In Defense of Driving: winding along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Pkwy

05Dec09
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA

In an attempt to ward off wanderlust until my round-the-world trip begins, I have been going on mini-adventures.  Recently, I met up with an old friend in a brew-happy, eco-friendly, hippied-out town called Asheville, NC.

After a night out filled with the usual (tattoos, piercings, live music… oh, and hummus), we decided against an early hike up to a popular bald since the forecast called for overcast skies.  We should have known not heed the weather channel, since God controls the weather, afterall.  Alas, the morning brought patchy skies with a peeking sun.

Since the hike was nixed, we headed out for Plan In-Case-of-Bad-Weather-or-if-We-Feel-Lazy: a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Driving curly mountain roads is always a kick, especially if you happen to have (as I do) a friend with a Jeep.  A Jeep won’t necessarily help if you plan to stay on the road; you’ll just feel cool.

Not five minutes into the ascent, we began to pass groups of cyclists.  Young and old were pedaling the Parkway with optimism packed tightly into their little spandex unitards.

Ten miles later, there were still more of them–hunched over panting on the handle bars while their bulky calves continued to flex and rest.  Damn bikers.  I began to feel lazier and lazier each time we swerved around another sweaty one of them. They were out battling the mountain with raw human pedal-power while I cruised along listening to Rufus Wainwright and rocking some retro shades.  But, who is to judge?  Driving is a legitimate way to enjoy the mountains, and has some definite perks:

  • Able to get 180-degree look at scenery (360-degrees if you’re not driving).  While biking offers a slow, rich experience of nature, views from the bike are primarily straight forward.  You must be careful not to tip over or inadvertently ride off a cliff while looking over your shoulder for the panorama.
  • Can stop at multiple overlooks without losing momentum.  While dismounting your bike halfway up a steep incline to snap a few pictures  may not win three cheers from your quadriceps, hopping in and out of the Jeep is not a problem.
  • Add a soundtrack to the landscape.  Whether hiking or biking, electronic accessories like iPods can prove cumbersome, especially if shuffle is acting out.  In a car, you can throw on bluegrass radio, pop in a CD, or plug in an iPod and hand select each song to match your mood.
  • Bathroom is never too far away. Face it, bicycles are not kind to full bladders.

We happily entertained these perks, stopping often to dance on stone walls or climb boulders while the clouds slipped over the street to join the increasing gloom on the dark side of the mountain.

Easing back down the Parkway, we passed many of the same bicyclists looking less enthusiastic.  We felt grand.

Don’t worry; even though I learned to appreciate–or at least justify–driving as a way to engage the landscape, the real hiking came during our second weekend in Asheville.  We enjoyed better weather though a worse sense of direction (maybe a story to come soon).

So, if you need to get out, go.  A little aimless driving is a snack for the soul (just watch out for cyclists!).

Photos courtesy of BH

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