a.k.a. Ending the chapter...
What a difference 6 years makes.
I first met John back in 1996 when we became neighbors, and when I bought my first motorcycle and started taking trips, John would continually shake his head in disbelief. Comments like "Where are you going this time? Antarctica?" and "You're a freakin' nut!" were commonly heard coming out of John's mouth back then. John bought a bike soon thereafter and by his own admission he "used to ride for hours and never leave Cook county."
Last year, I finally and somehow convinced John to go on the ATL trip, and from that point, his motorcycling life hasn't been the same. He has the disease, and he's got it bad. His transition over the past two years gives new meaning to the phrase "all the things I though I had figured out I have to learn again." No longer is a trip around town even worth taking the bike on - he wants to get out and ride "in the good stuff."
This year, John did the ATL trip and the FAST school. We then started talking about a Fall Color Run, and I really wasn't sure if he was going to make it, due to some changes at work. When the parts started arriving....a Corbin seat, hot grips, heated vest, and a Ventura rack...I knew he was serious and that he wanted to go. These parts by the way complimented his already installed centerstand (yes, that's a Smokin' Joe's replica CBR600F3). I told you, he has the disease.
Anyway, after very little planning and a whole lot of talk and last minute bike preparations, we headed out during the third week of October on John's first big trip to my favorite place in the U.S. to ride.
Not getting an early early start this morning wasn't bad at all. Usually, the fears of traffic backups in Gary, Indiana get us on the road by 5:00AM. The thought of warmer temperatures at 8:00 as compared to 5:00, plus the idea of getting a few more hours sleep made the decision for John and I very easy. It ended up being a good thing as well, since John's farewell meal from the night before led to a minor food poisoning incident and kept him up for some of the night. Both John and Tehra were apologetic about John running late this morning, and I honestly told them both, "So what? We have no schedule and we won't have one for the next 9 days." It was no big deal and we were leaving Illinois behind us in no time at all.
Traffic was moving well through Gary, and we made it to I-65 south pretty quickly today, stopping about 45 minutes later at a rest stop. The morning air was brisk, but John was all smiles and proclaimed "I don't know how I ever rode without Hot Grips and a heated vest." We decided to head to West Lafayette for breakfast, passing by the old standard breakfast stop in favor of the Bob Evan's restaurant just about 4 miles up the Interstate. With stomachs full, we were ready to continue on.
The clear blue skies continued through Indianapolis and beyond...right up until the point where we left the Interstate and got on the backroads. The blackened skies ahead warned of the impending rain, and John pulled over to quickly put on the rain gear and cover his Ventura. The rain never came down too hard, but it was steady and constant for the rest of the day. We stopped outside of Madison, IN to fill up and I went inside the store to get a cup of hot chocolate - not because I was cold, but because it just sounded like a good idea. As I was leaving the store, I started to say the words, "Hey, you need a hand with that?" but before I could get them out, the Smokin' Joe's tumbled onto it's right side. John was trying to put it on the centerstand so that he could get that last 1/2 gallon of gas into the tank. The rain of the day combined with the spilled fuel and oil made the gas station as slippery as an ice rink - and I mean really slipperly. John made an attempt to hold the bike up and by the time I dropped my hot chocolate and ran over, gas was pouring out of the tank so quickly that I thought that the fuel nozzle was still on. We righted the bike quickly, and luckily the damage was minimal. The brake lever had bent, there were a few scratches, and we had to straighten the exhaust clamp. Unfortunately, John's gloves and tank bag had been doused with gasoline. Nothing was damaged, but the smell was unmistakable. I could tell John was a little upset, but he wasn't throwing things around...he just felt dumb - just like we all do when this happens to us.
We got back on the road, crossed into Kentucky, and the rain just wouldn't let up. We stopped at the Markland Dam for a few minutes, and then plotted a non-direct route towards Lexington. After some really nice Kentucky backroads that wound up and down hills and through tobacco farms, we hit the Interstate just north of Lexington. Our first hotel stop was met with "Nope, there's a (some event) in town" response. Okey dokey. Luckily, at the Days Inn just a few miles down the road, they had a couple rooms left, and best of all, there was a steakhouse connected to the hotel. Perfect. We enjoyed many beers and some good food while the room filled with gasoline fumes....damn, we shoulda opened a window....
Day 2:We awoke again to a slight drizzle that would accompany us for most of the day, and after a coffee-walk to the nearby gas station that also sold Krispy Kreme's (mmmmm, doughnuts), we loaded up the bikes and headed out. We decided to take the Interstate east out of Lexington for about 25 miles and then take some backroads that looked interesting. Interesting is defined as "they look twisty and go through a National Forest". We succeeded in finding some good roads, and ended up being on the same road that Adam, Otter and I were on last year, and the same road where Otter and I had to retrieve a U-Haul for Greg years before...yet I digress. Unfortunately, the rain spoiled what is normally a great road, but at the end, I turned right and found the breakfast place in town with the huge omelets. Once again, I finished my breakfast and then disposed of the rest of an uneaten omelet.
We took a few familiar roads (to me) and some unfamiliar ones this morning while heading towards the West Virginia border. The rain was still with us, but it wasn't dampening our spirits...pun intended. We crossed into West Virginia and ended up behind a line of slow moving cars. I decided to practice what I preach, and instead of rocketing around the cars, I pulled over to the side of the road and we relaxed for a few minutes. For such a beautiful state, it's a real shame that there is so much litter. At every roadside stop, the forest was littered with everything from car tires to washing machines. A real shame. The foliage however was starting to look great, and I had a feeling that the days to come would yield some incredible fall colors.
After some backroad exploring that took us north and east, we jumped back on the Interstate to get around Charleston, WV...and the rain stopped. As we were riding along, John started pointing to the dry ground and giving me the thumbs-up sign, and I was hoping that we'd finally hit a good twisty road in the dry since I had been torturing him with great roads that were soaking wet all day. We took one of the first exits after Charleston and did some more exploring. We didn't find any twisties, but we did see some beautiful country. With John leading this afternoon, we stopped here and there, and eventually made our way down to Summersville, a town that we had stayed in a few years ago. We passed by the Best Western on the outskirts of town and opted for the Super-8 due to it's close proximity to an Applebee's. Bad food, but good beer. Before unpacking, I went to the gas station next door and grabbed a 6-pack and we took our time unloading and reminiscing about the day. We were having a great time so far, making the best of bad weather, and not really caring which way we went. It was very relaxing for me, and I was enjoying the miles very much at this point. We grabbed a meal and beers at Applebee's and enjoyed the World Series on TV.
Today was a good day of riding by adaptation rather than definition.
A stop in West Virginia, just across the state line
Day 3:Once again, I keep ending up on roads that I've been on before....but that's OK. They're good roads. After packing up, we headed out of Summersville on Route 39, and I thought it looked familiar. Let's see, nice twisties, wet ground, hey - the Lumberjack restaurant....yep, reminds me of FCR 2000. I don't know what town the Lumberjack is in, but man, it's beautiful. Set deep in the mountains with one backroad running through it and the smell of wood burning stoves. As the locals walked into the Lumberjack, the waitress asked "The usual?" I really gotta figure out how to make a living in one of these small towns.
Anyway, after breakfast, we plotted a route towards the Highland Scenic Highway, and I told John "I'll see ya up the road." He stopped for gas, and I headed out, looking forward to the next 50 miles in solitude. The sun started to break through the clouds but the roads were still wet. No problem - this area is beautiful and peaceful, so I set the throttle lock at 55 and putzed along, enjoying the views of the foliage (that was really starting to come out) and the river which the road traced. The only bad part was having to go back and forth between clears and sunglasses....
As I headed up the Highland Scenic Highway, I remembered coming through here with Adam and Otter last year and I was a bit sad that Otter wasn't here this year. I know there was no way that Adam could make it and still retain possession of his...ummm...manhood...and I know that Otter had his reasons for not joining John and I but it was a shame. He's a great guy with whom to share the road and I know I had thoughts of experiencing Alaska with him in the back of my head, but I still wished he was there to see this. As the road ascended, the clouds were left behind and the clear blue sky surrounded me, the sun glistening off the still damp blacktop. I passed the first overlook, and proceeded to stop at every overlook after that one, expecting to hear the Smokin' Joe roar past at any time...but it never did. I continued to enjoy the quiet, look out at the mountains, and enjoy the incredible foliage, eventually making it to the end of the Highway where I pulled over, surrounded by orange trees. A few minutes later, John arrived and entered the parking lot with a resounding "Wh-hooo!!!!!" He was simply awestruck with the entire ride today, and when I asked him whether he needed twisties or not, he commented that with everything else back there, there wasn't time for the twisties.
Now that the roads were clean and dry, it was in fact time for some twisty huntin'. I took the lead and plotted a route through some of the more twisty roads in the area, namely route 250 and route 33. John was all smiles after the rip across 250, and during a lunch stop at Mean Gene's Hamburger's, I told him of route 33. Unfortunately, we were stuck behind a line of cars on route 33 which hasn't ever happened before. I did get a few knee drags in on the way up before getting held up, so I pulled over at the summit for a while hoping to get a good run down the mountain. It just wasn't going to happen today, and once I caught up with John, I covered his wing for the rest of the route.
It was still early in the afternoon, so we made our way to Shenandoah National Park via route 33. After getting through the town of Harrisonburg (I gotta figure out a better way to get around this town....) we quickly made it to the park entrance, paid our fee, and I told John that I'd meet him at the end. We ended up passing each other by at rest stops for the rest of the afternoon, each of us enjoying the sights and views from Skyline Drive. The fall colors were just a little pre-peak here, but the views into the valley were clear and the sun was shining. Sitting at a rest stop enjoying the view and the feel of the cool fall air, I got my first real feeling of pure relaxation that I so often find on these trips. Part of it had to do with the fact that I knew no matter how often I stopped, no matter how long I enjoyed the view, I would still make it to the end of the road before John did. He had a major case of picture-itis, but it was great to see him enjoying the ride as much as he was.
With the nice weather, we decided that we wanted to camp tonight. Since we were at the beginning of the Blue Ridge and I was pretty sure there was a campground in the first 30 miles or so, we ran to the food store for supplies and then headed down the parkway. I lost John in my rear view mirror again, due again to his photo-itis, and I stopped to look at the parkway map. It showed a campground at Whetstone ridge, so I took off for there, stopping at an overlook to wait for John. After a while, he arrived, and we rode the last 3 miles to Whetstone and found nada - nothing - zip. There was no campground. It was now dark and Bambi was all over the place - the darkness actually helped since there eyes would reflect the light and make them easier to see. We rode a few miles further to make sure that the campground wasn't just up the road with no luck. We then turned around and started heading back to the last crossroad, about 10 miles back. At some point during the search, the fog rolled in so now it was dark, damp, and Bambi-abundant. It was a slow 10 miles back to the previous crossroad at which time I took out the flashlight to see where we were. There was a sign ahead of us pointing us either right or left to the nearest town, either 8 or 3 miles away. Only after looking at the map did I see that the 8 mile away town was near the Interstate, so we headed there since it would be easier to find accommodations.
The next thing I know, we're on one of those Appalachian mountain roads with anti-truck warnings This one was called route 56. It was actually pretty fun throwing the Triumph (slowly) through the switchbacks and along the narrow tree-lined road in the pitch black. It's also easy to keep track of the guy behind you, especially when you're using his headlight to help guide your way. When we reached the end, I pulled over and heard John say. "Oh my god. We have to hit that in the daylight!!" Agreed. A few minutes later I spotted the Interstate and another Day's Inn hotel and threw up my hands in triumph (no pun intended). A hotel room was available, so we drank the camping beer in the parking lot. What?
Breakfast at the Lumberjack
The colors along route 39 in West Virginia
Heading up the Highland Scenic Highway, leaving the clouds below
The colors along the Highland Scenic Highway
Another shot of the colors
Yes, the colors were this good
The Sprint parked near the end of the Highland Scenic Highway
A close up of some of the amazing foliage
Stopped along Route 33 in West Virginia
The bikes roadside in Shenandoah National Park
Top of the world Ma!!
Some of the pre-peak colors along the road in Shenandoah
Another shot of the road winding through the National Park
The Sprint parked next to some nice foliage
We saw lots of these...
John at the Blue Ridge Parkway sign
Day 4:The thought of heading back to the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning got us out the door pretty quickly - that, and seeing route 56 in the daylight. As we were packing up this morning, we were talking to a guy on a new Goldwing and he was asking about the Triumph and "that other bike" that we were riding. After explaining that it was a Smokin' Joe's replica but with touring mods, the new name of the bike became clear. It shall henceforth be known simply as "The GOOFSTeR". OK, for those that don't know, a CBR600F is commonly called a "GOOF" since the 6 can be mistaken for a "G". Add the ST on there for "Sport Touring" and an "R" for Replica and there's the name.
So anyway, the ride back up route 56 was pretty fun. It was a little too dirty and damp to push it, and we had a hard time getting around a dump truck, but that's OK. The BRP was just ahead and before I knew it, there we were again. Our meeting up point was the Peaks of Otter for breakfast, and we each took our own pace to get there, with John continuing to suffer from a severe case of picture-itis. I must have caught a bit of it myself, as I found myself blowing through film all morning. The sunlight was breaking through the clouds in spots and illuminating the forest like it seems to do so well every fall. Taking my time this morning, knowing that I'd still beat John to breakfast, I stopped at a few more places than usual and took the time to read more of the informational signs. At one overlook, where I caught a few pictures of John coming around the bend, there was a restored section of railway and information about how almost all of this area had been stripped for timber, resulting in a massive forest fire. I had never realized that the majority of the forest along the Blue Ridge Parkway was second growth. I can only imagine what it might look like had we humans not destroyed it eighty-odd years ago.
I didn't realize that there was a restaurant at Otter Creek, so I stopped there instead and went inside to enjoy some coffee while I waited for John. He showed up a little while later and we enjoyed breakfast overlooking Otter Creek before continuing on. I continued stopping at some familiar places and also a lot of new places that I had only seen from the bike previously. The fall colors in this section were amazing, and I was enjoying the search for the perfect picture - which I know doesn't exist, since no picture can ever do this place justice, but nonetheless I was wasting film and loving it.
At Roanoke, I continued the exploration and finally took the one-way loop up to the top of Roanoke Mountain, where I saw John on his way down from the summit. I sat and enjoyed the view for a while before moving on, and I continued to just putz along. It was a very peaceful ride and by mid-afternoon, the sun was shining and it was just a beautiful day. As I approached Mabry Mill, I saw John standing there snapping a picture of me as I came down the road. We chatted for a minute and decided to meet up at Doughton Park for the night, which is the place where we typically camp. I continued on to Fancy Gap, as usual, where I filled up with gas, enjoyed a snack, and made a quick call to 1cent.
Crossing into North Carolina, my mind was completely gone. I continued to stop a lot and enjoyed the relaxed pace. Having only 40 miles to go for the day, and about 2 hours to get there before dark, there was no pressure to put on miles. I stopped for a long time at Little Glade Mill pond, a place that Boy and I had stopped at years ago at dusk. As I walked around the pond, admiring the little dam/waterfall that I never noticed before, I really started to understand this trip. For John, this place was all new, but I'd been down here so many times. It would be easy for someone to think "ehh, it's just the Blue Ridge...you've seen it a dozen times....what's the allure?" I always know that the Blue Ridge will have something different to offer each and every time I visit, but it wasn't until this point that it clicked for me. I do sometimes feel slightly rushed on this trip, not wanting to hold up others. However, John and I purposely cut down on the miles so that the pace could be very slow. Rather than looking at something and either thinking "Cool, I'll stop there next year" or just pulling in for a quick helmet-still-on view from the saddle, I found myself taking the extra time to stop and see those things that I might have otherwise missed. From the other side of the pond, I saw the Triumph sitting there in the late afternoon sun with the foliage reflecting off the still water, and I had a deep down feeling of tranquility. I sat on the grass for a while and listened to the wind and the sound of the water burbling over the little dam. I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience this moment in time.
Approaching Doughton Park, out of nowhere, the road became engulfed in what I thought was fog, but was really just a cloud trying to make it's way from one side of the mountain to the other. Visibility was horrible and the mist from the cloud was fogging up my faceshield. I almost missed the entrance to the restaurant/store parking lot, but saw it at the last second. After finding out what time the restaurant was open until and making sure that the store would be open for a while (we needed firewood), I went back to the campground to look for John. He was waiting there as I pulled in, so we took a ride through the campground which was surprisingly busy. It took a little time to find a quiet area, but we finally did find one and setup camp before heading back up the road to the restaurant for a home cooked meal. After dinner, 4 bundles of firewood were bungeed to the bikes and we headed back to the campsite. With a roaring fire going, we watched the nearly full moon ascend from behind the distant mountain horizon, shining through the nearby pine trees. The moon was absolutely gorgeous and reminded me of so many other times that I've been able to watch the moon...through the trees in Tahoe, across the desert in Arizona, the list goes on and on. Hopefully this will be one of many for John.
The GOOFSTeR on the Blue Ridge
Another shot of John on the GOOFSTeR
The GOOFSTeR comin around a corner with a great view of the mountains
The fall colors along the Blue Ridge in Virginia
Near Otter creek, a dam surrounded by beautiful trees
The Sprint near some amazing fall colors
Same spot, a close up of the foliage
Tad and Allison at the same spot
Further down the parkway, one of the many ponds
And then a stop at Mabry Mill
In North Carolina, another beautiful roadside pond
The Sprint next to the pond
It sucked being the first one up and having to make the camp coffee. Usually, I can count on Adam's internal clock to wake him up early, and I know it's time to ride when I hear the water boiling on the camp stove. We burned the remaining logs, packed up camp, and set out for another peaceful day on the Blue Ridge.
We had absolutely no plans today, no idea where we'd stay, and just figured that we'd meet back up at some point and figure it out then. The parkway this morning was desolate, and we both continued the slow pace. I stopped at an overlook later in the morning hoping that John would catch up. It turns out that he made a run up to where the parkway was closed, then turned around and took the detour. I was wondering what had happened to him as I sat and enjoyed the morning air, and when he finally showed up, we discussed the "ideas" for the day. John was going to continue on his own and visit Chimney Rock, and I decided to go see Blowing Rock and grab some breakfast. We decided to meet up at Mt. Pisgah and called that the "plan" for the day.
After spending my $6.00 and 15 minutes at Blowing Rock, which turned out to be nothing special, I failed to find a breakfast place in town. I figured I'd just grab something at the next parkway restaurant, but I wasn't sure how far that was since I still didn't have a map. No big deal. Next along the parkway was the Linn Cove Viaduct, which is typically both incredibly beautiful and incredibly crowded. Today however, traffic wasn't bad at all, and I was even able to finally stop (where you're not supposed to stop) and take a picture of the viaduct from the road. The colors were incredible in this area as usual and I love all of the exposed rock formations around here. I stopped at the Linville Falls visitor's center, picked up a map, and saw that Crabtree Meadows was just a few miles up the road and I was getting really hungry. 100 miles after waking up, I made it to the parkway restaurant and was thrilled to see that they were still serving breakfast....so I ordered two of them.
Although the skies were clear and blue, I figured I'd pass right by Mt. Mitchell this year and it's almost always fogged in. Today however, I could see the peak from the parkway, so I made the trek up there to find a clear view of the surrounding mountains. I spent a few minutes talking to two guys on BMWs and thanked them for making sure that the summit wasn't fogged in. Further down the parkway, now mid-afternoon, the traffic picked up and eventually got about as heavy as I've seen it. At first it was slightly discouraging, and I was playing the "pull over and let them go" game rather than passing them. Unfortunately, as one line of cars disappeared, another appeared, and there was no way to avoid it. Once I got past Asheville though, it cleared up a bit and I got to Mt Pisgah by about 3:00. John was nowhere to be found, so I filled up with gas (I hadn't filled up since Fancy Gap yesterday) and went back to the previous overlook where I laid down in the grass for a while and watched the clouds go by. A half an hour has passed, and John wasn't there yet, so I decided to make a run up the parkway to the highest point and back. I ended up making a pretty spirited run up to the Herrin Knob overlook and stopped there to enjoy the view for a while, and to remove the underwear from my ass. I had a bit of a pucker moment on the way up and figured it was best to sit and relax for a while.
By the time I made it back to Mt. Pisgah, it was about 5:00 and was starting to get dark. John showed up a few minutes later and I gave him that bad news that there was no firewood available for camping. We decided to run the parkway for the next 30 miles, then exit and find a hotel, saving the last 35 miles of the parkway for tomorrow. Another day on the Blue Ridge sounded like a good idea to us. As we rode the last 30 miles together, we enjoyed the setting sun and blue haze from the distant mountain peaks before exiting at route 23/74 and heading to Bryson City (a known non-dry city) for the night. We grabbed a cheapo hotel room and I ran next door for beer. We spend the night watching baseball, drinking beer, and reminiscing about a great two days on the Blue Ridge, all the time knowing that we'd be going back there tomorrow.
Our campsite, Doughton Park
One of my favorite views of the road
The GOOFSTeR heading down the parkway
...and heading into a sweeper
A quick stop along the parkway to view my dream house
The road around Linn Cove
A view of the Linn Cove Viaduct
Hey, there's no parking here dumbass
A clear view from the top of Mt. Mitchell
One of the many tunnels along the Parkway
A stop along the parkway, late in the day
Day 6:We awoke to a slight drizzle this morning, and decided to maximize the time on the Blue Ridge by picking it up at the end, riding back to the highest point, and then turning around. The morning fog blocked out the sun, yet the colors were still amazing. At times, visibility was pretty bad, and when we got to the highest point, the clear view from yesterday was long gone. The couple on the black Goldwing that we met up there seemed happy to see that they weren't the only crazy one's out riding today.
On the way back down to Cherokee, we took our time again, snapped a few pictures of each other on the road, and made the customary stop at Big Witch overlook. After three days on the Blue Ridge, neither of us was really ready to leave, but we knew that there were other roads to be ridden. After a breakfast stop at the pancake house in Cherokee, we made our way across 74 and route 28 north to the Tuskeegee Motel. After jettisoning the luggage, it was time for a Gap run, and John was both nervous and exited. So too was I. While I always enjoy the ride up Route 28, and it's awesome twisties that it throws at you, I keep telling myself not to get cocky because this ain't nothin' like the Gap. After scouting out the TWO store, we headed up the Gap for our first run. Taking it easy this afternoon, I didn't touch down a thing - no pegs, no knees. That's not to say I wasn't enjoying the ride, because I was. I just wasn't really comfortable with the bike, and hadn't been all trip. The Metzler Sportec M1 front with the Z4 rear gave it a feel of understeer which I just wasn't used to. Nonetheless, I was here, these were my tires, and I was gonna make the best of it. I was sweating by the time I got to Calderwood and I stopped there to wait for John, who arrived a few minutes later with another resounding "Wh-hooo!!" He then proclaimed that his bike was very very happy with him. I couldn't agree more.
We continued "the loop" by heading up 129 to route 72 to 441 (I think) and then backroads south to Tellico Plaines. Much of this ride traces a man made lake, and there's some decent twisties here and there to keep you interested, but nothing too earth shattering....after all, we just came through the gap. The ride through the countryside was very nice and I was starting to look forward to the ride across the Cherohala. A quick left turn, and we were heading up the fresh blacktop that connects "nowhere to nowhere" as the locals say. I got a bit of a bug up my ass and decided to take it out on the 25 MPH corners. This is a really fun section of road and as usual, it was deserted. I guess nobody wanted to go nowhere today. All the better for us. Unfortunately, as we got into the elevations, the clouds surrounded us and the damp road meant no more hammering. However, the Cherohala was as beautiful as I've ever seen it, with fire-red and glowing orange trees dominating the roadside. Climb into the fog and visibility dropped, but drop down out of it and you were treated to a spectrum of vivid colors all around. We took our time and enjoyed the miles, making it back to Robbinsville late in the afternoon.
We made it back to the Tuskeegee Motel around dark, and cracked a few beers that we had remembered to purchase in Bryson City earlier that day. I really enjoy the Tuskeegee, and tonight we sat in the chairs outside and enjoyed the night air as usual. The barbecue sandwiches were especially good tonight, as was the conversation with the people a few doors down - one on a Goldwing, another on an Electra Glide. We swapped stories all night while trying to figure out if there was anything that "Dumbass" the cat wouldn't eat. Bugles? Yes. Chips? You bet. BBQ? Get outa here Dumbass!!
Through the fog, the colors were still amazing this morning on the Parkway
Big Witch Overlook...I swear she was around here somewhere
The Sprint parked near the end of the Blue Ridge
The GOOFSTeR near the end of the parkway
Near Calderwood Dam after the first Deals Gap run
The bikes at the Calderwood Dam overlook
Heading up the Cherohala Skyway
Enjoying the great colors along the Cherohala
It was fogged in above 4000 feet, but beautiful below that
Day 7:This morning's conversation went something like this:
Tad: "Hey, I know of a good breakfast place."
John: "Where's it at?"
Tad: "On the other side of The Gap."
John: "Oh yeah, we're there."
There really is nothing like a Gap run to start the day out right. The run up 28 and through the Gap was completely dry, and this morning I was riding a bit harder than yesterday. Maybe I was hungry and wanted to get to the restaurant...I'm not sure, but about 3 miles into the Gap I started hammering. Pegs were scraping and the left knee was dragging around nearly every tight corner. I slowed down around mile marker 7, like I usually do, thanked my corner for not killing me, like I usually do, and proceeded to finish the Gap. A mile or so later, I stopped roadside at a picnic table to enjoy the view of the water and wait for John. He arrived shortly and we grabbed breakfast at the restaurant. The grits were very good this morning.
After breakfast, we headed back to the Foothills Parkway. There's nothing special about the Foothills Parkway but it's a very nice ride. It's not overly twisty, but the overlooks towards the National Park are fantastic and the pavement quality is top notch. We made a run across, headed into Townsend for gas, turned around and did it again. On the way back, we stopped for pictures here and there and I made it back to route 129 before John did and was glad to sit and enjoy the view for a few minutes before he caught up. What to do now....let's see.....Gap Run!!!
Talk about good timing. I made yet another run through the gap, only having to pass one car and that was on the way up in one of the "straightaways" - if you can call them that - pushed it to the point that I wanted to, pulled into the TWO parking lot, and 2 minutes later it started to rain. We were lucky to get 3 good dry Gap runs in, because the rest of the day would be a wash. We weren't going to let it slow us down, and decided to head back down to the Cherohala and ride it again, even if it was raining. The forecast called for rain just about everywhere in the area so we'd just make the best of it.
After another wet, but very picturesque ride across the Cherohala, we turned off for Bald River Falls. It wasn't raining here and the ride along the river was awesome. In places, the river was very calm and was projecting the reflection of the surrounding rock cliffs. The falls themselves were pretty today, and we took a bunch of pictures before saddling back up and heading into Tellico for gas...and beer. Who-hoo - strap it to the back of the Sprint and let's go.
We decided to do some exploring, so we headed south on route 68 and started to hit some good twisties before the rain came back. Up the road a little further, a tour bus (argh!) was holding up a line of about 15 cars, going through the turns at snail-like speeds. We pulled over three times, each time for at least 5 minutes and eventually 10 minutes, and couldn't help but catch back up with the line of cars. Luckily, there was a turnoff for another road that went to Murphy, NC, so we jumped on that. The rain continued, but we enjoyed the ride across the Tennessee and North Carolina countryside, eventually hooking back up with route 23 in Murphy. The route overall wasn't great, but it was still better than going back to the hotel and watching the rain come down.
When we ended up back at the Tuskeegee, a guy pulled up and stayed in the room next to us. He was riding an ST1100 and we were chatting as fellow motorcyclists tend to do when he mentioned that he was from Indianapolis. I threw out the name of the one person that I know in Indy, Mark Finney. "Yeah, he's a good friend of mine." We talked about trips and when I mentioned the ATL trip, he commented that he and Finney really need to do that next year. Eric - I hope you guys make it. The conversation continued for most of the night, and we all enjoyed BBQ sandwiches and the company of Dumbass the cat. "Hey Dumbass! Want some beer?"
The bikes at the Foothills Parkway
The pre-peak colors along the Foothills
The view towards Smoky Mountain National from the Foothills Parkway
Bald River Falls
"Well John, you got two ways outa here today: The Gap, and the Cherohala. I bet I know which one you are gonna choose." John was heading home today (Saturday), but I didn't need to be home until Sunday night. In fact, 1cent would have kicked my ass if I came home early since she was out of town visiting a friend only because I told her we'd be gone until Sunday. John loaded up the GOOFSTeR and we parted ways.
Looking at a map, I was running out of roads that I hadn't been on in the immediate area, so I headed back down south through Murphy and into northern Georgia on route 60. The town of Blue Ridge, Georgia seemed like a good place to head for, and when I arrived, I found a pretty decent sized town, complete with a Waffle House. It was here that I had arguably my best breakfast on the trip. The grits were just that good.
I headed southeast out of Blue Ridge and eventually east on route 2 towards Alabama. I found myself on a very fun road. The mountains aren't quite as big in this area, so rather than go around them, they build 5-6 switchbacks and go over them. The road went on like this for a couple hours, and while a little rain did get in the way at times, the ride was quite nice. I was enjoying being on my own and exploring new roads. It had been a while since I was able to do this. Riding by yourself is a much different experience than riding with a friend or group of friends. Unlimited freedom is a good way to describe it. It's not better or worse, just different.
I crossed into Alabama, remembering of course the two young ladies in the white Toyota back in...oh my god, that was 6 years ago....where does the time go. Read the Appalachian/Ozarks trip report from 1997 if you are really interested in this trip down amnesia lane. Anyway, I crossed into Alabama and continued playing the "Hmmm, this way looks good" game. The landscape was quiet different - it almost felt like I was on a plateau. The homes and roadside dwellings showed signs of poverty. After only a few more miles, I crossed the Interstate and was now surrounded by factories and electric stations. What a difference just a few miles makes.
Eventually I had to unfold the map and figure out which direction I needed to go. I found a road that appeared to go through the middle of nowhere - Route 79 North out of Scottsboro. Now I was back into farmland and as the road crested the upcoming hill, the view into the distance was spectacular. Just a long winding road, me, and a motorcycle. I can usually tell when I'm very relaxed, and the sign is that the throttle lock goes on, the hands release the handlebars, and I enjoy the miles, looking from side to side and trying to take everything in. As the road crossed into Tennessee, it was again surrounded by forest, and I stopped roadside in the drizzle to get my bearings straight. Just up the way was a cross road that looked like it would take me in a good direction. Hmmm, route 64. Damn, I was just on that a few years ago. I did notice a couple stopping points along the way, and I figured I better start making some time so I don't have a super-long day tomorrow.
And then the rain came. Wow - it came down pretty hard for a while, and there were a couple of semi's that I had to pass, which is always interesting in the rain. Cotton harvest had recently ended and the road was strewn with white litter for miles and miles. I stopped at a couple of historical markers along the way, eventually turning north onto Route 114. Again I found myself in a pretty desolate area near a man-made lake. There were plenty of wide open spaces to enjoy here and I eventually found a quiet spot to pull over and enjoy the gas station sandwich that I had picked up a while back. I continued my way north, taking the most out of the way roads I could find, enjoying the setting sun, and not feeling rushed. I eventually ended up near the town of Paris, TN where I grabbed a cheapo hotel room for the night, after picking up some beer of course.
Day 9:It was a wee bit chilly this morning, but it either wasn't too bad or I was just used to it by now. I hadn't been running my heated vest very much, finding that the windbreaker over my Stich was plenty to keep me warm, with the handgrips keeping my fingers toasty of course. I headed out towards Land Between the Lakes this morning, and started to remember something from the trip through there in 2000. Hashbrowns. "There's a kick-ass breakfast place in...hmmm, what town is just up the way....Dover. Oh great, I'm talking to myself again." I found the place without a problem but was disappointed to see that they weren't open until 10:00, and it was only 8:30 now. Oh well, head into the park and see what I find.
Hunting season. That's what I found. There were about 50 orange wearing guys at the ranger station, and few of them with dead Bambi. I got quite a few stares of disbelief as I rode past them. C'mon, it's not really that cold out here. The ride through the park was great - trees at pre-peak, a herd of buffalo grazing in a field, and hardly a car to be found. As I was nearing the park exit, two good things happened. First, I spotted a turtle in the road and the approaching car missed him. I turned around, picked him up, and safety moved him across the road. (Steve Irwin Voice) Rescuing Turtles!! Yes!! (OK, that's enough). About a mile up the road was a mom 'n' pop restaurant filled with town locals and a few stragglers, including two guys on Harleys and another guy who is a friend of Nicky Hayden and his family. I felt like a local and was treated like one during that breakfast. Everyone in the restaurant was conversing with each other - that's the way it should be.
It was getting cold as I was heading further north, and luckily with the turn of a dial, the vest kept me warm. I'm glad I saved it for when I really wanted it. I was sure that the two Harley guys were almost home by now and would be talking about how cold I was on my way "all the way back to Chicago." I was doing my best to both keep warm and take a different route, and was succeeding at both. Rather than take the Cave in Rock ferry back to Illinois, I headed up the river and crossed over at the Shawneetown bridge, where I found myself in the oldest city in Illinois. That's a new one for me. Someone really should restore the old all-brick bank with the columns out front though. It looked like the only people getting any use from it were the local teenagers.
So there I was in the oldest town in Illinois, and I thought to myself, "I've been doing a great job of avoiding the Interstate. Let's continue that." I decided that the best way for me to end this trip was to take 2 lane blacktop all the way home. I wasn't in a hurry, and was going to make it home by early evening either way. I basically took route 1 north to route 45 up to Champaign-Urbana. Along the way, I was enjoying seeing all the small farm towns, counting the pickup trucks at the local bar, and seeing the local people going about their business. Time didn't matter, and even as route 45 intersected with I-57 at least four times, I never once was tempted to get on the superslab. I was enjoying the ride way too much for that.
I zig-zagged my way through the old part of Champaign and headed on the two lane over to Mahomet where I picked up Route 47 north. As much as I hated this drive home while in college, I really like this ride now. I've got a lot of good memories of this road on the bike, from watching farmers combine corn, plowing fields in the darkness, and watching the moonrise over my right shoulder. It was getting dark by the time I passed through Forrest, and ended up staying on route 47 until I got to Plato Center, and then wove my way home from there. It was totally worth it.
A herd of Bison in Land Between the Lakes
A rescued turtle
First off, thanks go to John for being a great guy to ride with. Despite the couple minor setbacks, he didn't let anything get him down. Even after the GOOFSTeR went over the first day, 45 minutes later he was over it and back to enjoying himself. When we got lost on the Blue Ridge looking for a campground, he told me "No big deal, we'll find something" and we went on. He had a great attitude all trip, and I enjoyed the time we spent riding (and drinking) together. Last but not least, I appreciated his maturity - just wait...don't go jumping to conclusions. I'm not talking about emotional maturity, as that tends to escape all of us. I'm talking about riding maturity. I've ridden with many people who feel the need to "keep up" in order to prove a point. At times, people have ended up getting hurt in the process, or narrowly escaped disaster. John is a very good rider in his own right, but never did I see him do anything stupid, nor did I see him keeping my pace if that wasn't the pace he wanted to keep. That was very refreshing for me, and the words "ride your own ride" were followed to a T. Thanks for in turn letting me ride my own ride.
For me, the thing that I take from this trip is the relaxing pace. We did the miles when we had to, but when we didn't have to, we didn't. We took almost three days to do the Blue Ridge. I had never spent that much time there in trips past and I thoroughly enjoyed the extra time I had to look around, read a plaque here, take a walk there, and sit and watch the clouds blow by anytime I wanted. There were actually a couple times that I started to feel like we weren't moving fast enough, but those thoughts were quickly dispensed when I remembered that I could just sit and enjoy the view a little longer. I saw some old friends and discovered many new places, and even the old places that I saw again were different since I had more time to enjoy them. This was very different for me, and despite this being about my 8th trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, like always, it was like a new experience all over again. I can't wait to see what the Blue Ridge has to offer when I finally see her again two years from now.
With 2003 being the year of the Alaska trip, things are going to be a lot different. I had the thought in my head for a lot of this trip that I wouldn't be back on the Blue Ridge for a while. I also had a lot of thoughts about motorcycling in general and where I'm going with it. I know that I have a ton more to see in this great big world in which we live. I'm just not sure how I want to see it. Sport-Touring over the past six years has been great, and I've seen roads from coast to coast, from the ocean to 14,000 feet above sea level, from lush forests to blistering hot deserts, and everything in between....on asphalt. Now that there is a KLR650 parked in my garage, I finally have the opportunity to consider doing something different - and I've been talking about this since my first solo trip out west in 1999.
With the KLR, I can now go past where the paved road ends (Yes, I know we've done off-roading on sportbikes, but usually by necessity, not desire). I feel that I'm at a crossroads of motorcycling, and just like I wanted to stray away from the known roads and went searching for unexplored asphalt in Georgia and Alabama, I feel that it may be time to do the same with motorcycling in general. I know what sport-touring has to offer, but I don't know what adventure-touring on a KLR is all about yet. I've seen what I wanted to see in the saddle of a sport touring bike for now - that's not to say I won't do it again, but I think it's time to go exploring.
With the Triumph, I have the bike that I have always wanted, and I'm not sure I want it anymore. Despite the fact that I still am not satisfied with the suspension, it's a great bike. I've enjoyed the 24,000 miles that I've put on it in the last 18 months, and even were it true that this bike had no shortcomings, I'm still not sure that it's fate would be any different. I feel it's time to sell this bike. I just don't need it right now, and ignoring the monetary reasons for selling it, it comes down to the fact that if I kept it, she would basically sit for the next two years. My vacation time next year is all going for Alaska, save the ATL trip (on the ST1100), and for day rides, I'd probably opt for another bike in my stable, or (dramatic pause) The Black Whale. Two years from now, I have no idea what might be going on. I might go back to the Blue Ridge or I might not. I don't know where this bike fits for me right now, so maybe the best thing to do is to let someone else enjoy it's company.
I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone two years from now. Between now and then, there are a few things that I am going to do, namely Alaska and getting married (and in that order). Past that, I have no idea. Maybe two years from now, part of the allure of the Blue Ridge will be doing it on a new bike or on an old friend like the Black Whale. Maybe I'll finally get my butt out to Utah on a dual-sport bike and ride some of those backroads that I've been longing for since 1999. Nothing in life is certain, and only time will tell where this path leads. All I know is that I've only scratched the surface, and I can wait to do more digging.
Speaking of just scratching the surface, I will be very interested to see what John does next year. ATL is a given, but past that, he now has the knowledge and opportunity to ride just about anywhere he wants. He's listened to stories that others and I have told him and anyone can see the pure excitement in his eyes. He wants to do it all. He wants to see it all. He wants to do it now. I know that I am partially responsible for this "madness" that he now possesses, and I feel great about that. I can't wait to see him packing up his bike, and be able to walk over and tell him that he's "a freakin' nut!" Aren't we all?
Here is a link to John's pics