This is a sense-of-place essay I started writing before I became pregnant. It’s harder to find the time to ride now that Haydn is here. I still ride, though hardly as many miles as when I wrote this piece. I’m posting it now, finally, out of a sense of longing for wanting to get back to this place where I once was, this groove of being so intensely aware of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and of paying attention to how it changes day-to-day and season-to-season.
Not far down the road from my home in Asheville is a shortcut through a sparse tree line that edges Bull Mountain Road. The humble dirt trail is a bit like the magical armoire in Narnia—when I pass through it I’m transported to a different world, the otherness of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s rolling black pavement, which snakes through the Appalachian mountains. I pick it up is southwest of Mt. Mitchell, elevation 6,683 feet, and the highest point in the East.
Five summers ago, my husband and I rode the entire Blue Ridge Parkway from north to south, all 469 miles in five days. We rode for three days, took a rest day in Asheville, and then finished in Cherokee two days later. I found the descent into Asheville thrilling — the road kept unfurling down, down, down. We lost elevation by the minute. I had no idea, then, that I would one day live a few minutes from that same stretch of parkway, and that I would be blessed enough to be able to ride it everyday of the week, if I so wished.
But that’s just what happened, and after we moved to western N.C. in January of 2011, I fell into the habit of rolling my bike out the back door by eight a.m., then winding through a series of streets for a mile and a half to the end of Bull Mountain Road where the twenty-foot-long dirt trail lies off the shoulder. The trail pops me out near mile-marker 382, which is fondly associated in these parts with the Folk Arts Center and Big Boy, an amiable, often-seen local black bear. As the skinny tires of my Orbea road bike pinball through the obstacle course of roots, I peer through the trees both ways for cars and then dart out onto the parkway. I turn north and begin to climb up to Craven Gap, then past Bull Gap, through the unlit Tanbark Ridge tunnel (forever uneasy for passing cars), past the Bull Creek overlook and up to the Lane Pinnacle overlook. (more…)