a.k.a. Umm, I have a question...
At some point during the summer, Chad approached Jeff and I and asked if we wanted to head back down to Appalachia this year for a fall run. The October trip to the mountains is becoming something of a tradition, but I really hadn't thought too much about it. At the time, the summer's activities were really burning me out, and the last thing I wanted to do was commit more of my time to something - even if it was a trip of this magnitude, which definitely had a lot to offer. I avoided giving a firm answer for quite a while, which is my inaccurate way of thinking that I'm not as busy as I am right now. Chad was somewhat relentless in his inquiries about the trip, which is a little unlike him. Rarely does he push this much, and I eventually started to realize that he really needed this trip for something. For what I wasn't sure. Even as Jeff and I talked to him about the trip, including things like camping and lack of plans, he seemed more than willing to take a laid back approach towards things.
My thought was that Chad had read about and heard stories from our trip to Colorado and wanted to give that sort of laid back trip a try. Plus, Chad hadn't taken a trip with either Jeff or I since last year's trip to Appalachia. He had been on the road and traveled with his dad a couple times, and he does truly enjoy his time on the road that way. However, I think he also is starting to realize that variety is the spice of life, and perhaps he missed not travelling with us - for some unknown reason. Just the fact that he is willing to camp now supports this thought, as camping last year was so far removed from his mind that he wouldn't even consider it. I give him credit for starting to expand his thinking and accepting that there are different ways to do things.
My fear was that Chad was searching for something that he wasn't going to find if he went looking for it. Having an experience like Jeff, Adam, and I had in the Rockies earlier this year is something that has no recipe, and there's no way to reproduce it on demand. I really wanted to see Chad enjoy himself on the road and remember the things that he saw, not the things that he couldn't find.
I honestly didn't know what to expect on this trip. From a riding standpoint, where would I be when I hit that first corner of Deals Gap? Running stickier tires and an upgraded rear shock would definitely keep me from out-riding the bike, but where would my mind be, and I would I trust myself to really push it. On the other hand, after all the miles I had ridden this year, would I find peace or would this just be another trip? The excitement that usually precedes a trip like this was nonexistent for me. When would it hit me that we're on a trip? Chad's not the only one that I had questions about.
Jeff? Well, there's nobody in the world who knows Jeff better than I do, yet never do I claim to know what he's thinking, so I find it best to just see what happens. I guess the only thing I knew was, he'd be cold in the October air of North Carolina, and I'd be there to see it and laugh. Aside from that, I wondered how many times I was going to have to chase after him when he blew past a turn, and what excuses he'd come up with as to why he missed it.
I showed up at Chad's house before Jeff did, which is a surprise with my anti-morning sentiments. Apparently, I had less difficulty getting out of the house than did Jeff. Unfortunately, Chad was at home, despite the fact that he was at a wedding the night before. Otter and I had secretly hoped that we'd show up to find no Chad, having been unavoidably detained, but such was not the case. He did at least get a phone number, and after we razzed him a bit about that, we headed out for the all too familiar "get out of dodge" run around the city. We decided to take a slightly different way down to Kentucky today, splitting up the necessary superslab run with a couple of US highway 2-lane routes. Before I knew it, we were watching the traffic disappear around us, and turning off of I-55 onto Route 47 south, a nice two-lane road through typical Illinois farm country. Most of the corn had been harvested, but the farmers were still out working hard at tilling the fields. It felt good to be on the bike this morning - nothing was hurting, and the ride down the two lane was a very nice switch from our usual slab day on the way out. When we reached Champaign-Urbana, we stopped for gas, since I had just hit reserve.
We headed back to the Interstate for a while, and I continued to zone out. Traffic picked up in a few places, and I was a little reluctant to play "road-chess" with the semi trucks...but not Chad and Otter. Chad zoomed past me and ducked in between a couple of rigs, and after failing to convince myself that this was a good idea, I slowed, only to see Otter (begin encryption) vtf uif tipvmefs up qbtt uif usvdlt. (end encryption) After our adventure on the Interstate adventures, we reached our next stopping point quickly, where we filled up with gas and laughed at each other a bit. The day was going well, and the slight rain that we had run into on the Interstate looked like it was pretty much over. Speaking of Interstate, so was our time there over and done with. We were already in Benton, IL and decided to take backroads for the rest of the journey. We were all surprised and happy that our Interstate time was done, and splitting up the route with a jaunt down Route 47 really helped to break that monotony.
It rained just a bit as we headed south on route 34 towards Kentucky, but then something wonderful happened. There we were riding through Illinois, and suddenly mountains appeared on the horizon. OK, they were actually foothills, but the confusion of being in Illinois and seeing topology like this can skew one's perception. The ride down to the Ohio river was really really nice, and that's not something that I've said often while riding through Illinois. The road offered some fantastic views as it traced the rolling hills towards the river bank. We got to the river before I knew it, and as we crested the last hill, I saw the ferry getting ready to depart. The gatekeeper saw us, and waited to depart until we were all aboard. Immediately, out came the cameras to document this part of the trip, and to get proof that there are nice parts of the state of Illinois. The view of the shoreline from the ferry was beautiful as the colored leaves and bluffs made a nice backdrop for our short trip across the river. Illinois nice? Hmmm, imagine that.
Kentucky nice? You bet. I always like the time I spend riding across Kentucky, and this day was no different. The foothills continued as we made our way towards the Land Between the Lakes area, a very nice area created when a river was dammed. We pulled roadside for a second after crossing a bridge and seeing the lakes so that we could figure out where we were going to get food for our camping. Genuinely, I turned to Chad and said "Hey, I've got a question." He gave me a concerned look, and then I broke the mood by saying, in a Beavis voice of course: "Was that a god-dam?" I even had Jeff laughing with that comment.
After grabbing some food, and trying not to laugh anymore, we made it to the welcome station, and picked out an area to camp in. Craven's Bay looked off the beaten path just a bit, so we made that our destination. We arrived at the campsite, and after talking with the hosts for a minute, we headed up to the most remote part of the campsite to find it completely empty. Perfect. We grabbed a site overlooking the water and setup camp. The sun went down, I started a fire, and we cooked our food as the stars began to appear overhead. The sound of the surf gently crashing against the shoreline was about all we could hear, besides the occasional sound of my harmonica. We started to get tired, and when we looked at a clock to see what time it was, we were discouraged to see that it was only 7:15 - discouraged, because we were all tired, but knew it was waaay to early to go to bed. It seemed as if we had been there for hours, but somehow, time stood still that night, which isn't a bad thing. There are far worse places to be.
The bikes on a ferry crossing the Ohio river
The view of Illinois from the ferry
I awoke to the sounds of the surf continuing to wear away at the shoreline, birds chirping in the distance....and Chad asking "You got that coffee made yet b#$ch?" "No, you're the coffee b%&ch, remember?" I said, referencing his first trip two years ago when he got his first introduction to Tad in the morning. It was still pretty early, but I was glad that I had slept pretty well the first night out, which is not always a guarantee. As we sipped the morning coffee, the rising sun broke through the clouds and cast it's reflection on the ripples of the lake. What an awesome sight that was, and I was immediately taken back to the sunrise that Jeff and I saw in Florida years ago. I hadn't seen a sunrise over the water in a long time, and it felt good to stand there and see the orange rays glisten on the lake. What a perfect way to start the day.
After packing up camp, we continued south through the Land Between the Lakes area, and I found myself quickly getting out there. It was still a little overcast this morning, and the road wasn't particularly twisty - but there was very little traffic, even less signs of civilization, and the trees were just beginning to show their color. Passing through the Bison and Elk conservation area, I spotted a group of five or six Bison grazing, and immediately my mind switched to memories of Teton National Park earlier this year. I was really enjoying the ride, and everything I saw seemed to spark a quick memory of times past.
At the end of the park, I met back up with Jeff and Chad and we headed into town where I somehow spotted a place to eat breakfast - it was buried behind some trees, but the words "Breakfast Special" have the same affect on me as the cocktail party syndrome has on many. We were not disappointed, and rarely do I dedicate an entire paragraph to breakfast, but today I must. After getting our first y'all of the trip - "Y'all want some creme for your coffee?" - to be exact, we enjoyed a great breakfast, and some of the best damn hash browns I've ever had. All of us sat back and enjoyed our meals and coffee before continuing on.
Yesterday, while at the welcome center, a couple of people suggested that we hit county road 232 south out of the area. Knowing that it's a good idea to follow these type of suggestions, we made our way there and turned left. For the next 12 miles or so, I followed Chad and Jeff through a nice section of twisties. The road was clean and the visibility was good, and this was a good place to wick it up just a bit - some more than others. At the next intersection though, the road quality degraded drastically, and it was no place to be hammering. No problem though - the ride was nice and it twisted through the foothills, eventually leading us back to a state highway. We continued south, and I again dropped back and continued to look around. I eventually caught up with Chad and Jeff who had stopped roadside before the next turn. I did my best impression of Otter in the desert (riding with left foot on clip-on - which hurt like hell BTW) before pulling over. Jeff was laughing at Chad who had actually lost a peg feeler on that last section. It didn't break off, rather it must have come loose and vibrated out. Nice.
From here, we jumped on US 64 and started heading east towards Chattanooga. The traffic picked up a bit through some of the towns, and there was a little more passing involved, but I was just enjoying being on the bike today. Across the rolling hills we rode, and next thing I knew, we were riding through cotton fields....and yes, my mind drifted to Mississippi a few years ago when Jeff and I rode through there during harvest and got caught in the cotton snowstorm as we followed the trucks hauling the cotton down the highway. It was harvest time again, and the roadside was littered with the cotton that would never make it to market. It was good to see cotton fields again, and seeing them today was certainly a surprise. Another surprise was upon us today as well. I was reminded of the 70's movie "Duel" as I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the dump truck that we had just passed in town approaching. I was the last bike, and I was trying to signal them to speed up just a bit. Both Chad and Jeff then noticed that the truck was coming up on us, so we'd speed up for a minute, but he kept catching up to us after we'd slow again. I don't think he was chasing us or anything, he was just making good time. Eventually, Jeff decided that he had had enough and zoomed around Chad. I attempted to follow. As I started to pass Chad, my rate of closure decreased with every movement of Chad's left foot, and eventually I had to concede and let him go. We wicked it up for just a few minutes to leave the truck far behind before returning to semi-legal cruising speeds.
After some time, we reached I-24 which would take us through Chattanooga. I remember this stretch of road very well, as it was a mainstay on family trips to Florida when I was a kid. It's actually a nice stretch of slab as it winds through the mountains around the city. Almost immediately after our climb commenced, the temperature dropped from the 80s that we had been enjoying, but the cool air was a nice treat. Having been riding for some time, I spotted a Rest Area and decided to stop. The road swept up the mountainside, and the exit ramp appeared out of nowhere. A quick steering correction, and I was there, followed by Chad, and Otter who commented "Geez, gimme some warning when you're gonna do that." Guess the exit ramp snuck up on everyone. We decided there to get a campground on the other side of Chattanooga, which would set us up for the Cherohala the next morning.
After a traffic and construction filled ride through the city, we stopped for dinner and supplies before heading to the national forest in search of a campsite. We were only minorly delayed by Chad's missed turn (which Otter and I watched, and which Otter was happy about, since "it wasn't me." - yeah, for once) and as the sun began to go down, we failed at finding the first campsite on the map. It just wasn't there and by the time we got to the second one, it was already pitch black out. We initially scouted for some wood to start the fire, and then setup the tents by motorcycle headlight before eating our dinner. It was amazing how dark it was, and aside from the car headlights that pulled into the area and then turned off (which freaked us our a little bit..."Hey, you brought your .45 right?" Jeff asked...seems they only stopped to use the bathroom) there wasn't a light to be seen. Unfortunately, we were a little close to the road, and I don't think they do emissions testing in Tennessee, nor do they require mufflers. No matter - a couple or earplugs later, and I was fast asleep.
Watching the sunrise from our campground in Craven's Bay, Land Between the Lakes
Riding through Land Between the Lakes
Another view of the road in Land Between the Lakes
"Ahh, so that's what this place looks like," I said as I emerged from my tent and made my way towards the coffee. "Man, this would have been nice to see last night." It was a beautiful area and the trees completely covered the view to the skies above. We headed out early this morning, and first stop was gas. In the search the night before, both Chad and I had hit reserve, and I was already 15 miles into mine. I offered this morning to get Chad a Krispy Kreme at the second gas station down the road, but he wasn't hungry. OK, don't say I never asked anymore...
We made our way back to US 64 and headed east towards the North Carolina border. The ride this morning was fantastic. The road twisted and turned along Parksville Lake as the mountains surrounded us and blocked the early morning sun. Had the god-dam joke not already been used, it would have worked too this morning. We met up at the intersection of route 68 which would take us to Tellico Plains. Following Chad, the pace picked up just a little bit, and the pass-o-matic was in good form this morning. He just has a way of getting around cars that others don't, and I found myself having to constantly pass and then reel him in. Talk about fun though! Route 68 is a blast, has a variety of turns, and good elevation changes. I had my first good peg drag of the trip as I accelerated around an uphill left-hand sweeper in an attempt to catch up to him, and this morning it felt good to be on the bike, but for a different reason. There's nothing like a little adrenaline in the morning to take over where the coffee left off.
After a quick breakfast at Hardees in Tellico Plains (there were no other restaurants around), we headed to the Cherohala. Heading up to the Skyway, I got a little bit ahead of Jeff and Chad (following the pass-o-matic has been known to reveal a few passing tips) and I rode on for a while just admiring the colors. The trees looked like they were on fire with amazing reds and oranges blanketing the mountainside. After crossing the North Carolina border, I pulled into a rest stop to sit and relax a bit. A few minutes later, Jeff joined me and as we chatted about the ride, we watched Chad to by and disappear in the distance. OK, you should see where this is going by now...me, Otter, open road ahead called the Cherohala....we suited back up, and began riding at what we call a 4-pace (5 being dragging knees and pegs around every corner). A 4-pace is a lot of fun, and still well within the limits of what you should do on the road, knowing that anything can be around any corner. I was following Otter's lines through the corners, and we both spot a Pacific Coast and rider sitting at an overlook. Next thing I see is Otter's hand go up and wave to him, while in a damn good lean. Of course I follow suit and wave to the rider, and as I setup for the next corner, I laughed to myself wondering what that guy thought we were doing waving to him while that leaned over. A couple corners later, I hit my apex of a right hander, and as I look up to see my exit point, I instead spot a red Pontiac Bonneville approaching the same spot, and I stutter for a minute - long enough to lose my line. A typical "Lean-or-Die" situation ensues, and I'm sure that the driver was a little concerned watching a 560 lb bike with it's right footpeg on the ground come towards him, but once again, I decided to lean. About 10 corners later though, we were in for a different surprise. I had been noticing hunters roadside and thought nothing of it, that is, until we round a corner and see a hunting dog right at about the exit point. Otter did a great job of hauling down his bike and avoiding the dog, and he only locked up his rear a little - a good step for him, and for me, because I still have nightmares about seeing his rear wheel step out 45 degrees. Anyway, after that little incident, I thought it would be good to pull into the next overlook and chill for a bit.
We continued on with me in the lead until we met up with Chad near the end of the Skyway. Chad had been there enjoying the view for a while, and it was good to see him in such a relaxed state. We all stood and chatted at the overlook for a while, and commented on how many different times we'd been at this exact spot. It's certainly one of my favorite views, and I felt lucky to be able to stand here and see this twice this year. When we were ready, we headed over towards route 28, and as planned, grabbed a hotel room for the night....at 12:30 in the afternoon. If you've been in this area, you already know why. This was Gap afternoon. After re-hydrating a bit and relaxing, we saddled up (without luggage) and made our way to Deals Gap for a few runs. I always like the run up 28 towards the Gap, as it's a good warm up, but nothing like the Gap itself. After spending a few minutes in the TWO store, we saddled up and headed out for our first run. Here I was again. The Black Whale vs. Deals Gap....however, the Dragon didn't know what she was in for, as this year, the Whale was shod with a Metlzer MEZ3/Z4 combo, an Ohlins rear shock, and a rider who's confidence level was not off the charts, as opposed to last year. The combo of these three ingredients lead to four great runs through Deals Gap without having the rubber lose contact with the pavement. The runs were spirited, and I got a knee down here and there, but I rode well within my abilities. Before the last run, we were stopped at Calderwood Dam and there was this punk kid on an older F2 talking with us about his Gap forte. None of us really wanted anything to do with him, or his buddy riding the busted up ZX-7. As we began to get suited up, I saw them get ready, and I knew that they'd be following us. I attempted to encourage them to go first, but they were waiting for us. I didn't want to lead to begin with, and I certainly wasn't going to do anything stupid, so I set a pretty mild pace - about a 4-pace again, maybe 4.5. When we got near the end, I spotted what I thought was an unmarked car, so I pulled over instead of passing, and "VROOM!!" this kid goes flying past and grabs a handful before the next corner. Jeff later told us that he'd disappear from his mirror in corners, but then whack it and catch back up in the straights. Geez, anyone can do that. Oh yeah, and the guy on the ZX-7 was long gone behind us. We're not and don't claim to be the best riders in the world, but for a couple of flatlanders, we certainly can hold our own...even though that's not what it's all about.
Having successfully slayed the Dragon - OK, how about "I didn't piss her off, so she let me live" - we headed back to the hotel, with plans of maybe heading somewhere to watch the sunset. When we got back, I made the mistake of sitting down in a chair outside, and I knew that the possibility of me getting back on the bike today was looking bleak. After talking to a few of our neighbors, we decided to instead just head down the road about 5 miles to a mom-n-pop restaurant for some dinner and call it good. The night air was crisp, and Jeff and I sat outside the hotel room for a long while after Chad hit the sack, talking, bs-ing, and enjoying the night air. I kept on thinking "Man, I could live in a place like this...as long as it wasn't a dry county."
Our campsite the second morning...so that's what it looks like
A view along the Cherohala Skyway
The CBR and VFR after a nice run through the twisties
A great view from the Cherohala
Chad taking a moment along the Cherohala
One of my favorite views from the Cherohala
The three bikes near the end of the Cherohala
I awoke to the horror of the motel lobby still being closed, and without skipping a beat I dug out the camp stove and began boiling water for my morning sustenance...I'm serious, don't get between me and coffee in the morning. Today was going to be a great day of riding - how can a day spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway not be great? We headed out into the chilly morning air and made it to Cherokee where we stopped for breakfast before heading to the Parkway. After breakfast, we picked a point on the Parkway to meet up at (Mt. Mitchell) and headed out. Each of us has a different view and need from the Parkway, and while we do end up riding together for part of the time, it's always nice to be able to take your own pace - and not feel like you're holding anyone up by stopping, or driving anyone too hard by continuing on. It's a good way to ride, and a good road to do that on - after all, not even Jeff can blow a turn on the Blue Ridge.
Heading up to the Parkway, the trees again were on fire, and this was another of the days where I had to stop myself from taking pictures every 30 seconds. There were certain areas where the foliage was just a little past peak, say anyplace above 4,500 feet, but it was still incredible to see so many colors. In certain sections, the rays from the sun would break through a section of the trees and further illuminate the colors. I rode along, awestruck for a good portion of the morning, stopping here and there, and trying not to run myself out of film. About the only problem with this morning was the traffic, and I could see why some call this the "Blue-Hair Parkway." The campers and Floridians were out in decent numbers, but it didn't take much of anything away from the ride. Unfortunately, to break up this nice morning ride, there was about 5 miles of construction zone with only one lane open. There was a little delay getting through, and having 30 cars in front of me, I decided to pull over for a while and let traffic die down. It's a really pretty time of the year and I can see why people come to visit now, so I couldn't really get upset with the other people - they were just trying to do the same thing that I was trying to do. Once I got going again, the traffic disappeared, and I continued on trying to squeeze more memories of this road into an already cluttered mess of memories that exist somewhere in my brain. It's to the point now where I remember things, but I have really think to remember which trip that particular memory belongs to - not a bad problem to have. The thing is, on a day like today, that's the most difficult thing that I had to figure out.
After a couple hours, I made it to Mt. Mitchell and was surprised not to see Otter there already. When Chad pulled up a minute later, he assured me that Otter was in fact behind him, so I decided to just cop-a-squat on the side of the mountain and wait. Believe me when I say that I was more than happy to do so. Jeff pulled up just a few minutes later and we all sat there looking out at the mountain. "Hmm, I wonder what the view is like from up there," I sarcastically noted as I pointed to the top of Mt. Mitchell which was, as usual, immersed in clouds. I don't remember a time passing through where Mt. Mitchell isn't covered with clouds. We decided to keep going up the road, and one by one, we departed and left yet another great view to become a memory in our minds.
I stopped at an overlook only to see a silver ST1100 pulling out, and we exchanged the usual waves. A minute later, he pulled back in and we started exchanging names and stories. It turns out that he runs a motorcycle touring company that advertises on www.mcguide.com, who I write for. We talked for a long while and I felt like I could have stopped and talked with him for even longer. Both of us had to keep going, but I caught his name, Ken, and got his business card and promised to drop him a note when I got home. One of the great things about riding is the people you meet, and this was no exception.
During the afternoon, the traffic lighten up and the scenery continued on. There were a couple of places that I pulled into for a picture or just to rest, and other places that I'd look at as I rode past and remember having been there before. There were other places that I'd pass, and simply think "Oh yeah!!" It was a wonderful afternoon ride, and as I came around one corner I saw my favorite view of the parkway, partially because of the view, and partially because this view spot on the parkway holds so many memories. I don't always stop here, but today I had to. I had never seen this view with the fall colors before, and I still remember the first time I saw this four years ago. It's amazing how much things can change over those four years.
After a quick detour around an area of the Parkway that they are repaving, I met back up with Chad at an overlook, and Jeff wasn't too far behind. We decided to head to the Doughton Park area and grab a campsite for the night. We arrived to once again find an empty campground, so we went to the most isolated area and setup camp for the night, this time, in daylight. After getting the basics setup, we headed back to the general store for some dinner, and hopefully to find some water and firewood for the night. We found both there, and after enjoying a really good home cooked meal served to us by a waitress with a classic southern accent, we loaded up the Whale with three bundles of firewood, and Chad's VFR with another (Jeff carried the water and drinks) and headed back to the campsite. It was dark now, so I wasted no time in getting a nice big fire going. We knew that it was going to get cold tonight at this elevation, but it would be worth it. The stars were already out, and there was just something magical about camping along the Blue Ridge. With a roaring hot fire going, we sat around, I took requests on the harmonica, and we just enjoyed the night air. I think by far this was the best camping night for us, and I'm pretty sure we all enjoyed the aura. I know for a fact that we all enjoyed the stars, because all night long one of us would walk away from the fire for a few minutes to enjoy the view. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
The CBR along the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway immersed in beautiful colors
Another view of the colors along the road
A view of the mountains near Mt. Mitchell
Chad and Jeff enjoying the view
A nice view of the colorful mountains
One of my favorite views of the Parkway
The CBR with a great view of the mountains
The camp coffee tasted especially good this morning. As we packed up camp, I found myself sitting and relaxing every couple minutes - I certainly wasn't in a hurry to leave this morning. Jeff and Chad were impressed that I actually burned the 6 foot log that I dragged out of the forest the night before. Truth is, I burned it until it would fit in the fire pit, and then it just smoldered all night. Nevertheless, chalk up another great campsite and nice warm fire.
We all headed out this morning towards our next meeting point at Mabry Mill. There were slight concerns about having enough gas, so I decided to pull off at Fancy Gap and fill up. Otter had the same idea, and we chatted there for a while, hoping that Chad would show up by chance so that we could grab breakfast at the pancake house there. I instead inhaled a bear-claw before we continued on to Mabry Mill. We arrived to find a line of people outside the door to the restaurant and immediately decided that we weren't eating there. Chad wasn't there yet, so we were forced to cop-a-squat roadside for a while - again, not a problem. There's never a problem waiting for people along the Blue Ridge. About 15 minutes later, Chad pulled up and came over to sit down with us and enjoy the morning air. "Well, I don't think we're eating here," I said. "Don't worry, I just ate back at that gas station." Insert loud Homer Simpson sound here. A little annoyed, I headed up the road in search of food, and thankfully, about 10 minutes later I spotted the Tuggles Gap Restaurant, where the waitress thankfully served Jeff and me breakfast, even though it was 11:30 local time...and they had grits too.
Now that I had food in my stomach, things were much better. I really like this middle section of the Blue Ridge. It's not nearly as mountainous as the sections north by Shennandoah or south by Asheville, nor are the overlooks as incredible, nor is the road as twisty - yet, this is one of my favorite stretches of the parkway. This is old Virginia here, with farmhouses, cattle fences, and a certain colonial look and feel to the area. The parkway rolls through the hills and I always feel very small riding through this area. There's nothing around and it's very wide open though here, and is a great place to just sit back and relax. I did.
Passing through the Peaks of Otter, I pulled over to buy another roll of film - I had been taking more pictures than I thought I would. As I was getting ready to depart, a guy on an old CBX pulled in and he came over and introduced himself. We talked for a while and I learned that he was the local CBX club president and that he had two of them in his garage - lucky guy. We exchanged a few more stories, and looked at the different bikes before parting ways, and again, I promised to drop him an email when I returned. Back on the road though, I found myself in Otter-mode...I just wanted to ride. It didn't matter where, or how fast, or what. The miles went by and I found myself looking down at the old CBR, the Black Whale, and I started to think of all the places we'd been together. It was one of those days of riding where everything happens without any thought. I got into a twistier section of the road, and I wasn't thinking about riding...it was just happening. I don't know how to explain it, but I wasn't sitting on a motorcycle as I guided it along the road - the motorcycle and I were there and it wasn't necessary to think. The riding just came naturally and it felt so right.
As I approached the end of the Parkway, the colors continued to shine in the late afternoon sunshine. Jeff and Chad were waiting an an overlook talking to a guy on a new BMW R1100S. We all chatted for a while before heading to the typical end of the parkway, the sign. We parked the maids all in a row and snapped our typical pictures. It was more of a physical end to the parkway, but certainly not the mental end. Each of us was out there in our own way, and that was evident as we all stood there. It's always a little sad when the Blue Ridge ends. It's still one of the best all around roads I've ever been on, and I love each and every mile of it.
We decided to head north just a bit and grab a hotel room for the night, so we jumped on the slab for the last 30 miles of the day - talk about a difference in roads. 75 MPH felt like 100 after spending two days on the Blue Ridge. After a little hotel searching (OK, too much, but we ended up great), we grabbed a room, with two beds, with restaurants within walking distance, and they had a hot tub. Perfect! Four for Four. Jeff unloaded his bike and began throwing things up one story to the balcony outside our room. He's the creative one after all. I decided to carry the Givis. Unfortunately, I'm usually the voice of reason.
We were all pretty hungry, so we headed out to dinner first. There was a Mexican restaurant, a steakhouse, and a couple other places. We really didn't discuss where we were going to go, but I knew that my stomach couldn't handle Mexican. Jeff was up for steak, so that's where we started to walk. Once Chad realized that we weren't going to the Mexican place, he said something like "I thought so, I'll see you guys later" and began to walk away. Honestly, Jeff and I were a little dumbfounded, which is normal for us, but we didn't really know what we missed. We then offered to go somewhere else, but just not Mexican. He wasn't real receptive, so we just shrugged our shoulders and kept going. A couple beers later and we still hadn't figured out what the deal was - first breakfast, and now this. We were trying to figure out what we did wrong, or how we pissed him off when he walked in the door and ordered a beer with us. Something was still up with him, but I guess it wasn't as big a deal as we thought. We grabbed a few more beers at the gas station on the way back to the hotel, and after making a couple phone calls, we enjoyed the hot tub and the sauna...and beer. Later that night, out came the maps and Chad and Jeff discussed which way to go through West Virginia the next day. Route suggestions from Jeff were met by a little resistance from Chad, who had a couple of places he really wanted to go, so I just stayed out of it and drank my beer. Sometimes that's my best bet.
Our campsite along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Mabry Mill, along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Another shot of Mabry Mill in the colors of the trees
The next day, the colors along the Blue Ridge continued
Pretty Maids all in a row...in the typical spot
For the record, I was not the last one up this morning, as I usually am. I exited the room quietly to grab a cup of coffee and met Jeff out by the bikes. After a cup, we journeyed back into the room and the sunlight awoke Chad from what was a deep sleep. After packing up and enjoying a little more java, we were on our way towards West Virginia on route 33. Chad and I hit this road a couple years ago, missed it last year, and this was one of the two things that Chad wanted to do on this trip. Hell - no problem with me. Route 33 rocks. The morning air had quite a chill to it as we rode through the tree-lined road towards the mountain range that 33 ascends. Once the turns popped up, the game was on, and I watched Chad and Jeff ahead of me slicing and dicing up the asphalt. After a nice morning run and crossing into West Virginia, we stopped in the next town for a little breakfast, but unfortunately for Jeff and Chad, the biscuits and gravy (a.k.a. SOS) left a little to be desired.
During the post-breakfast ritual (we stand around the bikes, Jeff has a smoke, and we try to figure out where we are heading for the day) Chad walked up to me to discuss possible routes. He looked at my map-case and only saw the Blue Ridge Parkway map picture that was displayed. "Hey, you don't have a map!" he exclaimed. "Don't need one," I replied, and then explained to him that I really didn't care where we rode to today - I just wanted to sit back and enjoy. He was a little confused by this, as typically, I'm the navigator (read the guy who generally keeps us going in the right direction and chases down Otter when he blows a turn). I was being somewhat honest with him, as the past two days of just riding had their affect on me, and I was very much relaxed. I feared that looking at maps would bring me back to reality, and I didn't want to risk that, so I decided to take the day off. I'm glad I did. I did make a suggestion of a road that we take out of Elkins, but other than that, I left it up to Chad and Jeff to decide the route. I was just along for the ride.
Jeff and Chad took off for our next meeting place, Germany Valley Overlook, while I stopped to put a little air in my tires. After a nice run up the mountain that was interrupted by a semi driver who thought he was Dale Jarrett, I met up with the guys at the lookout. What a change two months made - colors everywhere, and even though it was just past peak, it was still incredibly beautiful. Between that and listening to Jeff brag about how well and how smoothly Chad put his knee down on one of the previous corners, I don't think I'll ever forget standing there that day. I tend to really enjoy the time I spend riding through West Virginia, and today was no different. I took the lead out of the lookout and after a quick stop at Seneca Rocks, we continued west on route 33 towards Elkins.
After gassing up in Elkins, Jeff took the lead and we started heading north on route 219, my suggestion for the day. Penny and I had taken this road two months ago, but it was raining at the time. Today, the traffic was pretty light, the sun was out, but the gravel was plentiful. About every right-hand corner on this road was covered in gravel since the trucks would cut the apex too tight and kick the gravel from the shoulder onto the road. All of the left handers were pretty clean though, but it's a little nerve-racking flying into a corner when the last one was gravel coated. We held back quite a bit, but the ride was still very enjoyable, especially as we crested the mountain range and could see clear across the valley to the next range of mountains. Before I knew it, we were crossing into Maryland, and the landscape changed to rolling hills and farmland. It's a very pretty area, and we pulled roadside for a bit to rest and enjoy the views of the hills, before continuing into town to grab a bite to eat.
The next couple hours for me are a bit of a blur. We headed on some road up into Pennsylvania that was very nice - gentle curves and rolling hills. I found myself again just sitting back and relaxing, so much that I don't know when we crossed into Pennsylvania. As I told them in the morning, Pennsylvania is a nice state to ride through, as long as you completely ignore the insanely slow speed limits. I know horse drawn carriages can't maintain speed, but some of the roads are marked 35 where they should be 55. I didn't see any carriages, but the Amish people were out doing their daily chores as we rode through the countryside.
At some point, we crossed back into West Virginia and met back up with Route 7, so I kinda knew where we were at. Otter was in the lead with me following and Chad bringing up the rear. We had encountered a little traffic, and Jeff was being a little cautious passing a car. This did not fare well with the pass-o-matic, and out of nowhere, I see a red streak with black smoke puffing from the exhaust pipe go flying past Jeff and I and pass the car. I chuckled a bit as I watched Jeff pass the car and go flying after him. I eventually got past and spent the last few miles of the day riding along at a constant 60 MPH, taking smooth lines, face-shield open, looking around, taking it easy, and relaxing. Such was not the case for Boy...er, I mean Chad. After his ill-advised pass, Otter thought to teach him a little lesson...so I find out when I caught up to them at the end of the road. We always follow at a safe distance through corners, but since Chad was in such a hurry to get past, Otter thought that he would show him what it's really like to be in a hurry. Otter spent the last 30 miles of the road on Chad's rear tire....through the corners, he was there, exiting the VFR800 would pull away, but Jeff would catch up by the next corner and push him again...you know, just so that he knew that being in a hurry isn't always a good thing. Blind corners? No problem - push him more. I think Chad learned his lesson because he was just a little pale and very subdued as we talked about it. Jeff just had an ear to ear grin. Classic moment.
We grabbed a hotel room at a cheapo motel that night, and Chad even anted up the extra $10 to get us a suite - call it a suite, but this was a $40/night motel, but there were two rooms. With my snoring, that's a good move on his part. Jeff and I took one room and left the other to Chad. I immediately walked across the street for beers and we ordered Pizza Hut for dinner, as Chad wanted to temp fate...read his last report about his trip to Colorado. After dinner, the TVs were on and Jeff and I were watching Die Hard with a Vengance...perfect. We're sittin back with a couple beers, watching a good "I don't have to think about this movie" action flick, when we keep hearing this strange sound. "Hit mute a second," Jeff tells me, so I did. We sat in silence wondering what that sound was and were anticipating it's next appearance when we heard "ZZZZZZZ!!!!" Both of us just looked at each other in disbelief, until we heard it again. "ZZZZZ!!!!!" "Holy crap - I can hear him through the wall!!!" Jeff exclaimed. We had to get up and investigate or course, and when we walked next door, there was Chad, snug as a bug in a rug, TV on, remote in one hand, glasses still on, snoring his head off. We had to walk outside because we feared our laughing would wake him up. "I guess that last run took something out of him, huh?" I asked. Jeff just smiled.
The three bikes at the Germany Valley overlook, WV
A view of Germany Valley
Another view of the valley
A shot of the road twisting through West Virginia
The Maryland countryside and rolling hills
"Dude, you should have heard your snoring last night!!" I said to Chad as he was waking up. "You missed half the movie!" "No way, I saw the whole thing," He claimed. "Uhh, I don't think so," Jeff chimed in. "We heard you through the wall." We laughed a bit more about it, and then Chad said "Umm, this better not go in the trip report." - whoops....oh yeah, I forgot about that....ummm, where's that delete key....^H^H^H^H...damn it doesn't work. Oh well.
We looked at a map this morning before heading out, and decided to do a little exploring of the Ohio countryside before grabbing some breakfast. We picked a couple of roads to hit, and I led us through them this morning. We crossed the river into Ohio and made a right turn into the hills, and immediately the twists started. What a perfect way to start the day - clean pavement, nice hills, and great twisties. About halfway through the ride though, the pavement quality decreased, and I had to ease off the throttle. The scenery was very nice, as the road was cut into the side of a hill that twisted and turned through some really nice farmland. At the next town, we decided to stop for breakfast and after one run through the town, I failed to find a place. We tried again, and this time, Chad spotted a little cafe, so we pulled in for our last breakfast of the trip together. Chad and Jeff were heading home today, but I decided to continue riding and do some more exploring of the Ohio valley. We had a great trip together, and after breakfast we parted ways.
I continued on south along the Ohio river not really knowing what was ahead on the road. It was a very different type of road, and had both extremes of scenery. On one hand, there were sections that were absolutely fabulous where the road would be cut into the bluffs and the water was so close on the left that I felt like I could reach out my hand and touch it. I could see nothing but trees, cut rock, and miles of waterway. On the other hand, I'd round a corner, and see a nuclear power plant ahead, and the road would pass by the cooling towers so close that I thought I could reach out my hand and touch it. It was quite an interesting ride this morning, and by afternoon, I had passed at least 5 power stations, and seen many many beautiful miles of road. It was strange riding through this area and having the scenery change so drastically mile after mile. Regardless, I had a great ride, and it was just what I needed - a continuation of yesterday's ride. I'd glance at a map occasionally, but I mostly just rode to where it looked nice.
After spending the morning and early afternoon riding along the river, I found myself crossing the Ohio river back into Kentucky. I always enjoy the time I spend in Kentucky and decided to do a little exploring. I started out tracing the river for a while and eventually ended up inland riding through farm country. Riding along, I noticed barns painted jet-black. As I wondered what they were, my nose gave me the answer when I rode by one that was close to the road. The warm smell of colit...umm, tobacco was rising up through the air. I remember thinking that if Jeff were here, he'd be pounding his feet against the pegs right about now. It was a very pleasant smell, and I enjoyed riding through the tobacco farms for most of the afternoon.
It eventually came time to setup camp for the night, and I had thought to camp at Kincade Lake State park. However, about fifteen minutes before I arrived, it started raining. I pulled into the park to have a look only to find muddy campgrounds without grass. I really had wanted to camp, but decided to instead head for the next town and grab a hotel room. About 15 minutes later the rain stopped, but I figured I'd still be best off with a roof over my head tonight.
The CBR lost in the Ohio valley
Stopped roadside somewhere in Ohio
I stayed up way too late last night watching movies....that's what I get for not camping. I checked out of the room and got a somewhat early start, only after consuming some Burger King coffee - which is quite possibly the worse fast food coffee in the world. I was immediately back into the Kentucky countryside riding through the cattle farms and tobacco barns. It was a perfect morning with just a few overcast clouds in the sky, and I just rode west this morning, figuring I'd hit the river road again at some point. Eventually, I met back up with the Ohio River near Warsaw, Kentucky. I chuckled as almost immediately a power station appeared on the horizon and minutes later I was riding past it. Just a few miles down the road from there I found a riverside cafe and stopped for breakfast.
I crossed the river into Madison, Indiana and having no maps of Indiana, I set out to test my directional skills. I figured if I'd stick to north and west routes, eventually I'd hit Illinois and I could make it home from there. There seemed to be two choices for routes out of town, so I took the one that appeared to go northwest. Perfect so far - the leaves were changing and there wasn't too much traffic. The rolling hills of southern Indiana were very nice and as I chose my roads by pure instinct, I found myself actually in some decent twisties. I'd tell you where they were, but I have no idea where I was.
At some point, I found myself at a very strange looking intersection, and I decided to find a map and get a better idea of where I was headed. Good thing too, as the road I intersected with went in neither direction I needed, but I found my way back to a better road easily. Unfortunately, riding along, and traffic started to pick up. After passing 3 or 4 sets of cars, I crested a hill only to see a line of about 20 cars ahead of me, and equally as many oncoming. I had no idea what was up the road, as I had already passed the Interstate, so I decided to just turn off at the next intersection. About ten minutes later, I was in hell...No, not Hell, Michigan, but motorcyclist hell. I ended up riding right through a quaint, craft-store, antique mall, lemming paradise....try as I might, I couldn't get away from that town fast enough, and I was in traffic long enough for my fan to come on. Luckily, I was able to sneak around some of the "sightseers" and make a b-line for anywhere but there. Just a few miles down the road there was a scenic overlook, so I stopped there for a rest and to plot a route. I didn't want to end up in any more towns like that one.
I made my way up to I-74 and looked at my clock, which read 2:00. At that point, I was starting to get hungry, and I knew that Champaign-Urbana was only a little over an hour away, so I jumped on the Interstate and made my way towards a true pleasure - La Bamba Burritos, Burritos as Big as your Head. I made surprisingly good time to Urbana and wove my way through the campus to 6th street only to find Bamba closed for remodeling. Thankfully, I remembered that there was another one on the other side of town, and they were open. "Steak super, no hot sauce, with sour cream." Mmmm....Bamba.
From Champaign, I headed over to Route 47 and reversed our path from a week prior. It was good to be back on a 2 lane again, even though I was only on the Interstate for about 80 miles or so earlier today. I decided to take 47 all the way to route 20 and avoid the Interstate and tollway heading back into town. After my last three days of very relaxed riding, this was just what I needed, and I'm glad I didn't subject myself to the shock and horror of riding up I-355. During the last few miles heading home, I turned onto Plato Center road and the last couple days really hit me hard. This was it for the year, really - I might get an hour or two here or there, but that doesn't even compare to something like this. While I wasn't glad that the riding season was coming to an end, I was very content in the riding I had done and the places I had been this year. It was different riding the last two days by myself after having ridden with Jeff and Chad for a while, but I found it very satisfying to end the year this way. I guess I just needed some time to myself.
A nice view from a roadside stop in Indiana
Variety is most definitely the spice of life, and I think this trip is proof of that. Each day, each hour, each mile of this trip had something different to offer. This trip was everything that I needed, and I hope that statement is true for Jeff and Chad.
First off, I answered my questions about my riding coming off my low-side of last year. This year, I rode hard, but definitely rode with more in reserve than last year. Sure, I still dragged pegs and put my knee down, but I picked my moments to wick it up a lot more intelligently. I had feared that my confidence was going to hold me back, and it did to a point, but not to the point where there weren't those adrenaline rush moments. Moments is the right word to use, because hammering is such a small percentage of the trip, yet for some reason, it has so much attention paid to it. Last year, riding hard was what I needed, and this year, I just needed to ride.
Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall continues to be an awe inspiring endeavor. The sheer beauty of the mountains is enough to give anyone the sensation of insignificance. But the parkway itself, with it's lack of roadsigns, billboards, and signs of life continues to be a great place to get lost. There are parts of the parkway, around Asheville, Linn Cove, and near Boone, where the views plead with you to get off your bike and sit for an hour, mesmerized by the view. Here you can see the mountain ranges extend past the horizon in a seemingly endless sea of blue color and completely forget where you are. Then there are parts of the parkway, say between Boone and the Roanoke. This section could be described as dull when compared to the areas I already mentioned, yet this is the area of the parkway that always gets me. Riding through the hills and farmland, I always find myself at peace with everything. I hope I never figure out why this part of the parkway inspires me so much.
I needed this trip more than I thought I did. I love my life and where I'm at right now, and I have nothing to complain about. The last two trips that I had taken before this were on the ST and with Penny. Both trips were incredible, but there's obviously something different riding 2-up, and I find myself spending more time concerning myself with Penny than with me. I'll never compare a trip like that to a trip like this, as they are both equally important and valuable. On this trip, more than once I found myself watching the asphalt roll by underneath the Black Whale. It was a great feeling to be out there again, on what I still refer to as "my bike", doing what I like to do. I sometimes forget what a great feeling that is and how much enjoyment it brings me, and this trip really reminded me of that. I've said before, and written before that it doesn't matter what you ride, it's that you ride...and that's true to a point. There is still something so alluring about a bike that you've seen so many things with, experienced so many feelings with, and spent so much time with, and riding that particular bike can still bring you to a place like no other. Throw in the fact that you're riding the best motorcycling road in America, and it's bound to take you somewhere special. That certainly was the case for me.
Finally, it was about time. Jeff, Chad, and I had never taken a trip with just the three of us before this one. I enjoyed the time that we spent together on the road, as well as the time chatting around a campfire at night. We had a couple hours last year to ride together, resulting in Chad's first peg drag, and this year the guy is out there draggin a knee. He has grown not only as a rider, but as a person over the last year. He still has his "D'OH!" moments, but it's good to see him go into things with more of an open mind.
I wrote a lot about Chad in the introduction to this report, and I observed quite a few things over the week on the road. Having recently read his version of the report, and spending some time talking with him about it, I think I can safely say that he had a good trip and that he enjoyed the ride and found his "place." He's definitley getting to the point where it's more than just riding, and he's beginning to see that there are so many more things than the bike and the road that contribute to a trip (and I don't mean scenery either). He has grown, and is continuing to grow due to one fact...well, actually two. One, he doesn't listen to Jeff and I anymore and instead decides for himself what is good for him. Two, he is beginning to realize that things don't have to be perfect for them to be meaningful. He's more willing now, than in the past, to take a less than ideal situation and make something good of it, but there are those things that still bother him and try his patience. I think this still brings downers to him on a trip, but there are far fewer of these events as there were in the past. Overall, he's finally starting to realize why he takes trips and what they bring to him, and for that, I'm simply happy for him. We've watched him struggle over the past two years trying to figure out why he does this, and thankfully I think it's finally clearer to him. (Click here for Chad's trip report). Perhaps Jeff and I can stop ripping on him....hell, we've already cut way back. If nothing else, a new nickname may be in order.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to laugh at Jeff much, as we had wonderful weather - so nice, that not once did I use my heated vest....Jeff sure did though. In addition to that, the planets must have been aligned this week, because Jeff didn't blow one turn during the entire trip. Kudos to him....I didn't feel like chasing him down anyway. However, I did have a chance to laugh quite a bit, especially around the campfire, sitting outside the room near Fontana, and listening to Chad snore through the wall in West Virginia. As many people will verify, we pretty much talk about the same things most of the time - motorcycles, women, and life. We had some great conversations, and we always seemed to end up going over the same things each night. Funny that on a trip filled with so much variety we can still talk about the same old things.
As I write this, I am filled with wonder and anticipation of what next year's riding season will bring. There are so many options and limitless paths to choose from. This riding season was nothing short of incredible, and there is no one moment that I can point to as the reason for such a great year. This season of riding offered so much variety, offered so many new places and experiences, as well as those things that I have come to know and love. The places I saw, the people I rode with, the miles I rode will all be close to my heart this winter season. As I look ahead to the next year of riding, learning, and experiencing, I wonder what opportunities will present themselves, and I just can't help but smile.
I sincerely thank everyone that I had the honor to share the road with this year.