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A Bridge Too Far?

 

Summer 2004

 

 

  Planning time again   Let’s see.  The Tennessee Rally is coming up April 23 and 24.  I am not scheduled to work that Saturday, so I can go to the rally on Friday and to the bridge on Saturday.  Wow we have another plan.  Somehow this one is going to work.  We finally expand this trip to include leaving Thursday afternoon; after all it is only 6 hour ride.  I will go straight up I-75 to just south of Knoxville and drop down to Sevierville (just north of Pigeon Forge) where I have reservations at the local Hampton Inn.  Now how much easier could it be?  I stayed at Sevierville because the rooms were less expensive than they are in Pigeon Forge.  I’m not a tightwad; I am thrifty (my wife says I am cheap).  Normally I stay in some pretty inexpensive motels (these are the ones that when you turn on the lights you expect to see creatures running for cover), but now I have moved up to the big time, Hampton Inn.  Actually my wife joined Hilton Honors and I get discounts and free rooms.  I am thrifty, remember?

 

Thursday April 22, 2004

 

  It is a beautiful day for a ride.  Short sleeves and an abundance of sunshine.  Everything is going fine, and I am ahead of schedule.  I decide that instead of going all the way on I-75, I am going to ride 411.  This road is a little more laid back, and I did not have a schedule to keep, only that I need to be in Sevierville tonight.  Beautiful countryside and great views were everywhere.  I stopped somewhere in Tennessee just this side of Maryville, to eat at an Applebee’s on I-75 north of 411 (don’t know the exact location).  The beauty of having a GPS is that you can find almost anything you want; in this case I wanted an Applebee’s.  Dial in the name, and voila it gives me directions to the nearest Applebee’s. 

Maps?  I don’t need no stinking Maps.

 

  I was sitting there and I began talking to a guy seated at my right.  I asked him where he was from, and he replied “Just up the road a piece in “Meravall”.  I told him I don’t remember seeing that on the map and he said “yeah, just drop down to highway 411, go north and you will run into Meravall”.   It finally dawned on me, ‘Oh Maryville’.  See, I’m not as dumb as you think, even us south Georgia boy’s can figure things out.

 

When traveling in foreign states, bring an English language translator.

 

Friday April 23, 2004

 

  I went to Tennessee rally long enough to get some goodies from the vendors, after all that is what I came for.   Now the rest of the day is spent riding the mountains.  I am going to do the real tourist type trip. I am going to ride the Foothills Parkway, Cherohala Skyway, and Great Smoky Mountains Parkway (GSP).  I by-passed the dragon.  I’ve done that a few times and don’t see the fun in it.  There are too many other roads to ride that are more fun.

 

  After coming off the Cherohala Skyway, I went through Cherokee to get to the GSP.  The town was over-run with Harleys and their second cousins from Honda, Yamaha, and etc.  The town was absolutely covered in black, chrome, and leather.  I even almost got tempted to stop for a bike wash at the “Babes in Bikini Bike Wash” in one of the motel parking lots.  It was a whole bunch of bikini clad girls washing bikes for $15.00 each.  They appeared to be doing a landmark business.

 

  I decided the group there might not appreciate having a good looking GL1800 amongst them, so I didn’t stop.  They really probably wouldn’t have cared.  They were all gathered around the bike wash in folding chairs working on their favorite beverage enjoying the view.  But if I stop, I might have to wait in line and spend some time, so on I went.

 

If you ain’t moving, you ain’t riding.  If you ain’t riding, you ain’t having fun.

[Ray’s Truism #74]

 

 

  I continued on through the park stopping to take lots of pictures (See WOW a little further down) and then headed back to the motel by way of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  The town of Gatlinburg was shoulder to shoulder with tourists, and I’m sure not going to stop here.   I’ve got to get a good night sleep, I’m going to “The Bridge” in the morning.

 

Saturday April 24, 2004

 

  The plan was to eat breakfast, check out, go to the bridge, and be in Hendersonville North Carolina on Saturday night.  I’ve got to be in Wrens Georgia (near Augusta ) around noon time on Sunday for an annual Family Reunion on my Wife’s side.

 

  I’m on the road at 7:00am heading up I-81 to I-77.  At first, I had decided not to take I-77 north because it is a toll road, but finally went that way to save time.   Cost a great big $1.75 in tolls.  I am tooling along on I-77 when I look up and there is a mountain ridge in front of me.  Not just a mountain, a whole ridge as big as a mountain.  It stretched as far as I could see both east and west.  I couldn’t see where the road went over the ridge, and it did not look like it turned and ran parallel with the ridge.  My confusion ceased when I rounded a curve, and there was a tunnel through the mountain.  This is a spectacular site to a lowly flatlander like me.

 

  There are actually two impressive tunnels along this stretch of road.  Both are the longest tunnels I have ever been in.  Let’s stop here and say, please don’t get me started looking for longer tunnels to ride through, I still haven’t made it to the bridge. 

 

  I am running 75 mph along I-77 just south of Beckley around 10:00am, and it is cold to me.  I have on a heavy leather coat, leather chaps, and heavy gloves and I am still feeling the cold.  Just ahead of me I spy another biker, riding at a more respectful speed, and I was gaining on him fast.  It turned out to be an older model Goldwing 1200, but what was most amazing was the guy had on shorts.  I am freezing and he has on shorts.  I really came close to slowing down to take his picture, but decided not to look like an idiot, and to keep going.  Let’s be careful with the idiot comments out there.

 

  I have arrived.  I passed over the bridge almost before I knew it.  I went to the visitor center, picked up a brochure, and while I was there, the ranger was telling someone about a road that goes down under the bridge.  I got him to tell me about it and assure me that it was passable on a motorcycle.  I was assured, and headed out to see the bridge.

 

  As I exited the visitor center, what did I see, but the guy I had passed on I-77 walking away from his bike headed towards me.  All I could think of to say was “Shorts! Shorts! You’re wearing shorts”.  He smiled and looked at me and realized right away I was the person who passed him earlier.  It helped that my bike was sitting in the same parking lot.  He explained that it was 85 degrees in Greenville the day before, and he had not expected it to get that cold in the mountains.  When I passed him, my thermometer read 56 degrees.

 

  I am ashamed to say that even after asking twice I still can’t remember his first name.  He told me his last name was “You” pronounce “Yow”.  If you ever read this, I apologize for my lousy memory.  It must be all of those mind numbing miles with a heavy helmet on my head.  I think he was as impressed with all the miles I have put on my bike as I was him wearing shorts.

 

  We walked down to the viewing platform together and talked a while.  He was a very nice person.  Me not being one to sit idle too long, I took my customary pictures from the viewing platform of the bridge, and of the rafters in the water below.  We exchanged cameras, and took pictures of each other so that we would have a picture of ourselves with the bridge behind us.  This is proof that I finally made it to the Bridge.

 

  Back on the bike and down the narrow road to the bottom.  To say the road is small is really being generous.  The whole road is no larger than one normal lane on a regular country road.  There is no way that two vehicles could pass safely on that road.  That is probably why it is a one way road.  I took lots of pictures on the road, pictures standing just under the bridge, and pictures of the bridge from every angle.  If I don’t do anything else, I take tons of digital pictures.  I keep a digital camera in the right pocket on the dash, and as I am riding down the road, I take pictures.  I take pictures of the road, pictures of barns, pictures of animals, even pictures of towns.  I don’t stop; I just keep moving and taking pictures.  If I look up and say “WOW” I take a picture of it.  I see a lot of “WOWs”, thus I take a lot of pictures.

 

  I am finally at the bottom along the river.  It is not a large river, but the rapids are beautiful.  I get off my bike and take some pictures of the rapids, and now I am ready to head on.  Remember, I don’t sit still well.  I guess I have a bad case of wanderlust.

 

  I am ready to leave when I notice one of the bus drivers sitting waiting for his next load of rafters to arrive.  I stop and talk for a minute and ask for directions to some scenic routes to ride to south West Virginia (if you tell anyone I asked for directions I will deny it).  He offered me a couple of roads that turned out to be absolutely great.  He sent me down the Highway 60 which is part of the “Midland Trail”.

 

  While talking to him another driver pulled up and got out.  As we were talking they were telling me that they have to come down to the bottom on the same road as I had just come on.  This was hard for me to believe.  Remember, I have the pictures of the road.  The second guy said he was not sure the first time he made the descent, but said “If others could do it, so could he”.  They continued to tell me how bad it was for at least 10 minutes, when a third bus pulled up.  The first guy said to the second, “Well, we kept him too long”.  The second asked why and the first one said “Cause we’ve been telling him how hard it is to get the bus down here and now one of the women drivers have arrived”.

 

  To try to write about how fantastic the views were is almost impossible.  The trip down, looking at the bridge from every angle, and the trip up the other side along some of the most beautiful waterfalls and creeks I have ever seen.  I am not sure you would call it a creek, or just water run off, but it cascaded down all kinds of drops creating waterfalls.  I had to stop three or four times and take pictures on the trip back up (See WOW above).

 

  The trip along the Midland Trail was really not that exciting to start off with.  But then I was in the mountains again, and finally the road comes back and runs right along the New river.  Now this is the way to ride, mountains on one side, New River on the other.  Almost constant rapids in the river make every view spectacular.

 

From the Brochure

The New River drops 750 feet in 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge.  As a comparison the Mississippi River falls 1428 feet in 2300 miles.

 

  Now it is about 3:00 pm and it is time to head for Hendersonville North Carolina, south of Asheville.  I hit I-77 and head south to I-81.  My GPS says I will arrive at 6:30 pm.  I decide that I don’t have anything else to do, so I change up and head for Boone NC to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway for a little while.  I figure if I get to Hendersonville by 9:00pm I will have had a good day. See above “If you ain’t riding……etc.

 

  The Parkway was quiet, not many people left, as it is overcast with a chance of rain, and it is getting late.  I have the place to myself.  I set the GPS to Hendersonville so that I can get off the parkway before I hit that stretch just north of Asheville where there is NO getting off.  I pass by each point to get off, and another point pops up a few miles down the road.  Now it is starting to get dark so I figure that it is time to get off.  The GPS tells me there is a place about 5 miles up the road, but when I get there it is a rock road, and I am not about to negotiate a rock road on my Wing.  No problem, the GPS tells me there is another turn off about 9 miles ahead.  Wow, another rock road, and now it is dark.

 

  Dark takes on a different meaning when you are talking about the Parkway on a cloudy night.  There aren’t any lights up there other than the occasional headlight of a car.  Everything is pitch black and your headlights don’t look around curves.  If you stop and turn your lights off, you almost can’t see your bike.

 

  The overlooks are taking on a different type of visitor now as the lovers take over the dark parkway.  Almost every overlook is occupied by one or more cars, and there are no lights on in the cars.  Hmmm I wonder if someone just left their car there or…….

 

  The GPS says it is 22 miles to the next spot to get off the parkway.  I am not sure how far I would have to backtrack to get off so onward it is.  I find myself behind a car maybe 300 or 400 feet, so I turn my headlight down so it doesn’t create glare on the driver and I use him as a guide to the curves.

 

  Finally I am off the parkway and headed to Hendersonville.  It is already after 9:00pm, and I getting tired.  I am now on I-26 headed south.  I am following a car staying about 10 car lengths behind him running 70 mph.  To this day, I do not know what I hit.  It made a noise similar to a tire bursting.  I pulled immediately to the side of the road expecting to feel the bike start to get hard to control as the tires went flat.  I am down to 40 mph, and nothing, the bike feels fine.  I shake it around a little and decide that the tires are fine.  I start watching the temperature gauge for fear that the water reservoir might be broken.  Everything appears to be okay, nothing is acting strange.

 

  I have to remember that at the Hendersonville exit, you have to go under the overpass before turning off the interstate.  Well you guessed it, I missed the exit.  Too much concentration on what might go wrong with the bike.  So now we trek another 5 miles up turn around and 5 miles back.

 

  I arrive at the motel, and the first thing I see is that parts of the leather bra on the front of the trailer are hanging.  Oh No, my new trailer.  I crawled under and had a look, one small ding in the underside of the trailer one snap is missing and the bra is torn.  As I was backing in to park the bike, a couple of ladies pulled up and said that when I had moved the bike, there was oil on the pavement.  Sure enough, there was oil all over the underside of the bike.  Heaven knows what I have done to the engine.  It did not look like much oil but it was everywhere.

 

  One strange thing about Hendersonville is Schroader’s Honda.  I say strange, because they are one of the few who close on Saturday, but are open on Sunday.  I know where I will be Sunday morning.

 

Sunday April 25, 2004

 

  I am supposed to be in Wrens Georgia around 12:00 for a family reunion.  Now I am sitting in my motel room watching the Today Show, waiting for 9:00 to roll around.  I figure that I need to be there early so I am first in line.  I go out and check my bike, and see where I have knocked a chunk out of the engine, and almost flattened the oil filter.  I crank the bike up and there is a drip where the oil filter meets the engine. I am hoping a new oil filter will fix the leak.

 

  If the leak wasn’t enough of a problem, I look at the back tire and there are cords showing.  What else can go wrong?  I check the oil, and it doesn’t even touch the stick.  Do I have enough oil to make it to the Honda Shop?

 

  At each red light I turn the bike off to avoid losing any more oil.  I coast with the engine off as much as possible.  Thank goodness I made it without the oil light coming on.

The service tech at Schroader’s comes out around 8:45 and we decide to do an oil change and change the rear tire.  They were really fantastic, and got me ready to go by 10:30.  I paid my bill and headed to Wren’s.  Made it in time to eat a piece of chicken, pick up my wife, who was riding home with me, and head for Albany.  My wife and I had a nice, normal, leisurely ride back to Albany with no problems.

 

After Thoughts

 

  Would I do it again?  Just give me the chance, and I will be gone.  I thought the bridge was a great destination and I wish I had spent more time around that area.  I guess there is always another day.  That sounds like an open ended invitation to me.  Anyone want to go?

 

  Still can’t figure out what I hit in the road.  Not sure if a tire tread off of a truck could do this much damage.  I know now that there is a Tulsa belly pan in my near future.  I have ordered one, and it will be arriving soon.  I know the belly pan would have protected my motorcycle, but it would not have helped my trailer.

 

  This is twice I have problems on the road and twice it has worked out that I found Honda Dealers who were willing to get me back on the road as quick as possible.  Both dealerships were friendly and courteous, as well as very helpful.  God bless the good Honda Dealers.

 

  Look out Colorado, here I come.  I am planning to go in July 2004.  I am driving my bike out and my wife is going to fly out and ride with me around Colorado.  I have seen most of the mountains in the east and am looking forward to seeing what real mountains look like.  I understand the foothills in the east cannot compare with the Rockies.  I will let you know about that trip as it unfolds.

 

  The mileage for all four days was 1682 per the GPS.  If I took it from the motorcycle it would probably be around 1750.  I averaged around 35 to 40 MPG pulling a loaded trailer and running 75 on most interstates. Day one 416 miles, day two 250 miles, day three 632 miles, and day four 384 miles.  I now have 56,000 miles on the bike.

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