a.k.a. Who are these chicks, and why are they following us...
Sometime early in the summer, Jeff and I talked about maybe getting Leigh and Penny out on the road for a long trip to give them an idea of what we do. A fleeting thought turned into reality in August when we decided to take them down to Appalachia for a week and hit some of our favorite places in the area. This would definitely be a different type of trip, and we thought about what we'd need to do this. When I bought the ST earlier this year, my main goal was to use it as a 2-up sport-touring machine. Penny and I had taken a few shorter trips, and a weekend over-nighter this year, but this was to be the ultimate test of the new bike. For Jeff, the VFR would be the bike, and his only concern was packing space.
One of the goals was to show the girls what we typically do on a trip - within reason. Appalachia was definitely the place to go. It's somewhat close by, has great roads, incredible scenery, and lots to see. Certainly we weren't going to subject them to 700 mile days and camping, but a quick introduction to life on the road was in order. We decided not to have any plans or destinations, which would leave the door open to last minute suggestions and the ability to go see some things that we may have missed in the past. Hotel availability is always a concern, and we've been burned before by that, but figured if we stopped early enough, we'd be OK. We certainly didn't want to make reservations, as that's not indicative of the trips we take, and that may also force us to press on and ride further than we may want to.
Both Leigh and Penny were very excited to get on the road with us....for some unknown reason. Admittedly, neither of them really knew what to expect, but they were both more than willing to give it a shot and find out why we do what we do. Jeff and I each had our minor apprehensions about doing this - I said minor, just chill. I was certainly looking forward to seeing what the open road would do for Penny over an extended period of time. Having seen the smile on her face after a day of riding, I was certain that both she and Leigh would find some part of the open road that would make them smile.
After a late night of last minute packing, as usual, I actually woke up on time this morning and had time to enjoy a cup of coffee before Penny and I headed over to Jeff's house to meet him and Leigh. We were on the road pretty early and took our usual route out and around the city. We made it to the Indiana border in pretty good time, and after just a little bit of traffic through beautiful Gary, Indiana, we started south on I-65. I was reminded of all the times that I've headed down this way, how long the ride was, and how little there was to see. That didn't seem to bother Penny at all - she was pointing out anything and everything, and seemed to enjoy just being away from the city. About 100 miles into it, I was ready for a break, and figured everyone else was as well, so we stopped for a quick breakfast at a Williams truck stop.
Before we headed out after breakfast, I broke out the MD player so that Penny and I could listen to a little music through this part of the trip. The music certainly helped to make the next set of miles go by, and with almost perfect timing (74 minutes later) we pulled into a gas station to fill up. "Wow, this is the first time in history that I don't have to worry about fuel," I said to Jeff. The ST has a huge range, unlike my CBR where I'm always struggling to wring out every extra mile that I can out of a tank of gas. We filled up, and pushed the bikes over to the side of the parking lot like we always do. One of the girls asked if they had time to go inside and get something to drink. "Time? We have all the time in the world. Hey Jeff, you got anywhere to be right now?" "No I don't," he replied. We had been telling the girls that there was no schedule, that we could stop whenever and wherever, but they didn't really understand. The last thing that Jeff and I were going to do is push them. The whole idea was to just take our time.
We hit Indianapolis just a few minutes later, and after a breakfast discussion, Jeff suggested that we take a state highway out of Indy down towards Bloomington to break a little of the monotony of the Interstate. That was fine with me, and a great idea. Initially, we hit a little traffic, but back out into the country again with the music playing, I could tell that Penny was really starting to enjoy herself - and so could Jeff and Leigh. We stopped down the road again, just to stop, and Jeff and Leigh were laughing and joking about how often Penny was pointing stuff out, and how every time she did, the bike would move all over the place. Chalk that one up to beginner's excitement. The countryside was nice, and there were things to look at, but (and I've said this before sometime....hmmm) "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
Heading south out of Bloomington, we ended up on a nice 2-lane blacktop that headed right through a state forest. "This is more like it," I thought as I piloted the ST through the tree-lined road. I thought this would be a good time to have a stop and enjoy moment, so I pulled off the road for a break, and just to relax. I could tell that the girls were starting to get a little bit of a clue as to what the next week would hold, and it was good to see everyone smiling and in good spirits. Looking at a map, we decided to head towards Cannelton via route 66 which looked like it followed the river. That seemed easy enough, and Jeff took the lead - no, not to test his map reading skills (like I usually do) but because I didn't have a map of Indiana with me. After about 30 minutes or so, I looked at my Kentucky map, and realized that we went the wrong way. No big deal, we stopped for gas, looked at the map again, and decided to try it again. "Ka-boooom!!!" went the thunder as Jeff and I looked at each other with a "rut-row" look on our faces. A nice black storm cloud had suddenly appeared exactly where we were heading. Hoping that it would just blow over, we headed back to mystery corner (the place where we went the wrong direction) in hopes of finding our way south to Cannelton.
About 30 seconds onto the road, the rain started, and it was coming down pretty good. Approaching the turn, I slowed to make sure that everyone was alright, and to consult with Jeff on which way to go. We continued on, turned right this time, and ended up on the wrong road again. This one was fresh pavement with great corners, and had it not been for the whitecaps on the road, it would have been a lot of fun. A road sign told me that it was only about 35 miles to Cannelton in this direction, so I continued on. The heavens continued to pour out their fury upon us, and I was glad that I remembered to re-apply the Scotch Guard to the Aerostiches before leaving. When we got to Cannelton, I pulled into a gas station so that we could wait out the rain. The girls continued to be in good spirits despite the rain, and I give them a lot of credit. That was something that I had to learn on this trip - they were in it for the adventure too, and they weren't going to let a little rain spoil that. As we huddled under the overhang, it was right about the same point that a bolt of lightning took out power that we decided that this would be a good place to stay for the night. There were hotels just a mile down the road, with a Papa John's pizza right across the street. We grabbed a couple pizzas and some beers and spent the evening eating, drinking, and laughing about our day - which is exactly what we always do. We had a great day or riding, and as we talked about the upcoming days, I could tell that everyone was excited to find out what was down the road.
A roadside stop in southern Indiana
Jeff and Leigh were out walking as I did the Frankenstein walk to the lobby for coffee. They may have said something to me, and I probably grumbled something back, but who knows. We loaded up the bikes quickly this morning, and started out across the river into Kentucky. I always like the ride across Kentucky and I was hoping everyone else would enjoy it as well. The rolling hills were endless as the road swept across the countryside. The air was still cool, but it was warming quickly. We turned south and began heading for Mammoth Caves. I was really looking forward to a nice sit down mom-n-pop breakfast this morning, but there wasn't a restaurant to be found. After about three or four towns, we finally gave up and pulled into a BK for a couple Croissanwiches.
Just a few minutes down the road, we got to Mammoth Caves. It was now officially hot out. We decided to take a self-guided tour of one of the caves and we were happy to find that the temperature in the cave was near 60 degrees - about 35 degrees cooler than it was outside. The cave itself was immense, and dark, and a perfect place for bats. There was a small bat that a couple of people were looking at, which freaked out Penny a bit. Jeff, in his typical way, decided to scare Penny. We walked by a little corridor and there were noises (running water) coming from it. Just as Penny walks by it, Jeff says something like "Hey, what's that!?!" and Penny jumps. Jeff gets lectured from Leigh on being nice. I laugh. Classic. We walked through the cave for about 1/2 hour or so, and it looked like there were more corridors, but they were roped off, and probably only accessible on a guided tour. We turned around and headed for the coffee/gift shop in hopes of finding something to drink. While the girls shopped, Jeff and I stood on the air conditioning vents and enjoyed the breeze.
Back out on the road, the temperature and heat continued. We actually rode for a pretty long while, crossing into Tennessee, before we stopped again. I was looking all over the place for a shaded area to stop at, but there weren't many places. Finally, I just pulled off the side of the road so that we could take a break. There was a little creek nearby, and Penny and I walked over towards it. Apparently we were right across the road from a farm, and the roosters were calling this afternoon. Penny called back to them, and I saw Jeff's head turn and look for where the sound of the other rooster came from. It was only then that we learned that Penny once won a rooster calling contest.
As we headed east towards Tellico Plains, we caught our first view of the Smokies. They were way off in the distance, but we were heading right for them. The views continued to impress as we headed east, and around 4:30 we made it to the town of Sweetwater, and decided to stay there instead of Tellico. There were not many hotels up the road, and there was a Best Western right in front of us. When we noticed that there was a Cracker Barrel right next door, that made the sale. We checked in, and walked across the street to grab a few beers before jumping in the pool. "Hey, is there something I have to do to open the door to the beer cooler?" I asked the attendant. "Yeah, come back at 7:00 tomorrow morning." Damn - a dry county. The one drawback of traveling through the bible belt. Discouraged by the fact that I only had a Gatoraid in my hand, we headed back to the hotel for a swim before dinner. After the hot day, the pool was exactly what we needed. Refreshed, we enjoyed a great meal at Cracker Barrel, and on the way back, we all realized how tired we were, and decided to call it a day - and a good one at that.
Inside Mammoth Caves National Park, Kentucky
This morning was no different from any other - wake up, drink coffee, and then get going. The thought of the Cherohala was in my mind, and I was moving pretty good this morning. We had looked at some hotel brochures the night before, and decided to check out the Bald River Falls, which were right near the beginning of the Cherohala. We made it to Tellico Plains quickly, and as I looked around and noticed that lack of anything, I was glad we stopped in Sweetwater the night before. We turned left onto the Cherohala, and "Whoa!! What's that horse doing? Holy (Bleep)! That's huge!" I was not the only one laughing my ass off, and as I saw Jeff and Leigh's heads turn to look, I soon saw them laughing too. Hmm, now I know where that expression comes from...
We turned off onto a side road and began following a river deep into the mountains. It was an absolutely perfect morning, about 80 degrees, and getting cooler as we got higher up, a few white puffy clouds in the sky, and the smells of the pine forest emanating with the evaporation of the morning dew. We caught a glimpse of the falls, and I was immediately glad that we decided to take our detour. The falls were gorgeous, and best of all, there was nobody else there but us. We snapped a few pictures, and Otter must have been feeling adventurous. He hiked down to the river, and started walking out on the rocks. Obviously that wasn't far enough for him, so he decided to hike up to the falls...after all, Otters like water. We watched him climb, and wondered at what point he was going to fall, but he made it all the way up there, and even found time to enjoy a quick shower before returning, soaking wet. After a nice stop at the falls, we headed back to the Cherohala, and agreed to meet up down the road - something we normally do so that everyone can take their time, stop when they want, and enjoy themselves.
The Cherohala is simply a fantastic road with clean pavement, nice sweeping corners, and spectacular views. I was enjoying pushing the ST just a little bit as the road rose to over 4000 feet of elevation. I pulled into the first overlook to find Jeff and Leigh enjoying the view. After talking for a few minutes with a guy riding a three-wheel Goldwing, Jeff and Leigh took off and Penny and I followed a minute later. This part of the Cherohala is incredibly beautiful, and as the road rose up in elevation, the temperatures dropped quite a bit. Approaching my favorite bridge on the Skyway, I feel Penny jumping around and see her hitting her arm. I knew what it was before she told me, and I immediately pulled over. I hate bees. We stopped for a few minutes and continued across on the Skyway, stopping here and there, and really enjoying the ride. The hug frequency was increasing as we went along, and I knew that Penny was really enjoying the ride, and starting to really get into it. Near the end of the Skyway, I spotted Jeff and Leigh enjoying the view, so I pulled in to meet back up. Jeff and I were exchanging stories of corners, and of other times we had rode through here, and the two girls were just sitting there looking out at the mountains, with perma-grins plastered on their faces. After a nice break, Jeff and Leigh took off, and Penny and I sat there enjoying the view for a while before continuing on towards Deals Gap.
We shot over to Route 28 which is a great ride along the river up towards the gap, and after riding through just a little bit of rain, we found ourselves again enjoying a great day. After a stop along the way to enjoy a great view, we met up with Jeff and Leigh at Two Wheels Only where we enjoyed sandwiches and pasta salad for lunch. Jeff finished eating, and removed all the luggage from his bike. "You gonna make a run?" he asked me. "Naah," I replied as he got suited up, knowing full well that I was - I just needed a run by myself to get my feet wet again after last year's events. He took off, and I immediately jumped up, stripped the luggage off the bike, got suited up, and said "See ya in 30 minutes." It was time to run the Gap again, and to see what the ST would do. After just a few corners, my confidence was improving, the pegs were dragging, and I rode the bike pretty well up to Calderwood, not pushing it too much. The ST gets a little scary when scraping, and I'm sure the touring tires I had mounted weren't helping much either. About 1/4 mile from Calderwood, I see Jeff go past me the other way. I stopped at Calderwood to take a short break before heading back. Jeff was stopped just a little up the road, and I followed him the rest of the way, knowing full well that there was no way I was keeping up with him. I did OK for a while through some faster (for the Gap) corners, but as soon as we hit some uphill tight corners, I had to back down and just listen to the sounds of Jeff's pegs scraping the pavement. It's amazing how loud that is, and I could clearly hear it from 10-20 bikelengths back. We got back to T.W.O. and the girls were camped out in the shade talking to the maintenance man, and hearing his stories of triumph and failure. I took a minute to pay my respects to the tree of shame before loading the bike back up for our 2-up run through the gap. Penny had been doing well so far, even though I scared her a couple times on the Cherohala, and I warned her one last time that this was the most insane road I had ever ridden. Off we went.
I'm taking it pretty easy, but certainly not slow, and about 15 corners into the gap I drag the left peg around a corner. "WHOOPS!! Sorry about that!" I yell back to Penny. "Was that a peg?" she asked, and I told her it was. "Cool!!" I didn't pick up the pace much, but we got into a section with a lot of transition corners, and I was throwing the bike around pretty good. We came around a corner, and there were two Ducati Monsters parked roadside. After I saw that they were OK, I threw the bike into the next corner. I guess Penny was still checking out the bikes, because she let out a scream when I threw the bike over. I asked her a couple times if she was OK, and she kept telling me she was except for passing cars, which is understandable. A couple of the cars pulled over to let us by, and before I knew it, we were at Calderwood, having successfully completed most of the Gap, and having dragged pegs a couple times. We were talking for a bit when the 2 Ducati riders, a husband and wife, pulled up and asked which one of the girls was screaming back there. I got a good laugh out of that, and introduced them to Penny. The sun was getting really hot just standing there, so we continued on, finished the Gap, and headed towards the Foothills Parkway.
The Foothills Parkway was a nice surprise, and I explained it to Penny as an appetizer for the Blue Ridge. "If you like this, you can look forward to about 467 miles of it over the next couple days," I told her during a stop at a nice overlook. We enjoyed the rest of the parkway before meeting up with Jeff and Leigh at the end. We decided to head to the next town and call it a day, and after scoping out a few hotels, we stayed at the Highland Manor Motel in Townsend, TN...and they had a pool too. I made a quick beer run, and after a swim, we headed across the street for a steak dinner. We had a great meal there, and I wish I remembered what the place was called. After dinner, Penny and I sat out in the gazebo for a while before turning in for the night.
Bald River Falls, just outside of Tellico Plains, TN
Penny at the falls
What? Do you dare me to go further?
Otter after climbing the falls...
...who then enjoyed a quick shower
Penny and the ST near the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway
The Cherohala Skyway, a view of the road below
A bridge along the Cherohala
Leigh and Penny enjoying a view near the end of the Skyway
A view of the road
A view of the bikes and the babes
Penny and I along the Cherohala
A stop along route 28 in North Carolina
A view from route 28 in North Carolina
The four of us at Deals Gap
The view of Calderwood Dam from Deals Gap
The Foothills Parkway
A stop along the Foothills Parkway
Waking up in a place like this, where you are surrounded by the Smokey Mountains and the smell of the clean mountain air carried along by a nice gentle breeze, is enough to put a smile on your face....as long as there is coffee available. The sun was shining this morning as we headed into Smokey Mountain National Park, and I had hoped that the traffic this morning would be a little better than the last time Jeff and I rode through here. Unfortunately, it was not any better. Leigh had found the Cades Cove loop on a brochure the night before, and as we had no definite plans and wanted to see stuff, we decided to take the 11 mile jaunt through the park. Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic, and it seems nobody had ever seen a deer in their life before, because any wildlife sightings this morning were surrounded my mini-vans and Volvos. Leigh and Penny spotted a black bear in a tree, not by the bear itself, but by the hundred people that were standing below it snapping pictures. It was kinda an oxymoron to have a nice path through the woods, only to have it littered by that many inconsiderate people, and we were all happy when the 11 miles of stop and go were over. Sometimes that's what you get when you take a chance, but I'm still glad we decided to check it out. You never know unless you give it a shot, and there's nothing wrong with that.
The trip through the rest of the park was better, but there is just too much traffic and too many people there for my liking. We stopped at the top of the park, where Tennessee and North Carolina meet, and snapped a few pictures. Jeff and I stopped here four years ago, and not much had changed - the parking lot was packed with tourists, and I was glad when we continued on. I can pretty much safely say that I don't care to return to this National Park. I've been to a lot of them, and this one is just too accessible for people, and when I get on the road, the last thing I want to do is encounter traffic. I actually rate this park lower than Yosemite and Yellowstone, both of which I'll never return to as well. Yet I digress. That's all part of the open road - there will be great rides, and not so great. You can't have one without the other.
Exiting the park, we stopped in Cherokee hoping to grab a sandwich and head up to the parkway to enjoy the day. The selection was very limited, and Jeff and Leigh were not in the mood for poor-boy sandwiches, and decided to instead grab lunch at Hardees. Penny and I grabbed some sandwiches, and headed towards the parkway to eat. After a quick stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway sign, we began the 467 miles of beauty that the Blue Ridge Parkway has to offer. Penny was immediately enjoying the ride much more than the National Park. This was more like it - there were very few cars, great views, and a nice sweeping road through the mountains. When we got up to elevation and the temperature dropped, we pulled into an outlook for lunch, and only then did I see that it was named Big Witch outlook - I swear, I didn't plan that one, but it is pretty funny. The road, and traffic mostly, had gotten the best of Penny in the National Park, but this area was a 180 degree turn around. We sat eating our lunch in the shade and waited for Jeff and Leigh to arrive.
As we continued on down the parkway, we split up and rode at our own pace. To say the ride was great is an understatement, but the ride was great - as usual. I can't think of a better place to have taken the girls for their first long ride. The BRP is perfect - it's incredibly beautiful and there are lots of overlooks to stop at, yet the road twists and turns throughout the mountains providing a little fun for me. We would pass Jeff and Leigh at an overlook, stop a while later, they would pass us, and so on and so forth. It had been a while since I had ridden the parkway in summertime, and I had forgotten how many wildflowers there were along the road. I was pointing out all the different colors to Penny, and she'd hug me and point something else out. We really enjoyed the ride, although later in the afternoon we hit a little rain. I decided to pull into an overlook to wait it out, and Jeff and Leigh caught up to us. We were very close to Asheville, after looking at a map, we decided it would be best to just stay in Asheville rather than try to push it to Boone. I took the last exit into Asheville, and ran across a great find - the Thunderbird Motel. I knew this would be a change from the nicer hotels we had been staying in, and would save us some cash. Penny was not exactly thrilled at the site of this little run-down motel, but this was a good way to show the girls that it's not all Best Westerns and indoor pools on our trips.
After checking in, Penny and I decided to take a ride down to the Biltmore Mansion and see if we could catch a glimpse of it before the closed. Unfortunately, we didn't make it, and the guard wouldn't let us in, even when Penny tried her typical "I'm a cute fun girl! Are you sure you can't let us in?" routine. Oh well, maybe next time. We made it back to the motel, and ordered dinner from a local Italian restaurant before turning in early for the night. The ride today took a lot out of everyone, and it was good to get some sleep.
Jeff and Leigh enjoying a morning view in Smokey Mountain National Park
A view from the top of the park
Penny sitting among the wildflowers
A bumblebee pollinating some yellow flowers in Smokey Mountain National
Welcome to the Blue Ridge Parkway
A lunch stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway
In a little rain, the clouds roll in
On the way into Asheville, we passed a very familiar site, and I had to make a quick stop this morning. There's a long story about Chad running out of gas on the Blue Ridge a couple years ago and me running into town to get him some gas. Well, while I was there, I found a minute to inhale a couple doughnuts - hey, it was early morning, and I was hungry. We happened to pass the same gas station, so I had to stop for a quick picture for Chad, and to enjoy a Krispy Kreme. Mmmmmm, doughnuts.
There are quite a few places to see along the parkway between Asheville and Boone, and part of the reason we stopped early yesterday is so that we could take our time and enjoy this stretch of road. Our first stop was Mt. Mitchell State Park, which usually has really nice views, but this morning was completely fogged in. "How about that view?" I joked at the top as the clouds blew through us. We tried to grab breakfast at the gift shop there, but they were still closed so we continued on. As we approached Crabtree Meadows, I saw the sign for the gift shop (which Jeff and I were trying to avoid so that there wasn't too much "stuff" purchased, and since packing space is at a premium). I also a sign for a restaurant, so I took a chance and pulled in. After thoroughly examining the gift shop, I walked into the restaurant to find an old stainless steel counter, so I plopped down and ordered a coffee. We eventually moved to a table and enjoyed a really nice breakfast while looking out the window into the mountains. The breakfast stop was worth the loss of packing space this morning - and I found a Blue Ridge Parkway hat, so that's a bonus.
We spent the rest of the day lazily riding up the Blue Ridge, catching glimpses of places I've stopped before, and stopping whenever and wherever we wanted. Penny was really into the ride today, and the hug frequency had definitely increased. Again, the wildflowers were flourishing along the parkway, and the views never ceased to amaze as we rode by. It's just a fantastic stretch of road, and as you follow the winding road through the mountain gaps, you feel further and further from reality with each passing mile.
At one point, Jeff and Leigh appeared in my rear view, and I waved them past, knowing that their cruising speed was higher than mine....but then something happened. I got that twitch in my right hand that caused me to keep the throttle open, and all of a sudden it was Otter and I on the Blue Ridge Parkway again. The road got twistier, and I forgot where I was and who was with me - right up until the point where the left footpeg made contact with the pavement again. "Damn," I thought. "I'm gonna pay for that one" as I let off the throttle and let Jeff go on his way. Penny and I putted along for the next few miles just enjoying the day and the scenery before meeting back up with Jeff and Leigh at Fancy Gap.
After gassing up and mailing a birthday card to my mom, we headed out towards Mabry Mill, another sight to see along the Blue Ridge. I was enjoying the relaxed pace of the last couple days, and stopping at a lot of the places that we don't usually stop at. Mabry Mill was another neat stop, and Penny and I walked through the mill, blacksmith shop, and old house. We noticed all the baskets and made mention of Leigh's affection for them before returning to the bikes. When Leigh got back she said "did you tell them that I like baskets?" and I jokingly offered to carry one back for her on the ST to try and get a rise out of Jeff.
The afternoon sun was taking it's toll on us all, yet we were still all smiles and having a great time. Seeing it was getting later in the day, it was hotter than hell, and Jeff had a major headache, we decided to make it to Roanoke for the night. We grabbed the first hotel we could find, and Penny was happy to see that it was a lot cleaner and nicer than last night's accommodations. After a dip in the pool, and an underwater swimming competition between Jeff and I (who say's we're competitive? Oh yeah, I won by the way), we went across the street for a very cheap buffet dinner - but it was within walking distance - and grabbed a couple beers on the way back. We had another great day of riding today, and the Blue Ridge was certainly fitting our riding style. Today was simply a great day of riding.
Mmmmm, Doughnuts. Hey - ya want one Chad??
The view of the clouds at the top of Mt. Mitchell
The ST parked along the Blue Ridge
Penny and the ST
A view from the parkway
One of the thousands of butterflies along the Blue Ridge
Mabry Mill, along the Blue Ridge Parkway
We headed back to the Blue Ridge early this morning (after coffee of course) and thought to look for a place to eat somewhere up the road. As we rode, we noticed all the tree branches and debris in the road, and I was glad we stopped when we did last night because a massive storm obviously came through. As we approached the Peaks of Otter, another place that I always see, but we never stop at, I noticed a sign for a restaurant, so I pulled in. I knew there was probably a gift shop, but I was willing to risk it for some breakfast. There was a really nice restaurant overlooking the lake, and I sat at the table enjoying some fresh coffee while the others were in the gift shop. After a light breakfast, I stepped outside and found the perfect wooden rocking chair. Something seemed so right - sitting among the mountains, a nice breeze, and just rocking back and forth. I didn't have a care in the world. Jeff pointed out to me a couple of old Hondas that we had run across the day before. It's interesting how often you run across the same people.
As we headed out, I reminded Penny that this was the last stretch of the Blue Ridge, and she should enjoy it. I knew she was enjoying the ride, but I was also riding a little faster this morning, and that was making her nervous. It was a toss up - I wanted to have fun, but I didn't want to scare her. I had been having this same argument with myself for the past couple days, so I'd just pick my times to hit a corner, and would constantly remind her that I was not pushing it at all and was riding waaay within the limits of what I could do on the bike. That would work for a while, but eventually I'd scare her and would slow down. This wasn't a downer at all, it was just something that I had to do. I wanted her to enjoy the ride, and I didn't want to do anything to take that away from her. As the last few miles of the Blue Ridge went by, I tried to think of the last two days of riding, but it was all a blur. We had seen so much, and I was glad that I was able to share such a great place with Penny. I was even happier that she was still smiling after almost a week on the road.
At the end of the parkway, we met up with Jeff and Leigh and parted ways. We wanted to head into Ohio to visit friends of Penny's, and Jeff wanted to make it home by Saturday so that Leigh would have a day to recover. We had experienced a great six days of riding together, and it was a little sad to part ways. I had some apprehension about taking Penny on a trip with Jeff - knowing his desire for EST and his "Jeff" attitude (too hard to explain, but it's just Jeff). I couldn't have been more wrong, and I will always remember our days on the road together from this trip. We had very good chemistry and I hope that everyone enjoyed the time as much as I did.
After parting ways, Penny and I headed up into Shenandoah National Park, and I assured her that this would be nothing like Smokey Mountain National. The park is just an extension (or beginning) to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is extremely beautiful. We enjoyed stopping at a few overlooks and reading the informational signs throughout the park. We stopped at the ranger station/gift shop (don't say it) before exiting the park and heading across Virginia towards West Virginia. It was different to see so many cars, especially since the last 500 miles had been on the Parkway and Skyline Drive. We made our way across Virginia on route 33, one of my favorite rides in the area. I thought for sure that Penny would really enjoy West Virginia and this area. As the tree-lined road headed up across a mountain gap, I remembered why I came this way. Holy corners - this is a great road. There are elevation changes, tight corners, and if you dare look away from the road, incredible views of the valley below. Unfortunately, I got the three-squeezes from the back seat, meaning pull over asap, so I did. The road was a little much for her, and I honestly didn't mean to scare her. I forget that while I may be taking it easy and not pushing it at all, it still can be scary for someone on the pilon seat. I tried to explain to her that everything was fine and that she should relax, but it was tough. There were a lot more oncoming cars than we had seen over the past couple days, and a lot of blind corners. I decided it would be best to slow down just a bit.
After a lunch stop down the road at Mean Gene's Restaurant in Franklin, we continued east on Route 33 through Germany Valley. I immediately though of taking Chad through here a couple years ago, and I pulled into the overlook for a break before continuing on to Seneca Rocks. Penny enjoyed the ride through the valley much more than the mountain gaps, and we spent a few minutes at Seneca Rock, another place that I've ridden past countless times but never stopped at. The day had taken a turn for the better at this point, and we were both enjoying the ride, the scenery, and each other. I was enjoying seeing some familiar places, as well seeing new places for both of us. This is a very pretty part of West Virginia, and I was glad that we came through here.
We enjoyed the last part of the ride towards Elkins very much. It was late in the day and had cooled off considerably, which made it perfect for riding. It took us a little time to find a hotel, but we eventually settled at a Super-8. There was a lazy-boy chair in the room, and I made the mistake of sitting down in it. Then I turned on the TV, and the movie The Hustler was on. That was it - thanks for playing - I'm done. We ordered pizza, watched TV, and looked at a few maps before turning in.
Pretty Maids all in a row
Jeff and Leigh at the Blue Ridge Parkway sign
Tad and Penny at the sign
A view from Shenandoah National Park
The ST in Shenandoah
Penny enjoying the view in Shenandoah National
Route 33 heading into West Virginia....let the fun begin
Germany Valley, West Virginia
The ST at Germany Valley
Penny at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
"Let's have breakfast in Maryland," Penny suggested to me this morning. "Sounds good to me." We headed north out of Elkins on Route 219 this morning, which is definitely a road that I want to hit again. Unfortunately, it was raining this morning which made for a tougher ride, but we eventually made it to Oakland, Maryland for breakfast. I found it amazing that as soon as we hit the Maryland border, we were back in farmland and out of the mountains, but I knew that Penny would be happy about that. :-)
We crossed back into West Virginia, and again the roads turned mountainous and twisty. I tried my best to take it easy, but occasionally I'd look down and notice that my speed had picked up again. The road was not the best either - there was a lot of gravel and a lot of logging trucks. I did scare Penny a couple of times, and we stopped along a river for a while. She explained that she was scared, but she really was enjoying it and was starting to realize what taking trips was all about. I was glad to hear that, because I wanted her to understand, and I wanted her to enjoy the trip. That and the fact that we only had about 30 miles left of West Virginia put a permanent smile on her face.
I've never seen anyone so happy to be out of a state in my life, and I wished I had put in ear plugs as we crossed the Ohio River, leaving West Virginia behind us. We stopped at a picnic area along the Ohio River to enjoy our lunch. The rain of the morning was gone, and we were left with blue skies and a nice afternoon breeze. The ride down the river was very nice and subdued, and reminded me of our first trip along the Mississippi earlier this year. We continued down the road which followed the Ohio River for a while before turning inland. The ride across Ohio didn't disappoint, and was just about perfect this afternoon. The roads were tree-lined, with lots of wildflowers, and there were enough corners to keep it interesting, but not too many as to make it scary. We just cruised along, pointing out this and that, looking up at the hawks and buzzards, and enjoyed the relaxed ride.
We made it to Chillicothe (you try to pronounce that) by about 6:00 and were planning to stay in the area so that we could easily make it to Dayton the next morning. After looking at a map, I saw that it was only about 80 miles to Dayton, so we saddled back up and made it to Mike and Jenn's house that night where cold beer and hot appetizers were waiting for us. We stayed up chatting about the trip for a while, ordered pizza, and had a few beers. Mike and Jenn were gracious hosts, and it was nice to see Penny and Jenn get together again. It had been a while since they had seen each other, and they were all smiles.
A lunch stop along the Ohio River
A view of the river valley
"Ahhh, what a good idea to make it here a day early," I thought as I looked over and saw 10:00 displayed on the clock. We both needed a day to sleep in, and I was surprised when Jenn had made a big breakfast for us. After the girls finished exchanging gifts, we all got in the car and headed for the Air Force museum. I was like a kid in a candy store walking around the museum. "Hey, that's a P-51...there's a B-29....wow, that's a Valkyrie..." The museum was impressive, not only for it's incredible collection of airplanes, but also for it's history. There were all sorts of displays, newspaper clippings, and other historical memorabilia to go along with the planes. I even got a picture by a Blackbird, and not the one made by Honda. Take a look at Penny's pictures to see more of the Air Force Museum.
After the museum, we had dinner at a sports-bar, before returning to Mike and Jenn's place. Mike and I haven't spent much time together, but we seem to be able to set each other up and play off one another's comments very well - not unlike the way that Jeff and I do. We were doing a pretty good job of annoying the girls, so they left us to watch TV alone for a while until they saw what we chose to watch...have you ever seen that new documentary on HBO?
Penny and Jen posing by an F-4 fighter
Penny smiling by an A-10
An F-111 fighter
We had a great visit with Mike and Jenn, and I thank them again for their hospitality. We delayed leaving this morning as long as we could, but we eventually had to leave and make it home today. This is the part of a trip that I always had the most difficulty with at first - returning home. Over the years, I've learned to see it as a necessary part, and as my life has improved, it's been easier to make it home. I could tell during the day that Penny was experiencing a little bit of the "I don't want to go home yet" syndrome, and that was to be expected. It's a long boring ride along the Interstate, and it's easy to let reality slip back into your mind, especially when it's been gone for so long.
We made it to Indianapolis quickly, and decided to avoid the Gary, Indiana area and instead head across to Champaign-Urbana and take Route 47 north. We crossed into Illinois and pulled into a rest stop for a while. Neither of us were in a big hurry to get going again, so we sat there and enjoyed the day for a while. After a quick tour of the University of Illinois campus (I had to get her to Morrow Plotts, the oldest experimental cornfield in the US) we continued on. Route 47 was a nice change from the Interstate, and we enjoyed the 2-lane ride through farm country, as I pointed out farm implements and Penny tested my knowledge of them.
Back on I-55, I saw signs saying that there were 30-45 minute traffic delays ahead, and then a couple miles later, traffic was at a dead stop. I turned around, and we made our way back to the last exit and found our way home another way. Welcome back to Chicago.
Penny at Morrow Plots, at the U of I
If you'd like to see Penny's pictures from the trip, you can get to them here
Mission accomplished is an overly simplistic way of describing this trip, but it works. We set out to show the girls what happens on a trip and the types of things that we see and do. The sights that we saw and the places that we visited were incredible and diverse. We saw everything from huge caves, to old mills, and absolutely beautiful scenery in between. I think really added to their enjoyment of the trip, and certainly didn't take away from my enjoyment of it.
I will take a lot of great memories from this trip. I enjoyed the time that we rode with Jeff and Leigh very much. The four of us got along great, joked around a lot, and had a great time at night sitting around talking or swimming in the pool. None of us had to worry about the others - we were all having a great time which added to the enjoyment. The relaxed pace that we took, and the shorter mile days did not take away from the enjoyment at all. On the contrary, I enjoyed having more time to stop and smell the flowers and not have to worry about how many miles we were doing.
There were a lot of questions that were answered on this trip, the most important one being, is taking 2-up trips something that I want to continue to do. I really wasn't sure how Penny was going to hold up, and what it was going to be like to be on the road with her for a week. Like anything new, I had to just take a chance with it, and once again, I'm glad I did. There was never a time on the trip where I wished she wasn't with me. I actually spent a lot of time thinking about where else I could take her, and what else I wanted to show her. I'm very glad that this trip went well and that she wants to continue riding and taking trips with me. I certainly want to continue taking trips with her, and I look forward not only to taking her to some of the places that I have found, but discovering new places with her by my side.
I have seen some fantastic places during my travels, and more than once I've been standing somewhere and thought, "Man, this place is so incredible that I really wish there were someone else here to share it with." I've been down to Appalachia, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, many many times before, but seeing it with Penny was a whole new experience. Not only could I enjoy her sincere excitement, but it was very special to stand among the mountains and have someone like her there to share it with. We've spent a lot of time talking about where I've been and what I've seen, and no pictures or stories can explain it as much as going out and doing it can. Being there with me opened her eyes to a whole other world, and I was glad that she was able to get there. She's an incredible person, and I knew standing there looking out over the mountains that she was enjoying it every bit as much as I was, and that she truly understood why we came this way. That in and of itself made the trip for me.