Vespa on the Blue Ridge

Today’s blog post doesn’t have any Airstreams, but it does feature travel with a different set of vintage-inspired wheels, attached to the back of my tow vehicle.

Over the years, Glenn and I have driven various sections of Skyline and Blue Ridge in a rented Pontiac Bonneville, three different convertibles, and towing 4 different trailers. But never on two wheels.

When I was little, dad had a little Honda motorcycle. 47 years ago, almost to the day, I put on his helmet in the garage (next to our tent trailer) and rode around.

Since then, I’ve owned a few scooters in the 125cc-250cc range. Just recently I traded in my much-loved 10-year-old Vespa LX150 for a larger Vespa GTS300 (278cc).

With five days free between performances, I was inspired to take a stab at the road-trip most popular with Harley-Davidson-riding baby boomers – Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

(the map below is not my exact route, but shows the overall distance)

At the foot of Skyline Drive in Front Royal, VA, the Visitor Center pointed me to the Volunteer Fire & Rescue. If you check in at the front desk (make a donation while you’re there) you can park a vehicle while you ride down the parkway. The rain stopped, so off I go.

Of course, I had to take this shot. Everyone does.

I’m really glad I installed LED running lights, since without them, I would have been nearly invisible in the thick fog.

Traveling without the Airstream felt very odd. With limited space, I had to pack very carefully. Pared down to the minimum, and at the mercy of the elements, for better or worse. Mostly better, since on the bike you felt every dip in temperature in a valley, or change in scent as you passed through different areas.

The cabins at Skyland are adorable, and the main lodge is from my favorite mid-century era of national park architecture.

The next day had much better weather, and the views and temps I had hoped for in an early-fall ride.

It’s a lot more fun when you’re not wiping the fog off your visor.

With a 2.2 gallon tank, this gas station cheat sheet was my new best friend.

Peaks of Otter Lodge has great views.

But the slowest wi-fi I’ve ever seen.

The next morning, my goal was to get near the North Caroline border – Mabry Mill.

For those times when the road really rides the crest of the Blue Ridge, it feels like you’re flying. Even at just 45mph.

I remember the biscuits at Mabry being especially good, and they did not disappoint.

Time to make the U-turn, and head back to Peaks of Otter. On a future trip, I’d love to focus of the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge, with its higher elevations.

I saw hundred of other riders on this trip – on Harleys, Hondas, Yamahas, etc… But no other Vespas.

Bikers almost always gave me “the wave“, acknowledging a fellow biker. Folks who saw me were a little incredulous that I was dong this trip on such a small bike. But all my stuff fit (barely), and it had plenty of power (21HP) and range (~140 miles). The seat felt too upright for such a long ride, and as a “person of height”, I’d appreciate an extra inch or two of seat length. I did wonder if it might be a bit easier on a “cruiser” bike, but does this road need all that? Having a relatively nimble 350lb bike seemed perfect.

I spent my last night back on Skyline Drive, at Big Meadows Lodge. Built in 1939, this was the most rustic of the three lodges I stayed at on this trip. The lobby, with its big-band music, was adorable. Room 7 was especially rustic. Cobwebs everywhere – perhaps they were included for effect.

Did I mention everywhere?

Construction (how do I get my front door on the far right?).

And disabled smoke detectors? A very innovative use for medical gauze and a bandaid.

I wrote to the manager about my room. She was very sorry about it, and I hope they’ve improved their cleaning.

But that’s not why I did this drive.

I came for pre-dawn foggy views.

And vistas like this – my final stop on this trip.


(My next post will have Airstreams – I promise)

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