Moved by Mountains
by, October 9th, 2011 at 01:38 PM (1582 Views)
The lure of the mountains--especially if I am doing the driving-- is a visceral, physical force, something almost sexual to me, and anytime I can engineer a departure from Florida ( no matter how brief) that transplants me into mountains where I can drive the twisty roads and swoon over the spectacular scenery, I'll jump at the opportunity like a functioning alcoholic with a Jack Daniel's credit card.
North Carolina owns the mountains of choice these days, and I'm just back from my third trip there since April.
I love to travel, especially since I decided to retire in 1998, and driving is my preferred method. All my adult life I have gone places in cars, and I discovered early on (as a teen driving a 1960 Triumph TR3 wildly through the Adirondacks) that I absolutely ate up the challenges that mountain roads presented to the involved driver. Since, I've driven the Rockies, the Sangre de Christo, the Bitterroots, the entire Appalachian chain, from Georgia to upstate New York-- and the Western Trail of Lewis and Clark, as well as a lot of roads that have special significance to sporty drivers and thus have been actually NAMED, with macho tags like "The Dragon's Tail" or "The Sidewinder". I have been above 10,000 feet a LOT and I've seen a lot of big hills.
I search for roads that traverse places like this, I seek them out and then drive them with elan, like a man posessed.
I have lived in flat Florida for awhile, and finding mountains is welcome tonic to the horizontal, endlessly boring local countryside. It's beautiful in its own way, but flat as 2- day old Beck's. I yearn for twisty roads where I can wring the full performance out of my vehicle. I drive nice cars, sportscars, but they are seriously underutilized on Florida's long, dull straightaways.
My overall favorite driver's spot--the place I would instantly choose if I won the "Drive Recklessly Anywhere You Want" lottery, would be the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The preferred locale, The Little Switzerland Inn--right at a miniscule exit off the Parkway atop a 4,400 foot rise-- is a place so isolated that, at night, the 20-mile vista of wispy mountain valleys to the southeast, magnificent by day, hold NO LIGHTS AT ALL!! There is literally nothing out there.
Two roads intersect at Little Switzerland, that's it, and the closest town is 20 miles away, down one of them--The Blue Ridge Parkway. I have friends there and I get to experience an insider's lifestyle whenever I visit. My friends know everyone who lives on top of their mountain, and they each have some interesting stories.
One of those roads that go only to Little Switzerland, the backwoods NC highway 226A, has a name. "Diamondback". (It even has its own website, "DiamondbackNC.com).
This will be the my fourth trip on this road since April, the first behind the wheel of my own car. The others were in a panel van, a '67 El Dorado and a new Camaro SS.
Those trips were adventures of their own, involving classic cars and avaition fuel, lost plane tickets and moonshine.
To get to little Switzerland, you drive NC 226 out of Marion through lush rolling foothills that look like yeasty biscuits, green and steaming-- and into abrupt mountains. The road begins its convolutions, the curves grow numerous and suddenly you're counting off growing altitude readings from roadside markers and the curves are sinous, wrapping around one another as you climb the side of a serious mountain.
Eighteen miles into this 30-mile secondary road, a sign points to a SECOND secondary road--226A-- and you are upon the back of The Snake. The next 12 miles, all of them named Diamondback, make the previous highways pale in comparison.
There are around 200 curves that throw themselves at you during these 12 amazing miles. For most of the ride, there are dropoffs of a couple hundred feet or more on one side and barenaked vertical walls of granite on the other. There are NO guardrails for much of the ride and the views are breathtaking. The altitude markers approach and surpass 4,000 feet.
The curves roll in like a 'Noreaster's ocean waves, and every now and then there's a Curler, a huge, blind one that surprises and invokes primal fear. So many waves, so little beach, and I eagerly dove into each one, even the Curlers.
I drive a 2005 Infiniti, the G35 Coupe. It has one of those Manumatic transmissions, the kind where you can use it in full automatic or you can row through the gears by moving the shifter fore or aft. It's mostly unused in my daily driving, and I can't recall if I have EVER used it with any enthusiasm. Here, and for the first time, I did.
The car rode the switchbacks like it was laser-guided, and I found the sweet spot that the tranny had for the curves, so I up-and-down shifted like the car had an invisible clutch.
The internal game I was playing was--max speed possible and NEVER touch the brakes. Get it to just where the tires begin their squeal. Let the torque move you, find the proper gear and toss the car around the next curve, and the next and the next.
The curves almost intersected themselves, they were so tight, and their challenge became somewhat diluted after curve number 85, but then I got behind one of Heck's Angels, a timid biker who was taking the road at LESS than the posted speed limit (35) and I did the last few miles in automatic.
The end of the road came way too soon.
My passenger, a seasoned driver, was withdrawn and silently thanking God the ride was over. He said later that the ride (not the Captain Morgan we had at the Inn) gave him a headache.
I was smiling inwardly, almost post-orgasmic, secretly wanting to turn around and drive it again.
And, I could go back this way anyway, going home. Life is good.
As it turned out, I went home along the Blue Ridge Parkway ( a challenging trip in itself-- I used my gears again), where I saw my first turned leaves of the season. It was probably the 10th passage along the Parkway that I have managed.
The temps, t-shirt nice just 2 days earlier, were now in the blustery low 50s, and summertime, obviously, had given it's last efforts to the mountains. The next day it snowed up there.
I wonder what the Diamondback is like when it's slick with fresh snow...
Soon enough, I was in Atlanta, sipping a brew and reflecting on my latest foray into the mountains, looking ahead to the approaching flatlands and home.
I'll be back to the mountains again, I'm sure, but not until well after I pull the last page from the current calendar. The friends I have from atop the mountain have a Winter place in boring old Florida, so I'll probably never see snow on the Diamondback. But I WILL be back next April. The pull of the mountains is strong.