Saturday, September 26, 2009

Broke My Motorcycle - Again

The Triumph Tiger 1050 is often referred to as an "adventure bike" - a motorcycle that does most things very well and will go almost anywhere though in it's most recent iteration it is far more biased towards the road than previous incarnations. I have taken that "adventure" heritage to extremes - I've laid it down at highway speeds on the Interstate, ridden it through deserts, floods, and snow, and once completely submerged it in a river. All these things it has shaken off like a wet dog after a cold swim, though it has accumulated a collection of scrapes, scratches, and minor blemishes that tell the story of it's travels. Only a close inspection reveals them and amazingly few parts have ever broken. They are proudly worn like badges of honor boasting the invincibility built into this machine.

Well, I've broken it again, and it looks like I may have to pay the dues for exploring the boundaries of good sense. This time, it was mapping Virginia that led to the minor calamity. My stubborn intensity to actually ride and explore every potential road in an area to often leads me to places no reasonable person would consider, and this was another one of those foolhardy ventures.

I'd already lost more than an hour due to blinding rain and fog so thick you couldn't see across a two lane road. First sipping coffe in an empty greasy spoon, then near the parking lot sitting on a wet rock waiting for the ability to make out where I was going. When I could finally see the repair shop across the street, I set out.

The detour and road closed signs should have put me off. Still, I pressed onward, determined to discover if this was a temporary situation that required monitoring or something more permanent. While this road did not show much promise from the research, it did have a section that looked interesting and I leave no stone unturned. Nor did I want to retrace my route. The road was leading into the area I'd be working that day and in the interest of saving time I was determined to ride through whatever to get there and maximize my efficiency.

I should have turned back when I reached the bridge. Blocked with huge concrete barriers and orange warning signs, it spanned a deep gulch over a railroad track. I stopped to ponder the situation closer to discover a narrow pathway weaving between the barriers. I walked out on the bridge, the pavement and concrete irregular and broken, and jumped up and down vigorously to test it's soundness. The road on the far side led out into the farmlands. I could do this.

I returned to the bike, mounted, and quietly motored towards the slot skirting the very edge of the drop into the gulch. Approaching with cautious hesitation through the tall wet weeds, the bike suddenly lurched to a stop as the front wheel found an unseen mound of pavement hidden in the greenery and began to topple. With all my strength I wrestled it away from the drop and eased back. A timid approach was not going to get the job done.

I took a moment to summon my resolve, studied the line I would follow, focused on the point I would emerge, and released the clutch with a measured amount of throttle open. The front wheel rushed forward, bounded over the obstacle, and passed through the gap dead center just as planned. Unfortunately, the rear wheel was not quite on the same path and as it encountered the hump it slipped and skirted violently towards the slope. As momentum carried me trough, a loud SNAP occurred and while I slowed to a stop half way across the bridge my left luggage case spun along on the pavement beside me. When the bike leaned, it had caught on the edge of a barrier and broken off.

I parked the bike and retrieved the case as well as the bits of broken mounting brackets. Designed to quickly attach and detach with a simple key lock, most of these clamps were now broken. Still, one was intact and I remounted it on the bike and locked it in place. Somehow, there was enough left to hold it there, though it was anything but secure.

I carefully threaded through the barriers on the far side of the bridge and kept one hand reaching back to insure the case was still there as I proceeded down the road. As expected, this next section of road was uninteresting but the promising part lay ahead. The case stayed in place as I crossed the countryside. I watched the GPS as the curvy parts drew ever closer. My heart sank as I reached it passing a sign that indicated unpaved road ahead.

The next 12 miles or so was a bumpy gravel forest road, steep and twisty as it threaded through the trees and rocks of some obscure Virginia hilltop. My hand kept flashing back to confirm the case was still attached with every rough climb or big rock crossed. Were it to come off here, it would tumble down some steep slope and both the case and contents would likely be lost. It was still there as I emerged on the back side of a bleak and impoverished factory town, the umber brick relics of long abandoned mills and plants overgrown with weeds and rust, windows broken, once bustling factories now silent and abandoned to time.

Things did improve, and I covered a lot of miles through the rest of the day. Periodically, I put my hand behind me to feel the case still loose, but in place, and it remained there until I got home. I'd hoped to somehow drill, screw, and glue things back together, but it's hopeless. I'm going to need to buy a new side case. For the first time, I returned to my maps and completely removed any trace of that road. I don't want any chance you'll follow in my tire tracks. There are far better roads to ride.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hardtails Saloon, Maggie Valley - Hog Wings Anyone?

Ah, blessed sunshine. After all the rain lately it felt good to get out on the road. Time to make the rounds and check in with everyone. Same story everywhere, sorry about the rain with the Fall Rally in the Valley, but we all made do as best we could.

I was working my way down the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway into Maggie Valley when the sky opened up again. I made a quick stop at the Mountaineer Restaurant to do an interview with a reporter from the Smoky Mountain News (seems I'm doing a lot of interviews lately), and ducked out of the worst of the deluge. Or so I thought. Further down the mountain I drove back into it again, and ducked into the first friendly looking place, The Hardtails Saloon.

I'd not been here yet. The Hardtails Saloon opened in June and I just haven't had the opportunity to check it out. Last time I tried, it was during a rally and the place was jammed, so I moved along. This was early afternoon and with the rain things hadn't picked up yet for the day. Fran, the owner was sitting at the counter and invited me to join her.

"You've got to try the Hog Wings" she insisted. They're like chicken wings, only pork. Always one to go with a recommendation, I agreed to test drive them. Within a few minutes a hot basket of sweet tiny pork ribs arrived and they were like candy! OMG good. Sweet, tender, cooked just right, I have to pass this on.

Add The Hardtails Saloon to your list of pit stops. Great place to cool your heels , have a cold brew, and chow down on some hot hog wings.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 2009 Fall Rally in the Rain

Photo: We had it all - Daisy the Pig, Hank the Bear, Moonshiners, Biker Girls ...

I suppose it's my fault for posting that TV Pilot video from a couple years ago that showed the best we could do during the rains of the 2007 Fall Rally in the Valley in Maggie Valley, NC. It must have reminded someone to open the faucets again. At times, I should have had a boat, not a booth.

Still, the crowds came out. Not as many as we would have liked, and I can't blame those who bailed on the event, though at times a little help bailing from those who didn't would have been appreciated. The rain started days before the event and grew progressively worse. By the time Friday rolled around, we were already pretty saturated. There were breaks in the weather, and when they came we were busy and tried to put on a good show.

I think we represented Maggie Valley well. A last minute effort from the lodgers and merchants of, we pooled our resources to purchase a vendor spot at the event. We passed out a good bit of literature from the Haywood County TDA and visitor guides from the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, raffled off a 3 day, 2 night, food / lodging / guided tour package, sold a good bit of Popcorn Sutton Moonshiner memorabilia, guided a lot of visitors to some great local rides, and I sold a lot of maps.

Daisy the pig (shown in the photo) was a big hit, as was 7 year old Ellie in her black leather chaps and pink Harley-Davidson gear. While she tore up the dance floor in the evening, she was too shy to get on stage, though the crowd urged her repeatedly. Hank the Bear got a much needed bath. I got a tremendous amount of support and volunteer help from Joanne at
the Mountaineer Restaurant, Gabie and Rob at the A Holiday Motel insured I was fed, Phil and Tammy from the Clarketon Motel made sure I didn't waste any time making trips to the beer tent, and numerous other All Roads Lead To people who came out and volunteered their support and assistance. I even made freinds with the fine ladies at Biker Bettys Apparel and Accessories next door who were so impressed with my maps they've offered to take them on the road with them.

Thanks to all who braved the weather to travel to the mountains and spend much of their weekend riding in the rain. I hope I've helped make your trip worthwhile and opened your eyes to the vast number of undiscovered roads that lace the surrounding mountains. When you come back, be sure to visit to get the best vacation packages and room deals for your next visit. The best of our riding season is just starting.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sights From The Road - Backbone Rock, TN

I went back to Virginia this weekend to revisit and explore some of the sights I'd passed while mapping the area. I'm pretty much all business when mapping - I only stop for three things; gas, to take notes, and when "nature" forces me to do so. Eating is a luxury typically left for the evening to make the most of the time on the road. This trip was to go back and savor some of the gems I'd just blown by previously.

One of my favorite loop rides is found near the point where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee meet, a 103 mile jaunt that takes you on some of the twistiest and most scenic roads. It's listed on America Rides Map "
Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock". Heading south from Damascus, Virginia, on SR 133, you soon enter the National Forest in Tennessee and signs for Backbone Rock Park start appearing along the road. Round a curve and you find yourself zipping through the quick yet dramatic tunnel through Backbone Rock. I stopped in to investigate.

The Empire Mining Company blasted through Backbone Rock in 1901 to lay train tracks for the Tennessee Lumber Company. Long gone, the rail bed became the roadbed which continues on towards Mountain City. The ridge is about 75 feet high and 20 feet thick, though it narrows near the top. There is a steep trail from the parking area on the right just after you pass through the rock, though if you have any aversion to heights and walking near the edge of a cliff, you'll never make it to the section of rock which straddles the road.

There are several hiking trails, picnic tables and campsites, a waterfall is about 0.4 miles on a foot trail. The area is popular for fishing and kayaking.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Safety Improvements" coming to NC 215? I wonder.

Photo - Enjoying a ride on NC 215

Thanks to federal stimulus funds, NC 215 in Transylvania County, NC, will be receiving $2.3 million in "safety improvements" in the form of 17 miles of new guardrail. The new guardrail will run from the the intersection with US 64 in Rosman to the Haywood County line near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Work is scheduled to begin September 28, 2009, and be completed by August 1, 2010.

Whether or not guardrails are "safety improvements" is controversial for me. They may be "safer" for cars, though I'm not so sure guardrails add any safety for motorcycles. In fact, I think they may be more dangerous. They are designed for cars, not motorcycles, and hitting one on a bike can be catastrophic. A friend hit one and it tore a chunk out of his leg so large he died. I'd prefer to take my chances going over an embankment into the trees. From what I've seen of accidents on the Blue Ridge Parkway, they may stop the bike - the rider goes over them (if he's lucky).

NC 215 is one of the premier roads in the Western North Carolina mountains, one of the local classics, one leg of a ride known as "The Devil's Triangle" on America Rides Maps "
5 Classic Rides Around Maggie Valley, NC" as well as "The Best Rides South of Great Smoky Mountains National Park - EAST". Few other roads not only intersect the Blue Ridge Parkway, but offer the long range views, the quality, challenge, and an hour of uninterrupted blissful riding. I hate to see it changed.

In addition, there have also been rumors of plans to "improve" the twistier sections of the road, plans which would widen and straighten the curves and remove the landmark "Alligator Rock". It doesn't seem sensible to put in guardrails now, only to come back later with improvements which will require they be moved to accommodate them. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to do it all at once, if and when it happens? Hate to see a great road "improved".

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Most Dangerous Road

Photo - The sign reflects the challenge to come

"That's the most dangerous road we ride" my wife commented after a recent morning outing.

"It's my favorite road!", I responded.

"I know, but it's still dangerous" she reiterated.

We talked a bit more about it and the things she finds most dangerous are the things I enjoy as an added challenge.

"I still like it, it's just a dangerous road" says Jackie.

Jackie's no lightweight. We rode dual-purpose bikes all over the country years ago, she can throw a motorcycle around. Now, astride her Beemer, she often gives the boys a run for their money on the twisty roads. She can handle herself and I enjoy watching her flow through the curves. And no, we're not talking about the infamous "Tail of the Dragon". That's just another ride for us compared to this.

Photo - Wayne prepares to get some lean on in a curve on Charlie's Creek Road

What makes Charlies Creek Road a challenge is it's unpredictability. You just never know what it's going to throw at you next, and it throws everything in the book along it's 10.1 mile length making it seem a whole lot longer. Mixed pavement, potholes, bumpy repairs, loose gravel, climbs, descents, first gear hairpins interspersed with sections of relatively straight road that lure you to roll on the throttle then snare unsuspecting riders with turns which shut down on them the deeper in you get. Cresting a rise you never know what lies on the other side, which way it will dive. Is there a patch of loose gravel in the next corner, a flock of turkeys in the road, will the tires maintain their grip on that concrete bridge littered with sand and rocks, what's with this freakin turn, it's getting tighter? How many seasons before some bear hunter discovers my rusted bike and bleached bones if I lose it out here in the middle of nowhere?

It's a handful it you approach it cautiously. Come at it with vigor, and it will test everything you've got. My kind of road. Beware of Charlies Creek Road, it's the most dangerous road we ride. It's also my favorite and I do it as often as I can. Just don't try to keep up with me. I know it pretty darn well. Respect it or it will eat you.

Note - Charlies Creek Road runs between NC 215 and NC 107. It's found on America Rides Maps "The Best Roads South of Great Smoky Mountains - EAST".

Friday, September 4, 2009

New Features From America Rides Maps

I've added two new features to America Rides Maps to give you better service.

The first is a subscription newsletter. If you're like me, you inbox is overfilled with unsolicited postings. You know the routine - open the mailbox then go down the list - delete, delete, delete, sifting through for something relevant. It gets old. While that kind of promotion may work for some, I really don't want to be part of it. Still, I have info I think you need and will find useful and beneficial, not to mention I'm offering bonuses and discounts to subscribers. Your time is worth something.

I've chosen to use a subscription newsletter where you sign up if you're interested and you can opt out if it doesn't suit you. Receive occasional updates that let you know when new maps are released, changes or upgrades are made to current maps, receive subscriber discounts, inform you of road closures and other pertinent travel info, and receive a brief newsletter (more or less monthly) that keeps you informed of what's happening in the mountains.

The first newsletter went out September 1. It included news of the release of my newest map,
North Carolina / Virginia Border Rides, a blurb about the prior release of 5 Classic Rides Around Maggie Valley, updates to a couple of other maps, news of a great new road that was recently paved and another that is currently being improved, first hand reports of the repairs on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an update on the work in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, several articles on The Tail of the Dragon, a discount coupon for subscribers, and more. Click here to sign up for your copy!

The second feature I've just added is a
Forum. While I enjoy chatting with you on the phone and corresponding via email, I believe I may be able to save you some time (and a phone call) by posting information you need online. The America Rides Maps Forum is located at I'm just one guy, and I'm not always available by phone (I don't answer it when I'm on the bike). This gives you the opportunity to not only post questions, but get input from others who may have pertinent information that can make your trip better. It's also a chance for you to post info, share photos, tell of your travels, and learn from others who have been places you may not have visited.

The America Rides Maps Forum is brand spanking new, I'm still getting it set up - determining the categories and such. Some of that will be sorted according to the types of postings that come in. At the moment, I am the sole and lonely member, but that will change shortly. This is your invitation to join the discussions.

I expect these new services will help you get more out of your next visit to enjoy the thousands of miles of fabulous undiscovered two lane back roads that America Rides Maps will lead you to. Please take a moment to look at them. I think it's worth your time.


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