Hey, I need that to make the bike go!

The closer to home I get, the worse I sleep. Last night I woke up every 90 minutes, convinced I’d overslept. Of course, this lead to oversleeping. No worries, housekeeping woke me up knocking on the door at 0830h, as I’d neglected to put the “Do Not Disturb” tag on the door. Groggily explained I was still there, showered, dressed, packed, then went to the lobby for breakfast, which was surprisingly good for a hotel breakfast. Hauled my stuff out, loaded the bike down and got on the road.

Wasted a bit of time in heavy traffic around a confusing (poorly signed) construction detour, but once I escaped traffic had a really nice ride. I’d plotted my route so once I hit MA I would have the option of more back roads or a much quicker slab route home. Both would leave the days mileage around 400. When I got to MA, I was still having fun, so decided to continue on back roads.

That may have been a mistake. Went through a couple of small towns, then turned off the main streets to get back to the fun bits, but as I was climbing the hill up to the I-90 overpass, I missed a shift, or so I thought. Tried again, still no go. At this point I’m rolling uphill about 40, and foolishly decide to stop to investigate, instead of letting my momentum carry me to the top of the hill. Rolled back a bit to get the bike off onto the shoulder (mistake #2), had to roll pretty far off to get to a place I could safely park, having finally figured out what really happened.

Yep, that’s right, another drive belt failure. The first “lifetime” belt snapped at 11,240, replaced under warranty by the dealer who said “that never happens”. The replacement “lifetime” belt snapped at 22,360. I can’t help but notice a pattern. There aren’t words to express how glad I am this happened on the last day of the trip, a couple hundred miles from home, instead of, say, in North Carolina or Tennessee.

Getting the bike back on the road and turned around from where I foolishly parked was the work of a very sweaty 45 minutes, owing to the loose gravel over very soft sand sloped steeply the wrong way. Eventually managed to get back on the road, and rolled back down the hill towards town. There was a bit of a rise between me and there, and I didn’t get enough momentum on the way down to roll over it, so  I had to push a bit more. Now I’m sitting in the McD’s just off the highway, waiting for some really incredible friends who are on their way with a trailer to haul my sorry ass home.

Not the end to the trip I was hoping for, that’s for sure. As I was riding, I’d been thinking about what I’d put in the last post for this trip, but never imagined it’d be something like this. I suppose there’ll actually be one or two more posts for this trip, once I actually make it home.

Mileage: 263
States: NY, MA
Casualties: Drive belt

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Not Fun

Today was unexpectedly rough. Started off later than I’d wanted, but not too late. Planning ahead, made a hotel reservation for tonight before getting on the road, in a futile attempt to avoid holiday sell-outs. Wasn’t able to find one near to where I wanted to stop, but found one about 90 minutes earlier along my planned route which suited the late start just fine. Had a large breakfast, planning to skip lunch, then got on the road.

Almost immediately, I found myself in snarls of holiday traffic. Got on the highway in an attempt to get away from it, and did manage to do so for a little while, but detours and associated GPS up-fuckery sent me way out of my way, and into more holiday traffic, twice, ultimately costing me nearly three hours and the last of my patience. There were some really nice roads mixed in along the way, but there was so much downside today they kind of got lost in the noise.

Finally, as I thought I was approaching the hotel just before 1900h, I realized I’d selected the wrong version of today’s route after one of the GPS resets, and not only was I still over 60 miles away from the hotel, but I’d just spent the last 30 travelling away from my destination. Finally made it to my hotel around 2030h, only to find the bastards had oversold the hotel and had given my room away already. Fuck me running.

Scrambling now, hungry, cold, tired, pissed, and badly in need of fuel, I several times considered just finding an interstate and blasting home, but the thought of arriving to the disaster I left my house at 0300h or later kept that as a last choice. I stopped in at a gas station with a Subway, bought a sandwich, stole some wifi, and started searching. After several dead ends, found a hotel about 90 minutes of  dark, deer-infested country road away with rooms available at only moderately obscene rates, booked one, and hit the road.

Arrived at the hotel cold and tired but otherwise without incident just before 2300h. Conveniently, they’d assigned me a first floor room just off the main lobby, so hauling my crap in from the bike was easy and quick.

Bright side, except for the first 15 miles or so, the route I’ll be taking tomorrow is over known good roads, avoiding population centers until I approach 128 where it just becomes unavoidable.

Mileage: 409
States: WV, MD, PA, NY
Tomorrow, home.

You’ve never heard of…

Slept clear through my alarm, barely managed to get packed up and out of the room while it was still morning. Missed the hotel breakfast, but there was a Cracker Barrel right next door so I had breakfast there before getting on the road.

Had a really good ride, through some nice little roads in George Washington National Forest (only a few miles of gravel), up over US33 from VA to WV (a must ride), then mostly county roads until I needed fuel. On my way, passed through Kessel, and couldn’t resist stopping for a photo.

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After making the Kessel Run, I can understand why it was so popular with smugglers. A backwater with no police presence, with an extremely fun, lightly traveled route through it.

A bunch more fun riding later, stopped for dinner and to find a hotel.  My plan had been to get at least to Gettysburg today, but my hotel search revealed what common sense should have already told me; getting a hotel room in or near Gettysburg on short notice this week, yeah, that’s not happening.  Ended up finding a hotel in Martinsburg, quite a bit further south than I intended, but still a manageable two day ride home.

Mileage: 258
States: VA, WV
Tomorrow, MD, PA, NY

Truckin’

Today was probably the easiest start of the trip. Woke up, packed the bike, had breakfast, and was on the road ahead of schedule. Decided to ride out the parkway, hoping to avoid hitting the slab on Friday. Had a really good ride in the morning, perfect weather, clear roads, bike running well.

Around lunchtime, came across a detour, road closed ahead. I continued riding up to the closure, hoping for a little more information about the closure so I could make routing plans. They had a map up at the ranger station detailing the closure and the detour, specifically calling out a place to eat just south of where the detour rejoined the parkway. Rode out the detour, turned south, and found the road closed a full 10 miles earlier than the map at the ranger station indicated. Found some better information, increasing the scope of the work. Turned back north, in search of food. After 30 miles of looking, found 5 places in the GPS, all of which were either closed or nonexistent.

Ultimately I ended up back in Sparta, one of the towns the detour went through, and had a late lunch at the restaurant time forgot. 1979 was not a good year for dining. After lunch, got back on the parkway, and eventually crossed into VA.

The parkway through NC is much nicer than the parkway through southern VA. The tunnels, twisty road, light, easily passed traffic, and gorgeous vistas from the overlooks gave way to gentle sweepers with poor sightlines, clumps of slow moving traffic, more parking areas than overlooks, and far too much evidence of humanity. That, plus the strangest police interaction I’ve ever been party to, all conspired to keep my speed down. I wasn’t having a bad ride, exactly, but I wasn’t having fun anymore.

I’m not sure if it was any of those things, really, or if I was just tired, hot, and cranky. Stopped for fuel in Roanoke, got back on the parkway behind a couple more frustratingly slow drivers, then got out around them and started having fun again. About 30 miles to the end of the parkway, the gods of random music pulled out the last stops, and “Truckin'” came on. Long, strange trip, indeed. A good string of travelling music followed, and despite a number of deer in the road and increasingly deep shadows for them to hide in, the last few miles of the parkway were great.

Made it to the end of the parkway around 1930h, took a couple quick photos, then tried to find a place to stay. The first few places I came across were all booked up, and it was getting late, so I stopped at a Sonic to eat and steal some wifi from the office across the street, and found and booked a hotel a few miles further down the road. When I arrived I was surprised to find not only another bike with MA tags, but one I’m certain I’ve seen before, I just can’t remember where. I’m hoping I’ll bump into the rider in the morning and figure it out.

Mileage: 407

States: NC, VA

Tomorrow, more progress towards home, more’s the pity.

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Goodbye, Asheville

Spent the last few days in Asheville, hanging with old and new friends who showed me around town. Drinks were drunk, food was eaten. Last night I had what may well be the best main course I’ve ever eaten (I may have used the words “my tongue just had an orgasm”), as part of a truly incredible meal. Thanks to all involved, I had a really good time.

Packed up the bike this morning, rode out to 151, had a blast running that back and forth a couple of times, then made my way north on the BRP. Around 1500h I was getting stupid from the heat, and came across the visitor center at Craggy Gardens, so stopped in to rest a bit. The ranger on duty was very friendly and helpful, and suggested a few good places to stop along the way and for the night.

Rested, rehydrated, and cooled off, I got back on the bike and on my way. A well-timed glance down at the GPS showed a twisty road coming up on my left, and plenty of time to take a bit of a side trip, so I rode up to the top of Mount Mitchell, walked around for a bit then made the “hike” (paved path, maybe 250m long) up to the observation “tower” (a deck with a long ramp) because I was there and it would be stupid not to. Couldn’t see much, on account of the Very Dark cloud bank that moved to surround the mountain while I was walking up.

Back at the bike, I suited up in the cloud and started rolling. As soon as I got below the cloud, it was raining, but not enough to be worth putting on rain gear as warm as it was.

That was a mistake.

Back on the BRP I hadn’t gone more than 10 miles before I came around a corner into a torrential downpour. A few miles more, and visibility was 1-2m. For once, I was glad to be stuck between two slow moving cars. Eventually came across a sign for a camp, figured I’d pull in and see if they had a lodge, but no such luck. Parked next to their (closed) camp store to sit under the overhanging roof to get out of the storm while determining my next move. A pair of Goldwings with trailers pulled up while I was trying to find a likely place to aim for, and we shared the bit of overhanging roof I’d found to get out of the thunderstorm for a bit. 45 minutes later the storm had eased up, and I’d managed to get enough signal to pull up a radar map that suggested this gap in the storm wasn’t going to last long.

The next town on my way was Little Switzerland, about 10 miles up the parkway, and I recalled there was a lodge there that one of the DoD groups uses for their spring ride, so I figured that’d be a good first try. I was the first of the soggy wet motorcyclists to arrive seeking last minute shelter from the storm, but not the last. By the time I’d finished dinner around 1930h, there were 15 other wet riders there, and the staff were setting out tables for two more that had called in.

Mileage: 114

States: NC

Casualties: accessory fuse (my bad, fixed), Droid CDMA radio

Tomorrow, north on the BRP. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll stop to see anything along the way, or if I’m just going to ride through to avoid a likely slab day later. We’ll see how the mood strikes, I guess.

Goodbye Deals Gap, Hello Asheville

It being Saturday, I slept in a bit, had a lazy breakfast, and took my time packing up to leave. Bike packed, I decided I may as well ride up to Deals Gap to see the zoo. Riding up 28, I was surprised at the lack of traffic. Arrived at the crossroads just as a group of boy racer wannabes took off, so I fell in behind them, fully expecting to get left behind. About 10 corners in, the last rider in their line lost his nerve and waved me by. I could see his ego deflating as he saw all my luggage go by. Two corners later, the next guy moved far enough towards the shoulder I took it as an invitation. By the time we got to where the photographers started, only the two lead riders were still out in front of me, keeping up a good pace. An oncoming BMW gestured for us to slow down, just in time as there was a TN trooper flagging people down around the next corner. Followed them to the overlook, turned around and had a pretty clear run back, too. A very nice way to close out the week in the area.

From there, I followed a route to Asheville a somewhat local friend suggested, which included some absolutely incredible roads. Stopped on the way for some great BBQ, then caught up to one of the more technical sections right as the food coma caught up to me. This was about when I realized riding after BBQ is much worse than riding after a couple of drinks, so I pulled aside and took a quick nap in the grass. Refreshed, I had a great run through the tight stuff, one of those roads that really reminds you how much fun great big gobs of torque can be. Eventually got to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I’d silenced the overly-talkative GPS so I accidentally got on going the wrong direction. Realized my mistake immediately, pulled into the first overlook I passed, and after taking a few minutes to walk around and replace a burnt out headlamp, decided to continue on the wrong way to the end. Beautiful road, I don’t regret a second of it.

Arrived in Asheville around 2030h, settled in, cleaned up, then headed downtown to meet folks for drinks. Had a great time, closed out the place.

Mileage: 347

States: NC, TN, GA, SC

Casualties: main headlamp, quickly repaired with the spare I’d bought earlier in the trip.

Tomorrow, more Asheville.

view from one of the many overlooks on the BRP.

New tire, wet ride

Started off the morning looking for a place to get a new tire.  A few people recommended Wheeler’s, but they didn’t answer their phone so I decided to just ride over.  Arrived around 1100h, explained I needed a new rear tire.  Wheeler asked what brand I wanted, I said I liked the Pirelli, but wasn’t going to be picky.  He didn’t have the exact tire I was taking off, but had the Scorpion Trail I’d wanted to try anyway.  For about $50 more than it would have cost me to order the tire online, he mounted, balanced (it was only a little off the first time so he spun the tire on the wheel to balance it with no weights!), and installed it.  Very professional job, done quickly at a reasonable price.  If you find yourself in the area (about 20 miles south of the Crossroads of Time, on US129), and need anything at all done on your bike, stop in.

With the new tire mounted, I decided I’d take a quick up and back on 129 to run it in.  As I approached the NC/TN border the sky opened up, and I decided running in a brand new tire on the Dragon in the rain probably wasn’t the best idea, so I turned back.  Looking at the weather map, south and east looked pretty clear, so I started out on the loop I’d plotted to include Warwoman Rd. in GA.  Had I known then what I know now, I’d have run down 28, over and back on the interesting part of Warwoman Rd. (the few miles immediately off off 28, it gets mostly straight after that), and back up 28.

As it was, riding down east of Warwoman Rd. was mostly over uninspiring roads (compared to what I’ve been riding on this past week or two, anyway), and I caught up to the rain shortly before the interesting part of Warwoman Rd. so wasn’t able to fully appreciate the road.  Heading north on 28, it got to the point where the lightning strikes were close enough to interfere with the bluetooth headset, then to where I was seeing and hearing the strikes a the same time, so I made the very unusual choice to seek shelter from the storm.  Riding along, I noticed a waterfall off to my right, with what looked like dry pavement behind it, so I pulled in.  Sure enough, the only dry ground in miles was right underneath the waterfall, so I parked the bike, took a quick photo, and sat back to wait out the storm.

bike under waterfall

After the worst of the storm had passed, I put my rain jacket on over my already soaked riding gear, mostly for the wind protection, and followed 28 back to the lodge.  Arrived in time to warm up with a shower before dinner, found a couple of “our people” (a MSF instructor on a Goldwing and a geek on a K12S, a nice change after being the only riider not on a Harley or a trike for most of the week), and spent the evening shooting the shit with them.  Good times.

Mileage: about 270

States: NC, TN, GA

Tomorrow, Asheville

Staying dry

Woke up around 0630h to pouring rain, looked at the time and went back to sleep. At breakfast, looked at a weather map and abandoned my plan to ride down into Georgia, on account of the wall of rain between me and there. While everyone was hiding out from the rain, someone put on a “how to ride the dragon” video where a guy on a Goldwing humiliated a lot of people on sport bikes, with at least 20 minutes of commentary about how people should pull to the side and let faster riders by.

Once the rain stopped, took a quick run north over 129, with the goal of lunch, a liquor store, and an ATM. Two out of three ain’t bad (the cheapest ATM I found wanted $3, and I’m not completely out of cash yet). The video apparently had an impact, every group I came upon all day waved me by within a few corners. Nice change!

Did a little bit of riding, looking for interesting roads. Nothing I found was bad, but nothing great, either. Ended up looping back around over 129, where I came across the aftermath of a low side Harley crash a few turns from the NC end, after a couple miles of people alerting me to a problem up ahead. I’d actually stopped believing there was anything going on just before coming upon the crash site. There were already more than a dozen people “helping”, so I rode through without stopping, to avoid contributing to the problem.

From 129 took 28, then ran down 28 to Cowee. The recommendation had been to take it all the way to Franklin from the four lane section, but by Cowee the road had started to straighten out and I was starting to get hungry, so I turned back. Great road, shame the fun parts are separated by 12 miles of slab. There’s probably a good way to avoid the slab part, but I hadn’t thought to look at a map ahead of time so I just sucked it up.

Arrived back at the lodge, with enough time to grab a quick shower before dinner, and noticed my rear tire was at the wear bars already, just 3600 miles in. Between the 500 mile slab day, the extra weight of carrying camping gear, and sport riding at 30+C, the rubber goes fast! I’ll be making some calls tomorrow to see if anyplace nearby can get a new tire on there for me, this one’s definitely not good for the roughly 2000 miles left in this trip, and probably not even good for the 1200 mile direct route home. I’ve had more than enough fun to justify the cost of a new tire, I just hope I find someplace that can deal with the Uly’s… eccentricities.

At dinner, I chatted with a few people about the day’s ride, and asked if anyone knew anything about the crash. Turns out some of the people I was talking with were with the group that the crashed bike was part of, but none of us knew that yet (the riding group hadn’t returned yet). Once they returned, we got a little more info, but not a lot as none of them had seen the crash. From what I’ve heard so far, it sounds like the guy went in to the left hander too hot and couldn’t keep it on the pavement. Two up, both rider and passenger taken to the hospital for X-rays, but it doesn’t sound like it was too serious beyond that. Damn shame, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

Mileage: around 260

States: NC, TN

Tomorrow, trying to find a suitable rear tire.

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Good Morning, Deals Gap!

Finished up with breakfast just after the rain stopped, so I suited up for a ride. From Iron Horse, up 28 to 143, stopped for Real Gasoline then run up 129. Had a mostly unimpeded run, the few cars and trucks I encountered pulled aside to let me by. The group of Harleys running at -10 didn’t, so I took them two at a time on the inside of corners with good sight lines and all was good. From 129, caught 72 to 360 (fast, but not all that interesting) over to Cherohala. Cherohala was just a constant stream of sweepers with great scenery, quite enjoyable until I got into the cloud. I slow way down; rocks hide in clouds! Eventually came out the other side, and had a good run down back to 129.

Stopped for lunch at Carolina Kitchen, which earns the coveted “avoid” recommendation. No joke, I think I might have been better off next door at McDonald’s. The pulled pork was dry and flavourless, the fries were dead ringers for the store brand ones from the freezer section, the baked beans were clearly from a can, and not hot, and the BBQ sauce from a jar was barely more than ketchup. Most disappointing meal I’ve had in a very long time.

After “lunch”, topped off with more Real Gasoline (48.5mpg!), and started off on a route to include some roads that had been recommended. 129 down to 19, over to Wayah Rd. The plan had been to cut up Otter Creek Rd, paved and twisty looking on my map, to trim some miles off of what was becoming a very long day. Otter Creek Rd started in poor condition, with more patch than pavement and a lot of loose gravel, then turned to crushed stone just short of the looks-great-on-the-map section. Went about 100 yards into the crushed stone section before deciding to turn back. Wayah Rd was fun, anyway, and my short cut would have cut out the best parts, so I was OK with the change.

There was a downside, though, as the route change caused me to miss my planned connection to 28. 441 had been strongly recommended, though, and I found it easily enough. I spent most of the next hour trying to figure out what insult I had given the people who recommended 441, which was practically interstate except for the slow parts through towns. Eventually I got to the “good” part, which was very pretty, but the constant stream of cars running 25 took all the fun out of it that late in the day. Much like Skyline Drive, I can see how it would be a great ride two up on a Harley, or a Goldwing with a trailer, or a big trike. Just not a good sport riding road; no challenge even at x2, for those brief periods between waiting for a chance to pass.

If I’d been smarter, I would have given up on 441 sooner, and cut 74 to 19 back into the land of good riding, but I didn’t. Instead, I stuck with it all the way up to Little River Rd., which was more of the same. Eventually made it through to 337 and 321, then over Foothills Parkway (fun, but wet pavement and an unidentified critter sighting kept my speed down) back to 129.

Had a brilliant run on 129 until I caught up with a pack of no skill, tiny dick, big ego Harley riders I’m calling the Penisylvania Rolling Roadblock. Even running at -10 to -15, the four of them were managing to use the entire road, deliberately blocking every passing opportunity and refusing to use the pull outs. They finally pulled off at the NC border, not to let me by, but because the skies had opened up and they needed to hide from the rain. Fucking Assholes, the lot of them.

Visibility was shit, and in places the stream of water on the road was an inch deep, so the last half hour took almost twice that, and I arrived at the lodge soaked, but in time for dinner. Had a quick shower, enjoyed my dinner, then found the laundry machine to put a load in.

Mileage: 353
States: NC, TN
Tomorrow, either down to GA for Warwoman Rd, or up to “the snake”.

No picture today. I’ve got some video I was going to post, but the connection here is slow enough it’d take all night to upload, so it’ll have to wait. If you can’t do without pictures, here’s a gallery of me on US129, with all the luggage yesterday, and looking bored waiting for an opportunity to pass the Harley pack today.

Deals Gap

Slept in a bit, having spent a bit longer than intended playing with maps last night.  Packed up the bike, checked out of the motel, and hit the road.  Stopped for a huge breakfast around 1100h, and got into fun roads around noon.

First pass over US129 started great, smooth pavement and no traffic.  About half way through the fun part caught up with a big pack of Harleys who weren’t even managing 20, so I pulled off by one of the photographers to wait for them to get ahead a bit.  Waited a little too long, as a small pack of Goldwings came by just as I was about to pull out.  They were moving along OK, +5 mostly, but we quickly caught up with the slow boat parade.

Nobody was using the pull outs.

As I approached the NC border, I realized it had been quite a while since I’d seen anyone pass in the other direction, so at the next opportunity I pulled over to turn around.  Sadly, a couple of trucks with trailers went by as I was turning around.  One pulled over at the second pull out to let me by, the next was dispatched on the inside of an uphill curve with good visibility, and I had a good run until I got to the camera crews, where I caught up with a trike having trouble staying on his side of the road at 20, with a line of traffic behind him.

Turned around at the overlook, ran down to the dam without too much traffic, then checked the GPS and realized the place I wanted to stay was off 28, so turned around.  Caught up to a pack of  18 Harleys on 28, but the guy in the back pulled out and waved me by so I passed most of them before oncoming traffic and ego at the front of their pack forced me to slide in three bikes back from the front.  Finished the pass, got just out of sight of them, and then saw the turn off for the camp.

Pulled into Iron Horse, asked if they had any space in the bunkhouse, and really liked the answer I got.  I’ve got my base of operations for the rest of the week, and it is good.  The plan had been to unpack and go back out riding without all the extra weight, but once I finished unpacking and settling in I decided to just take it easy for the evening.

Thoughts on the Dragon?  It would be a really nice motorcycle road if the limit were 15mph higher, commercial vehicles were banned, and all the idiots didn’t know about it.  I can believe it was a pretty good motorcycle road before it became so famous.  As it is now, it is a lot like a Disney roller-coaster.  If that’s all you’ve ever known, you might think it was pretty damned good, but the tamed down version falls flat when compared to the real thing.  It was worth riding, but it certainly is not the best road of the trip.  I’m told traffic is much lower midweek mornings, so I’ll probably give it another shot tomorrow, 28->143->129->72->360->165->143 looks like it might be a good morning loop.

I’m here for a few days, so suggestions for good local loops are welcome.  In theory this site is set up now so you can comment using your facebook account or OpenID.

Mileage: about 140

States: TN, NC

Tomorrow, more mountain riding.
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