So I went on a trip aboard the Amtrak Auto Train from Sanford Florida to Lorton Virginia with my harley this week. The plan was to do the Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway and Tail of the Dragon, then head south back home to Orlando.... I printed maps, made notes, calculated distances, speeds and riding mileages, checked weather, etc and made hotel reservations at reasonable intervals. I researched and planned for at least an entire week prior to leaving. I had a couple buddies who tried to come along, but in the end, they couldn't make it... So, I went alone.
Day 1 = Lorton Train Station to Front Royal, down Skyline Drive, then down 81 to Roanoke, VA. 278 miles in bone chilling cold, and light rain.
Day 2 = Roanoke to Asheville, NC on the Blue Ridge Parkway with one detour because of a closed section of the Parkway. 298 miles in very cold weather, no rain.
Day 3 = Asheville down the Smokey Mountain Expressway to 28 north, to Deals Gap "Tail of the Dragon" then back down 28 south to Franklin, NC. 192 miles.. AWESOME DAY, AWESOME WEATHER.
Day 4 = Franklin to Macon, GA. 205 miles. Great weather. All Highways and Interstate heading back towards Orlando.
Day 5 = Macon, GA to Orlando. 362 interstate miles to get home....
The trip was fantastic, great riding. However, I learned a few things that I will post here that will hopefully come in handy to anyone who wants to do the trip.
- Don't trust the weather report. According to what I saw, weather was supposed to be in the mid 70's, but getting off the train, it was 46 degrees (and raining). I was not at all prepared. I ended up putting ALL of my clothes for the entire trip on in layers and was still freezing. I finally stopped at a WalMart at the end of Skyline Drive (after freezing for 160 miles or so). I bought more layers, and continued on.
- I calculated riding distances for each day based on speed limits. So I figured 220 to 250 miles per day would be achievable. WRONG. The speed limit on Blue Ridge is 45, so 250 miles should only take about 5 hours. WRONG, DON'T DO IT. Perhaps it was my fault for being unprepared, and maybe the weather wore me out faster, but if I repeat the trip, I will limit it to 150 miles per day. That should be a good pace so you can make a few stops, take pictures and not have to haul ass to get to the next stop.
- Hotel reservations. Don't make them. Or if you do, don't forget the 150 mile per day rule. I made mine prior to the trip, and found myself having to hustle to make it to the next one. I couldn't really slow down and enjoy the ride, because i had planned on 250 to 260 mile days. Ended up being almost 300 mile days for the first two days. If you end up feeling like you can go more than 150 miles (or less), at least you are not stuck to a hotel reservation, and you can make your own pace.
- Gas... There are no signs on the Parkway to let you know where to find gas, so if you happen to see a gas station off of one of the roads that crosses the parkway, get it. If not (and you probably won't) once you get under a half a tank stop at one of the information centers, or roadside stops and ask someone. Or do some research before you go so know where to find gas. That was an oversight on my part, but since my return, I found a site that has it listed. Print it out and take it with you. http://www.blueridgeskyline.com/gas.php
- TENTATIVE TRIP... If I were to repeat the trip, after disembarking from the train, I would:
DAY 1 - Head north to Front Royal (about 60 miles) then do the Skyline Drive (105 miles) and stop for the night. Trust me, this will take alot longer than you think.
DAY 2 - Start Blue Ridge Parkway to Roanoke, Virginia. (120 miles). Don't forget to stop at Mabry Mill. Very neat.
DAY 3 - Roanoke, VA. to Boone, NC. (about 180 miles)
DAY 4 - Boone, NC to Bryson City, NC (about 185).. I know, I know.. I said 150 miles. 185 is pushing it, but do what you can.
DAY 5 - Now you are done with the Blue Ridge Parkway, so head over to 28 north (BEAUTIFUL ROAD), and then hit Deals Gap. From Bryson City it will take about an hour and 15 minutes. Do the Tail of the Dragon. Try not to leave anything on the "tree of shame". There is a loop you can do that will take you further north, and then back down around Cherohala Skyway, but that loop alone is 209 miles. Do it if you want, but i didn't. Anyways, after doing the "Tail", turn around and do it the other way. (Now you can buy TWO patches, LOL), and head back down 28 south to Franklin, NC. That will take about another hour and a half.
DAY 6 - Franklin, NC to Macon, GA (205 miles)
DAY 7 - Macon, GA to Orlando (home)
This will give you a pretty good pace so you have time to make a few stops, take some pictures and enjoy the ride. Hope this helps someone, somewhere, at some time..... Below is a link to the video I made of my trip there the first week of October, 2011. TURN ON YOUR SPEAKERS.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzvvI1FqnZU