From the first day that the Air Brigade came together to drive and enjoy air-cooled Porsches, the mantra has always been “Drive Rain or Shine.” A recent drive to Roan Mountain from Asheville exemplified the mantra as we left Asheville in the Shine and arrived at Roan Mountain in the Rain.
Driving in the rain in the old air-cooled Porsches always present challenges. Drivers are dealing with the leaky floorboards of a Porsche 912 and 356, the dripping Targa roofs of Porsche 914’s and early 911’s or the less than adequate defroster and wipers of all the old Porsches.
A mix of nine air-cooled Porsches met just outside Asheville in Weaverville one partly sunny morning with the intention of driving to Roan Mountain on the North Carolina/Tennessee border to picnic and enjoy the blooming Rhododendron.
The Porsche drive started well with the cars falling into line as we headed to Burnsville via Beech Glen and Painted Fork roads. The temperature was tepid so no need for air-conditioning that is lacking anyway in all the air-cooled Porsches. Windows were down, but it was not quite warm enough for tops down in the cabs.
The first leg wound along Ivy Creek as the conga line of Porsches headed to Burnsville, North Carolina with an intended stop at Prices General Store. The mix included a 1959 Porsche 356 Cab, a ’72 Side Oiler Porsche 911 Targa, a 1967 Porsche 912, two SC’s, two Carrera 3.2’s , two 964’s and a 993. Air Brigade covered the gamut of the Porsche air-cooled line-up, only missing a 914 on that soon to be wet day.
A slight drizzle came off and on as we enjoyed the changing elevation and sweeping turns of Painted Fork Road before reaching our break at Prices General Store. Air Brigade had used Prices before and everyone looked forward to exploring the store that is truly an old fashioned General Store offering shotguns, to boots, to groceries. Joking in the parking lot centered around stocking up on ammunition and guns while on our meandering drive. Through the hills and pastures. Several members came out with bags of Carhartts but left the firearms for the locals.
Leg Two of the day’s drive would take the Air Brigade to the final destination, Roan Mountain, the third highest mountain in the Blue Ridges, with an elevation of 6,285’. The hope was to arrive to a full bloom of Rhododendron across the mountaintop, as it was blooming season.
To reach Roan Mountain the Air Brigade would travel route NC-197 along the North Toe River described by Wikipedia as a stream while in reality it is a large flowing river associated with the Esatoe, a Native American name associated with the trade route leading from the North Carolina Mountains to Brevard, North Carolina. Due to the difficulty of pronouncing the name, it was shortened over the years to Toe.
The area around the North Toe River is beautiful scenery and great driving roads. Locals claim that Elvis Pressley looked to buy in the area for a mountain escape, but was rebuffed by the local-time locals wanting to maintain the peace and tranquility the area affords with off-the-map living recount it. A 1975 Asheville Citizen Times article claims that Elvis was looking to buy in the area so there may be some fact to this legend.
After enjoying the North Toe River, we started to climb towards Roan. It is a gradual climb up in elevation that is easily drivable by the low-powered Porsches but you are definitely aware that you are climbing in elevation as you travel from 2.825’ of Burnsville to the over 6,000’ of Roan Mountain.
As we climbed the weather worsened with fog and mist foreshadowing what was to meet us at the Summit. Pre-trip research indicated a picnic pavilion existed that would provide us with shelter from the inclement weather greeting us on the mountaintop. A drive down a muddy road led us to picnic tables but no Pavilion. The rain was blinding at this point so the idea of eating out in the open was not a viable option.
A picnic in a Porsche was the order of the day as the couples huddled in their Porsche 911’s and Porsche 356’s enjoying their picnic lunch. It was not the lunch that was planned, but everyone made do under the theme: “Air Brigade drives Rain or Shine.”