Tuesday, June 13, 2006

STN National Meet 2006 and some Dragon Slaying


The Appalachian Mountains... I've heard a lot about them from the motorcycling community for their abundance in great motorcycling roads. Let's see, we got Deals Gap, Cherahola Skyway, Blue Ridge Parkway and other roads with no names. How exciting that a sport-touring forum would set up their annual meet in the middle of all this gorgeous tarmac and mountains, too. We were off to Sport-Touring.Net's National Meet in Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia. Now, besides all the hill billy jokes, the state offers some excellent white-water rafting (first time ever there for me) and of course, amazing twisty roads.

The main event of the meet would be a dinner on Wednesday night, followed by some awards and a raffle drawing of sport-touring goodies. Everyone would roll in by Wednesday afternoon, then do some loop rides around the area on Thursday and start heading home on Friday.

Overall route map

Day 1
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Start: Barrington, IL, 6:30 am CDT
End: Gallipolis, OH, 7:30 pm EDT
Mileage: 536

The route for the day: Barrington, IL to Gallipolis, OH

Rick, Diane, Mark and I would be heading out together from the Chi-town area. Diane was going to ride with us, but she decided it was too early for such a big trip. So, not to waste the vacation days, she would be following us in the support vehicle, their trusty Scion xB. We were far from setting off on "Long Way Around," what with missing the doctor, mechanic, TV crew, chef, masseuse, etc... Rick would have to take over all those roles, except the masseuse part, maybe.

We were going to do it on a one-stopper, with a pit stop on the first night on the Ohio/West Virginia border and then enjoy the next day by shredding up western WV. On the return, it would be three days with us heading south to slay tha Dragon.

Rick, myself and Mark ready to hit the slab across Indiana (courtesy Mark/msl217)

No, he's not making a funny face - Rick was suffering from a allergy from eating corn. Nothing some Benadryl couldn't subside. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

We hardly got moving and the old guy's bladder was already beckoning for a stop, oh brother...

Yes, it's a cold can of Coke. The benefits of having a support vehicle, driven by Rick's wife Diane. (I know I could've gotten a cold drink from the gas station, but you know what I mean...) (courtesy Mark/msl217)

We had leftover dry-rubbed barbequed ribs and chicken.. mmmm, beats fast food. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

We slabbed across exciting Indiana towards the Ohio River Road. It's got quite a name, so it was on the list. However, we were quite disappointed by most of it. It was called a River Road, but didn't run next to the River for the most part. We decided to ditch the River Road and get into the hills for some fun. But before that, I have to mention one incident with the popo.

The Ohio River Road

The Ohio River Road with no water in sight (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Shameless Rick taking out his liner as the temps were rising once we hit the Ohio River Road (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Not enjoying the traffic jam in this small town by the river (courtesy Mark/msl217)

A friendly local pointing out some of the twisty roads in the area. Her tatoo reads "Forever Love, Tonya" and "To thine ownself, be true." (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Her bike. It's not a trike, it's a quadrike. Awesome paint job. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Speed limit on the River Road is 45 mph or maybe even 55 in places. An oncoming car flashed its lights and we immediately slowed down to zip by officer friendly who was madly gunning us with his radar. No problem there. But oh no, he decided to tail us and see if we'd speed away. Did he think we were amateurs? We did the speed limit of 45 for about 5 minutes and he kept pinging us with his radar. It sure was annoying with the earphones plugged in to the detector. Ok, so you tagged us once and see we're doing the speed limit. How about waiting to see if we speed away from you and then tag us again. He was with us all the way down to 20 mph. We pulled over to let him through and then left town keeping our eyes peeled for him.

We missed the turn off that I had planned to get into the bluffs, but luckily a friendly local biker helped us out after we mentioned that we were looking for curvy roads. We found OH-522 quite easily and it was pretty good fun along with being the start of some good twisties for this trip. Next up was taking OH-141 NE into Gallipolis. The road was hugged by nearby shrubbery and I was to find out that this characterized much of the back roads in this region.

The start of the twisties towards Gallipolis

That start of the twisties, OH-522

Looks like Myra belongs here

Mark was going so fast on his Blackbird that the scenery blurred

OH-218 spilled us out on OH-7; the River Road that now ran right along the river and was a perfect way to end the day, except for a little fatigue that caught Rick out. He mistook a 2-way stop sign for a 4-way and expected a mini van to stop, which kept plowing through. Quick slam on the brakes upset the bike and it wanted to lie down for a while, that too, just a block from the motel. The helpful Indian motel owner came out with a big black sharpie for Rick to do a road-side touch-up job. I got all chatting with the Indian motel owner and seeing that I had reserved this place (from Streets & Trips), Mark thought I knew them. Indians are friendly to other Indians everywhere in the world. It comes in handy when you're touring and staying in lots of motels. They were a bit surprised to hear we were riding from Chicago on our bikes. People from India didn't do that. Well, I'm changing it.

Rick's little booboo lead to some scratches on the oversized frame sliders (hard bags) and fairings (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Nothing a little black permanent marker couldn't fix (courtesy Mark/msl217)

See, can't even tell (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Our awesomely spacious room at the William Ann Motel in Gallipolis, OH (courtesy Mark/msl217)

One of the perks of having a support vehicle in your group is that you can actually drive to dinner after a day of riding. Woohoo. We went out on the town looking for dinner. Gallipolis had a nice charm about it with its river front and shady town square park. But being a small town, the downtown shops closed early and spoilt our plans for eating local. We hit the Chinese buffet and called it a night.

Day 2
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Start: Gallipolis, OH, 8:00 am
End: Canaan Valley Resort, WV, 7:30 pm
Mileage: 424

The route for the day: Gallipolis, OH to Canann Valley, WV

Rick wanted to take a direct route to the resort, getting there early and relaxing with the STN members. I, on the other hand, had heard a lot about south-eastern Ohio's twisties and wanted to sample the fare. I figured we'd be riding in WV over the next two days, so I would get my taste of that state then. Rick was also still suffering from a corn allergy and he figured extra rest that morning would be helpful. Plus, I really like solo riding; there's something special about it.

The roads I wanted to take were all from motorcycleroads.us, which I use every time I ride a new state for the first time. I marked the twisty and scenic roads that they called out and just joined the dots.

Recommended twisties around South-Eastern Ohio

Finally seeing some of the river by the River Road

US-33 N towards Athens was slab but with interesting scenery that made it go by fast. I got to OH--555 and started heading south. I tried to pick roads that were not near any towns so as to reduce the amount of traffic. However, one thing I learned was that it leads to more farm traffic with huge tractors. From Marietta, I headed NW on OH-676 looking for a small turn-off to County Road 79. Yup, I missed it, but instead discovered OH-339, which was good fun. There's no such thing as being lost... it's called exploring. From there, I headed south to ride OH-26 NE along the river and down OH-255 to cross the river into West Virginia.


Myra really blending in with the background

The density of the forest-covered hills caught my attention

This was the best preserved barn sign for Mail Pouch Tobacco. All the other signs looked to be from the 19th century.

Adding some elevation to the fun

I liked how the lawn on the right was so well kept, felt like I was riding through a golf course

This is what you call 'seeing through the corners'

OH-26 and OH-255 into West Virginia

I must say I enjoyed the south-eastern Ohio twisties, but I don’t think it would garner a separate trip. There were no really amazing roads, but all were enjoyable. Or, maybe it's because my standards have been upped/spoilt since this trip.

West Virginia. This was the destination state and lots of planning and drooling about the roads had happened. This translates to - I had high expectations. I was immediately overjoyed with the roads and scenery I found. I took WV-89 east out of Proctor and then headed north towards Cameron. The county roads looked pretty big on the map, but indeed were very small with no centerline marking. A shoulder was a luxury. The road was very winding, but limited sight distance called for a mellower pace.

What a welcoming sign to my first taste of West Virginia

Interesting rock formation on WV-89

Freshly laid tarmac with not that much gravel

The much smaller County Road 4 and it's hairy hair-pins

County Road 21 was in better shape but still very narrow. How do they not have head-on collisions with all the massive pick-up trucks going through here?

I was ready to hop on to US-250 and get back to riding some roads with centerline markings. This was basically a direct route to the resort, where I expected increased traffic and more restraint on the throttle, even though it looked pretty twisty on the map. Luckily I was wrong on all accounts, except the paint on the road. There was very limited traffic, which was easy to pass and the throttle was getting a good work out. I really enjoyed US-250, but still opted for the direct side road of WV-310 from Fairmont to US-50. This was also an enjoyable piece of tarmac, but yet again, I opted for the smaller side roads in hopes to avoid the law enforcers and traffic. The first part of OH-72 into Parsons was a good sized back road. After Parsons, it became a small sized park road with not the best road conditions. However, the scenery was still enjoyable. The worst feeling is having a local who you just overtook in the middle of a corner pull over and ask if everything's ok when you're posed with the camera taking some shots.

The very fun US-250 in West Virginia

US-250, which was very enjoyable

I really enjoyed US-250, but still opted for the direct side road of WV-310 from Fairmont to US-50. This was also an enjoyable piece of tarmac, but yet again, I opted for the smaller side roads in hopes to avoid the law enforcers and traffic. The first part of OH-72 into Parsons was a good sized back road. After Parsons, it became a small sized park road with not the best road conditions. However, the scenery was still enjoyable. The worst feeling is having a local who you just overtook in the middle of a corner pull over and ask if everything's ok when you're posed with the camera taking some shots.

An interesting kit-car in Fairmont, WV. It sounded pretty terrible but kudos on being original.

WV-310 out of Fairmont

US-50 and the interesting WV-72 into Canaan Valley

I'm all about finding these kind of roads all over the country (like in Pennsylvania)

Not a very full Cheat River along WV-72 into Parsons

Great. More extremely tight corners with zero visibility. I had my full share earlier in the state.

Looking east towards Canaan Valley State Park. I needed to be on the other side of this little hill.

I couldn't capture the setting sun's rays filtering through these trees. Regardless, It was a very peaceful way to end a day's ride.

The deer. What was up with them? They were roaming along the road like they belonged there and were desensitized by traffic. There were a couple of emergency brake maneuvers. But, the buggers never waited around long enough for some pictures.

I pulled in and was thrilled to see the parking lot filled with bikes. I caught the last bit of dinner and the last piece of cheesecake. In the end, those deer did catch one of us out and a member totaled his bike and suffered a few injuries. But I heard that his gear was most helpful. After dinner, we did what we do best - stand around a parking lot and talk bikes. As STNers, we were most thrilled by the different farkles that everyone else had. I was given the unofficial torture award for riding the only 'sport' bike to the meet. Those old foggies and their poor backs. I'm sure they're all saying, "Yeah, just wait till you get to our age," haha.

One of the members, Scott had organized a day ride loop for the next day. Other members planned some smaller rides and some from afar (West Coast), planned to do some maintenance (tire changes) and laundry. It was great to finally put faces to the usernames after more than a year of being a member.

Some pictures from Rick and Mark's day of running a separate route across WV:

Nice blue skies were enjoyed along the way (courtesy Mark/msl217)

WV-47, which Rick said was as good as The Dragon. (courtesy RickC1957)

Looking ahead on WV-47 (courtesy RickC1957)

Seems like he's asking to be arrested. They tried to get a fake speeding ticket from Speed, WV. They should have just sped right through town and got a real one, haha. (courtesy RickC1957)

Dinner with all the other STN members at Canann Valley Resort (courtesy Mark/msl217)

My clothes were still in the support vehicle and this was the best I could do for dinner attire (holding the last piece of cheescake). (courtesy RickC1957)

dm_gsxr's Busa with a fuel cell. The sticker at the bottom reads "Not A Keg" (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Day 3
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Start: Canaan Valley Resort, WV, 7:30 am
End: Canaan Valley Resort, WV, 8:30 pm
Mileage: 433

The route for the day: STN Day Ride around the Appalachians

Six riders and one pillion showed up the next morning for Scott's "All you can eat ride," as in you can eat tight twisties, sweepers, switchbacks and some slab too. It would be Scott and his girlfriend Holly, Eric and his wife Pam, Jean-Francois from Ottawa and Mark and I. Rick was taking the day off to spend with Diane. Good thing too, cause his allergy came back again.

Scott was very thorough in his planning and since he lives close by (around 300 miles); he rode the whole route to ensure it was A-Ok. As soon as we hit some twisties, Mark and I took off up front and just waited for the crew at every directional change. We all had directions, but just in case. Scott planned the loop such that there was a turn-off point halfway through in case someone wanted to cut it short.

Felt like a MotoGP race with the pilot car and all... Scott and Holly leading us on the day ride loop

Taking an early break where Jean-Francois (Corbeau) puffed through two cigarettes. What a chimney he was :p Also in the shot, Eric and his wife Pam, along with Scott - ride organizer (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Smoke Hole Road

The shady Smoke Hole Road

Myra enjoying the scenic view of the hills from Smoke Hole Road

Mark's Blackbird looking spotless. Did you clean her Mark? Note the absence of luggage. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Holly (Ducati 748), Corbeau (VFR800) and Eric and Pam (FZ6) pulling up

The group ready to roll out (courtesy Scott/SWriverstone)

I love pictures with bridges over water. Wait, most bridges should have water under them anyways :p

Scott went through some trouble to get the following shot...

The money shot of the whole trip. (courtesy Scott/SWriverstone)

Close-up of the bikes. (courtesy Eric/ejworthen)

Info on Smoke Hole Road

The eastern part of the loop

Notice what's missing... Scott's right side rear-view mirror, taken out by Holly's elbow in an evasive maneuver provoked by a cager. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Holly and a real lazy looking St. Benard pup, he could hardly hold his own head up...

Wolf Gap Road and crossing back into WV

Crossing back into West Virginia on Wolf Gap Road (courtesy Scott/SWriverstone)

Howards Lick Road through Lost River State Park

Holly, Corbeau and Eric and Pam (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Taking a quick break and enjoying the view

Another short break with a nice vista

At the corner of US-33 and County Road-3/7 that had some welcome big open sweepers (courtesy Scott/SWriverstone)

Having a go on the BMW R1200CL that pulled up alongside us. Doesn't suit me, me thinks. I'll take the K1200S. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

The very exciting US-33 back into VA. The switch-backs were just beautiful.

At the peak of US-33 as we entered Virginia. The uphill switchbacks on the WV side were most fun as there were two lanes that allowed for beautiful speeds through the hairpins. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

The same as before fun US-250 back into WV

Scott, Holly and Corbeau railing up US-250

Posing with Myra looking across at the Shenandoah Valley

The man with the big bewbies

The undulating US-250, which I ran about 3 times

Captured in action... (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Coming around a hair pin bend and zipping by

I was thinking to myself, "Those rocks look kinda cool, wonder if there's a better view..."

The only bad thing about having a typical French-Canadienne along for the ride is that he has to smoke two cigarettes every stop. At least JF gets to buy the wholesale pack for cheap from duty-free before he crosses back. Throughout the day, we stopped a lot for pictures and breaks, which is how a day ride should be run. However, since we had 430 miles planned, I was thinking we wouldn't be back till late. But no one cared, we were all having too much fun and it was a great group to be riding with. Plus, there was so much beautiful scenery to be seen from rest.

The group at Seneca Rocks: Scott, Holly, Corbeau, moi and Mark (courtesy Scott/SWriverstone)

Does the bike ruin the shot... or add something to the shot?

Crossing the Eastern Continental Divide along US-250

Seneca Caverns, which Rick visited with Diane during the day

At the end of the day, with the sun almost setting, we were just cruising on US-33 heading for WV-32 and a further 8 miles to the resort. We were doing about 70 in a 55 with Scott up front and Mark and I at the back, just chilling when officer friendly zips by. As is customary whenever a squad car passes a bike, the motorcyclist keeps looking in their mirror to see brake lights. Mark and I saw the big flash of brake lights, indicating he was interested in pulling us over and having a chat, and in response, we took off. And I mean took off. Mark got back into South-Side Chicago mode, where evading the cruisers is almost a daily habit. Not so much running from the cops, because that's just stupid and not worth it, but evading them if you suspect a pursuit. Once you see the blue and white lights, stop. Until then, it's fair game. It was comical to see Mark take off in the wrong direction and then cut across a gravel parking lot to get back on WV-32. From there, us two were flying like bats out of hell. Now, this wasn't the smartest thing, as it was dusk and we already knew deer were abound in this area. But, who said we were the smartest people. It was a healthy-paced run to the resort turn-off and luckily the squad car didn't turn around and more luckily we didn't come across any deer. All we wanted to do was just relax at the end of the ride, but instead our adrenaline was pumping to the limit.

Everyone made it back safe and another night of parking lot chit-chat ensued with riders sharing their routes for their way back home. I got the great idea of a beaded-seat planted in my head by RocketBunny from CA/TX. I was starting to think a lot about dm_gsxr's fuel cell on his Busa. It would greatly improve my mileage between fill-ups, but then I thought about my $3 siphon pump and decided to stick with it for now.

As someone said before "Forest Rat!" Look how brave they were. (courtesy st2sam)

Day 4
Friday, June 16, 2006
Start: Canaan Valley Resort, WV, 9:00 am
End: Asheville, NC, 10:45 pm
Mileage: 505

The route for the day: Canann Valley, WV to Asheville, NC

"BusA Parking" at the lodge. The Busa is actually a highly regarded sport-touring machine, more like a hyper-touring machine. (courtesy dm_gsxr)

Bike Parking Only at the lodge. We kicked all the cars out. (courtesy Mountaineer)

Those hooligans! Showing no repect for the handicap parking sign. Along with the Fire Lane violations. (courtesy Joey Stalin)

I didn't know they made trailers for sport bikes... intewesting...

Rick, shamelessly taking a piss in the parking lot. Now only if he had a bladder that big in reality we could go further between stops :p (courtesy Mark/msl217)

RocketBunny getting ready to take off for Houston (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Corbeau, all packed up and ready to cross the border (courtesy Mark/msl217)

The return ride had begun that would lead us to the famed Blue Ridge Parkway and Deals Gap. STNers who rode these roads on the way in said The Gap wasn't worth the hype and the BRP certainly was. We were off to find out on our own, as is typical of STNers - "My town has the largest burger." “Well, I better ride over and try it out for myself."

This was only Day 4 of the trip, yet my legs were killing me. Not so much for the sport bike ergonomics, but more for the foot peg dancing that these roads called for. Hanging-off the bike is certainly a safer way to ride at faster speeds, but it sure hurts the knees and thighs a lot faster than just planting the rear end in the saddle.

The not so exciting, traffic plagued US-219 heading south.

We could have headed east and started at the tip of the BRP in northern Virginia, but since we'd be riding a lot of the BRP over the next two days, I wanted to try some more of WV's back roads. US-219 from Elkins south to Marlinton was not fun. It was loaded with traffic on a Friday morning and overtaking opportunities were limited. With heavier traffic, it's more likely that someone's going to call the cops on our double-yellow passing. If it's a single car in the middle of some twisties, no problem.

WV-39 was a welcome relief up-and-over-a-ridge into Virginia. Strangely, it was the first time I saw the same number for the state road carry across state borders. In Covington, we did a loopdy-loop (u-turns) to get back on track. This is where a GPS would have been handy. I mean, the leader having GPS. VA-18 was really enjoyed by all three of us for the lack of traffic and gravel and the abundance of twisties. In Salem/Roanoke, we met up with Diane for lunch and enjoyed some ice cold Red Bull from the cooler.

One of the first signs in Virginia on VA-39. I don't understand why other states haven't banned it yet. Not that I'm complaining.

The enjoyable VA-18 near Covington, VA

An exit from US-221, which runs parallel lead us on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. As soon as we got on, it looked like we were on a nice pretty country road in the middle of a farm. Not really what I was expecting and then it changed slowly for the better. The thing that makes the BRP stand out is its unique road characteristics. The grass grows right up to edge of the tarmac, meaning there's no place for gravel. Since no commercial or very limited residential entities can exist along the parkway, there are no power lines of telephone lines, which really bring out the nearby scenery. However, that means that there are also no gas stations along the way, but a slight exit from the parkway takes one back to the civilization with its power and telephone lines and our most beloved, gas stations.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia with smooth roads and gentle corners

Finally entering the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway

A serene little dam on the Virginia side (courtesy Mark/msl217)

This corner just about sums up the BRP in Virginia - gentle corners with close up foliage. In North Carolina, the scenery and twisties would change. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

The road surface condition in Virginia was just outstanding. Not a single crack or tar snake or varying pavement. The corners just flowed into each other without too much of a straight road. The smooth flowing nature of the parkway in Virginia also made the roads not that technical and more of big sweepers to be easily enjoyed by everyone. Traffic on a Friday afternoon was very light that added to our enjoyment.

When we crossed into North Carolina, the scenery changed and so did the road surface and the technical nature of the corners. We were riding higher up in the mountains that lead to some more dramatic scenery than we saw in Virginia. However, the road surface deteriorated and there were lots of pavement changes with patches of concrete here and there. But, I'm just nit-picking as it was still good fun to rail on as the corners were more challenging.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with more technical corners

Entering North Carolina (courtesy Mark/msl217)

These clowns wanted to take a picture of the other side to say that we rode through Virginia. I think it's cheating.

Change of scenery... you can see why it's called the 'Blue' Ridge Parkway (courtesy Mark/msl217)

What a sight! Image the feeling of taking a sweeper carved into the side of the mountain with awesome views...

Rockin thru the Blue Ride Parkway in North Carolina. No Ram mounts were used in the making of this video. Mark just held his digi cam up and rode one-handed during these clips. Crazy guy. So mind the shakiness, bright spots and lack of engine noise, cause wind noise was too much. I felt it still captured the essence of the moment.

Rick and his uncontrollable bladder

Three happy riders

The sun was setting fast and we still had plenty of curves left to ride

Sunset on the parkway (courtesy Mark/msl217)

I saw a TV show a few days before the trip on the BRP and they mentioned the Linn Cove Viaduct, which was a piece of sweeping concrete bridge that was constructed to avoid damaging the delicate flora on that hillside. Being an engineer with an interest in big civil engineering projects, I was expecting to be thrilled after seeing how much they hyped it up on TV and elsewhere. I came upon it and it wasn't really that intriguing. Sure, it was nice to see a hillside not get blown up to make a road, but it was a bit over-hyped, or maybe I was just over-hyping it. I tend to do that so that there's something to look forward to along the way and act as a marker, as well. Now it was just about getting to the motel before it got too dark.

The Linn Cove Viaduct, constructed so as to create the least damage to the environment.

A typical overpass on the parkway

We had to take a little detour off the parkway for some construction and it was clearly evident why the parkway was such an amazing road. The driveways, gravel, power lines and just civilization in general definitely required more of our attention to be spent watching for those things, rather than focusing on our riding.

It got dark while we were still on the parkway and we decided to exit and take better lit roads. However, those roads brought constant oncoming traffic with their lights in our faces. Thinking back now, it would have been better to slow down the pace and stay on the parkway. But then again, it was getting technical and with headlights pointing straight ahead, seeing thru a hairpin wasn't very easy.

What a fun sign. I think it's meant more for Harley's.... :p

It was no 'Sprial Curve.' It was just a simple hair-pin.

NC-226 Alternate looked like a lot more fun than NC-226, but it was pitch dark by then.

We got on I-40 for the last bit heading into Asheville and dare I say this, but I truly enjoyed this piece of interstate. At one point, it was so twisty that we were leaned over pretty good into the corners. Rick was in the center lane and I pulled up along side him in the left lane and I was hoping Mark would pull up in the right lane. That would be going three-deep into these corners. Oh what fun.

The twisting I-40 near Asheville, NC

Usually, when I choose a motel from Streets&Trips, I always call to make sure that they're still there and check for availability. There wasn't time before this trip for that and the Travelodge that was indicated didn't exist. This lead to quite a few u-turns until we settled on a Super 8 with a white background, that really threw us off (they're usually yellow).

Day 5
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Start: Asheville, NC, 8:00 am EDT
End: Cookeville, TN, 8:00 pm CDT
Mileage: 368

The route for the day: Asheville, NC to Cookeville, TN

Today was the day. Dragon Slaying. For those that don’t know, US-129 near Deals Gap is called The Dragon as the road layout resembles the Tail of a Dragon. And people who ride it successfully are said to have slayed The Dragon. All this marketing hype, but boy were we caught up in it.

But before that, there would be more twisties. At this point, it was hurting to think about twisties. As Mark said it, "We were twistied-out." But we popped some Aleve and pushed forward. The south end of the BRP is certainly the most technical bit with the highest point along the parkway in this section, as well. As Jean-Francois said it, the BRP should be ridden north to south as it gets better and more dramatic. The BRP is also advertised as a "Ride-a-while, Stop-a-while" road, with many pull outs for scenery viewing and camera clicking. It's also very challenging to ride technical roads with amazing scenery flashing by as one needs to concentrate more on the road. This is where I wish I had a video camera to record the scenery for me to enjoy at a later date. For now, I would have to make do with the "High speed sight-seeing" method: having a quick look on both sides as the scenery flashes by and take a mental picture. If only there was some way to take pictures with our eyes and save it to the computer. I'm sure this'll happen in the not too future.

One of the most unique things about the BRP is riding a piece of tarmac at the ridge of a mountain with steep slopes on both sides. The panoramic views were just stunning. We were very lucky to get clear views from the parkway since it's known to be fogged over often.

The best part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, west of Asheville, NC

Riding the last part of the BRP, west of Asheville, the most fun part.

The customary highest elevation picture. We quickly moved out of there, so other bikers and cagers could take pictures of the sign. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Enjoying the morning view from the highest point on the parkway. Not really, as it did climb more after that sign... (courtesy RickC1957)

The beautiful BRP carved into the side of the mountains

Our punishment for riding the BRP all the way to the end was suffering through the horrible traffic on US-19 through the Cherokee Indian Reservation at the south end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It would have been better to take US-23 around the reservation. US-74 allowed us to relax for a while and stretch our legs on its 4 lane slab. That didn't last long as we soon hit NC-28 to take use straight to Deals Gap. This was a pretty desolate road for being so close to Deals Gap on a hot Saturday afternoon. The rhythm that Mark and I set was just beautiful through here, we really enjoyed it. Where was Rick, oh yeah, he took one for the team. We were double-yellowing it through some switch-backs and some jobless cager called the police on us. The national forest rangers/federal police came after us and only managed to stop Rick as he was in the back. Rick said the officer was very cool about it and said he had to write the ticket because it was called in. I was feeling a bit guilty about leaving Rick out to dry but then he said right after getting the ticket, he overtook someone on a double-yellow, which made me feel much better. Also, being a federal/national forest ticket, it probably wouldn't go on his state record.

US-19 to be avoided through the Cherokee Reservation

Welcoming signs on US-74 telling us that The Dragon was waiting up ahead...

The very rhythmic NC-28 heading towards Deals Gap

So here we are setting a nice rhythm on NC-28 and we take a tight right-hander and bam, all of sudden there's this scene that looks like it doesn't belong to this forest: hundreds of bikes and The Deals Gaps Motorcycle Resort. The scene is quite outstanding. We had obviously picked the worst day to come here, a nice hot Saturday afternoon. There were at least a 100 sport bikes and maybe close to 50 cruisers and touring bikes. It looked more like a track day than a twisty road in the mountains with almost everyone there in full leather riding suits, except of course the cruisers and touring guys. The main store has all the Deals Gap goodies, t-shirts, stickers and helmet cameras. There's also a sort of Wall of Shame - pictures of crashes and road rash to remind how dangerous this road is, or how dangerous people can get on this road. There was a R1-forum.com meet that was occupying most of the place and we decided to wait for them to go ahead before setting out through there for the first time.

Black circle identifying Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort location

And Bam! Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort with hundreds of bikes in the middle of the forest. The sport bike parking lot. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

The cruiser parking lot (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Member of the R1-forum.com meet heading out for a run through The Dragon (courtesy Mark/msl217)

A lowered, stretched, blinged-out R1. I would be real scared of taking that through The Dragon. Gimme that Ducati next to it. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Remember to fill up at those gas pumps. Note the population count of 6.

The very awesome Tail of the Dragon

With all the horror stories we had read about this road, we took the first run at a snail's pace, although no one overtook us. This was more a reconnaissance to study the nature of the road and its surroundings, look for gravel and to get a general feel for the rhythm. My first impression was very positive. No gravel, easy to overtake cars and an almost predictable nature of the corners.

We came out at the Dragon Overlook about 9 miles later with my knees about to pop off. I actually couldn’t wait for it to get over as I was hurting so much due to the past four days of mindless railing. There was an orange Gold Wing who Rick had a hard time trying to overtake as he was keeping up with us two up front. In the pictures, it's clear to see he was dragging parts and hardly looks to be working the bike. Some of these riders have probably ridden this road tens of times and in turn have become better riders.

Pictures from the professional photographers at The Dragon (we've ordered a few of the below):

Rick (killboy.com)

Mark (killboy.com)

Moi (killboy.com)

The orange Gold Wing that Rick couldn't overtake (killboy.com)

Riding through with excellent body position (killboy.com)

What was he thinking?? He had on a helmet, gloves, boots and a red peice of cloth. Thank god he didn't go down. (killboy.com)

We saw the local sheriff pull up whose number was surprisingly 129. I heard the police gave up pursuing motorcyclists through The Dragon after a particular officer lost his car to a tree. Now, I think they just try and promote safe riding through there. He was even blocking traffic so that the R1-forum crew could get back on the road safely, how nice. We decided to finish the road that ends at Chilhowee Lake, where larger parking is available for the cars that were running The Dragon. This last bit was not as exciting as the rest and could maybe be avoided when making laps of The Dragon.

After our rest that re-energized our aching knees, we stepped it up a notch on the way back and I was glad to find almost no traffic in my way. The few cars and trailers we came up to were easy to pass and some even pulled off in the corners to let us by. I guess this is the shortest way to go around the Smokys without entering the park. We all really enjoyed our second run through and hoped the photographers were capturing our best side. I truly felt The Dragon lived up to its hype and totally deserves it.

The crew at the overlook

The horde of bikes at the north/west end of The Dragon

Sheriff of The Dragon. Note the 129. He was very friendly and polite to all the motorcyclists. (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Mark (dragonslayerphotos.com)

Rick (dragonslayerphotos.com)

Moi (dragonslayerphotos.com)

Leading Mark and the Gold Wing. Note the black Mercedes in the corner. Cagers behaved very well and pulled off to let us through. (moonshinephoto.com)

Rick, getting ready to switch her back for the left-hander (moonshinephoto.com)

One funny thing to note was all the cars pulled over in the openings in the middle of the run. They had lawn chairs out and looked to be enjoying seeing bikes and cars rail through there. I guess it's free race entertainment. Someone should start charging for that.

That's what happens when you take a tire through Deals Gap (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Southern US-129 and the Cherahola Skyway

After some lunch we headed south to the Cherahola Skyway and west towards our stop for the night in Cookeville, TN. One of the biggest mistakes we made was not filling up at the only gas station in 50 miles at Deals Gap. We were in such a hurry to keep moving because we still had a lot of miles to go.

Continuing south on US-129 lead to some big sweepers that allowed our knees to relax a bit. We got going west on TN-143 towards the Cherahola Skyway and were left hoping that the road surface would improve. It was quite bumpy with varying pavement. There wasn't a single gas station in this whole area and we decided to push it to Tellico Plains. We rode the whole skyway in sixth gear, conserving gas and this enabled us to really take in the scenery. It was quite similar to the BRP. I don’t remember the details as I think I was more focused on my last bit of petrol.

Heading west on TN-143 towards the Cherahola Skyway

On the downhill side, we came across many bicyclists who were partaking in the Cherahola Challenge. Just as we pulled up behind a lady biker, she tucked in and stuck her butt out, trying to be as aerodynamic as possible. We slowed down further and enjoyed the view for a bit. We gently overtook them and Rick said the lead biker overtook him to catch a draft behind me. How humiliating for a motorcyclist to be overtaken by a bicyclist. We were going about 40 mph.

Motorcyclists and Bicyclists on the Cherahola Skyway

We pulled into a gas station in Tellico Plains with all our fuel lights on. I did about 147 miles with two runs through Deals Gap on there, not bad. This was the southern most point of our trip and now it was basically heading home. We still managed to find some more twisties and switchbacks before we pulled into Cookeville, TN, where we had a nice dinner at Cracker Barrel, first time for me.

A birds nest at the top of an abandoned crane on TN-30

"I'm with stupid"

The fun never stopped... (courtesy Mark/msl217)

Day 6
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Start: Cookeville, TN, 7:15 am
End: Grayslake, IL, 11:15 pm
Mileage: 670

The route for the day: Cookeville, TN to Grayslake, IL

Mark had to get home early to be a part of Father's day so he slabbed it back and made it home in time for the festivities. Diane also had to head home, so she joined Mark on the slab. Rick and I planned to take back roads all the way up to Lebanon, IN before catching 200 miles of slab.

TN-135 heading north towards Kentucky

Some mediocre twisties in northern Tennessee

Rt. 135 out of Cookeville looked to be very twisty but wasn't marked very well, but we caught up with it later and enjoyed some deserted parts of northern Tennessee, before heading into Bowling Green. From here, I had planned to skip Louisville and get to Salem, IN to ride the fun IN-135. However, we were not enjoying ourselves and fatigue was kicking in, and we also realized we weren't making that good time. KY-728 just north of Mammoth Cave National Park was quite entertaining and brought our spirits back up. I-65 towards Louisville was very crowded but that kept me alert and didn't allow me to focus on my tiredness. We passed about a 30 vehicle caravan that looked like a circus and passing traffic caused all sorts of moving road blocks on the highway. We exited and got some lunch before heading to Salem, only to find that same caravan in front of us. It took a good 15 miles to pass the whole caravan along with regular traffic on that road.

Some twisty roads around Mammoth Cave National Park

In Salem, IN-135 was just as I remembered from earlier this year. It's a great alternative to I-65 as it runs parallel and offers some nice corners. The town of Nashville is one I wish we could stop at and have a look around as it seems to be a very active little village with little shops and cafes. However, we're always passing through here with the mindset of getting home, so extra stops don’t play well into that scheme.

IN-135 offering twisty riding as an alternate to the parallel slab

I was contemplating skipping I-65 all together and taking IL-1 up into Kankakee and I-57 into Chicago. You know, just to try something new. Well, a big black cloud in that direction forced us onto I-65 where we knew we'd hit the storm anyways. In Lebanon, the big drops started falling and the best part, the tornado sirens were sounding. Should we stay and let it pass or take our chances. We took our chances. On I-65, we saw two spirals forming from the looming clouds and were just praying that it wouldn't touch the ground. The rain that we came across wasn't that bad and we headed for home on the slab. As usual, at the end of a big ride, I slow down and do the speed limit and just reflect on the trip and also reduce my chances of a ticket, which would ruin the ride.


All in all, it was about 3000 miles in 6 days with some very exciting roads thrown in there. It was certainly a bit too intense as towards the end, my posterior was hurting incredibly and the thought of being on the bike was not enjoyable. When I got home, I hoped the pain would heal quickly for in 10 days we were setting of for Montana on an 11 day ride. I quickly ordered a beaded seat from beadrider.com as per RocketBunny's suggestion and hoped that would cure my pain issues. Besides that, it was a most memorable trip. I really enjoyed the day ride with the other STNers, as I got to do a group ride in a place far from home with riders I hadn't ridden with before and it was an excellent day. Meeting members from STN was also enjoyable as I got to put a face to the online legends and gurus. I was also extremely happy to have slayed The Dragon and thoroughly enjoyed it, along with the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is so much more to be ridden in that area and I hope to return soon.


oscar said...


oscar said...