, doing the required 35 MPH maximum speed limit that is strictly enforced inside Shenandoah, I immediately see about 200 yards in front of me on the straightaway a doe and her baby standing in my lane of travel, eating the grass on the side of the road. With honed reflexes from years of riding, I quickly downshift to first gear silently, and slowly head towards the deer.
The mother was full-sized, clean, and stood approximately five and a half feet tall. She was easily taking up 2/3 of my lane of road, and I can easily see the entire right side of her body as she grazed. Beside her, was a fawn that had to be a late spring present to the doe…she was extremely little in comparison, perhaps no more than 2 feet tall at the highest point. Both were engrossed with eating the plants that grow on the edge of the asphalt, and didn’t look up as I slowly closed the distance to them for an unbelievable amount of distance.
I slowly get to about 120 yards away, and both suddenly realize that they are no longer alone and raise their heads to stare at my approaching hog. Both refused to move as I slowly closed our gap. About 50 yards away, I come to a stop and put the bike into neutral, waiting for the unpredictable animals to jump one way or the other and go off into the side brush. None of the three of us move…for minutes. I’m marveling at the scene in front of me, while secretly wishing that they’d be the first to break the stalemate and bounce off to avoid any collision between us. I really have no idea how much time passed…me sitting on my idling Harley, they standing thre looking at the creature that invaded their space with the loud machinery puttering underneath him. They refuse to move, either out of anger or fear…or amazement of their own.
I decide to use the ProPad Air Horn on my bike. It’s comparable to the tone of a freight train engine…not as loud of course, but well over 120 decibels. I give a blast on the horn, and the baby immediately jumps off into the brush. The mother, now probably either confused or pissed off, starts stutter stepping on all four legs, but not moving from her spot. I believe completely that the deer is going to charge me, and I ready myself to take off and am prepared to go left or right depending on which way she comes. I ease up a little further, and get into the oncoming lane of traffic to afford me a little more distance from my original lane of traffic…which she has taken ownership of and refusing to leave.
After maybe 30 seconds, the mother stops her in-place dance…and goes back to eating the vegetation on the side of the road. Seriously??? Here I am, on a 900 pound machine, fully loaded, sitting on the empty road in the wrong lane, wondering what my next step should be. Common sense says I need to turn around, find one of the earlier overlooks, and take a break for a while to allow the deer to finish grazing and move on. Stupid “keep moving forward” sense says just go past the deer. I ponder this, and decide…let’s go with the stupid choice.
I engage first gear again, and slowly approach the deer, riding in the wrong lane. I’m already sending the different commands to my body…twist throttle hard, lean right or left depending on circumstance, lean down as far as I can to avoid the leg to the head when she jumps over/at me. But I’m not giving the command “initiate” to my body as I get within around 25 yards of the deer.
The mother had stopped eating again, and just raised her head and watched me approach…her head turning in slow motion as I advance, keeping me in both of her eyes as the gap closes to nothing. As I pass the deer, I’m already fighting the pain of the crushing blow that is going to happen…but never occurs. As I ride past the mother, she simply watched me go right past her. As I’ve now told my wife, I could have extended my arm two feet from the bike, and touched her nose as I rode past.
About twenty yards past the deer, I can’t help but look back at the deer. I watched surprisingly as the fawn, which had taken cover in the deep vegetation, bounded back out, went to her mother’s side, turned around next to her, and started grazing again. As I rode down the road to approach the next curve, I took one last look in the right side mirror, and saw the two deer jump back into the forest together to go on with their lives.
My words do not do the event justice. It truly was a “wonder of the world” to view and be a participant in. There’s beauty in a baby’s smile…there’s beauty in a warm cup of cocoa given to you by a loved one when you come in from the cold…there’s beauty in the cool breeze on a hot summer day…and there’s beauty in being invited into nature like I was. I’ll never forget it. Very powerful moment to me. Maybe not to you…but hey, it’s my blog 🙂 (Note to self…invest in the video camera and mount for the bike before the next trip…)
About 1/2 mile down the road, a pretty scenic overlook invited me for a closer look.
This was a great place to pull out the water bottle, a apple and cinnamon snack bar, and invest thirty minutes of my life into just appreciating the moment and remembering what’s good in my life.
Even roads as beautiful as this has to be maintained, and I was happy to be riding on freshly created asphalt with bright lines in the middle and side of the road. I thought I had washed away Murphy’s Law outside of Roanoke the evening before, but it caught up with me again (like them road gremlins that my bell keeps knocking off…look up Gremlin or Guardian Bell to understand). I managed to drive about 30 miles into the park only to catch up with the striping truck, and instead of turning around and going back to a rest area for a couple of hours, decided to follow the truck with the large gathering of cars that were accumulating behind me.
Want to know what’s not fun when riding a motorcycle? Riding in bucket fulls of rain. Also, following a striping truck for 3 miles up and down a mountainside with no pull offs available with a line of cars behind you, on freshly laid asphalt, on a 90+ degree day, with an overheating motorcycle under you…at 2-3 miles an hour. Over an hour of stopping, clutching, braking, and idling. Finally, the line striping truck pulled off into a scenic overlook to let the line of vehicles pass…and I quickly put 3-4 miles of distance between us until I could find a place to pull over and rest the weary hands. Didn’t want the truck to catch up and put me behind it again!
Coming up…my own midnight encounter with a bear…and the decision whether to head home…or turn around and ride south along the path I had just come.