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Topic: Deals Gap & Charleston, SC: 2012  (Read 18004 times)

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naustin
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« on: December 29, 2012, 10:43:36 pm »

Deals Gap / Charleston, SC Tour
August, 2012

It had been two years since we have taken a multi-day trip on the motorcycle, and while we planned this trip several months prior, the day of departure snuck up on us quickly.   This “rushed” feeling would stick with us for the entire trip, and looking back, we realized that we tried to cover too much ground in too little time.  Still, we had a great time and are already looking forward to another trip – perhaps to the Four-Corners region.   The purpose of this trip was two-fold: First, to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Charleston, SC, and second, to ride the famous roads in the southern Appalachian Mountains including Deals Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  

Day 1: Home – Paducah, KY: 650 Miles
Saturday, August 4, 2012

Day 1:  Home – Paducah, KY
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/Day1Overview_zpsd51ce34f.png

“Departing from Gate 001, ST1300 Flight 1002 Bound for Charleston, SC”
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This first day took us 650 miles from our home in southern Minnesota across Iowa, though Hannibal, Missouri, past St. Louis into Illinois, and all the way to Paducah, KY on the opposite bank of the Ohio River.   We woke at 4:30 am to light rain, and departed before sunrise.   Radar indicated a strong storm cell to our south, and I had hoped to sneak past it before it moved further east, but 3 miles outside of home, we ran headlong into blinding rain.   Visibility was near zero for 10 miles, and the dark storm clouds hid any signs of dawn on the horizon.   But, with virtually no traffic on the freeway so early in the morning, we tucked in behind the ST1300’s protective fairings and punched through the weather hoping that our baptism upon departure would mean fair weather for the rest of the trip.

Soon, we turned east on Avenue of the Saints which would take us through Cedar Falls / Waterloo, IA.   The rain subsided and we had the 4 lane highway mostly to ourselves.   The flat terrain of Iowa afforded uninterrupted views of the storm pushing parallel to our course 40 miles to our north and we could feel the temperature change as we rode out from under the shelf cloud at the leading edge of the weather.  We were slowly closing on a large truck, and as we prepared to overtake it, we realized that it was a factory Honda truck, replete with a friendly Asimo mural on the back door – perhaps even the same truck that had delivered our crated STeed to the dealership and ultimately into our possession.  We honked as we passed and were greeted with an enthusiastic wave from the driver.

At Waterloo the Zumo faithfully guided us into a conveniently located Panera for coffee and breakfast.  It was convenient for two reasons – 1) it was near the highway – and 2) it was near a Target store.   At 11:00 pm the night before, I had discovered that my nearly new Panasonic camera had a failure in the focus mechanism – and a quick Google search confirmed the problem was widespread and usually fatal.  I tried several suggested techniques to resolve the issue to no avail, and thus my need for Target.  After our coffee, we made it across the street just in time for Target to open and scarcely 5 minutes after they unlocked their doors, they had their first $400 sale of the day and I had a new Nikon.

“Maybe that’s the last of the rain for this trip.”
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“Image No. 1: Departing Waterloo, Iowa”
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As we crossed into Missouri we were immediately struck with the poor condition of the corn crops.   While the summer heat and lack of rain has been a problem in our area, and we were well aware of the poor condition corn crops across the country, it was a shock to see such stunted and completely brown fields.   The corn looked as dry and dead as November’s harvest, but only half as tall.  

We decided that Hannibal, Missouri would be a good place to stop for lunch and enjoyed catfish and homemade root beer at the Mark Twain Family Restaurant.  A wise man once said never to eat anywhere with the words “Family Restaurant” in the name, but this place was a good exception to that rule.  After our meal, we found the Mark Twain Home and Museum right next door, and I got a picture of Ann painting Tom Sawyer’s fence.

“Mississippi River Catfish”
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“White Washing”
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My original route included navigation into downtown St. Louis that would have led us directly into the parking ramp for the Jefferson National Expansion memorial – AKA the Gateway Arch.  However, we made the decision not to stop as our final destination for the evening was still nearly 200 miles away and the Zumo was already predicting a 13+ hour day in the saddle.  The Zumo objected strongly for several miles when I intentionally blew off her instructions to exit toward downtown, but the moment I turned onto the Martin Luther King Bridge, she seems to instantly forget the reason for her protestations and we continued on through East St. Louis.   East St. Louis is noted for having the highest crime rate of any city in the United States according to the FBI’s statistics which show 101.9 murders, 5,800 assaults and 2,067 car thefts per 100,000 people.  At least from the freeway looking down on the abandoned buildings and dilapidated homes, it certainly looked the part.  Thankfully, the ST has a 7+ gallon tank making fuel stops optional.

“Maybe Next Time”
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Sometime after 6:00 pm, we arrived in Paducah, Kentucky exhausted and hungry.  Next door to the hotel was a Japanese Hibachi Steak House and Sushi Bar, and we feasted on what turned out to fairly decent Sushi, considering the geography. Our waiter was from New Orleans and a Katrina refugee.  He was friendly and eager for conversation; and shared his story and pictures of his wife and baby daughter.  We enjoyed his antics and left him a big tip.

”Not Bad Sushi”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/IMG_1043_zps7f873632.jpg
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naustin
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2012, 11:32:44 pm »

Day 2: Paducah, KY – Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort: 426 Miles
Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 2: Paducah, KY – Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort
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We slept in, but were on the road by 8:00 loaded with hotel coffee, toast, and bananas.  Our reward for the long push the prior afternoon was a shorter overall ride on this second day, and the pleasure of beginning our morning on the Woodlands Trace along the length of the Land between the Lakes National Recreation Area.   The road was in very good condition, presumably due to the lack of any real winter or frost heaving, and there was little traffic.  We saw a doe and fawn along the road and enjoyed the cool morning air as we snaked our way through 50 miles of trees and solitude.

”Woodlands Trace”
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”Woodlands Trace”
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While the 1st day consisted mostly of freeway and 4-lane divided highway – I had planned to stay predominantly on 2 lane roads on the second day across Tennessee and all the way to our destination at Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort on the far side of the Cherohala Skyway.  What I hadn’t counted on was that many of these roads were posted with a 45 mph speed limit.  

Once outside of the Land Between the Lakes, we came upon a quaint little rural Baptist church with a small gathering of people and realized it was Sunday morning.  Shortly after, we passed another Baptist church, which was just around the corner from another Baptist church that was, in turn, down the hill from a Baptist Church that had been built next door to a Baptist Church.   This became a running joke for the next 2,000 miles as we discovered that every 5th engineered structure within sight of these rural country roads would invariably be a Baptist church.  I’m not sure if people don’t like to drive very far, or if they just can’t get along in groups larger than 10 because whenever there were more than 7 human beings within a square mile, they seemed to have their own Baptist church.  Communities with larger populations of 500 or 600 people might have have 3 or 4 different flavors of Baptist church, my favorite being the “Primitive” Baptist Church, which I inferred to mean that the congregation didn’t have the cash to build a nicer building.  

Soon we passed beneath the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge over TN 96 about 5 miles east of Fairview.  Spectacular is the only word that comes to mind.   We met two SS touring bikes coming the opposite direction that appeared to have just exited the Parkway, and I thought about circling up and around just to be able to say we rode across that bridge, but with expectations of fabulous roads that lay ahead of us running high, it seemed at the time to be a detour unworthy of our distraction. As so often is the case, I now regret not having taken some time there.  

”Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge”
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The next town we passed through was Franklin, TN.  It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap, and the downtown was bustling and vibrant.  At the intersection of Main and TN 96 (5th Ave), we were startled by talking crosswalk signals with booming voices monotonously repeating warnings in authoritative tones.  We were sitting in traffic with full-face helmets and ear plugs, but could still hear them clearly!   I momentarily felt like I was in a Douglas Adams novel, and thought perhaps Marvin the Paranoid Android had finally found his calling in life.

”Marvin the Paranoid Android Lives Here”
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We continued on, skirting the southern suburbs of Nashville until we came to Murfreesboro, TN.  There was rain closing in on us from the southwest, and we decided it was a good time to stop for lunch.   Ann, for reasons inexplicable to me, had a craving for Cracker Barrel.  (I’m certain it had more to do with the kitschy gift shop than the food.)   We pulled in, geared-down and as we turned to walk in, came face to face with a sign that ominously informed us that we should “Lock your doors and remove all valuables from your vehicle.”   They must get the prison crowd at Cracker Barrel.   It was noon, and there was a long line with a 30 minute wait, so to my relief, Ann agreed to go elsewhere.  Before we could get ourselves back in our gear, the sky opened up and it began to pour.   We hastily pulled out and crossed the highway finding refuge at a nearby McDonalds.  

As a sidebar: McDonalds is my favorite place to eat when we are on the road.   Clean, Fast, Predictable, Cheap, and Abundant.  Nobody even bats an eye when you walk in dripping wet wearing a Technicolor space suit.   You can get in and out in 10 minutes or stay and sip coffee for two hours, and you are never pestered by a perky waitress intent on proving to you how witty she is not.

We used our iPhones to check the weather radar and could see that rain was just the leading cell of a much larger complex of thunderstorms sliding in from the southwest.   We would have to eat and run to get back out ahead of the weather, or end-up parked underneath it for hours.  I ran outside in a downpour to grab the rain liners for our new TourMaster Intake jackets and got back inside just in time for the worst of the rain to stop.  We anticipated that we would have to ride back through the shower that had just passed, so despite the building heat, we decided put on the liners.  The nice thing about the Intake Jacket is the rain liner can be zipped into the mesh shell, or, you can just wear it as a separate jacket underneath the actual mesh jacket.  There is no performance difference in terms of weather resistance either way, and I typically didn’t bother actually attaching the liner into the mesh shell.

From Murfreesboro, we took 70S to McMinnville, and then followed 30 all the way across eastern Tennessee to Etowah.  The rain moved off to the north more quickly than we had anticipated based on the radar map, and we stopped again within ½ an hour at a roadside picnic table to take off our rain liners.  We passed another ST1300 somewhere in the hills east if McMinnville - a father & daughter out for a spirited ride.  The bike had what appeared to be a Givi top case, and the cover was flapping open as they blasted past us.   I rolled on the throttle and pulled up next to them while Ann signaled to the little girl on the back that they were about to lose their luggage.    Not sure if they had intercoms, but I hope the pilot wasn’t alarmed.  At any rate, he pulled over and stopped.  

“The Hills East of Pikesville”
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Soon, we arrived in Etowah and turned east on TN 310 / 39 / Mecca Pike through a valley and headed for Tellico Plains and the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway.   We had managed to stay ahead of the rain since lunch in Murfreesboro, but just as we pulled into Tellico Plains, the sky tore open and the ocean of blue water normally suspended in the sky crashed down on us like a bursting dam.  Just as the first violent wave of frothing white water came thundering down the valley, we ducked under the canopy of a fuel station.

Our final destination for the night was Deals Gap Resort, and between us was the ~50 miles of the Cherohala Skyway.  The Cherohala was intentionally built to be a National Scenic By-way.  Planning started in 1958, but the road wasn’t completed until 1996.  From Wikipedia: “The skyway gains over 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in elevation, rising from a low point of just under 900 feet (270 m) at Tellico Plains to a high point of just over 5,400 feet (1,600 m) on the slopes of Haw Knob near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.”  There are virtually no other roads that cross the Skyway, and no homes, or businesses along the route as it crosses through Reservation and National Forest lands.

“Cherohala Skyway”
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A quick check of the radar at the fuel station confirmed that we would not escape the rain; the weather that had been chasing us all day was blowing up over the higher elevations and had us surrounded.  We decided to go across the street to the Tellicafe to eat, charge up on hot coffee, and steel ourselves for the cold, wet ride over the mountains.  The Tellicafe is a landmark on the west end of the Cherohala Skyway, and there were several other groups of motorcyclists there taking shelter from the rain.  We could see the terminus of the of the Skyway, and now and then 1 or 2 bikes would coast down from the mountains with cold, wet riders.

The Resort’s desk closes at 7:00 pm, and we were debating weather to eat and run though the weather, or to wait it out and make it a later evening.  I called ahead to the resort and they assured me that late arrival would be no problem.  They’d leave our room unlocked and we could simply check-in at the desk in the morning.  We normally don’t like to ride after dusk, but as we ate our meal, we could see the storms were weakening.  We wouldn’t escape the rain, but if we waited long enough, we could ride though a pleasant light rain, rather than a thunderstorm.  So, we decided to take our time.

After about an hour and a half, 6 cups of coffee and a really good Glazed Pumpkin Walnut Rum Cake, we decided to head out.   It always seems to be our luck to arrive on the best mountain roads at the same time as the fog and rain.  It happened in 2008 as we rode across the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, and in 2010 when we were chased off the “Going to the Sun” highway in Glacier National Park by a bratty little Thunderstorm.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate that we would also ride the Cherohala in rain and fog.  As a result, there weren’t many pictures, but we actually enjoyed the ride and had the road all to ourselves.

“A Break in the Weather”
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“Up in the Clouds”
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Eventually, we descended into Robbinsville, NC and turned north on NC 129.  The Zumo faithfully guided us across the reservoir and back up into the mountains to the Resort.  I’m not certain the time when we finally arrived, but as expected, the front office was already closed and darkness was setting in.  Our room number was posted on the office door, and we found it was unlocked and waiting for us just as promised.  The Resort is really a 50’s style motel nestled up in the mountains, and it was full for the evening.  Our neighbors were all outside their rooms drying out their riding gear after having ridden through the rain just as we had.   While the Resort caters mostly to motorcyclists, there were also some kids with ricky-racer “sports” cars there too, if you can call a Dodge Neon a “Sports” car.    We were exhausted and it wasn’t long before we went to bed.
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2012, 06:45:12 am »

:popcorn:

I'm looking forward to the rest.  It's witty and well documented with pictures and maps.  Keep it coming.  
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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2012, 07:04:14 am »

I lived close to Murfreesboro several years ago, I miss that area.

Great pics so far.
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2012, 07:54:51 am »

Thanks Nick perfect timing, snowed in here dreaming about next summers rides.
So far it seems like lots of rain, hopefully the return trip will give you two a little more sunshine. Thumbsup
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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2012, 09:53:41 am »

Thanks for the comments so far!  I should have the whole report posted shortly.

- Nick



Day 3: Smoky Mountain Loop: 268 Miles
Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 3: Smoky Mountain Loop
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I planned an epic route for our one full day in the Smoky Mountains.  268 miles of twisting roads up and down as many mountains as I could string together, and connecting not only the famous roads whose names are tossed around any time Deals Gap is mentioned, but also a few roads that are less famous, and that the locals would prefer remain that way.

We started our day on The Tail of the Dragon - US129 - of course, and followed that up with Foothills Parkway, then down Little River Road to 441 through Smoky Mountain National Park.  At Cherokee, we connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway and followed that for about 40 miles before we turned back west to Deals Gap Resort.  We left around 7:00 am and made it back to the resort just in time for a Hamburger and a beer before the restaurant closed at 7:00 pm.

“The Tree of Shame”
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“Getting an Early Start”
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Before we left the resort, I rigged my iPhone to my tank bag using the new Optrix XD case and mount system so that I could take video through the Dragon.  I recorded the full run from the resort up to the overlook. When I have time, I plan to make a highlight reel of the best video clips from the trip as well.

The Dragon itself was pretty tame early in the morning.  We only saw two other bikes over the entire length of it!  As this early morning run would likely be the only pass we made, and I was a little disappointed that we were too early to have our picture taken by the photographers that hang out in the corners.   But, just before the Overlook, there was a photographer from US129 Photos in a corner and he got me for 12 snaps (and later for about $60) as we passed!

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http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/212625_zps52746eda.jpg

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“Feeling Seasick”
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It was still early when we got to the Overlook, and we lingered there for 10 minutes or so.  Ann was feeling seasick after carving through the Dragon, but she felt better after a few minutes with her feet on solid ground.  We continued on past Chilhowee Lake, turned north on Foothills Parkway and then took 321 through Townsend connecting to Little River Road, actually entering Smoky Mountain National Park for the first time.  Traffic in the park was heavy, even though it was still relatively early.  We kept a sedate pace so as not to catch up with the traffic ahead of us, but just fast enough that the traffic behind us started to disappear around the bends and for a while, we felt like we had the park all to ourselves.

“Little River Road” – Smoky Mountain National Park
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“Clingman’s Dome Road” – Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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At the top of the Newfound Gap pass on 441, there is a side road that leads 7 or 8 miles up to Clingman’s Dome overlook.  When we got there, the parking lot was full, and there were about a hundred people in some stage of the climb from the parking lot up to the observation tower.   Ann and I used steep hike up the paved trail as an opportunity to get the blood flowing to our backsides.  On the way up, a father commented to his small child that, because of how we were dressed, we were obviously going to be doing some extreme mountaineering.    I’m always surprised when people don’t have a clue what motorcycle gear looks like – especially in a place like Smoky Mountain National Park where you can’t go more than 3 minutes without seeing a motorcyclist.  Of course, many of them don’t actually wear motorcycle gear, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Muggles thought we were mountain climbers…

“Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower”
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“The View From Clingman’s Dome” – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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After leaving Clingman’s Dome, we coasted back down the south side of the Newfound Gap pass on 441 toward Cherokee and decided to stop for an early lunch.  Rather than roll into Cherokee and see what looked good, I – genius and technophile that I am, decided to punch up a list of nearby restaurants in the Zumo database.  Ann and I had been reminiscing about our 2008 trip to Vermont and New Hampshire quite a bit, and on that trip, it seemed like there was a neat little Victorian bed and breakfast, or an old home converted to a restaurant overlooking every mountain stream.   We had several wonderful meals purely by serendipity in great little restaurants seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  But, here, roadside restaurants were hard to come by.   So, when the Zumo suggested a café a few miles outside of Cherokee, I thought we would finally have a meal with a view.

We rode past the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and took the next turn on Big Cove Road.   We were looking for something called the “Riverside Café”.  We saw a campground, and some trailer houses, but no café…  We did pass a shack next to the campground with a sign offering fudge, which was probably the place, but it didn’t look like lunch to me.  I could easily have doubled back a few miles to Cherokee and the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But, despite the fact that the Zumo had failed me not 10 seconds prior, I decided that we’d change our plans from an early lunch in Cherokee to a late lunch in Waynesville – and that I’d just follow the recalculated route, which appeared to re-connect with the Blue Ridge parkway several miles ahead via Bunches Creek Road.  

Obviously, I wasn’t thinking straight.  I was in a valley running on a local blacktop along the Oconaluftee River on the Cherokee Indian reservation. The Blue Ridge Parkway, where I wanted to be, was just off to my right but several thousand feet up on the top of the ridge.    The Blue Ridge Parkway is also a limited access road, with very few other roads crossing over it.  So, I should have been immediately dubious about Bunches Creek Road, but it hadn’t hit me yet.

At first, the pavement was fresh blacktop, and then not so fresh blacktop as we passed a few cabins, then trailer homes, and then the road turned to gravel.  Immediately I knew what I was in for.   Backtracking now would cost me 20 miles and probably 45 minutes as all these mountain roads are posted at 30 mph.   Or, I could push on up the side of the mountain on this gravel road, and just hope it didn’t turn into a jeep trail.  

“Bunches Creek Road”
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“So Far So Good”
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Ann got a pretty good video clip that conveys the experience of riding up this road.   At first it was a beautiful, well-groomed gravel road following a sleepy mountain stream.  From there it grew narrow and steep with a series of tightly climbing switchbacks.  The gravel was loose and deep and the aggregate was large and course.   It certainly wasn’t traveled very frequently and while it didn’t quite turn into a jeep trail, it didn’t help that we were riding a big, heavy touring bike, two-up and fully loaded.   I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the first time a 1,000+ pound touring rig has been up that road.   Once we started climbing, there was no turning back.  Even if I had wanted to (and had actually been able to) turn around, it was much easier to continue going up than it would have been to try to negotiate the loose gravel switchbacks going down.  If I’d been riding solo on a light little dual-sport, it would have been a dream.  But, as it was, all I could think about was puncturing a tire and being stranded.   Ann was just thinking about shooting video, so at least she wasn’t worried. Eventually we made it to the top of the road and we came out of a driveway and onto the pristine pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This was the first time I’d ever actually been on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and getting to it by riding up a gravel goat path was a particularly rewarding way to get there.  It was like bursting out of the forest to find the trail to Shangri-La on the top of the mountain.  We stopped to rig up the iPhone, and I took a 9-minute video winding around the peaks, in and out of the rain.  Although it hampered the views (again), I was just glad it wasn’t raining back on Bunches Creek Road.

By this time it was about 12:30 and we were hungry.  We exited the Parkway and blasted up HWY 23 to Waynesville.  After another Zumo instigated wild goose chase in search of a memorable place to eat, we ended up in Waynesville proper at a generic Italian restaurant.  The food was fine, but we didn’t stay long before heading back down 23 to pick up the Parkway where we left off.

“Highest Point”
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“Highest Point 2”
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After stopping for pictures at the marker designating the highest point of elevation along the Parkway, we continued on to the intersection of NC 215, and took that south about 2 miles before turning back west on Charley’s Creek Road.   This was the first of the three not-so-famous roads that we had picked out to complete the loop back to Deals Gap Resort.  I initially discovered Charley’s Creek Road though a late winter’s night aerial survey in Google Earth, rather than on a tourist map of the great motorcycle roads in the area – but later I did find it mentioned in a few ride reports online as well.  

No longer following the high ridge, we were now crossing though a series of valleys and foothills enjoying pastoral scenes with geese and goats and Christmas tree farms.  We wound our way around the farmhouses and barns and in places the view opened up while in others, we were back in the deep dark woods.   The pavement wasn’t perfect, the corners weren’t marked with signage warning you of the tighter bends, and there were lots of hidden driveways – so this is definitely not a road for the Ricky-Racers back at Deals Gap, but it was certainly a good pick.

Next, we followed NC 281 “Canada Road” west to Tuckasegee and connected that to Tilley Creek Rd, which becomes Ellijay Road. This turned out to be another very memorable route that was “off the beaten path” and included some technical sections tighter than anything on the Dragon itself.  It started raining again and the combination of rain, dense forest and tight winding blacktop made for a memorable afternoon.

Finally, we intersected Hwy 28 and followed the four-lane to the west side of Franklin and then took Wayah Road west toward Robbinsville.  There was more local traffic here, but it was still fairly deserted.  The road was chip seal, and in many of the tight corners, the skidding rear tires of cars & trucks, tortured into negotiating the tight turns, had rubbed the chip out of the tar so that all that was left was glossy black oil road.  I nearly lost the front tire in one particular corner even though I wasn’t on the brake at all as these patches were extremely slick with the rain!  For about 10 minutes, it rained hard enough that I worried the frogs down in the gullies might actually be strangled.

By this time, both Ann and I were hungry and exhausted and actually starting to wish for a straight road.  We had done 3 back-to-back 12 – 13 hour days in the saddle, and today had been a marathon of tight and twisty mountain roads demanding extra attention all day long, combined with more rain.  We blasted up 129 though Robbinsville in order to make it back to the Resort before the restaurant closed, and it was nice to run a section of road that we had done the day before; it’s amazing what a difference it makes to have seen the corners even once before.

Back at the resort, we parked the bike and ran down to the restaurant to get our order in for dinner before they closed.   Ann had about 10 minutes to find a souvenir t-shirt in the gift shop before they closed too. Back at our room, we chatted with a solo rider from New York State who was on his way to a wedding.  He was camping at the Resort, and commented that it was amazing how much the place had changed over the last 10-15 years. Before long, we went to bed and I promised Ann a shorter day to come - only about 400 miles to Charleston.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2012, 10:35:52 am by naustin » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2012, 10:34:27 am »

Day 4: Deals Gap Resort – Charleston, SC:   387 miles
Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day 4 – Deals Gap, NC. – Mt. Pleasant, SC: 387 Miles
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So far, it had rained everyday of this trip, and the streak was confirmed early on Day 4.  We left the resort early in light rain and took a fairly direct route to Waynesville via Hwy 19 through Maggie Valley.  From there, we picked up NC 276, which would take us back into the mountains before eventually crossing into South Carolina.  276 was another great road, but unfortunately there was ongoing construction and they were in the middle of repaving the curviest sections over the higher elevations.  I had seriously under-estimated how much time would be required to get though Maggie Valley on 19 and across Waynesville. That, combined with the construction on 276, put us behind schedule and we were only as far as Brevard when our bellies started grumbling for lunch.

Downtown Brevard was packed with people and vehicles were stuffed up and down both sides of the main drag like sardines, so while it looked like a cool college town, we continued on.  I was still holding out hope for a memorable place to eat up in the mountains.

Day 4: Caesar’s Head
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“There’s Lunch”
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Finally!  A nice restaurant in a nice location!  When we crested the top of the grade near Caesar’s Head State Park, we immediately saw what we had been waiting for: a place to stop and eat with some mountain character!  It was only just past 11:30 eastern, and due to being a rainy, cloudy, foggy day in the middle of the week, there were no crowds at the Caesar’s Head overlook, and consequently, we were the proprietors’ only customers.  The menu was limited to cold sandwiches, ice-cream, and homemade fudge, so we were a little disappointed that this was not a full-blown restaurant. But then again, we were hungry and just pleased that it was there at all.  The husband and wife team were very friendly and we enjoyed the made-to-order sandwiches, and especially the ridiculously rich fudge on a picnic table just outside the door, rather than inside on the porch. Our hosts seemed concerned about our decision to sit outside on a wet picnic table, but I assured them that we were dressed for it.   As we nursed the fudge, we saw a coyote wander across the road and into the forest near the State Park entrance.  The owner happened to walk outside at that moment, and we shared what we had seen. He did us one better, relating that he had once seen a black bear cross the road in the same place, following a trail of sorts that deer and people also use in that very spot.  After the usual conversation about our trip, he recommended that we double back up the road 200 yards to the Caesar’s head parking area, and assured us it would only take 5 minutes to walk to the overlook, and that it was quite a view.  

We said our goodbye, thanked him for his hospitality, and took his advice circling back up to Caesar’s Head.  The overlook is, in fact, just a few steps away from the parking area near the road.  However, our standard luck with respect to mountains and beautiful vistas held true yet again, and all we could see was the inside of the thick cotton ball clouds blanketing the whole mountain.  Caesar’s Head State Park is named for a rock formation that looks like the head of a dog, but unfortunately, we were unable to see it.

“Up in the Clouds Again”
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Back on the bike, we coasted past the “Mountain House” restaurant once more, and waved again to the proprietor as we started our final decent down the east side of the Appalachian Range. Soon we would run out of the foothills and onto the coastal plains of South Carolina.  As we snaked our way down, I realized that if we were to stick with our planned route on the back roads, it would be another very long day.  My Aunt and Uncle were expecting us, and if we wanted to make it to Charleston in time for dinner, there would be no time to waste.  Rather than follow the route I had planned though the small towns and along the rivers and streams, the Zumo quickly calculated the fastest route to our destination and directed us to the nearest freeway entrance ramp.  

We followed the Greer Highway through a place called “Traveler’s Rest,” which was a truly depressing place.   It seemed that at one time, it might have been a nice community that was perhaps devastated by the loss of a major employer.  Many of the businesses where shuttered, and the buildings were dilapidated.   Let alone rest there, I was again happy that we didn’t need to stop for gas.

From there, we picked up Interstate 385 at Greenville, and followed that to I-26 which would lead us all the way to Charleston.  Traffic was moving at a blistering pace, and I was happy to slip into the stream.   Somewhere south of Columbia, we realized that the light rain showers that we had been dodging since morning were starting to organize ahead of us, as though they were preparing to spring a trap that would certainly ensnare us.

“Dodge This”
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It was the kind of rain that slowed the traffic and convinced some drivers to pull over and stop entirely, but we were determined to punch through the weather.  We weren’t experiencing strong wind gusts, or seeing any lighting - only a torrential downpour – so as long as I could see the road through my visor and feel the pavement beneath my brand new Michelin PR2s, I kept the throttle open and amused myself thinking of the Muggles parked on the side of the freeway as they witnessed a silver steak, shrouded in a vapor cone, rip past them through the curtain of blinding rain like a radar guided missile.

We passed through several bands of heavy rain, but none lasted more than a few minutes.  We stayed dry beneath our rain liners, and behind the ST1300’s protective fairings.   As we neared Charleston, we had put the worst of the weather behind us.  The Zumo guided us directly to our destination and we found ourselves with plenty of time for a quick shower before dinner.

Our gracious hosts and a great spot in mind – a place called “The Wreck” -- right in the heart of the oldest part of Charleston, actually in Mt. Pleasant, off Shem Creek down where the shrimp boats tie up.  Odds are, whatever you order here was swimming earlier the same morning.  We tried boiled peanuts for the first time, and I found I preferred my peanuts dry-roasted and crunchy - the way we have them back home.  Our only regret was that everything we had was fried and we wished we had at least tried some of the variety unadulterated by oil and batter.

“A Shrimp Boat tied up at Shem Creek”
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“A Bit of Everything at The Wreck”
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After dinner, we wandered though the oldest neighborhoods of Mr. Pleasant on an impromptu historical driving tour and eventually made our way back to our hosts’ home.  Ann and I were exhausted and it was wonderful to have a well-appointed guest room waiting for us.  We went to bed looking forward to our remaining two days in the Charleston Area.
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2012, 10:37:45 am »

Days 5&6: Charleston, SC: 0 miles
Wednesday & Thursday, August 8 & 9, 2012

“Charleston & Mt. Pleasant”
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We slept in and spent the morning with coffee and the local papers, and then enjoyed waffles for brunch.  It was nice to have 2 full days in the middle of the trip with no riding at all.  The night before, my uncle graciously allowed me to bring the motorcycle into the garage, and that is where it too rested while we relaxed.    The prior four days had been a whirlwind with virtually no time off the bike to explore or just enjoy our surroundings.   Each day, we had miles and miles to travel – either to satisfy our schedule, or to tick particular roads or attractions like Clingman’s Dome, or the Highest Point marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway off our list.  Now, it was nice to put our feet up and play with the little dog named Ramsey who was ecstatic for company, and a very sweet little man.

Around noon, we set off with my Aunt for Boone Hall Plantation.  Not only a museum offering tours of the historic home and grounds, Boone Hall is unique, as it is owned by a family that still resides on the second floor of the Plantation’s stately residence, and actually runs the farming operation as a going concern.   There was an impressive driveway leading to the formal home, lined with Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss.   We learned that several films have used Boone Hall as a location and it truly felt like stepping back in time as we approached the home.

“Quite the Driveway”
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“Boone Hall”
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I found our tour of Boone Hall unsettling.   On the one hand, the place sold itself as an exercise in historic preservation, and yet, it was occupied by a family operating the Plantation’s farming interests as a going concern.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, but something seemed “off” about the whole place.

We assembled with about two dozen other guests on the front veranda awaiting the start of the home tour.  Since Boone Hall rests on the upper reaches of Shem Creek, the mosquitoes attacked with impunity and nearly drove one particularly boisterous tour-goer mad as we waited.  I’m not sure which was more irritating – the bugs, or the commentary.

After a few moments, the door creaked open, and a volunteer in period attire invited us inside.  Her costume was a structured ivory dress that billowed out from her waste as though she were perched on top of a church steeple, and may in fact have been as old as the home itself.  Tattered at the hem and dirty - in the triumphant way that valuable antique furniture wears the patina of age – I was immediately fascinated to discover whether the stunning authenticity of her wardrobe with respect to the time before electricity, running water, and dry cleaning was intentional, or in fact, completely the opposite.

Now inside the home where photography was strictly prohibited, in the entrance hall at the base of a grand stair flanked by formal dining and sitting rooms, the tour began.  Our guide was a volunteer, with a genuine southern drawl, and while it was obvious that she had given this tour many times, she also had a faint but perceptible anxiety attenuating her presentation.   My job requires my colleagues and me to speak in front of groups of people, and I can attest that it is either a natural talent or a very difficult skill to acquire, so I could forgive the hint of insecurity in her voice – perhaps I was the only one to notice it.

Shortly, we moved into the cavernous formal sitting room that encompassed the entire east wing footprint of the residence.  The room itself was sunken 6 feet below the level of the main entrance, allowing what must have been 18ft. ceilings. The walls were caked in dark blue paint and the room was littered with antique furniture, all displaying placards warning us not to sit.  There were threadbare rugs on the floor, which were dusted in fine sand tracked in by guests from the driveway.  The antique furniture itself was also worn and in poor condition, though our guide seem to take pride in announcing that all of the furniture was owned by the current family, and nothing was actually original to the home.  I began to notice the crown molding, window trim, and the construction of the windows themselves; it was apparent to me that this home was not nearly as old as our initial impressions coming up the stately driveway may have led us to think.  At some point in the tour, my suspicions were confirmed.  The home on the property was built in the 1930s, and was in fact, quite new compared to many of the homes in the eldest historic districts of Mt. Pleasant and Charleston proper.  The original Plantation home had been razed by a dignitary from Canada who owned the property for a short time, and who built the current home as a retirement gift for his wife before being called back to patriotic duty at the cusp of the Second World War.

Following the tour of the family home, we went out on an unguided tour of the “Slave Cabins.”  Each Cabin had a theme, replete with staged wooden mannequins and an accompanying audio or video vignette intended to be installments of a cohesive narrative that one could follow from the cabin closest to the main home to that furthest away near the old shipping dock on Shem Creek.   Our guide during the house tour had told stories and referred several times to the “Slaves” during her narrative.  It was not so much the word “Slaves,” as the way she flippantly tossed it around that bothered me.  The was no respect, or shame, or solace in the word when evoked; rather it was pronounced unabashedly – as though the history of Boone Hall was to be admired and honored – as if it were not actually despicable, and disgusting, and deplorable.   It was as if Boone Hall was owed a special place in history and deserved preservation on the basis of a some inexplicable intrinsic nobility, rather than as reminder of a dark time, and one that should certainly be preserved – but only as monument to human depravity and toured not with ghoulish novelty, but only with solemn deference for the enormous and protracted atrocity it represents.

“Slave Cabins”
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“Life in the Cabins”
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We went inside the first cabin, but had little appetite to view the rest.  There were a few people making their way down the row of cabins that sat just back from and parallel to the entrance driveway.  From inside each cabin the audio and video narration leaked out to sting our ears with its prideful tone and self-aggrandizing perspective.   The place was totally and absolutely devoid of any criticism of the institution of slavery, and presented itself with an unapologetic hauteur that turned my stomach.

After wandering on the property for a short while, we collected with other guests at the gift shop and café to hear a presentation on the Gullah Geechee Culture.   Our tutor was a local volunteer who gave similar presentations at schools and to other groups, and he regaled us with the history of the African people that were brought to the Charleston area.  In their native Sierra Leone, they had subsisted by capitalizing on their expertise in the cultivation of rice, and for that reason, South Carolina and Georgia landowners prospered on the crop; the area even became known as the “Rice Coast.”  We also learned the deep degree to which Gullah music and its underlying rhythms have influenced contemporary musical styles and I was grateful there were 3 young kids who eagerly volunteered for the audience participation portion of the presentation, which involved traditional drumming. All in all, the Gullah Geechee presentation was definitely the highlight of our time at Boone Hall. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gullah  




Day 6
Thursday, August 9, 2012

Today, there was one goal and one goal only:  Marinate our Scandinavian skin in the warm salty waters of the gulf stream current and soak up as much genuine, certified Isle of Palms, vitamin D rich, UV ray-beams as possible before we returned to the sun-starved tundra of Minnesota.  It was really a matter of health.

We took our time getting up and going in the morning and got to Isle of Palms beach around noon.   There were hundreds of people already there with their clamshells, umbrellas and beach towels staked out on the prime real estate.  Although I had been to the coast on several other occasions, the time or the weather or the temperature of the water had always prevented me from actually swimming.  That certainly wasn’t the case this time, and I was surprised by just how warm the water actually was.

“Soooo Sunburned!”
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We spent about 4 hours at the beach, and I spent the majority of that time in the water attempting to body surf. I waited about 100 yards off shore with nothing but my chin out of the water, bobbing up and down as smaller waves passed by, straining my eyes into the distance and trying to pick the right moment to catch the next wave big enough to surf.   There were lots of other kids and adults playing the same game, and some of them even had body boards, but I had a distinct advantage over them.   I had been a competitive swimmer in high school, and upon sighting a good opportunity, I could launch myself off the sandy bottom and sprint towards the beach, like a real surfer being towed in by a jet ski, allowing the wave to catch me and throw me forward on its crest.   There were so few big waves that day, and I had never body surfed before, but I managed to catch 3 of them just right. It was incredibly fun to be swimming as hard as I could only to be picked up and thrust forward by the wave, with my chest out in the air and rushing toward the beach.

After we had our fill of the wind and sun and waves, we went to Dunleavy’s Pub on Sullivan’s Island for a beer and a snack.  This is a landmark that should be enjoyed if you are in the neighborhood.
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dunleavys-Pub/51778542612

“Dunleavy’s Pub”
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“Crab Cakes”
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The rest of the evening passed pleasantly with our gracious hosts.  We went out for a nice dinner and afterward, took a late night drive into historic downtown Charleston for another impromptu tour.  We crisscrossed the oldest parts of the historic city and saw the cobblestone streets, museums along Market Street, National Landmark buildings including the Old Exchange, and looped down past Battery Park.  The old town was alive and vibrant with late-night revealers, many of whom were caught out wet as the skies opened up with yet anther round of showers.  

Following our tour, we retired for the evening and tried to sooth our tender fried skin.  The course textile riding gear would not feel good in the morning.  As we lay still like mummies in bed, glued to the sheets with tacky dried aloe gel, we considered weather the rain would persist and dog our long journey home.   This moment marked the point when we turned toward home - the beginning of the end of the trip.  We were tired and we knew that the remaining miles were many, and the time was short.  Making it home in 2 1/2 days would require long, hard riding, regardless of the weather, much of it across a hundreds of miles of corn fields with nothing particularly interesting along the way, and we were really not looking forward to it.  
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2012, 10:38:58 am »




“A Bit of Everything at The Wreck”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/IMG_0364_zps64cb3113.jpg   




Outside of the City's charm, this is why you go to Charleston, SC.... Damn good food!   Beerchug
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2012, 10:39:44 am »

Day 7 – Charleston, SC to Bristol, NC: 446 miles
Friday, August 10, 2012

“Day 7 Overview”
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We got up early and were greeted with blue skies, said our “Thank Yous” & “Goodbyes” and were on the road before 7:00am.  While the route for the day was less than 500 miles, the second half of the day included about 100 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to Boone, followed by US 421 – Shady Valley Road.  While these roads promised more scenic Smoky Mountain vistas and endless winding curves, they also promised to make it another 10-11 hour day in the saddle.

Before we headed out, I pulled into the neighborhood C-store to add a few pounds of air to the tires, and then we struck out across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, just for the fun of crossing it.  We could see the Navel Museum Ships in the harbor, and the old French Quarter we had toured the night before in the distance.  But with no time to spare, we ran non-stop up I-26 to Asheville, grabbed a fast lunch at a McDonalds, and got up on the Blue Ridge Parkway before noon.

“Charleston Harbor”
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“Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge”
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“Blue Ridge Parkway”
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“Blue Ridge Parkway Views”
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“Laurel Knob”
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The further north we rode, the more the weather closed in around us.   By the time we were approaching Grandfather Mountain, we could tell that there would be more rain, and there was a definite chill in the air.   We had thought about stopping at Grandfather Mountain, but since the views were socked-in, we decided to skip it.  

Just outside of Boone, we rode into a cold, heavy rain shower.   There was a couple on a Harley in front of us, with no gear, and riding in T-Shirts.  They must have been hypothermic after a few minutes in that rain and they disappeared down the first paved road crossing the Parkway.  A few miles after that, we too exited the Parkway and coasted down into Boone.  It was only 3:00, but we were cold, wet, and ready for a hot cup of coffee and an early dinner.   The first restaurant we saw was, of course, Cracker Barrel.  We had almost eaten at Cracker Barrel back in Murfreesboro, but weren’t willing to wait in line as storms chased us across Tennessee.  Today, though, it seemed like the perfect place to stop.

It wasn’t crowded, and no one seemed to mind when we came in dripping wet with all our motorcycle gear – I’m sure that is a sight seen at the Cracker Barrel in Boone just about every time it rains.  We drank a pot or two of coffee and generally took our time waiting for the weather to clear.  I had a classic country ham dinner and enjoyed it well enough – happy to have something to warm me up.  Ann ordered some kind of Chicken and Biscuits with okra on the side, and was disgusted by it. There was nothing actually wrong with the food – it was just that the whole plate was smothered in a thick white cholesterol gravy, and they put bacon in her okra.   She was freezing and hungry, so she ate it anyway, but she swore that she would never go to a Cracker Barrel again.

After about an hour, the rain had moved on, and we were ready to move out.   Our final destination for the evening would be Bristol and our route would take us there via US 421 “Shady Valley Road” aka – “The Snake”.    This is another famously twisty motorcycle destination road touted by riders all across the country.    There was virtually no traffic and we enjoyed the ride as the road twisted up and over two ridges while crossing “Shady Valley” in between.   We had a pucker moment when we put the starboard peg down hard on an unexpectedly tight adverse camber turn after a series of rhythm corners.  It was the only time we dragged peg on the whole trip, and reminded me to be careful.

“The Snake”
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We crossed South Holston Lake and arrived on the outskirts of Bristol around 5:00.  It would be the first night of the trip that we didn’t have reservations or family to stay with.   We looked for a mom & pop 50s style motor lodge, but didn’t find anything that looked good, so, we pulled up the Zumo database and punched up the Holiday Inn.  After a short blast up the freeway, we found the big 15-story Holiday Inn, which was actually quite a bit fancier than we were expecting.   Inquiring about a room, we found there was a Mumford & Sons concert in Bristol, and room rates were inflated to $180/night.  Normally I wouldn’t have paid that much, but we were already there, I had overhead other guests commenting that other hotels were already booked, and we were too tired to go any further.

After we were settled in our room with the bike tucked in under its cover, we decided to walk from the hotel to the Wal-Mart about a mile away for more aloe Sunburn gel.  It felt good to walk, but we quickly realized that this area was not developed with pedestrians in mind.  The sidewalk kept switching from one side of the road to the other, and then disappeared entirely.  We had little choice but to walk along the curb, as there was no shoulder, and then run across the highway because there was no sidewalk.   I thought it was ironic that the most dangerous part of our motorcycle trip was when we tried to WALK somewhere.  You gotta love American Civil Engineering.  Also, why is it that all Wal-Mart customers and employees are smokers?

Back at the Hotel, we watched the Olympic Diving competition in the bar and enjoyed a drink before heading up to bed.
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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2012, 10:41:13 am »

Day 8 – Bristol, NC to Decatur, IL: 572 miles
Saturday, August 11, 2012

“Day 8 Overview”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/Day8-Overview_zps2278e8e1.jpg

We followed our normal routine and left the hotel early, intent on covering enough miles to put us in striking distance of home by the end of the day.  We knew today would be a long haul at almost 600 miles, and at least half would not be on the freeways resulting in yet another 12+ hour-day in the saddle riding nearly non-stop.  Ann made it clear that she was not interested in covering so many miles per day on our next trip and we were both regretting having squeezed so many miles into so short a trip.  It’s one thing to cover 500 miles of freeway in a day, and quite another to do it on mostly two lane roads, but we were determined to get home on schedule.

Despite our sunburn and road weariness, we enjoyed the scenery as we crossed the tail of Virginia on the Daniel Boone Trail.  The landscape here is folded and wrinkled creating hundreds of valleys and ridges to traverse.  In places the invasive Kudzu vines had overgrown and strangled everything, including tall trees, and had all but enveloped the road itself making us feel like we were in a Southeast Asian Jungle.  Although it looked like jungle at times, we were spared from sweltering jungle humidity.  We had bluebird skies and the temperature was cool making for a very enjoyable morning.    

“Kudzu Vines”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/DSCN0468_zps6ba28eec.jpg

“Cumberland Gap”
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We crossed into Kentucky at Cumberland Gap.  The tunnel was constructed in the 1990s to allow traffic to bypass the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and is one of only two tunnels in the United States that crosses a state line.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumberland_Gap_Tunnel

Emerging in Kentucky, the first thing we saw was:

“No Thanks”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/DSCN0486_zps539fc88c.jpg   

It was as if Kentucky placed the thing it is collectively most proud of right at the boarder so you would be certain to see it upon entering the state.   It was so conspicuously intentional that I literally groaned out loud when it sprung out at me and assaulted my eyes before they had even adjusted to the sunlight after emerging from the tunnel.  One thing I will remember from this trip is the conspicuous lack of restaurants, other than Fast Food.  I’m sure there other options if you know where to look – but it seemed like Fast Food Chains dominated more so than in other parts of the country.

We scurried up to I-75 and bolted across Kentucky without even slowing down for Lexington or Louisville.  We crossed the Ohio River and then took Hwy 150 across the plains of southern Indiana and through the Hoosier National Forest.

“Hoosier National Forest”
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/DSCN0507_zpsef72bf40.jpg

I had not planned the return route as closely as other parts of the trip since I knew that, due to time constraints, we would be on a bee-line for home by this time.  So, we were presently surprised when the road began to twist through the hills and forests rather than simply drone across flat uninterrupted cornfields.

Our destination for the evening was not entirely arbitrary.  I had traveled to Decatur Illinois for business earlier in the year, and intentionally took Ann through this exact intersection so she could experience it for herself.  Decatur has several very large production facilities for Caterpillar, Tate & Lyle, and Archer Daniels Midland, including ADM’s corporate headquarters.   When I first crossed the bridge over the railroad yard, I was certain I’d found a little piece of man-made hell, and I wanted Ann to see and smell it too…

“Decatur, IL”
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“The Last Pic”
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I had the Olive Garden in mind all day, having eaten there on my previous trip to Decatur, and it was a relief to get there.  We were totally exhausted.  The last hour coming into Decatur was like traveling through an endless cornfield tunnel and seemed to have taken a week by itself.  I’m not sure how long we were on the road exactly, but we picked up an extra hour when we crossed the time zone, so it must have been at least 13 hours…   Of that – all but ½ an hour at a McDonalds and a couple gas stops was on the bike and moving.   It felt herculean, and somehow longer than the 1st day, probably because we were just tired and ready to be home.   By the end of the day, we had transcended from discomfort and exhaustion into a surreal state of acceptance, numbness, and euphoria like a marathon runner in the 25th mile.  We enjoyed a leisurely meal and then checked into a Country Inn & Suites, and went almost directly to bed content that we would make it home the following day.  As it turned out, this was the only day of the entire trip that it didn’t rain, and while we knew there would likely be some rain on the last leg of our trip, we were spared the foresight of how much.
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2012, 10:42:04 am »

Day 9 – Decatur, IL to Home: 439 miles
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day 9 – Overview
http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/Day9-Overview_zps62322ca8.jpg

There are no pictures from our final day.  To some degree, there was nothing new or noteworthy to see, but more importantly, the camera was safely stowed in the saddlebag all day.  We woke, dressed, loaded the bike, and departed unceremoniously after checking the weather report to find that the good weather we had enjoyed the day prior had moved on, and another significant storm system lay between ourselves, and our own bed.  We resolved to cover as much ground as we could before the rain set in, and then simply endure it with so little time and distance remaining to get home.

The drizzle started almost immediately, but the rain started in earnest around Iowa City.   From there, it rained hard all the way to Mason City.  Considering it was August, and one of the hottest and driest summers on record, it was an inexplicably cold rain and the temperature was in the low 50s.   Combined with the 70mph wind chill generated when riding a motorcycle – we were very cold.  My face shield was constantly fogging over, and I had to keep it cracked open in order to keep it clear enough to see, which let the rain in as well   We ran into construction and for a time, we were stuck in stop and go traffic with no air flow over the fairings to keep the rain from soaking us and running into our helmets.  It was an exercise in endurance, stamina, and determination, but home is a powerful incentive.

At Mason City, about 45 minutes from home as we merged onto I-35 north for the final stretch, the rain went from hard to torrential.  It was as though the blinding rain that had tried to delay our departure before sunrise 8 days prior had been waiting for our return the entire time we were gone, bent on punishing us for our previous escape.  For the first time in my life, I realized why I need heated grips, and resolved to install a set before ever leaving home on the bike again.

Eventually, we made it home and rode directly into the garage.  We had skipped lunch and ridden the entire 439 miles non-stop, except for one brief stop for fuel.  We stripped out of our soaked gear, left all of the luggage on the bike to be unpacked later, and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping hot tea on the couch under a pile of blankets.  


Trip Summary

http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh107/naustin09/Trip%202012/WholeTrip_zpse7c7841f.jpg

9 Days Total
7 Days Riding
10 States Touched
3,182 miles total – 454 mi/day Avg.


Overall, it was a great trip packed into too short a period of time.  Deal’s Gap was reachable in two days, but we should have split it up over 3 and spent an afternoon relaxing somewhere in the middle – maybe in Nashville.  The day spent riding the Smoky Mountains was just too long, and we could have had more fun if I had planned a shorter loop.  The run to Charleston was just about right, and the two days we spent there were wonderful and relaxing, but the 3 consecutive long days to get home wore us out.  We should have spent an extra half day and stayed the night in Ashville on the way home, and then spent an extra full day puttering up the Blue Ridge parkway to a resort for a night, and then taken 3 days get home from there.   But, there just wasn’t enough time.

All in all, it was a safe trip, and we got to tick-off Deals Gap from our list of places to see on the bike, and also finally make it to Charleston, which was great.  Next time we’ll be less ambitious in our schedule, and hopefully the weather will be less hostile too.  
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2012, 11:10:47 am »

Wow, you two really had your share of rain. You got to ride some awesome roads, even if they were fogged in and/or wet. Thanks for taking the time to write up the report!
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2012, 12:07:18 pm »

Great report!   Charleston is one of my favorite cities to visit and the areas you rode through are all familiar to me as well.  Always interesting to see how a traveler views the area one lives in.  Only one point of contention...Franklin, Tn. Is NOT a tourist trap.  Just a very cool small town that has done a wonderful job of restoring and revitalizing its downtown.  Although, I might be a bit biased since I purposefully moved there because my wife and I like it so much...LOL.  Sorry to see you had so much rain during our trip, you really did miss some outstanding views and rides.  Once again, great report with great pics and good commentary, thanks for posting it!
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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2012, 01:22:06 pm »

Great report and pics - thanks for posting.  Such a beautiful area.  Both of my visits also had lots of fog in the mountains which led to overlook skipping.  Your wife's endurance of those miles each day is impressive too  Bigok

For tunnels crossing state lines, what about the Holland and Lincoln between NY and NJ?  Maybe they don't count because they're under water?
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« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2012, 01:37:39 pm »


  Nice write-up although it's too bad you didn't take the Pinnacle rd. exit as you exited the tunnel entering Kentucky on US25E. There are hairpin turns all the way to the summit & you can view the highway & your route through the valley below. Looked as though you would have had some awesome views from the summit as well due to the clear skys that day....
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« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2012, 02:28:38 pm »

kyzrex - Re: Franklin, TN - Thats cool.  We only drove through and  it was Sunday, mid-morning and the whole area was bustling with people - maybe just the church crowd looking for brunch.  We didn't have the chance to stop and really get a good feel for the place, unfortunately.   I think Marvin the Paranoid Android and the crowds of people were probably not a fair basis on which to judge the whole town...  I'm sure its a great place to live and I'm always glad to see a vital old downtown. Cool

nevinfs327 - Re: Tunnels Crossing State lines, I'm only taking Wikipedia's word for it...  I think you are right with respect to the water.  Wiki specified "mountain" tunnels...

DeansZG - I know we missed all kinds of great sights.  I really wish we had planned more time to explore!
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« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2012, 07:00:25 pm »

Hey man...no problem, wasn't trying to bust your balls or anything......those crosswalk voices are a bit surprising when you first encounter them for sure... Bigsmile.  And if you hit downtown when the churches let out on a Sunday....you will see a lot of traffic, both foot and vehicle.  I know what it is like to do the trips like you did...long on miles and short on time....and it really doesn't let you take in much local flavor, does it.   Sad

Fortunately, you did get to spend some time in Old Town, Charleston.....the only city i know that I would consider living downtown in ( like I could ever afford that ).....very very cool area!  If you ever go back there, I would suggest taking the time to do a ghost tour some night.....lots of fun and really good for getting the history of a place like that.  ( even if you don't believe in ghosts like me, it's still a lot of fun )

If you ever decide to head down to the Franklin/Nashville area, let me know...be happy to help show you around a bit, as would others I'm sure....cheers!
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« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2012, 09:56:39 pm »

ah the staley viaduct,truly one of the smelliest locations in the world.
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« Reply #19 on: December 31, 2012, 07:27:05 am »

Thanks for the mid-winter eye and mind candy.  I'm jonesing to get back on the bike and do some traveling, but for the weather up here.  Charleston and the entire east coast looks like it might be a fun tour.  Jump on near Atlantic City, ride the coastal roads to Jacksonville, FL.  Plenty of good eats, camping and fresh sales air.   Bigok
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