Smokey Da Van In the Smoky Mountains

Sunday morning we loaded up the bike, left Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground, and started the next leg of our trip: driving the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s close enough to on our way north, so why not?

Our best route to the south end of the BRP turned out to be the Cherohala Skyway. This would be my third trip down it, and the first in the van. I was mildly concerned about the elevation changes that the KLR struggled with the previous day, but we took it slow and steady, with the transmission locked in second gear, and stopping to cool off the brakes when we began smelling them, and got through just fine. Trisha got lots of video that she didn’t have the chance to the previous day on the bike. From there it was only another hour to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We turned into the south entrance and enjoyed the ride.

The BRP did not disappoint, with stunning views around every turn. Since we knew we’d be on this road for the next 469 miles, we turned off all route planning. We’re making the trip up as we go, stopping at overlooks frequently to enjoy the views (or the LTE data where available). We have no plan, other than meeting and picking up our mail from a friend in Asheville as we pass through. I don’t care if we spend the next two weeks on the BRP. We’ll hop off for food, drink, gas, and whatever else we need, then hop back on and keep going.

We’d set a new altitude record for the van at 5,300 feet on the Cherohala Skyway but promptly broke that record on the BRP, heading up nearly into the clouds themselves. Our eventual altitude record was 6,053 feet, which is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s also where we stopped and spent the night. While we’ve seen signs telling us there’s no camping except at designated campgrounds, we haven’t seen a single sign prohibiting overnight parking. We had the top of the BRP all to ourselves for the night.

When we arrived, the view was phenomenal. We could see for miles and miles across the green hills and valleys of the Smoky Mountains. As the evening went on, though, clouds rolled into the valley, obscuring our view. Then they rolled over us, placing us firmly in the clouds for the night. It was delightfully cool, but not cold, especially compared to the heat and humidity 5,000 feet below us back at the campground. It was an amazing night.

The next morning we woke up, made coffee, and continued down the Parkway. Our mission this time was to find cellular data, enough for us to get some work done. It was Monday, after all. We found several bars of Verizon LTE at Graveyard Fields, where we parked for several hours to work. That’s where I’m typing this now.

Our “plan,” such as it is, is to make Asheville late this afternoon, meet our friend, get our mail, resupply, and get back on the BRP to spend another night. I can’t believe this is our life right now. But it very much is. THIS is the van life I signed up for. Not the rushing around doing things we have to do. Not wasting time orbiting one particular area in hopes of finding work. THIS. Cruising at our own slow pace, exploring, and enjoying the journey.

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