Friday, October 30, 2015

It's Fall up there - DAY 2

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.

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