Highway 240 took me to I-40, which I followed for 70 miles to an exit (Rt. 21) leading to Lake Norman State Park; Lake Norman is about 30 miles west of Winston-Salem, NC. It was an occasion of clear irony when I realized the state park did not include power hook-ups at the campsites. Ironic because I had paid for and not needed this option so many times in the last ten years. Once again, I had to rely on strangers, this time the campground hosts whom had power, for generosity in a desperate situation. They agreed immediately, and as usual, offered their friendship without reservation. This is truly how it is on the road.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
The next day I rode 200 miles on I-77 and I-81. At about this distance from Lake Norman, I came to an exit leading, in a few miles, to the southern terminus of Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park. Ms. Culpepper had performed flawlessly and this combined with my deep dislike for "blue lines" (interstate and other multilane highway) led to a decision to leave the security of easy rescue on the highway, to the relatively isolated Skyline Drive (a preferable and exceptional "red line" or secondary road).
Shenandoah National Park (south entrance), Virginia
I felt good when I returned to the road in Asheville, but an exceptional feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, and returning home, including a wide grin and even audible laughter, ensued as I exited I-64 and entered Shenandoah National Park. After paying my entrance fee ($5), I climbed off the bike, pop started and then rode slowly into the solitude and sweet mountain air. Life gets no better than moments like this one.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Pop starting, pictures, a long talk with a stranger, and solitude. Eventually I made my way to Big Meadows Campground, central Skyline Drive. Camping here is an offensive $19.00 (almost twice what the average person pays for monthly room rental). In addition, no electric at sites. Again, campground hosts came to my aid.
The next day, 30 June, "I was greeted by a perfect day...comfort factor a ten" (from my trip journal). At Front Royal, northern end of Skyline Drive, I made a poor decision to proceed along Rt. 522 north. Almost the entire stretch from Front Royal to Maryland (through WV) was chocked with traffic lights, local travelers and suburbia -- pavement, concrete, residential neighborhoods and strip malls. It was along this stretch that I felt I had come face first and hard into a wall of undesirables (paranoia, suburbia, ugliness). It seems to be the desire of at least those that control the money to turn everything east of the central Appalachians into a homogeny of life-less and impersonal scenery and experience. Unfortunately, these folks are realizing this desire at an alarming rate. Perched at a rest stop just inside Pennsylvania off I-70, I was very fortunate to be on the doorstep of one of eastern North Americas last remaining scenic splendors including the Shenandoah and Delaware River Valleys, ridge-valley Appalachian system, and Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains in the northeastern section of the state.
This part of Route 522, in a word, sucked. This led to a rare scenario, me grinning as I rode north on I-70 and onto I-76 east (PA Turnpike). At exit #180, an exit I had bought fuel off of a few weeks ago, I returned with some hesitation to Rt. 522, which led me to a dream red line, Route 35 near Shade Gap, Pennsylvania.
Self portrait, Skyline Drive, Virginia
The dichotomy between an experience on 522, between Front Royal and PA, and 35 may be too wide for words to negotiate. Perhaps we could compare it to our response to a fresh glass of our favorite beverage to the same glass filled with the dirtiest toilet water we've ever encountered. Personally, I have no taste for toilet water and I suspect others share my preference. This makes me wonder why beautiful scenery, like that along Rt. 35, is ever transformed into that which we find along Rt. 522. To make the situation even worse, folks that accumulate more money than they or all their friends can spend in a lifetime refer to such pollution as "progress". Rt. 35 is not long but it is special. I recommend travelers in the east seek out this road between two long Appalachian Ridges (hence "Shade Gap") and any other little gems in the toilet water east of the central Appalachians they can find by chance.
Text & photos © André Breton