Wednesday, May 13, 2009

11 Hours, 3 States, 361 Miles and 1 Beautiful Day

I hate to continue on about all the rain we have been getting, but it is true. We have been getting a lot of rain...or threats of rain with darkly overcast skies. So when the rare sunny, warm day arrives it is cause for celebration.

In anticipation of a perfect day the motorcycle group made plans to play hooky from work yesterday and ride to Tenn and North Carolina to ride the Cherohala Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon. If you aren’t into motorcycles you won’t know that these are mecca’s for hard core bikers that love the twisties.

Statistically, the Dragon is 11 miles of pavement with 318 curves. The number of curves is subjective, but the definitive report is counted as “each time you have to readjust your steering. One corner, say a decreasing radius, will have several curves in it as you turn the wheel more or back.” You can type in “tail of the dragon” on YouTube and find gazillions of videos of people doing stupid things. I take that back. You will find a few of people with video cameras mounted to their bikes, taking a leisurely stroll through the mountains. There just aren’t many of them. Usually you will find speed freaks racing through the turns. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but that leaves the fallout of all the accidents that occur because people don’t always successfully run the Dragon. Enough said. You want gruesome? Go look up the videos.

Needless to say…I have absolutely no interest in riding the Dragon. Even riding it sedately can get you into trouble if someone riding extremely fast overtakes you and can’t avoid you. Or someone in the opposite direction loses control and hits you. Or worse semi’s and auto’s cause encounters. Semi’s are not restricted on this road and there are several turns where they have to stop and negotiate a tight corner to not drive over the edge on one side and scrub the trailer on the rock on the other. So I wouldn’t want to encounter any of these!

Cherohala Skyway is “similar” to the dragon in the splendor of curves, but they are nearly as tight and close and dangerous. The skyway also offers safe pullovers for some great views.

Mr Oilburner rode Cherohala last year and loved it. He has been pestering me to go and play. Stopping me has been the distance and the twisties. I’m just not good in the twisties. He assures me that even I can handle these ones.

So…even though I didn’t want to ride the Dragon, I could at least ride with the group up to Tennessee. They could run the skyway ahead of me. I could run the skyway at my own pace. I might meet up with them at the end if they haven’t taken off for the Dragon. Then I can ride home. So late Monday night I decided to give it a try. Plotting a route for myself revealed it to be about 350+ miles in one day. That was a LONG day for me! The most I have ever ridden in one day is 250 miles. I was a little nervous, but decided to go for it. I packed snacks and a book in case I needed to take an extended break to re-energize.

My day started at 5 AM to get up and shower and finish the last minute packing. I hopped on the bike at 5:45 to ride 40 miles to Marietta to meet the group for a kickstand up time of 6:30. This was the first daunting point. I would be riding in the dark, at the start of rush hour traffic, on freeways that I had never ridden or never ridden alone on. But half way there and the traffic cleared up and evened out. I was the fourth person of about 13 at the meetup spot.

We were missing two in the party. One would meet us up the road at an on-ramp and the other would meet us at Blue Ridge. We hit the road at a steady 70 mph and rode the 77 miles to Blue Ridge. The sun had come out to reveal scattered clouds and beautiful blue skies with a decent 57 degree temperature. The day was supposed to be warm in Atlanta and only slightly cooler in the mountains. Unfortunately…I just wasn’t prepared for the dip into the high 40’s before the first stop. I had on two shirts, one long sleeved, but my arms were still starting to freeze. My heated grips were on high and I readjusted my seating position so the air would flow over my arms instead of through the mesh. And none of us were prepared when we hit the thick fog in Blue Ridge.

We had managed to hit all green lights for the majority of the distance. So when we finally hit a red a couple miles from our destination someone decided to get his warm gloves on. But he didn’t have the kickstand down completely and dropped his bike. Of course, the light turns green…but only the leader takes off. We have managed to alert most of the group and no one moves. Just as everything is coming together and the rider mounts his bike and prepares to take off the light turns red. The front six had crossed the intersection and were waiting in the soup in the middle of the road. But just as our light turns green again, the guy is off his bike!! Argh. And the riders up ahead have taken off. This always happens…

But one person from ahead waited behind. Thank You Tony!! I passed her slowly and let her get back to the front. The fog continued to get thicker and before we knew it Tony had ridden through a red light. I didn’t even see it until I was on it. Then I had the tricky, split second decision to make to run it or try and stop on fog-dew drenched asphalt. Since no one had moved from any other direction and there wasn’t much chance of me stopping safely (either getting myself stopped and still upright or not being hit by a rider behind me that isn’t able to stop) I run the light. And then Kevin behind me also runs it. Ugh. But we are all safe.

And we haven’t a clue where we are because we can’t even see across an intersection. And before we know it we are immediately at another light…and there are the first riders in the group…turning left. Tony is able to squeeze in between the riders and the car behind them…but me and a couple others are stopped in the lane. Again…nothing bad happens and we immediately pull into the gas station.

I gas up and talk with the proprietors of the shop. They don’t reckon they fog will burn off until about 10, as it usually does. And they reckoned that it was just gonna be worse up in the mountains further. Since it was currently 8 there was a decision to make. I had signed up for a nice ride, not riding through low, cold, wet clouds. Talking with Mr Oilburner on the phone I contemplated going to the McD’s across the street, reading a book and waiting the weather out to make another decision. But during this chat, someone came from up the mountain and said the weather was sunny and clear about 1 ½ miles up the road.

We saddled up and headed out for our next stop in Tellico Plains, TN. And yes, the weather cleared up beautifully.

I was feeling pretty good about keeping up with the group in the slight twisties we were encountering. Then I feel off, but didn’t worry about it. I was still riding faster then I wanted to, because there was so much to look at and I didn’t have time!!

I lost sight of Tony in front of me and let Kevin pass me. He was riding just a slight bit faster and I didn’t want to hold him up. But I started thinking there was a problem when the support truck pulled up behind me, as I knew we still have half the pack back there. I pulled over to let him pass…but he just stopped behind me. We chatted a few minutes and I found out that half the group took a wrong turn and Shawn would be leading them in a different way. So I was in the back of this pack. I warned Jim that he could go ahead or stay behind me, but he was running the risk of driving slowly as I negotiated this stuff. I just hate it when someone is behind me and I get nervous. So my riding abilities were shot the rest of the way.

Jim had some nice pointers for me when we arrived at our stop. We were planning on eating breakfast here and everyone put to. It wasn’t anything fancy, but at least it wasn’t nourishing… ;-)

We had a little riders meeting telling everyone what to expect of the road, where to meet at the end and splitting everyone into speed groups. I just let everyone know that I would bring up the rear as I wanted to stop and take pictures. I would meet up with them at the end if they hadn’t left yet, otherwise be safe on the dragon and I would catch them later.

The Skyway was superb. The day was warm and blue with scatterings of puffy white clouds. There was a haze in the air, but you could still see for miles and miles. There weren’t many people on the road and everyone you stopped and talked with was nice and friendly.

Obviously I pulled over at the first overlook and took some pictures. I have to tell you that picture taking on a motorcycle has been a learning process…and I am still trying to figure the process out. I’ll post more on that subject later.

I did stop at the designated overlooks to take pictures. But the only real pictures to be had were just the overlook. I hate to say that it became a little boring because it was the same views into the distance. The things I wanted to take pictures of were always between pull outs and impossible to get: the two deer crossing the road in front of me, the chiseled rock face, the dead tree, the rusting railings. I told Mr Oilburner that I either need to walk the road or ride my bicycle so I can get all those neat shots. I guess it is just another excuse to go back… Darn!

I make it across the Skyway and into Robbinsville, NC without incident. The road takes some unexpected turns, but I follow the letter of the law that 143 dead ends into 129. I roll into town amid hundreds of other bikers. Apparently many people played hooky today. I found a couple members of my group and stopped. It turns out that many people did not follow the directions and our little group has fractured into 3 groups: one here, one at another gas station and one just plain lost. It all gets worked out and everyone is accounted for. My little group is gearing up to meet up with the other one, and they will head up to the Dragon.

I prepare to go home, but find that someone else has decided to come with me. He has a meeting this evening and the main group won’t be finished by the time he needs to get home. And since he doesn’t have a GPS or map, he wants to follow me home.

I didn’t mind the company, but that means I did not stop, sightsee, picture take or lollygag on the way home. We make a bee-line for home. Or at least as near as possible, as to avoid a dragon-like section of highway in the GA mountains resembling the Dragon.

I ride my new friend to an area of town he is familiar with then part company. By this time I just want to get home, but safely. I decide to add some time and miles to my route home, but this allows me to avoid heavy traffic and surface streets. I head southeast for Gainesville so I can hit the highway south. It was a quick and easy jaunt and the highway is pretty clear. A few cars and semi’s but nothing I can’t slalom around.

One thing I have noticed as a single female rider is that we tend to attract attention. Either it is the lone female, the bike or some combination. I often encounter people that will drive up level with me, pace me and look at me (or the bike) and eventually go on. And sometimes this is actually quite beneficial to be so noticed.

I don’t pace semi’s. I give them a healthy respect while on the road and don’t stay near them. I don’t want to be in the way if they don’t see me and need to change lanes. Nor do I want to be near a tire if it were to blow.

So, riding home I encounter two semi’s with a little car in between. In many instances, the rear semi would change lanes to pass them all. So I watched and waited and didn’t see anything amiss. I accelerated rapidly, drew even with the cab and waved to the driver to thank him for not cutting me off. Then I took off. But the entire rest of the trip home (about 40 miles of highway) I noticed ALL of the semi drivers watching out for me. If you watch, you can see the drivers in their mirrors and you know when they are looking. So I was noticing all of the drivers watching me approach. I didn’t take my eyes off of the road as I passed them, since I was speeding a little. But as I was exiting the freeway I watched one driver moving and straining to see me as I came even with him. So thank you drivers for keeping an eye out!


-first time out of the state on my bike…and I visit not one, but two!!
-first time riding such a long distance…cleared my old record by about 100 miles and breaks any “time in the saddle” records too
-first time on Cherohala Skyway…and I will go back
-first time riding with the group without Mr Oilburner
-first time riding in heavy fog

It was all great…except the fog. I would rather not encounter that too often, or again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monticello and Greensboro

We picked the [supposed] better of the two days this weekend to go for a ride. We headed towards Monticello, Ga, one of the filming locations for My Cousin Vinny. It is a nice little town with a welcoming town square. We arrived at 12:30...just in time to see the last of the vendors packing up. We didn't know that every Saturday from 8:30 to mid-day from April to Sept they have a little market in the square. I guess we will have to go earlier next time.

We walked around the square and took a few pictures, didn't recognize much from the movie and tried to find a place to eat. The town is still trying to bring business to main street, so many of the buildings were vacant and soaped over.


If there wasn't much on the square, we didn't want to venture out too far. We were hungry! So the only place on the square was Blimpies. And while the kitchen received 100 on their last health inspection, the wallpaper in the eating area was shrinking and peeling rapidly.


As we ate we looked at the map and gps to determine where we were headed next. Hmmm...if we headed East we could stop on a little road with the interesting name Apt to Miss Rd. It took us awhile to figure out that is was just "apt"...not apartment, not appointment, just apt. Made it more fun when we saw it. Another sign to add to the collection.

Apt to Miss Rd

We arrived in Greensboro to find they also were cleaning up after a festival. Boy...always late!! Riding through town we spied an interesting rock jail and stopped to have a closer look. The historical marker noted this is a "gaol" built in 1807 and patterned after the bastilles. The person writing the historical marker had a sense of humor while discussing the hangings that took place in the jail as "the culprit was launched into eternity".


We stayed on the backroads heading for home. I've ridden most of the roads, but always in the opposite direction. Always interesting to encounter a familiar road in the opposite direction. We experienced technical difficulties on the way home when my battery in the intercom died. Mr Oilburner thought ahead and brought the we both rode in quiet wind noise and private thoughts for awhile. Strange how quickly you can get used to having constant connection with people. Not quite like a cell phone...but unfortunately close to it... ;-)