The vacation is done and it’s time to head for home. So we begin to prep for departure. Repacking the panniers and reattaching them to the bike is fairly simple. Reattaching the tankbag requires threading a strap around the steering stem, but once that’s done the rear mounting straps click into place. This trip, I didn’t even bring the waterproof duffel, so that’s the bike packed and ready.
Well, I’m joining my wife’s family on a summer vacation, but work kept me in town for the first couple of days. I’m leaving Wednesday morning and returning with everyone on Saturday; everyone else left first thing Monday morning. So while I get some work done and get ready for the trip there’s a few things that need attention.
Today is a biking day, we’re going through the Smoky Mountain National Park from east to west, down through Deal’s Gap, and back to Cashiers. I had a suggestion of an interesting route north on NC-107, east on NC-281, left on Canada Road, north on NC-215 to Waynesville. It was a good suggestion, Dan, thanks. 281 was nice, but Canada road was really nice. Almost no cage traffic, nice curves, and perfect weather combined for a really nice ride. We had a snack in Waynesville, which looks like a nice town.
We headed west on NC-19 towards Cherokee and 19 was a nice road too. In Cherokee we took US-441 north into the park and stopped at the visitor center. It was starting to look like rain when we headed out, and it was raining when we got to the turnoff to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park and also in Tennessee. We decided to continue and in retrospect should have taken the side trip. Oh, well. Another reason to return on the bike isn’t a bad thing. We stopped at several turn-outs, photo opportunities were abundant.
I wish the park exit didn’t dump you into Gatlinburg. What a circus and a mess. It was almost embarrassing to have that scenery so close to the scenery in the park. Over the top isn’t always necessary. When we finally left the last of the circus rings behind us, we ran into Pigeon Forge, which wasn’t really any better. I’m sure the locals know a better way top get to US-321, but we didn’t and sadly it left a bad impression.
US-321 was a pleasant change from the previous few miles, and we enjoyed the trip down to Chilhowee. It was past lunchtime and we were both hungry. Knowing that there wasn’t any place to eat until we were south of Deal’s Gap, we turned north on 129 and went to Tallassee where we had a big burger and fries for lunch. Now we were ready for the Gap. It was fun, and Killboy did take some photos of us, but when it’s all said and done, we liked NC-28 from US-129 to Stecoah better.
We stayed on NC-28 to Franklin and then took NC-64 back to Cashiers. A nice day, some phenomenal scenery, twisties, my new bride riding pillion – pretty tough to beat. And this is only Wednesday…
After the long day on Monday, we weren’t in a big hurry to be up and going so we called the whitewater rafting place and postponed until the afternoon. It is about an hour away, and we needed to stop at a store and pick up a few things so we left pretty early. My friend John told us about a restaurant at the Nantahala Outdoor Center that has great burgers, so we planned to have lunch there before rafting. We took a nice (translated – not direct) ride up to Bryson City and got there in plenty of time. Lunch was good, and everyone that had finished the rafting trip was smiling – a good sign.
We signed away any responsibility for our deaths, and watched a video about NOT standing up in white water. We got our flotation vests and paddles and boarded a bus to take us upriver. I haven’t been on a school bus in a long time – until today. The water is pumped from a lake by the power company and used to generate electricity and the water is COLD. Not Deadliest Catch COLD, but still COLD. After losing all feeling in the foot that is wedged under the thwart in the raft, you soon forget about it. Your foot, that is. Some people decided to jump into the river; why someone would do that from a boat that is not burning, sinking, or being destroyed by icebergs I have no idea. My bride was one of them, some things just defy explanation.
Our guide Raymond was great. Had some stories about the river and some of the well-named rocks in it: Jaws, Pyramid, and a few others that escape me now. When we got to several of the rapids, the right side of the boat (my side) paddled forward, the other side paddled backwards so we could spin through the rapids. Apparently the goal of this maneuver was to ensure that all occupants were equally soaked by the end of the trip. The Nantahala Falls are class 3 rapids and pretty exciting, but you’re through it very quickly.
They have photos for sale of each boat going over the falls, and of course we had to have not one shot but two. A lot of fun and something we will definitely do again.
The ride back was fun too (translated – lots of curves) and dinner was a pizza at our cabin.
The trip from home to Cashiers, NC made for a very long day. We made it on Monday. Barely (by the clock). We left home at about 7am Monday and got to the cabin in Cashiers at 11:30pm. We rode 861 miles on Monday, a long day’s ride by most any yardstick. We lucked out – the weather was fine. Not too warm and just a little chilly in the morning.
Almost had a phone crisis – actually, an iphone crisis. I set my iphone on the trailer while I put my gear on, and left it there. About 2 miles down the road I checked my jacket pocket for the phone and it wasn’t there. Turned around and headed back, figuring that it was in the ditch somewhere. Luck was with us, it was on the cooler rack, right where I left it. OK, NOW we can leave.
The trailer is awesome. Plenty of room, a place to put your helmet and jacket when you stop for gas, and (mostly) not noticeable from the pilot’s perspective. Allowing for longer stopping distance, not quite so close to the gas pumps, and a bit slower acceleration is pretty much it. We had the “Just Married” sign on it, and a lot of folks honked and waved as we headed east.
The trip was a long one and I had not loaded a route into the gps – one task that just didn’t get done before we left. We could have saved a couple of hours by going east from Louisville, KY on I-64, but I headed on to Nashville on I-65 and then east on I-40. That decision added a couple of hours and caused some real concerns on my part. The original plan was to be in Cashiers at dinnertime, but the gps now shows us arriving after 11pm. We wound up riding over the mountains at night, in the rain and fog, 2-up, and pulling a trailer. A little nerve-wracking, especially coming down the mountains on a wet, unfamiliar, 2-lane road at night. But we made it just fine. Tired, but fine. Riding 1000 miles in 24 hours is doable without a lot more effort than that trip.
Whew, glad to be there.
TMI? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. The SPOT I’m referring to is a satellite-based tracking device. It can be used for several things but the main functionality is sending periodic reports of your position that can be viewed via a web browser. You can create a private (password protected) web page or a public web page that will show your position. If you ride alone it can be a comfort for a spouse to know that you’re OK.
In addition to tracking your progress, you can also set a “send help” message, and can send it by pushing a button. People on your notify list will get an email or sms message that you need help. You’d use this if you had a mechanical problem in a area without cell phone coverage. I know, the Verizon guy doesn’t want you to know that those areas exist, but we all know they do.
If the worst happens, and you (or someone riding with you) needs medical help, just press the 911 button. The local ambulance/search/rescue people are advised along with your exact location.
If the best happens, and you’re happily motoring along, you can send an “OK” message. The difference between tracking and the OK messages is that the tracking messages are sent every 10 minutes with no current way to alter the timing, and the OK messages are sent when you push the OK button. A lot of long-distance riders do not use the tracking feature, they just push the OK button at the top of the hour.
There are some interesting websites springing up that use the position information sent by the SPOT unit. The SPOT service only displays the last 50 OK messages, and maybe you’re on a long distance multi-day trip. There are ways around the “last 50” limitation. You can enable Yahoo Fire Eagle to receive your tracking messages too. Then you can use Jason Jonas’ website Spot Trip Manager to manage your trip / adventure location information and it can contain any number of tracking/OK messages. It works very well.
Woke up early, went downstairs to the continental breakfast for coffee. One thing I’ve learned is to take the tray that is usually under the ice bucket to breakfast so you can carry two cups of coffee, OJ, milk, and a bowl of cereal back to the room. Mission accomplished, no spills. I look at weather radar and it’s not good news. Rain is moving in so I finish breakfast, pack up, check out, and hit the road. I manage to get away before the rain gets to Elizabethtown, but the respite was temporary. The gps display hints that wetness may be unavoidable, and a quick rainshower proves the point.
I’m at the exit for Mammoth Cave National Park, so I opt to exit here and see what the rain gods have in mind for today. I stop and fill the tank, and take some time to survey the radar and the general gray skies. I decide to go to Mammoth Cave National Park, since I’m so close and I have a National Parks Pass. That decision turns out to be a wet one. I get back close to Bowling Green and it’s raining hard and more rain is coming. I find an abandoned gas station next to an operating one and I take refuge under the awning. A pleasant surprise is that the awning is transparent to XM signals and I can continue to watch the area of rain moving west to east. I get a cup of coffee and a snack and wait out the rain. While I’m waiting, I make some calls and strangely, people that are sitting at desks working are none too sympathetic to a motorcyclist on vacation even if they are getting wet. Laughter seemed to be the most common response. Undeterred by the laughter, I reiterate the motto “biking is better than working.” Although, biking in the rain isn’t a lot better than working, but it is better. Barely.
The rain eventually clears out, but leaves the roads very wet. I head out, the next major town is Nashville. Most of the ride to Nashville is uneventful, but as I get closer there are some storms moving from the south between Nashville and Knoxville, so I opt for a warm lunch and the time should allow the storms to move across the route. Lunch was good and the storms are now north of my route. Knoxville arrives on the gps right on schedule and I turn south towards Chattanooga. The terrain is becoming more hilly and mountains are visible. This is why I came down here – to ride in the north Georgia mountains. Continuing south, I can see some storms moving towards the northeast near Canton, my destination. I decide to stop and top off the tank, and take my time so that the storms can move through.
It didn’t quite work as planned. I was dry until I was on highway 20 heading for Canton. I got behind a log truck running about 30 mph and that slow speed gave the thunderstorm plenty of time to wet me down. The truck and the rain worked in perfect concert so that when I got to the hotel, my pants were soaked. My jacket, helmet, and gloves kept my upper body dry, but my jeans were soaked.
After a last-minute route change and two days of dodging rain, I was there. The trip was over 800 miles, and was the longest one-way ride I’ve taken. I learned about dodging weather, the importance of a warm and waterproof jacket, the fact that stopping for a while is often a lot safer than pushing on, and that a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park will cause you to get wet (100% of the time, in my experience).
I met up with John at the hotel, mrprez on the GL1800 forums, and we had dinner at Cracker Barrel. We decided to take a ride tomorrow on a route he’s familiar with, so the next adventure awaits.
Wednesday rolled around, warm but not overly so. I really didn’t have a lot to pack – just some clothes and toiletries. I had some last-minute changes in the route and decided on an overnight stop in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The route was uploaded to the gps and everything was ready to go. Shut the thermostat off, turn off the water valve in the laundry room, bike outside, close the garage door. Go back into the house, check that all lights are off, doors and windows shut, then turn the alarm on and shut and lock the door. Oops, forgot the bluetooth earpiece for my cell phone – unlock the door, turn the alarm off. Find the earpiece, and go through the alarming and locking stuff again.
Finally, everything loaded and ready to go, bike warmed up. Put on jacket, insert earbuds, put on helmet, put on gloves, make sure everything is zipped and velcroed. Reset the tripmeter, check the clock, and we’re off. I quickly found out that the voice prompts from the gps will make it damn near impossible to listen to XM, particularly when the gps thinks you should turn and you decide not to turn. It will want you to turn around and reroute at every opportunity and will tell you over the audio that you need to turn. When you don’t it will say “recalculating” and then start the process over again. I stopped and figured out how to turn off the voice prompts. At last, music without interruptions. Except that the earbuds are getting really uncomfortable now. My helmet is a new Nolan N-42 3/4 helmet, and the foam around the ears is in a different place than in my Nolan N-102 flip helmet. There isn’t nearly as much room for the earbuds that the other helmet had, so I stop in Joliet to cut some foam off so they aren’t as long. It is better, but still not as comfortable as with the N-102. Oh, well. I am NOT going back home to switch helmets.
Headed south now, listening to XM channel 7 (70s music) with the occasional change to channel 6 (60s music) and making good time. Near Layafette, Indiana (GO PURDUE!) the nexrad shows some rain ahead. Suddenly, I’m in the middle of a rainshower but the rain is supposed to be AHEAD of me, not ON me. Oh well, I guess it rains even if the nexrad says not. I duck under a gas station awning to wait it out as it looks to be moving through at a good clip to the east. I bought gas and a snack, and headed out. Unfortunately, even though it wasn’t raining now, the roads were wet and the spray kicked up by other vehicles made it seem like it was raining. Finally, the road dried off and I did as well, a few miles further down the road. Rain showed up again near Indianapolis, this time it was the leading edge of a wide area of rain. It was drizzling a little so I upped the pace to get ahead of the main body of rain and was largely successful. About 10-15 miles south of Indy the roads were dry. The skies stayed gray but there was no more rain. I crossed the Ohio River at Louisville, and headed for Elizabethtown. Arrived around 5pm, found dinner and checked into the hotel. After a hot shower and some checking into tomorrow’s weather I called it a day.
I really had not planned to use the newly activated nexrad weather radar on this trip, but I guess it really wasn’t my decision. it worked very well, and once it’s been on for a while it will show the movement of the precipitation. Knowing the direction and rate of movement, you can make a decision to wait, reroute, speed up, etc. to try and avoid the worst. Yes, people have ridden motorcycles for years without radar and done just fine, but since weather is so much more a factor when on a motorcycle than in a car, I think that the additional information can be used to make the ride a safer one. Perhaps less wet as well, but in my mind the real benefit is safety.
I took the first (OK, three rides, actually) ride today. The thermometer passed 70 on the way to 75 and that was just too much of a temptation to resist. The first trip was to the post office, where a wireless PCI card for my Powermac was waiting – a useful trip even though it was a 25+ mile ride and the post office is only 4 miles from home.
After the first ride I decided to complete a mod that I had planned to finish over the winter. There are bumps molded into the trunk bottom whose apparent function is to align the trunk lid, but they will quickly wear through the paint. I ordered some 3/4″ diamater self-adhesive teflon discs from McMaster-Carr (page 3327, item number 7801A33) and today I applied them on the trunk lid where the lid contacts the trunk bottom. Others have made similar changes and their reports over time indicate that the teflon works well – trunk closes properly and no paint wear.
The second trip was to the hardware store to get a replacement bulb for the reverse light on my F150. The hardware store is about 6 miles away and this trip was about 35 miles. Apparently I’m incapable of going directly to and from a destination.
The third and final trip was to a wide circle of asphalt that I use for figure 8 and slow turn practice. I spent 30 minutes practicing slow-speed handling and re-familiarizing myself with the clutch, brake, and throttle. That kind of practice leads to good control and precise handling, even at very low speeds where most riders are not as proficient as they should be. More riders should practice slow-speed maneuvers – their riding at all speeds would improve.
I had seen signs for Gunsight Pass, but I couldn’t see anything that looked to me like a gunsight. Coming from the east, however, it was waiting for me. The V notch was very distinctive and easily seen coming from the east – coming from the west the sign is after the pass and trees must have obscured it. That’s why I wanted to go through the park both ways. You really can’t see things through your rearview mirrors very well.
The mountain goat is the symbol of Glacier NBational Park and I was lucky enough to find a ewe and a kid not too far off the road. They were probably wondering what that 2-wheeled machine was and why it was rolling through their territory.
Further west you come up on Lake McDonald and the deep blues of the lake and the gold, silver, and copper colors of McDonald Creek. Then you’re out of the park and into the town of West Glacier. I took a couple of pictures of the bike at the sign on this side of the park, and headed west.
I still had 300 miles to ride today.