Hang on while I go back in time and try to remember my first real long distance motorcycle ride. I had ridden a couple of hundred miles a few times to Panama City Beach Florida, or to Enterprise Alabama. I always remember stopping at the covered bridge just west of Blakely Georgia and enjoying the peaceful tranquility of the stream. We stopped there every time we passed by the area. As you read this, remember, most of the brain cells that stored this information have long since met their demise. I will do my best to get this accurate.
It was a simpler time in my life, a time when there were no pressures of job or family. A time when all I had to think about was what I wanted to do to have fun. I owned a couple of dirt bikes which I liked a lot, but my pride and joy was a Honda CB500 four cylinder street bike. I bought the bike in Albany Georgia after going to the Honda shop and watching the owner stand a nickel on the gas tank on its edge and revved the bike to 5000 rpms and the nickel just stood there. I traded my CB350 in on the bike the same day.
Pat Hans and I went to High School together, and after high school, we moved into an apartment together. Pat had bought a CB500 in Dothan Alabama, and believe it or not, they both had the same keys. Mine would start his and vice versa.
We spent the next couple of years making choppers out of our bikes. We replaced the handlebars with bars that were a little higher and swept back. We put larger tires on the rear, smaller tires on the front and extended the forks on the front end. We were trying to make our bikes look like choppers. I had replaced my stock seat with a seat that had a built in sissy bar, and a small backrest. Mind you that this was way before the Tuttles were building choppers in Orange County New York and making millions doing it.
I donít remember exactly what year it was, either 1972 or 1973. Pat and I made plans to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway in April. It really wasnít a plan as much as a destination. I had always wanted to go to the mountains, but had never had the chance. This would be two dreams come true, mountains and a long trip on my bike.
When you traveled back then, you had to be creative. Remember, this is before there were Goldwings or Ultra Classics with saddlebags and such. We could carry a pack with clothes, toiletries, cigarettes, and personal items. We also needed our sleeping gear because we were going to camp. I had everything I thought I needed in my backpack. I put this on the back seat and strapped to the sissy bar which gave me something to lean back against. My sleeping bag was strapped to the rear of the sissy bar. We were off on an adventure.
I donít mind riding 500 to 1000 miles in a day on my Goldwing with its windshield, cruise, and radio, but back then there was no windshield or other creature comforts. It was face to the wind, legs to the wind, and whole body to the wind. If it rains, we will just have to try to find someplace to get out of the weather. We rode that first day about 50 to 100 miles at a time before stopping to rest. It took most of the first day just to get to north Georgia.
The first night we rode down a side road looking for somewhere to camp. The road turned to rock, and then turned into dirt. All of a sudden, the road ended. As we turned around, I noticed that we were in front of a house. I say house very liberally, as this ďshackĒ was made by leaning steel building panels up against the sides to make a wall. As we were turning around, Patís bike quit. Now we are parked on the side of the road trying to find out why the bike quit, when two guys walk up from the house, and they look like they just stepped out of ďDeliveranceĒ (the movie). They were wearing rather tattered clothes and were missing a lot of their teeth.
As they are walking up, I told Pat to hurry. He is crouched down beside his bike with the side cover off. He finds that the fuse is blown and as we did not have any fuses, he used a gum wrapper to jump across. The guys are talking to me while Pat is working on his bike, asking about the motorcycles and us. Pat gets on his bike, and cranks it up. Pat did not even take time to put the side cover back on; we just wanted to get away from there. We waved and took off down the road. Wow what some weird dudes.
About a half mile up the road we see a clearing where a power line was running and we rode down this clearing a 100 yards or so, and found a place to make a camp. I had borrowed a jungle hammock from one of the guys I worked with. This hammock had a roof and screen walls which zipped closed, and a flap on each side that covered the screen section, or could be extended out about 3 feet. I found two trees to hang it from and put my sleeping bag inside. We built a small fire and sat around for a while and then went to bed.
At the time I smoked, so the first thing in the morning was to get up and have a cigarette. Of course first thing in the morning you have to cough and etc to get yourself going. Pat also smoked, and he was coughing a lot this morning. It was the last day of March and it was cold, so we decided to build the fire again. In order to get the fire going, I pulled the hose off of the gas tank and got a little gas. I poured that on the wood we got this morning and turned to get a match. Remember it is cold, and it never occurred to me that the gas fumes would hang close to the ground. Pat was still in his sleeping bag when I threw the match on the wood and gas, it erupted into a ring of fire about 6 six feet in all directions from the fire. It almost got Pat and his sleeping bag. Note number one, ďDo not use gas to start fireĒ.
As we are sitting smoking our cigarettes, a man walked up to our camp. He introduced himself as the landowner and told us he heard us coughing and decided to check it out. He said he did not mind us camping on his property, but he did go on to tell us about one of his neighbors who has liquor still in the woods around here. He said he lived right up the road and is the kind of person you donít want to mess with. He said he is surprised that the guy or his son didnít come over to our camp to check us out. We told him that we think we met him yesterday. Welcome to the mountains of North Georgia.
I have never been to the mountains except for when I was young. My family came from the Buffalo New York area (Lockport) and we would go there for Christmas each year. That was before interstates. Of Course we would have to go through the mountains to get there. That was three glorious days in a station wagon with Mom, Dad, Grandma, and four screaming kids. I do not know how my parents did it, but that is another story.
It was a little after lunch when Pat and I made it to the Parkway. We entered the Parkway somewhere along its most southern loop. We stopped at every overlook we came to and all I could do was sit in awe of the beautiful sites. Of course as we progressed up the Parkway the sites kept getting better and better. We must have looked like a couple of real Goobers to the people around us. We hadnít shaved since we left, we were wearing old army jackets with peace signs and other slogans on them, riding funny looking bikes, and talking about the fantastic views we were seeing. This went on all afternoon.
We stopped somewhere to eat and then headed out to Mount Mitchell State Park to stay at the campground. While we were at a store, I bought a coke to drink that night and first thing in the morning. We did not have any cooler or anything to carry food in, so I slipped the coke under one of my bungee cords and headed out.
If you have ever been to Mount Mitchell, it is about a 15 mile ride off the Parkway to get to. Remember this is the last day of March, and it is getting colder as we head up. By the time we get about halfway up we start seeing snow still on the ground. As we get to the top, I am really cold and looking forward to a fire to warm up to. We make it to the top, pull up to the gate at the campground, and there is a Ranger standing at the gate telling us the campground doesnít open until April 1st. Wow what a bummer, one day early. What are we supposed to do?
The Ranger told us that there is a campground a few miles up the Parkway called Black Mountain, and they are open. We stand around a few minutes to thaw out, and we start back down. It is dark now, but the good thing is that as we get to lower elevations, it warming up a little. We get back to the Parkway and head north. A little ways up the Parkway we see a sign that says Black Mountain Campground and an arrow pointing to a little rock road.
This is a one lane rock road that keeps switching back and forth all the way down the side of the mountain. This is a very slow process on a motorcycle. We probably donít make more than 5 mph all the way down. Every time you go around one of the switchbacks, you almost have to have your feet on the ground to keep the motorcycle from slipping out from under you. Finally the road flattens out, and we see a stream running along side of us. We find a place and set up camp.
As we are setting up camp and getting a fire going, we notice that there is some lightning off in the distance. The fire feels great after freezing for the last couple of hours. Somewhere on the trip down the rock road, I have lost my coke so now I have nothing to drink. It looks like rain, so we set up my hammock, which has a flap on either side that can be staked out like a tent. This gives about 6 foot of covered area. Pat set his sleeping bag up under the hammock and digs a little trench around it so the rain wonít get him. This will work great as long as the ropes on the hammock donít break sending me smashing down on top of him. This worked out good and Pat was able to stay dry.
The rain during the night has made it a little colder. When we get up, the first thing is to get the fire going again, and warm up. We amble over to the stream after warming up and take a half-assed bath in the cold water. We get packed and ready to go. We decide that we do not want to make the rock road again, so we continue on the road we came in on. About a half mile beyond, we come to a real campground with camping trailers and bathrooms and all of the civilized things.
Back on the Parkway, we head north again. We stop at Grandfather Mountain and ride to the top. Boy this is about as close to heaven as you can get. We sit up there for quite a while enjoying the views. It is really peaceful, as there are not a lot of tourists this time of the year
When we leave Grandfather Mountain, we have to take a detour around the area. They are not finished building the stretch around the mountain yet. We rejoin the Parkway and continue to head north. Our intentions are to ride to the beginning of the Parkway and then head back south. After we get to the area where the Parkway seems to flatten out some, we decide to go ahead and turn around and head back south. I donít remember how far north we went, the brain cells that had that information have already been wiped out.
We stayed in the campgrounds along the parkway for the most part. I remember the campground where we stayed on what would be our last night on the Parkway. There was a trail that said it led to a waterfall from the campground. We figured that it would be a great place to hike to so off we went. The trail was a path down the side of the mountain that was like a switchback. We went back and forth for what seemed like forever. We could hear the falls, but they were still way ahead of us. I donít remember making it to the falls, but decided to head back. I figured that if the trail went back and forth, all I had to do was go straight up, and I would run into the trail higher up. I have a fairly good sense of direction, but after climbing while, I hadnít come across the trail, and I was getting lost.
I wandered around for a while, continuing to go up all the time. I finally came out in the campground around a quarter of a mile from where I should have. When I got back to our campsite, Pat was sitting there. I guess my shortcut wasnít so short.
On the final day of the Parkway, we are heading south, and still stopping at most of the overlooks. We see some of the same ones that we saw when we first arrived. I donít remember much about the last day until we arrived in Cherokee North Carolina. This was my first time there, and I was in awe of all of the Indians and trinket shops. We broke down and got a room at a motel here, and wow did that hot shower feel good. We went out to eat and walked around town to visit the shops.
Our last day on the road was a real test of our stamina. We rode all the way from Cherokee to Albany Georgia in one day. We stayed on back roads all the way, never riding on the interstates at all. To say the least, we were worn out by the time we got home. I donít have any idea how many miles we traveled, but the trip was a real adventure.