Monday, June 22, 2009

Sunrise on Cherohala?

We had the bright idea of taking a ride to Cherohala and catching a sunrise, hoping it would make some great shots to have the sun in the background of the bikes. We were also happy to finally be riding the skyway together since we had both ridden it solo previously. However, we failed to comprehend the date of June 21 as the solstice. We went so far as to research civil twilight and sunrise times. But failed to remember that this was the absolute longest day of the year and the earliest the sun could possibly come up. Ouch.

Our research revealed that civil twilight would be around 5:53 AM, with actual sunrise at 6:23. So we made our provisions to rise early and get out the door before 3 AM. We calculated that it would take us about 3 1/2 hours to reach a suitable location and prepare to worship the rising sun. I won't mention that we took an extra half our to get suited up and out the door. Nor will I say much about riding freeways and twisty country roads in the dark. Our speed suffered a little with the darker roads since I was worried about poor woodland creatures jumping out and derailing the entire trip. And I won't mention how the temperatures continued to drop unexpectedly on some of the warmest days in the year. Of course, we weren't adequately prepared for those. And we were going to higher elevations?

We took our first rest stop about 90 minutes into the ride near Helen, GA. We needed to eat a little something for breakfast and warm up. Our break was a little longer then desired, but we had fueled and warmed ourselves well and had a little chance for a photo-op. Once we mounted the bikes again it would be to go through Helen and up the curvy pass of Hwy 76. I was in the lead to set the pace I desired. Still didn't want to hit any creatures, and my first time on this road, but we fared well and proved our theory correct of it being warmer on the other side of the mountain. It was a hop, skip and jump to get to Hiawassee where we gased the bikes up and picked up some drinks and snacks for later in the day. Rode through town and took a right, rode a couple miles and then turned left. Wow. We were in North Carolina already.

Made a few lefts and rights and we were soon able to see the road a little better beyond the scope of the headlights.  We were cheered to see the road was rain wet and that we weren't in any of the rain.  Yea!  But a few more miles took us to Hwy 19 and larger puddles on the road.  It had rained recently, and rained pretty hard.  Hmmm....  We continued on and we rode into the rain, then out of the rain, then back into the rain.  When the drops started making heavier sounds on the helmets we turned around and headed for breakfast at a Huddle House.  Not our ideal, but the only thing around.

We were a little curious about the rain as the forecasts we had seen showed clear skies and smooth sailing.  And our waitress, who lives in the area, couldn't help us at all.  We again heard the standard adage "Wait 15 minutes".  We waited 60 to be on the safe side.  We knew we weren't going to make any Cherohala sunrise this time and we were cool with that.  The continuing rain was a little daunting, but not a deal breaker. 

The clouds shrouding the mountain gave us pause.  But we continued on hoping the skyway would be above them.  The deal breaker was the lightning bolt that struck the valley floor about 10 miles in front of me when we were about 5 miles from Robbinsville, NC, near the beginning of the skyway.  I hit the very next turnout and did a 180.

Hmmm...where to go now?  We back tracked down 19 and hit the gas station in Murphy.  And unbelieveably the weather was fabulous.  The skies were nice in this direction. We just decided to hit the backroads and see where they took us.  C remembered some interesting side roads that he had taken, so we set out in search of them.

These side roads brought us to the great Hiawassee Dam in TN. One of the multitude of the TVA projects.

Continuing down the roads and C remembered someone in the office talking about "Fields of the Wood."  And it just happened to be on our so-called route.  Fields of the Wood is an interesting biblical attraction in a beautiful setting in the mountains.  Fields of the Wood has the Ten Commandments Mountain:

The Psalms of Praise:

Jesus' Garden Tomb:


We didn't spend much time walking around.  We were in our full riding gear and riding boots...and they don't lead well to hiking up mountains.  We'll have to go back someday.  There were some interesting and attractions and I'll bet some great views from the tops of the ridges.

We then turned our attentions towards home.  Following the spirit of adventure that had brought us this far, I bit the bullet and agreed to take Hwy 60 through the mountains.  In case you didn't know, some people have the belief that some of the best twisty riding in North Georgia can be had on Hwy 19 and Hwy 60.  These roads weave up, down and around the mountains, offering many hairpin turns, sharp inclination changes through curves and steep road banking...all facilitating the serious twisty adventurur.  I won't dwell on the fact that these roads are also frequented by sports cars, crotch rockets and bicyclists for all of the same reasons.  So these roads can get very crowded and dangerous during the summertime.  Some people don't care, but I prefer to ride in calmer conditions and away from the crowds.  In this case we wanted to get home and C didn't want to take the ugly, boring freeway. 

In all, the remainder of the day was completely uneventful.  I had great fun on Hwy 60, practicing my approach on left hand curves (I invariably approached them too close to the center line, making myself uncomfortable if a car approached in the other direction, possibly on my side of the line.)  Lots of practice and I picked up my tricks.  Stopped for drinks and chocolate, chatted with a few other riders and just enjoyed the absolutely beautiful and warm sunny day that it turned into.  The biggest compliment came when C started scraping his pipes on the curves.  He informed that he was confident enough in my abilities and that I was taking the turns at speeds near his desired speed that he wasn't worrying about me as much anymore.  Yea!  Just having fun and enjoying the roads.

Statistics: 327 miles, almost 11 hours, 3 states, many new sights.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Covered Bridges

It's been many weeks of little sleep and constant caretaking. We haven't been able to go out much because we haven't been able to leave Goldie alone for any length of time. She's doing better and the weather was great, so against my physical therapists' orders (damaged a disc in my lower back) I hopped on the bike on Sunday.

We headed out with Alex, Joe and Annette and tried for a Covered Bridge tour. We originally plotted the route for 5 bridges. One was questionable since it is located on private property and the owner hasn't given explicit approval for visitors. We figured we could hit the first four and determine if we wanted to try for the last one if we had the gumption.

Our list of bridges included: Elder's Mill, Howard's, Watson Mill, Cromer's and Lula. While C and I had been to two on the list, the others had never been to any of them.

First on the list: Elder's Mill. You might recognize the bridge as I have posted about it before. It was nice to return to it in the summer to see the new growth...including all of the poison ivy. ;-) We enjoyed riding through the bridge, taking pictures, turning around on gravel and stretching the legs. The light was very bright and there was virtually no traffic. In all, a very nice spot to stop. I held everyone up by walking through the bridge and photographing the other side. Then stopping to smell photograph the flowers.

Second stop: Howard's Covered Bridge. This bridge was a little trickier to get to. Never trust a GPS 100%!! Both mine and Master of the Mechanical Stuff's (MotMS) tried to take us down some interesting dirt roads again even though a paved road was just around the corner. We bypassed the proffered directions and made some changes. Good thing we did. The original route would have brought us in from the other side...that is currently blocked by the crown of a very large branch fallen from a very old tree. As you can see this bridge is no longer maintained for vehicular traffic. It is for pedestrian viewing only. Also a good thing since the underlying floor is rotting through. Just don't step in those spots.

Again, I wandered around a little longer then the others and took in the mud, gravel and some Queen Ann's Lace flowers. Everyone else huddled in the shade and watched the ticks crawling around.

Stop three: Lunch! We continued on our merry way...again misled by the GPS'. Luckily we were having fun, and the GPS can sometimes take you on some very interesting backroads that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. So we went with the flow, gased up the bikes and fueled the humans at the only place open we could find: Zaxby's. Not bad, but would have been better if we could have enjoyed the local BBQ. Given it was Sunday and small town...not many places are open. Next time we need to bring lunch and sit at one of the picnic areas near a bridge.

Stop four: Watson Mill. MotMS and I have been here many times. Once even on our bikes if you want to remember. The park has a great little campground and wonderful walking, bicycling and horse riding trails. One can also rent canoes above the damn and sit/slide down the rocks below the damn. We haven't enjoyed either of those activities. The dogs are usually with us when camping. And I hear stories of leeches in some of the pools in the rocks. No Thank You! This time I allowed the others to wander around and take the pictures while MotMS and I sat in the shade and watched the bikes. We enjoyed watching many others motorcycles out enjoying the day on the same roads. One couple stopped to enjoy the water and parked near us. While most of us have saddle bags or locks for our valuables, we learned a new way of making sure no one walks off with the expensive leather vest...just park the bike on it!

Final Stop: Cromer's Mill Covered Bridge. This is another pedestrian only bridge. It had been restored recently as evidenced by the steel beams running under and through the bridge.

Time was rapidly advancing and we decided not to attempt the last bridge and just head home. We made a beeline for the freeway and took off. We had been gone for 219 miles and 7 hours, and while my back wasn't too bad, this was the longest we had left Frankendoggie alone. I wanted to spring her from the prison penned area that we had confined her to. So MotMS went with Alex, Joe and Annette and had dinner, I came home and relaxed and played with the pups. It was a good day with good friends and I can't wait to find more bridges.