Membership in the BMW Club of Southern Alberta is a family affair. Many of our events are devised with family participation in mind.
These multi-day tours are structured with this in mind. We have one very successful European tour under our belts and several North American tours in the planning stages.
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2017 Appalachians Tour
by Chris Tworek
To go boldly where you have never gone before is the quintessentially romantic view of a road trip—an escape from normal everyday life with some good tunes and some usually forbidden munchies, always a bonus. Encapsulated in your own pod, rocketing down new trails is only enhanced by meeting up with your fellow explorers to share the day’s adventures at the next watering hole.
And so it began! With a few lingering worries about the effects of Hurricane Irma (that never materialized), a merry band of wannabe adolescents happily left behind the madness of Atlanta traffic for the serenity of the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive: 925 km of breathtaking Appalachian mountain scenery and one of North America’s most scenic drives.
For Tour Folks there are always at least three parts to the play called a Road Trip: the first (and especially for those with Ultimate Driving Machines) is the driving experience; the second is what you see; the third, perhaps the best part, are those adventures and rabbit trails that only a group can get into and which provide a feeling of fun-filled camaraderie.
So—we hit the road. Whoa—wait—what about those rocket pods? Oh, yes! After the superb “pick the BMW you want” service that SIXT had previously given the Dolomites Tour, there was a bit of a letdown. SIXT North America have pretty well dumped their BMWs and the infamous rental agency ad tag of “or equivalent” meant Mercedes and Volvos (something about the new Mercedes state of the art football stadium and other Mercedes investments around Atlanta?). While some rental agencies had BMWs, the upgrade cost was ridiculous for a two-week tour and most of us settled for a Mercedes or Volvo. Then there was the super-roomy Dodge Caravan and a mean-looking Dodge Charger. Suffice to say, we got more than one comment about a BMW Club piloting ‘Brand-X’ machinery. If nothing else, we sure learned to appreciate our Bimmers back home! Please see the accompanying article on what it was like to drive one of these “or equivalents”.
Ah—the roads. Threading their paths along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, both The Parkway and Skyline Drive are relatively easy to drive, with the two-lane road and its surrounds very well maintained. This is probably just as well as the spectacular flora (glorious forests and rocky verges), fauna (black bear and Monarch butterfly sightings were a highlight) and views from the plentiful scenic outlooks can be distracting. Information centers and interesting stops along the way provide both historical and geological information. Perhaps, though, these are mountains that only a geologist could truly appreciate—they may be the oldest in the world but time has worn them away, with the highest peak around 6700 feet. The trails criss-cross the Continental Divide in several locations. Famous names like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett dot the Trail.
For the driver, the fun roads are actually the access roads to and from the Parkway. While we hit some of the famous roads like Diamondback, The Snake, Rte 313 and Tail of the Dragon, some of the other roads were far more daunting in their twists and turns. One can only imagine the moonshiners thundering down these paths—in the rain and in the dark through all seasons. Even with today’s cars, this might be something best left to the locals. Perhaps the “famous” roads are all about selling t-shirts and bragging rights to tourists, while the real drivers stick to the local goat paths!
The folks on this and previous tours always remark that what they like best is the disorganized organization of the proceedings: you know where your head will hit the pillow each night and when a handful of group dinners will be held, and yes, you get a guidebook and maps. After that, there is no “have your bags in the hallway by 7” or “meet your excursion bus”. How and when you get to the next hotel or watering-hole is all up to you. Somehow, a loose square dance starts happening when people meet over breakfast or at an informal dinner the night before to discuss the day’s adventures and what seems neat to do next. Libations and a dinner with some of the group, exploring a restaurant down the street, makes a day in the saddle that much more fun. The next day, sometimes two to four cars pair up; sometimes everyone goes on their own.
That’s how impromptu “bush walks” and shared picnic lunches happen, or how the Gordon Lightfoot concert in Charlottesville or a favorite author like Barbara Kingsolver sitting next to you in the Harvest Table Restaurant in the small village of Meadowview, VA get discovered via the serendipity factor. Hitting the small town of Floyd, VA, on a Saturday afternoon got a bunch of us into the local Country Store replete with Bluegrass musicians, a great country lunch, and a very eclectic collection of everything country including cans of creamed possum in coon fat gravy. And—yes—the local courthouse had civil war statues out front, undiscovered, as yet, by revisionist forces.
There were many more established landmarks, both on and off the mountain ridge, that provided insight into the history of the region, including the ‘Trail of Tears’ signifying the fall of once great native American nations, living examples of the homes and lifestyles of early white settlers, and other significant events and names associated with US history. For example, exploring the architectural delights of Monticello, featured on the American nickel and built by the third President of the USA, Thomas Jefferson, takes the visitor back in time and lays bare contradictions of history. A man of science and art, Jefferson was the main drafter of the US constitution and yet throughout his life owned around 600 slaves, a fact he could not reconcile during his lifetime. Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA (which is older than West Point) had a fascinating museum with everything from a tribute to Stonewall Jackson to the pistols and helmet of General S. Patton. Southern manners were in abundance as cadets walking the town’s sidewalks greeted our ladies by tipping their hats and saying “ma’am” as they passed! Equally fascinating was Appomattox, where the Battle of the Appomattox Courthouse signaled the end of the Civil War in 1865. A quite different view of the region was to be found in the magnificent limestone caves of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
One happy surprise was Asheville, NC, where we both started and ended our Blue Ridge journey. Asheville, currently voted as one of the best places to visit in the US, has about 90,000 inhabitants.
Located at several major cross roads, it is a fun place to explore. Downtown Asheville is lined with a multitude of restaurants (many with entertainment), stores of every description (including what one of our ‘toursters’ voted “the world’s best second hand bookshop”) and street buskers including Abby The Spoon Lady and one enterprising lad who sat on the sidewalk with a manual typewriter and would compose a poem to your partner on the spot. The Biltmore Estate is a vast and gloriously restored attraction. Our group also had a major adventure at the Hotel Indigo where we stayed on two separate occasions.
At the upper end of the Holiday Inn chain, Hotel Indigo can be likened to Calgary’s Hotel Arts. Jennifer Lawrence had the upper floor penthouse when she filmed part of the Hunger Games. The hotel’s Director of Sales, Susan Newton, offered the group a gourmet dinner in the penthouse. Just as we all got into the elevator to go to the private floor, the power went out. Our first thought was that we were all “as full as a tick” on too much southern soul food.
However, the emergency generator finally kicked in and got us all up to the penthouse just as the sun was setting over the Blue Ridge Mountains. We ended up having an absolutely outstanding dinner prepared by master chef, Chris, and his staff – but mostly in twilight and then in the dark. A couple of flashlights help set the mood!
The fun contrast to this gourmet meal was an impromptu birthday party for one of our group. Let’s just say that we were encamped for the night where the most convenient food sources had a service station sign, a McDonalds and a Golden Corral. Well, we headed for the $8.95 all-you-can-eat Golden Corral. We even got a private room where we partied with balloons and party favors. The food was actually quite good but, being a good southern family establishment, soda pop was as good as it got. Happily, the receptionist at the Holiday Inn was a good sport and allowed us to break open a bottle or two or three in the lobby and brought us some treats to boot. There are days when you just can’t plan the unexpected and spontaneous— you just gotta roll with the group!
We could go on—or invite you all to see our 10,000 photos, some of which explain the many cases of whiplash as the driver is ordered to slam on the brakes so the photohog can grab one more priceless impression. However, what we all agree on is that a serendipitous road trip taken with a wide variety of wannabe adolescents who always seem ready for just one more adventure is a great way to see the world.
Our thanks to Glen and Marg Cook, who did their usual outstanding job of organizing, negotiating, writing tour guides and herding our wayward souls! Still a spot or two left for Switzerland this September…
Credits: Photos by Janine Chipperfield, Marg Cook, Chris Tworek, and Greg Walsh. No Tour Members were lost in the writing of this article and there was much contribution made by all. Special mention must be made to both Marg Cook and Janine Chipperfield who did an outstanding job of contributing and editing all three Tour and related articles in this Newsletter. It should be noted that Janine, sister to Tour member John Chipperfield, came all the way from Australia to join this Tour. Not only did she help guide the stealthy Dodge Caravan of John and Lyla to many sights and photos, she introduced Marg and I to the Australian (very British) version of punctuation and grammar with much dry wit. It was a hoot editing separated by a common language over two continents debating hyphens and quotation marks! You may notice some Aussie sayings left in commemoration!