Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th. The day that bikers head for the sleepy Ontario town of Port Dover by the tens of thousands. OK, we didn't have the bike with us and we didn't go to Port Dover, but we were down in Cambridge because Heather was taking the motorcycle course this weekend and VROC was meeting at Shoeless Joe's in Burlington. We took a wander over. Good thing we took the van because it was snowing on the way over. There's not a lot to write about. We had some food, a few drinks and took some pictures.

Gord, Maxxx and Roger the Grouch

Normie, Lisa, Ray, Roger, Gord, Maxxx, Sandy, Biker

Ace and Shelby

Everyone watches Shelby keep VROC up to date on what we are doing

The fish was THIS BIG!!

Hey, wait a minute..........

That's about it for this (almost) Port Dover gathering. Maybe next year, we'll get all the way down but then again, maybe not. Shoeless Joe's is just fine by us.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Carolina to Sudbury - Day 3

The morning broke clear, sunny and 52F. The Weather Channel showed a front coming from the west, so we headed for the border. We stopped at the Duty Free so Terry and Patsy could buy some things and then headed across the Peace Bridge and back to Canada. After clearing Customs with no problem, we dropped a dime at the toll booth. I was ready to get off and get it, but the young lady in the booth said she would look after it. Not often that happens any more.

The front caught us as we reached Hamilton, so we added layers when we stopped for gas over the Burlington Skyway. More gas in Barrie, where we saw an older rider on a Yamaha FJ loaded like the Clampett's and heading for Alberta. Another older gentleman from Scotland stopped me in the parking lot to ask questions about the bikes.

Southbound traffic was heavy on this Thanksgiving Monday as the poor unfortunate cottage country people tried to jam themselves back into Toronto. The Tim Hortons at Nobel was so backed up that we went up to the restaurant at the Shell station for lunch. The food was good, so I'll have to stop here more often. We ran into Marcel Bigras, another Inco retiree, and caught up on who has been doing what.

The last 100 miles were uneventful and we waved as Sandy and I turned onto the by-pass while Patsy and Terry continued on through town.

This was a late season trip planned around a bonfire in August under the influence of beer and vanilla vodka mixed with root beer, but it turned out to be a good one.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

North Carolina to Sudbury - Day 2

It was raining this morning so we lingered over breakfast in Wytheville. When we finally set out north on I-77, we ran through fog as we went through the two tunnels that led to West (By God) Virginia. We saw two deer in fields, but there may have been more. It started to clear around Beckley and the sun came out by the time we stopped for gas in Summersville, so we took the rain gear off. We saw two Summersville cops and one State Trooper just north of town.

After catching I-79, we cranked the speed up to 130/140 KPH, stopping for gas and lunch in Morgantown. We ran up the hill to the K-Mart, where I got cut off by two oblivious woman drivers while I was trying to get into the parking lot. Failing in our boot purchasing challenge, we continued north to Pittsburgh. For once (maybe because it was Sunday), the traffic through the construction zone at the 279 interchange was light. We were paced for a while by a late 70's BMW R90S, a beautiful bike that looks so small today.

We gassed again in Grove City and continued north to Erie where the temperatures were cooling down and leaves were falling heavily. On the Thruway, I miscalculated the mileage to the Angola Service Center so we got off and fueled along US 20. I checked with Niagara Falls for rooms and found that prices were up because of the weekend, so we elected to continue into Buffalo on 20.

I missed the Thruway interchange I wanted to find with hotels in Hamburg and we found ourselves in a rougher area in Orchard Park. There was a Red Carpet Inn within sight of the Blaisdell stadium. It was a but rugged but the room was OK. We walked across the road to Louie's Texas Red Hots and had supper. After eating, Terry took Patsy back to the nearby Wal-Mart and left her to shop. Back in the room, we watched TV and passed the time until he had to go and bring her back. We watched more TV until we all fell asleep.

Note: This was Sunday. The following Thursday night, Buffalo got hit with an early blizzard that paralyzed the city for days. I guess we were very lucky.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

North Carolina to Sudbury - Day 1 - The Blue Ridge

It was cool and foggy in Robbinsville. As we went up the mountain heading back towards KSL, we broke out into clear blue sky with a cottony fog below is. At KSL, Fred was cooking a fine breakfast but we didn't have time to stay. Bidding goodbye to the gang, we headed up US 74 to Waynesville, passing two motorcycle cops doing business with an unfortunate car driver at the side of the road. After fueling and grabbing a quick McD breakfast, we took I-40 East to the other side of Asheville, where we entered the famed Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).

Since it was Saturday, the traffic was slow. Cars were ambling along at below the 45 MPH speed limit, some as low as 30 MPH, enjoying the scenery and generally getting in our way. There isn't supposed to be any passing on most of the BRP, but we squeezed by where we could. One driver, whose dog had its head stuck out his open sun roof, took exception and honked as we passed. As we got away from Asheville, the traffic eased up and we were able to make better time. The leaves were starting to change and the views were more spectacular than usual. We stopped at a lookout to take it all in.

Further up the BRP, past Grandfather Mountain, the BRP is closed indefinitely due to a landslide and so we had to detour onto US 221. That is a road with some attitude and we were back in traffic again, especially one slow moving truck towing a horse trailer. Eventually, we got back on the Parkway and moved along until we arrived at Deep Gap, where we followed 221 into West Jefferson for gas and lunch at Arby's. At the BP station, an older couple from Cleveland stopped to talk about motorcycles.

US 221 from West Jefferson to Wytheville Virginia is a particularly winding road. We covered it earlier this year southbound and the northbound side is just as good. It is recommended to anyone heading through this area. We passed three dead deer and the mashed parts of what we suspect was one more, but didn't see any live ones. In Wytheville, I called ahead to Beckley, West Virginia and found things were booked since this was one of the last rafting weekends of the season. We elected to stay in Wytheville and got a room at a Travelodge.

Terry and Patsy went across town to do some shopping at the Wal-Mart. Sandy and I decompressed until they got back, and then we all went next door to Cracker Barrel for supper. I finally got a chance to have the chicken fried steak I had been promising myself. I don't know why this isn't available in Canada, but I make up for that whenever I am south of the border.

After getting back from dinner, we watched a little TV and then turned in.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Riding the North Carolina Mountains

Today was to be our first real day of riding the North Carolina mountains. It was supposed to rain until noon today, but the forecast changed and (after a light early drizzle) no rain was anticipated. When Terry and I went down and uncovered the bikes, we met a GoldWing rider from Texas named Don Martin. He was a CMA rider on a three week trek around the south. We talked bikes for a while before getting the gear packed.

Terry led the way out of Maggie Valley bound for Bryson City on US 19. The road was mostly twisty as it wound its way up and down the mountains through the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Terry, towing the trailer, set a steady pace which picked up a bit as the pavement dried. We passed through Cherokee, going by the fancy casinos and the turn off to Gatlinburg. We came into Bryson City along the river and stopped at the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) store to stock up for the evening. A couple of good old boys came out with a pint, climbed in their truck and took a long pull from the bottle before driving off. Luckily, they were going the other way.

I took the lead as we got up onto US 74, the Great Smokey Mountains Expressway, headed for Kickstand Lodge. This was familiar territory and we rolled through the four lane sweepers, turning onto US 28 North and running the short distance to KSL. Pulling into the KSL drive, we were met by several old VROC friends, including Jim Ayers, Russ "Cargo" Argo and Chunk Kiesling, not to mention Fred Kunkel, proprietor and "host with the most". We introduced our riding partners and Terry unhooked the trailer so we could go and find the real twisties.

After letting the gang know we would be back for supper, we headed west on US 28. Since these were roads I was familiar with, I led. I was able to motor along at a pretty good pace, although wet fall leaves on the road called for a little bit of caution. First stop was the Fontana Dam. They have a fine Visitor Center there and, although it was our third visit this year, it was a first for Terry and Patsy. I spent some time talking to the volunteer worker while Sandy showed them the video on the dam construction. Then the volunteer gentleman showed us a trick with a chain that I really can't describe. It looks like his personality was ideally suited to this type of public service.

Coming out of Fontana, we continued on to the Crossroads of Time. This is the gas station/store/ restaurant/motel that guards the east end of the Tail of the Dragon, the 11 mile 318 turn stretch of US 129 that leads through Deals Gap into Tennessee. We prowled the lot for a bit, checking out the Tree of Shame that carries the broken bike parts and gear from those bitten by The Dragon. Although this was also our third time here this year, it is always fun to take someone for the first time and see everything through new eyes.

Sandy and Patsy opted to have lunch in the restaurant instead of taking a run at the Dragon with us. For the solo run, I changed the suspension and we set off with me in the lead. I described The Dragon in a May post, but without a passenger and having more familiarity with the road, I was able to dig a little deeper. To give you an idea of what this is like, here are two videos of Wings, piloted by the esteemed Dragonslayers Yellow Wolf (in the lead) and Fuse (with the camera).

There were some wet leaves in the first few corners, but then it cleared up as I entered Tennessee and I was able to get fairly aggressive. Traffic was light and I only passed one Sportster on the way to the overlook. There was a good crowd there and I met a gregarious fellow from Nashville and a few Quebec riders. Terry rolled in a short while behind me and we chatted for a bit before starting back. Again I led and, part way though, I came up behind a pair of Harley riders two-up. They were all over the road and I waited for the second bike to give way to the right side of the lane so I could pass. I guess they never heard of Dragon etiquette because this guy kept using the whole lane, so I was forced to pass hard in a short straight stretch. The leader got the idea and moved over after another few corners. Then I caught a truck towing a trailer and figured my ride was over. Fortunately, there was a series of open mild S-bends up a hill and I grabbed some throttle and got by him as well. I arrived back at the COT and lit a cigarette while I waited for my hands to stop shaking. Terry rolled in shortly thereafter behind the two HD's and we went to the restaurant to find the ladies and get some lunch.

We left the COT on US 129 East, aka the Mini-Tail of the Dragon. I took the cut-off road through the Joyce Kilmer National Forest (think Trees). The road was heavily laden with leaves and broken pavement but we made it through to the Cherohala Skyway . I miscued because, at the rate the Valk was burning fuel, I realized that Terry didn't have enough fuel to make it all the way across the Skyway to Tellicoe Plains. After a stop, we decided to run up to one of the higher lookouts and then return to Robbinsville.

The Skyway is more open than the Dragon, allowing higher speeds through the sweepers (as long as the Highway Patrol isn't watching) while providing breathtaking vistas of the Smokey Mountains. Here, Patsy is posing for Terry at the lookout where we turned around. Coming back down the Skyway, we continued on into Robbinsville, where I had a room reserved for us at the Microtel. Good thing too, since the town was booked solid. We got checked in and then left town before the Homecoming Parade clogged the main street.

We headed southeast on 129 to US 19/74 and then northeast through the Nantahala Gorge. Here, the gang stands on a footbridge to get a look at the kayakers and rafters working some white water.

From here, we continued on 19/74 to US 28 and back to KSL where I spent time visiting and Terry took some time out to wash the bike. His rides are usually spotless, a habit I never seem to have gotten into. Bob "Joker" Denny of Florida and Bob "Judge" Oglesby of Georgia were just getting ready to leave, so it was good to get a chance to see them even if it was only for a few minutes.

As the sun set, Fred and Mo cooked burgers, brats, beans and slaw for supper to feed the assembled masses. We hung out and visited some more. Grampoo, of the Pacific Northwest Chapter, was in the area on business and took time out to visit even though he was without a bike. The temperature dropped as it got dark and, eventually, we put on warm clothes for the night run to Robbinsville. Leading, I thanked Honda for the excellent headlights on the Wing as I kept an eye out for Bambi and his relatives. We got into Robbinsville without incident, found odd corners to park in since the lot was filled with bikes, had some pre-mixed White Russians we picked up at the ABC, and turned in for the night.

This was an exceptional day of riding and seeing old friends, exactly the kind of experience that keeps us out here on the road.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sudbury to North Carolina - Day 2

It was cool and damp this morning. The Weather Channel Doppler showed a band of rain across the Huntington, Charleston, Beckley area, so we prepared for the worst. We fueled and jumped back onto I-79 south. At Clarksburg West (By God) Virginia, we got off on the side road and found a McDonalds for breakfast. It's good to be back in the US where I can get a sausage biscuit while Sandy has her bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle without any cheese. Patsy didn't realize the McGriddle was made with syrup, so I traded her for my biscuit. We came out heading for the south interchange, but found there was no gas there so we doubled back ending up at the same gas where station I lost my clip-on sunglasses a few years ago. They weren't there.

We continued south and branched off on US-19 towards Beckley. I warned Terry about the police in this area and how they would stop someone for one mile over the limit. After all my warnings, we went up over the scenic Powell Mountain and through Summersville without seeing a single cruiser. South of Summersville, we stopped at the Visitor Centre on the north of the New River Gorge Bridge. The picture shows us at one of the lookout platforms on the boardwalk over the edge of the gorge. The bridge, 3,030 feet long and 876 feet above the river, is in the background. We stopped at the store below the Visitor Centre for the first time. I'm not quite sure what to make of the sign, but you can be sure we didn't play with the bullwhips.

South of the bridge in Fayetteville, we stopped at a K-Mart so Patsy could look for a pillow. It seems the seat on the Valk wasn't as comfortable as it should have been. She managed to get a nice, bead filled Batman pillow, but had to wait forever while one cashier dealt with a line of customers at a pace that can only be compared to a snail in slow motion.

Finally, in Oak Grove, Terry got to see one of the local constabulary who had been going south ahead of us. He saw a speeder and didn't even wait for a turnaround, wheeling his cruiser down through the median grass as he made a U-turn to go after him. They are aggressive here.

In Beckley, we caught I-77 and followed it down through the East River and Big Walker Mountain tunnels to Wytheville Va, where we caught I-81 westward towards Tennessee. We continued along here with relatively light traffic, fueling once at Exit 57, and then got off on my shortcut road at Exit 17 in Abingdon Va. This little road winds south through beautiful countryside and large houses, crossing into Tennessee and ending at Darter's Store and US 421. We turned west on 421, which goes to four lanes as we wound across the Tennessee landscape. Another left on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Parkway and we approached Bristol Motor Speedway from the back way. There were storms to the north as we headed across to Johnson City and I-26 South.

After the wild twisting climb up I-26 to the ridge that marks the Tennessee/North Carolina border, we stopped at the scenic overlook. You can see the Tennessee side laid out behind us in the picture. We continued on down the other side pat where the trailer opened by accident last year and went on to Asheville. Going around town, we took I-40 west. The truck traffic was as busy as ever so I was glad when we got off on 19 and followed it into Maggie Valley. We cruised through town and found a promising looking Comfort Inn, but it was full. The Microtel advertised a hot tub and so we got a room.

Patsy stayed in the room while Terry, Sandy and I went down the road to a place called Snappy's. The service wasn't very fast and the food was only OK, but we didn't complain and took Patsy back a sandwich. We changed and headed for the hot tub, which wasn't very hot. In fact, it was broken. The story of my life. After a quick dip in the pool, we turned in hoping for good weather tomorrow as we started playing on those "Nice Roads" I told the border lady about.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sudbury to North Carolina - Day 1

We rose early to a bad weather forecast. We packed and the drizzle broke just as we left the driveway, heading for our rendezvous with Terry and Patsy Appleby at the Tim Hortons on the south side of town. We have known them since 1980 and Terry and I have a history of both high speed tours and sidecar family runs over the years.

We arrived at Tim's a little ahead of our 8:00 AM meeting time. The drizzle started up again as Terry and Patsy arrived right on time on their Honda Valkyrie, towing their cargo trailer. Starting south, we rode through a cold front with pretty stiff wind gusts and occasional rain. Since the Valk doesn't get good fuel mileage at best, and the trailer and headwinds cut into this, we stopped for fuel in Parry Sound. In an attempt to upgrade the washroom facilites at the Tim's in Nobel, they switched the Men's and Women's rooms. Luckily, I noticed. Unluckily, Terry didn't. Sandy and Patsy were in the Ladies' Room when he heard their voices from the stall he was in. Fortunately, they were the only ones in there as he beat a hasty retreat.

As we left Parry Sound, the rain let up although it stayed windy. We moved another 100 miles south at about 130 KPH to the Petrocan at 400 and Highway 89. The speed combined with the wind and the cold to further reduce the mileage. The day was starting to get a lot dryer and we almost took off the rain gear. I said almost, but we're more experienced than that and it's a good thing we kept it on. Before we reached Toronto, we hit the warm front that the weather map had shown at right angles to the cold front. This brought a steady rain, the all day kind that gets everywhere. We ran across the top of Toronto in virtually zero visibility as the rain combined with the spray from the vehicles. This continued all the way down the 407 and QEW to Fort Erie, where we got off the road for more fuel and a food stop at McDonalds.

The traffic at the Peace Bridge border crossing was light. I pulled into the booth first and the young lady asked the usual questions. When she asked where we were going and I told her North Carolina, she asked why. I said there were some nice roads we wanted to ride. She then asked "You would brave this weather to ride some NICE ROADS?" I said "Yes, Ma'am, that's what we do." She laughed and waved us through, with Terry and Patsy right behind us.

To our surprise, the rain stopped and some blue sky appeared as we headed west on the Thruway bucking headwinds to Erie Pennsylvania, where we stopped again for fuel. Our luck wasn't going to hold, though, and the rain started again as we turned south on I-79. We continued on to Grove City where we fueled once more as the rain let up again. Patsy says I need to mention that the ladies did not complain once, and she was right. These passengers are two of the best riding partners anyone has ever had.

As we approached Pittsburgh, the rain started off and on and, as we went up past the Mount Nebo Road, a spectacular lightning show started to the south of us. The sky lit up time and time again as darkness fell, but the brunt of the storm was still ahead of us. At the South 279 interchange, we came to a dead stop. AGAIN!! I begin to wonder if they will ever finish the road construction here. Fortunately, the temperature had risen to 25C by now and it wasn't raining any more. When we finally got back up to speed, it started cooling and the light show ahead of us got even more wild.

Terry has a habit of continuing to ride no matter what the conditions. My judgement was that it was now pitch dark with severe lightning ahead and it was time to stop. When we reached Canonsburg Pennsylvania, a pretty little town built on a series of scenic hills, I passed him and pulled off down into a Super 8 parking lot. We got a room and took the gear off.

You have to picture where we were. The Super 8 was in a low spot and all the restaurants were back over a hill in the next hollow. We decided to walk and headed up the hill along the side of the four lane road. At the crest, the shoulder disappeared and so we crossed to the median where the walking would be safer. As we descended the other side, we encountered a No Pedestrian sign but we pushed on. I guess people don't walk much in Canonsburg. In the mass of restaurants at the bottom, we found the Wai Wai Buffet. They had a good selection for only $8.95, so we filled up on food. Another thing about Terry. He can't pass up a good buffet.

After eating, we asked if there was another way back to the Super 8. We were told that we couldn't get there from here other that the way we came, so it was back out to the median and up over the hill. You will note in the picture that the road is on both sides of us as we walked down the centre with local drivers giving us strange looks.
Back at the room, Patsy went to the lobby to use the computer to check Email. We didn't last long after that, tired as we were, and we settled in to a good night's sleep.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Planning The Final Run

We got back to town last Monday with 85,500 Kms on the odometer. The rear shock wasn't damping as well as it should and one headlight bulb was burnt out. The next day, as we were at the presentation of a Freedom Rider cheque to an outfit that provides burn garments to children, I noticed the left handlebar end weight had fallen off somewhere.

During the week, I got two H7 quartz bulbs and replaced both low beams. This was tricky because I had to work by feel between the forks and the back of the fairing, but I now consider myself an expert on this little task. The new handlebar weight will be in tomorrow. I will use some Blue Loc-tite on the screw this time and will put it on the screw holding the right bar weight as well.

I called the Progressive Suspension tech line and found their new 460 rear shock/spring will probably do fine as a replacement for the stock unit. I had been planning on upgrading anyway, and this has a higher carrying capacity than the original. The price is around $500 US. I'll get a set of their fork springs as well and also the tapered roller bearings for the steering head, and I'll get them put in over the winter. To replace that rear shock, much of the bike needs to come apart so I'm going to make a list of other things to check and/or replace while everything is exposed.

We leave Wednesday for the last run. Terry and Patsy Appleby will be going with us on their Honda Valkyrie. We'll be gone six days with the objective at the southern terminus of riding the Tail of the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway and other great motorcycle roads in the western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee area. We'll be paying Fred and Mo a visit at Kickstand Lodge, but this trip will be all motel.

Stay tuned for details as they occur.