Got up and out asap on Sunday. I figured I'd get a few hours in before having to head home. There's quiet in the early morning, and a chill, and fog, and a solitude that is restorative. In the "pictures don't do it justice" file, I deposit the following shot: cool, dead quiet, and light low enough that my headlights are still visibly illuminating the road:
I recognized this rockpile from my brief research. It's supposedly the grave of a Native American, passers-by add a stone for luck. I didn't read the sign.
A lookout on rt60 on the way to Suches from the south. Again, the chill and quiet of this scene lend a sense of being that's hard to articulate.
At Suches I went west on rt180 (again), and decided to see Vogel State Park on my descent down to rt19. A short way down the access road I hit a pull-out and walked down to the water. Near a bench I noticed this (dead) tree, which seems to have kept the woodpeckers busy.
I sat on the bench and took this pic looking back towards the entrance, and noticed that I might finally be able to take some pics that express the calm still... the early quiet I'd been so fascinated by.
I quickly took a series of pics which wound up being "trip-makers". First, a close look reveals that this is not a picture of trees, it's a picture of water shot upside-down. Note the few floaters and the ripples at the margin where the trees meet the sky:
Then a series of Rorschach tests, one of which is now the wallpaper on my work computer. I let Apple "enhance" these for me, but they are not unreasonable HDRs or anything.
Leaving the park, I did another big loop of 19-180-17-75A. On the home stretch, I came to the turn-off for 348 and couldn't resist. I hoped to get some foggy pics from the overlook I'd visited the previous day, but it was already around 10AM, and a VERY slow van in front of me created more misery than I could stand. I U-turned a few miles up, just in time to catch a VERY slow car coming down... a frustrating diversion, which made it easier to "call it" and head back to camp to pack up.
Back at camp, things went fairly smoothly and quickly. I had shore services disconnected, camper packed, gear stowed, trailer hitched, and bike loaded by about 11:45AM. I met an 8 week-old Lab puppy and decided it must be my last Easter egg in north Georgia. Rig, ready to roll:
Back to reality: a traffic clog outside Atlanta.
I drug everything into the RV park at about 9:30PM, then unloaded the bike in the dark and rode home. Trailering the bike and using the truck camper is an awesome way to base-camp and ride day-loops. On the minus side, the closest place worth going is an 8-hr drive away.
My new job schedule has me up at 5am, and I've passed that age where I can sleep in an extra 5 or 6 hours on my days off. I was up before the sun. As soon as there was enough twilight to see, I started getting set up.
I deployed the bike from the trailer, then the trailer from the truck, then turned the truck around and backed into the site. Miraculously the electric worked the instant I plugged in (I wonder if there isn't a switch in the office that was forgotten the previous evening). The camper fridge officially no longer runs on gas, and the cooler was warm. The coffee maker also seems to have given up the ghost. Before I could get to aggravated about these minor inconveniences, I thought about how much worse I'd be feeling already if instead of dragging all this hardware 500 miles, I'd rode the bike on the slab for 8 hours and was waking up in a tent.
I'll just do what I came here to do: ride! This is when I discovered that the maps I'd printed and Butler map that I purchased explicitly for this trip were left at home. Frustration mounting, I geared up and vowed to just start rolling... and all was well.
I planned to head north to Blairsville, then West to Morganville, then (if ambitious), maybe up to the Cherohala Skyway or the Dragon. If not, down thru Suches, GA.
It was overcast, and in the high 50's - perfect riding weather, and the coldest temps I've experienced since probably May or so, before leaving Pennsylvania. The roads were curvy, rising and falling thru hardwood forests well on the way thru their Fall colors. The air was perfumed with the smell of burning wood. With little to no traffic, and such a stark change in temperature and scenery, I felt like I was home - and felt a mild wave of bittersweetness, a sense of loss, or maybe of longing. This road used to be 5 minutes from my back door, now it's 8 hours.
Quicker than I thought, I was in Blairsville - hungry and still un-coffeed. GPS found a McDonald's for me, but enroute, I passed a small place called simply, "Blairsville Restaurant." I decided to take a swim in some local culture and was not disappointed. Thick accents, friendly people, and so much low-end food you feel guilty when you get the check for $7.95. Sated, I turned West for Morganton.
A blast across rt76 had me pulling into Morganton low on fuel and not wanting to commit to a mutli-hour detour to TN or NC. I turned south to check out Suches on rt60, another of the great (presumably "6 gap") roads. The weather stayed gray, and it was getting close to noon when I rolled into Suches. I was not prepared for the sheer number of bikes at Two Wheels Only. There were easily hundreds of people and bikes. It was every bit as crowded as the Deal's Gap.
I went in to see what there was to see, but it was just a dining room. Near the cash register was a small area of T-shirts and chachkies, and lo - a Butler map of Southern Appalachia for $16 or so. As much as it pained me (already owning this very map), I happened to presently BE in southern Appalachia without it, so I bought a second. I asked check-out girl if there was some event going on or if this crowd was typical. She told me there were some 50 races scheduled, which hardly seemed able to explain the masses of non-50's there (including my own).
From Suches I took a meandering, unplanned route - starting with 180 - out of Suches. I headed back to camp to absorb the map and have lunch, and re-calibrate. Enroute I grabbed some groceries. Camper love: maybe because I lived in it for two months, but it feels like home. Home, in the middle of the woods, in northern GA, with my bike parked outside, eating at a table and drinking cold soda out of a fridge. Amazing.
I noticed the Butler map ID'd some dirt roads and was hot to try out my new ADV wares: with one of the best skid plates available and a means to air up tires... and having a truck and camper in the area if things went sideways, I was feeling courageous. I headed for the dirt road staring in Helen, GA.
A short way in I pulled over for the full deal: turned my mirrors in, aired down to about 25 psi, rotated my bars forward. Set for off pavement.
This was the first time I bothered to air down and I was amazed at the difference. The skidplate paid for itself with a few loud rings from 5lb rocks. I was surprised at the amount of campers and vehicles strewn along the route. I was taking blind corners very sedately incase some jerk in a 4WD came barreling around a corner at high speed... sure enough. We both locked brakes and it wasn't close, but still: why are you flying up a 1 lane gravel road around blind corners?
For miles I snaked thru the woods, up and down, crossing water a few times. My meager dirt chops kept me upright, and the aired down tires saw me covering gravel faster and more confidently than I ever have... which is still, "not very." Now and then a car would yield from the other direction and I'd squeeze past. Most of the road wouldn't allow two cars to pass each other. I suppose they're happy to yield for a few seconds to a motorcycle if the alternative is backing down a twisty road to a pull-out.
Google maps tells me this was Chattahoochee River Rd. The end stubs into rt75, where I stopped to "street up" the bike. The Aussie at the bike show had mentioned there was an upgraded pump with an inline air pressure gage, which suddenly made perfect sense. On the plus side, the long cords and SAE power jack render the procedure a relatively painless affair. A little fiddling and a few minutes for each tire and I was set to roll.
SHortly after rolling N on 75, I spotted a pull-out and decided to set up the GPS so as to not miss the good stuff. After committing, I noticed 5 big cruisers were pulled off. I waved and busied myself with the GPS. After a minute or two they seem to be wrapping up their chat and the lead two pirates did some comical engine revving before pulling out. I've never understood this.
A few seconds after the lead pair, the remaining 3 pulled out and I slipped in behind them. A few hundred yards up the road, a helmet fell off one of the trailing 3 bikes and bounced down the road towards me. With little else to do, I stopped and started waving down the cars heading up behind me as the pirate ran down the middle of the road to retrieve his helmet, now only a foot in front of me. Helmet secured, and traffic backed up behind my back tire, he turned and ran up the middle of the road... not the shoulder, not on the fog line... the middle of the lane I'm blocking... probably 50 yards or so, and pirates don't run fast.
I went around and waved, the other two trailing pirates had pulled off to wait for him. I waved at them, too - glad to be out in front of them. The lead two riders were nowhere to be seen, having apparently not stopped. Not long after, I caught them going up a twisty climb and passed them.
The rest of the riding day is a blur of changing leaves, perfect roads, and "flow." At one point I was riding through a yellow tunnel of trees. Intent on capturing it, I pulled over at the next opportunity, but the moment was lost; the stretch of road behind me.
Zigging and zagging around, I found myself at the lookouts on rt 348. Sublime. This is what I came for. This is what Florida doesn't have. A whiff of burning firewood, and I'm home.
I obliged a pair of barely legal girls who asked me to take their pic in front of this vista, and smiled as I heard one one whisper to the other as I walked away, "wow - this is a really good picture!" I lingered over the views as long as seemed reasonable and headed back to camp, arriving in near-darkness.
I cooked up some sausages for supper, ate them with a cold drink, and again paid homage to the mobile refrigerator. I washed the dishes, used the bathroom, made up the bed and put in a DVD. I struggled to remember why I'd ever wanted to tent camp. Again, having lived in the camper for two months, it feels like every bit of "home" to me, and to have it sitting in the woods in north Georgia at the base of the "6 gaps"... is hard to describe. It's one of those things you know others envy, and you appreciate having the opportunity to experience, if only ephemerally.
I opened the windows to hear the crickets and fell asleep.
I miss the mountains. I miss curvy roads. I miss Fall.
Google puts the closest mountains to my new home in Florida in North Georgia, 8+ hours from "home." My new job's standard 3-day weekend is meant to accommodate such folly, so I decided to use the camper as a camper, the truck as a truck, and the moto as a moto and hit the road "early" Friday.
Prior to leaving, I wanted to install my new ACD skidplate... before which it makes sense to change the oil (note: not a good idea to put used motor oil in a clear plastic Pepsi bottle).
Thursday night I got the oil changed (5450 miles) and did a little bit of packing; Friday I got the skid plate on and took a refreshing sip of leftover "Pepsi". I started throwing gear and bin, and the bin in the car... and the best wife in the world followed me in the cage to deliver bins of gear to the camper storage site.
I got the trailer hitched, the bike loaded, swapped gear from the car to the truck, and was on my way.
I let the GPS take me rt75 across and up thru central FL. Several times I was surprised at how curvy the roads were... Florida curvy, not curvy. I hadn't bothered to hook up the back camera in my haste to get rolling, but I could see a sliver of motorcycle thru the camper window in the rear-view mirror. After hitting a sizeable bump, I became paranoid that the bike was leaning a bit. Within a few miles, I was desperate to pull over because clearly the bike was on a slow list to starboard. With no options to pull off, ever slowing, and with traffic mounting behind me, I took a left turn and pulled off into the grass. Horrified, I found the bike at about a 45 degree angle, 2 straps completely slack. I re-cinched everything down and got rolling, but on a two-lane country road with a 23' camper rig with front leaf springs towing a 12' trailer, options don't present themselves often. Several miles and 20 minutes' driving brought me back to where I'd finally been able to pull over.
rt75 thru northern FL and southern GA is mostly uninteresting slab. In GA, I passed fields of cotton, and lots of road signage alluding to peanuts and peaches, interspersed with billboards depicting Jesus and zombies from "The Walking Dead" and asking the reader to make their choice. The dichotomy rang a little false to my mind. ;)
Traffic piled up approaching the knot of roads that are the numerous Atlanta beltways, and 2 northbound lanes spread out to something like 7 or 8. Having spent the morning packing and doing maintenance, and getting a slow start and turned around, it was obvious I wouldn't be arriving in daylight. I called ahead to my planned destination to secure a campsite. I paid a deposit on a site with water and electric, but no sewer hookup. I was assured the rig would fit. Onward to Cleveland, GA.
Several hours of ceaseless driving and one fuel stop later, I checked in to the campsite again with my updated ETA: 8:15pm. The nameless woman who I'd now talked to multiple times didn't seem phased. My final approach to the campsite was in total darkness and I became (rightfully) concerned that I might pass the entrance at speed and have to spend a half hour getting turned around... which, naturally, is exactly what happened.
Finally, I came down a steep, twisting gravel drop into the campsite. I was surprised people were able to tow long travel trailers and RV's up and down into the park without high-centering (or rather, low-centering). I got disinterested spotty instructions at check-in and headed in total darkness back to a site with hookups 40' from the parking spot in the woods. I felt the truck crawling over tree roots and decided the pitch blackness would win for the night - I'll just leave it where it sits and deal with this all tomorrow.
I carry a long 120V extension cord but all the outlets were unpowered... which I confirmed with a multi-meter I also carry. No power, no lights, no water, and a long day on the road = capitulation. I crawled in the back and went to sleep.
Having the best wife in the world means you get to drag her around a motorcycle show all day.
Parking sucked, and long line for the shuttle saw us walking a mile to the show. Once there it was moto (dealer) heaven.
All the big retailers had a booth showing the stuff in their catalogues (Givi, Twisted Throttle, etc), and all the bike manufacturers (well, BMW, and the big Japanese co's, anyway), had a bunch of floorspace dedicated to their product line. There was a surprising number of nearly nameless Chinese companies showing off their machined aftermarket wares, and a short list of interesting vendors from whom you could actually BUY something (I learned that the show is aimed at the industry - dealers are there to get courted and make buying decision).
I drooled over a bunch of "bikes of interest", and spent a long time salivating at the Yamaha booth over the bike... that I already own. It was a great feeling: going to a show where you can crawl all over everything made and come to realize that the bike you already own is STILL the one you'd pick.
I didn't see the 2016 yellow at the show, but saw pics of it at the show online. Not sure how this is so, but it was. Yamaha had a cut-away parallel twin there, which I took lots of pics of... none of which came out well due to a combination of glare and excited, shaking, hands.
I checked out the Pro Motion booth (nice bead breakers and tire tools), bought some Butler maps, and picked up a nice mini 12V compressor. I fiddled with the Givi Trekker luggage for a long time, looked hard for tank bags and waterproof bags. I talked to the Mitas rep about the E07's. We had lunch. Just before leaving, we circled back thru the first aisle where I'd seen skid plates. As fate would have it, they had exactly one ACD skid plate for the 2014+ Super Tenere, and were anxious to give me a discount. The best wife in the world wouldn't let me leave without it, so I didn't.
I'm glad to have seen the show, but not sure I'd do it again... unless I were shopping for some specific.