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There is no ribbon of highway more ideal for bicycling than the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Perhaps we feel this way because we stubbornly seek out roads that are enticing to the senses and physically challenging. We spent the greater part of our lives in Florida, a state summed up by bicyclists as hot, flat, and full of headwinds. There is no fall season in Florida; it’s pretty much green there year-round. So, bicycling against a backdrop of yellow, russet, and orange was a new experience for us. After decades of exploration by bicycle, the Blue Ridge continues to amaze us.
Now let us concede from the beginning, the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are never easy. You simply cannot be a passive cyclist on these roads. You work excruciatingly hard climbing its mountains, but the descents are more thrilling than your favorite roller-coaster ride. They’re scarier too, for the controls are all yours. All senses are alert. Body and machine meet rubber and pavement in a high-voltage connection.
Cycling on the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway can be a humbling experience. The bicyclist who attempts these roads has definitely signed up for some tough mountain cycling. If the worst hill you’ve tackled is that bridge or overpass in your otherwise flat hometown, you are in for a big shock. We will address this matter of hill climbing later. First, a word about what motivated us to write this book.
In our travels on the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway we have met cyclists from France, Japan, California, Florida, and Texas, all in varying stages of bewilderment and frustration. The Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway present special challenges to the cyclist. In addition to steep road grades, weather conditions are often a menace. Rain, fog, and gusty winds are possible. Facilities are set up for the convenience of the car traveler. Food stops may simply be too far apart to be practical for the bicyclist. Since the Park Service allows no advertising on the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, motels, restaurants, medical facilities, and the like are often hidden.
Facilities as close as a half mile off the Parkway may be completely concealed from view. Even the literature that outlines facilities off the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway is almost exclusively designed for the car traveler. We have learned the hard way about turning off the Parkway only to find ourselves in an immediate descent to nowhere. This means only one thing: a tough climb back up the side of a mountain. And we like to climb. If only there were a traveler’s guide written for bicyclists from their point of view.
We wrote this book with three groups of bicyclists in mind: racers, long-distance touring cyclists, and recreational cyclists. The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive have much to offer each group. Of course, many bicyclists cross over between categories.
Overall, this book is designed for the touring bicyclist who plans to ride the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in an extended tour. In our view, this approach maximizes the experience. However, nothing is more gratifying than a hard ride with just you, your racing bike, and the mountains—no gear, no hassles. We live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a single Sunday ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway can sustain us at least until the next weekend.
If you are a racer, you may not care about campgrounds and motels, but you probably appreciate knowing where the country stores and other food stops are. We can think of no better training ground for a racer than these roads.
Part of the fun of bicycle touring is making discoveries along the way. We do not want to take any mystery away from this. Our hope is that this book can enhance your experience. As the touring cyclist, you still have the excitement of coming upon the delights of the area, but perhaps you won’t find yourself famished because of a ten-mile miscalculation over the next food stop. Glendale Springs Restaurant and Inn is only a half-mile from the Parkway, but you would never know of its gastronomic promise as you cruised past Milepost 260.
Part 1: An Introduction to Bicycling the Blue Ridge
1 The Ultimate Bicycling Road
2 Weather in the Blue Ridge Mountains
3 Camping versus Lodging
4 Gearing Up: Special Equipment and Clothing
Part 2: Point-by-Point Descriptions
5 An Explanation of Our Point-by-Point Descriptions
6 The Skyline Drive
Front Royal to Thornton Gap
Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap
Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap
7 The Blue Ridge Parkway
Rockfish Gap to James River Visitor Center
James River Visitor Center to Roanoke Mountain
Roanoke Mountain to Mabry Mill
Mabry Mill to Cumberland Knob
Cumberland Knob to Northwest Trading Post
Northwest Trading Post to Linville Falls
Linville Falls to Craggy Gardens
Craggy Gardens to Mount Pisgah
Mount Pisgah to Cherokee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Part 3: Appendices
Appendix A: Bicycle Shops
Appendix B: For More Information
Appendix C: Major Elevation Gains