Barely-Contained, Leaf-Peepin’ Rage on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I’m going to write something here that I’ve said often in person and probably shouldn’t say in print, but I’ve been pushed to my limit: if I ever get into some type of accident with a road cyclist while traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway, it will not be manslaughter. Blue Ridge Parkway road bikers are one of the many banes to my existence (they are not as prominent as Disney adults, pickleball players, or people that don’t believe you when you say you don’t like certain foods—I know you don’t like broccoli, but you’ll like my broccoli—but they’re close). Listen, I get that legally, bikes and cars share the road, and I get that I should have more patience, but the way some bikers take up the entire road and don’t give cars any space to go around them, thus causing very avoidable Blue Ridge Parkway traffic jams, enrages me. 

I thought that road bikers were my primary Blue Ridge Parkway nemesis…then I encountered the Blue Ridge Parkway leaf peepers.

This will be my third fall in Asheville, and yet I haven’t really gotten to experience the famed foliage that causes an influx of tourists every year (seriously, I’m writing this from my local coffee shop, and the line is practically out the door, which I’ve never seen before). For whatever reason, I’ve found myself traveling quite a bit the past two Octobers, so was excited that this year, October weekends are more or less open for me to live out my fall-foliage dreams. 

This past Friday, I decided to venture up and do my most-hiked Asheville hike, the Black Balsam Tennant Mountain loop. Since this is the highest hike on my normal repertoire, I figured I’d hit it first in case the leaves were already being stripped from the trees (Spoiler alert: it’s looking pretty bare up there). Typically, I could get from my apartment to the Black Balsam parking area in under an hour. This Friday, it took me close to two hours because almost the entire Parkway (but especially the portion between town and The Pisgah Inn) was absolutely clogged with, I’m just going to say it at this risk of being branded a racist again, middle-aged white people thinking about their, and only their leaf-peeping experience. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway is chock full of amazing views, so I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to stop often and take pictures, but the Parkway is also very well constructed for this reason. There are numerous overlooks to stop at, and plenty of the Parkway shoulders can easily accommodate a car (one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset has no overlook, but I can pull my car to the side of the road and safely set up a chair-and-cooler-situation in front of it without interrupting traffic at all. 

Despite its very thoughtful construction, many of the leaf-peepers chose to fully stop their cars in the middle of the road to either lean out and take photographs or, more egregiously, GET OUT OF THEIR CARS to peep leaves. Like, four different times, I witnessed this within sight of the overlooks. No amount of beeping and/or swearing (I guess mostly from me?) seemed to dissuade these selfish pieces of shit, who apparently live under the impression that just because they retired means they’re entitled to have the world revolve around them? 

Saturday morning, I drove up to Craggy Pinnacle to take in the sunrise (Editor’s Note: this is the third time I’ve attempted Craggy Pinnacle at sunrise only to find it enveloped in fog…). On my drive back, I stopped my car on the road several times to take some fantastic photographs. I get the appeal. However, I was the only one on the road at the time. That’s the beauty of waking up at 5. If you decide to traverse the Parkway at its most popular times, you’re forfeiting the right to unobstructed views anywhere you want. You’re limited to overlooks and areas you can safely pull off. I also think it’s worth mentioning that if you want to drive 25 mph to take in the views, that’s fine, but when you pass an overlook, get off and let the 25 cars lining up behind you who wish to go 35 mph get on their way. 

There were two exceptionally egregious parties on my trip to Black Balsam that I must call out via this very popular blog. The first was a couple, their baby, and a photographer standing in the middle of the road just past the Sleepy Gay Overlook, shooting death glares at any car that dared get close enough to them to make them feel rushed. More and more, I’m noticing that new parents think a baby equates to permission to be asshats—this must be stopped. The second was a couple in a small convertible, who had parked HORIZONTALLY across the road, so a newly retired office manager named Joan or Nancy could pose on the hood of her husband’s (Frank? Chuck? Bobby?) “hotrod” in an annoyingly demure way—if you’re going to hold up traffic posing on the hood of a car park straight across the road, at least have the decency to go full Whitesnake, right? 

I’m going to end this with one more thought that I’ve said to a couple of trusted friends, but again, maybe shouldn’t immortalize in the text of a blog with 4-15 weekly viewers: I don’t know that I find the foliage here that impressive. I mean, it’s pretty—I’m a sucker for some good leaf changing—and it’s better close-up than in panoramic views, but compared to the golden aspens of Colorado, the deep reds of New England maples and the multi-colored goodness of my native Northeast Pennsylvania, in general, there’s a somewhat brown quality to the Western North Carolina foliage. I’ll see myself out now.

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