Monday, December 21, 2009

Smoky Mountains Dig Out After Freak Snow Storm

This is what too many of my southern motorcycle friends believe is normal winter weather in the Smoky Mountains - freezing temperatures, snow everywhere, ice covers the roads, and we huddle around our home fires waiting for the the spring thaw. It's rarely the case, but just to reinforce the misconception here's a photo of the storm during it's peak on Friday -

Photo - snow falls at Foxfire Cabin in Waynesville, NC.
"Photo from the peak of the snow storm on Friday at Foxfire Cabin here in Waynesville, North Carolina, the heart of the Smoky Mountains.."

The last time this area had a snow like this was the great blizzard of 1993 which is still talked about with reverent infamy. I was not living here for that, though I was passing through the area and forced to stop. Little did I know years later I would come to live in that very same small mountain town.

We got something in the neighborhood of 15 inches of the white stuff which started out light and powdery then became wet and heavy later in the night. We lost power for a good while, many still wait for it's return. No internet service, even the cell phones stopped working a while. My wife was working in Asheville and despite leaving work at 1 PM, it was after 4 when I finally got her home from what is normally a 30 minute drive. The snow came faster than the crews could keep up with it on the interstate and once the hills started icing, the wrecks piled up. She got stuck on an incline, managed to work free and get off the highway, only to get trapped in the bowl of an icy intersection not far from home. She got towed into the parking lot of the nearby Lowes.

I managed to get there to rescue her and only made it up the hill to the house by piling several hundred pounds of rocks in the bed of the truck and letting the air out of the tires. We enjoyed the rest of the weekend shoveling the driveway and then the road so I could get her out to work this morning. I am one sore dude.

Just to prove to my warm climate friends that this is a fluke, just look back at the past couple blog posts to see I was indeed out on the bike earlier in the week, and as soon as the roads clear, I'll be back in the saddle again. It will probably be after Christmas though, as another snow storm seems headed our way on Thursday. Honest guys, this is not typical!

Photo - Wayne skis the Blue Ridge Parkway
"In the mean time I'll be skiing the Blue Ridge Parkway as soon as I can get there."

Don't feel bad for us here in mountain paradise, we roll with the punches. There will be plenty of motorcycle riding to come in the months ahead. And when live gives you lemons, put on the skis and head for the Blue Ridge Parkway as soon as the roads are clear enough. PS - don't eat the yellow snow, it has nothing to do with the lemons.

> > Go To America Rides -

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Smoky Mountain Motorcyle Ride Coming Soon

Ahh, fresh tarmac. I wasn't long into the serpentine climb up the mountain I realized this road was better than I'd expected. It had taken an hour to get here, but then I didn't take the fastest route. Instead, I took the fun route, revisiting some of my favorite and most enjoyable rides on the southeast course towards Franklin, North Carolina. Taking the highway doesn't save that much time anyway. There is no direct route from Waynesville to Franklin through the mountains of western North Carolina. There are no direct routes anywhere. That's what makes it motorcycle heaven. You're not going to save much time taking the four lane, might as well take the back roads and enjoy the ride.

Photo - A view of Onion Mountain Road

"A section of Onion Mountain Road which has been paved."

I'd already accepted the disappointment that Onion Mountain Road was not yet completed having passed the eastern end of it on my way down. I could only afford a quick glance at the junction while keeping focus through the screaming tight descending hairpin curve, but even a brief view was enough to reveal this end was not yet paved. Knee down, bike laid over on the edge of the tires, it was far more important to concentrate on just how much throttle to roll on coming out of the turn before I jumped to the other side of the motorcycle and laid it into the next curve. I was having way too much fun to circle back, I'd check it out from the other end.

Photo - Where the pavement ends and the road beyond

"2.1 miles in the pavement ends but the roadbed has been laid. The remaining portion should see asphalt with warmer spring weather."

Every time I ride through here I find myself thinking I don't come this way often enough. These roads are stellar in quality, some of the most challenging found anywhere. There's rarely anything you could call traffic. Most travelers choose the "main" roads to pass through this rugged area of high peaks and forests leaving the back roads delightfully empty and welcome to enjoy at your own comfortable pace.

I turned west when I reached US 64 the principle east-west route through the area and headed towards Franklin, then turned north on 441 to make my approach to Onion Mountain Road and select the best connections. The detour and construction signs were still up, though obscured by black plastic now that the road was open to traffic again. Another hint the project was still in the works. While I'd hoped to find it completed, the road reports were cryptic in saying the road would be closed for paving until December. Once the cold weather sets in, the asphalt plants shut down. Come spring, they'll pull the plastic off the signs and resume work (I hope).

I assume the situation will be similar to the section of NC 281 which was paved last year and is now part of one of my favorite loop rides. They get as much done as they can preparing the roadbed before winter. When things warm enough, it's fairly quick work to come back and lay down the asphalt. Judging by what they've done so far, it's going to be eagerly awaited. It's the prep work that takes the time, cutting into the embankments and filling the road, adding culverts and bridges where needed.

Photo - A view from the roadside.

"The panoramic views are some of the best found in the area. They should get even better higher up."

Only 6.2 miles long, you might wonder why I'm so excited about this road. It's isolated from any towns, just a remote section going from nowhere to nowhere else. Once fully paved, it will make a strategic connection between other great rides that will allow you to avoid the traffic on US 64 and open options to link them together, more ways to bypass the four lane highway and town traffic. There's that, and then there's the road itself. Making the climb up Onion Mountain is one beautiful arc after another. As you gain altitude the road frequently follows a narrow ridge dropping precipitously on both sides. The views, especially with the leaves off the trees are some of the best panoramic sights in the region. It will be one of those roads where you pull over and take out the camera to remember it. When coupled with the other fabulous rides in the surroundings, it will be one you not only treasure but want to come back to and ride again.

2.1 miles of it are paved, then it abruptly turns to gravel. I didn't ride it through, though I could see the 4.1 mile section remaining had been prepped. From the end of the paved section it continues to climb up the mountain and I expect the views will get even better. I'll keep watching it for progress and make another visit in the spring. As soon as it's ready, I'll add it to the map of this area with the best connecting roads, probably another 15 miles of great riding for you to enjoy. With luck, it will be climbing the list of classic rides by summer and I'll be frequenting the area more often.

> > Go to America Rides -

Cross posted to Motorcycle Heaven Blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Dog Ate My Motorcycle Keys?

Little bitch. Since I've exhausted all rational possibilities, blame falls on the newcomer, our dog Sofie. My motorcycle keys have disappeared. I wasted much of the day tearing the house apart looking for them. Had them just a day or so ago. Used them to pull the GPS off the bike so we could find our way to a Christmas party. Got that secret tool on the key ring to remove it from the bike. That was the last known contact.

My wife thinks she saw them the day after, put them on the key rack. They're not there now. I had plans to explore some roads today to confirm I'd not missed any for my motorcycle maps. I was ready to leave before the sun came up, but no keys. I searched everywhere, then growing impatient, I attempted to convince my wife I might use her bike to "make sure everything was running OK".

"My bike's fine", she retorted.

"But you know the battery needs a good charge in it with the cold weather" I alluded.

I don't know if that was the trump card or not, but she was in a hurry to leave for work and I didn't hear anything that countered my extremely plausible and rational argument before she left. I'm pretty sure it would hold up in a court of law if it came down to that. With permission essentially granted, once she left, I grabbed her keys and headed out on the road.

Jackie rides a Beemer. I could write pages about it. So different from my snarling Triumph Tiger, yet with a character all it's own. It's not just any BMW, it's a rather unique, if not exotic model, an F 800 S. I've never seen another one on the road. I could be convinced she owns one of the few in the country, if not the world.

Tall gearing means it's not likely to lift the front wheel with a roll of the throttle or an eager exit from a turn like the Tiger. In the saddle, it feels small compared to the roomy Tiger, almost toy-like until you glance down at the speedo. The riding position is comparatively cramped, though it's probably ideal for my wife outside of being typically Beemer tall for her shorter legs. It is deceptively fast, so composed you don't realize how quickly it accelerates. The twin cylinders are barely burbling at highway speeds, yet a roll of the throttle has it surging ahead with electric smoothness.

The mystery road was a good distance from home which meant the most practical approach was via the Interstate. While I hate the four lanes, this bike is so at home on it. It feels as if it were built for the Autobahn. Solid, planted, stable and in control, bumps and potholes disappear through the plush Germanic suspension as if they only existed visually. It didn't seem fair to limit it to the posted speeds, it was a long way from it's happy place where the speedometer would be recording triple digits and the engine would sing with Wagnerian enthusiasm. This bike can tour with a passive comfort that comes from the Teutonic drawing boards of it's BMW heritage and meticulous design.

After an hour or so of resisting the urge to roll the throttle to nirvana level, I pulled off the Interstate and started clipping down the back roads to reach my goal. I was barely getting a feel for the wet roadway when it turned to gravel. As feared, I'd not missed a great ride in my previous mapping explorations. I'm used to this, another mountain road that starts out with so much promise then half way in the paving crews just packed up and went home. Why bother with the first half? Your hot date disappears mid-prom when she catches you checking your wallet for the prophylactics.

I paused to mark the spot with spent coffee like the big dog I pretend to be, pulled up my hoody under the helmet as I'd misjudged how the day would warm once the sun came up, and spun about for the ride home. I distracted myself from the urge to really ride this bike home by methodically supposing all the potential places my keys could be hiding, a mental logic puzzle that worked for the most part. There would be no challenges for this bike that wouldn't risk a day in the pokey, at least on the highway.

The dogs were enthusiastically waiting at the end of the driveway when I pulled in and if those keys jingled as Sofie pranced about I couldn't hear them through my helmet. I went back to searching all the places I now knew they must be to no avail.

I'm pretty sure that one ride was inadequate to fully charge the battery against the winter chill and riding some twisty roads might do the trick. There's only one way to be sure...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Windstorm hits Carolina Mountains – Motorcycle Maps savings offered

Image - Wayne Busch
No photos yet - just getting back to normal this morning. I lost power most of yesterday as a wind storm moved through with gusts up to 100 mph. Sure glad I don't live on a mountain top. I saw lots of downed trees and spent the day chasing furniture and such blown off the porches while the house was dark and I couldn't work on my motorcycle maps. I saw some images of crushed homes, trees on cars, and even heard one dog was killed when a tree fell on the doghouse. It was strangely warm reaching 60 degrees.

This morning, clear, cold, and still with temps predicted in the teens tonight. Apologies to those whose
motorcycle maps orders did not get shipped yesterday, there is still plenty of time for delivery of your motorcycle maps before Christmas, those gifts will be there on time.


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Tomorrow morning, I will send out a coupon code to all newsletter subscribers with the biggest discount I have ever offered on
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Do it now. This is a limited time offer. Don't worry, newsletter subscribers frequently get bonuses and discounts, but I don't think I'll ever go this far again.
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PS - those of you who already subscribe know I'm not one of those guys who pounds your inbox with junk. This is not typical and you may be surprised to see this offer. Jump on it.