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Old 25th November 2018, 14:37   #1
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Default Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Like most Team BHPians, I am fond of driving. However, unfortunately for me, my work schedule leaves me with very few opportunities to indulge this hobby - I typically get only 2-3 weeks of leave in a year, and hence usually have to try and combine my passion for driving with my annual vacation.

Our first driving holiday was to England, Wales and Scotland (Hayek's Road Trips : England, Wales and Scotland), back in 2010. It was great fun, and whetted my appetite for more. In 2011, we drove in our (relatively) new Superb to Goa for one of the monsoon long weekends. But that was also the last long driving holiday we had in India. My wife felt that packing 2 days for driving into a 4 day holiday is too much - and also felt that our roads near Bombay, especially on long weekends, are much too crowded for driving. This led to a standoff, with it being resolved with a deal that we can spend 4-5 days once every couple of years driving as part of our summer vacations. This led to several more road trips - California Route 1 in 2013, a Central European Sojourn (Hayek's Road Trips - A Central European Sojourn) in 2015 (yes that travelogue was never completed, hope this one does not share that fate), and a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in Australia in 2017.

Cut to 2018. Due to various reasons, we were not in a position to go for a summer vacation this year. But I had secured entry into the Chicago Marathon 2018, and that run was planned for October 7. Given the need to get acclimatized before the run, I originally planned to reach the US on October 3. But my wife pointed out the Oct 2 was a holiday, and that by taking an extra day off, we could leave the preceding weekend and get a week in the US before the run. A close friend who was also running, and his wife seconded the idea, and we therefore decided to leave Bombay on Friday Sep 28 and plan some kind of brief vacation in the US before the run. My friend is also very fond of driving, and he suggested that instead of flying to Chicago, we consider flying down to some other point in the US, and drive down to Chicago. A driving holiday before the run - that may not be optimal for marathon training, but it seemed attractive enough. The only issue I had was that driving on the US Interstate system didn't seem like the coolest thing to do. So we discussed this a bit further, and decided that we should look to do one of the many scenic drives in the US before heading for Chicago.

CA Route 1 seemed like the obvious choice. But I had already done that. Further, we decided that it made more sense to plan something in the East Coast or Mid-West so that we have less of an issue with both traveling to the start of the drive, and adjusting our time zones to Chicago time for the run. When in doubt, Google. And after going through a number of articles on scenic drives in the US such as this one, we settled on driving the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to North Carolina.

Pretty soon our plan fell in place:
Day 1 - Arrive at Washington DC
Day 2 - Drive the Skyline Drive from near Front Royal, VA to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway (not very far from Charlottesville, VA)
Day 3 - Drive down the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, up to Roanoke VA
Day 4 - Drive down into North Carolina - halt in one of the towns along the Parkway
Day 5 - Drive to the end of the Parkway near Cherokee, NC
Day 6 - Drive or fly to Chicago. After some confabulations, we decided that driving over 600 miles two days before a marathon does not make sense, and we booked our tickets to fly from Atlanta to Chicago. This gave us the added benefit of being able to meet some friends who lived in Atlanta.

My employer has a deal with Hertz and Avis that allows us to book cars at corporate rates even for personal holidays. I checked both web-sites and booked cars in the large cross over category - the options mentioned on the site include the Land Rover Discovery and the Infinity QX60. These were both 7 seater SUVs, but our plan was to use these with the last row lowered to increase luggage space. This was essential given the length of our trip, and because my friend's wife planned to spend another 10 days in the US after the rest of us returned.

Our travel plan was thus falling in place. A few weeks later, I had a conversation with my 84 year old uncle, who lives in a small town about 3 hours from Washington DC. He was understandably miffed that we were coming so close to his place, spending a week in the US and not visiting him. A quick conversation with our friends later, we decided to modify our plan - my wife and I would spend a day visiting my uncle while our friends went to DC, and we would then connect on the next day at Front Royal, VA, near the entrance to the Skyline Drive.

Last edited by Hayek : 1st December 2018 at 10:50.
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Old 1st December 2018, 11:14   #2
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Day 1 - BOM - DXB - IAD - My Uncle's Place

We booked our tickets to Dulles via Emirates - apart from being reasonably competitive on price, this would get us into Dulles relatively early in the morning - which was a big positive as far as I am concerned since I find getting into the US early and spending the day outdoors the best way to get over Jet lag. The Bombay Dubai leg was by a B777 - I had blocked the second row in economy (they would not let us block exit rows since our 11 year old was traveling with us), but the exit row turned out to be empty and hence I moved over once the flight took off. DXB - IAD was by a A 380. I was pleasantly surprised by the width and level of leg room available - we had a three across seating, and our son lounged across the seats (and myself and my wife) and slept most of the way through. Immigration at Dulles was surprisingly smooth - we were out within 30 minutes, and after a quick breakfast at the airport, went across to the Hertz counter to pick up our car.

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Hertz is usually very efficient - as a Gold member, I am eligible to just walk in and drive away with my car which is kept ready for me. This time however, we needed to add my friend as an additional driver, and hence it took about 20 minutes for us to get the car and head on our way. I had been hoping for a Landrover Discovery, but that was not available, and we therefore had to settle for an Infinity QX60. As usual the car was provided with a full tank of petrol, and I elected to return it with a full tank. I usually opt for all the optional insurance coverages when I rent cars outside India - it may cost quite a bit, but gives me peace of mind which is well worth it. Surprisingly, the car was somewhat dirty - there were some food crumbs in the arm rest - obviously whoever was responsible for cleaning it after its last outing had not done a perfect job.

The QX60 is a fairly large crossover, very similar in size and shape to the previous generation Audi Q7 which was sold in India. It has very limited luggage room with all 3 rows up, but had a fairly large boot with the third row down. Since it is a fairly wide car, we were able to fit three people (including my son) in the second row very comfortably. Unlike most 3 row cars I have been in, the knee room in the second row was also great. The boot managed to take a lot of luggage, we had 1 28", 4 24" and 3 cabin size bags + a few back packs between the 5 of us and all of this fitted quite comfortably in the rear. The engine is a 3.5 litre petrol V6, which produces 295 BHP and 366 Nm of torque. On paper, the specs seemed adequate for such a large vehicle. The interiors were not great in my view, and the instrument cluster seemed a little old world. The ICE interface was not very intuitive, and it took us a while to get used to it, and to figure out how to connect our phones to be able to play music through it.

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However, overall, the car seemed to meet all our requirements - and I was reasonably happy with it.

I started out from the airport - I tend to take sometime to get accustomed to a new car, and thought I was driving quite slowly. Its only when I had to brake for a signal as we were trying to exit the airport area that I realised that I was already at 60 mph.

To get to my uncle's place, we had to take the US15 N towards the I 70 W, and then take the I 70 and I 68 W. Surprisingly, the US 15 N was a single carriageway (2 lane highway), and it had fairly heavy traffic on it. But once we hit the I 70, we were able to pick up speed, and on the I 68, we were able to maintain a fairly steady 80 mph - above the posted speed limit, but in line with the speed that all the other vehicles around were doing. We covered the 200 odd miles to my uncle's place in just over 3 hours, and were there well in time for lunch. It was a beautiful day, with bright blue skies - which was a huge advantage. I had been a little nervous about driving in the US after a 20+ hour economy class trip - but the sunlight ensured that jet lag did not hit me at all.

Last edited by Hayek : 1st December 2018 at 11:40.
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Old 1st December 2018, 20:29   #3
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Day 2 - To Front Royal, and the Skyline Drive

We started from my uncle's place at about 9 am the next morning. Our route to Front Royal involved back-tracking on the I68 E till Cumberland, MD, and then taking various state highways in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia till we got to the I-81 S towards Front Royal. The I-68 was super fast once again, when we exited it, we had been averaging over 70 mph (even while only following the traffic). But the state roads were much slower, we could average only about 45 mph. What I found interesting is how the human mind works - averaging nearly 75 kph would be amazing in India, but it felt frustratingly slow after the super fast I-68. I found the fuel needle in the QX60 moving down very rapidly once we were on the country roads, and I decided to top up at the 300 mile mark in a small country fuel station - we had consumed 12.6 gallons, giving a mileage of ~ 24 mpg or 10 kmpl vs the theoretical highway mileage of 26 mpg for the car. Even though the fuel gauge showed 25% at the time I tanked up, the car still had almost 35% fuel left when we refilled. However, I stuck to fueling whenever the needle approached the 25% mark.

We met up with our friends around 12 noon at a mall, which housed a Walmart Super Center and some restaurants. Despite our highly constrained dietary choices (all of us are vegetarians - and one of us does not eat eggs, onions or garlic), we matched to find some decent Mexican food that met our needs. That was something we found throughout our journey, the friendliness of the serving staff, and their willingness to spend time listening to the complex matrix of dietary requirements that we had, and to make even off-menu items to meet our needs. Needless to say, we left a US standard 18-20% tip at each of these restaurants, though you could argue that the wait staff may have felt short changed by us given the effort they put in to serving us.

We also spent some time stocking up on snacks for the drive ahead, and ended up leaving for the Skyline Drive only around 230 PM. The Skyline Drive is a 105 mile long scenic route that runs through the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park. We had to pay an entrance fee of USD 30 to enter the park. Our original intention was to drive the entire route - starting at the Front Royal Entrance station, and exiting at the Rockfish Gap Entrance station, which is where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins. Given our late start, this looked quite ambitious. We however decided that we should focus on enjoying whatever part of the drive we are able to do, and exit the drive once we found it too dark to enjoy ourselves.

The Skyline Drive was a winding road, rising quickly with a number of posted overlooks, many of which had marked hiking trails nearby. We stopped at various view points, and enjoyed panoramic views such as those below.

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A little later, we parked at one of the waypoints, and went for a short hike.

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At one point, we saw a number of butterflies flitting around.

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By the time we completed the hike, dusk was setting in, and it had also become a little foggy. Driving through the winding roads with just a hint of fog was great fun, and the 50 mph speed limit meant that the drive was very relaxed as well.

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There are a number of campgrounds in the Skyline Drive, and also a number of restaurants, cabins etc along the way. But we had booked rooms at Charlottesville, and did not stop to use any of these facilities

Given that it had become dark, we decided to exit the drive at the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station (Mile 62.7), and the headed for Charlottesville using public roads. While the drive itself was nice, I did not find the scenery astounding by any stretch of imagination - and if I were to do this again, I would probably skip the Skyline Drive except if the focus was on hiking through the national park.

Last edited by Hayek : 2nd December 2018 at 17:26.
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Old 2nd December 2018, 17:15   #4
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Day 3 - Monticello, and the Blue Ridge Parkway - from Rockfish Gap to Natural Bridge

We stayed overnight at the Country Inn & Suites at Charlottesville. One reason for choosing to stay at Charlottesville was because it is the site of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's famous country estate. The next morning, we drove down from our hotel to Monticello, hoping to be able to visit the grounds and tour the mansion. However, when we reached there, we found that the next tour was already full, and that we would need to wait for almost an hour if we wished to tour the house and grounds. What made matters worse is that they would not let us even walk around the main grounds without paying for a tour admission ticket. However, as we were approaching Monticello, we observed an interesting structure, the Michie Tavern, which dates back to 1779. This had a number of interesting structures - we spent some time there, but decided to thereafter head for Rockfish gap, the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The stairs at the Monticello Visitor Center

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The Michie Tavern

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The first halt we took along the Parkway was at Humpback Rock. There was a visitor center here, and a number of trails that led in different directions. We chose not to go down the relatively long trail to the rocks themselves, but instead went down and saw an old Appalachian Farm instead. Its quite amazing how basic the standard of living in the Appalachians was, as recently as a 100 years ago.

The Map at the Humpback Rocks Visitors Center - it is wonderful how each trail is well posted, and people are given advance notice on what to expect
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A rifle on the farm wall - you understand where America's gun culture comes from when you visit these places

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We then headed onward, but had hardly covered a couple of miles, when we stopped to take in some wonderful views. This was to be a recurring occurrence through our drive - we would solemnly swear that we wanted to head to some particular destination, but would instead digress because we spotted something beautiful

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We then continued on our journey, and saw signs for a digression to Sherando Lake. This involved a roughly 5 mile drive downhill out of the parkway. There was a small stream which headed down to a tiny lake, with lots of picnic seating for folks to have barbeques.

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After spending about an hour at Sherando Lake, wading through the stream and bouncing stones off the lake surface, we returned to the Parkway, and continued on our journey. We had spent almost 2.5 hours after entering the Parkway, and covered only about 16 miles of the 100+ miles targeted for the day.

Thereafter, we were a little more focused while driving. The Parkway was purpose built as a driving road, and it has an undulating nature, with gentle curves that make it a real pleasure to drive on. While the speed limit is a low 45 mph, the nature of the road also makes that a kind of natural driving speed. We were in no hurry, and continued down, making better progress, and in about an hour and a half (with a few more halts) reached Mile Point 61, which is the exit for the Natural Bridge.

We debated whether we should head for the Natural Bridge, the brochure we had highlighted it as one of the better attractions along the Parkway, but it was 15 miles away, and we realised that going there would make it tough for us to cover the distance we wanted to along the Parkway. However, we finally decided to take the plunge, and man, did that pay off. We were soon headed down VA state route 130, which combines with the US501 and runs along the James River. This road was faster, and had truck traffic, but was by no means an inferior driving road to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Soon we reached the parking area for the Natural Bridge.

The Natural Bridge gives you a fabulous illustration of the powers of erosion and time. Cedar Creek, a small tributary of the James River has carved an over 200 foot high and 90 wide natural arch through the surrounding limestone rock. When one looks at the tiny river flowing under the bridge, one finds it hard to believe that this was possible - but it has obviously happened. Local legend has it that George Washington once surveyed the area and carved his initials into the rock, some 25 feet above the ground. This bridge used to be part of the property of Thomas Jefferson (you begin to realise how wealthy he must have been), but is now a VA state park. Amazingly, the highway that goes towards Roanoke still continues on top of the mountain over the Natural Bridge. We spent an inordinate amount of time here - taking far too many photos than was reasonable.

A first view of the Natural Bridge
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A Few Closer Views
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The tiny Cedar Creek which Carved this Natural Wonder

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Yet another View

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The trail continued down under the Natural Bridge to an Indian Village exhibit. We arrived just as they were wrapping up for the day (it was already 5 PM), but managed to get a few pictures

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By the time we wrapped up here, it was almost 530. We therefore decided it did not make sense to head back to the Parkway, but instead took the highway over the Natural Bridge and headed to Roanoke, VA, our next destination. This meant that we would have to miss the Peaks of Otter, which our brochure cited as one of the highlights of the Parkway - but c'est la vie.

Last edited by Hayek : 15th December 2018 at 14:47.
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Old 15th December 2018, 16:09   #5
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Day 4 - The Plateau Region - Roanoke River Overlook to Doughton Park

The next morning, we were on our way again, and rejoined the Parkway at Miles Post 112. Shortly after we entered the parkway, we stopped to explore the Roanoke River Trail. The trail led us to a small dam (called the Niagara Dam), where there was a small hydro power station generating just 2.4 MW. We spent some time near the dam, and then took a diversion along the trail which we thought would lead us back to our parking spot. Unfortunately, all that led to was a loop through the woods, and we ended up having spent more time than we had planned here.

The Dam is Visible in the Background

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A Bridge over the Roanoke River

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A next halt was about 40 miles further down the parkway, at a recreational area called Smart View. This area had a vast array of trails, picnic grounds etc, and there were a number of people who had parked and set out to explore the area. We had prepared a picnic lunch before setting off from Roanoke, and decided to take the opportunity to eat here.

We had been hunting for trees with fall colours, but it had been an unusually warm summer - and the fall colours had not yet set in. However, we found the odd tree with coloured leaves at Smart View, and decided to make the best of that.

Some Sights at Smart View

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Some glimpses of Fall Colors???

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After a hearty lunch, we set forth towards Mabry Mill, which is seen as one of the highlights along the Parkway. The Mabry Mill is a waterwheel driven mill, which was used both as a gristmill (for grinding grain into flour - a "chakki" as we would call it) and as a saw mill. It has been painstakingly restored, and is one of the most photographed sites along the parkway.

The Mabry Mill
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It was not easy building and maintaining this mill
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The Saw Mill
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The Grist Mill
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A Model of the Mabry Mill
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You also have living exhibits of how people in the Appalachians lived - including handlooms, and what looked like a fancy foot operated "Charkha".

The Handloom
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The Spinning Wheel
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Of course people living in the cold hills needed their little pleasures - just off the main mill is a Whisky Still, which I believe dates back to the days of prohibition

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After spending quite a bit of time at the Mabry Mill, we suddenly realised that we were running late for our next destination, the Blue Ridge Music Center. This is located a further 30 miles away at the border of VA and NC, and we realised we would have to make haste as most living exhibits tend to close by around 430 PM.

Fortunately for us, we were able to make it there on time, and were able to listen to two country musicians for who were playing the guitar and mandolin for some time before they wound up.

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By the time we wrapped up here, it was 5 PM, and we still had 75 miles to go before our planned exit for Boone, NC.

Like the previous day, we decided to not focus too much on the destination, but to instead enjoy the journey. Now that we didn't have any specific objectives in place for the day, we were able to enjoy the drive even more, and stopped at numerous locations to admire the views.

As you can see below that was really worth it

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We the exited the Parkway at Mile Post 248 - about 40 miles short of our original target, and headed to our hotel in Boone NC via the state highway system.
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Old 12th January 2019, 18:33   #6
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Day 5: Blue Ridge Parkway - Blowing Rock to Little Switzerland

The next morning, we rejoined the Parkway at Blowing Rock, Milepost 291. We had over 170 miles to be covered to reach our destination at Cherokee, NC, which lies just after the end of the Parkway. (We chose to stay at Cherokee because it was the nearest town we found to the end of the Parkway - but if we were to do this drive again, we would choose differently). The route would lead us to what is called the Pisgah region of the Parkway, which includes the highest points on the Parkway.

Our first halt was at the Flat Top Manor in the Moses H Coone memorial park, which preserves the estate of a textile entrepreneur of the early 20th century. While there are plenty of walking and horse riding trails in the area, we spent a brief period at the manor, which is a magnificent 20 room estate built in 1901 which exemplifies the culture of the Gilded Age in America. Perhaps one day, people in India will walk through some of the magnificent skyscrapers that our own gilded age entrepreneurs are building.

The Flat Top Manor
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Some Views from the Estate

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After leaving the park, we drove over the beautiful Linn Cove Viaduct, and planned to visit Grandfather Mountain. However, when we went there, we found they had a rather unreasonable entry charge and decided to skip it, and continue on our drive. When you have plenty of free attractions, why pay for anything.

We drove on a few miles further, and found signs directing us out of the Parkway towards the Linville Caverns, toutes as the only show caverns in North Carolina. We headed in this direction, and soon arrived at the parking for the caverns. A guided tour was about to start - and we decided to take that up. You need to pass over a mat sprayed with a disinfectant before entering and while leaving the caverns, as the bats in the cavern are affected by a particular fungus (forget its name).

Some pics from the Linville Caverns area are posted below:

Panorama of the Linville River
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Cavern Pics

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By the time we finished the visit to the Caverns, it was getting close to noon. We had heard about the Little Switzerland Inn, which is a very popular place to dine and stay along the Parkway, and decided to head there. This was just 10 miles further down the Parkway.

Lots of much hyped tourist spots disappoint when you get there - the Little Switzerland Inn, au contraire surpassed our expectations. Why? First the views. The location is truly spectacular - there is something amazing about alfresco dining in great weather with fabulous views. Second - the food and service. The menu was rather limited for vegetarians, especially the "half Jain" ones who don't eat even eggs, onions or garlic. But they took the trouble to understand each of our varying dietary requirements, and prepared very tasty food for us. Of course it took some time to come - but we could amuse ourselves with a game of TT while waiting. The Inn is also very beautiful from inside - when we left the place, our only regret was that we had not decided to stay here for a day.

Some pics from the Little Switzerland Inn are below:

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The interiors of the Inn

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Last edited by Hayek : 13th January 2019 at 20:28.
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Old 13th January 2019, 18:20   #7
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Day 5 - The Pisgah Region

Once we left Little Switzerland, we were now in the Pisgah Region of the Parkway, which includes the highest elevations on this drive. It was well past 3:30 PM when we left, and we had covered only 40 miles so far. We therefore decided to focus on driving, keep going along the Parkway until dark, and then look to move onto the Interstate System or State Routes to get to Cherokee. Nevertheless, we did find it necessary to stop at various places, the first of which was the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, which was about 25 miles from Little Switzerland. There was a path leading to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, which we would have certainly hiked up if it had been earlier in the day. However, given how late it already was, we satisfied ourselves by stopping at the Visitor Center for a few pictures.

The Main Picnic Area was on Top of This Hill
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Twenty miles further down the road, we passed the exit for Asheville, NC. Asheville is considered one of the main attractions along the Parkway, and is the access point for the Biltmore Estate, which is called America's Largest Home. We had originally planned to visit it, but it was past 5 PM by the time we got here, and we realised that it would probably be past closing time, and hence plowed on down the Parkway.

After Asheville, the road started climbing rapidly. We had been at about 3750 feet just after Little Switzerland, but would climb to significantly higher altitudes further down the road. (For context, Appalachians are a chain that is very similar to the Western Ghats, and elevations are similar to these Ghats as well - for even sub Himalayan elevations, you need to head to the Rockies). The roads became significantly more beautiful as we climbed - we got the pleasure of driving on smooth tarmac on winding roads with beautiful trees on either side, some of which started showing the elusive fall colors (Ok, those who have actually seen fall don't laugh - we were clutching at straws).

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As we climbed, the fog set in from time to time, and we passed through a number of superbly done tunnels. The quality of workmanship on a road built over 60 years ago puts our very best modern tunnels to shame.

And only one tune came to my mind when we were driving through these roads



Yes, "Country Roads, Take Me Home" is inspired by these mountains.

As we rounded a crest, we saw a truly beautiful sunset.

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After spending 10 minutes watching the sun go down over the beautiful hills and vales, we set out on our journey again. With dusk having set in, I was focussed on finding an exit that would help us get onto a quick road to Cherokee. We passed on exit, but were not sure if it led to a good road to Cherokee, and skipped that exit. The road started climbing rapidly after that - and we soon found a good reason to have skipped that exit - we had finally hit the highest point on the Parkway at 6053 feet. That is not very high by Indian standards, Ooty, Simla et al are all about that height. But there is still a great deal of joy to be had when you hit a benchmark point of a fantastic driving road.

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Post this milestone, our Parkway Drive was done. My son was tired, and dozed off.

About 10 miles later, we found an exit, and decided to leave the parkway, and get back onto roads where Google Maps worked, and headed to Cherokee NC.

Cherokee NC is in a Native American reservation - home to the fierce Cherokee Indians you would have read about if you were a Louis L'Amour fan (and yes, the same tribe after whom the Grand Cherokee is named). The sad thing is that Native American reservations are now famous for only one thing - gambling, that too low end gambling.

Our hotel was rather mediocre - we had not chosen to stay in fancy places on this drive, but this was clearly 1 or 2 star, not even a good 2 star. After checking in, I parked the car and reached my room to find my wife had drawn all the curtains - she had seen a guy casually brandishing a gun and smoking in the parking lot from our room. In all likelihood he was perfectly harmless, but we are not used to seeing guns carried openly except by cops - and decided to skip going out for dinner. I usually hate it when folks carry Teplas and Achaar on trips abroad - but I hungrily attacked the same and was glad we had taken some stock with us.

Day 6 - To Atlanta and Chicago

We certainly had no desire to hang around in Cherokee, NC - and had a quick (and decidedly mediocre) breakfast at the hotel before setting out for Atlanta. Why Atlanta? When I first started researching the drive, I came across a tour that ended in Atlanta - and hence made my bookings from Atlanta to Chicago - yes the cheap fares we got on Southwest with free luggage were an attraction too. Further, we had some friends there, who agreed to meet us for lunch. I have never been to Atlanta (or any of the cities in the American South bar Houston and Orlando) before, and somehow was excited to visit one of the fast growing boom towns in America. When you think of the fact that it is the home to Coca Cola, Delta Airlines and CNN, you think this is going to be a great city. I must say downtown Atlanta disappointed me.

Someone once called LA a bunch of suburbs in search of a city - and Atlanta felt the same to me. Of course, this is based on about 1.5 hours spent in the city centre, most of which was at CNN Center. But look at these pics and decide for yourself

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We then headed to Atlanta's Hartfield Jackson International Airport. There was some construction on at the terminal from where we were to leave - but it was not too disruptive. I handed back the QX60 at the Hertz counter - the car had been great for our purpose even if it had considerable room for improvement. Incidentally, the Uber we used on our way to O'Hare in Chicago (while heading home) was also a QX60 - and I must say its interiors were far superior.

Last edited by Hayek : 13th January 2019 at 20:28.
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Old 13th January 2019, 19:47   #8
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Chicago

The main purpose of our trip to the US was to run the Chicago Marathon. I had somehow had a very negative impression about Chicago - you keep hearing stories about how violent the city is. But I must say the city was a hugely positive surprise - at least in fall, it is one of the great cities of the world - and probably second only to New York among American cities. (and I say that despite being a great fan of SFO).

The day before the run, we were walking down a street and saw an Indian wedding. Needless to say, we joined the Baaraat and the fun

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We also carb loaded at an Ethiopian Restaurant - no I didn't eat all of this, it was a shared plate.

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The run itself was great - the crowd support was fantastic, despite the day being cold and drizzly.

Runners Waiting to Enter the Holding Area
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After our run, we went for a river cruise, and saw some of the most magnificent buildings in the world. The passion that our tour guide showed and the detailed descriptions of the buildings (laced with a lot of humour) were amazing. Unfortunately, I got down to sorting the pictures out much too late, and hence am not in a position to label the same. At any rate, these are a treat for your eyes - I would put Chicago down as a must do for anyone visiting the US (and yes, Atlanta as an avoid)

One anecdote that I remembered. Chicago is often called the "second city", and I had presumed it was due to Chicago being second to New York among American cities at some time in the past. But that is not true - the name "second city" originates because the city was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

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Ciao, until next time.

Last edited by Hayek : 13th January 2019 at 20:29.
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Old 13th January 2019, 21:34   #9
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th January 2019, 01:15   #10
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Default re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Thanks a lot for posting this write-up. When I saw the title as Blue Ridge Parkway, I thought you did this during peak fall season. It is one of the most fabulous place to visit during the Fall. Nevertheless, that drive will be always entertaining. I used to live in Charlotte, NC before 3 years and used to go to Cherokee atleast once in a month to Harrah's Casino. Biltmore estate winery is one of the good place there in Asheville, NC.

Regarding the Hertz rental, I too got a QX60 instead LR Discovery when I booked sometime back and many of my friends too. There would have been a considerable difference in drive if you fill premium unleaded gas.

The only thing that put me in awe in Atlanta was the Coca Cola tour. I was surprised when they told they had 250+ flavors of drinks available from the brand coca cola. And finally, I hope you would have covered most of the must visit places in Chicago city.
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Old 14th January 2019, 10:38   #11
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Default Re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Nice travelogue, write-up, and photos. I plan to use this as a guide for sometime in future. Having said that I found Skyline drive a bit monotonous. Scenery does not change much. But very beautiful though. Did you give Luray Caverns a miss intentionally? Now there is a reason to back again :-).
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Old 14th January 2019, 10:56   #12
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Default Re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Great thread!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hayek View Post
Chicago
The run itself was great - the crowd support was fantastic, despite the day being cold and drizzly.
Hard luck on not seeing the fall colors across Blue Ridge parkway; the place looks fabulous with the colors, not saying though it looks great otherwise too rest of the year. But I believe you missed it by a week or so, although your timing wasn't wrong. You should have seen the colors somewhere in Virginia, if not NC; as the colors come out earlier as you head north. Really hard luck.

How was the Chicago run? Do share more details! It stands as one of my most fun runs across the US; with an amazing lake side run to downtown and back. Although the one I did back then was in September, all sunny and with fall colors still around the city. A great place to run with a flat route most of the way supported by an amazing crowd presence.

Quote:
But that is not true - the name "second city" originates because the city was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
There's a lot more interesting history to the city in addition to that; especially the construction of the highways and of course the mafia and other violence history (as reminded by the numerous movies that have focused on this area)!

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Old 14th January 2019, 13:43   #13
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Default Re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Beautiful photos and mother nature. Thanks, Hayek.
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Old 14th January 2019, 22:42   #14
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Default Re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Quote:
Originally Posted by ninjatalli View Post
Hard luck on not seeing the fall colors across Blue Ridge parkway; the place looks fabulous with the colors. But I believe you missed it by a week or so, although your timing wasn't wrong.
We knew the odds of seeing the colours were low - but hoped that the higher altitudes would compensate for the time. But our schedule was fixed - had to get back to Bombay immediately after the run and something was better than nothing.

Quote:
How was the Chicago run? Do share more details
The run was brilliant - it was my second marathon, and the flat course helped me do much better than in my first run. We were very lucky with the weather - the day we landed, Chicago was very cold and windy (about 7 C), the next day you had a a thunder storm. From what I understand, they may not have let us run in that weather. The day of the run was perfect - about 12 C with a light drizzle in the early part of the run, and cloudy conditions throughout.

The only hitch was that I started a bit too fast, and hit the wall around 27 km - but fortunately, a couple of friends who were running a better race picked me up, which have me a second wind that got me home. I still need to learn how to pace a marathon - will need to practice that this year.

We realised how lucky we were the next day - it was 28 C with blazing sunlight - certainly not good conditions for a long run.
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Old 15th January 2019, 17:33   #15
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Default Re: Hayek's Road Trips - Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA) in an Infiniti QX60

Very nice thread Hayek. I too considered the Chicago race many years ago. Fact is that CM and the Minnepolis races are some of the flattest courses. So, those of us looking for PRs could do a lot worse I guess.

With regards to your road trip, I must say that the BR Parkway looks fantastic. Driving in the US is always a pleasure. The only way to better it would be to be on 2 wheels as opposed to 4.

P.S.

Are you running TMM this year? If yes, I would love to say hi at the venue. I am doing the half. I would have loved to do the full race. But, I can never do justice to a 16 or 18 week training regimen with my family and work commitments.
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