We were up before the sun this morning. There was just a little pink in the eastern sky. I love this time of day and it's even nicer on a chilly cabin porch in the Smoky Mountains with a pretty girl.
Today will be a full day. We're going to the Biltmore. It'll be my third time, but the first for the others. The visit to the Biltmore will only be part of the adventure. We'll get there via US441 over the Smokies and the nicest part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Last night Stephanie was hoping to see a raccoon but they didn't show. However, it looks like we had a visitor during the night. I was putting the GPS on my bike when I saw Stephanie waving and pointing at something. It was a little raccoon. It wandered around the porch for awhile, then Monty gave it a leftover hamburger which it feasted on.
While the raccoon sat in the rafters and ate his hamburger we sat and watched the sun come up. We heard Mike and Penny's voices next door, then heard their bike start up. They drove up to our cabin then we headed out.
Wears Valley, TN. 7:28, mileage 54,655 - We stopped at the Wears Valley gas station for some fuel.
Next stop...IHOP. We all had a hearty breakfast. I had a ham & egg omelete.
After breakfast we headed southeast down US441. The morning sky is inviting and the traffic is light.
This morning Donna decided to wear a sweatshirt just in case it was chilly. It was a good decision. As we climbed into the mountains the temperature got down in the mid-60s. We followed a semi for a long way. They are normally not allowed in the park, but several of the pulloffs are being rebuilt and it was hauling supplies. It wasn't that big of a deal as he was making good time.
At Cherokee we pulled over at a convenience store to stretch. There was a BMW getting gas and he came over and talked to us for a bit. At the lower elevations you could already feel a twinge of humidity in the air. We hung out here for 30 minutes.
Before we got to the Blue Ridge Parkway we had to wait on crews cutting brush alongside the road. Once back in the mountains it was chilly again. I used my lower deflectors to put some engine heat on Donna's legs. She gave me a 'thank you' hug. We followed a group of Harleys for awhile. Their bikes sounded good...not loud. They turned off at the 'highest point on the parkway' sign.
50 miles and 1 1/2 hours later I could feel Donna squirming a little so we pulled over for a ten minute stretch break.
I've ridden the whole parkway and, in my opinion, this is the nicest section. Lots of tunnels. Mountain views. Next stop...the Biltmore.
31 miles (and an hour) later we were at the Biltmore visitor center. We went inside and picked up our tickets, used the restroom, and hit the water fountain. It is now officially hot outside.
The drive to the Biltmore house is a couple miles along a scenic one lane road. One can imagine riding in a carriage a hundred years ago. There is special parking for motorcycles.
The Biltmore. I've been here three times but every time I see it I'm impressed. The house is built with limestone from our local quarries back home. We took pictures up to the house. They don't allow pictures inside.
We took the audio tour which lasted about 2 1/2 hours. When we were here in 2007 the fourth story was included in the tour and a scale model of the estate. That part wasn't included in the tour today. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the tour. The dining hall, with its back staircases, is my favorite. It's cool to see how something so simple by today's standards can still be so elegant. They had fans set up everywhere and they felt nice to stand in front of while we listened to the audio tour.
We had taken the house tour at our own pace, and after the tour we met up near the old stables. There's an outdoor plaza there where we ate lunch and sat around for awhile. We had pizza. Donna and I didn't go the gift shops. I'm not sure if the others did. We used the restrooms and headed to the other side of the Biltmore house to visit the gardens.
Tomorrow night they are having a Beach Boys concert here on the south terrace. There were setting up the stage and chairs. I'm not a huge Beach Boys fan, but I can see how it would fun watch a concert at the Biltmore. Especially if you were staying somewhere nearby.
I'm not a big flower person but Donna likes them and I enjoy her enthusiasm. While we were in the garden an occasional dark cloud floated by and it sprinkled a few times. The breeze felt good also. After touring the gardens we walked down the path to the Bass Pond. It's down hill all the way for about 1/2 mile...which means it'll be 1/2 mile uphill when we come back.
There was a big albino catfish swimming in the lake. Rain kept sprinkling off and on. Donna and I sat in the boat house. Monty & Stephanie walked around the lake to the falls. Mike & Penny started to but aborted.
We all met back up in the boathouse, then trudged back uphill. We talked about going to the winery, but it was late afternoon so we decided to head back to Pigeon Forge. If you're into wine the winery would be a cool place to visit, but none of us are. I stopped and got a picture of Donna and the bike in front of the Biltmore house.
The exit road winds for about three miles through the Biltmore estate countryside. Once we were back on US25 it didn't take long to get on I-40 and head west. My original plan had been to take I-40 and exit onto the Foothills parkway north of the park. Since we had plenty of daylight left I decided to go back through Cherokee.
Ivy Hills, NC. 18:05, mileage 54,827 - We left I-40 on US19 and stopped for fuel in Ivy Hill north of Waynesville. We discussed eating supper in Maggie Valley vs Pigeon Forge. We decided to wait until Pigeon Forge as it would allow us to travel in daylight over the mountains.
Maggie Valley is a nice place to ride through. It would probably be a good place to spend a vacation. In 1968 we vacationed here and went to the Ghost Town in the Sky. The place is closed now.
When we passed the Blue Ridge Parkway we got behind a slowpoke in a white Ford Escape. She poked and poked and poked. 25 mph through the curviest parts of the road. It's a wonder she didn't melt the brakes on the SUV. She had traffic backed up. Once we got to the flatlands the Mustang and Suburban passed her and it seemed to make her mad as she sped up and rode the tail of the Suburban. She finally turned into the Holiday Inn Express. Her slow driving might have been due to her morbid obesity. Good riddance. Even Donna was griping about her slowness coming down the mountain.
Now I was a little sensitive to slowpoke drivers. As we were coming through Cherokee we got behind what I call a 'grandpa truck'. Two wheel drive pickup truck...running boards...camper top. In Indiana this is a guaranteed slowpoke. Thankfully this guy wasn't. He turned off near Smokemont and we had the road all to ourselves. Up the south side of the mountains and partway down the other...three Goldwings snaking along US441 at 45-50 mph. It was great.
Coming down the other side something strange happened. We got behind a truck who was going slowly...and he moved over at a pulloff. Then we got behind a slow car...and they pulled over at a pulloff. Two thumbs up for courteous drivers! They need to educate the heifer in the Escape.
Last night I had taken out all our rain gear in preparation for the Walmart shopping trip. I hadn't put it back in this morning. No rain predicted. The rain sprinkles at the Biltmore had caused some concern. When we stopped earlier my GPS showed little rain patches here and there. Coming over the mountains there were dark clouds and powerful gusts of damp wind. I just knew any moment we'd get rain...which would suck since we had no gear. I don't mind getting wet, but it's the rain in my eyes and lack of vision that concerns me. Luckily it didn't rain.
As we were riding over the mountains I was trying to think of somewhere good to eat. Then I remembered on the south side of Gatlinburg there is a Calhouns and the Smoky Mountain Brewery. They also have free parking. We'll go there if it's not busy.
When we got to the restaurants they didn't look busy. I was surprised, though, to find they had a parking machine now. Oh well. We went to the Smoky Mountain Brewery and were seated right away. Everyone had a good, hearty meal. I had steak with mashed potatoes and fried macaroni & cheese. It was good! Parking ended up being free by showing the attendant our restaurant receipts.
After supper we putted through Gatlinburg, through Pigeon Forge, and back to our cabin. Donna and I partook of the hottub. While we were there Donna suddenly pointed towards me. A raccoon was peaking over the hottub and checking out my pop. We put some food out and suddenly there were two raccoons. The smaller one from last night and a larger one. They ate heartily, too.
We watched the raccoons. We watched the lights of the city in the distance and enjoyed the peacefulness. Eventually we went inside and did our nightly things. The next couple days are unplanned for the most part. Mike & Penny and Donna & I are going to the Dixie Stampede tomorrow night. I think Monty & Stephanie are going to a new lumberjack show.
We had a great day.
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