Day 1: Dipping Below the Mason-Dixon Line
During the night I’d been awakened by rain pouring down the gutter drainpipe outside. It sounded like a steam train was chugging by our bedroom window with big whooshes of wind tearing through the trees. Of COURSE there was a monsoon in the wee hours of the morning we were heading out on the road.
True to form, when Kenny and I pulled away from our driveway a wet mist hung on the air. It wasn’t until we got moving at highway speeds that the rain started to fall.
Thankfully our time in the wet was short lived. By the time we’d made it into Pennsylvania the sun had already begun to elbow it’s way through the clouds. Make way, coming through, people on a road trip here!
At our first gas stop I smiled at Kenny and said, ‘Well, I’d rather get the rain out of the way now rather than on the good stuff later.’
We jettisoned our rain gear and enjoyed sweet sunshine for the rest of the day.
The goal for Saturday was nothing more than to get us within striking distance of the roof of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro, Virginia for the following day. That meant there was time to dilly-dally and look at ridiculous things along the way – things like shoe houses, Mail Pouch tobacco barns, elephants, dinosaurs and a little love thrown in for good measure.
Our first stop of the day was at the Haines’ Shoe House. After wishing and hoping for years to see it, it would have been criminal not to stop at the boot on Shoe House Road. Yes, that’s right. Shoe. House. Road. I find it’s best not to dwell too hard on the fabulosity of those three words strung together. Your head could explode from greatness.
While we were milling around in the heel, Kenny bought me a ceramic shoe house Christmas ornament (which survived the entire trip), a postcard and a sticker. He’s really a keeper.
Painted barn advertising has a special place in my heart. I can’t say for sure why, but I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside whenever I see something like the Totem Pole Theater – Mail Pouch Tobacco barn. It’s so… so… Americana. This particular barn actually has a Mail Pouch ad on the other end as well, but it’s mostly obscured by the overgrown trees.
For an extra bonus, the barn is just across the street from Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum. As the name implies it is a museum full of elephants and well maybe not so expected, CANDY! They’d suffered a devastating fire in 2011 but have risen from the ashes and are back in business showcasing their elephantine goodness.
You know, there is no shortage of weirdos in the world. Nowhere is that more apparent than when you get out into the more rural parts of the States. The backroads offer a special place for kooks to showcase their wares, to express their kookiness and kitschy eccentricities. You just never know what you might find out there.
With about 500 miles on the clock for the day we packed it in at Staunton, Va. The first hotel we pulled in to was kind enough to warn us that a coal train passed behind it 4 times a night so we opted to move along to a quieter spot.
With a windburned face and sun-tired eyes after dinner and a beer, I collapse into a heap and slept the sleep of the righteous. Sweet dreams of the Blue Ridge Parkway danced in my head.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23514497″ ugalkey=”gQhHB8″ imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
Smooth Sailing on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Don’t you love that feeling of waking up in a place where you don’t live? That feeling of freedom, of being loose, of being able to wander?
When I got up and looked out the window at our bikes in the hotel parking lot, I got a tickley feeling in my stomach. It was exciting to think that we’d soon be heading down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The sun was shining and the cool morning road was calling. With the mastery of a traveling circus, we packed our bags in jig-time and hit the road.
There were several times during the trip I found myself amazed when looking around our hotel room. It often seemed like a motorcycle gear and clothing bomb had gone off. And yet, every morning the ritual of putting everything back into a single bag took place – making everything once again as neat as a pin.
We entered the BRP at Milepost 0 – Waynesboro, Virginia.
The Blue Ridge Parkway rambles along through the mountains, is a generally smooth road surface and with few intersecting roads – it’s just the most relaxing cruise. I find it to be a great ‘thinking’ road. As a matter of fact, I thought/wrote the most amazing blog posts while riding that morning. Tales of excitement, intrigue… adventure. Unfortunately as soon as I turned the key off on my bike, they evaporated into the ether.
Different sections of the Parkway seem to have different personalities. The upper-most portion of the road is pretty laid back and easy going with gentle turns, valleys and long stretches through deep green trees.
We were blessed with almost no other traffic on the road all day long. Considering it was Sunday, I thought for sure we’d run into a lot of other drivers and riders. While we did see a handful of other motorcycles, if we saw 30 cars all day, I would say that would be a lot. Not too shabby for 300 miles of traveling.
The skies were beautiful and the weather was quite cool at elevation. I actually had to use my heated grips for a little while as the wind whistled through the perforations of my summer gloves.
Between Mileposts 36 and 37 is one of my favorite road signs – Sudden Curve Ahead with a motorcycle rider flying off the bike.
While at a stop at one of the roadside exhibit buildings, we found stickers that had the “aaahhhhhhh!” motorcycle man. It was too good to resist. I promptly stuck one on my Givi box. Yay!
We rode the BRP into the late afternoon. Our final stop on the parkway itself was at Milepost 304, the Linn Cove Viaduct. It is probably one of the most photographed stretches of the entire roadway.
I finally made a note to stop before the viaduct so that we could take a picture. I usually end up riding right over it and kicking myself because I missed it again. This time I set a point on my GPS to remind me.
I suppose that devil machine is good for something afterall 🙂
While we walked along a path towards the bridge, Kenny bent down and picked up a small piece of black rubber, a piece of a shoe sole and handed it to me. You just can’t make this stuff up…
Our time on the parkway for the day ended at Milepost 305, where we exited and headed for Grandfather Mountain and on to the next adventure.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23514694″ ugalkey=”Cs7G7W” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
Detour to the Roanoke Muffler Man
Some time around midday I pulled us off of the BRP around Roanoke, Virginia. When we finally stopped at the first traffic light we’d seen all day, Kenny looked at me quizzically and slowly said, “um,… wherrrrre are we going?”
Foolish boy. After all this time, he still has to ask?
I happen to have the GPS waypoint file-y thing-a-ma-bob from Roadside America. So, Satan’s Compass (GPS) had hipped me to the fact that there was a muff in our midst. Actually, I’m lying. I knew it was there before we even left New York. I’m weird like that.
Sweet, sweet, blue-eyed Bunyan. Face… peeling. ::sigh::
Get with the program people! Respect the muff!
The Mile High Club at Grandfather Mountain
Some would say that putting the words “grandfather” and “mile high club” in the same sentence is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Normally, I would agree. But, not this time, Johnny!
After hopping off of the Blue Ridge Parkway for the day, Kenny and I headed to Grandfather Mountain near Linville, North Carolina. I wanted to go up to the top and give the Mile High Swinging Bridge a look-see. I had seen photos of it perched a mile above sea level and the surrounding view online and couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.
When we pulled our bikes up to the park entrance gate, the nice older lady who was working the booth leaned out and said, “Now, the wind is really gustin’ up they-er. It’s blowin’ 45 miles’n’our,” in a sweet southern drawl.
She then paused and looked at us clearly waiting for some sort of response. The best I could formulate was a couple quick blinks and an, “okay?” That seemed good enough for her. ::shrug::
I figured that it was part of her job to give sissy-pants Marys a warning so they don’t try to sue the state or something if they should get a little dust blown in their eyes at the top of the mountain. So, we said thanks and began our ascent up the switchbacks to the top parking area.
As we slowly climbed along the roadway I wondered why she had tried to scare us. There was barely breeze on the road.
When I crested the hill for the very top of the mountain I was hit by what felt line a linebacker. POW! The non-stop wind shoved me to the right where my bike and I were almost knocked over as it came barreling unimpeded across the parking lot.
Oh, THAT wind.
It was so windy in fact that since I’d put my feet down after almost being knocked over that I felt like I couldn’t safely pick them up again to get moving. The wind just continued to shove against the broad side of my bike.
I stood there teetering on tiptoes, holding my bike up waiting for a window where the wind would die down and I could park my bike next to the gift shop. I stood and stood and stood for what seemed like an eternity.
It was just a few moments, however. But it was long enough that Kenny had time to park next to the building and walk back over to me and help me get steady and get rolling again. WHEW! Ain’t love grand? 🙂
There were signs on the gift shop noting to hold on to car doors, small children and any loose objects because the wind would surely grab hold of them and carry them away. Man, they weren’t kidding!
We climbed the steps to the bridge and took in the view. It was beautiful. All day long I had thought about being up there and seeing those beautiful green mountains rolling out before us and the sweet, mile high swinging bridge. Now, there we were.
Now we were there, indeed. Oh, lord!
Man, was it windy and the bridge didn’t seem to look as sturdy as it did in pictures…
While we stood at the entrance to the bridge there was a howl that came from it as the wind whipped across its cables. It added an extra special touch to the feeling that I was about to die either from being blown off the bridge or having it collapse into a heap of tangled steel cables on the treetops below.
With nervous laughter I asked Kenny (who is brave and cavalier about everything) to take a picture with me. You know, just in case it was our last one. Ever.
I’m a huge chicken and kind of scared of heights. But, I hate the idea of quitting or letting my fear keep me from trying something. So, I stepped on to the bridge and began slowly and steadily walking across.
Longest. Walk. Of my LIFE!
Between the incessant wind, the give of the slats below my feet, the motion of the bridge and the howling of the wind across the cables I just could not wait to get off of the damned thing.
I held on to the railings with both hands, kept my eyes looking directly ahead and steadily and carefully moved forward. I’m pretty sure I must’ve looked like I shat myself as I slightly crouched and walked.
When I stepped off of the bridge on the other side a wave of relief washed over me. I did it – I was part of the mile high bridge club. It was a triumph! I wasn’t sure if I could ever do that again but I was happy to have made it. Except… that I had to walk back across to get to my bike. DAMNIT!
Though it was scary for a yellow-bellied chicken like me, it was so worth the detour for the views alone. If you’re heading down the Blue Ridge, don’t skip Grandfather Mountain. It’s wonderful.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23549445″ ugalkey=”cMBWSb” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
Riding Through Blue Ridge Parkway Tunnels
The Blue Ridge Parkway from around Little Switzerland to about Asheville is one of my favorite sections of the whole stretch. Aside from being a great ride, it offers some really beautiful views of the valleys below. The 50 or so miles seemed to go by in a blink as we rode along.
You can also catches glimpses of the road ahead as it cuts along the edge of mountain ridge. There is something that I love about being able to see a wiggly roadway peeking out from the trees. It’s like a teaser that says, ‘Come on, hurry up. Look how much fun you’re gonna be having in a minute!’
There also a few of those spiral curve signs along the way to get your get-up-and-go a-workin’.
The Little Switzerland area at milepost 333 is also where the majority of the 26 tunnels on the parkway begin. Only a single tunnel exists before that way back at milepost 53.
Because they are unlit and some have turns inside, when you enter you have no idea where you’ll end up. There could be more tarmac on the other side or… you could be riding into the mouth of that giant worm from the Empire Strikes Back. Who can say?
The tunnels aren’t very long. When you enter the darkness your eyes barely have enough time to adjust before you are plunged out into the light again.
Those exits make for great jump to lightspeed pics on the GoPro 🙂[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23649880″ ugalkey=”CDSCGk” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
Blue Ridge Parkway Pit Stop – Breakfast at Mount Mitchell
When I approached the Mount Mitchell State Park sign, it was like the wheels of my bike turned in to the entrance on their own.
The past few times we’ve been on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Mitchell had been closed or it was too foggy to see 10 feet in front of you. Now that we were visiting with good clear weather, I had to head up!
After our experience with Grandfather Mountain, part of me wondered if I would be pummeled with a howling wind as we climbed higher and higher. Thankfully, the trees did a good job of keeping the winds in check.
Just to be on the safe side, I pulled in to the parking lot as soon as I saw the lodge-restaurant. I suppose it was kind of an irrational action to think that the outcome would be any different if I stopped first and then continued heading up to the peak. But… sometimes that’s the part of your brain that is at the wheel.
As it turned out, that cuckoo part of my brain was on to something.
Kenny and I parked our bikes and walked towards the lodge which wasn’t visible from the road. Boy, was I glad we did. We put our behinds right in front of the window and had a delicious hot breakfast and enjoyed the rolling, green mountains below.
After breakfast we wandered outside onto the open air deck and took in the view.
Once rational thought returned, Kenny and I rode to the peak of Mount Mitchell. From there, we followed the short walking path that lead to an observation deck which offered a full 360 view of the area.
Part of the view was obscured by clouds sleeping on the trees. It felt like we were at the roof of the world, like I could just reach up my hands and tickle the angels in the clouds.
In a moment of serendipity, while at the top of the park we saw two other riders we’d chit-chatted with in a parking lot in Virginia 2 days before. When you consider how your lives have to line up just so to put 4 strangers in the same place at the same time, hundreds of miles away by sheer coincidence, it boggles the mind. One decision, one different turn, an extra 5 minutes spent drinking a cup of coffee and things would’ve been entirely different. Heady.
When we pulled away from the parking lot, we fell in behind a guy on a Valkyrie and followed him all the way down to the Pisgah Inn. It was fun riding behind him. Every time he dipped his big gal into a deep lean I got to watch the sparks fly when the floor boards touched down.
The day was off to an awesome start…[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23574501″ ugalkey=”Cgd8Cr” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
The Highest Elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway Motor Road
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s highest elevation sign is found at the Richard Balsam Overlook, Milepost 431.
When we stopped to snap a quick photo, it occurred to me that we didn’t have many miles left before our trip down the BRP would be complete. We were just a short hop from where the parkway ended and we’d have travelled the 469 miles of its length. Of course I was excited to see new things, but there is that element of traveling that tugs at your heart strings. Part of you never wants any of it to end.
But, we still had one more place to visit in Maggie Valley before our time on the Blue Ridge was over…
Wheels Through Time Museum – Photo Gallery
Wheels Through Time The Museum that Runs
Just a hop, skip and a jump off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Maggie Valley, NC is an American treasure – the Wheels Through Time museum. It is home to hundreds of American-made motorcycles, tons of ephemera and historical photographs.
Built by the passion of Dale Walksler, a man with encyclopedic knowledge of motorcycles – the museum also bills itself as “the museum that runs.” Though the machines are true museum pieces, they are started and ridden. It is not at all unusual to find Dale riding some beautiful vintage iron through the museum, starting up an antique or laying down a smokey burnout on the museum floor.
While we were there, he started up 2 early 1900’s Indians on the floor. When the second one was shut down and the crowd that had gathered started to dispersed he looked directly at me and said, “you look very familiar. You’ve been here before…” and we struck up a conversation about our last visit there back some time in 2006.
Now, I don’t know if he says that to all the girls, but… I was tickled pink by the notion that he might remember me.
Dale, who struck me as a very kind soul spent some time sitting and talking with us. We talked about motorcycles of course, but also about people and life. He even suggested some great local riding since we were visitors to the area. Truly a nice man.
Please support this passion, this time capsule of motorcycle history. Visit Wheels Through Time. You’ll be glad you did.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23676297″ ugalkey=”9PKrWF” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
The Cherokee Muffler Man
Kenny and I made a quick stop in Cherokee, NC to snap a photo of a gent we’d passed many moons ago but never stopped for. The Cherokee Muffler Man:
And look – he has nipples! This was the first time I was ever consciously aware of an Indian-model Muffler Man’s anatomical correctness 🙂 I did go back and look at the other Indian Muffs I’ve seen and they do all indeed have them.
Other Indian Muffler Men
- Sights from the Road: The Bakersfield Indian Muffler Man
- As Seen on TV - The Riverhead Muffler Man Indian
- Muffler Man: Mohawk Motors Indian of Shirley, Ma.
- Muffler Man: Checking in with the Jackson, NJ Halfwit
- Sights from the Road: The Cherokee Muffler Man
- Riverhead Muffler Man Indian - Downed by Hurricane Sandy
Unfortunately the Cherokee Muff’s headdress is now broken. But even so, he appears to be well-loved and in really good shape. According to Roadside America, he’s been there for 30 years. That’s a lot of waving for one guy.
Did you notice those crazy white eyes? Perhaps they were light blue at one time. Either way – they look like they can peer deep into your soul. ::shudder::
Greatest Car in the Universe v4.0 – Mufflermobile
Okay, I know. I know, I know, I know. Every time that I see an amazing art car I go bananas and get all, “this is the greatest car in the universe!” But,…
Muffler… CAR! ::faints::
We actually saw the muffler car when we pulled into the town of Franklin, NC on Day 3 of our road trip south. I caught it out of the corner of my eye as I rode past it. It was after dinner time and Kenny and I were both tired and hungry. So, I broke one of my own rules and kept going.
When we found a hotel and pulled into the unloading area, I took my helmet off and excitedly said to Kenny, “DID YOU SEE THAT MUFFLER CAR?!1?!?!” To which he responded, “No.”
Clearly he wasn’t excited because the magnitude of its greatness did not have a chance to seer into his retinas yet. But luckily for blondie, I’m not a quitter. I did what any smart person would do and set a reminder on my iPhone to visit the muffler car when we were heading out the following day.
I think the chiming of my reminder might have woken Kenny up the next morning. Oopsie 🙂 That is the only logical explanation for his body language in the distance:
“Stupid muffler car. I can’t believe I’m sitting out here in the pouring rain looking at this ridiculous thing.”
Can you imagine how fabulous a burnout in the Muffler Car would look? Peelin’ out with 4 on the muffler floor. Badass.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23723255″ ugalkey=”QPc7zn” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
We Had Georgia on Our Minds
On Monday night, after we’d rolled into a hotel in Franklin, North Carolina not an hour passed before the skies went dark and we watched the rain pelt our motorcycles parked outside of our window. It was another tick in the “lucky” column for us. A girl could really get used to that.
Somehow we ended up in a suite. Not that I’m complaining. But, there is something intrinsically UN-romantic about a bathtub in the middle of your room with a giant mirror in front of it for extra sexiness.
I think I must be in the minority on this front because over the years we’ve found ourselves in quite a few of these rooms. But for just $75 bucks, I suppose they could put a giraffe in the middle of the room and that would be fine with me as long as the place has a clean king size bed and a working AC.
When the alert on my phone to visit the Muffler Car chimed us awake on Tuesday morning, I peered out the window to find that the rain was still coming down. With gusto. Poo.
Kenny and I took our time eating breakfast, watched the weather and hoped for the rain to start tapering off. While we were sitting there in the breakfast room, another hotel guest walked in and winked at me. Winked! Who does that? 😆 That has to rank right up there with ‘walking around whistling’ in the list of things that only men over 50 do.
The really optimistic part of me was hoping that we’d go back to our room and discover blue skies and sunshine. Alas it was not to be. We’d just have to make the best of it. First stop for the day – visiting then mufflermobile and then on to Georgia to ride The Gauntlet.
Map image from Smoky Mountain Rider – Visit their site for GREAT rides in the Smokies!
We were dogged by pouring rain leaving Franklin for a good hour. Thankfully the road surface was nice, there was minimal fog, the grip was fine and well, what else was there to do but keep moving?
As we climbed up along GA348 it seemed like the rain was starting to lighten up a bit. I pulled off to look at the fog laying in the valley below.
This particular loop of roads was something that I’d long wanted to ride. Add to that my interest in seeing the alpine-themed town of Helen and you could say I was pretty excited to be in Georgia. But, as we pulled in to town the rains once again came calling. I would be lying if I said that the wet weather didn’t put a little bit of a damper on my spirits.
I came away with the feeling that Helen was nothing more interesting than visiting a Bavarian village that a theme park would set up. It was a hokey tourist trap filled with t-shirts, crappy souvenirs and things to give you diabetes. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to the contrary, but I was pretty disappointed. Boo.
There was nothing else for us to do but ride on.
The intermittent rain stayed with us as we rode Wolf Pen Gap Rd and a smokin’ section of 129 over Blood Mountain. As the road unfurled before us, especially on 129 my heart wanted to go faster, faster, faster! but good sense kept me in check. The most important part of our trips is always to make it home in one piece.
I hope with all of my might that we’ll find ourselves in that neck of the woods again to try those roads in the dry.
The more time we spent riding, the more I wondered why people flock to Deal’s Gap over and over. Sure, try it at least once – but sister,… there is plenty of other great ridin’ in them thar hills with a lot fewer people to rub elbows with.
The closer we got to closing up the Gauntlet loop, the dryer it became. Soon we were cruising along in the sunshine. If only we’d had it a few hours earlier. Le sigh.
Ah, well. I believe the universe unfolds as it should.[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”23759014″ ugalkey=”6rxPfr” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
NC 209 With a Little Luck
North Carolina 209 has been dubbed “The Rattler” by locals. Now, if the image of a wiggly snake doesn’t get your motorcycle heart pumpin’ well, I just don’t know what would.
Then when we visited Wheels Through Time, Dale also happened to recommended the route to us. How could we say no?
The road was indeed lovely, snaking its way through valleys and climbing up and down through the mountains – but my favorite moment came in the form of Luck. The town of Luck.
While we were talking about NC 209, Dale also mentioned that there was a delightful old building with antique gas pumps out front. As someone who loves Americana, he was speaking my language. When I saw the little white ramshackle building make its appearance on a curve up ahead, I threw out the anchor and stopped for a closer look.
The sign above the door reads ‘A little bit o’ Luck.’
I can’t think of anything more fitting for the way I trip my way through this life…
Goats on the Roof
At this point, I think Kenny is just messing with me. When I followed the GPS and turned on Ridge Rd to head into the town of Helen, right there on the corner in front of us was… “Goats on the Roof.”
When we pulled into a gas station, I laughed and said to Kenny, “Did you see the goats on the roof?” Knowing of course that he would have HAD to have see them, they were right in front of us. And well, who can miss goats on a roof?
But, blondie instead said, “no. What goats?” 😕
[mumbles while shaking head] What goats? How could you not have seen the goats? … right there… in front of us… [/mumbles]
Well, the only right thing to do was to stop and see the goats on the way out of town 🙂
A big part of me wished that they had a cardboard cutout of Samuel L. Jackson saying Goats on the M-Fin’ Roof in the same vain as Snakes on a Plane. But the very surprised goat statue was just fine, too. Instead I just repeated goats on the M-Fin’ roof for the rest of the day in my helmet.
Next to the buildings are goat feeding stations. They allow visitors to buy some feed, put it in a cup and then crank it upstairs to the goats to eat. Pretty ingenious (and silly) really.
Sure, it’s a tourist trap. But, it’s animals. They’re hard to resist.
Oh. This bridge. It looks delicious. Om nom nom nom.
Helllloooo? Send up some more grub, will ya? Pellets, Goat Chow, an old phone book.. anything! We’re starvin’ up here!
Goats-On-The-Roof – Helen
1204 Ridge Road
Helen, GA 30545
My Navigation System
While we are on the road, my habit of waking up at 0’dark-thirty doesn’t take a vacation. Instead it is during those quiet hours when I am the only one who is awake that I spend time figuring out where the heck we’ll be going for the day. I think it’s a pretty nice service. I hope Kenny knows how lucky he is 😉
While I usually don’t leave the house with a hard route or plan in place, I do keep a list of possible ideas.
This was a typical scene during our trip through the south:
By the glow of the bathroom light I looked through my maps, brochures and scraps of paper I’d stuffed in my map baggie. I also checked the computer for possible pit stops like parks, attractions, giant fiberglass people – and would then then jot down a list of roads for the day.
This process has served me well over the years.
Don’t You Just Love it When the Road Does That?
TN421 – Grabbing the Snake by the Tail
Some great motorcycle roads take on a life of their own in the collective consciousness of the motorcycle world. When you talk about The Dragon, The Crest, or Stelvio, curve lovers nod their head with a sort of reverence.
Or maybe something more like, “damn I wish I was there right now…”
Chances are, if a road has a reptilian nickname – it’s gotta be good. Enter TN 421, known all throughout the east coast as The Snake.
The signs all say 3 Mountains, 489 Curves, One Valley. That kind of makes you want to ride it, doesn’t it? Yea, me too 🙂
We came into Shady Valley on the heels of a nasty looking storm. We’d been watching the dark clouds hanging between the mountains ahead but luckily managed to stay just behind it.
Though we never got wet, when we began our climb on The Snake, the road was still a bit wet on the eastern end. I was beginning to sense a trend after Georgia. Perhaps it was the universe helping to keep our good sense in check.
The road itself was as good as I’d imagined. A nice mix of tight, switchback and loose turns. It had a little something for everyone – a crowd pleaser, if you will.
We pulled into the Shady Valley Country Store so that I could buy a sticker and have a look around. Having seen so many photos on the web of the parking lot jammed full of motorcycles, I was surprised to see no more than a dozen bikes there. I guess that was one of the upsides of riding around on a Wednesday afternoon. There were no cars on the road either. Score!
I perused the store’s stickers and picked one out for myself and Kenny picked out another. Then the nice lady behind the counter said we could have one of the snake decals for free. I of course opted for a pink one. Yay!
I can only imagine that the show that goes on in the parking lot of the Shady Valley store on a sunny weekend must be nearly as good as the riding itself. It was definitely worth the trip.
Roadside Sights: Pal’s Sudden Service
Could there possibly be a better fast food chain facade than the one used by Pal’s? Nahhh, I don’t think so.
Can you even handle the greatness of the big hot dog… the soda…? The FRIES, oh… the fries. :weeps tears of joy:
And to top it all off, one of the Kingsport, Tennessee locations even has a (very handsome) burger-wielding Muffler Man on the roof. *dies*
Though I haven’t been able to see the rooftop Muff Pal’s yet, it’s been put squarely on my “To Do” list.
Check One Off The To Do List: Backbone Rock
Though I had jotted Backbone Rock down on my list of things to see when we left home, sometimes the wind takes you elsewhere.
In the days and miles that had already passed it had slipped my mind until we were headed west away from Shady Valley. That was when the lightbulb went off in my head. Doh! I wanted to see Backbone Rock! I resigned myself to doing it “next time.”
While Kenny and I were zig-zagging around, I started poking through my GPS and looking at the pit stop waypoints that I’d saved. As it turned out, Backbone Rock was just a hop skip and a jump ahead.
There it was ~ the Universe unfolding as it should, again.
When I read other blogs, I really appreciate it when folks take the time to tell you what the name of or where a place is. It can be awfully frustrating at times to do the detective work on your own. If you’re one of those folks who shares their cool stuff – thank you!
Stung on the Back of the Dragon
When Kenny and I rolled away from Backbone Rock, we hooked a right in the town of Damascus, Virginia and followed route 58 into the mountains.
There were several times throughout the 9 days we were on the road that I needed to flip on my heated grips as the wind whistled through my summer gloves. I found myself doing it once again on the Highlands Parkway. The air was chilly I think in part due to the rain storm we kept skirting around the edge of.
For the first time during our trip, we saw ourselves faced with actually having to be somewhere at a given time. We were set to meet a handful of our friends in Elkins, West Virginia the following evening.
With that in mind, Kenny and I decided that it was time to abandon our eastern course and head north. By the end of our riding for the day, we would be in a good position to make a fast trek from the foot of West Virginia to meet everyone the following day.
We’d decided to pickup VA 16 to head north. It is another one of those roads that has been given a nickname in motorsport circles. It’s called “The Back of the Dragon.” Sticking with the theme that if a stretch of tarmac has some reptilian type of name – it’s gotta be good, and it was.
By the time we passed Hungry Mother State Park, the rain that we’d been following behind all day stalled completely over us and unleashed hell. It was a ferocious white-out kind of rain. As Kenny and I climbed up through the winding road, gravel and debris started to pool in the apexes of the turns. It was slippery slow going but thankfully the rain didn’t last long. It was over almost as fast as it started.
Wait a minute. Something felt a little weird. Steering… sloppy, heavy… SONOFA! Flat tire. I nursed my bike down through the curves into a farm driveway.
My rear tire was indeed f-l-a-t. A chunk of glass had pierced it. I’d been stung on the back of the dragon.
In the 4 or 5 years that we’ve had and used both of these tire repair tools, they’ve worked as advertised. Both Kenny and I were thankful to find that they again worked like a charm. I can’t imagine leaving home without ’em.
Standing there on the side of the road waiting for the tire to be filled, we’d decided to cash in our chips and call it a night. We were soon on our way to finding a hotel for the night.
But, not before seeing one more unusual sight for the day – a rooster farm:
For all of its highs and lows, it was a great day of riding. Thinking back through different moments and places that we’d been, now I find myself asking, “was that really the same day?” A lot of living happens in a small amount of time.
The Big Little Apple of Thaxton, Virginia
With only a single bar left on the gas gauges, Kenny and I hopped off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of gas. After a few stabs at the screen, we followed the GPS over hill and dale to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We popped out of a rambling farm road next to a major roadway in the town of Thaxton, Virginia.
While Kenny tended to menfolks work (lifting heavy objects, pumping gas, paying for things), I went off to do much more important lady things like gathering nuts and fruit.
Considering I found a giant little apple on a stick, one might argue that I was clearly better at doing my job. Look at the size of it! The gas pumps he found were just regular sized.
While Kenny was busy doing his job (which I will grade as poorly due to regular sized pumps) I also briefly thought about trying to get inside of the apple ride next to Lowly Worm.
But then I wisely reconsidered as visions of having the fire department come with the jaws of life to extract me flitted through my mind.
It was probably best to not kill my husband of just a few weeks with sheer embarrassment. See how considerate I am? You’re welcome, babe!
The Motorcycle Adventures of the Bearded Lady
While doing our pre-ride once over we found that my plugged tire had dropped nearly 10 pounds of pressure overnight. We gave the mushroom plug one last tug to try to pull the seal a little tighter and went on with re-filling the tire.
Our morning began with a conversation with the girl from the hotel registration desk over the steady pumping whirrrrr of my Slime compressor.
She’d been standing next to the entrance with a disturbingly fake tan, baby-pink lipstick and too blonde hair taking long drags on her cigarette when we walked outside. Though my back was partially turned to her, I got that sensation that she was watching me as I put my overnight bag into my Givi box. Kenny was at his bike loading up his own things, readying to shove off for the day.
“You ride that bike?” she asked.
Nails on a chalkboard. The intolerant part of me hoped with all of its might that she was talking to Kenny. When I looked back to her, she was looking directly at me. Damn. This is the part where I have to remember that not everyone is on the same plane and to be gentle with them.
My first instinct was of course to say something like – “You mean this one here? The one I’m putting my stuff in to the luggage box of? The one you watched me put the key into? The one with NO ONE ELSE standing next to it? Yes, this one is mine.”
Cue smile and polite chit-chat.
The rest of the conversation was pretty inconsequential, you know – typical “I’ve always wanted to ride,” and “my boyfriend showed me how to ride a little bit in a parking lot on his R1,” type of stuff.
I do always drop my dress yourself properly and take an MSF class 2¢ on anyone who starts these talks with me. But, to be honest the more time goes by the more difficult it has become to deal with people. Sometimes it really seems like no matter what you say to try to steer them in a cautious direction it falls on deaf ears. You just can’t save the world and on this particular morning I wasn’t in the mood for trying.
That was enough of that, it was time to hit the road. We actually had somewhere to be!
Off the Beaten Path
Since we had just a couple hundred miles to travel, the route I’d strung together took advantage of some smaller roads on the map. We were all set to zig-zag our way around a bit before we picked up WV 219 to make tracks north to Elkins.
Because the map showed no indication that the pavement ended, I was a little surprised when the first leg of our trip was on dirt roads. Pleasantly surprised as it turned out.
Though it isn’t the 1050 Tiger’s strong suit, it did just fine on the hard-packed dirt. Aside from some pockets of larger loose stones, it isn’t much different than riding tarmac. You just do it with a little caution and stay off the front brake. You could really ride pretty much anything on that type of surface. No “Adventure Bike” required. But, I will say that there were many moments I’d wished I had my Husky to go ripping around on instead.
The upside of leaving the pavement for these dirt roads was the views. There were rolling hills and beautiful old barns that you would never see unless you rolled the dice and followed a whim. I suppose that is the reward of a road less traveled. A seldom seen view except for those that live there.
The little farm roads alternated between pavement and dirt between the valleys. Miles of green grass waved at us when we climbed down out of the mountains. Slithering S-turns beckoned us to come closer and go up, up, up.
There’s a Squatch in Them Woods
In the middle of nowhere in particular, we approached a traffic stop at an intersection. Two Virginia State Troopers were checking the licenses of everyone passing through.
The Trooper closest to us as we approached motioned for me to stop next to him and I did. He bruskly said, “license, please,” in that special tone and timber saved for law enforcement officials.
Because my wallet was not easily reachable while sitting there in the middle of the road, I politely asked if I could pull over to get at it. He agreed. It was in that moment that a cold sweat came over me.
He kept working the lane and the lady trooper who’d finished with another driver walked towards me while I was still fishing my kitty wallet out. When I finally freed my license, I handed it to her with a sense of dread.
She looked at it and quickly dropped it on the ground. She bent down and picked it up and looked me in the eye, looked back at my license and looked at me again. It was in this moment that I wanted to die.
ou see, I have this teeny-tiny problem with my license. My brand new license, which I will have for the next eight years has the most HIDEOUS photograph on it. Sometimes I look at it and I just cannot believe the magnitude of just how disturbing it is.
I almost, ALMOST want to post a picture of it for confirmation that I look like Bigfoot in the photo.
On the day that it came in the mail, I opened the envelope and immediately and uncontrollably blurted out a nervous cackle. Surely it had to be some kind of joke? I handed it to Kenny for confirmation that the depth of cruelty the DMV inflicts upon you has been taken to new levels. He quickly confirmed my suspicions.
When your husband looks at your new drivers license and bravely deadpans, “you look like you have a beard,” you know it’s bad. That kind of candor from a man to his wife is reserved for unparalleled disaster.
It may not have been perceptible to the casual onlooker but I swear I saw the lady Trooper wince when she took one last look at my license before handing it back. This is someone who sees traffic accidents, so you get some idea of the level of grotesquery we’re talking about here.
She made a tiny amount of small talk and sent us on our way. No doubt she was in a hurry to get the photo of a bearded warthog out of her hands. I felt like tearing my helmet off and screaming, “LOOK AT ME! LOOOOK AT MEEEE! I DON’T REALLY LOOK LIKE THAT!” Frankly, I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested for assaulting an officer.
For about 50 miles following that traffic stop, I was left to wonder:
- Will that poor Virginia Trooper lady go back home and tell her family about the yeti she saw?
- What if I really do look like my license photo?
When we made our way into West Virginia we pulled off at a gas station to fill up and grab a drink. As I stood on the curb outside I watched the big puffy, white clouds that seemed to just sit stalled in the sky; never moving forward or backward. They just seemed content with their place in the world. I wondered if I would ever feel like that for long periods of time?
The whole day’s ride felt romantic in a way that I know other motorcyclists must understand. It was a long string of vignettes featuring gorgeous corners and beautiful scenery, punctuated by moments when your heart and your mind are wide open and anything seemed possible.
When we arrived at Elkins, our friend Robert from New York had already arrived and was unpacking his motorcycle. That excited feeling like something fun was about to happen overcame me. Of course Kenny and I had had the most amazing time riding for 6 days with just the two of us, but when you get together and ride with good friends – the days take on a whole other level of excitement.
After we said our initial our hellos and talked briefly about our respective travels so far, I ran inside to check-in while the guys hung outside. The grandmotherly lady working the front desk quickly went about checking me in. Everything was going fine until she fumbled my license on the desk after asking for my ID.
Sonofa! 😕[alpine-phototile-for-smugmug src=”user_gallery” ugal=”24129819″ ugalkey=”8NKT6H” imgl=”fancybox” style=”floor” row=”4″ num=”50″ size=”S” align=”center” max=”98″ nocredit=”1″]
It’s The Devils Road!
I finally spotted one of the 666 routes. This one was in Virginia:
I have this other photo of the route sign that I wasn’t originally going to post. I kinda sorta realized that the way I shot the pic makes it look like it’s pointing at Kenny like Kenny is devil. But then I realized if I only told you about the pic it wouldn’t be the same. So…
I moseyed on over to The Google Maps to find VA Route 666. Imagine my surprise when I found nothing more than a stick and an arrow. The 666 sign is not visible.
Maybe it was a ghost sign? You know, like one of those phantom hitchhikers found in scary stories? The sign only appears to lure in curious travelers. But when the nosey Roseys get too close to it someone lunks ’em on the head with a rolling pin and evil flying monkeys swoop in to carry them away to the Netherworld.
Flying monkeys are always bad news.
According to the all-knowing-ish Wikipedia, there are a few states (and countries) that have routes with the number of the beast like ~ Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida. I’m sure there are others. Does your state have one?
Some Other Devil Roads:
Mixed Nuts and a Reformed Jackass on the Loose in West Virginia
If you’ve been playing along at home then you may recall that I’ve noted that Kenny isn’t the most observant guy in the world, what with that whole failure to notice goats on the roof incident and all. As it turns out, he seems to have a teensy weensy problem with not picking up on the fuzz when they’re afoot, too.
But you can understand that, can’t you? It can be difficult to notice the big block letters on the sides of their cars that say things like “POLICE” or “SHERIFF.”
And I’ve always said that the flashing lights on the roofs of their cars just seem to blend in with the scenery. You could be looking at Grandpappy’s Crown Vic or a slightly agitated town cop. Who can know?
Powers of observation be damned, we had luck on our side when we rolled out for our day’s ride. Whizzing past a Sheriff at seventyblahblahmph and not having him flip on the lights is a great start to a ride. I quickly dialed back the throttle and set the cruise control to Grandma mode. That was enough fun for 10 minutes.
When I mentioned to Kenny how lucky we were for not getting snagged, he said he never saw the cop.
I am a Reformed Jackass. Mostly.
There was a time in my life when I rode like a complete idiot – always wanting to go faster, faster, faster. Those days are long gone.
If you would have told 25 year old me that I would enjoy poking around at 50mph looking at waterfalls and mountains and meeting roadside donkeys just as much as being a menace, I would have said you were crazy. And probably mocked you for being old. But here I am, walking that line of being the “old person” I would have mocked back then.
As it turned out, I managed to learn many valuable lessons without hurting myself or anyone else. For that I am most thankful. Could I ride with my hair on fire if I wanted to? Maybe. But these days I’m now a proud member of the “I’ll meet you at at the next turn” club.
Our group of friends and riders from here on Long Island is affectionately called The Mixed Nuts, because we’re such an eclectic bunch of weirdos.
When it comes to riding, within the group there are some tortoises and some hares. Because we’ve known each other for years now the dynamic is very natural and it is easy to manage everyones expectations. They are usually – be safe & have fun. My dudes are easy to work with.
In many ways it almost seems like when we all hook up and ride – we’re riding alone, but together. There is plenty of mutual respect, there are no “rules” outside of don’t be an asshole, and there is no pushing to go faster or to do anything you don’t want to. If people want to cluster together and have at it – they do. If others want to string out and do their own thing, that’s fine too. Meet ya at the next turn.
Doing your own thing…together with my friends The Mixed Nuts. It’s perfect for me.
Our ride plan for the day didn’t involve many miles but they were quality miles. West Virginia has excellent riding. We were just going to ladder around a square of the big WV, have lunch and then be back in Elkins in the early evening for beer and pizza. A little Rt 33, a little Smoke Hole Rd., a little Rt 250, a couple connectors and gravels roads thrown in for good measure.
It was a perfect plan that we executed beautifully. And to top it all off, we couldn’t have ordered better weather from a catalog.
Space, The Final Frontier – These are the Voyages of the Fuzzship Tigerprise
At first glance – you see this picture of my (lovely if I do say so myself) Tiger and think Okay, it another picture of her (lovely if you do say so yourself) Tiger. But look closer, my darling.
That is the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory across the valley. It kind of looks like it just fell out of space into that bucolic setting, doesn’t it?
Apparently it is the largest of its kind. It spans 100 meters across the dish.
Now, if you’re metrically challenged – like me – you have no idea what that means. But, thanks to the little elves that tirelessly work inside my computer, I can break it down for you. That’s 328 feet across. Or in layman’s terms: f’n huge.
I’ve seen the telescope a couple times before when coming across WV66. Even so, there is a sense of amazement each time. On the approach out of the mountains I am immediately reminded of the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, specifically that first moment that you get a glimpse of the machine that was built. Not because the telescope looks like it but because it gives that same strange juxtaposition of something tremendous and inherently man made in a pristine natural setting where it seems that it doesn’t belong.
It is one part startling, one part fascinating, one part beautiful, one part curious. And one part unsettling. Okay, that may be a couple parts too many but we’ve already established that I’m not so good with the maths.
It’s just beautiful.
Southern Trip Souvenirs
Aside from the memories and photos that I take home from any trip, along the way I pick up postcards, brochures, stickers and name-specific “junk” and shove it in my bag as I go.
My friend Ally recently asked her blog readers if they were sentimental about objects. And I guess you could put a tick in the Yes column for me. These little bits of paper bring a smile to my face every time that I pull them out and get to remember that time when…
This is what I found in was in my Macbook sleeve:
Fisherman’s Grotto – San Francisco
Grandfather Mountain (4)
The Shoe House
Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum
The Snake 421
Grandfather Mountain (2)
BRP Stunt Motorcyclist
Hotel Tomo – San Francisco
Comfort Inn — Franklin, NC
Sleep Inn Free Rubber Duck note – Waynesboro, Va.
Hotel Room Key from somewhere in California
Hotel Pad – Sleep Inn
Shoe House Magnet
Hotel Pad – Best Western
Printed Map of Blowing Rock, NC.
How About You?
Are you a sentimental packrat?