Monday, March 30, 2009

More Blue Ridge Parkway Updates

A few more updates on the Blue Ride Parkway to be aware of;

The Park Service is planning to repave and repair parking lots between milepost 359.7 and 375.1 through December 2010. The work includes the Craggy Gardens visitors center and the Craggy Gardens picnic area and six additional overlooks. There will be occasional closures of the overlooks and traffic will be reduced to one lane during some repairs.

These closures are currently listed at the Blue Ridge Parkway web site:

Milepost 269.8 - 280.9 - Blowing Rock Area

Roadway fill repair at Milepost 270.3 will close the Parkway until November, 2009.
For southbound traffic, exit the Parkway at Phillips Gap (Milepost 269.8) to Phillips Gap Road (NC 1168) to Idlewild Road (NC 1003) to US 221 south to US 421 south back to the Parkway at Deep Gap (Milepost 276.4).

For northbound traffic, exit the Parkway at Parkway School (Milepost 280.9) to Old US 421 south to New US 421 south to US 221 north to Idlewild Road (NC 1003) to Phillips Gap Road (NC 1168) back to the Parkway at Phillips Gap (Milepost 269.8).

Milepost 285.5 to 291.8 – Blowing Rock Area

Goshen Creek Bridge repair has closed the Parkway between US Route 421 east of Boone, NC and US Route 321 south of Boone. The detour will begin for visitors traveling south at milepost 285.5, Bamboo Gap. Visitors will follow state road (SR) 1514 Bamboo Road to Deerfield Road, following the detour signs along US Route 321 south of Boone then connecting back to the Parkway at milepost 291.8.

Visitors traveling north will begin the detour at milepost 291.8, intersection US Route 321; follow the detour signs along US321 to state route 1514 Deerfield Road to Bamboo Road which will bring them back to the Parkway at milepost 285.5. The total detour is estimated to be approximately 8 miles. Bridge repair is anticipated to be complete by late spring 2009.

These closures have been posted for a while and are relatively short compared to the closure that detoured around the slide near Mt. Mitchell. I plan to revisit the area soon and will get first hand info on the detours. If there are better ways to go (there often are) I will suggest them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Southern Section Blue Ridge Parkway Open

The southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, NC, to it's terminus at Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee opened this weekend ending the months long winter closure. Longer days and warmer temperatures have cleared the ice from the tunnels and the small rockslides which occur with winter freezing have been cleared from the roads. It is a welcome sign of the arrival of spring in the mountains.

Traffic was light for the most part, though the most popular sites, Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam Knob were filled with the first visitors and hikers of the season. While spring is evident at lower elevations and the first shoots of green and early blooms are appearing, the higher elevations of the parkway remain in brown winter slumber. Many of the wet cliff faces still build up an accumulation of ice each night which shears off in sunlight of day. It's a good time to get a clear view of the waterfalls before the leaves are on the trees.

You may expect brief closures should we get another dumping of snow or a prolonged cold snap, but for the most part you can count on the road being available for travel. It's still chilly at the high elevations so bundle up to enjoy your ride. This is one of the better times to enjoy the long range views before the summer humidity and haze returns from which the Smoky Mountains got their name. Wave when you pass me!

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Local Ethanol Producer Dead After State Shuts Him Down

I'm pretty much on board with the idea we need a good dose of cold turkey concerning our addiction to imported oil. I consider it our top national security priority so long as the gold we send over there is returned in the form of high velocity lead. So it is with some contempt I must record the passing of one of our great alternative fuel pioneers, Popcorn Sutton.

Mr. Sutton was a local entrepreneur in the biofuels industry. A true pioneer both in appearance and his approach to the science, he never received the recognition within the industry for his outstanding achievements. Locally however, his product was revered for it's quality and purity which led to an uncharacteristic embracing of this green technology by rural Carolina mountain folk who normally shun such progressive and liberal developments.

All he produced was eagerly consumed. Evading the shackles of government regulation and a lack of support of the sciences, Mr. Sutton did all of his research and development in clandestine laboratory facilities at his own expense. Despite the handicap off working off the grid, by working outside the rigid constraints of government funded science he was able to not only develop a thriving local industry, but perfected a process that has rarely been duplicated in scale.

Unfortunately, it was his desire to increase the scale of production that led to his downfall. Having opened a satellite operation across the border in Tennessee, state officials there caught wind of his laboratory and production operation and shut it down when it was found to be in violation of oppressive regulations no doubt enhanced by native son, Al Gore, and his own green initiative. It appears that in Tennessee, you're either in bed with Al or you're not invited to the party, and Popcorn didn't swing that way.

Mr. Sutton's perseverance in the face of government regulation was widely admired. He'd always overcome such challenges in the past, but this time, having strayed beyond the more amiable authorities within his home state, they sought to make an example of him. A great miscarriage of justice actually resulted in a sentence including jail time. It was more than this free spirited innovator could bear, and his recent death has been claimed a suicide by those same authorities who refuse to acknowledge that despite their interventions he refused to cease his research and his accidental death was obviously attributable to an industrial research accident related to automotive testing.

The passing of Mr. Sutton has been devastating to our small mountain community mired in hard economic times. His green technology eased the burden on us all and made a tough life that much easier. While we are encouraged others will take up the cause, much of his science died with him, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to foster further research into this technology of tomorrow. Rest in peace, Popcorn Sutton, your spirits will live on in these hills.

Sadly, the only public recordings of his passing are tainted with slanderous political spin as the oppressive state attempts to justify it's mistaken prosecution of this American biofuels hero. Here is one of them, but recognize it's mostly lies -

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Blue Ridge Parkway - Open May 15

After a nearly two year closure due to landslides near the highest mountain in the east, Mt. Mitchell, the park service has announced the expected opening of this closed section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on May 15 (subject to change). This section is located about 30 miles north of Asheville, NC.

The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center at milepost 364 which never opened last year will reopen as will one lane of the parkway. Visitors can expect delays as the traffic will alternate using the one open lane.

Weather could impact the opening date, and is always a factor in closing sections of the parkway. Locally, the highest section of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Cherokee continues to be closed for winter, though I expect it will open any day now. We've had a sustained period of warmer weather which should have allowed the ice to clear from the dozen or more tunnels that grace this rugged and beautiful southern portion of the road. It's not so much the snow that's a problem here, but the accumulation of ice which persists in the cool shade of the tunnels long after the days have warmed.

Barring any significant slides which need attention, the gates should be unlocked soon.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Get Paid To Do This!

Jeez, that was fun! I'd just completed the reconnaisance to verify the directions for the upcoming Make-A-Wish Foundation charity ride April 4th (see earlier blog) and stopped in to gloat a bit with my buddy Ken at Gryphon Bikes and Choppers. For those who make their living in the motorcycle industry, the reality that it involves far less time in the saddle than an outsider fantasizes is a bitter pill to swallow. Time on the bike in the line of work is precious and I'd had my first good "work" ride of spring.

Few would appreciate the act more than Ken who manages a
Harley-Davidson rental business. It's got to be heartbreaking to watch his immaculate fleet of showroom maintained motorcycles roll in and out the doors each week while he is tied to the shop. Watching those well loved babies leave then living vicariously through the tales of fabulous mountain rides on their return is tough. To own a fleet of perfectly great motorcycles and have so little opportunity to enjoy them is a cross I doubt I could bear. Nice guy that I am, I had to rub it in.

I can justify the work expense as I located a few road signs which had changed over the winter. I've got a couple hours of work ahead updating the maps affected. There are a few improvements to be made to the original draft of the route description. I can be guilt free for the work time spent in such an enjoyable pursuit.

I revisited roads I knew well and enjoyed them. Though the hillsides are still mostly brown, the Bradford pear trees are white with blooms, the crocus and daffodills sprinkle the roadsides with the first of the color, the yellow forsythia lend brillance to an awakening landscape. The willows are greening and the redbuds adorn the crowns of their trees. Even the time I spent on the four lane necessitated to reach the various stops where riders will build their poker hands on the circuit were more enjoyable than usual.

It was the two lane that made the ride. One section I had not ridden for quite some time made it all worthhwile. I'd forgotten how good it was. Yeah, the 28 mile run over Wayah Bald with the sparkling blue waters of alpine Nantahala Lake and the frequent roadside waterfalls fresh from a recent rain were a distraction from the hairpin curves on the climb and descent. But it was the gradual climb back up and over Cullowhee Mountain that made the day.

From the time I entered the 15.8 mile stretch of road to it's end near Western Carolina University I saw no other vehicles. Not one car. The road was all mine, and I took advantage of the freedom to put the fresh rubber on my wheels to it's first real test. It was surprisingly clean of winter gravel, a good thing considering the severity of the curves and nonstop flow from one edge of the rubber to the other as I carved my way up the gradual climb. I was quickly satisfied I'd made the right choice of tires, solid anchors which did everything I asked without a single slip or drift. They surprised me more than once when I exploded out turns to find the front wheel no longer in contact with the pavement, occasionally in third gear. These babies hooked up!

Had it been a fun ride, I would have followed this section with another 50 miles or so of the same to arrive at home, but today I was at work and I took the more pedantic route back to stay on the course of the ride and tick off the last few stops on the loop more casually on the four lane. I'll gladly pay for this treat with the hours at the keyboard which follow. It's re-awakened my recognition the new season is upon us and before long I'll be hundreds of miles from home on challenging new roads as I explore the secret mountain roads of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky and expand the stock of maps I produce. After all, sometimes it is a fantansy job. That's what keeps me going.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG - the copter's on the roof!

Ahh, St. Patrick's Day. I'd best compose this while there's still one bottle left...

So I'm listening to all the squawking about AIG today and I hear they posted guards outside the building, the phone lines and e-mail were swamped with death threats, and my head is spinning. It's St. Patty's Day. My ticket was dismissed in court this morning. So I invited my Irish buddy, Mr. Guiness to work with me today and he cancelled all my afternoon appointments.

We heard the President was pretty upset with AIG. He's Irish you know, O'Bama. At least that what my other brown freind tells me. Mr. Guiness is like that early in the day, everyone's Irish, the world is your shamrock. But as the day wore on, he started looking for a fight.

Then we heard that Iowa Senator saying the AIG guys shoud do like the Japanese execs - apologize then fall on their swords. It's the honorable thing to do. Mr. Guiness didn't want to wait. He was getting pretty worked up. Next thing you know he's talking about crowds with pitchforks and torches surrounding the building. I'm pretty sure it was just the big parade on 5th avenue, but he was adamant, and you know I could picture it. Somehow it seemed right.

Last I remember he was going on and on about how he wouldn't be satisfied till they were swinging from a lampost downtown. I think I googled the AIG address for him before he left to start some serious drinking. I don't know, everything started coming up green about then. It's all a blur. So if you're one of those AIG guys, I'd head for the roof. I don't know where Mr. Guiness is, but he's one mean drunk, and he's got a handout for ya.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paving - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The National Park Service is beginning an 18 month long project to repave 6.5 miles of Newfound Gap Road (US 441), the only road which crosses through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The section to be repaved starts at the south boundary near Cherokee and climbs to the Collins Creek Picnic Area intersection. Last paved in 1983, the road is in sore need of attention.

Road closures on Newfound Gap Road are nothing new. Sections have required maintenance resulting in lane closures for years. It's been a rare day when you can make an uninterrupted transit from Cherokee, NC to Gatlinburg, TN. While this is one of those "must do" rides to see the park, it's never been one of my first choices for a days ride. If you're not pausing for road maintenance, you're crawling along behind some lumbering RV straining to make the climb or smoking his brakes on the way down. Considering the thousands of miles of fabulous empty mountain roads in the surrounding area I prefer to go elsewhere.

Still, to see the park you gotta do the ride. If you haven't done it, it's worth the time and effort. Fill up, pack a snack and some water, bring the camera, don't have a deadline, and take the time to enjoy the views. There's a reason it's the most visited national park in the nation and it is the Park's 75th anniversary this year.

Lane closures will be staggered to reduce the impact on traffic. The contractor may close up to four areas at a time with delays at each closure which may not exceed 10 minutes. The park has a toll free recording providing details on lane closures at (888) 355-1849.

If you haven't done this ride, you should. It's included in one of the four loop rides on America Rides Maps "Maggie Valley to Deals Gap and the Cherohala Skyway". However, if you crave more deserted roads that not only give you wonderful scenery but a challenging ride, there are another 600 miles or so of routes on that map that will keep you carving through the curves and rolling along the back roads where RV's, Grandpa, and van loads of kids never tread.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Hint of Spring

Finally, we've had a bubble of warmth settle over the mountains after the last dumping of snow. It didn't take long for the bikes to appear. It was nice to not only get out, but have some warm and sunny weather to make it more enjoyable.

Everyone seems to be looking for spring and the signs of it are starting to appear. The first blooms are adding a little color, and the buds are growing fat on the trees. It's not here yet, and we know there will be more of winter's bite, but little by little brown will give way to a youthful green and a shower of blooms next month.

Along with spring comes a bloom of events to attract motorcyclists to the area and distract them from why they really came long enough to liberate a few dollars from their pockets. Mostly, it's charity events right now, but the rallies that rotate from venue to venue will crank up soon for those that need an excuse other than riding to justify the trip. It's a good year to come with Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrating it's 75th anniversary and the sagging economy spawning discounts and package deals from the lodgers and merchants just to get you in the door. You'll be welcomed and appreciated.

Start making your plans. The mountains are waiting for you with thousands of miles of fantastic roads to explore, more than anywhere else in the country. I know, I've been on most all of them. Come rediscover why you ride a motorcycle and what it's meant to do for you. You deserve it. You need it. Now's the time more than ever.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Event - Female Motorcycle Enthusiast Rally, July 23 - 26, Maggie Valley, NC

WHAT: Female Motorcycle Enthusiast Rally

WHO: Women Motorcyclists (Dudes Welcome)

WHERE: Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center
70 Soco Road, Maggie Valley NC 28751
$10 Discount on Room Rate until May 15th
Toll Free: 866-926-0201 Local: 828-926-0201

WHEN: July 23-26, 2009

REGISTRATION: $35 May 15th, $45 after May 15th.

HOW TO REGISTER: On Line: (paypal)
By Mail: 310 Loveland Drive, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
At the door: Maggie Valley Inn & Conference Center
**** Make checks payable to Mountain Gold Productions****
Thursday night welcome cookout at 6pm at the “Tiki Bar”
Maggie Valley Inn, Friday and Saturday, Live Music,
Fashion Show, Banquet, Vendors, Free T-shirt to First
100 Registrations, Maps with suggested Rides,
Discount Coupons for attractions, food, and beverages,
Prizes, and LOTS OF FUN!!

ORGANIZED BY: Mountain Gold Productions

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Event - Poker Run Ride & Raffle April 4, Maggie Valley, NC

Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Central & Western North Carolina
“We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy”

Please come and join us for a fundraiser hosted by
A Holiday Motel & Café in Maggie Valley, NC

Cars are welcomed!

Saturday April 4th 2009
Registration from 9-11 am and last hand in by 5:00 pm
$15.00 per hand & $10.00 per additional hand

· Raffle drawings @ 5:00 pm at the Holiday’s Café
· Affordable ticket prices for more chances to win great prizes

Meet at
Holiday’s on the way Café
(Next to A Holiday Motel)
3253 Soco Rd.
Maggie Valley, NC 28751

For more information call 828-926-1186
or visit our web site

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harley - Is Image Enough?

Reading the paper this morning I see the predicted demise of GM despite it's recent infusion of bailout capital and my thoughts turn to our home-grown motorcycle, Harley-Davidson. The iconic manufacturer of the "American" motorcycle has fallen into the same quagmire that sucks the auto giants down and could also stand an infusion of capital to stay afloat. It's not the first time, and I'll bet they survive, though will they emerge a different company?

The buzz talk seems to be the automakers need to retool, to produce a different product, become more competitive and less expansive in scope. The behemoth gas guzzling land yachts are a thing of the past and we need to embrace new technologies for the future. What does this portend for the "SUV of motorcycles", the Harley-Davidson?

Those who ride American iron do not do so for the cutting edge technology, the outstanding performance, or the economies of purchase price nor operation. Foreign brands trump them in spades in every category. Harley survives on it's image, and to ride one is to become a part of a subculture, but admission to that exclusive club carries a hefty price.

As we go forward, I wonder how Harley will address this imbalance. Is image enough to overcome the competitors that offer twice the bike at half the price? As the competition perfects cutting edge technologies and they become just another standard feature, will Harley sink to the category of old school clunker? Just how much is pride really worth in an ever tightening market?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Electric Motorcycles?

This the the third iteration of future shock I've encountered, the Brammo Enertia 5 electric motorcycle. At this point these things are oddities, strange quirks on the concept of "what is a motorcycle", yet also an eery look into our future.

One of the others I came across was an off road bike, that despite looking like a bicycle overdosed on steroids, had performance figures that were comparable to a 250 cc modern dirt bike save the limitations on range. Then of course, there's price, which right now is in the stratosphere in any sort of side -by-side comparison. For a few moments I though how cool is that, steal away to roost through the neighbors back 40 and he'll never hear you. But we still have a long way to go with these things.

Back on the street, developement is in it's infancy, and I wonder who would buy one of these. I thought the same thing about the hybrid Prius automobile. Since, I pay a bit more attention to this stuff.

With a name like "Brammo" (click here to read a motorcycle magazine review), I suspect technology isn't the only hurdle to overcome. It sounds a bit too much like some cheap infomercial product you see at 3 a.m. Still, it signals the start of a trend, the beginnings of a movement. For those in a buggy downwind of a familiar steed, the automobile appeared a quirky annoyance and a folly for the rich. We all know they'll never replace the horse.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Photo - Me and my Drifter

That's me and my Drifter somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia during a spring trip. It was a great bike, always drew a crowd.