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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 4: The Blue Ridge Parkway

And onward, ever onward... to historic Savannah and Nubs and Slo. In what was probably the best last minute decision of the entire tour, last minute decisions always being the best way to travel, we altered our route.

Tracy had TripTics mapping out the route from Boone down to Charleston, but I had different ideas. If we headed back towards Blowing Rock we could jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway, travel through stunning scenery west to Asheville and then hop onto the I26. We'd heard a little about the parkway from people in Boone and everyone without exception recommended it. I proved persuasive enough for Tracy to cast aside the best laid plans of mouse and woman and go with the flow.

As ever there were Cosmonauts on the way. I quickly organised to meet up with Zibbles for lunch at the Vanderbilt Mansion, the largest house in the United States. We'd head down from there to Columbus to meet up with Eden and Twinz. And from there, we'd be right on the main highway down to Charleston anyway. It seemed like a good route.

It turned out to be more than that, much more than that. In fact it would have been a major disappointment later if we'd have seen pictures later but not experienced. The parkway itself was stunning. No, more than stunning, it was breathtaking. Wherever we drove we'd be gaping openmouthed at the scenery. I'm just glad that Tracy is as good a driver as she is, and naturally she doesn't believe a word of it, or she'd have become so involved in the beauty that we'd still be a part of it.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was a 'make-work' scheme during the Depression of the 1930s when large scale plans were put into operation purely to get huge numbers of unemployed back into work, often at high wages. After much politicking the road eventually took form and magically achieved its goal of showcasing the scenery of the south Appalachians. It runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, often along the very crests of the range. We travelled up to some of the highest points that it offered, almost 6,000 feet above sea level. More than once we stopped at an overlook 4,000 feet or more up, looked out onto incredible unmarred scenery, then cross the road a mere twenty yards and see more on the other side.

I'd love to cycle this in the autumn (fall) and take a leisurely three weeks or so to do it. That way I could take photos from points other than those designated as official stopping points. These overlooks proved to be well chosen. I particularly enjoyed such colourfully named places as Price Lake, Yonahlossee, the North Toe River Valley, Licklog Ridge and Craggy Gardens. I managed to get some of my best photos of the summer here from these overlooks and it was here that I started getting used to doing more with my new camera than hanging it from my belt.

People live up there on the tops, though not many. One local woman came up to us asking if we'd seen her dog, who had disappeared into the vast expanse of scenery. Unfortunately we hadn't... There were plenty of interesting visitors too, from the vast hordes of tourists who find this magical road every year. I stopped briefly to chat to a guy from SETI who'd personally raised a mountain lion after nobody else at his university would take it on. Then there were the cars. I took one photo that so nearly worked but didn't quite, showing Glassmine Falls, an 800 foot waterfall, framed in the windscreen (windshield) of an 87-year old Model-T Ford, happily being driven around 5,200 feet up. It belonged to a couple from Dallas, who were part of a 52-car convoy driving the parkway. They'd already been up Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, and a whole range of huge mountains in Colorado. I guess 5,200 feet of elevation just didn't seem that much to them any more...

Meeting strangers here on the Blue Ridge highlighted something else to me. This trip was intended as a people trip. I was getting to meet up with a whole slew of friends, including my girlfriend, who I'd known for anything up to a year but had never met in person. That was why I was here. I was, of course, very aware that North America has more than merely something in the way of scenery, but I hadn't really planned on seeing any of it until Washington State and the Columbia River Gorge (which I never did get to see). This was my eyeopener to the fact that maybe the scenery would come to see me first.

Previous Episode: The Big Meetup.
Next Episode: Inna Gadda da Vida.

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