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.


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.

Slow day

Woke up late by local time, even later if you consider the rest of the trip is on Eastern Time. Alanya made breakfast, which was tasty, and time passed quickly. After a very relaxed/ing morning, I eventually I got my act together and got on the road around 1230h local. Crazy hot day and poor route planning eventually convinced me to detour over I-40 to get away from city traffic. After lunch, had a nice ride until I caught up to a couple of Harleys running 15-20 under through the nice twisty bit of US70, and using a lane and a half to do it, so it took a long while before I had sight lines to pass. Stopped for gas and some wake-up juice, burned about an hour just cooling down.
Back on the road, after about 15 miles the road started getting nice and twisty just as the shadows started getting deeper, and a couple of deer sightings convinced me it was time to find a room for the night and save the mountains for morning. The closest places the GPS knew about were my destination and a half-dozen motels I’d passed leaving the gas station, so I turned back. Found a suitable motel, cheap. Clean, but not fancy. They still have mechanical locks! I can’t even think of the last time I had a real key for a hotel room.

A quick half hour of riding tomorrow will get me to the really fun stuff.

Mileage: 222
States: TN
Tomorrow: Deals Gap, Cherohala Skyway, other mountain roads.

Post RCR to Nashville

Lots of rain in the morning, eventually gave up on my planned route after a couple of long detours and got on major roads as my gloves and boots soaked through. Stopped at a Cracker Barrel for an early lunch to get out of the rain for a bit, by the time I was done the rain had mostly stopped. Kept the rain gear on for a while anyway, until the heat got too much. Did another 80 miles or so of back roads before the heat started to really make me stupid, then found big slab for the rest of the ride. My hosts surprised me with a wonderful dinner, then we spent a few hours in good conversation between getting caught up on Game of Thrones.
Mileage: 315
States: KY, TN
Tomorrow, over to Deals Gap.


Woke up at a reasonable hour, got cleaned up and made my way out into the common space for breakfast.  Hung out on the front porch for a while, until it started raining. Went in to read for a bit and had an unexpected nap instead. Woke up just as the rain finished, suited up and went for a short ride, stopping to walk around Natural Bridge for a bit.
Back at the lodge, had some good conversations, an excellent dinner, and if these hiccoughs are any indication, too much beer.  We just now put out the fire, and it looks like I’m last man standing, again.  I expect I’ll sack out shortly after posting this.
All in all a very good day.  Dave and Sarah found a great spot for this year, and did a fabulous job as hosts.
Mileage: 78
States: KY
Tomorrow, Nashville.

The greying of the DoD, take two

WordPress app crashed while trying to save my post, so here are the highlights instead.
First tour of the day was Wild Turkey, the most obviously modern and commercial of the distilleries I visited. The tour was a pretty thorough coverage of everything from raw grains through final product, though by this point I’m confident I could set up and run my own distillery if I needed to.  I don’t much care for Wild Turkey’s usual product, but I quite enjoyed their single barrel offering at the tasting.
After Wild Turkey it was over to Four Roses, the last stop on my Bourbon tour, and the least impressive of the tours I took.  In their defense, they were in a seasonal shut down period, so there simply wasn’t much happening to see, and I knew that going in.  They did offer the most comprehensive tasting of the tour, with generous samples of each of their domestic products.
Bourbon Trail complete, over to the RCR. I’d plotted a nice looking route, but apparently failed to account for road speed as the GPS gave an ETA after 2100h.  After an hour of riding that estimate hadn’t come below 2000h, so I edited the route to include a couple “make time” sections over Interstate, and arrived at the RCR around 1700h after what may well be the nicest motorcycling road I’ve ever ridden, KY 715.  Massachusetts residents, think Whiley Rd, with better pavement, more and tighter curves, and about ten times longer.
At the RCR, unpacked the bike and opened a bottle of Devil’s Cut to share. Dinner, drinks, tire kicking, and shit shooting with good friends, old and new, until the greying of the DoD reared its ugly head.  By 2330h there were only four left standing, and as I sat down to write this the first time ay 2350h it was just me.
Oh well, I guess not everyone can pretend to be a kid forever. I’ll do what I can to pick up the slack for the rest. Heh.
Mileage: 174
Tomorrow, whatever strikes my fancy probably low mileage and some walking in the park.
No picture tonight, since that seems to be what crashed it last time.

Bourbon, Bourbon, and more Bourbon

Woke up to a beautiful, if already quite warm, day. Quickly got ready, packed up the bike, and hit the road for Jim Beam. The tour guide was extremely personable and entertaining, and I got to try two new Bourbons, Knob Creek Single Barrel and Devil’s Cut.  I may have gone ahead and bought a bottle or two to share at the RCR.

After Jim Beam, it was over to Heaven Hill, for the “Deluxe” tour.  They have at least four different tour options, this just happened to be the one just about to start when I arrived.  The tour was a little heavy on promoting their “other” spirits, but still entertaining.  The tasting was, by far, the most structured, giving a lot of insight into the differences between the Bourbons sampled. After convincing myself I really didn’t need a $350 bottle of Bourbon that I didn’t really have space for anyway, I considered my options.

Both tours ran longer than I expected, so I only had time for one more today.  The Barton 1792 Distillery was only minutes away, and their website claims the tour offered a first hand look at the entire process, but they aren’t on the official Bourbon Trail.  The Maker’s Mark Distillery was about 40 minutes away over fun roads, and I’d get there in time to have some lunch before taking the tour.  Maker’s Mark is on the official Bourbon Trail, so ultimately I let the marketing departments make the choice for me.

Arrived at Maker’s Mark, had a tasty, if over priced, burger, then rode over to the tour start with a little over a half an hour before the last tour was scheduled to start.  As I was locking up my gear, a group of 14 couples on Harleys pulled up and went inside.  I think that many bikers in the lobby was just too much for them, because they started the 1530 tour at 1458.  The tour guide was hilarious, though I’m not sure she was necessarily trying to be.

Done with tours for the day, I pulled up a weather report.  With a greater than 50% chance of thunderstorms overnight and into the morning, I decided to break camp while all of my stuff was dry, pack up the bike and spend the night in a hotel.  Nice ride back to camp, managed (barely) to fit everything on the bike, then rode off in the direction of the distilleries I plan to visit tomorrow in search of a hotel.  After a very close call with a couple of dogs, followed by another close call with a deer two corners later, I decided it was time to stop for dinner.

Punched up food options on the GPS, which routed me over Rice Rd., which was fun right up until the unexpected water crossing.  About 20 feet from the far side I hit something invisible in the water with my front tire, sliding the back end out on the snot-slick rocks.  With a sudden surety my trip was ruined, I threw my weight to the high side of the bike and poured on the throttle in a desperate attempt to get out of the water before crashing.  Somehow made it to the far side, now sliding in the other direction, and was saved by the road camber.  Back on dry land, I spent the next several minutes thinking “this road better go through”.

Fortunately, it did, and I came upon the location of the first food option the GPS had presented, which sadly does not exist on this plane.  The next two options I picked were also not there in the real world, so when I saw a Walmart I pulled in to do some searches on my phone.  Located a suitable hotel about 10 miles up the highway, rode up, dropped my stuff in the room, and went back out in search of dinner.  By this point it was past 2130, so options were limited.  Found another Sonic, quick and cheap wins again.  Had a nice chat with a local couple there on their mid-90s Katana, who broke out laughing as soon as I said “Rice Rd”, then gave me some road suggestions for tomorrow.

Mileage: 178
States: KY
Tomorrow, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, then on to the RCR.