July 21, 2005 GMT
Memorial Day Weekend Blue Ridge Parkway Warmup Ride

With the Big Trip on the horizon, we decided to rendezvous on Memorial Day weekend and spend the weekend riding. After much arm twisting, I persuaded my friend Mark to come with us.

Dad rode interstates up from Perry, Ga to Hazard, KY. Mark showing up gave me a reason to get out of work slightly early and we headed out on the state highways from Bowling Green to Hazard. We had beautiful weather and some nice winding country roads all the way over. The section through the Daniel Boone National Forest was excellent.

We met up with Dad at the hotel in Hazard, which conveniently had an Applebee's right next door. After a good days ride, a couple of adult beverages put us out for the night.

The next morning we headed to VA on the state highways. The weather again was great. We topped out a section of nice twisties next to Black Mountain (the highest peak in KY) and stopped right at the state line for a photo shoot. You won't see Mark in any pictures, because he had the camera. Mine was on the blink and has been replaced in preparation for much photojournalism to come.


Here's Pops and I checking a map, which is something I do at every stop. I can't help it - it's an obsession. That and change CD's. I used to make fun of people with radios on their bikes, until I got one. What a blast.

Black Betty, my Electra Glide, is a Cadillac to ride. Comfortable enough to ride all day, enough power and agility to still enjoy a challenging road, and plenty of room to pack everything needed. The stereo is just icing on the cake.

Twisting down into the valley of VA, and through some appalchian coal mining towns - one of the poorest areas in the US, and there's nothing else there for people to do.

I had an exciting moment in Abingdon, VA. Putzing along a 4 lane road at 55 mph in fairly heavy traffic, I screwed up. I spaced out thinking about the nice road we had just come off long enough to not notice that the truck in front of me had STOPPED.
Oh no.
Grab clutch, front brakes, stomp rear brake all at the same time.
Front end dives, rear end gets light and starts to skid, and Black Betty goes into the Tank Slap Tango.
Now, 700+ pounds of motorcycle shaking it's head like a bass trying to throw a spinnerbait is a pretty exciting ride.
Release everything, straighten up, grab it all again, slap slap slappity slap.
Repeat.
Guy in truck, who had stopped because the gentleman in front of him had stopped to make a left (no left turn lane), notices 700 pounds of steel and fiberglass urgently approaching his rear bumper and guns it forward about 3 feet.
I stop the bike 6 inches from his bumper. All of this takes about 3 seconds.

Traffic clears, drop into first, cruise out of town to the gas station on the state highway we're taking. Thankfully I didn't have to change my underwear. Get off the bike and gas it up. Mark and Dad congratulate me on the nice recovery from my absentmindedness.

One of my favorite things about motorcycle riding, especially anything tricky or challenging, is the fact that the concentration required is so complete that all distractions, internal or external, fade away. It's the closest to Zen "Be Here Now" mindfulness I've ever experienced. The effect is more pronounced at higher speeds, on the track, or pushing the man/machine performance envelope on a challenging road. And I absolutely screwed it up. "Be Here Now " or become a darn hood ornament.

After the near miss we continued on our way through VA, past Mt. Rogers, the highest point in VA at 5729 ft. Really nice ride through the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area and the Grayson Highlands State Park.

We dropped into NC and picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway near Sparta. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the must-ride roads for any motorcyclist that can get to it. Amazing views, nice road, little traffic, it is literally a park. Most parkways, at least around home, are 4 lane limited access wannabe interstates. The Blue Ridge is a PARKway. The 45 mph speed limit was not even a factor, as it gives you time to enjoy the views and smell the flowers along the way (well, at least look at the flowers, some sort of which was in serious bloom during our ride. Gorgeous.).


The section from Boone to Asheville, NC climbs up and rides the crest of the mountains, with average elevations above 5000 ft. It climaxes just outside Asheville at Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in NC at 6684 ft(sense a theme here?). We eased off the parkway into Asheville and paid last-room-available-on-a-holiday-weekend extortion rates for a hotel room. It was worth it because we had spent 11 hours on the bikes. We walked to a mexican restaurant and washed down burritos with some cervezas, then hit the hay hard.

Sunday morning we split up, with Dad hitting the interstate south to SC and on to GA. Mark and I decided to ride the remainder of the BRP from Asheville to Cherokee. This section gains elevation from Asheville and tops out at the highest point on the parkway.


From there it returns to the rainforest, peaks out again, then descends into rainforest in Cherokee. It was fascinating to look at the change in vegetation from the lower elevations (basically rainforest) to the mountain top, not quite treeline, level.
I'm not much of a church goer, but spending Sunday morning riding the BRP out of Asheville was as close to the Lord as I've ever been in a house of worship.


Entering Cherokee we encountered one of the reasons Americans are disliked abroad (and at home!) - the overweight, couch-sitting, tv watching, loud, snotnosed screaming youngun toting, cheeto eating pasty white tourist. Wait a minute, I forgot an adjective, how about adding DUMB to that rant. Cherokee, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge are all infested with this subspecies, especially since it was Memorial Day weekend and they all jumped into their cars to sit in a carbon monoxide sucking traffic jam enjoying nature. Hmmmmph!

We hurriedly gassed up and headed into the Smoky Mountain National Park to hit Clingman's Dome, the highest point in TN at 6643 ft, thereby completing our four of a kind informal peak collecting goal for the weekend. Traffic in the park was building as we rode up to the parking lot by the dome. By the time we climbed up to the observation tower and back, the invasion was complete. Bumper to bumper we rode through the park. We tried to escape by avoiding Gatlinburg and riding out the Cades Cove road, but our efforts were in vain. The National Park Service should just install an oversized version of the moving walkways used in airports and have them transport vehicles and people through the park. It would cut down on the smokiness of the Smokey Mountains by eliminating all the automotive exhaust emissions.

Finally we escaped the park and the tourists and picked up the Foothills Parkway. A short, cleansing non-traffic infested ride later we approached the Dragon, US 129 between the TN/NC border. Mark wasn't driven to add this to our weekend but my persuasive skills that got him to come on the trip were once again employed - hey man, we're here, you've never ridden it, c'mon let's go. It was a blast. Mark took off around me, as he was riding a Sportster, and I started slinging the bagger through the switchbacks. What great fun. The v-twin motor is perfect for this tight curvy road as the torque comes on immediately when you're ready to power up out of a corner. I passed two other riders on HDs and one on a sport bike - I ride my bagger a little more aggressively than most folks.

We stopped at the store at the bottom, gassed up the bikes and ourselves and giggled. The Tail of the Dragon is another must-ride road - yes, it's full of knuckleheads, but wave'em on past and enjoy 11 miles of super road. Try to hit it on a weekday when there aren't so many people trying to emulate Nicky Hayden or Miguel DuHamel. Stop at the store and marvel at the variety pack of sport bike riders, HD cruisers, Gold Wings with trailers, Vespas...a rolling motorcycle show.

We rolled out of the store and headed up the Fontana Lake road back towards Cherokee in a bit of a drizzle, the only rain we saw over the 4 day weekend. We fought our way through Cherokee and into Maggie Valley. I had told Mark that if the Wheels Through Time Museum was open, we had to stop there. Luckily it was.

We pulled up to the sidewalk in front of the museum to see a man roll starting a bike down the sidewalk into the parking lot. As it passed, we noticed it was a Crocker! A very rare motorcycle, and here was one riding around the gravel parking lot. Mark called to the man to get a picture, and he proceeded to pull up and do a gravel slinging semi-burnout for us. What a riot!

Turns out he was the owner, Dale Walksler. He led us into the museum, gave us free passes for our next visit since we had arrived so late, started up an Ace, a Henderson, and an Excelsior, and was just the most gracious good natured host you could imagine. The mat at the door of the museum says "The Museum that Runs", and Mr. Walksler sure emphasized that. He said that every bike that was restored was ridden, and you could definitely tell - a little oil drip here, a little stain there. Beautiful to see the old iron still being exercised.

The specialty of the museum is American motorcycles, pre-70 or thereabouts. The collection includes bunches of hill climbers, race bikes, military bikes, weird machines made with motorcycle motors, memorabilia, some vintage cars....just amazing. I've been twice, and will be back again as that free pass is still in my wallet. The museum is a must-see for motorcyclists riding in the area.

From Maggie Valley we rode 209 up to Hot Springs. Another super twisty switchback road, but the pavement wasn't in as good a shape as some of the other roads from the day. Plus we'd been riding all day long so we didn't push it too much. Got into Hot Springs, found the bar my friend was running, got a room right behind it, and proceeded to drink until the bar closed, after the bar closed, after we left the bar....I fell asleep somewhere along the line.

Rode towards Newport TN the next morning with a bit of a headache. Headed north and caught a corner of VA again. Hit a great road up the hill out of (where). I love the "This route not recommended for trucks. Steep winding road" signs. Those signs are equivalent to "Great Motorcycle Road". Got to the top and had to pull over laughing because we were having such a good time. Mark said he was enjoying riding behind me, watching me sling the big bike around. Black Betty may be a big girl, but she still likes to dance.

One more nice section of road and we hit a parkway. Decided that we should roll on towards home. Started feeling down - no more fun roads, gotta go to work tomorrow, etc. Mark said to quit whining, we'd had an awesome weekend, and he was so glad I berated him into coming with.

All in all it was a great weekend - excellent weather, great roads, good friends, good times & sights to see. I just need to work on my tendency for the going-home blues. I can just imagine what it's going to be like coming home after 4 weeks on the road.

I got up the next morning wondering whether I'd want to be on a bike after 4 long days on the road. Checked the weather and jumped on the big bike for the ride to work. Yep, I'm ready to roll on the long trip!

Posted by Chuck Skarsaune at July 21, 2005 12:25 AM GMT
 


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