Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Tag - Werley's Corner



Tag - MAAM



TOTD, Day 7

I was up early enough to get to McD's for a coffee, poach some Wifi, and still get to Romney Cycle before they opened.

There was some group ride forming up - a cruiser thing, it seemed.   I sat on a bench outside the entrance until someone unlocked the front door a few minutes before 9AM.  Finally...
Within a few feet of the front door was my new motorcycle, except someone had already bought it.

I talked to George - he answered my many questions about the Super T, model years, buying out of state, etc.  Volume allows Romney to sell a brand new bike cheaper than local shops are selling 2-year old leftovers.  I shopped all the gear and accessories, I had a complementary donut and coffee, I waited for George to hook me up with service.
The last time I rode home from WV, I lost a stator and was stranded.  Having blown oil at highway revs, running a mix of whatever I bought at Dual Sport Touring and Walmart oil, and nearing 4k miles on all of it, a change seemed prudent.  I toyed with the idea of jerking around in a parking lot somewhere and decided if they could do it before the Koolwink check-out, they could... and they did.
With fresh oil and filter and having BTDT, I went back to Koolwink to load up the bike and headed home.
Back on the road, I let GPS take me to a few waypoints I'd programmed the night before.  I missed a turn and rolled into banjo music country - a very sad collection of mobile homes and a few impoverished-looking residents.  I felt grateful for my life.
Before long I was back at the same crossing I'd made last time I left WV.  This time I stopped for a pic:

I'd been told somewhere that this bridge had been totally destroyed by high water within the last few months.  It didn't seem so as I crossed it.  Up around the corner on the other side, a little tin cup on a stick was thrust out the window of the little brick toll house at me.  I paid a dollar and got 50 cents change.  Welcome to Maryland.

All that remained was a slog home, and it was fairly sloggy.  Again GPS earned its stripes and gave me a good mix of highways and back roads, hugging the Mason-Dixon line to all the way to Greencastle, where I passed by Keystone RV from where we'd bought our camper.  My only ADV-ish goal on the way home was to ride rt 233 thru Michaux SF.  Hilly farm country brought me to a convenience store in Fayetteville where I gassed up and fortified with some M&M's.
Soon I was blipping thru Michaux.  Slow traffic in front and development along rt 233 made for a less-than-memorable ride.  I routed around a bit before giving in and getting on rt 81 to get east of Harrisburg.
More traffic, buffeting, the terrible road, and the early hour sent me off the slab to bring rt 895 most of the way home.

2150-ish miles, 7 days, 6 nights.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

TOTD, Day 6

Having forgotten the bike cover, I'd been stringing up my 3x5 Walmart tarp each night... and each morning it was covered with dew (or worse).

There was a gas station and a McD's across the highway from the hotel, so I got fueled and breakfasted up, then loaded up for my run up the BRP.  It was a gray day, and as I climbed into Fancy Gap, I hoped the fog was just local.

Up on the BRP, the fog was thick.  I had switched back to the tinted visor in anticipation of daylight.  Between the fog, the tint, and the water beading on the shield, I couldn't see.  I rode for a while at about 25 mph with 4-way flashers on and my visor open, taking the wet, cold, wind right in the eyes.  I hoped it would eventually thin out as I traveled north, or maybe even cook off as the sun got higher.  It being an absolutely miserable - and SLOW - journey, I decided to give it 25 miles to improve.
A few intrepid motorcyclists passed me going the southbound - they looked to be having about as much fun as I was.  
Finally frustrated with not being able to see, and the fog starting to get pretty heavy and wet, I pulled off to put on rain gear.  I donned my new boot covers, changed my shield... and the rain started right on cue.
I rode a while longer in the rain with slightly better visibility, ultimately deciding this was neither enjoyable or expedient enough to continue.  I took the next opportunity to get off the BRP and head down into the valley, where I hoped the fog would become a gray sky overhead.  I think this was somewhere between Blacksburg and Roanoke.
Sure enough, weather in the valley was gray and intermittently drizzly and rainy, but visibility was good.  

With riding in the clouds off the table, and a crappy day, I decided to take as straight a line to Romney, WV, as possible.   GPS had been winning my heart back for much of the trip, so I gave it another chance and it didn't disappoint:  I was wound thru back roads in VA - I think there may even have been some dirt roads in there.  I remember stopping with cold, wet, hands and changing into winter gloves.  Besides that, hours of enjoyable riding slightly were slightly mitigated by wet roads and gray skies until I arrived at a small town crossroads with a gas station and tiny grocery store - Monterey, VA.  I managed fluids, and had a coffee and a candy bar.  I milled around for a long while - it just felt good to be warm, dry, and indoors for a bit.  A few other motorcycles happened thru while I was there, I chatted with some of the pilots.  Eventually, it was time to roll, and the gas stop in Monterey was my turn - rt 220, about 100 miles from Romney, WV.

I'd been on rt 220 further north on my WV weekend, and remembered it being a nicer mover... it was! This two-laner is sweeper after sweeper north-northeast right up the whole length of the eastern panhandle of WV - and God bless them, West Virginians DRIVE.  I covered almost 100 miles of curvy road on a motorcycle and only once or twice had to pull over or pass.  The cars go the limit or a few over and traffic controls are few and far between.  It's like a super slab without the buffeting, elephant races, and everyone driving a different speed. It passes thru a few towns and a lot of "flavor" between.  Zipping along on a nice road in long, narrow, valley made me want to live here... and to top it off, the weather was clearing up!

GPS set for "direct" took me off rt 220 onto rt 6/ 8 which hugs the south branch of the Potomac thru some pretty rural area and dumped me off on rt 50 just outside of town.  I'd been on this road before, too - in a fruitless attempt to find a campsite on my first night in WV.  It was around 4:30PM.  I was concerned Romney Cycle might close at 5PM so bee-lined straight to them, arriving at about 4:45PM.  After three tries on my last trip here, I had finally made it INSIDE Romney Cycle!

... 10 minutes before closing time!! #$@%

I decided I wanted more than a few minutes here, so asked about lodging options.  I was directed to the Koolwink Motel, with the reassurance, "they keep it REALLY clean."  This sounded a lot like asking what a potential blind date looks like and being told "she has a great personality."
I rode back into town and straight for the one place I knew from experience I'd have Wifi: McD's.  I tried pricelining and expedia-ing for a hotel, but all takers were an hour or more away.  There are two motels in Romney, and I knew one had a great personality.

I found the Koolwink and had to smile at the retro.  There was a "drinking bird" on check-in counter.  I grabbed one of the two vacant rooms - #43 - and was issued my key.  In my room I found that the place wasn't so much "retro" as "original."  And it was very clean.  Recommended.

I watched some TV, reviewed courses home from Romney, and tried to stay hydrated.  Koolwink also has Wifi, so I was able to chat with HQ.  I felt of mixture of excitement to be going home, and sadness that my trip was nearly over. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

TOTD, Day 5

I was up early and breaking camp before sunrise.  My plans weren't firm: hit the Mingus Mill, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, head north.  Asheville, Hickory, Pachaug, and a few summits were on the list of "possibles."
In Cherokee, I found breakfast at the Pancake House.  Across the street is an entrance to the casino.  I was very tempted - even HQ was directing me to play - but I hadn't come all this way to sit in a casino and lose a couple hundred bucks: willpower prevailed.
Finances secure, I headed to the Mingus Mill, which was in operation grinding corn.  I spoke with the docent a bit about the construction: I was surprised so much wood could serve for so long in contact with water.  He explained it away to not painting Poplar, and White Oak being rot-resistant.  
I imagined the labor of the millwright, pictured decades of boot travel wearing the stair treads concave, and the comings and goings of wagons filled with grain and piloted by mountain people.
Inside belt-bucket elevators, a 3D puzzle of shuttered grain shafts,  and antique chaff-blowing equipment speak to what must have been pretty high-tech.  The mill is even powered by a head of water pressure in a penstock over a turbine, not a water wheel. The third floor is not accessible to the public owing the ghost that lives there, apparently.
Back outside the docent was pointing out the ghost to two couples in their 60's.  Everyone seemed very engaged looking for the image of the ghost (a pattern of dirt on the window glass, I think) save for one disinterested husband.  He turned to me and in a rich, folksy accent, said:

"This reminds me of a story.   There was a blacksmith, he was a-making horse shoes.  Well, he pulled some iron out of the forge, hammered it into shape, and set it on the stoop to cool.
A feller comes walking by, picks up the shoe... and puts it right back down!!
The blacksmith says, 'that's hot, huh?'
Feller says, 'just don't take me long to look at a horseshoe.'"

With that, he was done pretending to look for a ghost and walked away. Not seeing how that could be argued, I followed him back to the parking lot and mounted up.  

Minutes down the road is the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Seconds after entering, I was stuck behind a slow class A RV pulling a toad.  I crossed the DY to pass, feeling a bit guilty and reckless.   I hoped this wasn't foreshadowing the BRP.

Early on a random weekday between the start of school and leaf changing season, the BRP was pretty empty.  I settled in for a nice, uninterrupted cruise 5 mph over the limit, which felt fast enough.  A nice rhythm of sweepers carries you along the Blue Ridge, and ample pull-outs afford amazing views which after a few days start to lose some of their sizzle.  Still:

I rode until I started seeing signs for Asheville and pulled over to re-set.  I wondered how far I was from Biltmore Estate.  GPS said 4 miles.  It's hard to argue with the universe, so I exited the BRP and sat in bumper-to-bumper metro traffic for a few miles until I got to Biltmore.
The property is entered thru a large gate house complex after which you pass thru massive gardens for what seems like a mile.  A ticket building sits off to the side of the main admission plaza, so I entered for tickets.   A docent explained that the estate was a massive complex to which you paid general admission.   The main residence was a self-guided tour, and only one of several things to do/see.  They close at 5 or maybe 5:30, but it was already nearly 4PM.  General admission was $59.  I could not see spending $60 to have an hour to walk around a rich family's house before being shooed away.  I watched the film loop and contacted HQ, who again begged me to do something on my vacation besides ride around all day.
I decided to see Hickory, which might allow the option of overnighting in Asheville and having another crack at Biltmore the following day.  As there was nothing but riding left to do, I plotted a course to Hickory via Mt. Mitchell on the BRP.  I was starting to settle on the idea of riding the BRP all the way to Front Royal, VA -  the entire route end to end.

Another pleasant GPS surprise: I was directed out of Asheville via Twin Mountain Rd, which twists its way back up towards the BRP.  A heartening parade of sport and touring bikes was coming the other direction.  An hour later I was exiting the BRP for Mt. Mitchell SP.

Climbing Mt. Mitchell I passed the SP entrance, then a fairly elaborate restaurant, a ranger station, a campground (maybe I could camp here?) and eventually a sign that said "Summit, 2 miles."   There's only this one road to Mt. Mitchell, and you can only get to it from the BRP, and yet it seemed crowded with POI's.
On top, an expansive parking lot is abutted by a snack bar, gift shop, and museum.  The museum is actually pretty interesting, focused on the geology and formation of the mountains and Mitchell, for whom the peak is named.  I spent far too much time loitering around.  Outside the museum, a sign beckons something like, "summit, 200 yards".  A wide path of pavers leads into the trees.  You don't ride all the way to the top and not walk the last 200 yards, so...
The path was steep and tested my lungs.  Others were stopped on the hill catching their breath.  At the top, the clouds were hugging one side of the range, seemingly incapable of making the last big push over the top.  The peak was wooded; there was no krummholz as on Mt. Washington, despite the higher elevation.  Apparently latitude trumps altitude.  I took it all in, chatted with some people, and left when I'd had my fill.
I remember being impressed with the NC parks administration, and with how friendly the North Carolinians I'd met up in the clouds were.

I didn't want to be riding in the dark, so I got back down to the BRP, exiting at rt 80.  The road switches back a number of times and felt every bit of "the Dragon" in some stretches.  Motorcycling is just a whole different deal down South.  

Near dusk, I arrived in Hickory.  I zigged and zagged and took it in.  It felt familiar - much like home.  There are clearly more expensive and less expensive parts of town.  Some businesses seem to be thriving; some industrial sites looked vacant.  They have a big highway interchange, a hospital, and a "Robert Street, South St. Paul."  As much as one can get a sense of a place by randoming zig-zagging around it on a motorcycle in fading daylight, I did.  I'd live there.
Nearly out of day, I stopped at a CC's and checked in with HQ.  I decided to ditch Asheville and take the BRP as far north as possible.  That meant better positioning, so I calculated "Fancy Gap, VA" as a good spot to overnight.  I switched faceshields and hit the slab in the dark for another 100 or so miles.  I would miss a section of BRP between rt 80 and Fancy Gap, but still be able to cover all of Virginia riding the ridge which was paralleled me days ago coming down I-81.  I stopped at the VA welcome center - which was closed - and recovered the text from HQ with hotel arrangements in Hillsville, VA. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TOTD, Day 4

Having spent so much of the previous day traveling, setting camp, and hanging out at Dual Sport Touring, I wasn't able to complete my planned loop which included the Cherohala Skyway - so I made straight for it first thing.

At the foothills of the Skyway, a "last gas for 50 miles" sign and a need for coffee lured me into the "Thunder Mountain General Store and Deli".  I was already enamored before I got off the bike: the pumps had levers on them (no CC slots here!), and the last one contained... gasoline.  Pure, ethanol-free, gasoline - as the hand-written sign reading "no corn liquor" testified.

I was greeted by the owner - Ken, I think is his name - who told me to just pump what I wanted and come in for a cup of coffee when I was done, which I did.  I wouldn't have guessed that a morning gas stop would end up being a highlight of the trip.  He and I chatted for what must have been almost an hour about business, the country, the future, life... I felt an instant kindredness with this kind soul and left with both my fuel and humanity tanks topped off.  "I'm living the dream," he kept saying.  I'm glad I got to share in it for a little while.
Go there.  Buy stuff.

Within minutes, I was on the Skyway proper.  I can't imagine more perfect conditions:  a great road, no traffic, cool weather, sunny skies.  Well, sunny above the clouds, anyway:

It felt like I had the whole road to myself, and I was in high spirits.  This stretch is among the best time I've spent on a motorcycle.
The Skyway is much different than the Dragon.  As it's name implies, it is a scenic route at altitude dripping with awe - 129 is just a curvy road thru the woods.  The Skyway has big, sweeping curves - 129 is full of tight switchbacks.  It cruises a ridgeline - as opposed to climbing and descending a peak.  It is relaxing, calming - 129 is technical and requires a lot of "work" to ride. 
The ONLY problem with being above the clouds is that at some point you have to descend back down thru them, to the detriment of a few overlooks:

About 45 miles in, maybe 10 miles from Tellico Plains, I came up behind some slowsters.  I saw a (relatively rare on this road) intersecting road, so took it with the idea of riding a bit and turning around to let them get far ahead of me.  What I found at the bottom of a paved hill was a bridge across a stream onto a gravel road which led up the opposite side of the valley  (Google tells me this was likely River Road at 35.342377, -84.23094.).  How could I not?
In reality it's no big deal, but riding off asphalt makes me feel like I'm really doing something special.  I followed "Forest Rd / Wildcat Rd" for a while, climbing gravel in solitude on a road GPS didn't know existed.  I tracked thru the woods across intermittently deep gravel (riding on marbles) until I came to an intersection.  With no cue from GPS, I opted to turn right, reasoning that it must be East.  I made a mental note of how it would look coming from the back in case I had to turn around.  The gravel continued long enough for me to start thinking about how often people traveled this road.  If I broke down or dumped and sprained an ankle, it could be a long wait for help.  I started thinking about how much food and water I had aboard.  At some point I intersected a road that was on the GPS, so I plotted a course to Tellico Plains.  Some back roads brought me to rt 68 about 15 minutes south of it, probably about 25 miles from the Georgia border.

I rolled into Tellico Plains about lunchtime, with the idea of finding something to eat, then taking the Skyway back the other way.  I should have followed the signs for the historic downtown, but instead stayed on rt 68, stopping at strip mall to plan.  I searched GPS for food (a Hardee's was across the street), but decided to just keep moving.  Hunger and fatigue were starting to best my judgement.  I stopped at a Bojangles somewhere - I'd have to consult the GPS tracks to know where.
One chicken sandwich with a side of slaw later, I started plotting.  My resistance to going to Hardees had put me far enough from Tellico Plains that I decided to take a different route back.
Another POI seemed in range: the Foothills Parkway.  Before I could leave it started pouring rain.  I let the worst of it break and geared up.

GPS once again pleasantly surprised me with a direct mix of road types until I was back on rt 129 heading for the Parkway.  As the parkway neared, I started thinking about running the Dragon again:  I only ran it one direction and was pretty freaked out having never seen it.   With rain threatening again, traffic seemed very light.  I didn't want to do it just for the sake of doing it.... the POI appeared on the GPS screen (which now had dark shadows from being wet), only 8 miles ahead of my turn.

I was on a motorcycle, almost 700 miles from home, with a famous motorcycle Mecca EIGHT MILES ahead.  I pushed past the Parkway turn.  It started to pour.
The rain stopped before I got to the Calderwood Lake lookout, where two Sheriff's cars were pulled off, the young officers chatting with a BMW rider having a smoke.  They asked me "is it raining down there?"  I wrung out my gloves and said, "it's POURING down there."
Back up the Dragon with far more confidence I took what was likely one of the more spirited rides I've ever taken.  I dragged the edges of my boots several times.  Several times I crossed the lean angle that divides "exhilarating ride" and "momentary terror".   As you successfully negotiate each curve without crashing, your brain starts to allow you to ride at a different level - you dig a little deeper, lean a little harder - and remember that you're not going to "run out of tire."

I stopped at the top of the hill to document my triumph.

Minutes later I arrived at the resort feeling like a "real motorcyclist".  I walked around and took all the requisite pictures.  I went in the tuck shop.  I talked to a big guy with a rashed up last-gen blue 650 Strom.  He had a small pillion with him - I marveled a bit that he was riding that bike, with a pillion, HERE.  He commented on the bike rash... I bragged about having logged over 20k miles without a single drop, mocking fate by saying it out loud.

Killboy got me - 9/17/14, 2-ish PM.  I figured it was right of passage and excused myself for spending a few bucks on pro photos:

I ran the Dragon backtracking, faster yet - locals and track guys throwing their bikes way over back and forth seemed less intimidating now.  I could see where if I lived here, I'd eventually have enough practice to nail it, too.
I turned back on the Foothills Parkway as planned, now a right instead of a left.  If this were the first road I'd ridden here, I would have been blown away.  Having hours earlier been on the Cherohala Skyway, and minutes before on the Dragon, it suffered a bit by comparison.

The Foothills Parkway delivers you to the Little River Gorge/ Fighting Creek Gorge Rd.  - another great twister following a stream, but the low speed limit and heavier traffic put a damper on the riding.  This road is not about covering miles, it's about looking at what you're driving thru.  Spending so much time riding ridges and passes made a road thru a gorge feel "different."  Eventually it brings you to rt 441, the scenic route through the NP which I'd hit on my first day down here.  I looked forward to a repeat.
It was pretty late in the day, which explains what seemed to be a lot of "local" traffic.   As often happens, I found myself stuck behind a parade of slow-moving Harleys.  With increasing frustration, I decided to pull off and let them get ahead, and get my mindset back to an appropriate place.  I swooshed into a large overlook pull out.  Irritated, I pulled quickly up to a spot past an older couple near a pair of cruisers, and decided to K-turn and roll backwards into the spot to avoid having to push out uphill.  While rolling backwards, the bike leaned in unanticipated direction (is counter-steering reversed when moving backwards?)...  The ground wasn't there, as I was sideways on a hill.  My foot touched down just as it occurred to me that I might not be able to save it.... and down it went, just hours after bragging about 20k miles without a drop.
It's hard to hide a drop from a pair of bikers not 20' away.  They came over and helped me pick the bike up.  We chatted a while.  They were a nice couple from Georgia.  The guy had a sweet M109; the woman some flavor of Boulevard.  They shared stories of their various drops to console me, and I appreciated them for what they were trying to do.  I noticed my right wrist hurt more than normal.  I saddled up for the summit, and a missed photo op from two days prior:

I'd hoped to hit Mingus Mill as my final touring stop, then back to camp.  The Mill was already closed.  I drank as much water as I could at the fountain and headed for camp.  I toyed with the idea of going back out to the Casino in Cherokee, but it had been a pretty full day.
Back at camp, I deposited one pannier to the biker's bear box in twilight, and was again the tent and well on my way to sleep before full darkness.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

TOTD, Day 3

An early start on a gray morning delivered me to "Crockett's Breakfast Camp," where the waitress reminded me of Diane... scarily, creepily, so.  I told her she had a twin sister in Pennsylvania.  She told me she was adopted, and her bio father "got around."  I wondered if they really WERE related.

The Breakfast Camp sells the hillbilly thing with mason jar salt and pepper shakers and glasses.   One omelette later, I checked out, loaded up and headed for Bryson City to make camp via rt 441 thru the park.

Almost immediately into the park, wild turkeys lined the road.  A deer crossed in front of me.  I wondered just how dense the wildlife was.  Traffic was very light - I felt I had the road to myself, climbing slowly up into the Smokies, thru some intermittent tunnels, and everywhere fantastic overlooks.  The gray/ cloudy day was putting the "smoky" in "Smokies."

The TN/ NC State line is formed by the ridge.  On top of 'ol Smoky:

Views, views, views.  Pictures... justice... had to be there.

30-something miles later, the park road dumps you out in Cherokee, NC, which has a "sense of place," even if that sense is a little "natives desperately trying to make Cherokee a tourist destination."  On to Bryson City, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park Deep Creek campsite.  I was happy to be the only person in the tent section, so picked a spot close to the bathroom.  I deployed the North Face mansion, and in so doing was able to shed ~50 lbs of luggage from the bike, freeing me up for riding.

Camp was set by around lunch, then I headed out to run my planned loop of the Cherohala Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon.  Rt 129 appears to have a terminus at rt 19 / 74 so catching it there would allow running the whole length of road.  As a tourist, I'm not really sure what the "good part" is.   Soon I was heading up it, tho, and enjoying it well enough.   Suddenly, a place I recognize from photos pops into view, so I pull in for some obligatory pics.

Soon I mounted up and headed out up the hill on rt 129.  Minutes later it became obvious that I had in fact found "the dragon."  The road turns into a slalom of tight, blind, corners so close together they feel more like gymkhana than road riding.   A few hard corners seem to have a "kink" in them, and there's a fair amount of elevation change all the while, too.  If that doesn't get you unsettled, there's an endless parade of bikes and cars popping out from behind blind corners, which - thanks to a thread on - I beleive have about a 50% chance of being in my lane when they do.  This really blew my concentration... and even though I figured Killboy would be in at least one of the pull-outs, there's no way of knowing which one it will be.  Having a parked car, tent, and guy pointing a camera at you pop out from behind a blind corner is distracting.  Oh wait, and the locals who have the road memorized are crawling up behind you - decorum requires keeping your eyes open for and using pull-outs... all on a road you've never seen before and know routinely wrecks and kills riders.
All in all, it was far more "stressful" than "fun" but 11 miles later, it was over and I can now add to my "BTDT" list.

Feeling somewhat moto-humbled, I discovered I was only a few miles from one of my POI's, "Dual Sport Touring," on rt 321 near Maryville - so a plotted a course for it.
Upon arrival, I was promptly offered a cold soda which I thankfully took, and was delighted to meet the owner's dogs who were hanging out in the shop.  DST is a friendly, comfortable, familiar-feeling place if you are into dual sports and/or touring.  A small selection of top-notch gear was on display and I got to see, touch, and try on stuff I could only otherwise do via a painful process of mail order purchase.
Soon my pants were literally off being fitted with new 3DO armor.  Before long my jacket got a 3DO back pad upgrade trimmed to fit, too.  It feels weird describing what I received there as "service:"  it was more like "the royal treatment."  What a nice pair of peeps - I wish them every success.  I left after quite a while slathered in armor, stories, and goodwill.  

GPS was performing well so far on this trip, so I let it guide me back to camp.  "Avoidances" set for "shortest route" and "avoid highways" seems to conjure a nice mix of back roads... at least in the Smokies.  A route full of local flavor brought me back to camp in the evening, where I was surprised to find a few other mid-week campers had showed up during the day.  I did some chores and was surprised to find cell service in the tent, so I bantered with command central for a while before falling to sleep.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TOTD, Day 2

In the morning, I had a sad continental breakfast and ran into the Florida bikers.  They had taken the Autotrain from FL to VA, and were taking the week to make their way back home.  What a perfect way to stretch the tour - I wish that were an option for me.

I packed up and headed to Walmart for some aspirin and a bike cover, having forgotten to pack either of the two I already own.  With meds on board, but no cover joy, I headed back towards rt 81S.

Again I was pleasantly surprised by the light traffic and smooth air, so settled in for another big day of slabbing.  An unremarkable 200-and-something miles later, I pulled off for a reset just across the VA border at the TN welcome center.  Welcome centers have free maps.

I awed a bit at having ridden a 650cc motorcycle 500-something miles in about 24 hours, having touched five States and arriving at a welcome center where everyone was friendly and had a funny accent.
The woman working the welcome center actually said, "welcome to Tin-iss-ee!" as tho it were her job.  Learning that I was on a bike, she supplied me with a handful of moto-specific maps and brochures.  I told her I'd never felt so welcomed to Tennessee before and headed out.
Some more locals outside tried to talk me into the dinner theatre in Pigeon Forge.  Dollywood was something I actually had a certain morbid curiosity about, but I knew there was no dinner theatre in my near future.

Welcome woman had directed me to "the Snake" - rt 421 - which is northern TN's answer to "the tail of the dragon."  It being one exit away and only about lunchtime, I figured this was exactly the sort of thing I was here to do and laid in a course.  I planned to turn south on rt 91 on the strength of her reporting that some previous biker had told her that road was terrifying and he thought he would "fall off the mountain."

I snaked my loaded bike across rt 421 to Mountain City before pulling over to figure out where I was. The diversion had eaten up some day, so I gave rt 91 a miss and took rt 67 S towards Pigeon Forge/ Gatlinburg/ a high density of campsite POI's.  Some portion of this leg overlayed rush hour, a food stop at a Hardee's, and some emergency vehicle detours.  More miles had me racing rain and darkness, finally rolling into Gatlinburg near dark and just as it started raining.  I pulled off at the first motel that had vacant covered parking and went in to inquire.
The guy at the counter was a biker and told me he'd just taken his sporty on the Dragon earlier that week.  He hooked me up with a room for $59.  As I was completing payment, a Goldwing pilot entered in full gear and asked me if they had a "biker discount."  I told him that they did, but that they also had a "handsome penalty" and that it had canceled out any savings.  I added with genuine good-nature: "well, that probably won't affect you, though."  He seemed confused, so I quickly retreated and found my parking spot between a pair of Goldwings before he figured it out.  Several other 'wings were present and I chatted with a few of the owners who were gearing up to go out to eat.  I hauled luggage in and marveled that $59 with no reservation will buy you a balcony which overlooks one of the half-dozen or so streams which land in the town, covered parking, and a huge room.

I Cliffed for dinner and dug thru the stuff from the Welcome Center.  A plan was formed:

Tale of the Dragon, Day 1

A week off and months of planning a trip to Colorado, then shifting plans to a Maine/ Vermont/ New Hampshire trip culminated in a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, which were wetter - but a lot warmer - than New England.

Preparations were to be made the week prior to the trip but work ruined that plan.  With a whole week off, I gave Friday to normalcy and all day Saturday to prepping.  A trip to Hermy's netted a new pair of tires, a killer deal on some moto pants, and a clearance HJC helmet.  Cycle Gear sold me a pair of boot covers.  Harbor Freight sold me a tire changer, in spite of which I still managed to get the Wee re-shod by late Saturday night.
Sunday morning packing and final prep finally had me rolling at noon... for about 4 miles... until I turned back to switch windshields and helmets on the strength of "better the evil you know".

Underway with more than half the day already gone, I headed east.  As always, I managed to swap Mountain Road with rt 895 in my mind's map and ended up jerking around out in cow country.  I head for rt 78 to rt 81 S.  This route always buffets me to pieces and the traffic is borderline terrifying, but I need to put some miles behind me.  I promised myself I'd go more rural on the other side of Harrisburg.

On the other side of Harrisburg, the traffic thinned out - so the buffeting did, too.  Not one for inspecting the teeth of a gift horse, I stayed the course.  Soon Pennsylvania ended, and then Maryland, and West Virginia.  I knew this progress was illusory and there was a long slog of Virginia, but it still felt like progress.  In VA, I became aware of the Blue Ridge off to the east.  With it's peaks poking up into the clouds, I knew I was missing a moto 'bucket list' item of riding Skyline Drive all the way down... but that would take days.  I enjoyed the view from the ground and kept moving.  

As a travel day, I had no intention of camping.  An hour or so before dark, I stopped for gas and food and contacted command central to arrange hotel accommodations.  I figured another 60-90 minutes and got moving again.  I checked in an hour later to find a text message with directions to my home for the night in Staunton, VA.

GPS took me there without issue - this was almost too easy.  Another big smile emerged behind my faceshield when I pulled in to park... under a covered entry... behind two motorcycles with Florida plates.

What could be better?  I checked into a ground room floor to be close to the bike, which turned out to be ridiculously close.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Got up early and headed straight up to the other overlook: Loyalsock Vista.  Another forest road climbs quickly up to the vista which graces the cover of the DCNR pamphlet.  More "Endless Mountains" region:

Across from the vista is a sign for the "rock garden."  My awakening interest in geology forces me up a short trail where my mind is again blown.  A 20'-ish tall cleave in a block of former ocean bottom on the top of a mountain.  Walking back into the "crack" to look back out:

Looking down into the cleave from above:  The little patch of healthy grass growing in the middle of a 20-foot thick piece of bedrock, in the middle of the woods, on the top of a mountain, in what must be a 1/4" of soil... another "life is ubiquitous" moment.

A section on the front of one of the slabs reveals an era of shale-y smooth stuff which interrupted the normal course of deposition here.  WTF happened?  Why did it start?  And then why did it stop?  How much time does this interruption represent?
Also: the surface appears covered in dead/ dying lychen, which is another "you've got to be kidding me, biosphere" form of life.  Life infests every inch of this planet, exploits every possibility.
And here a giant, lone, motorcyclist standing, staring, transfixed by a pile of rocks for 45 minutes: life marveling at itself.

Feeling mentally washed, I followed the Canyon Vista / Cold Run Rd. back to Shanersburg Rd - all dirt, all cutting thru forest.  Creation mocked me some more:  I passed a hissing, arch-backed, teeth-bared something (opossum, I think) trying to threaten me off.  I laughed at the thought... and within minutes stopped abruptly for a bear in the road ahead.   I don't like encountering bears alone, unarmed, and with no protective cage of steel, glass, and airbags between me and them.  There's little you can do but let the bear know your there... so I hissed, arched my back, bared my teeth, and beeped my tiny moto horn at him.

Riding thru the woods like this is something I'd like to do until I got bored with it.  I'm not sure how long that would take.  I hit all the dirt loops on the mountain, emerging again on 154 near the campsite office.

At some point I must have passed thru cell service, because I had a new text from Mark telling me he was leaving his house at 0630AM to meet me in World's End, saying he would follow 42 N from 80.  It was 9:36 - he had to be close.  I started towards 42 thinking I'd pass him and we could flag each other down.  A multi-hour comedy of near misses and doubling-backs ensued.  We'd missed each other by minutes - I headed east on 154 to catch 42 and he'd already veered off of 42 South of Eagles Mere.   I was leaving the campsite to find him on 42 while he was sitting 3 miles away at the park office.  I gave up and left while he waited, then he gave up and left via a different route while I doubled back.

On my double-back, I checked out the main office and swimming beach area.  The mountain sheers seemingly vertically, backdropping a meander in the stream - a beautiful site worthy of state parkdom.

Here in the valley, the bedrock is different: it seems a featureless shale.  This is the stuff they need to frack to release natural gas.  Here, in it's natural, un-fracked state, it looks plenty porous to me.... altho this is above ground with water and roots working on it.  The mountain face:

Turning in place 180 degrees, the bend in the stream, the swimming area, and the bridge that caries rt 154 across the Loyalsock Creek:

Mark and I finally made contact and arranged to meet north of Bloomsburg for lunch.  Fed, fueled, and ready to roll, we took 80 across to 339 - a nice route according to Mark.   His wash buffets me worse than trucks, so I was happy to leave the interstate and be back on some twisty 2-lane.  A feature of riding with Mark is frequent GPS stops, turning around, and re-plotting.  Mark is afflicted by a misplaced and unyielding confidence in his GPS, which results in the frequent stops, turning around, and re-plotting.  A few miles into our 339 route, the road forked and we zigged instead of zagging.  My GPS showed a painless 2 turn, no back-tracking route back to the highway.  Mark's GPS showed an interesting gravel road that we'd have to back-track to get to.

Less than 50 yards down the gravel road, it became clear we were on some farmer's driveway.  Shallow gravel gave way to two ruts, which banked 90 degrees and slid down a hill towards a farmhouse and outbuildings littered with the detritus of farms: vehicles, material handling stuff, maybe an RV and a few rusty old implements.  The point is, they are someone's yard... and the "road" usually passes within feet of their front porch... which this one did.
Feeling slightly ashamed, I chugged on, ever faithful behind Mark.  The two ruts turned to two wet ruts for a bit (feet were deployed, some mud was slung)... eventually the road devolved into two tracks of bent-over grass then plunged into a small patch of woods.  Branches were well below face-level, so we ducked and dodged our way thru, eventually coming to the perimeter of a cornfield, which the track now led around.  I knew we were close:  there is no way a tractor does what we just did to get here - the farmer gets to THIS field by pulling off the ROAD.  At the end of the field, we turned 90 degrees and sure enough descend down to the "out" onto 339.  I pulled up alongside, shouted, "you just lost your navigating priveledges!!", and took off intending that Mark follow me and my more road-tuned, topo-less GPS.  I think I heard a defensive, "my GPS said that was a ROAD!", but I was gone.
...for a few feet until I heard beeping behind me masked by an unusual sound.  I'd acquired a "tail."

20' of tangled vine was wrapped around my kickstand and left peg.  Mark said, "I ran over that thing!!".  I said, "so did I, apparently."

We got some VERY suspicious looks from a guy near the truck in the above pic, and made a quick getaway after ditching the vine in the brush across the road.

With me in the lead, I pushed as hard as I could, but I knew I was probably holding Mark back.  Not seeing which way the road breaks ahead means I slow down.  He reads the curves better than I do.  I can go a lot faster following him because I don't have to read curves, I can read him and his brake lights.

At 54 in Mahanoy City, we switched bikes for a while.  I forget how crampy and short a stock bike feels, but somehow, sitting low "in" the bike and behind a big shield inspires a lot of confidence.  Mark's bike was shod with street tires; mine were wearing the Shinko 705's.  Mark soon signalled to pull over and switch back, commenting that my bike was "really tall" and he was "really up in the wind."  Being taller than Mark, I wanted to say "you have no idea."
We took 895 towards home, and came up the Bake Oven Knob, which I recall following Mark up some years before on an unsteady KLR, with patches of ice and snow still on the road.  I hadn't been riding long and this was a first foray off-pavement on crappy tires, so I was terrified.  Coming up on a dry road with DS tires and some experience, it's almost disappointing how easy this road is.

Mileage-wise, it was a fairly short trip - maybe 250 miles or so - but it was a good trip.  Lots of riding variety, scenery, a riding buddy for half a day, and an adventure in a cornfield.

World's End State Park:  EXPLORED.