Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Leesburg, Fl Rally - Still Don't Get It

Mission accomplished, I suppose. My three day stint promoting Haywood County, NC at the Leesburg, FL Rally was an experience I'll not soon forget. Event attendance is reported at between 200,000 and 300,000, a number I can believe. It was pretty amazing to see so many bikes, so many riders, so many vendors and a city that opened it's arms to embrace the throngs and make it a success.

From early in the morning to late into each evening I was the solo voice of the mountains and to be honest I missed hearing it echo off the hills of home. I don't know how many people I spoke with. It was practically a constant flow through the booth I shared with Full Throttle Magazine of Florida. I left the booth only to endure the port-o-lets baking under the 90 degree sun, or cross the vendor paddock to get food or drink. Nothing like $11 for some kind of mystery meat on a stick to keep your strength up, but it was after all a working trip, not a pleasurable vacation. While I'd do it again for a price, it's not my cup of tea, nor is Florida the first place that comes to mind when I dream of great motorcycle riding.

It's not that I don't know Florida or riding in the Sunshine State. I lived there most of my life. I began riding in Florida. If that's all you know it could seem really nice - except for the heat, the set-your-watch-by-it-rain, the long flat straight roads with horizons shimmering in the heat waves, the traffic, the congestion, road-kill vultures, did I forget to mention the heat? Sorry guys, I'm "ruint". Seen paradise. Moved there. I'm trying to tell you how to find it. I am convinced motorcycles were made to get you here so you can discover their true purpose and set them free.

Bottom line - I'm not a rally guy. I just don't get it. I just don't have a hankerin' to go hang out with 100,000 of my fellow rider buddies. Yeah, it's cool to see all the different bikes, but after the first 10 or 20 thousand of them, honestly, anything that stands out is probably a freak and nothing I'd consider putting my ass in the saddle of. I'm far too experienced to ride my iron pony to a beerfest without recognizng it's pretty darn likely to buck me off on the dizzy ride home. I don't need the validation of my choice to ride a motorcycle confirmed by associating with a mass of "individualists" all emulating one another in black leather appearance, skin art, and badder-than-thou attitude. I still don't get it.

Rallys seem to focus on the destination, the party at the end of the road. For me, it's all about the ride, not the destination. My party is getting there, not arriving. When the sidestand goes down, my party is over. That's the time for a few brews and reflection on the good times I've already had.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mission Improbable - Leesburg, FL

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to attend the motorcycle rally in Leesburg, Florida, and invite motorcylists to come visit Maggie Valley and discover the best riding in all the land.

So now I'm an agent, an agent of the TDA - the Tourist Development Authority. No badge, no gun, no secret weapons. Just my wits and experience, and all the maps I can bring. Who would have thought one day I'd actually be on a mission for the government. But they needed a man with special talents, with unique experience, and a true believer willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get the job done. When they came to me, I couldn't turn them down.

Why me? Those in the know put me at the top of the list. They've discovered a secret - once people discover the amazing back roads and fantastic scenery they flock here to enjoy it. Still, too many people never probe the depths of the vast wealth of great riding found here. If only they knew how to find the thousands of miles of twisty two lane mountain byways that lie hidden in these hills, they'd not only come, but they'll come back.

Sure we've got the best portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. And yes, you can look out the window into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And Deals Gap with it's infamous "Tail of the Dragon" is just over the next hill. Those well known attractions already bring a lot of people to town and put heads in beds. And yes, we're within a 6 hour ride of half the population in the USA.

But what most people don't recognize is this is more than a tourist destination with just a few attractions. This area is a gold mine. You can't see it all in one trip. Or two trips. Or even an entire season. It's time to let the cat out of the bag. That's my mission.

Local lodgers, restaraunts, and businesses want you here. The red carpet is out. Your room is ready. My mission is to get you a map. They've learned the secret. "Give a man a room he stays for a day. Give a man a map, he stays for a week, and he comes back again with his freinds."

So in a week or so I depart from the cool and comforting cradle of my mountains to venture into the hot foreign turf of Florida and attend the huge rally in Leesburg. It's going to be tough. But I know my mission and I'm letting you know I'm coming. You are my contact. I've got to get this secret information to you. Look for me at Leesburg rally. Code word - Maggie Valley.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dogwood Winter Strikes

A glance out the window the other day was rewarded with the sight of the buds on the dogwoods starting to swell and burst open. Soon, the mountainsides will be spotted with the white blooms of the wild trees while the remainder of the flora is just hinting at the first of the green rush to come. Right on time, at least according to natures calendar which does not fit in neat little boxes, dogwood winter has arrived. While most are well acquainted with "Indian summer", that last burst of warmth that precedes fall, dogwood winter is the springtime mountain counterpart.

Just as the days start to warm and for the first time the mercury climbs to the 70's in the heat of a nice day, dogwood winter signals a last spasm of the fading grip of winters fingers on the landscape. Right around Easter, along comes one last burst of cold often accompanied by snow. Sunny and in the 70's one day, then a coat of white on the ground, one last reminder that winter does not go easily into slumbering retirement.

Dogwood winter is typically a mild event. It can also be a wicked slap to the fresh face of spring with it's new blooms and emerging growth. Last year saw a couple inches of snow on Easter Sunday. The plastic eggs missed by children who ruined their Sunday shoes in the wet surprise were opened weeks later by the lawnmower or spotted still hiding amongst leaves in the garden. At it's worst, dogwood winter can bring an ice storm which snaps the branches off the pear, apple, and cherry trees laden with blooms and foil the early plantings of the farmers with a freeze.

This rite of passage has come, a signal from nature that it's calendar progresses according to it's own whim. The fluffy flakes of today will be gone tomorrow and we can now move into spring with this behind us.

PS - good riddance. Time to ride.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Made-A-Wish April 4

For the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the April 4th charity ride was a success. While I haven't tallied the final figures, a good bit of money was raised for a good cause. Not bad for an event cobbled together is just a few weeks time. For the riders, it was also a treat. The majority went away with not only memories of a great ride, but most with a prize for their participation. For the sponsors, it was a good first effort for an event that will be repeated on an anual basis. It was also an education in organizing and promoting. Things went smoothly and without a hitch.

The weather cooperated with a clear and sunny day, though it took a while for the temperatures to creep near the projected high, and I'm not convinced they ever made it. I spent several hours shivering at the registration table as riders straggled in to get their cards and route maps. Turnout was lower than hoped and everyone who participated was appreciated. Those who bundled up and braved the cool temps were rewarded.

With the first motorcycle event of season in Maggie Valley now behind us, I'm looking forward to what this summer and fall will bring.

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