It’s spring break time and that meant Margaret was out of school for a week! It also meant we wanted to do something fun! That led us to Hot Springs ORV Park in Arkansas! This post has moved to https://ourjeepadventures.com/hot-springs-orv-park-march-2020/
11 days and 3149 miles through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma before getting back to Fort Worth, TX. We rode along 3 scenic parkways/byways: the Cherohala Skyway that extends across both Tennessee and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway that extends across North Carolina and Virginia, and the Talimena Scenic Byway that extends between Arkansas and Oklahoma. While on the Blue Ridge Parkway we also rode the Diamondback Motorcycle Route (226A). Over a week later and my head is still spinning from the excitement! Everyday was different and filled with its own adventure and beauty. From the beginning we decided to stop at every state visitors center. I snapped a picture of the state sign and sent it in a text to our kids. I wanted them to feel like they were part of trip and get an idea of where we were and what we were seeing. Day 1 and 2 went from Fort Worth, TX to Chattanooga, TN.
Those first two days were all interstate, sometimes through big cities. Scott did his best to keep us out of these areas during rush hour but it was still more than I am use to dealing with for that long of a period. There were times even doing 75-80 mph that cars we rushing around us, cutting in front of Scott and don’t even get me started with entrance and exit ramps. Scott deals with that all the time but those situations still make me a little anxiouse. Cars and trucks are often oblivious to the fact that a motorcycle is there. Throw in some grooved pavement that makes your bike pull and yep, I am griping my handle bars and clinching my teeth so hard that I am leaving ridges on my tongue. But we made it and I have a little more experience under my belt. At one point Scott asked me if I was doing okay, my reply “yep, I am Blue Ridge Bound, baby!” I love riding small country roads but sometimes the only way to make a trip happen in a specific time frame means hopping on the busier roads and dealing with it.
One of the highlights from from day two was a fun stop at Ruby Falls. Signs for the falls inundated the roadside for about 30 miles leading up to it. So when we pulled over at a roadside Scott and I both were eagerly agreed to check it out. It gave us a break and a chance to get out of the heat. Little did I know I would have to stop several times on steep inclines. One seemed to be about 90 degrees. Okay, maybe not that steep but sitting there with cars behind me it felt like it. Scott looked over at me, smiled and said “it’s time for some massive clutch action.” He wasn’t kidding! I found my friction zone and prayed that I wouldn’t slide back or loose my balance when I lifted my feet up because I was also at a slight angle and we had to immediately turn to the right. When he shouted go I took off cheering “I got this”. When we reached the top I was so relieved! What a confidence boost it was. Only a year ago a hill much smaller than that was how I dropped my bike. I haven’t dropped it since but that fear is still very real. The tour was about an hour long. I tried to get some pictures but lighting was an issue and since we were on a guided tour with a large group I couldn’t really stop for long. The formations were pretty but the main attraction is the falls. They have a light show that plays against the falls which was pretty cool. I took a picture of each stage/color but the red was my favorite. After leaving the falls you exit and go out upstairs and can either go into the gift shop or out to an overlook. We went out to the overlook and were able to look out over the city and beyond. After the tour we were cooled down and ready to hit the road again. Day 3: Chattanooga, TN to Asheville, NC
We began by riding the Cherohala Skyway. The interstate was swapped for a slower road with some twist and turns, gorgeous scenery and lots of flowers. You’ll notice a few of them in the slideshow. One of the other fun things about parkways and byways are all the interesting people you meet along the stops, you don’t get that when riding on the interstate! From the Skyway we moved on to Cherokee, NC. This is the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and began our ride along the parkway. We made sure we had plenty of gas because once you get on the parkway there are no gas stations unless you get off and find a small town. The scenery is breath taking, the speed limit is 45 mph, and when you look out along the overlooks you can see for miles. I also noticed a temperature change almost immediately. As we made are way to Waterrock Knob visitor center the temperature dropped a little bit more and my ears popped a few times. I wonder if that was a sign of what was about to come? One minute it was clear and the next minute intense fog. I ran into the rangers station and bought us some patches and put on my rain suit. The ranger I spoke to said “welcome to the Blue Ridge Parkway”. “It will pass as quickly as it came.” Hmmm, I hope so was all I could think. It is one thing to get stuck in a little rain but fog, no thanks! After a short discussion Scott and I quickly put away our cameras and took off.
The ranger was right just as quickly as it came it was gone. After about 30 minutes of rain we rounded another curve went into a tunnel and come out into….thick fog. I could hardly see, I kept my focus on Scot’s tail light and the yellow line. I was scared but we took it very slow as did all the other traffic. the fog lasted another 30 minutes and then we went around another sharp corner leading us into another valley with nothing but sunshine. This weather pattern was experienced several times during the day. As met other riders we were told it is common in the mountains We rode into Ashvilelle and arrived at our first bed and breakfast, A Bed of Roses. After unpacking the bikes we decided to give our legs a stretch and we headed downtown. There was lots to see and hear. We had dinner at a fantastic vegetarian place, The Laughing Seed.
Day 4: Asheville, NC to Sparta, NC.
We got started a little bit (3 hours) latter than expected because of when breakfast was served. This was the only day we had really planned to do a lot of specific things so at first we were both frustrated but in the end what can you do but enjoy the day. The first stop on our list was Craggy Gardens. I was excited because it was peak bloom time. Shortly before reaching the gardens the rain and fog began to settle in. We went inside the visitors area and found out because of the weather this year there wasn’t much blooming and the fog would obscure the view from the lookout. On-wards then! Next stop was an unexpected one, Crabtreee Falls. The signs showed a 1.5 mile hike to get to the falls. We knew we were in trouble when we began passing people returning looking exhausted. At one point I heard Scott with his GoPro saying “do you see what Margaret got us into?”. It was steep, downhill, and in some places we were walking over wet shell and rocks. we did get to see some interesting mushrooms and even a bright orange lizard on our way to the falls though. When we got to the falls we were able to relax for bit and take in the beauty. I’ll refrain from discussing the trudge back up the hill! Our next stop was going to be lunch at the Little Switzerland Inn and then to ride the Diamond Back route. Sadly we arrived too late for lunch and it was raining hard so riding the Diamond back was also skipped. Onward yet again this time our only goal was to find food, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now around 3:30. Fast forward to about 7:30 or so and we reach our bed and breakfast, Glade Valley B&B. It was lovely to roll up on but I was really too tired and hungry to appreciate it and we needed to find food and a place to do laundry. The day didn’t go as planned but that night we reminded each other there is always a reason. The next morning we spent several hours walking around the property taking pictures, looking at the cabin, talking with the inn keepers and getting to know the other guest. It was a great way to start the day.
Day 5: Sparta, NC to Roanoke, VA
Today was beautiful, no rain or fog the entire day! The views were incredible and it was nice to relax on the bike. We stopped at Mabry Mill to walk around and take some photos and learn a little about that areas history. Next we stopped at an old fort like structure. We grabbed some more photos and videos, talked and stretched our legs. As we were getting ready to leave another couple pulled in. They happen to be locals out for a ride on their trike. We visited with them for a bit, they then suggested we could all have lunch together up the street a a farmers market that serves lunch. By the time it was all said and done our table had 6 people at it. It was fun to relax and get to know a little about each of them.
We arrived at Rose Hill B&B in the early afternoon enabling us to spend some time relaxing on the front porch and playing with the inn keepers new puppy, Teddy. That evening, like many of the others on this trip, I saw fire flies begin to appear right at dusk. We don’t have fireflies in Fort Worth so it was a special treat for me. It brought back memories I shared with my grandmother. She lived in Ohio out in the country and on my visits there during the summer she caught fireflies with my brother and I. Getting to share that with Scott was very special for me. At one point I decided I was going to capture them in a picture but it turned out to pretty much impossible. That’s okay because I have the memory.
Day 6: Roanoke, VA to Waynesboro, VA
YES, another beautiful rain-less day! It was full of tunnels, curvy roads and more breath taking vistas. The tunnels on this trip were a fist for me. The first day or two I was scared but then I began to get excited when I saw one. I did however find it very intimidating when there was oncoming traffic because their headlights made it harder to see the lane area. Like the previous days we met some interesting people including some Appalachian trail hikers. It was funny because I thought 11 days on a bike was hardcore, this couple, along with their dog, has been on the trail for two months and has three more to go! You can read their story at Boots to Birks. We made several more vista stops and at one we saw two guys preparing to fly off the cliff on hang gliders. Since we had never seen anything like that in person we decided to hang around and watch them take off. One funny note about that stop: As we were gearing up to head out another group of bikers pulled in. I start backing out and two of the guys with smirks on their faces decided to watch me. Ha, I got news for you two, I can back my bike up! I pushed backwards, cranked the handle bars around and straightened up while Scott got pulled out. One looked like he was impressed the other a little disappointed. Scott and I later laughed about because it is pretty common for people to assume I can’t. Of course if I have to back up on a steeper incline it is an entirely different story but those guys don’t need to know that! Our day ended with a stay at Belle Hearth B&B. Since we were only a few blocks from the downtown area we walked to a local restaurant and had dinner. We relaxed, talked, laughed and just enjoyed the time together. The rest of the evening was spent writing post cards and hanging out together on the porch.
Day 7: Waynesboro, VA to Spruce Pine, NC
Today was great! Scott made some route changes that put us right back near the Little Switzerland Inn and the Diamond Back route. The day started off pretty but as we approached the inn the rain started up again! Grrrr, we decided to eat lunch hoping the rain would pass so we could do the route. It let up but it didn’t stop. Scott and I talked about it and decided to go for it. The road was CRAZY but I am glad I road it! I took it at my own pace and despite being scared I didn’t let fear win out. Scott road it faster than me and waited around the curves for me to catch up.
Day 9: Nashville, TN to Dickson, TN
Day 10: Dickson, TN to Hot Springs, AR
Day 11: Hot Springs, AR to Fort Worth, TX
We were instantly reminded it was summer when we came down out of the hills! I did not miss the heat one bit. We took a few extra breaks to make sure we stayed hydrated and despite reapplying sunscreen we both got a bit of sunburn. Our last stop before heading home was for dinner but I was too hot to eat much. We arrived home to be lovingly greeted by our youngest son and a puppy that had missed us, A LOT! I don’t think she let Scott out of her site the rest of the night.
Blue Ridge Bound & Cherohala Skyway
Blue Ridge Parkway Part I
Wow, this post is long yet I know I am leaving so much out. This trip was truly amazing. It was a once in a life time event for both of us. I got to know my bike better, I leaned more than ever before in fact I scraped my floor boards several times in curves and turns, stopped on an incredibly steep incline and handled it, backed-up and parked my bike, road on gravel and handled almost every type of weather condition, all in 11 days! Scott did a wonderful job planning the entire ride. The route was great, meals delicious and the Bed and Breakfast’s the he picked out perfect! This trip was especially special because it was how we chose to spend out 20th wedding anniversary! Thank You Scott! You continue to amaze me.
We had been planning to ride the Talimena Scenic Byway for months and finally found a good time to do it. Memorial Day weekend provided us with a three day weekend that was perfect for the ride. Margaret reserved a room for us a couple weeks in advance so we wouldn’t have any issues trying to find a place for the night. As Saturday approached though we began seeing an increase for the chance of rain. We became disheartened late Friday evening when the chance for rain in Mena, AR was showing 50%. Since the reservation was already paid for we reluctantly made the decision that we would just drive instead. We stopped packing our bikes and bags and went to bed. Were early risers because of my long work commute everyday so at about 5:30 am Scott pulled up the weather report and now it was only showing a 30% chance of rain for the day and only for a short time in the afternoon. It took some persuasion but Scott finally talked me into riding instead of driving under threat that he would be in serious trouble if we got caught in a thunderstorm.
The ride to get to the byway was uneventful for the most part. No rain, it was cool and sunny, no heavy wind, just nice comfortable riding. I took some video of the ride to the destination but didn’t use it, other than some beautiful long straight lonely roads there really wasn’t any video taken that I could use. We did stop and take some still shots that are included in the slideshow. On one long expanse of road Scott hit a sizable rock which he didn’t see it since it blended in with the pavement. He sure felt it though, especially when my handlebars jerked and he got some front end wobbles from it for a few seconds. All was good though, no tire damage and the rock shot out to the side and didn’t hit any other part of his bike or mine. It is definitely scary to watch something like that from behind.
When we arrived at the head of the byway we met a couple of riders that just happened to be from Fort Worth as well! Not only that, but it turns out they even live within a few miles of where we do. They offered to take our picture together which I really appreciated. We headed up the winding byway stopping at pull over vistas occasionally to enjoy the magnificent views. The landscape stretched before us for miles and mountain tops faded behind mountain tops in varying colors of purple, blue, and white. It was overcast at this point and we were in the area that fell into that 30% chance of rain so the vistas had sinister appearance with some of the darker cloud formations that hovered over the mountain tops in the distance. There was also some fog sitting lower in the valleys that stood out prominently as we looked down from above. Although the weather gave a darker view instead of a nice crisp clean sunny outlook it was still awesome. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the various vista stops for a couple reasons.
First, we were going to ride it again Sunday when it was going to be sunny. Second: We were closing in on our check in time for our room. Third: The Talimena was at the end of our ride and we were getting tired. On Sunday it would be the beginning of the ride when we were refreshed and could take more time to enjoy it.
Before leaving one of the vistas we happened to look over to the road and saw some people on downhill skateboards roll by. Scott happened to have the GoPro in his hand and managed to get a quick clip of a couple of them laying on their backs on their skateboards as they flew down the road. We didn’t expect to see more or he would have gotten off the bike and captured more footage from a stationary position. We headed up the road and saw more of them coming down the mountain. He managed to video them as we passed. Further up the road they had a staging point and a U-Haul truck that they were using to drive down the road to pick them up and bring them back to do it again. It was totally unexpected and exciting to see.
Upon arrival in Mena, AR we headed to the Carriage House Inn where our reservations were held. This is a beautiful home and the inn keepers Scott and Ashley greeted us as we rode up. They were a wonderful couple and had a beautiful family which we were honored to meet. The house we stayed in was originally a carriage house/barn that had been restored into a small cottage. It had a living area, dining area, kitchen, bath, and an upstairs loft bedroom that had at one time in its history been used to store hay. They had done a remarkable restoration and made us feel completely at home. They also provided us with a bottle of Pinot Noir which we drank as we spent the evening exploring their garden and taking pictures of the flowers. I honestly believe this was one of the best nights of rest I have ever experienced on the road.
Before leaving Mena, AR we had breakfast and spent some time taking pictures of some of the local architecture and sights. We weren’t in any hurry knowing we could roll in to home at anytime during the evening. We headed back on the Talimena to ride it in the opposite direction this time. By now the chance of rain was almost gone and the sun was attempting to peak out through the clouds. This made for a few very beautiful pictures where we managed to capture the sun rays shooting down from the clouds with some beautiful vista back drops. Something interesting we saw this time were turtles in the road. Turtles? Up in the mountains? They were walking across the street taking an early morning walk. I wouldn’t have expected to see turtles at the top of the mountains.
This time I began to take notice of the road condition. I saw the sides of the road were left to grow naturally. Normally on roads the state keeps the grass mowed and sprays the edge to keep anything from growing into the pavement. Not here though. They let nature grow right up and even over the road. There were often long stretches where these tall grass like shoots would hang out into the street. Whatever pine needles fell from trees were left and often provided an interesting shoulder of color and texture. The guard rails were even painted a deep reddish brown to blend in with the landscape. All of this gave the road an natural aspect that allowed it to “Fit” into the landscape instead of dominate the scenery. The return ride was more enjoyable for us since we were rested and had the time available to stop more and enjoy the sights. We met a lot of other riders this time as well and it was nice to share riding stories and find out where they came from.
When we got close to the Texas state line we began to notice the landscape ahead was dark with storm clouds. These weren’t the pretty puffy ones we saw on our first day, this monster was a storm front and solid as far as you could see into the horizon. Scott decided to take a different route using FM 51 from Gainesville, TX which would take us south west into Decatur and keep us from riding directly into the storm. This worked pretty good for most of the ride home! We could feel the moisture, smell the rain, and the winds were pushing towards us from the storm front the whole time. We managed to get to Decatur and skirted that part of the storm the entire time. We decided to stop in Decatur for dinner where we ate at Sweetie Pies Ribeyes. It’s a bit pricy but well worth it and the service was great. While we were eating a small amount of rain came through and thoroughly drenched the roads. We could look to the south west where we were headed and see more storm ahead. We wouldn’t get away from it this time. The storm caught us in Springtown, TX and we finished the last hour riding home in a torrential downpour. Riding in the rain isn’t fun and adds a level of danger that is best avoided if possible.
Despite the rain on the ride home the trip was fantastic and I am so glad Scott talked me into riding instead of taking the truck. Getting away from the city, work, stress of daily life and just relaxing was great not to mention the fantastic roads and beautiful scenery.
Scott made two videos of the trip