Dragon bound from Upstate NY
Well first off, this ride report strikes out on most of the ADV ride report requirements. I didn't take enough pictures. There are no cool shots of the GPS showing the stats at the end of the day. I lost the food pictures from my camera. :eek1 Maybe worst of all, not a single pic of a state welcome sign. :eek1:eek1
If you are still reading, I will point out that I am writing this more than 2 months after the trip. We all made it home safe, although someone found out that a Harley soft tail isn't the best tool for off road riding. :huh
This trip started on Facebook. A couple of my high school buddies were going to ride the Dragon. I decided I would tag along! :D The plan was to meet at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort on October 5. Ride for a couple days and then we would all head our separate ways back to our homes.
So I am thinking this should be an easy first solo trip for me. I figure that my brother lives a short day's ride south in Culpeper, Virginia and North Carolina is just a short hop from there! Right? :huh Dang, I shoulda looked at a map before agreeing to join them! I also fooled myself into thinking it would be warm in North Carolina during the 1st week of October. Mistake #2.
One week to go before the trip. The weather is looking great.
I post this up on Facebook and tell everyone that I am psyched about the trip, the weather looks great. Of course, this act prevents any chance of good weather for the weekend! :doh
I do have a cool map to share!
So there are 3 of us meeting for this trip. I am riding my ST1300 down from upstate New York. The other two are meeting me there. One is trailering his bike from Philadelphia and the other is riding from Charlotte.
Next - Southbound
Rode down with a friend in august. Great time. Will stay tuned.
Made that trip twice this year, maybe I can loan you a few pics.:D
Map is a nice touch, that will help us forget about the pictures. I feel certain you could rob some from other inmates, as it has already been offered ... but no worries, just tell us the story. :ear
I had never gone camping on a motorcycle. I spent the night before I left, packing and repacking, adding more things, sure I was forgetting some vital item. Surprisingly, I slept good that night. I was expecting to lie awake, like I did as a kid before Christmas morning. :D
I didn't need to hit the road real early, so I had some more pack/repack time in the morning. I didn't want to show up at my brother's too early, since it was Thursday and he was working. I have driven to his place many times and this would be the first time on a motorcycle. I had a new route all mapped out that would avoid the slab today. There would be plenty of that tomorrow!
I was on the road around 9:00. It was cool and cloudy, but the forecast said it would warm up and I was going south right? I headed south toward Wellsboro and continued on 287 South. This is a pleasant stretch of two lane through Pennsylvania farm land. A good road and not too much traffic on a Thursday morning, other than the trucks hauling water for gas drilling, of course.
I took 287 down to 220 and headed toward State College. Somewhere along this route, my Garmin decided I should head off in a different direction than I had planned. My cheap GPS doesn't support routes, so I mapped out my route with a bunch of way points, but its still left to the GPS to find the “best” route between way points. Instead of heading toward State College, I was going south on 445 over one of the many mountain ridges that cross Pennsylvania east-west like wrinkles in the earths crust. This sure was a bonus, about a ½ hour of slabbing on 220 and I80 was replaced by some twisties over the mountain and some more country two lane. Thanks Garmin! :clap I would only curse you for the rest of the trip though.:dog
My goal was to get to US522, which I could take all the way to Culpeper, Va. The rest of the trip through Pennsylvania was more of the same. Pleasant country roads with little traffic. Somewhere along the way I stopped at a gas station with a Subway to feed the ST and me. The route involved lots of pleasant riding through the country side, but I still made good time.
Pictures. Yeah, I didn't take a single one this day. :cry I need to work on my motorcycle traveling skills. Once I hit the road in a car, I get focused on getting to where I am going. This has translated over to motorcycle trips. I need to slow down and enjoy the trip, not just the destination. Stop and take photos, maybe keep a notebook. These are all things I need to work on for my next trip. :nod
I crossed through Maryland in what must be one of the shortest state crossings at only about 2 miles and into West Virginia! Two new states on a motorcycle in 5 minutes! Virginia was next. From this point on, the roads became more congested as I passed through Winchester and on to Culpeper. I pulled into my brother's driveway and scare his dog. She apparently had never seen someone with a helmet and gear, riding in on such a vehicle. She never totally got over that and was really nervous if I had any of my gear on. I had a great visit and a great meal with my brother's family. :dg :beer Tomorrow would be a long day and I hoped to be on the road early.
Base Camp says 357 miles for Day 1.
You had me hooked at the reference of riding off road on a soft tail. Just grabbed a beer and popcorn so let the story continue.............
I had hoped to be on the road by 7. I didn't do too bad though, kick stand was up by 7:30 and I was off. A long day was ahead, at least 120 miles more than yesterday. My brother, the VDOT engineer, tells me that I81 has the highest percentage of truck traffic in Virginia, BY FAR. Well if that doesn't make me a bit more nervous, I don't know what will. :eek1
Knowing that I had a lot of miles to chew, I should get on the Interstate and start munching, right? Well, I couldn't pass by the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway without a taste. So a slight diversion.
Day 2 and the first pic. Shameful :huh
I got on the BRP and headed south. Very nice! I decided right then and there, that I have to come back with my wife and ride the whole thing. Its just a shame that in the back of my mind, I knew I had to get moving. I stopped at a few over looks and even took some pictures!
I continued on the BRP until I got to route 60, where I headed west to get on the dreaded I81. Route 60 west off the BRP is a great twisty road down off the mountain. I wonder if this is what I have to look forward to in NC and Tennessee.
I get on to I81 and hit it. Cruise control set. :ricky Its warming up, so at the first rest area, I lose the outer layer on my jacket, riding for much of the day with the mesh base jacket. I settle into a routine. Ride on, my right knee starts to hurt, use the highway pegs, now my butt starts to hurt, back to the regular pegs, now my thigh is cramping. Good thing there is another rest area coming up! Stop, drink, stretch, walk around, talk to people I don't know. This is a cool thing about motorcycle travel I find out. If you are on a bike by yourself, people gotta talk to you! Other bikers for sure, but everyone seems drawn to the moto traveler. One hour seems the limit, so the rest areas end up well spaced for me, all about 70 miles apart it seems.
Normal highway travel modes kick in. Next goal Roanoke, my butt hurts again, another rest area coming up, sweet!, then Tennessee, then I40, where I81 ends! For some reason this seems important. This is where I turn on I40 and head southeast to the Smokey Mountains!
The ride up into the mountains is as enjoyable as I imagine slab can be. The scenery sometimes makes it difficult to pay attention to the important things like all these curves that are connected one after another. The sun is getting real low in the sky and making it impossible to see sometimes, but the road continues to curve back and forth, making the blind times short and mostly behind me since the sun is surely sinking out west. The trip seems to have transitioned back to a motorcycle ride and less of a mile munching task. It gives me a second wind. :ricky I made to North Carolina! Almost there! Well maybe not! :D
That feeling lasts until I get over the mountains and get off the slab on 276. Its a stop for gas and a big bottle of water at a local gas station, car repair, restaurant and store. Multitasking for sure. I reach 19 and head back west. This stretch of 19 has some very entertaining twisties, but also enough traffic that enjoyment of them is not guaranteed. I pass by the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the northern end of which I was on this morning. It now seems a long time ago. I get to Cherokee and pass through this Native American mini Las Vegas and it happens. Its dark now, I really have not ridden at night much and I have the feeling wash over me that I just want to be at the campground. I what this travel day done. :cry
Its not though, so I must continue on. Shortly after Cherokee, I get on a 4 lane highway. This is unexpected, but I trust the Garmin. It might not get you there the best way or the way you want to go, but it will get you there. Famous last words! The Honda engineers gave the ST good lights and the slab in the dark isn't too bad. I am eating up miles and closer to being off this bike! The 4 lane ends and I am on 28, which means I am almost there. Garmin tells me to take a right on a very dark, very small road. I head down the road and It seems to me that this can't be a real road, its too narrow. I carry on, because Garmin tells me another right turn is coming up. Down that road and my destination is just ahead.
Arrive at Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort :confused
I stop. Look around. :confused:confused Crap, if this isn't the middle of nowhere, I am sure you could see it from here! So I am trying to find my maps on this dark road, in the middle of the woods and I hear dogs barking in the woods. I am tired, but I decide this isn't a good place to stop. I get turned around and head back to the last intersection. I am stopped, looking at my maps, with a flashlight in my mouth when a couple motorcycles turn in and head up the road I just came back from. It would have been nice if they had stopped, but I guess guys on motorcycles with flashlights in their mouths are common in these parts! :lol3 I decide that I should go where the bikers were heading. :deal Past where Garmin said the Iron Horse was and up the road a ways, there it is! Cool, made it. :clap:clap:clap
I got my tent setup and in rolls in my buddy from Charlotte. We spend the night at the campfire, with a large bottle of Knobs Creek, waiting for the guy from Philly, who's gonna get in late. :freaky
Today 487 miles
Cool! I remember my Garmin telling me I had arrived at Iron Horse, and I certainly hadnt arrived anywhere. I continued down the road and found it.
Iron Horse... what a sweet place. Wi-Fi, breakfast, maps, pool table, alcohol by the fire, beautiful creek running through, and all the local riding knowledge possesed by the staff.
Met some interesting folks there!
Great ride report!!!
Saturday morning arrives with a strange mixture of weather. The sun is out, but there is light rain falling as well. The forecast was for good weather, but those clouds over the mountains are foreboding. The late night means we are some of the last to saddle up and head out at the Iron Horse. On the schedule today is the Cherohala/Dragon loop.
There are three of us. I have not seen these guys in 20 years. Back in High School, I was the rider. I rode dirt bikes until I was old enough to drive. Fast forward to now and I had not been back on a bike till a year ago. I am inexperienced on a street bike and old enough to realize it. I have had the Honda ST1300 since June. These guys have been riding for years. Brian has ridden out here from Charlotte on his Harley Ultra. He's been in this area several times and we let him be the lead dog. Steve drove down from Philly, towing his Harley Softail Custom.
We head out. I follow Brian, with Steve close behind me. We are heading for the Tail of the Dragon. Route 28 is wonderful. It is a pleasant warm up and introduction to the great roads in this area. Soon we are there. Gotta go get coffee, tee shirts and stickers!
Everyone has taken pictures of the tree of shame. I did as well
This sign struck me a funny.
We walk across the road to the new Killboy shop and do some more tourist stuff.
Brian has been here before. He understands what the Dragon is. Steve and I have read everything we can find on the internet. We both know to watch out for the real riders coming up from behind, to move over and let them pass. We have read how we really need to worry about the real riders and try to stay out of their way. I assume I am alone in being nervous, but it turns out Steve has similar thoughts. We saddle up and head up the road.
We quickly pass the state border and the curves begin. The road is dry. The nervous feeling begins to fade away and I realize this is a lot of fun. We are spread apart. Brian's Ultra seems to handle the curves well and I am having no trouble staying with him. Steve is falling back though. His Softail is built for style. That fat rear tire and skinny front tire are not optimal for this type riding.
I slow down on the few straights and start watching my mirrors for Steve. Less of my attention is on what's in front of me and more on behind. Suddenly, in the middle of a curve, a fast rider with loud pipes passes me, startling me in the curve. I lose focus and get close to the edge. Damn, where did he come from. Must be one of the real riders that write those rules of the Dragon I read on the web. I decide right then that I need to focus and ride. I catch Brian and I follow him up the mountain. I find out that my foot drags if its under the shifter, so I get it up on top of the pegs in the curves. Curve after curve, we get a clean run the rest of the way. We don't catch anyone and no more squids.
I had to buy a photo
I don't see Steve behind me. I assume he's more comfortable at a slower pace. This is the first time any of us has ridden together. Soon, we are at the top. Pictures were taken.
WTF, where's Steve? No one comes up. Finally some riders show, but not Steve. They tell us there is a rider off the road, in a good place, but off the road none the less! Crap! We saddle up to head back down and here comes Steve. He has some extra mud on his bike, the new windshield is scuffed and he lost a turn signal lens. He says he's okay, but he's limping around a bit.
It took awhile for the whole story to come out. Apparently, the same guy who passed me, startled Steve even more. He was heading to the edge of the road and didn't think he was going to save it, so he picked a soft spot and headed there. Wet leaves on the dirt shoulder did him in. The next guys along stopped and helped him up and everything seemed okay, so he headed on. Steve's a pretty cool customer, but he obviously was shaken. Who wouldn't be? Further up the road, he pulled over in one of the pull off areas (they are not very big) to allow someone past and he dropped it again. One attempt at the Dragon and it won.
So, we hung around at the overlook for awhile. Not a very good start.
I do love dogs on motorcycles!
We are getting ready to saddle up and a group of sport bikes is leaving ahead of us. The last guy in the group just falls over trying to turn his bike around. None of his mates see him and they are gone. We run over and help him with the bike. He thanks us (I think he did, he wasn't speaking English) and is off. What is going on here?
We head off. Brian has slowed down in the lead. We get down by the lake and it starts raining. Not hard but steady. We stop at the Rt 129 Dragon Harley store and get our rain gear on. From here we follow the mapped route up to 441. The road is pleasant and the technical parts are behind us. We stop for gas and something to drink. The rain has let off, but the weather has made the visibility poor. We turn and head to the Cherohala Skyway.
We stop at the Cherohala Harley store to get out of the rain, which has picked up again.
The Iron Horses
Riders stop coming off the Cherohala Skyway don't have good news. Thick fog, no visibility, don't go that way. We consider our options and there just isn't another way, except where we came from and that's a long way. Our only chance to get back before dark is to brave the Skyway fog.
We hit 3000 feet above sea level and we are in the clouds. Visibility is about 50 feet. Its a very slow ride. We pass by all the parking areas since the great views I have read about are not to be seen today. Of course the mist or rain is there all the time. The Cherohala has plenty of curves, but they are sweepers, not the tight technical curves of the Dragon. Once we get over the mountain and out of the clouds, the weather breaks and we actually can see the sky and clouds for the first time since breakfast. The clouds hang in the mountains in beautiful ways. Perhaps this is why they are called the Smokies?
We roll into the Iron Horse just before dinner. Saturday night is prime rib and it tasted good after a day of riding. Time to relax, have some great conversations and plan tomorrow. The news we hear is that the weather was good for everyone who stayed east of the mountains. We thought we would go up into the National Park tomorrow.
I said something earlier about knowing what the Dragon is. So, I have been there, rode it several times (more to follow), what do I think it is? Its just a road. Really! That's what it is. Its not some impossible collection of curves that require god like skills to navigate. Its not a race track, although some treat it as such. The real hazard there are the riders that write down the "dragon rules" on the web and believe everyone needs to get out of their way while they speed up and down the road. I enjoyed the Dragon and will go back. I won't let the squids bother me next time. Ride my own ride.
143 Miles today
Sunday - Bridal Veil Falls
Sunday morning and its cold and cloudy. We learned from yesterday and looked at the weather radar. :nod It looked like rain again in the mountains. We got some recommendations and decided to head south on 28. :deal It's amazing here. All the roads are like this. Curve after curve, great scenery! Well, maybe not so great if you gotta hop in the pickup and head 20 miles to the hardware store for that one 2 X 4 you need, and it takes an hour each way, but on a motorcycle with no schedule, its great!
We head down 28 toward Franklin and pass through some great twisties. Much of the road follows a river that provides some great views and a few waterfalls. We eventually get to Bridal Veil Falls. There was quite a group of people standing around, taking in the view. We decided to move the bikes in under the falls for some photos.
After we did that, the light went on to our fellow onlookers and they started lining up to get their chance under the falls!
We turned around here and headed back to Franklin for some lunch at a recommended BBQ place. We found Willy's Ribs & BBQ, but they are closed on Sunday! :cry We decided to head on back toward the Iron Horse via Wayah Road.
Wayah Road was another great road, but much of it is through heavy woods. There were lots of wet leaves on the road, so extra care was required. :eek1 As we wound our way up to the top, we once again entered the clouds and mist. This road was great and would have been a blast in better weather and road conditions. On the way down the mountain, we got caught behind a truck towing a boat. Crap! After quite a ways, he finally found a place to pull over and let us by. To be fair, there were not any places for him to safely stop his rig for us to pass. The entire trip, we found the local drivers to be very moto friendly. More often that not, they would pull over and let us pass by. :ricky
We continued on until we got to the junction of 19 and 28. We pulled over and said our good byes to Brian, as he was heading back to Charlotte. We decided that this was the 1st annual get together and hoped to grow the event for next year. After Brian departed, Steve said he had unfinished business. He had to go ride the Dragon. It was 4:00 in the afternoon and it was getting cold, but I was game. We headed up 28, back to the scene of yesterday's unintentional off road adventure.
Suffice to say that on this day, the Dragon was slayed. We had an enjoyable ride up to the top, where the sun was out and we looked out on the view of the dam.
We continued on to the parking area by the lake, not really sure where the Tail of the Dragon ends. There we turned around and headed back the Dragon to the Deal's Gap Resort for a bite to eat and more shopping. We got to the Iron Horse as darkness and the temperature fell. Another enjoyable night by the fire, with everyone sitting close in to the flames for warmth. My plan was to leave first thing tomorrow morning to head to Culpeper and a warm bed instead of this cold hard ground.
190 miles today
Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort
This was my first stay at a motorcycle resort. I have to say it won't be my last. It was great being in a group of people with motorcycles in common. The Harley and BMW riders even seem to get along like good friends.
I would definitely recommend the Iron Horse Motorcycle resort. I camped in a tent but they offer accommodations ranging from bunk houses to cabin rentals. The main building has a large central gathering room with a projection TV. There are two more rooms with big screens and a pool table up on the mezzanine. They offer breakfast every morning and dinner most evenings. The food is good and reasonably priced. They have WIFI in the main building but the surprise was that it worked out in the tent area as well. This is good, because cell coverage is hit and miss. The one thing you may want to plan for, is the county is dry, so you will need bring in any alcohol if you so desire. There is under roof motorcycle parking and they offer bike rags for cleaning or drying if you are not lucky enough to get under the roof.
The best part may be the communal fire pit. Making new friends and talking about motorcycles with people from all around the country was one of the highlights of the trip.
Oh and the GPS snafu on Friday? If I had been a little bit more observant, I would have seen the sign nearby that told you to head up the road a piece to the resort. They really do a good job there anticipating the needs of motorcycle tourists here.:clap:clap:clap
Glad you enjoyed my back yard. Sorry about the passing without prior notice, most locals will give you a heads up.
Trying to dodge the rain
So after a pleasant night by the fire and another night sleeping on a flat air mattress, I wake up around 5 AM and of course, I have to pee. Damn, I hate getting old. Although, as they say, it is better than the alternative. Its cold too. My thin little sleeping bag is definitely not cutting it! So I throw on some clothes and stumble in the dark to the bathroom and take care of business. I crawl back in bed and try to get warm and fall back asleep. No dice, its cold and I am thinking about the trip back up the boring 4 lane. After a bit, I grab my ipod and check the time. Hey look, I got WIFI out here! Lets check the weather radar...oh crap, look at all that rain! Where the hell did that come from? :eek1
In a state of near panic, I decide that I need to leave asap, because the bulk of the rain is still west of here. It looks like the rain is sitting just west of I81 the entire way to the top of Virginia. This is gonna suck! :cry I throw on some clothes and start packing up. It of course takes twice as along as I think it should. Its 7 AM and dark and drizzling when I pull out of the Iron Horse.
I have a plan to just ride east, away from the rain. So that's what I do. I avoid the trip over the mountains toward I81 and head toward Asheville instead. When I pass over the ridge where 19 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway, the temperature read out on the ST drops to 41 degrees and I am riding in a cloud. My hands are really cold. If I make a habit of riding in this weather, I will need some heated grips or gloves. I get to Asheville and stop for gas and McDonalds breakfast and WIFI. The rain isn't moving, its just hanging west of the I81 corridor. If I decide to head that way and the rain moves east, I will be in it all day. Not good. Another large rain system is in the Raleigh area. I put on another layer and continue east on I40. Once I get to Hickory, I have to decide whether to take I77 north to I81 or continue east. I am still hoping the rain will move east and I can cut through it and head up I81 in the clear area behind it.
I get off the highway at the rest area west of Hickory. I call my wife and tell her I will call back at the next rest area in Statesville, please look at the weather radar for me. I curse my cheap butt, why don't I have a smart phone? :doh In Statesville, my wife tells me that I81 still looks socked in, so I decide to head east to I95, where I will have to turn north, rain or no rain. I text my brother with my new plan. He recommends route 29 north from Greensboro. Sounds like a shorter route and he says its a good road. Sounds like a winner! :deal
I stop in Greensboro for more free WIFI and a fast food lunch. Its raining here now, but looks like its better north in Virginia. I head up 29 in the rain, its 46 degrees, but the ST provides decent protection and my cheap rain gear is doing much better than my cheap air mattress did. Route 29 turns out to be a nice 4 lane highway. As I enter Virginia, I stop at the welcome center. The rain is tapering off, but its still cold. Once I get warmed up, I get back on the bike and continue North.
The rest of the day I fell in to a rhythm of travel. I would ride until my hands got cold. Stop for coffee.
I finally pulled into my brother's driveway. It never got above 46 degrees on my trip today. He offers me a beer, but I decline and tell him I would rather have a warm shower.
Once showered and dressed in dry clothes, I am ready for that beer! :beer
Today was 470 miles, most on the slab.
So, I am writing this on December 24, Christmas eve. So it seems appropriate that I wrap this report up. :D:D
There not much more to it really. The trip from Virginia to home was uneventful and boring. I really wanted to get home, and I no longer had any concerns with riding on the slab, which I have to admit I did before this trip. I take 15 north from Culpeper to 17 and stay on that to Winchester, where I am back on I81. The day is sunny and cold. Its in the upper 30's when I roll out of Culpeper and the temperature slowly climbs until when I cross the Mason-Dixon line, it creeps over 50.
At the Pennsylvania welcome area, I can actually shed a layer, now that its over 50. I meet a guy on a Triumph as I am leaving and he is stopping. He asks if I am a long or short distance rider. Unsure if I meet the long distance rider criteria, I just tell him where I have been. He is heading back to Buffalo and has been in the Keys and all around the Southeast.
The temperatures are up in the 50's for the rest of the trip, so cold hands are no longer an issue. I roll back in my driveway to the excitement of my dogs and am happy to be home.
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