Saturday, July 23, 2011

Again: Can the Blue Ridge Parkway be Ridden in an Extended Weekend?

Adventures of Day One

Adventures of Day Two

Day Three dawned after another wonderful night in a hotel room with air conditioning and a comfy bed with sheets.  Oh yeah and a running shower.  I didn't have any difficulty sleeping after my cocktails and dinner last night.  I woke up refreshed and ready to climb onto my mighty steed and get moving.  Oilburner was ready, but I still chuckled at his groans of soreness.

Forecasts were predicting chances of rain today.  We didn't take that seriously for the morning hours that had a very low percentage.  We were more concerned with the evening hours when the percentage was nearing 70% at home.  So we left the hotel with a light heart and light clothing under the armor.  We quickly became aware of the error of our ways since the ridge road we were on was shrouded in a cold, damp fog.


Why is it "fog" when you are in it, but someone looking up from the valley would say the mountain was shrouded with clouds?  No need to answer, I looked it up and it has something to do with how it was formed (four types of fog formation) and proximity to ground.

Either way, we stopped and climbed into warmer gear.

Our biggest dilemma for today was defining what it meant to "ride the BRP".  We had ridden a large portion from the bottom up last year.  did we just need to ride what we hadn't ridden to say we have "ridden" it?  or did we need to ride the entire BRP in one shot to claim that victory?

Technically speaking we only needed to ride a handful of miles now to reach the spot where we had turned around last year.  We could do that and then do whatever we wanted.  But we were a mere 180 or so miles (290 km) from the end.  At yesterday's average we should be able to do that in 4 hours.  (Then home would be another 2 1/2.)  Or...we could just stay on the Parkway however long we felt like it and get off when we wanted.

Funny.  We were both still on our high from the twisties yesterday and really wanted to say we had ridden the entire BRP on this trip.

We will not go into my stubborn insistence that I don't really feel like we can say we rode the entire BRP this time.  I mean there is an 18 mile (29 km) section that was closed for renovations that our tires have not touched before.  Can we, in all good conscience, say we have "ridden" it?  I think it might be a different in definition.  Legally we were not allowed to ride this section.  Which is very different from choosing not to ride it on our own accord.

I took "riding the BRP" seriously and would always backtrack us to the location we exited from.  And my strict nature still wonders about the 20 to 50 foot (6 to 15 meters) difference of where my tire turned to leave versus where it was when we re-entered.  Yes.  Sometimes I can be very exacting.  hehe.

The bragging rights won out and we thrilled at the prospect of riding the entire BRP in two days.  As I asked last year: Can the BRP be ridden in an extended weekend?

Why yes.  Yes it can.  IF you don't dawdle with all that sightseeing stuff and are willing to ride a teensy bit faster than the posted speed limit to make up for all the times you are stuck behind someone going far below it.

We had a few slow drivers.  But generally the Parkway was quite empty since it was mid-week.  What really slowed us down was the fog.  We encountered some wispy fog that just blew across our path. 

And we encountered thick, pea soup type of fog that reduced visibility to 20 feet (6 meters).

The temperature plummeted from 68F (20C) to 53F (12C).  We had shrugged into the warm gear already, and now it was time to wriggle into the rain gear.  This was thick, dense fog that was producing some good rain or clingy water droplets.




Strange how our eyes have a more difficult time penetrating the fog, identifying objects, seeing, than the cameras do.  The pictures don't do justice to how much [human] visibility was impaired.  We had been crawling along with our flashers on.  This was my first time in fog.  What an interesting experience.  I discovered that I had a tendency to hover near the center line simply because I could not see the right edge well.  (The BRP doesn't paint a white line on the edge of the road.)  We can also attest to the light reflecting quality of the newly painted center stripe on a section that was recently repaved.  Much easier to see!


After squinting to see I remembered we had amber lenses and we had to stop yet again to install them.  Hopefully someday I will figure out to do these all at the same time.  I can also attest to the beneficial difference an amber lens makes for visibility in fog.  I was able to make out more looming objects in the fog than before.

We rounded a mountain into an unexpectedly clear zone allowing a glimpse to an adjacent peak still shrouded in fog, with a dense field flowing down into the valley.  I stopped at the next overlook to see if we could capture it.



It was breathtaking to see the blue sky, wisps of fog swirl around, dense banks down the mountain that were bright white as the sun reflected off them, but gray ones up the peak that the sun wasn't reaching.  This unexpected reprieve led us to find a comfortable spot on the bikes and close our eyes for a few minutes.


What can I say?  The remainder of the trip was perfect.  Aside from a few people that refused to let us pass, it gave us the chance to slow down and look around.  Otherwise it was a perfect trip carving some twisties.  In our ever ongoing discussions of riding technique through the helmet communications Oilburner reminded me of another "form" of connecting with the bike for better turning.  It had been on my mind the day before, but I wasn't sure how to go about implementing moving my tush across the seat into a lean.  He gave me a pointer of not "moving" but at least "shifting" the weight to that cheek a little.  WOW!  Huge difference that made me feel a more solid connection with the bike.  I was able to lean and turn into the curve without any handlebar input.  Then, if I felt I was coming in a little hot and fast I still had full use of the handlebars to push down and steer a little more into it.  It instantly transformed how I felt with the bike through curves.  Much more solid and stable.

Talking about it over lunch I was very aware of the thought processes behind this that could lead someone into trouble.  While I had much more confidence in the turns and was taking them at speeds I had only dreamed about before, I was completely conscious of the fact that I didn't have the experience to recover from a road obstacle at those speeds.  So don't think that I am getting a swelled head and will be running the Dragon at 60 mph or anything.  I will fold this new knowledge slowly into my arsenal and practice, practice, practice.

And Yes, we did ride the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.  :)



More images available on Flickr.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway: The Second Adventure

After riding 521 miles yesterday "someone" luxuriated in a little extra sleep.  I was game enough since the bed was comfortable.  And I didn't bother masking my chuckles at his repeated exclamations of how sore he was.  After all, that wasn't my longest day on the bike.  It might have been his though.  :)

The hotel we were staying at offered a continental breakfast.  A must for getting an easy start in the morning.  I need my breakfast before crawling onto the bike.  But that led us into an entire dialog on the merits of pulling clothes on and getting breakfast right now versus showering and dressing first.  As a girl I have a very different perspective than Oilburner.  And I can only attribute it to a difference between the sexes right now.  Oilburner just wants to throw shorts on and run out the door.  Girls don't always have it that easy.  Buxom ones need to install and position over the shoulder boulder holders.  If long hair is present brushes and combs need to be employed.  And some people of the South cannot be seen in public without some form of female war paint on.  (Thankfully I am not of that variety!)  If I am going through all that work it would be easier to just do it once.  We will agree to disagree on this subject.  Just another area we have discovered as a traveling difference.  So I effectively booted him out of bed, told him if it was so easy go ahead.  Then I crawled out of bed and happily toodled around in my PJ's just gathering gear and packing up electronics cords.  Another point for hotels versus camping.  hehehe

We knew we needed to hit the road soon.  We had 280 miles (450 km) of parkway ahead of us.  And we also knew that was an aggressive distance at 45 mph (73 km/h) max.




The last time we were on the BRP our distance to time ratio was out of whack due to all of the sightseeing at all of the overlooks.  Aware of the distraction this time around we vowed not to pull into every single one.  And certainly not the first one!  We succeeded.  We did turn around twice when an "exhibit" sign looked interesting.  This sign caught our eye in passing.  Just had to go back and read what that was about.  Unfortunately, the 20-minute cliff has nothing to do with it's height in relation to any falling objects flung (or pushed) from it.



Down the road a little further the stone steps caught my eye making me back track.





We were able to forgo many overlooks soon.  The day was warm and humid.  Our temps at the ridge remained an enjoyable 74F (23C).  However, the humidity was relatively high.  The views from any overlook was hampered by the high moisture content.  There wasn't much to be had in long distance viewing or blue skies.  It also didn't help that the trees were in full leaf and difficult to see through.


We stopped at Otter Creek since every overlook leading up to this was "Otter" something or other.  Great little rock dam.



Oilburner wouldn't let me turn around for Purgatory Overlook.  But I surreptitiously steered us to Devil's Backbone.



We were actually making pretty good time without all of the stops.  I did force us off the parkway to get fuel.  I get antsy when the gauge shows two bars remaining.  Holding my breath that the fuel station on my GPS still existed I led us into the unknown in the wilds near Floyd, VA.  Wow.  Nice scenery.

Our luck was in and the fuel station was still in business.  Great place that the current owners have had in the family for 31 years.



I inquired about the "number of hot dogs sold" count.  Seems that figure is a count of 31 years!  We had already eaten lunch but ordered two for the road in case dinner was delayed.  Unfortunately we never had the chance to eat them.  :(  Have to go back!  :)

The convenience store is one of those throw back in time places that city dwellers don't usually have the opportunity to enjoy.  Among the floating cooler ball for beer storage and canned goods stood the beautiful antique glass and wood cases.  And within these cases were the hunting guns and ammo.  We didn't even recognize the pattern on some of the boxes, making us wonder how old they might have been.

From the beginning Oilburner repeatedly drilled into me that our exit was at 280 (miles).  A nice, even, round number to remember and day dream about as the road weary set in an hour before quitting time.  (The Parkway has placed wonderful stone markers with the mileage etched in at each mile of the route.  Therefore it is easy to pinpoint your location.)  It was with a heavy heart that I had to chastise him when marker 280 came and went with no hope of an exit.  The next marker came and went with my hopes dwindling more.  Then the next...  Oilburner lied to me...  He had some making up to do.  Which he achieved quite nicely with the fabulous strawberry martini that he had to force me to drink.  Then the second one.  Tsk. Tsk.  Luckily the hotel was a short saunter away through a parking lot.  The short climb up a 3 foot slope was navigable with him pushing my tush up the hill and my grabbing his arm and pulling so he didn't have to put much weight on his bum toe.  We made quite the sight and laughed the entire walk "home."

It was a spectacular day.  The weather and temps were perfect.  The roads were spot on with curves and fun to be had.  There was time enough for the few sights that caught our interest.

Interestingly, one of Oilburners headlights was out yesterday.  We should have hit the parts store as soon as we reached Waynesboro, but the heat was just begging us to get off the bikes.  So it was very interesting to see that he lost his second light today.  He was running blind!  A portion of the parkway was closed for renovations, detouring us through town.  We made a quick stop at the parts store to recover two headlight bulbs.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Minute, Crazy Ideas on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Divine inspiration was lacking.  Champagne did not fall from the heavens, doors did not open, velvet ropes did not part to help us on our way.  Months and months ago plans were made for a "one big happy family" July Fourth weekend.  Those fell by the wayside when health issues for some came up that inhibited long distance travel.  Then heavy work and work travel schedules prevented Oilburner and I from coming to a decision of what we might actually do now with that time.  The ideas swirled in our heads, but one aspect always seemed to prevent "final approval."  Many times it was "the dog."  I didn't want to subject her to the scorching heat that is blanketing the South.  She wouldn't have done well in the truck, that doesn't have air conditioning in the covered bed.  Which means I didn't want to rent a cabin or house someplace to sit on their sofa either.  It would have been difficult to get anywhere in the heat, and the separation anxiety she has means we wouldn't have done much so as not to leave her alone.

The decisions became infinitely more difficult when Oilburner decided it would be a good idea to break a toe while he was traveling for work.  That efficiently put the kibosh on any idea I had of installing the master bath shower that has been hogging garage space for the last two months.  I know we can be lazy, but I haven't wanted to demo the bathroom until I knew we had a chunk of time to work on it.  Since we knew work travel was coming, there hadn't been an optimal time.  And now it looked like vacation time was also going to be out.

The pet sitter was an option...during the week.  She had already been booked for the weekends.  However, I was not too keen on figuring out where to ride in 95+ F (35+ C) heat.  It was simply impossible to stay cool.  Besides, Oilburner's toe wasn't quite fitting into a boot yet.

Much nap time and movie watching was to be had.  But there came a point in time that napping and movies just weren't cutting it anymore and we were both anxious to get out.  The plan hatched and came together overnight.  The Blue Ridge Parkway pull finally snagged us.

Oilburner's idea was to hop on the parkway, see how far we could get and then run the freeway home.  I had a simpler idea that had higher motivation.  How about running to the top of the parkway?  Since we had already covered the closest 200 miles why do them again immediately?  Wouldn't it be more enjoyable to see somewhere new?  And...that would mean a less stressful last day heading home since we would be closer.  Better than some mad dash from "wherever."

My idea won out and the plan was implemented.

We left early Tuesday morning and pointed the front tires towards Waynesboro, VA.  (Yay, this will be my 7th state.)  We had a long day ahead of us, but we had packed the night before and were well rested.  Having the tanks already full made it doubly enjoyable to just be able to get on the bikes and go.

For a day that was going to be in the low 90's those gray clouds threatening rain were keeping it a cool 75F (24C). Wasn't doing anything to help the humidity though.  After an hour the cold was getting to me and I made a deal with myself to put on my liner if it dropped one more degree.  It did.  this was a good thing since the rain started spitting down soon after.



We rode on in the drizzle for another hour or so, enjoying the empty roads.  Traffic wasn't too bad on the major North/South Interstate 81.  There were semi's to dodge and speeding cagers to avoid, but we managed quite well.  Until...  Construction of some sort had the two lanes almost at a stand still.  It was an easy decision to speed down the breakdown lane.  This act of defiance worked will for a couple miles.  (Though we surmise now that this is probably where I picked up that stupid rod/nail in the rear tire.)  We would pop back into traffic when we crossed a bridge.  The shoulder wasn't quite wide enough and was completely littered with fairly large chunks of concrete that had come out of the bridge surface.  Reports say that many bridges in our country are averaging 30+ years and many are in desperate need of repair.  It is something that I think about, but usually speeding over them at 65+ mph doesn't require you to ponder it for long.  The Minnesota bridge collapse does sit in the back of my mind many times, but I push those thoughts away.  However, it is highly unnerving to crawl across a concrete bridge that is missing fist sized chunks of material!

We took the first off ramp to discuss if we wanted to continue in this manner or find a back road.  This is where Garmin fun begins, as Gary France has discovered.  Oilburner and I have different Garmin GPS units and have speculated for awhile about the difference in route calculation between the two.  Oilburner's GPS directs us to turn left.  Mine, that has been told to avoid unpaved roads, directed us to the right.  Deciding on a course, we followed my GPS.  Hmmm...that is normally correct.

About a mile and a half down the road we lost the pavement.  Another two miles down the gravel my GPS directs us to turn left at the dead-end.  But the sign in front of me clearly states it is not a through road.  Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.  If we head right it appears to connect up with a nearby interstate.  Three more miles down this gravel road and I have the sinking suspicion that our little gravel road will be going over the freeway and not connecting with it.  I am not too proud to admit I don't want to go forward anymore and promptly stop to turn around.  However, I'm a little frazzled on this gravel and just park the bike, letting Oilburner know that he will be doing the work.

I happened to stop directly in front of a worn out, pieced together house with a large lab crawling out from under the non-working truck, barking menacingly with his hackles up.  Then the screen door opens and a child of about 7 stares at us.  As Oilburner is maneuvering my bike the mother also  comes onto the porch squinting through the light at us.

I gave the universal sign of confusion...lifting my shoulders, head titled to the side and yell that we are a little lost.  Oilburner was a little concerned over possible Deliverance encounters, but I still like to think most people are good.  And this lady was very nice, telling us what we already surmised about having to back track.  On the side, Oilburner had an entire conversation with the boy about motorcycles and tractors.  And the dog had gotten one good sniff of Oilburner and just rolled on his back exposing his tummy for scratches.

Funnily enough, we made it back to the interstate and decided to roll with traffic since it was moving.  Turns out the construction was only 5 more minutes up the road. If we had just remained on the interstate we would have saved a 30 min adventure.  But who would have thought we would be "off-roading" in Virginia anytime soon?

(Yes.  It was also proven that Oilburner's GPS would have been better to follow in this instance.  We watched the frontage road parallel the interstate to the on ramp directly after the construction.  Now why wasn't that road on my GPS?!?  I wouldn't have missed the old mill, cow on the side of the road and the Rock and Roll Mansion for the 30 minute savings.  It was great!)


We continued down the road and finally experienced some of those highs we were expecting.  My bike registered 100.4F (38C).  Oilburner's consistently shows higher and he firmly believes it was 104F (40C).  Either way, it was hot!  We "enjoyed" a few more GPS mishaps reaching our destination.  They were only time eating and not time wasting.  But it sure was good to slip into the pool at the hotel and cool off.

The Parkway awaits the morning...


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taking Your Own Advice: A Bitter Pill to Swallow?

Suited up and sweating like a pig.  Getting ready to pull the bikes out of the garage to attend the BMW club poker run/monthly meeting/lunch.  Washed them yesterday and went over the bikes.  But happened to look down at the tire this morning and it was in the perfect position to showcase the rod that was embedded in the rear.  It had been there for quite a few miles considering the grounding and polishing.  And the tire pressure had been holding steady for the last week.  Ride with it or remove it and see what happens.

Isn't it interesting how you just can't, in good conscience, ride on that type of thing once you are aware of its existence?

We worked the inch plus long rod out, hoping that it hadn't penetrated the carcass since its angle was almost completely parallel with the surface of the tire.  There wasn't any hissing to indicate a mighty leak.  But the soapy water revealed minuscule bubbling.  As the tire guy said "There isn't such a thing as a little heart murmur."

So the decision: to patch ourselves, or replace.

I have never, in my life, worked with tire plugs.  Actually, I've never had to trust my life to a tire with a plug in it.  The riding lawn mower doesn't count.  I know Oilburner has, and I know many other people that have.  I'm just not sure how I feel about it.  Oilburner was leaving this decision up to me.

With only 3,000 miles on the tire, it was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.  But I ultimately don't have any qualms about the $275 for the tire, mounting, disposal and MotoGuard replacement.  Of course, purchasing that means that I won't get another nail in my tire.  :)

Already removed the rod, but it had done some visible damage
I thoroughly enjoyed the tire mounting equipment.  The gentleman performing the change was nice enough to let me watch.