Blue Ridge Parkway – Day 1 (or, Bates Motel Revisited)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile long national park that runs through Virginia and North Carolina.  Today we covered about 25 miles of it.  We had a 4 hour drive from home to reach the area first; all pretty uneventful except for the sight of a car randomly careering across the road right in front of me into a crash barrier, and that was only about 2 miles from home.  Thankfully it quietened down a lot after that.

We entered the Parkway at the James River Visitor Center and picked up lots of useful information from an incredibly lovely Park Ranger who gave us many suggestions of places to visit along the route.  We didn’t have a lot of time today so we made our way straight to Sharp Top Mountain which is 3875 feet high and has spectacular views all around from its summit.  Being short on time we opted to take the bus to the top and then walk (stumble/slide) back down.   Imagine a chunky minibus being controlled by a slightly unhinged driver on a very steep, very narrow, VERY bendy mountainside.  We had a few Italian Job moments, I can tell you.  The driver has been doing the same trip every hour for 8 hours a day, six months of the year for the past 11 years and has now covered 107,000 miles.  No wonder he’s a little deranged (but also pretty skilled at navigating the road, it has to be said).

On departing the bus, we had a short walk up to the summit of the mountain and were rewarded with some amazing views on a lovely clear and bright day.  It may be October but it was still really warm up there in the sunshine.  We also had the dubious pleasure of sharing the summit with “two old hippies playing some didgeridoos” as one of our fellow travelers so eloquently put it.  You haven’t truly lived until you have looked out into the distance while feeling like you’re actually in the dentist’s waiting room listening to Abba played on panpipes.  It was certainly a special moment.

It took about an hour to walk back down the mountain, although at a couple of points I thought I was going to take the very quick route straight down the side, not necessarily through choice.

In the UK, the only place that complete strangers say hello to each other is when they are out on a walk in the countryside.  In the USA, complete strangers say hello all the time, on every street wherever you are, which we are just about getting used to (although I was slightly perturbed the other day when a man told me “I like your pants”.  Fortunately that does at least mean trousers, not undercrackers, in the USA.  I think even he realized he was being a bit too forward, as he then apologized and said he only meant he liked the colour (they were teal, FYI).   I just smiled and kept on walking.).   Anyway, in the countryside, they take this friendliness up a notch and so today we had countless people saying “excuse me” and “sorry” and “thank you very much” every time they passed us on the trail.  Which was quite a lot, as it’s a busy old place.

We saw a couple more friendly helpful Park Rangers on our way around, including one who was wearing a corn snake as a kind of living serpentine scarf (very lovely it was too).  No encounters with bears today (the husband is desperate for an ursine encounter) except for the bearskin in one of the nature trail huts.  Oh but we did see a squashed antelope (well, some kinda deer thing) on the highway.  Reckon the car would have come off almost as badly in that encounter.

After a really nice dinner in Pizza Hut (great waitress, you get free refills as standard in this country but she even gave me an extra one to take home, I loved her!  I think the tiredness was seriously kicking in by this point) we checked into our motel for the night.  We had already booked hotels for the next three nights but at the last minute we decided to come a day early so yesterday we booked a one star motel online, one of those “we don’t show you the name until after you’ve booked” affairs.  Well it feels rather Bates Motel and I am definitely not getting into the shower, that’s for sure.  On the plus side, we have two double beds and, bizarrely, two microwaves, plus a “vintage” TV.  And free wifi, which was unexpected.  Oh and an outdoor pool.  It’s still pretty warm here but perhaps not bathing weather.  Actually it’s not a bad place, certainly not for the money we paid, and it’s only for one night as we’re off on our travels again in the morning.  Nighty night.

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