Memorial Day was cloudy, cool, and a bit dampish as I headed up the Skyline Drive. It was early in the morning and, even though it was Memorial Day weekend, the folks at the toll booth just waved me through. As I cranked (and cranked and cranked) up the long hill - 20 miles of almost all uphill with a total of 2000 feet of climbing - I was passed by, and visited with, a group of recreational riders on unloaded bikes. I saw them again when I stopped to eat at Panorama Restaurant about 30 miles up the Drive. They had ridden to the restaurant and were going to head back to Front Royal. I was heading on to Swift run Gap, another 40 miles or so down the road.
Despite the overcast it was a very busy day on the Skyline Drive. Every legal parking space and usually a few illegal spaces were taken at every pullout. Traffic was heavy at times, but rarely a problem. The RVs were plentiful and sometimes I pulled over to let particularly timid drivers by, but I was never run off the road. For folks used to riding only on bike paths or roads with shoulders, the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway can seem a bit threatening. Narrow lanes, lots of hills and curves, and sometimes heavy traffic sound pretty bad, but the speed limits are low and most folks are not in a hurry, so riding conditions really aren't that bad even at heavy traffic times. Of course they are much better when traffic is light, but some of us are foolish enough to ride on Memorial day weekend.
The flowers along the drive were nice, even on this rather dreary day.
At the highest point on the Skyline Drive which is about 40 miles form Front Royal, I detoured off the Drive to see the Skyland Resort. Nice. I stopped for a snack, but it was too soon after my big lunch at Panorama to have another meal. It was nice to reach the highest point on the Skyline and to know that I was through with most of my days climbing.
The view of the Shenandoah Valley from Pollock Knob was spectacular.
It was also fun to be riding on top of a high ridge pretty much parallel to the Appalachian Trial on the same ridge. This part of the Skyline Drive almost flat and the riding was good if a little chilly. When you are climbing hills keeping warm is no problem, but cruising along on gently rolling terrain just doesn't generate enough heat to keep me warm in 60F weather with fog.
I stopped for a second lunch at the Visitor's Center at Big Meadows. Big Meadows is quite a complex with stores, camping cabins, etc. The visitors center is quite fancy and it was fun eating there looking out big windows at all the activity. This is the midpoint of the Skyline Drive and a major stopping point on the Appalachian Trail, so it is busy place. On Memorial Day weekend it was packed, even on a non holiday weekday advanced reservations are required if you plan to camp here.
From Big Meadows to Swift Run Gap is about 20 miles. After a good downhill and about five miles of essentially flat riding, the Drive climbs up to Lewis Mountain and then there is a great 10 miles of flat to downhill riding to Swift Run Gap at about milepost 73. I appreciated the downhill since I was tired of climbing lots of hills. There was a section where I was keeping up with the car traffic for many miles and that is always fun. I had dressed more warmly after leaving Big Meadows and that, and the hot meal there, kept me warm. At Swift Run Gap I headed down an even steeper hill to Stanardsville which is about 10 miles east on 33. I stayed with my friends there for two nights and one rainy Sunday.
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