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The Blue Ridge Parkway - A Halcyon Home
By Tom Neel
Some roads just beckon you to ride them. Some even famously named. Others, created solely for adventure as modern miracles of their day. The Blue Ridge Parkway covers all of these bases and more. 469 miles of diverse pictorial landscape, rhythmically paced, undulating, with countless amounts of turns, some nearly 360 degrees. In short – transcendent.
In the late 1980’s, I moved to the micro village of Rectortown, VA. Population less than fifty. I was just beginning what would become a bustling career as a fine artist. There, I rented a cottage on a farm ironically called Halcyon Hills. The people and the place grounded me at a time I needed grounding. For the next three decades this place was never far from my heart or the many paintings I was inspired to create of the rolling hills of Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I would come to know, ride, and love Skyline Drive, a nearby National Park which runs 105 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Waynesboro, Virginia, where it then transitions to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Continuing south through Virginia into North Carolina, the “Parkway”, as I’ll call it, ends on the Cherokee Nation Reservation, cozily nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. Rides south would always include pieces of the Parkway, until the day came to ride it end to end. Once up there on a sweltering summer day below, you just never want to come down from its natural cooling elevations. But one must, as there is not gas actually available on the Parkway, though in enough places it’s not more than a mile away.
Two years ago my wife and I moved to Denver, NC., making the Carolina half much more accessible. Six months ago I bought a Halcyon, making the Parkway an ever enticing adventure. It is, I thought, the perfect road for this motorcycle. I was mostly correct, throwing everything the Halcyon 250 had at this mountain range with elevations between 4 – 6,000 feet. This, of course, is the polar opposite of the Halcyon’s 801’ birthplace of Goshen, Indiana. Which, by the way, is similar to the 902’ of elevation where this journey would begin, from my home just north of Charlotte, NC. I suspect things here are way more rolling in the foot hills of the North Carolina – “High Country”, as its known.
As mentioned, the Parkway begins at mile post 1 in Waynesboro, VA. It runs in a southwest direction, with each mile indicated by a post on the right side of the entire length of the two lane blacktop road. Where Skyline Drive is a National Park and its speed is set at 35mph, the Parkway is not, and the speed is mostly 45. Meaning one can roll along at the Halcyon’s happy speed of 50mph. The road itself is an ever changing environment of long hills and reciprocating descents, twist and turns, pastoral landscape and distant layered mountain views. Large portions are tunneled by shade trees, though open areas abound. In the last 75 miles especially, there are numerous tunnels. None of which are long, but some you can’t immediately see daylight on the other side. It’s a bit like riding a motorcycle in a closet. I highly recommend the use of your high beam and not doing this at night.
My journey begins with riding directly north towards Roaring Gap, NC., near the NC/VA border. Just four miles south of the Parkway at the halfway point around milepost 230. Joining me would be my three closet riding friends. Treavor, making his way down from Virginia on his BMW GS1200, Lane on his Harley Road King, and of course Shane, on his yellow Halcyon -JM385. This would be a different experience for Shane and me. One void of rear suspension and massive amounts of grunt. Spoiler alert, neither would ultimately hinder the experience. In fact, I feel it enhanced it overall by challenging man and machine, and hint, they performed admirably.
The first night at High Meadows Inn, – (NC21), brought together old friends who in some cases hadn’t physically seen each other in two years. Spirited conversation with spirits flowed. The establishment was largely chosen because of its proximity to the Parkway and having Nikola’s restaurant right there. The place needed some TLC, but the rooms were clean, food good, and there was a gas station 1000’ away. The next morning we were off. Copious amounts of blooming wildflowers added artistic pleasure, but the first thing the two of us with rigid frames noticed was a pothole obstacle course unlike I’ve seen along this road. I’ll chalk it off to the pandemic, but protecting our rear ends kept us on our toes! The same could be said for the wildlife and the fawn that darted in front of the Halcyon’s front wheel, nearly immobilizing the spotted bullet. It was lucky, and luckily for us, the wildlife and potholes dissipated in our first 60 mile leg down to the quaint village of Blowing Rock, NC, – milepost 291 (US321). This allowed for the first fill up for the tiny tankers and a coffee break for the un-woken.
Back on the Parkway, next up would be crossing the levitated Linn Cove Viaduct, which sits in the lap of Grandfather Mountain – milepost 304. Completed in 1987, it was the missing link. The last section of the Parkway to be built and quite an elevated and serpentine engineering feat it was! Riding it is captivating. Doing it one handed while taking photos of Shane, even more so!
With the viaduct in our mirrors, our shortest planned leg of just 40 miles or so, would come soon, or so we thought. The plan was to exit the Parkway at milepost 330.9 (NC226). This would allow for not only a quick fill up, but lunch at the famed Little Switzerland Inn. In doing so we would pass by the town of Linville. But as bad luck would have it, the Parkway bridge there was closed for construction, thus bringing our southern passage to a seemingly laborious, unplanned detour. Now it should be noted that both Shane and Lane live somewhat within spitting distance of Linville. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Comically me too! But they were eventually able to get us rerouted where the detour signs seemingly could not. The take away was twofold. First, check for construction on the Parkway, and second, make the detour part of the adventure, not part of the problem. Oh, and third, don’t miss the monster truck photo op! As such, the departure offered up delicious roads to eat, and the Halcyons devoured each with surprising hunger! I truly mean this. Applause and bravo to Janus.
Once around and back on track, fueling up both rides and riders was welcome. I’d like to note that Little Switzerland is a very popular destination for Parkway visitors and motorcyclists alike. It can be busy, so bring your patience. With about 140 miles still in front of us and it now nearing 3-ish, it was time to head off. Next stop would be visiting Mt. Mitchell, – milepost 355.4. At 6,684’, it is the highest peak in the east, and on this day, its summit was in the clouds. I’ve been up Mt. Mitchell a number of times, both with its spectacular view and on a motorcycle in dense fog. That would have been the outcome here, so we stopped for a quick entrance photo and made a quick run to Craggy Gardens, milepost 364.4. Stretching our legs, it is worth noting that the Parkway has an abundance of scenic overlooks to take breaks, though these are without facilities past nearby foliage.
Now within 20 miles of the well worth visiting, Asheville, NC, we were harmoniously at one with the Parkway’s cadence. Potholes found earlier, if anything, were replaced with some frost heaving, occasionally simulating a bucking bronco. But none threw too much daylight between our asses and seats. I have to share, as I contributed a blog post about the Halcyon’s ridged frame and sprung seat some months back; my wide seat suits me just fine, though Shane offered some minor protests about his standard one. All in all though, I feel for what became a nearly 10 hour, 290 mile ride, I felt great, top to bottom. One could also easily choose to make this a two day trip. Most probably do.
Approaching Asheville, most should stop at the Southern Highland Craft Guild – Folk Art Center. Uniquely located right on the Parkway at milepost 382, it is a very cool, nationally recognized artisan facility, filled with handmade pieces for sale. It’s a good place to take a break and to find something truly special. Past this point the Parkway winds its way for the next 10 miles or so, through the lower half of Asheville, always keeping to itself. Fuel stops here can be found in close proximity to all of its exits. I chose milepost 393.6 (NC191), as it is the last convenient fuel stop before the last section of the Parkway, and easily the most dramatic as well. Fuel stops over the next 75 miles are not only further off the Parkway, they are a real descent. This is where the Parkway’s elevations are the highest, including the highest point of 6,053’, found at the Richland Balsam Overlook, – milepost 431.
For this reason, I have often felt that this section is easily the most dramatic, feeling at times remote and even other worldly. The artist in me was at home. Here, the mountain layers can seem endless, almost as if they cradle Brigadoon, the fantasy village that rises out of the mists and fog every hundred years for only a day. We should be so lucky as to happen upon it. We were however, not so lucky to happen upon a chilling rain which for a period of time was dropping water balloons from the sky. None of us had timed this with proper rain gear. The sun’s eventual appearance, along with our 20 mile proximity to Cherokee was a blessing. An hour of that weather, I fear would have brought on hypothermic conditions to what at this point had been pleasant temps overall. Soaked, we ventured on.
Mile 466, 467, 468, 469, Yahoo! We arrive in Cherokee, damp and hungry, needing of beer and a shower to wash the road away, but blissful at what the day had brought. Past a detour and a last minute unneeded shower, the Blue Ridge Parkway did not disappoint, nor did the two mighty Halcyons. I’m thinking even our compadres reveled in the 250’s ability to not only keep up, but to delivery their owners in as grand a style as any other two wheeled machinery. Our fill-ups had never consumed more than a gallon of fuel. This, no matter the hills, gear changes, top speeds of over 60mph at times. Fuel was simply never an issue. Shane’s 43 tooth sprocket pretty much kept him at above 70mpg, with my 45 tooth not more than a couple mpg behind, and both were sans mechanical issues of any kind.
After a night at the Great Smokies Inn and a celebratory dinner at the Native Brewery, it was time make our way east again via NC19E through Maggie Valley. It was time to put the icing on the cake by visiting the “Wheels Through Time” vintage motorcycle Museum right in Maggie Valley. A tribute to the God’s of American motorcycling, its many displays are like life-sized dioramas. The place is just plain cool and its hundreds of motorcycles mostly run. Many were started during our visit. Hint, hint, park a Halcyon outside of a place like this and it too is sure to draw a crowd. The first person approaching me saying, “Ah cool, this is the first one I’ve seen in person!” He knew exactly what he was looking at, and asked if he could take a photo. Yes sir, you most certainly can! Halcyon JM568 happily took me 600 miles in two and a half days.