Smoky Mountains – Day One

Last week I decided that since I had some comp time I wanted to take a quick camping trip to the mountains..My plan was to hit the Tail Of The Dragon during the week in hopes it wouldn’t be that bus. For the uninitiated TOTD is an 11 mile stretch of road in the Smoky Mountains with 318 curves. You read that correctly, 318 curves in 11 miles. Simply crazy..More on that later.

I have a problem when I travel. I don’t “stop and smell the roses”. I have a bad habit of just riding until I get where I’m going without seeing any sights. I also tend to get up early and get going. I did get up early and since I had everything packed I decided to hit The Waffle House and grab some breakfast. There’s something so satisfying about watching other people in a rush to get to work and knowing that you don’t have to do that for a few days. I finish up and fill up and put the address to the camp site in my GPS and get going.

About 40 miles from the house I look over to the right and see 3 bikes waiting to turn the same direction I’m going. From the quick glance I saw that at least one of them had a Harley. I sigh to myself and get ready for the hassle that usually comes with pack riders. The blow past me after the light and I wave as I do for other riders and only one waved back…They peel off and turn at the next right and I see the GPS has me going right at the light. I’m pretty sure at this point I’m going to be behind these guys as some point.

Sure enough I turn at the light and I see 3 bikes pull out farther down the road. So fast forward to the next small town we get to and the trailing rider waves for me to pull up beside him. He’s on a Goldwing and I’ve had really good experiences with Gold Wing riders so I pull up to find out what’s up. He asks me where I’m headed and I find out they are all heading up to the TOTD as well. They pull over at a gas station and I pull over as well. We do the introductions and they ask if I want to ride with them.

A quick aside here: I don’t ride in groups. It’s not something I really enjoy and the only guy I ride with is in MS.

I had a bit of a Seinfeld moment. My normal reaction would be to decline and keep going my own way. I decide that I’m going to do the opposite and accept their offer. Plus they’re going a different route than I had planned and it looked to have some pretty nice roads to it. The only condition I have is that I ride at the back of the pack. This still gives me the sense that I’m riding by myself but still keep up with the group if need be.  At the gas station I found out that the guys are from really close to where I live. One is from Dunn, Fayetteville, and Benson NC.

Off we go..I notice at stop lights and when we get gas that 2 of the guys like for the attention to be on them..Blipping their throttle, burning out at stop lights, etc. Not really my bag so I just ride my own ride and let them do their thing. During this I notice my bike is handling strange, or at least I think it’s the bike…I check it at every stop and I can’t see anything out of the ordinary so I begin to think it’s the way I have my gear loaded or just the way I’m riding in general. I have a ton of gear. Probably too much for just tent camping

Loaded down
Loaded down

So I keep at the back of the pack and focus on keeping clean lines through the curves which are getting quite frequent.

Originally I had planned for the trip out to be ~5 hours but most of that was going to be on the interstate.
View Larger Map

The route these guys had planned looked a lot more fun even though it would add an additional 4 hours to the trip.
View Larger Map

There were some really good roads but when we hit the Pisgah Forrest the roads just went ridiculously curvy. Just before getting to Brevard we stopped at Looking Glass Falls. I’ve always liked waterfalls and I didn’t realize that NC had so many.

Yours truely in front of the falls
Your's truely in front of the falls

By this point I’m getting pretty tired and I feel like I’m really having to muscle the bike in and out of turns more than usual. I tried moving things around and I still just couldn’t make it feel right and just chastise myself for bringing so much crap.

One thing I forgot about mountains, especially these mountains is it rains a lot..So the temp starts dropping as we go up and then I start feeling rain drops..Awesome I think to myself. I have a bike that’s handling weird because I packed too much, it’s raining on extremely curvy mountain roads that I’ve never been on. I slow my roll down quite a bit to make sure I don’t blow a curve and end up a greasy spot on the rocks below since there are no guard rails along most of the BRP. On the positive side I think to myself at least it’s not raining hard…5 miles down the road the rain gets heavier.

Shit…Well, no problem we pull over at an outlook and everyone pulls their rain gear out and puts it on. I’m thinking to myself no problem..I got this..It can’t get much worse right? Yea..Over the next ridge comes the fog..Fog so thick that when the bike in front of me goes in it literally vanishes from sight. So for those keeping tally…Rain + unfamiliar mountain roads + a bike that’s not handling well + cold + fog. That my friends is a recipe for suck. I start focusing on how much this is sucking that I suddenly find myself heading into, what looks to be an extremely tight downhill curve waaaaay to fast. My mind races as to what to do..Brakes? Down shift and brakes? Trail brake through the curve and hope for the best? I decide that I’m going to do my best to get the bike slowed down while she’s straight up and down and just lean the hell out of it and hope my tires stick. My left foot jams down twice on the gear shift and I use my right foot to press the rear brakes. I know that general teaching tells you to avoid using the rear brake but my brakes are linked. So when I engage the rear brakes one piston on the front brakes also engages. I know that if I touch the front brake I’ll probably lock up the front wheel and down I go. So I re-engage the clutch and feel/hear the engine bitching and moaning..The entire time my right foot is pressing fairly hard on the brakes. I’m extremely surprised that the rear wheel didn’t lock up. But I see the curve starting so I let go of the brake and roll off the throttle and I dig in for the lean. I know this one is going to be close and I hear the floor board start scraping pavement. I grit my teeth and see there is a bit more to the curve and I push the bike further into the lean. So far in fact that my floor board moves up so I have to lift my foot off so it can finish its travel. Much to my relief I see the curve finishing up and I bring the bike back up. Moral of that little story is to always focus on what’s going on..And an 800lb+ bike carries a lot more speed than you thinking into a down hile curve.

So after that curve I’m ready to stop and get off the bike for a minute and gather myself. We pull off at the next overlook and I see a sign saying we are at the highest point of the BRP.

Highest point on the BRP
Highest point on the BRP

By this point I’m wicked tired and judging from the map I still have a good 2-3 hours before I get to camp. It was getting close to dark so probably around 6:30-7pm and I’m really hoping I can get to the camp site tonight but setting up in the dark sucks. I break off from the guys after we get off the BRP and I head towards Robbinsville. It was raining pretty steady by now and I was cold, wet, tired and hungry but I really wanted to make it to camp tonight. But after another 15 miles I hit Bryson City NC and decide that I’m too tired to continue on and I got a hotel for the night. It was money I wasn’t ready to spend but the 50-60 mile stretch on the BRP really wore me out and I knew it wasn’t safe to continue…

To be continued….:-)

Trip Report 02/07/09 Part 2

So I pull into Waffle House and I’m greeted by the usual talant that works at every single Waffle House. I order my food and then set about trying to figure out a way around the bridge work. Due to my piss poor planning  Ihad no paper maps and I was trying to use the GPS on my iPhone was unbearable. Between the lack of 3G network and the stupid NC DOT ferry site causing Safari to crash just as I was to the point of being able to get an address..Awesome!

After stuffing my face, drying out a bit from the dog in the river incident and a few text messages with Kate to get some addresses I felt ready to get back on the road.. That feeling didn’t last long. It took me about 10 minutes to realize the damn GPS was taking me the same route..grrrrr…Ok..So off with the damn thing and I just started looking for any road that was heading east. I knew that I wanted to head towards Havelock NC..That’s not the original ferry I wanted to take. I wanted to ride out to Cedar Island, catch the ferry to Ocracoke Island. Now the first problem was the GPS of course. I also read that the off season schedule for the ferry had changed..This put me trying to catch the 10:30a ferry for the 2.5 hour float out to Ocracoke Island. I would spend a bit of time riding the island and then catch either the 2p or 5p over to Swan Quarter and then loop back home.

Well that plan went sideways quickly. Luckly I’d put a secondary route into the GPS to the Havelock/Minnott Beach ferry..It was only a 20 min ride and it was free but it was still a ride on the water. I’m not sure of my facination with riding ferries but it’s something I really enjoy especially on the bike. While waiting in line I started talking with a nice guy who just so happened to ride a Harley. As soon as he pulled up I could tell he was not the “typical” Harley rider. From my experience the typical Harley rider is rocking the non DOT approved helmet, some type of Harley clothing, boots, chaps etc..Well this guy had a bright neon green riding jacket on..I mean bright neon green. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a jacket that was that green. We started chatting about bikes and had a really good converstaion on the ferry ride across. Really nice guy. Turns out he’d bought the bike off his son and has been riding it pretty much full time since August of last year.

I’m quite frustrated with my lack of planning on this little trip. I was trying to decide whether to keep going or hit another short ferry ride from Aurora NC to Bath NC. It was getting rather late by this time so I just decided to start back to the house. I had the GPS set for the shortest distance so I reset it to shortest time and the trip home re-calculated. It was at that moment I realized that if I’d changed this option while I was stuck at the bridge I probably would’ve gotten around it..So in the end I guess it was operator error :-).

The ride home was uneventful and quite pleasant. I was rather bummed about not getting out to Ocracoke but on the ride home I realized that I still had a really good time and all the problems and distractions are what made it a good trip. I’m very impressed with the way the bike handled and how the GPS worked. It exceeded my expectations in every way. So thanks for tagging along on my little trip..Even tho it was only a day it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about handling the bike as well as all the gadgets that I’ve seem to can’t live without.

Until next trip!

Trip Report 02/07/2009 Part 1

Took a quick trip out to the east coast of NC yesterday…This is going to be a fairly long post so for those of you who want the “agile”(I’m trying to incorporate some IT buzzwords that I hear at work 😉 ) version. Here ya go

  • I was cold in the morning
  • The new GPS I have got me lost ( yes, I’m blaming the GPS and not the operator)
  • I saved a dog from drowning in the Neuse River
  • I should’ve packed paper maps
  • I hate the stock seat on my bike more than ever
  • Not all Harley riders are dicks

Miles Traveled: 358

Start Time: 0723

End Time: 1815

Fuel Used: 10.397

MPG: 34.4

Fuel Cost: 21.54

Per Gallon: 2.07

For those who want the long version read on after the jump

Continue reading “Trip Report 02/07/2009 Part 1”

Pics Finally Up

So I took a few days off when I got back to recover and I was lax on getting everything posted…Pics are finally up in my gallery and I’m working on a write up of the trip that I hope to have up in a couple of days..Until then I’m back at work and trying to catch up on 16 days worth of emails :-(.

The pics are not labeled yet and there are ~170 of them…

Bike Problems

The last night Brian and I were camping my bike developed a slow leak in the front tire. I was able to ride back to Brian’s house yesterday with no issue only having to air up once to top it off…Later last night Brian and I were trying to locate the leak by using soapy water and we found it. It was leaking by the valve stem. I say it was leaking because as I was  messing around with the nut holding the valve stem tight to the tire I over tightened and and caused the slow leak to turn into a fast leak so now the tire won’t hold air all.

So out comes the shop manual that I brought with me and we proceeded to take the front tire and wheel off the bike. Brian and Mary Jo were kind enough to let me use their vehicle this morning so I can take it over to a local bike shop that Brian frequents so they can hopefully fix it for me. I say hopefully because since I run spoked wheels I have to have an innertube. I’m hoping the inner tube can be patched or that I can find one in stock somewhere around town. Brian has just gone through this with his bike where the innertube wasn’t in stock  here and it took a week and a half to get a replacement. I don’t have a week and a half.

If all goes well I’m planning on getting on the road early tomorrow morning and super slabbing it back to NC. It’s 800 miles from here to my house according to google maps. I had planned on passing back thru KY and stopping at Ft. Knox where I was stationed when I was in the Army but with the problems i’m having with the bike I think it’s best to take interstate back and just shoot straight for home. Because honestly I passed through some small towns coming down that I would *not* want to break down in.

Current stats for the trip:

Miles Travelled: 1518 miles

Total Gallons of Gas: 32.248

Total MPG: ~47mpg

To be perfectly honest this trip has forced me outside my comfort zone on so many levels. Before coming down I had a little talk with my bike letting it know what I expected out of it.

  1. Smooth ride (so far so good aside from the shitty roads in SC and AL)
  2. No fluid leaks of any kind (fail..Have a small oil leak from the oil return line of my oil relocation kit)
  3. No tire or wheel problems (epic fail on this one since the bike is sitting on a jack stand with no front wheel atm)
  4. No more electrical problems (looks like the voltage regulator fixed the battery overcharging problem. Although there were several casualties of the repair. High beam of headlight blown, Right turn signal blown both front and rear, taillight blown, backlight for speedo blown, indicator light for turn signal blown, high beam indicator light blown. Most have been replaced with the exception of the instrument cluster.)

My first thought when all these problems started was to just rent a uhaul and tow the bike back. And that still may happen but I started this trip on two wheels and I want to do everything within my power to finish it on two wheels. Life is about taking on challenges and overcoming them. I used to be really good at that but it seems over the last several years since I got out of the Army I don’t challenge myself enough or I take the easy way out instead of dealing with it. So anyway I will be working to get the bike in running order today and hopefully set out tomorrow. There won’t be any SPOT updates today since I’ll be in Hattiesburg.  Not sure if I’ll get to update tomorrow if the bike gets fixed since I’ll be beelining back to NC. Check in with the SPOT pages and I’ll have tracking mode on if all goes well..

Update From The Road

Picked up Brian on Wed and we headed out to Gulf Shores early Thursday morning. We stumbled across the 37th annual international shrimp festival and beer…Our camp site is running a shuttle back and forth to the shindig so we parked our bikes last night and rode the shuttle and got shit faced drunk…There are pictures so once I find a better connection than the McDonald’s we’re sitting in now I’ll post them.

This morning we’re headed off to the U.S.S Alabama battleship and then back down to Destin FL. I’ve got the spot with me and I’ll be doing checkin’s and I’ll try to find a place on the bike to put it so tracking works.

Until Later…

Quick Update

Made it to Savannah GA last night around 9:30pm. Decided to get a hotel for the night. Today I’m heading out to Montgomery AL which should be ~364mi. Bike handled beautifully all day yesterday. Got really good gas mileage as well as passed through some really cool small towns. I did take a few pics and I’ll try and get those posted in today or tomorrow whenever I can find internet.

I did end up taking I-95 for a couple of hours last night. It started getting dark and country roads harbor deer and other animals that like to run out in front of you. So the last little bit to Savannah was on super slab and I will try to avoid it at all costs in the future..

On thing is for sure I will be getting a GPS for the next trip. This looking down at the map while riding thing sucks.

Couple of random thoughts from the ride yesterday:

  1. The town crossing over from NC to SC on 401 smells like feet…Like the entire town does
  2. People give you really strange looks when you put your bike in front of their “Welcome to <statename>” signs.. I’m looking at you SC!
  3. Riding interstate sucks ass no matter what state you’re in.

More later…