North Carolina Blast

a.k.a. "Freedom to be Stupid"


This was my fault...again.  I once again underestimated Otter.  When will I learn.

So one day, I'm taking a look on eBay for some parts for my FZR400 when I happen across a rare find.  Someone in North Carolina was selling a Honda VFR400, a.k.a. an NC-30.   These bikes were never imported into the states, although there are ways of getting them into the country. RVF400s in California are pretty popular for racing, but VFR400s are extremely rare.  Knowing Otter's fondness for Honda V4s, I forwarded him the information as a joke.  That's what we do.  Dangle the carrot and laugh as the other guy fumbles around, trying to catch it.  Somehow, when I wasn't looking, he actually caught the damned thing.

The day after the auction ended, I checked the status of the auction, and I'll be damned if otter4244 wasn't the winner.  For days, I couldn't believe it.  I knew he did it, but it was just so far fetched and unrealistic...I didn't know he still had it in him, nor did I realize that he had lost anything.  Now we had to figure out how he was going to pick it up. "You wanna go down there," he asked me, and without thinking, I replied "Yeah, sounds good."  Usually at that point I have to re-think things, make sure it's OK with work and with Penny (not necessarily in that order), and then get back to him.   "Absolutely," I reaffirmed.  If Otter can do something stupid, so can I.

I have to mention the Greatlake-Motoriders here.  I go on and on with Paul, Doug, Dave and the rest of the gang about not trailering (see, I can say that now) unless absolutely necessary (i.e. for track days).  When they heard of the NC30, Paul asked if we were renting a truck or a trailer to bring it back.  My reply was:

"Do you really think we're all talk??"


Day 1:

I swung by Otter's house on my way out of town on Friday to pick up his football (for those that don't know, it's a nickname for the bag o' tools and spare parts that always come with on a trip) as getting that through airport security would be an issue.   Have bungee net, will travel.  Secured to the back of the bike, I headed out, saying only, "OK, see ya at the airport."  With front wheel lofted in the air, I headed away from Chicagoland for a couple days of fun on the road.

Heading out of Chicago, I avoided traffic pretty well until a mile-long backup on I-55.   The chatter on channel 19 was keeping me very amused, although I never did see the chick in the silver Mitsubishi.  They were still talking about her as I exited for route 47, a boring, straight, 2-lane stretch of highway...but a damned nice ride when you hit it right.  I set the throttle lock at about 70, sat back, turned on some tunes, and watched the miles go by for an hour.

My thought was to make it to Louisville today, so I headed east on I-74 through Indianapolis, burning the miles a tank at a time.  Darkness fell as I merged onto I-65 south, and I enjoyed the last hour or so of the ride watching the oncoming lights disappear as they passed me, and enjoying the moonrise and stars.

Arriving in Louisville, I couldn't find the Super-8 that I thought was right near the Intersection of I-64 and I-264, so I bunked up in a Red Roof Inn that night.  All I needed was a bed and a toilet, as usual, and for $44, the Red Roof was a deal.  After a quick 400 miles, I zonked out pretty well.


Day 2:

Today, I still needed to cover some distance, about 600 miles, but I was determined to enjoy the day and so some exploring.  After a couple cups of Red Roof coffee, I was on the road by 7:30 and heading down towards Lexington, stopping along the way at a Waffle House for a great breakfast.  Ahh grits. I love the south.

At Lexington, I grabbed I-75 south for a few miles before exiting at US 421.   Looking at the map over breakfast, 421 would take me all the way across Kentucky, through Tennessee, and eventually end up in Boone, NC.  Hey, the Blue Ridge!   Why not.

By chance and chance alone, I stumbled upon a really nice road.  I love the Kentucky countryside, and 421 followed it's contours for hours.  The road meandered along a river for a while through tobacco farms and very rural areas, and a pace of 65 MPH was all I wanted right now.  Traffic was sparse, and the gently winding road was very peaceful and relaxing.  At one point, I was riding along and I noticed something strange.  I had a huge grin on my face.  The sun was out, the air was cool, and the ride was proving therapeutic.

Crossing into Virginia, I stopped for gas and decided to have a little lunch while I was there.  They were out of BBQ for sandwiches, so I instead ordered a couple of grilled ham 'n' cheese....ahh, Virginia ham.  Delicious.  Oh yeah, and the chick sitting across the restaurant wearing the t-shirt that read "Good Girls are Bad Girls...who don't get caught" was pretty hot.  Sorry 1cent.  Had to do it.

After a minor detour in Bristol, TN (the road sign was missing, so I ended up going straight instead of turning), I found the best part of 421 yet.  The large yellow signs warning of upcoming switchbacks and telling large trucks to turn around triggers a pavlovian response from me.  My feet creep higher on the pegs, the arms bend, and the eyes start looking further ahead on the road.  Despite my very worn MEZ4 tyres, I kept a pretty good pace through the first set, keeping a watchful eye out for the gravel that kept appearing.  The pace was fun, but safe.  A knee went down here and there, but more out of "how close am I to this" rather than necessity.  The best part about this was that after the next intersection, yet another big yellow sign appeared and I got to do it all over again.  Nice.  Very nice.  Besides the road being fantastic, this whole area was part of the Cherokee National Forest.   There were some incredible vistas, and the surrounding mountains with seemingly endless virgin forests made me feel right at home.

I made it to Boone at about 4:00 and continued east.  I could not pass up a chance to ride a few miles of the Blue Ridge, and despite the fact that it was Saturday, it was late in the day and traffic was not bad at all.  I decided that I wanted to spend the next few hours enjoying myself, like I had been doing all day.  I also knew that I had to pick Otter up tomorrow morning at the RDU airport, so I called ahead to Greensboro and made a hotel reservation for the night.  Perfect - now I could ride into the darkness and not have to worry about staying at the Iron Butt Motel, like has happened down here before.  Despite the looming stormclouds hovering above the mountain range to the east, I had to do it.  I saddled back up and headed south on the Blue Ridge.

The rain never hit me while on the Parkway, and just being back there, especially by myself, was magical.  The smile had reappeared and was plastered onto my face by this point as I rode along at the speed limit...wanting to take this in for as long as possible.  For a while, I think I was stopping at every other overlook, sometimes for just a second, and sometimes for what seemed like hours.  I sure was glad that I pointed that NC30 out to Otter.  There was nobody around, and as I crossed the Linn Cove Viaduct, I couldn't think of another place in the world that I would rather be.

After almost 2 hours, and only about 50 miles of the Parkway, darkness started to fall, and the parkway at dusk can be a little dangerous with all the deer. I jumped onto route 181 south, and the rain finally decided to appear.  I happily stayed behind a couple of cars and let them plow the way for me, keeping a watchful eye out for Bambi....I'm not sure why.  It's not like I could have stopped with this torrential downpour.   After a while, and a little "white knuckling" through some twisties (I don't like twisties when there are white caps on the road, and when I have old tyres), I made it back to the Interstate, filled up with gas, and finished off the last 120 miles to Greensboro though an occasional shower, and a few lightning strikes.  I found my hotel right away, checked in, and proceeded to the Lone Star Steakhouse next door for a good meal, and a couple of beers.  Did I mention I love the south?  The waitress's southern accent was enough to make my knees weak.  Sorry again 1cent.

The Sprint along the Blue Ridge (with Otter's football)

Storm clouds looming to the east


Day 3:

"Yeah, it's only 45 minutes to the airport from here," the clerk assured me as I sipped my morning coffee.  I was meeting otter there at 9:30 this morning, so I headed out from the hotel at 8:00 to make sure I would arrive on time.  About half way there, I stopped at a McDonalds for a quick bite to eat, and looking at a map, I realized that I was a good 30 minutes away still.  I inhaled the rest of my breakfast and picked up the pace a little bit, the campuses of Duke University and North Carolina University disappearing to my right and left. For some unknown reason, everything worked out.  I pulled in about 7 minutes late, and I'll be damned if Otter wasn't standing right there waiting.  "Hey, what the hell are you doing here?" I joked.

I struggle still to write this paragraph.  These were perhaps the worst 60 miles of my life on a motorcycle.  There was just something so wrong with having Otter in the pilon seat, especially since he knows how to ride, and knows what throwing his weight back and forth will do.  Heading up an on-ramp, I set the lean angle, and all of a sudden I was way off course, Otter laughing behind me.  It wasn't so bad at first.   I was as far forward in the seat as I could go, and Otter was doing his best not to slide forward.  We're not homophobes or anything like that....but this was just wrong.  Luckily, we reached our destination, and the seller met us there, and showed us the way to his house...with Otter in the front seat of his car.  Thank god that's over.  Phew!

The NC30 sat silently outside the guys house as we pulled up.  Unfortunately, it had been sitting outside a lot, and while it was not in bad condition, it wasn't quite mint.  It's too bad the guy didn't know what he had, but despite that, Otter still gladly handed over the money, and signed his name.  The bike looked tiny, and I was glad it was he that was riding it all the way home.  Plus, the front tire that had "about 2000 miles left on it" was completely shot, to the point that cords were starting to show, not in the middle, but on the sides.  Well, no big deal.  This is what we do.  Take a situation, make the best of it, and keep going.

We started the trek back across North Carolina towards the Blue Ridge on route 24 through typical North Carolina countryside.  After an hour or so, we started getting occasional views of the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance, and just the sight of them kept me going strong.  We eventually hit a 4 lane blacktop and continued towards Asheville with a little rain coming down now and then.  As we got closer to the Blue Ridge, the rain picked up a bit, but didn't put a damper on anything.  Here we were - at the Blue Ridge Parkway with a bike that Otter had bought about 4 hours ago.  Nice break-in ride.

We headed south on the damp from rain Parkway and stopped at the second or third overlook to get our bearings straight.  Otter was concerned about the rear end of the NC30 and a chattering that he was feeling.  Watching it on the road, I thought it was the chain.  I straddled the little bike while Otter laughed at me.  "Are you even going to be able to ride that?" he asked...probably because my elbows were just about touching my knees.  I took it a couple miles up the parkway and couldn't miss the rear end chattering that he was talking about.  Upon returning, we agreed it was the chain, but couldn't really tighten it due to the massive tight spot.  Oh well, let's move on.  We decided to meet at the usual meeting point, Big Witch Overlook (sorry 1cent), and headed out.

The last 80 miles of the Parkway are some of my favorites - they're all good for their own reason, and these are good for the elevation, desolation, and yahoo factor.   There's some really nice uphill left-handers in this section that always lure me in.  Luckily, the pavement dried out for about 50 of the miles, and I started to push the Sprint a little bit, enjoying the miles as they went by.  I hammered where it made sense, and didn't where it didn't.  The Berserker hadn't quite caught up to me yet.  I'll explain that later.

After meeting at the Big Witch overlook, we started the last leg towards the Tuskeegee Motel.  After a failed attempt to buy some beer (no beer after 6:00 on Sundays - damn) we made it to the Motel and grabbed the last of the BBQ, a few drinks, and did what we really came here to do: sit on the chairs outside the room and enjoy the peace and quiet.

The first shot of the NC30 on the Parkway

The Sprint along the parkway somewhere

Another shot of the NC30, sans bag

The bikes at Big Witch Overlook

Hmmm, I swear I thought she was around here somewhere


Day 4:

Otter and I haven't traveled by ourselves in a while....and it showed.  Last night, without Adam or Chad there, we didn't know when to go to sleep.  That, and I took a shower.  Something was seriously wrong, and when we awoke at 9:15 (two hours later than planned), we figured it out.  We really shouldn't be left alone together. With no baseline for reference,  bad things usually happen.

The other motel motorcycle residents were getting on their way as we were just waking up, and she looked cuter this morning than the did last night.  Sorry 1cent.  We eventually got moving and headed up route 28 towards the Gap, needing to get a new tyre mounted on Otter's NC30.  I arrived at T.W.O. a few minutes before Otter and started inquiring about a tyre, only to find out that the mechanic is off on Mondays.  We tried calling the other local shop but got no answer.  Eventually, Otter got in touch with a dealer near Marysville, TN and they had a tire in stock and could mount it for him quickly.  Okay, time for a Gap run.

Otter was quite nervous (as he should have been) making a Gap run on a front tyre that was showing steel belts on the side, and it was no surprise that after a good 3-pace (really, honestly) though the Gap (OK, maybe a 3.5, but I didn't touch anything down, so no higher than that) I arrived at the Calderwood overlook a few minutes ahead of him.   We finished the run and headed to "the restaurant" for a bike to eat.   It was about 11:30 but they were still serving breakfast - wh-hoo, I'll take a number one and a side of grits.  The cook came out and demanded to know who ordered grits after she had just gotten done cleaning up the breakfast stuff.  They're known to razz the customers here....it's part of the charm.

After breakfast, we parted ways, and figured we'd mysteriously meet up somewhere later in the day.  Hey, it worked yesterday.  I turned left onto 72 and Otter headed north on 129 to go get a new tire.  The ride across 72 was a new one for me, and it wasn't too bad.  After just running the Gap, nothing else will compare to that, but the ride along the waterfront was quite picturesque, although I never quite found the "look out" corner that they were talking about on tailofthedragon.com.  Nonetheless, I was enjoying myself and enjoying the new blacktop that I was discovering.  Route 360 was more of the same, and the tree lined surrounding mountains were beautiful today.

I made it down to Tellico Plains, and turned right onto the Cherohala (still ignorant of the correct pronunciation), and proceeded to meet an oncoming LEO.  I looked down and saw that I was doing the speed limit.  "Wow, I must be enjoying myself again."  Further investigation showed that I was in fact smiling, so all was good.  After just a few corners on the Cherohala, I turned off to go see the Bald River Falls, a nice quiet spot that Penny and I found with Otter and Leigh a few years ago.  I arrived at the falls to find nobody there.  I spent a while walking along the rocks, taking pictures, and enjoying the sound of the rushing water.  It was here that Berserker found me.

Back on the Cherohala, as the elevation rose, so too did the speed.  I love this road, and feel very comfortable pushing the bike here.  Knees were dragging here and there, and while I did keep the Berserker from doing anything too stupid, I did run a pretty damned good pace across, stopping only a few times, as I was now enjoying a different type of riding.  There was nobody on the road, as usual during the week, and this was the time to bump it up a notch.  Scenery?  Ehh, who needs it.   Let's rock.  And yes, I was still smiling like a fool.

I met back up with 129, and decided to head back up to the Gap when I noticed a small motorcycle repair shop.  I pulled in and talked to the guy for a bit, and I guess he didn't hear the phone ringing as he had been busy changing tires all morning.  I took his card, and while I hope we don't have to use his services, should we need repairs in the future, he's got our business.  A few miles up the road, the rain came, and came down good.  The 'Stich was holding up pretty well and when I pulled into the CROT parking lot, I was surprised to see an NC30 sitting there.  Whoa! Hey! There's Otter.   Brand new tire, and nowhere to use it.  The rain came down for another 30 minutes or so, and the riders returning from the Dragon told us it was raining the entire way.

Instead of a wet Gap run, we headed down towards the Robbinsville, grabbed a bite to eat at Subway, and then headed up the Cherohala.  Unfortunately, it had rained here as well and the road was still damp in about 50% of the corners.  We rode up to the summit, and I pulled into one of the overlooks I hadn't stopped at, where we sat, enjoyed the scenery and talked for a while.  I saw the road drying just a bit, and I hopped on the NC30 for a quick blast to "the next overlook and back."  After having passed about 8 overlooks, I figured I had better turn around.  Man, despite the rear end chatter, the NC30 felt great.  It reminded me a lot of the FZR, and it was a blast to ride.  This bike belongs on a track...but that's a different story.   It was here also that Otter informed me that we had been mis-pronouncing the word Cherohala.  It's not Chair-o-hall-ah (like a hallway), it's chair-o-hail-ah (as in hail to the chief).  This was very disturbing to me, and I still can't say it right....and yes, I still pronounce Agawa as Ah-gawa.

We headed back down the Cherohala, this time at a more spirited pace, as the road had almost completely dried.  The Berserker showed up for a couple of corners, and but I did a good job of keeping him in check.  Those 25 MPH corners are a blast on the way down.  When we reached the intersection of 143 and 28, Otter turned left and I turned right.  Beer run!!  I headed back the 25 miles to Bryson City to pick up some much needed beer.  The ride there was OK, and it was pretty dark by the time I started heading back.  I turned onto 28 north, and it felt like I was in a video game.  It was pitch black, the brights were burning, and the road reflectors were illuminated in front of me for what seemed like a mile.  I guided the Sprint through the runway of reflectors and the pace kept picking up.  I had a big old grin on my face by the time a few of the corners showed up, and as long as there was no oncoming traffic, it was go time.  The Tuskeegee Motel appeared and I braked hard to make the turn into the parking lot, and was met by a clapping and very thankful Otter.  Then the beers started going down.  Then the store put away the hot food before we realized it was almost time for them to close.  We bought some bread and lunchmeat, had a few sandwiches, and enjoyed the night air and cold beer.  It was almost like an Old Milwaukee commercial.

Bald River Falls

Another shot of the falls

The classic shot of the road below from the Cherohala

The Sprint along the Cherohala

Another hazy view


Day 5:

The beer did it's job last night, and I fell asleep quickly.  We somehow woke up at a decent hour, decent enough at least to catch one more glimpse of the blonde Harley rider before she and her husband left. Sorry 1cent.  It was sad to have to leave the Tuskeegee this morning, and as I drank my morning coffee, I was really enjoying the last views of the mailboxes, the bikes, and the pond.  Alas, we had been stupid long enough, and it was time to head home.  But not until after one more Gap run.

Otter had commented to me yesterday on the Cherohala that he was impressed.   "I didn't think you knew how to go slow through a corner anymore."   Riding on the track has altered my view of the street.  I pick and choose my corners with more brains and less balls these days, and my run through the Gap yesterday (when I didn't touch a peg or a knee) was proof of that.  This morning would be a different story.  After a slow ride up route 28 due to all of the debris from yesterday's storm, I started out through the Gap all well and good, running the same pace as yesterday.  Well, like I said, the Berserker had made himself known a few times yesterday, and this morning, that SOB took over.  Before I knew it, I was running a solid 4 pace, about the fastest I like to ride on the street, dragging anything and everything through the tight corners.  It was a great run, and the adrenaline was flowing a lot more this morning at Calderwood than it was yesterday.

I announced to the cook that I was ordering grits as soon as I entered the restaurant this morning, and I think she threatened to hit me over the head with a frying pan.   Nice place. Good food too.  After breakfast, we started the trek north, and decided to take a different way home.  Rather than head across Tennessee through Nashville, we'd jump on I-75 north, and head back through Louisville.  the plan got off to a rocky start when we hit a 5 mile backup of traffic approaching Knoxville, but once we finally hit I-75 north, it cleared up.

Why haven't we taken this way before? The views from the Interstate of the surrounding mountains were great, and unlike heading towards Nashville, where the mountains disappear in a matter of minutes, we were surrounded by the mountains for a couple hours today.   Yes, this stretch of Interstate was very nice.  The miles went by pretty quickly, Tennessee and Kentucky came and went, and darkness began to fall as we crossed into Illinois on I-74 - giving the Welcome to Illinois sign the traditional salute of course.

Route 47 in the darkness is usually a time of reflection, and today was no different.   While the road is dead straight and takes you from point a to point b in a very direct manner, it's affect on the brain is oftentimes the exact opposite.  The mind finds tangents and alternate routes back to other places and times, and seeing the dual-lights from the NC30 behind me reminded me of other times that Otter and I had ridden together, as the other VFR has a similar light patter (although with much better aim) .   I enjoyed the ride, drifting here and there, trying not to speed too badly, and looking over my right shoulder at the 3/4 full moon in the distance.  Passing the deserted building near the intersection of Illinois 116, I looked again to my right and was reminded of my trip to Arkansas last year when the full moon was shining upon this spot.  It gave me one of those inner-peace feelings that can only be understood by those who have passed this way.  I let out a sigh and continued on....wheelying away from the stop sign of course. 

After a stop in Dwight for gas and snacks, we braved the last hour or so on the Interstate.  As you get closer and closer to Chicago, people drive more and more like asses, and it's just another of those "welcome home" things that we have to deal with.  Luckily, the ride was uneventful, and I escorted Otter to his house before heading the last 1.3 miles home.

Views from the Tuskeegee Motel:

The bikes parked outside the room

The row of mailboxes across the road

The small pond across the road

Other pictures from the day:

The Sprint at the Calderwood overlook

The NC30 at the overlook


Conclusion:

As short as this trip was, I come away from it with a renewed feeling of opportunity.   The last minute nature of this trip is something that I've been missing, without having realized that it had disappeared.

In the days of old, taking off last minute was a no-brainer...yeah, sounds good, let's go. Nowadays, things are a little more complicated, and while that's not a bad thing, I've lost touch with some of the spontaneity.  Schedules are pretty tight, and it's difficult to get people together for a Sunday ride, let alone a 5-day trip.  How this was pulled off is still a bit of a mystery.  Maybe the planets were aligned or something.

I smiled more on this trip than I usually do, probably because the entire time, I had a feeling in my head like I was somehow getting away with something. This trip hadn't been talked about for months...it was only a period of a few days, and riding along the backroads of Kentucky, I not only felt the usual peace and tranquility of the road, but there was also the surprise-factor. "Man, I'm supposed to be at work right now" was a common thought, rather than the usual "This is a good way to spend a vacation day."  There's a subtle difference between the two.

Was I getting away with something?  I really don't know.  Penny, bless her heart, puts very few borders and restrictions on me, but she is, after all, a chi...I mean woman, and all women are...well, you know the rest.  I know it's hard for her when I leave, and while she's getting better at it, it's natural for her to be sad.   Sometimes it takes me leaving for her to understand why I left.  When I spoke with her on Sunday evening of this trip, she knew why I had left. She didn't ask me questions, she just was glad to hear my voice for a few minutes.  She knew that I wasn't ready to talk.   I knew then that I wasn't getting away with anything.   I was just doing what I wanted to do.

As I write this, I can't help but wonder, was the nature of this trip just an illusion that I cooked up in my head to somehow make me feel more comfortable with moving forward in my life?  Was this a reminder of how things were, or an indication of how things could be?  Was I somehow trying to convince myself that getting older is OK, because things like this still can and will pop up from time to time?  I really don't know the answer to that, but regardless, I'm very glad that I was able to do this and I feel even better about life after having returned.

I need to clarify that I'm not at all unhappy with where things are right now with my life.  In fact, things have never been better, and I owe that to a combination of things.  I make sure I don't give up the things I absolutely can't live without, I try to make Penny feel loved and needed, and Penny understands that I have a breaking point for time commitments.  It is better to not step over that line, as that usually triggers a very negative response.  Things have been going very well, and this summer, busy as is was, did not burn me out like last year. I'm not sure I would have done this last year at this time, as I would have viewed this as another thing that I had to do, rather than something that I wanted to do.  My attitude now is much more clear and refreshed, that when this opportunity arose, it felt like the days of old when my immediate response was "Hell Yeah!"  Without having everything else in place and working as well as it is, I never could have experienced this opportunity without creating negative repercussions elsewhere.

Hopefully, this was not just an illusion.  I don't think it was.

Finally, the Berserker story. I don't remember exactly where we were, but we were talking about my riding style, and the fact that I have no problem going slow if things aren't right.  If we were talking about someone else, we could use the word "maturing" but for me, that word holds too many negative connotations.   Anyway, while discussing this, the nickname Berserker came up, and my response was: "Yeah, I didn't tell him that I was heading down here.  He probably got home from work on Friday and said 'He went where?? Aawwww crap.'" We went on to elaborate that he was probably hitchhiking down to the Gap, figuring that he'd find me there, and we suggested that if I see him, I ride away in the opposite direction.  While he did find me a few times on the trip, I'm glad I was able to contain him more than I have been able to in the past.  That guy is a freaking maniac, and he should live in a glass case that reads "Break only in event of track day."

It felt really good to be stupid again.  I sure hope I'm not getting smarter....