Monday, August 20, 2007

i have been out of the posting loop for a while due to having a life, or lack thereof. work is keeping us hopping. but even with this we spent the morning taking stock. the hurricane season looks like it is beginning to run, albeit a little late this year.

are ya'll ready? especially you folks in the coastal areas? i recently had every pine tree left removed from around the house so that should help if a storm runs as far north as hillbilly georgia. we just checked fuel supplies and ordered another 400 gallons of premium unleaded and enough diesel to top off that tank also. all three generators were checked for proper function, all the guns are loaded and there is enough emergency food to last longer than i could expect to need it. all the gutters have been cleaned out and the grass is cut.

two standard chain saws are sharp and tuned. one stihl demolition saw with the rollermatic chain designed for cutting through construction debris is also ready to go. one at work, one at home and one in the truck.

all this and no storm even on the horizon for my neck of the woods. i have been watching fema and all of the other disaster relief organizations posturing just in case "dean the destroyer" (what a stupid tag line the news media has come up with) takes a northerly turn. if folks would take any responsibility for their own well being the g-men would not have to be spending so much of our tax money stockpiling beanie-weenies and band-aids.

if any of ya'll folks that live down in florida, alabama, mississippi, louisiana, or texas don't have a generator, extra fuel, food and a small window air conditioner to keep cool with you should. if a storm does hit you and you are not prepared i may have a little sympathy for you but not much. more than likely your going to get nothing but a big "i told ya so" from me. yeah, maybe a storm won't hit this year but eventually another katrina class storm is going to wipe the coast clean. do the boy scout thing so i don't have to trash talk you while your suffering.

i am not totally unsympathetic though. my prayers are with those that are in the direct path of this storm and know that if your home gets leveled then a little extra gas and a generator is not a lot of help. i am sending prayers up for those that are less fortunate than us gringos in the land of opportunity. i'll be donating my cash for relief through the N.A.M.B. again. unlike the red cross and others 100% of the money they collect actually goes to helping victims.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

After a stressful month the better half and I decided it was time to decompress, so we packed up the baggers for a little trip. Our plan was to cruise up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the weekend and look for some cooler temperatures. I had told the hired help that we may ride into Monday so we had the option for an extra day if needed.

We called our buddy Patrick over in South Carolina to see if he wanted to go for a putt. To our surprise, he had just added a fifth bike to his collection and needed to put some break-in miles on it. The Parkway was just the ticket for the first trip on his new BMW RT1200RT.

Carol was on her '07 Road King (Pearl) and I was on a custom '78 FLH (Dreamsickle) as we bailed out of the Chicken City Saturday morning. We soon put the Georgia state line behind us crossing into Westminster, SC. A left turn put us on track to pick up the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Parkway.

Scenic 11 is always a nice ride and the miles fell behind us. At the intersection of Hwy 178 we met up with Patrick and pointed the bikes toward North Carolina. Soon we were on Hwy 215 climbing toward the Parkway. As we gained altitude the temperature continued to drop and we left the summer temperatures of the low country in our rearview mirrors.

At the top of the hill we turned north on the Parkway and stopped at the first pull off for a nice picnic lunch. Carol always packs a saddlebag full of tasty treats so that we don't have to kill time looking for chow.

As she prepared lunch my curiosity had me breaking out my non contact thermometer. Since there was a new bike in the crowd I felt the need to start gathering data. I took temperature readings on all three bikes. Heads, cylinders, engine cases, exhaust pipes, etc. Being an information junkie is a tedious job but somebody has to do it.

Lunch was ready quickly and after we broke bread it was time to continue the adventure. We rode north past Black Balsam, Graveyard Fields, Craggy Gardens and then hung a left to take a side trip to the top of Mt Mitchell.

As the elevation changed the seasons changed with them. When we left home it was full summer, on most of the parkway it was late spring conditions but at the higher elevations early spring was in bloom. Being able to experience these different conditions at the twist of a throttle is a joy that rewards those having a mountain range close to home.

At the top of Mt Mitchell, the Park Services snack concession's hot coffee was a nice warm up as we enjoyed the view. Carol pulled some more snacks out of her grocery stash in an effort to keep Patrick and I well fed for the rest of the days ride.

We finished our little sightseeing break and pointed the bikes back down the mountain. At the main road we turned north again, enjoying the endless sweeping curves and stunning views that define the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was perfect, the traffic was light and the riding was peeling layers of stress off of us measurably as each mile passed under our wheels.

As the afternoon slipped into evening we found ourselves coming into one of our favorite overnight stops. The town of Little Switzerland, North Carolina is located right on the Parkway and boasts a few quaint hotels and some spectacular views of the valley below.

We stopped at the Little Switzerland Motorcycle Lodge but they were booked and we didn't have reservations. They called the Skyline Motel and snagged the last two rooms available for us. Dead stinking perfect.

At the Skyline we found the rooms to be economical, clean and the hosts friendly. An Elvis impersonator was belting out familiar tunes on the outdoor patio as we unpacked the bikes and discussed dinner plans.

The idea of Mexican food seemed appealing so we fired up the bikes and headed into Spruce Pine. When we turned onto the main drag we encountered a sign informing us that the road was closed for a classic car show. I gave the cop a shout out informing him that my bike was a classic and asked if we could pass through. He gave us a big thumbs up and we drove around the barricades into the midst of the hotrods and antique cars.

We found parking spots directly in front of our intended eatery andbacked up to the curb. Dinner was outstanding and watching the crowd admiring our bikes as they wandered by was entertaining. We finished our meal and left for the hotel, "full as peach orchard ticks" as the old saying goes.

Our rooms at the Skyline had a private balcony overlooking the valley and we enjoyed the night sky view as we gabbed into the wee hours. Even though it had originally been planned as a weekend trip Carol and I decided to blow off work on Monday and get an extra day on the road.

The next morning Patrick had to get back home so after breakfast at the Little Switzerland Inn's buffet we parted ways. Carol and I had decided to push on to the Virginia state line before we turned back toward the homestead. The morning was crisp and cool and the traffic was again very light.

As the road wound north there were many sights to stop and see such as Linville Falls, Grandfather Mountain, a multitude of scenic overlooks and the Cumberland Knob Visitors Center. When we arrived at the Virginia state line we stopped for photos and to discuss what to do next.

We were really having fun and decided it would be a shame not to ride a while longer. Of course this was going to cost us another day of work but what the heck; it will still be there when we get back.

As we pedaled the putts north through the rolling foothills of Virginia the weather remained outstanding and the temperatures cool. At some point we fell in with a group of riders on a BMW K1200 and a GS1200 who were pulling up the pavement like it was free. These anonymous brothers of the road were not afraid to twist the throttle and with a couple of rabbits ahead of us to set the pace we got lost in the zone of chasing them through a seemingly endless number of left-hand and right-hand curves.

With darkness approaching we dropped off of the relentless pace of the German power riders and discussed our options. The closest town that our map showed with probable accommodations was Buena Vista. We figured to find a hotel and then jump on I-81 the next morning and see how fast we could get home. The only motel we passed in Buena Vista was full so we pushed on. Carol had left her throttle rocker on the '73 FLH at the house and we noticed that there was a Harley-Davidson dealer located just north of us, so we jumped on the interstate northbound toward Staunton.

We found perfect lodging just a matter of blocks from the dealership and collapsed in the sheets of a really comfortable bed. The next morning we scored us each a throttle rocker and a couple of t-shirts. Somehow as we shopped, we decided that we were so close to the end of the Parkway we had to get back on and finish the northern leg. Another day of work would have
to be sacrificed to make it happen so I dropped a dime and informed the hired help that the boss was shirking his duties yet another day.

We retraced our steps of the evening before and reentered the Parkway where we had left it. Once again there was so much to stop and see that the miles did not go as quickly as planned. Even with our progress being impeded by the scenery we eventually came to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The excitement of finally making it to the end was soon tempered by the sobering thought that it was time to turn towards home. At that moment an idea fired among the aging synapses of my addled brain. SKYLINE DRIVE! Let's ride it too! Carol asked if I could afford to miss yet another day of work and my response was "my name is on the front of the building, they can't fire me."

With the decision to continue made, we pulled up to the gate for the Shenandoah National Park with smirks reminiscent of kids playing hooky from school plastered across our faces. We paid our fee, got our complimentary map and started our first trip up Skyline Drive.

The afternoon faded into evening quickly and we stopped at a scenic overlook to check the map and decide what to do about a place to sleep. There are three Park Service operated Lodges in the Park and we were deciding which one to stay in when another of those BMW motorcycles came wheeling up next to us.

The industrial looking GS1200 was dragging a rubber chicken tied to a string behind it and a giant of a man crawled off and said hello. We struck up a conversation and he asked us what was up. When we told him we were trying to decide which Lodge we were going to stay in he said "none of them, you're staying at my cabin tonight."

While we were impressed at his hospitality we needed to think about it for a moment. I had to ask, "You're not an axe murderer or anything like that, are you?" As he broke out into an infectious laugh I noticed the Free Masons emblem on his jacket. As far as I know, Charlie Manson types are not allowed in the Masons so I told Carol that I thought he was safe but that I
would sleep with one eye open just in case.

Loftus told us to follow him to the cabin and he would fix dinner when we arrived. It turned out that his "cabin" is not what I would call a cabin. It is a two bedroom log home with a full basement, five car garage and sitson a 4 acre lot fronting the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. This was a first class crib.

After a stunning meal we crawled into bed and slept like babies. It is a good thing our host was not a serial killer because I would not have awaken even if someone had come in the bedroom with a chainsaw. The next morning we were treated to a home cooked breakfast and Loftus asked if we wanted some company for the day's ride, which of course we always do.

We backed our bikes out of the garage and like all good scooter folks our host pulled the cover off of another bike and changed steeds for the day. His choice for the day was yet another BMW. Being limited to only one bike causes one to wear them out too quickly. Spread the load is what I have always thought.

It was just a 12 mile jaunt through Elkton Virginia back to the National Park and Skyline Drive. Being a part time local Loftus made an excellent tour guide. As we continued on our journey he would stop and tell us stuff like "be on the watch, this is a good place to see bear." As
punctual as a Swiss train, a bear or three would promptly appear. At another stop he would tell us to look in a particular direction when we started rolling again if we wanted to see some grouse and again they would be sitting right where he said they would.

That day we saw bear, deer, turkeys, grouse and other indigenous species of wildlife. It was like riding our motorcycles through a zoo with no cages. As the day progressed the sky started to darken and storm clouds began to gather. With just a handful of miles left before the end of the road we picked up the pace in an attempt to race the approaching storm.

We pulled off at the final overlook on Skyline Drive and swapped a few words with a weather watcher and his cameras about the ominous looking clouds. At this point rain and lighting were going to envelop us; it was just a matter of time.

We put the bikes into high gear and pointed them toward the northern end of Skyline Drive. We raced the impending rain, holding on to the lead just until we crossed the exit gate. As we rolled through the last gate and "please return" sign the Heavens opened up and the deluge began.

We turned left and headed southwest in an attempt to out flank the storm. We were so close to the cusp of the rain event that stopping to pull on raingear was going to guarantee that we would get wet. We were keeping just ahead of the rain most of the time. When we slowed it would start catching us but when we had clear road and speed we could put the wet weather in our mirrors.

We made our final turn into the yard and managed to get the bikes in the garage just minutes before the bottom fell out of the sky and the rain was unleashed. As the storm raged Loftus prepared another exquisite meal for us. While we ate the discussed centered around our plans for the next day. Our host for the moment was going to have to leave out early to go
back to the daily grind. Carol and I figured it was time to start back south toward the homestead.

The next morning we left Loftus at the first fuel stop we passed while Carol and I started looking for a place to eat some breakfast in Elkton. We turned down the main drag and noticed a little diner flying the Stars and Stripes. There was also an Evo bagger with Canadian license plate parked out front.

As we waited for our meal we struck up a conversation with the rider from the great white north. It turns out that Vic had gotten separated from his buddy the previous evening due to a bad run of luck with some traffic signals. Once they got split up the local cell phone system, or lack there of, was not giving them any help.

As we ate our breakfast and chatted, we discussed the ugly weather system that seemed to be parked atop the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Soon we were joined by Don the Canadian cop. The Canadians had planned on picking up Skyline Drive and then ride on down across the Parkway and on to the southern end at Pigeon Forge Tennessee.

Carol and my original plan had been to hop on I-81 and power trip it back to the house but the idea of super-slabbing was not that appealing even if it cost us another day getting home. The weather was weighing heavily on all of us and we told them our new plan was to head west then south in an effort to do an end run around the rain. It took about half an arm twist and the Canadians decided to roll along with us for a while.

The newly formed international group of Cannucks and Crackers picked up Hwy 33 west and crossed over Shenandoah Mountain into West Virginia. This was the first of countless crossings of the line of demarcation that separates the two states of Virginia. This section of road over the mountains was a scenic as a person could ask for.

Before long we turned south on Hwy 220 which took us through the historic townships of Monterey, Warm Springs and Healing Springs. All the way down this stretch of road we were constantly watching the threatening weather off to the east. We were right on the edge of the weather front. To our left were clouds and lightning and to our right was sunshine.

By the time we reached Covington Virginia the rain had caught us. We donned our rain gear and decided to head farther west on I-84 for a few miles to see if we could get ahead of the weather system. Just after we crossed into West Virginia again we got hit hard. First it was rain, then lightning and finally it began to hail so hard that we couldn't see more than a few feet.

It was as bad as I have even seen. Since there was not any decent place to stop we pushed on to try and break through. Carol was in the lead, all I could see was her tail light so I stuck my front tire on her rear fender and did what it took to keep her in sight. Behind me Vic was glued to my rear fender and Don was bringing up the rear.

When we finally broke through the storm Don was not attached to the train. We waited for a while and he didn't show so I went back looking to make sure he hadn't gotten schmucked. When I didn't find him in any ditches I checked the last exit. That is when I discovered there was not a return ramp to the interstate. I figured out pretty quickly that Don must have
gotten off the interstate in the storm and was probably ahead of us due to where we stopped to wait for him.

I made my way back to Carol and Vic and we decided to push on to the next town and wait for a phone call. We waited for over two hours and were starting to worry when we finally got the call. Once again the lack of communication of the Canadian cell phones with the local system had us mucked up.

Don had spent the last two hours headed south to try and catch up and we had been sitting still. He parked himself in Wytheville and got a room while we put it in the wind to reunite the group. We fractured a few speed laws and were able to find Don waiting for us all fed and showered.

The following morning we wandered across two lane roads and through better weather to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We picked it up just north of the Virginia/North Carolina line and headed on south. The Cannucks were finally on track and we were just rolling with the punches.

By evening we found ourselves in Little Switzerland North Carolina. This was where the better half and I had spent the first night of this adventure and for some reason we didn't want it to be our last night. The only problem was that we had been gone six days and had only planned on being gone for three.

So now it was time to make some arrangements\ so that we could stay on the road. I got the crew settled into the Little Switzerland Motorcycle Lodge and I struck out for home. Leaving at dusk for most of a days ride sounded like work but the pets needed checking on and I had to deliver the payroll to work or the help would have organized a mutiny.

I got home after midnight, put out more food for the pets, washed cloths and delivered the pay checks to work. The next morning I got up early and blasted toward Cherokee North Carolina to cut off the crew at the pass. In Cherokee I rang them up on the cell and found out they were still sitting at the hotel. I got onto the parkway and started hammering north to meet them.

It was still early, it was a weekday and the traffic was light. I took a chance and unleashed the hidden beast in Dreamsickle and only came down to the speed limit a couple of times. I managed to catch the crowd on the north side of Ashville and flipped to latch back onto the crowd. The groupwas now reunited and life was good.

Due to everyone's time constraints and needing to get home eventually we
kept the bikes rolling steadily. At the highest point on the Parkway we
stopped for a photo opportunity. Since this overlook was just about 35
miles from the end of the road we decided to say our goodbyes. Don and Vic
were going to turn north to get on the super slab to Canada and we needed to
go south on 441 towards the house.

After the Cannucks headed off, Carol and I ate a sandwich and discussed
alternate plans. We decided to turn back north at the end of the Parkway
and head over Newfound Gap towards Gatlinburg Tennessee. As we came down
the back side of the gap my brakes started squeaking. At our next fuel stop
I investigated the noise and realized it was time to reline the binders.

Our map showed the closest H-D dealership in Knoxville so the decision
where to go next was made. We arrived in town late and secured a room for
the night and had one of the best Mexican meals I have ever eaten.

The next morning I headed off to the dealership while Carol lounged at
hotel and caught up on some phone calls. At the dealership I bought some
pads and asked if it was o.k. to wrench on the bike in the parking lot.
They had a customer checking into the service department for a brake job at
the same time I was scoring parts. It took about ten minutes to get my
brake pads swapped out and almost as long to get my tools shoehorned back
into the teardrop toolbox.

After I finished the brakes there was still some time to kill before
Carol was to arrive to meet me. So I went back in and bought some shiny
stuff and a new set of spark plugs. While I was wandering the store the guy
that was waiting on the technician to come get his bike for his brakes asked
me how long it would take me to put mine on. When I told him the job was
already done I could hear the gears in his head start to slip.

I checked out again and installed some functional chrome along with my
new plugs. I noticed that the lower fuel tank bolt was completely missing
so I went back in and picked up a new bolt to finish the parking lot service

By then Carol had arrived and I asked her what route she wanted to take
back to the house. She pulled out a Kentucky map and started pointing. I
never knew you had to go through Kentucky to get to Georgia from Tennessee
but you learn something new every day.

We struck back out north and found ourselves wandering the Daniel Boone
National Forest. We had also found the hot sun the south is famous for.
Whew! The day was spent exploring and working our way west. I had no idea
where we were going but as long as the ol lady was happy, I was happy.

Late that evening I saw brake lights and Carol whipped her bike off the
road into a church parking lot. Like Forest Gump on the banks of that river
in Vietnam, or after three years of running she said "I wanna go home." Not
later this evening, not tomorrow or the next day. Right now!

I pulled out the maps and noticed that there was a scenic road that
headed south through Tennessee just a few miles from our current location.
We ate a quick snack and remounted the steeds. We turned south on Hwy 127
and soon found ourselves in the Volunteer State. We had to bed down for the
night again but arose early the next morning to continue south along the
Sequatchie River.

Finally we blasted through the Choo-Choo town and into to the Peach
State. The sign said welcome to Georgia and we were happy to be so close to
home. We made a left turn onto SR 136 which brought us across the Cohutta
Mountains and back to the Chicken City. So six states, nine days and 2,500
miles later our little weekend jaunt on the putts came to a safe end back at
the house.

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