Archive for the ‘adventure riding’ Category

Weekend adventure illustrates two extremes

I love the video below because it illustrates well the two extremes of adventure motorcycles and gear. The whole idea of having a perfect bike for adventure is ludicrous, and hopefully after watching, you will agree. From my experience, there so often seems to be a reluctance to ride without proper tools (bike, gear, tents, etc.) and silly things like a perceived need of all-or-nothing solutions. This video perfectly points out many aspects of each choice that weighs in one direction or the other.  The conclusion the guys come to is that the “perfect bike” is probably somewhere in the middle, while my conclusion is always Run what ya Brung.

The clear illustration presented is that you can have an adventure regardless of the chosen tools, your budget, time or distance.  So the takeaway is get on your bike and ride this weekend……to somewhere new or cool, with what you have.

Is rain stopping you from riding?

For quite a few years I have listened to many owners about the conditions they face when making decisions about when and if they ride.  I always find it amusing when they talk about percentages and chances of rain, like it is fact, or determined that 30% means you are gonna get wet. Just keep the bike in the garage.  I try hard to be objective when making judgements about how others act.  So I did some research, for ojectivity’s sake.

What I found was that between 100-117 days a year in Alabama, there is measurable rainfall.  That means, most likely there was a percentage of rainfall for those days also.  The bigger number is 1/3.  One third of of the days had some rainfall, on average in Alabama.  That means, if you are afraid of getting wet, you may only be able to ride 2/3 of the year.  And if you only ride in summer, maybe even less than that?

So what is the answer?

buy motorcycle rain gearMy suggestion is that you adjust the way you think about weather, and specifically rain.  If you must prepare to ride in the rain, summer riding is simple.  Many folks do not even carry rain gear, other than possibly a ziploc or two for phone, your wallet, or other sensitive items.  A step further would be some light,  storable (on the bike) nylon rain-gear.  This is a nice addition to make the trip more comfortable if you do get caught in the weather.  But keep in mind, you may only see a sprinkle all day long.  In winter, or colder fall and spring day, your prep may need to be more involved to prevent hypothermia, or discomfort from being cold AND wet.  You will learn what is appropriate quickly, but find something that works.  The fact that you are missing some of the most amazing riding days simply because of some fear that you might get wet is like missing out on sex because you think there might be an awkward moment.  There WILL be an awkward moment, but dammit, it is SEX!!  Ride your motorcycle, don’t worry about the awkward moment of getting wet – you will dry off.

The Road Speaks

This may be a new concept to you, but for me the road has been speaking to me for a few years.  The main thing that I started really paying attention to a few years back is markers.  You know, you see them, crosses on the side of the road.  Many time they are in turns, and the crosses and flower are mounted to guard rails, but you also see many in ditches, bridge railings, and intersections.  you can really tell a LOT about death on the road by paying attention to where these markers are.  If you could plot a map of the markers,

My guess is absolutely.  I think it might even be very disturbing.  Questions arise like – “Why are there no warning signs?”  or”  Why is there not a caution light, or stop sign?”

  But I have always heard that the state uses statistics to determine where the trouble areas are.  But is that really true?  Where would they be?  If you could do a statistical study of death on the road, plot those points on a map, could you see a pattern?

So it might be something we can do, plot out all the road markers left by loved ones.  We know someone died close by.  Put them on a map, look for patterns.  I wonder what they would turn up?

Certainly we could show that tricky turns and blind intersections are dangerous.  Twisty roads that have very small margins for error, or lacking guardrails would be at the top of the list.  I always look for the chevrons – directional arrows, yellow and black.  They are there for a reason, typically folks have run off the road, found themselves in a ditch or worse.  Those seem to me to be the most important markers – put there by the state – a “watch out, this is dangerous”.  Many times there are crosses nearby.  It always makes me wonder, what was this guys story.  I wish they could speak.  Tell me what happened, and what to look out for.  Maybe we could all learn something from the crash?

Crooked roads, creeks, cliffs, and Cricket’s

So the big goal for this Saturday was to ride, then finish the day at Cricket’s, which may, in my opinion be the best wings in Alabama, and perhaps the southeast.  Since the eating part was taken care of,  riding was the only real choice – and there looked to be a couple option.  Dual sport the Wheeler Wildlife Area, or street ride north Alabama.  Since

I had never ridden the WWA, I assumed it to be swampy and muddy, and the big bike does not like mud, so I opted to meet Beck at 2pm.  When I showed up, there was no Beck, so I took an opportunity to do some exploring, looking for crooked roads, creeks and cliffs.  Luckily, I found a few.

First, I went looking for a cave and a spring, at Cave Spring.  There is a Cave Spring Church, and I traveled down Cave Spring Road, but no luck.  Next I headed north toward the mountains.   I found a private RR crossing, and a cliff with a stop sign – lucky for me that sign was there, because I NEVER pay attention to no trespassing signs like the one behind it.  Of course the road to get there was awesome, lots of twists and descents, and a few places to gasp at the awesome views.

 

 

Finally, I would up riding towards Paint Rock Valley and I knew the roads were crooked, had a creek (river) and some decent dirt roads, so I took the turn.  Turns out, Beck was riding out there too – weird?  So I took my time, and stopped to take a peek and some places along the river I had never looked closely at, but had been curious about.  For instance – is it possible to cross this river here?  Not sure I really want to find out today without ropes and pulleys, and a rescue team.

Next stop, Tennessee – since I was this close, might as well.  I climbed the mountain and found an interesting dirt road to explore.  I was stopped not too far up the road, as it turned into a jagged, big rock trail, with only a few options – most looked painful.  About that time Johnny Robinson finally texted me that he was headed to Cricket’s.  Since the sun would be down soon, I decided it was time to turn around and head that way too.

When I arrived, there was a table outside, giggling at the Yeti as I squeezed the bike into the pile in the parking slot.  The waitress walked over to the bike as I was ungearing, and took my beer order.  I LOVE Cricket’s.  Not long after, I was eating wings and yucking it up with the gang.  Great day to ride, and a wonderful way to end it, chomping and laughing with friends.

 

How to Invest 5 Days You’ll Never Regret – Tellico Plains Dual Sport Ride

A few months back I decided it was time to plan a trip. And so I did.

Well, actually “we” planned a trip. I called Mulley and bounced my idea off him. I think it was the next day I made a phone call and everything was planned. From then on it was just a matter of waiting.

 

This trip would be a little different. Play hard during the day then relax in the evenings. A nice rental house was reserved in Tellico Plains. Complete with hot tub and pool table and a nice view from the deck out front. Yes. This was going to be fun…..

Thursday morning the 24th finally rolled around. I loaded my bike in the truck the night before then went by Mulley’s house Thursday morning to load up his bike, his stuff and his self. We dropped Rex off at the boarding place on the way out of Moody and from there it was to the truck stop at Steele to meet up with the others who would be making the trip.

After we all bought gas and coffee and whatever else it was that everyone bought, we hit the road for Tellico Plains.

The drive up was uneventful.

We stopped at Hardees upon arriving in Tellico Plains and before we all got our of our trucks, 3 guys on Dual Sport bikes pulled up. Within a few minutes we learned they were in town from near Orlando and had burned a day without much success when it comes to DS riding adventures. They asked and we said “Yes”. We would meet them back at Hardees the next morning and they could tag along with us for the day. You never know exactly what to expect in situations like this and that is pretty much how we felt that evening at the house when we talked about it. We had no idea what we had agreed to. While we didn’t want to be butt nuggets about the matter, we didn’t want to have to hand-hold some guys we didn’t know all day if they turned out to be slow pokes who fell over a lot. More on these guys when the report unfolds.

I drove over to the rental office and got the key. The folks there were VERY nice. When the nice lady behind the c

ounter learned our group was one of motorcycle riders, she kindly provided me a plastic bag full of rags for cleaning and keeping our motorcycles all spiffy looking. “For Our Motorcycle Guest” read the little note stuck to the bag. I took the bag knowing it would never get opened and chuckled a little to myself. “Some guys ride. Some guys polish.”

We were about to ride. A lot. And there would be no polishing.

Mill and I went to get carry out pizza for dinner. We made a call on-the-spot and it turned out to be a good one. They had a pizza made with chicken and Ranch dressing and peppers and stuff. It was good. real good. Better than you might think. Try it if you are ever in Tellico Plains. The pzza place near the grocery store.
Good folks and good food.

With full bellies we soon all found our way to bed. Day 1 of riding was just around the corner.

Friday morning dawned clear and pretty cold. I generally don’t have a problem sleeping while traveling, or the night before an event, etc. But, I had not slept much at all Thursday night. It was frustrating because I figured I’d be tired and sleepy Friday morning. Fortunately such was not the case.

I am an early riser by nature and mine was the first set of feet to hit the floor. I was happy to be where I was and looking forward to Friday and the following 4 days of riding. The others began to stir and soon enough everybody was awake and getting ready.

A quick shower and I was feeling primed and ready to roll. If I was going to be tired or sleepy, it didn’t look like it was going to be Friday! The sky was crystal clear blue and the temps were in the upper 20s. Frost was everywhere. It was a fantastic morning.

A fantastic morning but one that presented a few challenges. Mulley’s battery was dead but the DRZ came to life after a few kicks. Mark’s Lithium battery was cold and resisted waking up, but a few bumps on the starter warmed it enough to bring his bike to life. Poor Dan. The big XR was the definition of ornery. It simply didn’t want to wake up and get going. After repeated attempts, which included Mulley towing him down the blacktop in an effort to bump start it, Dan loaded the bike in the truck and he and John set off in search of a big hill. A few minutes later the XR rolled up the driveway with the truck right behind it. All the bikes were running, the frost had been wiped from the seats, everybody was geared up and ready to roll and we were off to Hardees.

It was just a mile or so to Hardees, but it was a pretty cold mile. My nose and lips were cold and I loved it. It just makes you feel more alive when it is cold and the sky is clear blue. Everything just seems crisp and sharp and ready to snap to life. Yes. I loved it.

We had our breakfast and one of the riders from the group yesterday showed up. We learned one of the others awoke to a flat tire and was changing a tube and the rest would be along shortly. Shortly turned into longly and about the time we started to get impatient, the other 2 rolled up. There was a 4th in their group, but he had decided to skip the ride Friday. The way I figured it, it was to be his loss.

The guys were older fellas. Around my age I reckon. David, the one who was sort of the group leader, turned out to be an accomplished Hare Scrambles racer and if I understood it correctly, a Florida Senior Champion for a year or two. The other two guys turned out to be plenty capable and would present essentially nothing in the way of hassles as the day unfolded. With breakfast and coffee in our bellies, the 10 of us got our bikes running and rolled out onto highway 64 for a short 3 mile ride to our first turn to fun.

Witt Road.

It is a fun road. Gravel and some dirt. 6 or 7 water crossings. I was there in March with similar temps and one of the guys in our small group fell over in the water first thing. 10 minutes into the ride and he was taking a swim.

This time nobody fell in the drink but there was one minor “Uh Oh” that lead to one of the guys in the Florida group getting wet up to his knees or so. But, the sun was out in force and the temp was rising. While nowhere near warm, the sharp edge of the upper 20s had given way to perfet riding temps. Probably low 40s which was perfect for the conditions. Cool enough to keep you from getting hot, but not cold enough to be anywhere near uncomfortable.

All the water crossings are early on and from then on it was ride as fast as you felt like riding. It was a load of fun!

At the end of Witt Road we all stopped to take a break. I was glad to see smiles. Especially on the faces of the Florida guys. I was glad we had met them. Glad they had asked. And glad we had said “OK. Come join us.”  They were good guys, really good, nice guys. And good riders. I was happy knowing they were happy. They had stumbled into us and even though the day was less than an hour old, seemed to be thoroughly pleased with the hand fortune had dealt them.
I had spent time before the trip getting all the GPS routing down so each day had a preplanned route. All were subject to change and adjustments based on whatever we felt like. And it seemed like everybody felt like doing but one thing: Having fun.
It was going to be a good day!

A true dualsport ride covers all the bases.

Or at least as many of them as is possible given the location and circumstances. I had tried to plan routes that would do just that. The goal being that by the end of the 5 days, we would have ridden some of pretty much everything available to ride.

The end of Witt Road meant a ride on narrow backroads. Some asphalt. Some tar and gravel. And then onto just dirt with gravel Forest Service roads. The tie in for this would be Trails 81 and 82.

81 and 82 are the only true single track trails I know of in the National Forest that are open to motorcycle riding. They are very much fun. If you have ridden them, you already know……

Some sections of both are very narrow and hug the edge of steep slopes. A mess up here could lead to some serious bike recovery issues. It appeared the trails had not seen much recent use. Leaves covered most of the narrow sections along the drop-off areas, making the trail seem even narrower. It can be like walking down a 2 X 12 board laid flat. Put it on the ground and you could walk it 100 yards without a waver. Suspend that same dimension 100 feet in the air and the mind will mess with you. What was plenty wide with no risk gets narrow when the stakes are raised. It was cool to be reminded that some risk is often what makes it more fun and exciting. While no real life or death risks were involved, the risk of a bad glancing turn off a rock or root would mean a major hassle of bike recovery and that was enough to keep you relaxed and flowing. One rider, who will remain unnamed, had a minor slide off the trail which amounted to nothing really. All-in-all 81 and 82 lived up to the billing. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

We stopped for breaks and to chat and laugh. We stopped to ENJOY IT. To enjoy being where we were and doing what we were doing. And when we were finished enjoying it all while being stopped, we’d go enjoy it some more while we were riding.

With the fun of the single track behind us, it was time for a little more riding on improved roads. Improved meaning mostly gravel.
Lots of gravel.
Mankind has produced untold quantities of gravel over the years and a lot of of it has found its way to many of the forest service roads in the Cherokee and the Nantahala National Forests. But, this being a dualsport bike ride, the gravel made for some fun. Occasionally there would be a little too much piled up in turns which lead to some slight alteration of the intended line through the turn. Otherwise it was fun doing a little drifting and practicing various techniques for dealing with it the best you could.

The next stop was the odd structure seen in Mark’s pic above. I/we “discovered’ this back in March and I wanted to visit it again. It’s pretty cool and not like the normal stuff you encounter on a day-to-day basis.

I have done some poking and searching around the interweb and think I have an understanding of what it is (was) and how it was used.

The Apalachia Dam was built in the early 1940s to provide electricity to support the production of the massive amounts of Aluminium needed to fight WW II. An interesting tid-bit of info I have learned in the last year or so involves how the dam systems operate along the Ocoee and Hiawassee rivers. The power house is typically located a few miles below the dam to take advantage of the higher pressures provided by the increased drop below the actual base of the dam. The water is diverted from the lake, through a big pipe to the point dowmstream where the big pipe feeds the water to the generators.

In the case of the Apalachia dam, the big pipe goes through a big tunnel. A big tunnel, just over 8 miles long, that was cut through the rocks (mostly granite I think) to get the water far downstream to the powerhouse.

The structure above is located near a strange sloped, concrete face with a steel door at the base. If you open the steel door you see a block-off plate to the big steel pipe (12′ diameter) that is carrying water downstream.

As best I can understand it, the sloped concrete wall seals up what was once an opening in the tunnel. The opening is above the grade on which the concrete pillared structure sits. (It’s all on the side of a big hill) Seems there was an elevated rail that ran from the opening in the tunnel to the top of the structure. Rock from the tunnel was moved out of the opening and loaded into a ferry car that then moved out to the top of the structure where it dumped its load into another rail car below. This car sat on rails that ran level along the side of the hill. The second car then moved down the rails and dumped its load of waste rock down the steep slope of the hill.

We left the big structure after a bit and went down to ride along the base of the hill. There is tons and tons and tons of waste rock covering the lower portion of the hill. Largely infiltrated with trees and other growth now, but clearly visible when viewed from below.

So with the odd bit of history behind us, it was time to head back to Tellico Plains and get some dinner. After clearing the forest we hit the highway for the ride back to town. It was getting late and the temp had started to drop. It was still a crystal clear blue sky. A great first day was winding down. But there were 4 more to come.

We settled on BBQ for dinner. The Florida guys joined us.
It was good. The BBQ restaurant is a small place near the grocery store. A small place that served manly sized portions. You definitely get your money’s worth.

After dinner we said our good byes to the Florida guys and headed back to the house.
The hot tub and pool room were taken advantage of and a good time was had by all.

With the experiences of the cold first morning still fresh in our memory, Mark, Dan and I built a makeshift “warming room” for their two bikes. A rubber backed rug, some towels and a lamp would hopefully ward off some of the bite of the cold temps expected again Friday night.

Day 2 was just around the corner. It was going to be a fun day. We didn’t know it, but we’d run into the Florida guys again and this time the tables would be turned. They would take us to a “road” we knew nothing about.

I woke up just before daybreak Saturday.

 

I can’t remember for certain now, but I think Mark was awake about the same time. I walked out on the deck as the sky started to show the first signs of the coming day. It was another cold morning. Maybe a degree or two colder than the previous night. The frost sure seemed heavier. After a minute or so I went in to make a pot of coffee. The rest of the crew would be stirring soon and a pot of coffee would be welcomed.

When everyone was up and going I learned that Will had taken sick during the night. Apparently some stomach bug. He had thrown up and was not feeling too well. He made the call to load up and head home.

With everyone ready to go, we all got our bikes running and soon headed out. The frost was heavier this morning. The cold air and clear blue sky made me grin just as big as it had the previous morning. It was a cold morning and a fun day was about to snap to life.

Breakfast was to be something other than Hardees today. We rolled to a stop at Tellico Grains, peeled off our gear and went inside. It’s a really cool little bakery/eatery. Really nice folks, nice inviting atmosphere and some awesome baked goods. We all had our fill and sat there for a few minutes talking. There were a few books lying here and there for customers to look at. I picked up one on the history of Tellico Plains and started looking at old photos and reading history. I was really intersting stuff. Sort of made me want to buy the book, but I didn’t. I figure maybe I’ll go back someday and read some more while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Tellico Motorcycle Outfitters was just across the road. They had opened while we ate breakfast so we went over there and poked around a few minutes. I looked at a jacket that cost nearly 1/2 as much as I paid for my motorcycle. I decided to stick with my flannel lined Carhart for the day.

It was time to ride! We geared up, stopped to fill the bikes with gas and then hit the asphalt.

A few miles up The Cherohala Skyway we took the right onto Bald River Road. Not too much traffic. It was pretty cool in the shade, rolling along side the Bald River. First stop of the day was Bald River Falls. Took a few pics, John did wheelies across the bridge and we took some pics of him showing us how it’s done. There was what looked to be a mom and dad with their daughter there. They stood along side the road at the end of the bridge and took some pics of John riding wheelies. (John can ride wheelies a l o n g way) They seemed to enjoy it and had smiles on their faces. That was cool. They liked it! Tells me they were generally, all around cool people.

Mill and I had ridden in the Tellico Plains area back in August and had spent some time just riding around exploring. Some of the stuff planned for Saturday was revisiting some of what Mill and I found and enjoyed when we were there. Next stop “Fire Tower Road”.

I know the road is not actually named Fire Tower Road. It has a proper name but I forget it. I just call it Fire Tower Road because that is pretty much what it is.
I commented to Mulley later on that I guess the fire tower is gone because all I have seen is what looks like a radio tower. He told me that fire towers now use infrared detectors and are monitored remotely. Well now, that makes perfect sense and made me feel kinda dim witted for not having figured that out on my own.

So it was back on the gravel for a fun ride to the INFRARED Fire Tower Road. The road to the top is fun. It is rougher than the maintained FS roads and has no gravel. It is pretty much just a service road for accessing the tower. We all had fun riding to the top and took a break there to survey the surroundings and take some photos. The sky was clear and the view very nice. After a few minutes we headed back down to the main FS road we had turned off.
About half way down we met the Florida guys on their way up! We stopped briefly to say hello and then both groups continued on their way. This was not to be our only chance encounter with the Florida guys that day.

Mill and I found it back in August. Miller Cemetery.

It’s at the end of a fun road through the woods. There’s less gravel on this road. More dirt and leaves. It seems less traveled so you get more of the satisfaction that comes with being “in the woods”.

All indications are Miller Cemetery has not been abandoned. Even though it is off in the woods, miles off the beaten path, it appears to be maintained. The Millers must have been an important family in the area. There’s lots of “Miller” stuff all around.
Miller Cemetery
Miller Road
Miller Creek
I’ll but there’s a Miller Mountain and probably more Miller stuff I just haven’t run across.

I took some time to look at the grave markers/tombstones. There were maybe 50 – 60 plots and many of them were young children. Some were babies who didn’t live more than a day or two. Some were children who lived a few years. I saw one family who lost a baby within a day or two of being born and then about 12 months later lost another baby within the first day or two of life. I have to imagine life in those mountain 80 – 100 years ago was a fairly tough, unforgiving life.

I had been having a problem with my bike starting. I’d have to fiddle with the start button while working the clutch lever. Clearly a problem with the clutch switch. While I was off poking around the grave sites, Mulley and John and Mill had pulled out the tool bag and done me the favor of eliminating the clutch switch. I genuinely appreciated it. I had planned to do it that night, when we got back to the house, but they took it on their own to do it for me.

Nice guys.

We did some more exploring in the area then headed off for the next leg of our Saturday ride.

We would soon find out this “leg” was broken. Our plans would change and some fun would be had.

 

Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.

 

As a general rule I figure an open gate on a gravel road means “Come ride me”. Not so.

Me and Mulley and Mill were the first 3 in line. John and Dan and Mark behind us. We peeled off BR Road, following the route I had planned out and loaded on mine and Mulley’s and John’s Garmin units. Open gate = Gas it. The 3 of us got no more than 100 yards when I noticed the others were no longer behind us.

 

We waited a few minutes and nothing. So we turned around and went back. John had seen what we had missed and they had stopped because of it. Small signs (seriously they were small signs) on the side posts, with the gate open. Pretty much : NO motorized traffic here. Do it and get caught and pay $5000.00

Well now. That won’t work.

We were very near the Trout hatchery so we rolled over there to ask. The guy was real nice. He was a Tennesse Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources guy and not a Federal fella. He said the Feds won’t even let him drive on the road a 1/4 mile or so in to visit the point where water is taken from the river to feed the hatchery. He has to walk it.

Stupid rules.
Stupid fines.

We had to change plans….

I had rejetted my bike a few weeks before the trip and had not ridden it enough any distance to have known ahead of time that it was consuming fuel at an alarmingly rapid rate. So much so that it was a limiting factor now. We could take an alternate route, way around, to pick up our route on the other side, but I’d run out of gas. We studied on it a few minutes when I had an idea. Go back to Tellico Plains (closest gas), fill up, and I know of a fun road not 10 miles or so from TP. We could go do that! So off we went.

We pulled into the gas stop and within a few minutes, guess who rolled in? The Florida boys.
Dave, the leader guy, pulled off his helmet and was grinning ear to ear. They had just returned from riding a section of trail/road that he said was the best they had seen or heard of. They were going back to do it again.
Scratch my idea. We were going with them! And so we did.

About 10 miles down the Skyway there was a little trail, right next to a guardrail. Ridden past it a hundred times and never noticed it. We follwed them onto the trail and then into the woods for some REALLY fun riding. It was not much more than a rough Jeep/4×4 trail. Some big rocky areas with a few step-up ledges. It was, without a doubt the “roughest” and therefore the “best” riding we had seen. It was only a few miles long. At the other end the Florida guys were to take the road we had just dead-end into and continue on to their cabin. We turned around and rode the Jeep trail back to the Skyway and back to TP for dinner.
It had been a great day topped off with some REAL DS riding.

 

The day was over but there is still a lot of story to unfold.

 

Before I move on to dinner and the events that followed, I want to go back and revisit Tellico Motorcycle Outfitters.
Figuratively speaking that is. I don’t mean I want to get up right now and go back to Tellico Plains before I add any more to the ride report. I want to tell more about our visit to TMO on Saturday morning. And tie that in with some learning experiences (for me).

TMO sells nice stuff. Some really nice stuff. Some of it very pricey – at least in my book.

I joke with Mulley. I call him a “Gear Snob”. He does, for the most part, invest a reasonable amount to get good quality gear. Mostly outer wear. Pants and jerseys and jackets and gloves and helmets. Well, now that I think about it, he has pretty good gear all the way, not just outer wear. He and John had on some good stuff. Mill too. I don’t think any of it is extreme high dollar (not sure about John’s jacket) but it is all a lot nicer than what I wear.
I tend to be more of a “bargin rider”. I tend to find moderately priced stuff that serves me sufficiently and go with that. Hence the lined Carhart canvas jacket. I love it for DS riding. It is comfortable, warm and resists abrasion very well. But it does have its negatives – mostly not waterproof and few pockets. I have a pair of street riding camo pants from Cycle Gear that I really like for DS riding. They have good Kevlar in important places and built in knee armor, plus they have lots of pockets. For the money, I have been very happy with them for DS riding. But, like the jacket, they are not waterproof. Not a big deal unless it is on the cool side. Riding wet and warm is fine with me. Wet and cold doesn’t work out so well.

So I opened my eyes and ears to the options of some nicer stuff. I looked at a few items and have to agree, it would be nice to have. There is a potential “big trip” to Colorado next July/Aug being mulled over. If that happens then I will be sporting nice gear.

I always carry tools and tire irons, a tube patch kit and a pump, and a few other items, just in case. The events to come on Sunday helped me learn how I was reasonably well equipped, but one particular item I do not carry (but will from now on) could have left me stranded in a bad way, a long way from anywhere.

Anyway, back to TMO…….

Not sure who noticed it first but Dan is the spitting image of the guy who models Olympia riding gear. We all got a laugh out of it and took a pic. The guy running the shop even gave Dan a copy of last year’s catalog. “He” is on the front cover.

So now, I’ll jump back to the events of the evening. Dinner and the events that followed.

Dinner was at the Crab Trap. Certainly a name that is open to being joked about but it was a pretty good place to relax, have a beer and some food. The menu offered a variety and the food was pretty good.

There had been a fund raiser planned that was to have been outside. Since the weather was cold (not really, but it was fairly cool that night) the event had been moved inside at the Crab Trap. There were 3 different guys playing guitar and singing. They sang individually, not together. Two of them were pretty good. It was mostly country stuff. I liked it, but I don’t think it was exactly what some of the others would have preferred.

Somewhere in the course of the evening a few of the guys went outside. It was there they learned from one of the locals there was a party that would be going on later that night and we were invited.

After some time listening to the music we got our gear on and headed back to the house.

Back at the house I decided to act on my frustrations with the carb jetting on my bike. So I did.

I found myself sitting at the table with the slide and needle in my hand, while most of the others were preparing to head off to the party.

A minute or so after they walked out I could hear a truck trying to go somewhere but clearly not having any degree of success, then I could hear guys laughing.
The house was in the woods, with a gravel driveway that pretty much qualified as a dualsport ride when getting from the blacktop to the house. It was long, and steep near the house, and was all loose gravel. Somehow, in the dark, Dan had managed to get the rear differential atop a cross tie which meant he was going nowhere.

During that time I was dealing with my carb issue. About the only thing I could do was move clip on the needle in hopes of leaning it out some. Despite my efforts to avoid it happening, when I went to snap the clip back on the needle, it popped off and was never to be seen again. Oh I looked. I looked and looked and looked, but never found it. I kinda’ think it must have shot out the door and landed a mile or two away. It was gone. And I was in a bad spot. Mill came in and I explained what had just happened. He got his tool bag out and found he had some very small washers. One looked like it would work, so I got a pair of side cutters and began to work on the washer. 10 minutes later my needle had a clip and I was back in business.
(Side note –  It turned out to have made very little to no difference. The bike ran WAY too rich the entire time. Just yesterday I pulled the carb off and took it apart to find the reason. I should have had a 150 or 155 main. Somehow I had wound up with a 165 main in it. It now has a 155 main and hopefully I will get better mileage than a school bus)

The others had pulled out a jack or two and managed to get the truck back in contact with terra firma (actually terra loosa) and were off to the party.

Mark stayed at the house and I kept busy getting the carb back together and insuring the bike would at least start and run.

Once that was complete, I spent some time looking at routes for the next few days.

The guys weren’t gone too long. Apparently the party was not all that and a bag of chips.

It was time to hit the sack. Sunday morning was just around the corner. It would start with a discovery before we ever left the driveway: An aluminum sprocket that already has a good bit of wear on it will wear out much faster than you think and leave you in a bind.

We had been at 7 when we started. Will had left due to stomach bug putting it at 6. Dan and John would be leaving Sunday to get back home for work.
That would leave 4 of us: Me, Mulley, Mill and Mark.

Dan and John loaded up and the rest of us prepared for the day’s ride. I was looking forward to it. It was to be an area I had never ridden and would include what appeard to be, based on Garmin maps and Google maps, some really nice twisty roads.

As we were getting ready I happened to look at Mulley’s rear sprocket. I had noticed it was a little worn back at his house when we laooaded up to head out. It was now way past a little worn. It was on its last leg. So much so that the prospects of any riding past Sunday were not good, and riding Sunday would only happen if we adjusted the chain tension to take up the slack and (hopefuuly) get him through the day without the chain jumping teeth.

We tightened the chain as tight as we dared then sat about the process of trying to find a new sprocket and chain. It was Sunday morning and options were limited.
Local options left us empty handed.
I called friends over in the Robbinsville/Maryville area but no luck.
Last hope: Try my friend Francois. He and his wife Megan own Dual Sport Touring in Friendsville, about a mile outside of Maryville. I called him on his cell phone and explained our predicament. He said he wasn’t sure but he thought he might have a chain and rear sprocket at his store but it would be a few hours before he could get to the store to check.

We all loaded up and headed to Tellico Plains to eat an early lunch. Dan and John joined us before they headed home.

After lunch we had some time to burn. The Tellico Plains Community Center was adjacent to the parking lot of the restaurant so we moved over there and sat on benchs under a shed roof and whittled.
Yep.
We whittled.
Apparently this was a whittling hang-out as there was wood there for whittling and the evidence of lots of prior whittling. So we whittled while we waited.
I called Francois again to check and he said ther had been a delay and it would be late afternoon before he could get to the store. He would send me a text message when he got there to let me know if he had what we needed.

With that, we decided it was time to ride. All indications were Mulley would be OK for the day, but not any more than that.

 

We got our gear on and hit the road.

 

We took the Skyway up to Indian Boundry and took a left there.

It was pretty cloudy Sunday and a little cool but so long as we were riding DS stuff and not just cruising down the blacktop, it was comfortable.

We rode miles of gravel and dirt. It was pretty good gravel when it was gravel. Just enough to make it fun. For the most part less gravel than the other roads so we were able to ride faster and worry less with sliding out in a turn and crashing.
Well, I was able to so I’m guessing it was the same for the others. It sure appeared to be.

I don’t like leading all the time. Mulley had the routes so he was in the lead. I like being behind others, chasing them and watching them have fun. He set a good pace.

The scenery was really nice. The terrain was not as steep as the other stuff we had ridden and we spent some time in low lying areas, riding along streams and in big trees with little under growth.

 

Real nice stuff

As the afternoon wore on we hit some asphalt and tar/gravel roads. It was GREAT!

The road was like a roller coaster. Up and down and turns, and up and down and more turns. One after another. We were riding at a pretty brisk clip and having a blast. I think it might be the best Dualsport sport riding road I have ever ridden. Too rough for a sportbike but perfect for a DS bike. The rough broken patches were soaked up by the suspension and we were able to ride surprisingly fast.

My goal of riding some of everything available was working out nicely.

We took a break from the fun to stop along side the lake.

If you are familiar with Deals Gap area, it is the lake on the left side of the road after you come off the hill, and cross Tabcat Bridge. The road winds along side the lake and eventually passes the dam just before you get to the HD convenience store/hangout.

Mulley was looking good for the rest of the day in the chain/sprocket dept. We sat there a while talking and taking some pics. I was throwing rocks in the lake when we heard a sportbike riding down the road on the opposite side of the lake. Mark said “That sounds just like Nicole’s bike.”
I looked across the lake to see two bikes, with the lead bike being black with the rider in all black leathers. I told the others and we all realized at the same time. That WAS Nicole’s bike. She and Mike N. had spent the day riding Deals Gap and The Cherohala Skyway and were headed back to the truck to load up and head home. We just happened to be stopped at the same time they passed by.
Their truck/trailer was just a mile or so down the lake from where we were sitting. We later learned that they had heard us across the lake when we started up and took off. They didn’t know it was us at the time, but Nicole said (in a post in the thread on their ride) she had heard us when we left out.

Cool.

We finished out the loop and headed back to TP for dinner. We rode straight to the pizza joint and had our fill of pizza.
Yes. Mill and I got another chicken/Ranch Dressing pizza. A large one. And we ate it all.

Sunday had been a great day. The kind of day that was fast and fun, but relaxing at the same time. I think the super fun fast road and the break on the bank of the lake made it a memorable day for me.

Not sure why really. But I guess it doesn’t matter why.

It just was.

The text message had come. Francois had a 520 chain and a 47 tooth sprocket!
He told me where he would hide it outside his shop and we were free to come get it and pay him later.

*Shameless plug*  If you are ever in the area and need something, or just want to stop by and say “Hello”, please do so. He and Megan are great folks and he literally save the trip for us/Mulley. About a mile outside Maryville on Lamar Alexander Parkway. Dual Sport Touring.

Back at the house we changed clothes and Mulley and I jumped in the truck for the hour drive to Francois’s shop. We found the stuff right where he said it would be and we headed back to the house.

Driving down the highway I noticed a sign on the side of the road. I moved to the turn lane, made a left into a parking lot, then went back to the sign. ANother photo op. This time it would be Mulley.
In case you don’t know, Mulley has been doing Cross Fit since early this year. He has lost a lot of weight and has really improved his endurance and overall physical prowess.
Beast mode comes more easily for Mulley now.

We got back to the house and decided we’d deal with the chain and sprocket the next morning when it was daylight.

The days were winding down but we weren’t through yet. There was still a lot of fun to be had.

Monday we would see the most miles of any day.
And ride in the clouds.
And get rained on in the clouds.
And have fun.

Lots of fun.

Monday. Day 4. One more to go.

I was already dreading having to leave…..

The ailing DRZ was on the deck and ready for some new running gear. Mulley attacked the chain and sprocket and had everything all back together and ready to go in short order. Like really short order.
Mulley don’t play.

Monday morning breakfast was at a little restaurant near TMO and Tellico Grains. It was an old place. Old and small. The kind of old restaurant you find in small, rural towns. The food was good. I seem to remember the floor squeeked when you walked across.

I liked it.

We finished breakfast and hit the road. Today’s ride was planned to get us to the other end of The Cherohala Skyway via dirt and gravel. It was another cloudy, cool day. Good riding weather. But when you are on vacation, having fun with friends, pretty much most any weather is good weather. Absent storms and pouring rain, it’s all good I reckon.

A short ride down Bald River Road and soon enough we turned off onto a Forest Service road and would not see asphalt again until we hit the other end of the Skyway.

We were south of the Skyway on some nice gravel roads. Back in some steeper elevations. The scenery was really good the entire ride. I think we hit the leaves at their very peak. You could even notice a substantial change over the few days we were there. I guess the frost of Thursday night and Friday night slapped the leaves into submission and they all started spewing out their brightest colors, going out in grand style before turning brown and dropping off to be added to the compost heap at the bottom of the trees.

The riding was good. We were within a mile or so of the Skyway when we stopped to take a break. A fella pulled up in a pickup truck, stopped, and got out to walk over to us. He was a hunter. Nice guy. Friendly and very talkative. He told us all about his hunting experiences, current and past.
He said he wants to hunt in Alabama. He asked us several questions about various WMAs and what not. Yep. He was friendly.
And talkative. Very talkative.

We managed to find a pause in the conversation and got our helmets on and headed out.
We crossed under the Skyway and stopped to take a picture or two.

The next segment was an in-and-out ride. We would ride the roads, do a little exploring and then head back out of that area to hit another gravel road to the other end of the Skyway.

This area didn’t disappoint. Much more dirt roads with no gravel. Just natural. Rock and dirt.
And at least one non-natural object. An 8 penny nail.

Riding on a nice road, down off the top of a hill, Mill and I noticed Mulley’s rear tire was going flat. We caught him and made sure he knew about it. He pulled over about the time it was fully flat.

We worked a big rock into the road and got the rear end up in the air and Mulley went to work. He had a new tube installed and he was ready to go, once again, in short order.
Mulley don’t play.

Side note – this is where I learned about one aspect of my planning and gear that could leave me stranded. The valve stem on the tube pulled off and the tube was ruined. I carry a patch kit and have patched many tubes, with success, over the years. But, I don’t think I could patch a valve stem that pulled out of the tube.
A 21 inch tube can be used in a 21 in tire, an 18 inch tire and I figure if I had to push it enough, I could use it in the 17 inch rear on the DR 650.
A 21 inch tube will be with me on future DS rides.

Back in business now, we finished up in that area and hit the FS road to take us to the end of the Skyway. Along the way we came across what appeared to be a 4X4 trail into the woods. Well, you just can’t pass that up without seeing where it goes.

About 25 yards off the road we hit mud. Serious, deep, black, fun mud. The trail/road didn’t go very far but it sure was fun.
We all turned around and rolled back out onto the gravel with our bikes covered in mud. We stopped and laughed.
We were having so much fun.

The next stop was the little information booth at the NC end of the Cherohala Skyway. Pics were taken, then we headed into Robbinsville for a late lunch. Riding into Robbinsville we got behind a pickup truck with a hunting dog in the back. I fished out my camera and took some pics.

We ate at El Pacifico in Robbinsville, gassed up at the Shell station, then hit the Skyway to head back to Robbinsville.

It was getting late in the afternoon when we finished lunch and buying gas to head back to Tellico Plains. I think it was around 4:30 when we hit the road.

The ride back to TP would be all via the Cherohala Skyway. It was cloudy and cool when we headed out and it was going to get more cloudy and more cool as we went on.

I really like riding in the mountains when it is clear and sunny. I also like it when it is cool and cloudy. Both offer rewards in their own way.

The rewards Monday would come as we rode into higher elevations.

You could see the mountain tops ahead disappear in the clouds. I gave a fist pump as we headed into the murky mess. The temptation is to call it fog, but it really was the clouds. Once we got above 4800 feet or so, we were in the clouds. Visibility at times was waayy low. It was misting rain and the view through wet goggles was not the best. Reduced speeds helped keep it between the white lines and helped to reduce the effects of the sharply lower temps.  I wanted to stop at Hooper Bald overlook and figured, even though I had slowed down and knew about where it was, that I would ride right past it.

I did.

We turned around and went back to take a break. The clouds made it impossible to see anything outside the area right there in the parking lot but we stood around and talked a few minutes anyway.There were two hunting dogs hanging around. They had their radio collars on so I figure they would be back home sooner rather than later.

Back on the road we continued our ride through the clouds. It began to drizzle more heavily and I’m pretty sure it was sleeting too.
Drizzle or sleet, it stung my cold nose and cold cheeks.

After a while we started to drop in elevation and left the clouds above us. The drizzle stopped and we had a nice, brisk ride on into Tellico Plains.

It was nearing dark when we got back to the house. Mill loaded up to head home. He had to work the next day.

That left Me, Mark and Mulley. We hit the convenience store for snacks and Hardees for chicken fingers and hamburgers. We sat down in front of the TV to watch Tombstone. Mulley fell asleep soon. When the movie was over we roused him from his sleep and we all hit the sack.

One more day to go. Just one more day.

I fought the urge to let that fact ruin the last 24 hours.

Tuesday.  Our last day.

It was just the three of us and we had a good, fairly long day ahead of us.

We were headed down to the Ocoee River, to ride an area on the other side of the river. An area none of us had ever been in. We decided to make our way to Ducktown by revisiting Witt Road then Trails 81 and 82 again. It was fun. Again.

I think riding a motorcycle is a lot like golf or baseball or any other athletic activity. Some days you are on and some days you are off. I went through an hour or two period when I was off. I darn near lost it in one of the really narrow, more challenging sections of 81 or 82 (don’t remember which) then fell over and got stuck. When I fell over, my foot was still down at the peg and the bike and I were leaned over about 45 degrees, resting against the steep bank to the right of the trail. Basically it looked like I sat there on this steep hill, with a steep bank to the right, put my feet on the pegs and just fell over against the bank. No harm except I was stuck. My foot was way down there, I couldn’t get a good angle on the hill to lift the bike and I couldn’t pull my foot out. I flopped around a bit, as much as you can flop around when you are stuck under your motorcycle, and thought “Dang. I’m going to have to get Mark and Mulley to come back down the hill and get my bike off me so I can stand up.”

But eventually I was able to wiggle my foot free and get the bike up. This was one of those times when I LOVED having the magic button. It would have been a real pain to try and kickstart a bike in the pickle I was in. But a push of the button, some spinning of the rear tire, and I was at the top of the hill with Mulley and Mark.

Whenever it was we were about to enter Trail 82, we stopped to take a short break. When we went to leave, Mulley’s bike was as dead as a hammer. Nothing. No lights, no horn. Nothing. He pulled the side cover off and found the main fuse was blown. He replaced it and never had another problem. Ran just fine. Turned it off. Went to leave and the fuse was blown. (Note to self – insure I have several spare fuses on my bike.)

We ventured off down a gravel road at one time. A road I had not been down. I am glad we did. We followed the road a bit and ran into that great big pipe that we had visited a few days earlier at the big concrete structure. This time the pipe wasn’t in a tunnel in a hill, it came out of the hill, crossed a river, then went back into the hill on the other side.

It was really interesting to stand there and study the thing from an engineering point of view. Really impressive work considering it was done in the early 40′s. We looked close to see how they had allowed for movement between the two opposing sections of tunnel embedded in the mountains. Pretty simple and obviously effective. At least to this point in time.

I am always reminded whenever I see things built back then (and before), people were a lot smarter and a lot more capable than I tend to give them credit for. At least that’s the case until I see and learn of something like this big 12′ pipe in a tunnel in a mountain.

With this area of dirt and gravel behind us, we hit the blacktop for a short ride into Ducktown. Lunch was at a little pizza and sub place. The guy working there was very friendly. Good service and good food.

I bought a bag of Cheese Curls to go with my sub sandwich. I never buy Cheese Curls. I like them a lot, I just never buy them. I was glad I bought them. They were good, and left a little of that orange colored stuff on my fingertips.

We finished lunch and filled up with gas then knocked out the 10 minute ride to our turn to go over the bridge to the other side of the Ocoee. The first 1/2 hour or so was not so good. Nothing much special to see and the road was rough as a washboard. We contemplated turning around and looking for another area to ride, but decided to go on.

It worked out good. Somewhere the roads in real life didn’t really match the route I had planned on the Garmin map. We wound up on a mighty fine, very fun road. Big Frog loop Road I think it was. I guess it was a loop and at some point in time somebody had seen a big frog on the road so they named it Big Frog Loop Road. I guess it’s a good thing that person didn’t see a big pile of dog poop.
Big Pile of Dog Poop Road just wouldn’t sound right.

BFL Road was gravel free. It was a few miles of dirt and rocks and generally pretty rough stuff. The kind of stuff that begs to give you a pinch flat. I had gotten my mojo back and was having a blast. Mulley was in the lead and I could tell by the way he was riding, (hard and fast) he was having some serious fun. I was right behind him, ringing the DR’s neck. It was one of the few times I really beat on the DR 650. I rode it like it was my XR250. I have come to believe it pretty much doesn’t matter how hard you ride them. So long as you do good maintenance and don’t crash, you pretty much can’t hurt them. We wound up having a pretty good time, given the less than stellar initial impressions after we got a mile or two in after crossing the bridge.

The shadows were starting to get long and it was time to head back. We stopped for gas again in Ducktown then hit Highway 68 for the ride back to Tellico Plains. It was near dark when we made it back.

The last day was over.

We packed up most of our stuff and cleaned up the house so we’d have less to deal with Wednesday morning when we headed out.

Everything was loaded. Mark was in his truck and Mulley and I in mine. We bounced down the rough gravel driveway, out onto the blacktop and into Tellico Plains to drop the key in the black mailbox on our way out of town.

One of the last things I had done before I closed the door behind me on the way out of the house for the last time was to sit the bag of rags, “For our motorcycle guests”, on the mantle.

It had never been opened.

Thoughts on Road Trippin’

In my time as a motorcyclist, I have taken a handful of cross country trips. I am not an expert by any means but I am completely comfortable packing a bag and leaving out for over a week or more with no reservations. On my last trip, as I didn’t organize or plan it, things were done differently. The stark contrast between the two styles of trip was something I felt would be worth talking about. It is something I will have to consider when planning my next trip.

 

On my first couple adventures I camped most of the way only occasionally getting a hotel room. I never made any strict plans on where I would camp either. Basically, I would look at the atlas each morning and pick a camp site that I thought I would be able to make it to and a backup site just in case I failed to reach the farther one. This worked really well most of the time. The times it did not…well, that might have to be a topic for a later post.

 

As there were few rigidly planned stops, I rarely researched the attractions in any of the areas I was going through. Truth is, I likely missed out on a lot of cool things to see while I was on the road. Traditionally, my goal was to keep moving and move I did. So much so, that I didn’t take the time to smell the proverbial roses. Though there is not much I would change about my trips, this is one area where I feel I shortchanged myself. Next time I have the general idea of where I am going, I will research things along the route. Also, a smartphone will be an asset once on the road. Once I get the daily plan laid out I can do a quick search for points of interest along the way.

 

When there were places I planned stop on the road, all of my gear was strapped to the bike. This made it really hard to see some of the attractions in the places I did stop because I was afraid to leave my gear. While not a concern in some of the more rural areas I went through, I certainly would not leave my stuff unattended in touristy spots or city streets. For example, my traveling partner and I took turns walking around New York City because the minute we stopped we could feel the eyes on us and our packs. If you have locking bags, this doesn’t effect you but with a backpack strapped to a sissy bar, my gear was an easy target.

 

The last trip I went on was put together by a friend and thus, I was following his lead. His road trip style is a stark contrast to mine. He planned to the letter and knew where we were going every day and where we were staying every night. There were also a ton of landmarks and things to see that he researched, read about and knew whether or not were worth seeing.

 

As his planning included lodging in KOA cabins in most of the cities we stayed in, we had a place to stow our gear. This meant that nobody had to stay with the bikes and we could walk around worry free. It sounds so simple but this was vastly different than what I was used to. Honestly, it was liberating. Which brings me to the next point: we actually took time to explore and see the places we were riding through. I’m not saying I saw every cool things in every city but I saw more than I had previously by a long shot.

 

Different is good. In some cases, like this one, it can be great. Though I wont say that I will make every trip from now on a tour of each place I go through, I will certainly do a little more homework. In terms of lodging, there will still be nights I go without reservations but if I am passing through a place I really want to see, I’ll get a cabin at the KOA or a room at a cheap hotel so I can wander without worry. It really boils down to what you want out of your trip: saddle time or site seeing. I think going forward, my trips will be a hybrid of both.

Rolling thru Tellico………..in the woods

Many times have I ridden the backroads around Tellico, coming an going to somewhere else – beyond.  Always on the way to the mountains, or coming back –  Tellico always seemed to be the “portal” to another space – the mountains of Tennessee, or North Carolina.  I had always heard the dirt around the area was as good or better than the roads.  Hard to believe, because the roads are the best I have ever ridden.  Elevation, rise and fall, curves, many many curves.  Mountains, creeks, rivers, this place has it all.  But I have always ridden on the street.

Then I heard about a trip to ride some of the twisties in the dirt – Count Me In!!

 

After trailering up to the mountains, we found our cabin – much more of a 3-bedroom chateau than a cabin, with a hot-tub on the deck, overlooking the mountains.  It was gonna be a good weekend, even if the weather looked horrible.  Forecasts for cold, windy rain Fri-Sun is all it looked like.  Be we had a hot tub and a fridge for beer.

Friday morning was cold and wet – 28 degrees, and a misting light rain hovering over the hills.  We mounted and rolled down the mountain, looking for adventure piercing into the clouds and muck.  Weather-proof gear helped defeat the elements, but I was hoping the temps would rise a bit faster than they were.  A few miles into the journey, we were crossing our first creeks.  It was deep, and had some tricky, slippery shoals to navigate in the shallow parts – not an easy crossing for a novice, or a rider that is not quite awake yet.  The water topped my boots, and it was cold.  As soon as we all crossed, I promptly found a rock to empty the 1/4 cup from each boot, and wring out the socks – it would be a much longer day riding with an aquarium sloshing around my feet.

Feet cold, we mounted and continued, reaching further into the forest.  Well groomed roads took us up and down the hills around Cherokee National Forest .  The dirt was moist, but not slick, making speed possible, grip excellent, and dust clouds minimal.  The day was shaping up well.  The cold on my toes was becoming un-noticeable as the grins produced by the sights,  and adrenaline-twist produced the narcotic I needed.  Mid-day we approached the much anticipated moto-trail #82 – and unbelievable single-track trail, marked and maintained by the FS?  Boy was I excited – singletrack in the midst of the land of Dragons and Moonshiners – oh joy.

Entry onto the trail itself is from the FS road, up a narrow ramp, that quickly gives you an idea of what you are in store for on many parts of the trail – a narrow, 2 foot wide path.  On the right, trees, on the left, a 5 foot drop-off that would certainly hurt if taken, and may end your journey on two wheels, and start a journey to a hospital.  The path becomes even more narrow, with some sections at 6-8 inches, and the tumble much greater, at 40-50 feet.  Although much of the trail was fairly non-technical, the margin for error was very small at less than a foot.  The consequences for loss of balance and inattention were high in those sections.  Add in the occasional obstacle, tree, rocky stair-steps, and washes, and it gives the trail the extra squirts of adrenaline to make it a BLAST to ride.  One of our riders did lose the rear navigating around a downed and cut tree that partially blocked the trail.  His bike was caught by the tree, and made the bike rescue MUCH easier.  I believe his body actually bounced off the tree, but he was mostly uninjured, as was the bike.

We also found another trail that was even more challenging – trail 81, more singletrack, with a slick-ass hill climb that is less than 2 feet wide.  These small technical challenges, combined with the small widths, and very large consequences for losing balance, traction, or momentum is what makes these trails exciting and a bit overwhelming for many riders.  These are NOT for new riders.  They are not for big bikes, especially wider machines, unless you are an expert rider – there is no margin.

The trails, the roads, the riders, made it an awesome weekend, one that I hope to repeat soon.

 

Ride to Davis Ferry – a motorcycle ferry tale, or How to Service a Battery

David Haynes (WRBS) has been talking about the Davis Ferry since the first time I met him over a year ago.  From the first time we talked about it, I expressed an interest – I always enjoy unique and interesting rides and destinations.  I believe there are only 3 ferries left operating in Alabama.  The stars aligned and we set out early on Wednesday morning, headed down south for our first stop in Thomaston – at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center .  David had set up an interview with a board member to discuss the Center and the upcoming Pepper Jelly Festival for an upcoming article in Alabama Living.  After sitting in on the interview, we had a quick visit to the gift shop at the center, where they displayed a wall of pepper jelly, and rows of folk art from Alabama artisans, a few of which David had met and interviewed.  After awarding us with some pepper jelly, we were on our way south to the ferry.

Arriving at the end of the pavement, we encountered what looked like a controlled-burn of the woods, as we entered the dirt section leading to the Alabama River and Davis Ferry.  At the end of the road, a family had setup a fishing spot in front of our bikes, but reported no bites “due to wind”.  We munched on “lunch” and waited for the ferrymen to get back from their lunch break.  We saw Bart (Bartab) roll up on the other side, as we noticed some activity and the other side of the river spring to life.  A few minutes later, the ferry cranked up, and a plume of water came up on the side of the craft – they were under way.  They more than half way across when I realized the water-plume was formed from a paddle-wheel, just like the steam boats.  One, thinly-constructed paddle-wheel was moving that large craft across the swift Alabama River.  It was worth the trip just to see that antique in operation, a bonus to get to ride across.

As the craft landed, Bart rode his Triumph Tiger onto the ramp like a Marine landing on the beach on D-Day.  He was the only traveler, and quickly turned around to board the craft again with us.  On board, we hardly felt movement, but the craft moved us to the other side quite quickly, maybe 200 yards across.  Upon landing on the other side, the operators hustled us off, and we wandered through the park that ran along the side of the river.

This is where our trouble began.

 

Bart had explained why his engine was running the whole time we were crossing – he was having issues with his motorcycle battery .  He commented he had another battery just in case, but did not want to fool with it if he did not have to.  So we rolled to the end of the park, and as we were leaving Bart stalled the bike.  No big deal, he has another battery, right?  He quickly installs the battery, hits the start button and we hear the whine starter, but no engine spinning.

 

So after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, an attempt to pull the engine case loose, and more bump-starting-by-tow-rope, we decide to pull it to the top of the hill.  Well that turned into let’s-tow-it-30-miles to the first mechanic we can find, or sign of civilization, or whichever comes first.  Pretty hairy stuff pulling any bike, with a bike.  Hairy for the puller AND the skier, pulling uphill, on a dirt road, then almost 30 more miles up and down hills and twisty roads, we were experts by the time we arrived at M&S Auto in Camden.

Bart strolled in, asked if we could simply leave the bike inside his shop until tomorrow.  Certainly no hayseed from Camden would know anything about a sophisticated European adventure machine.  How could he know anything more than 5 grown men, probably with a combined 100+ years of riding and mechanical skills, that were unable to diagnose a complex electrical problem?  He insisted he might be able to solve the problem, and have us back on the road.  So instead of insulting the hayseed, Bart removed seat, and pointed towards the battery.  In less than 2 minutes, the hayseed expert mechanic pointed out the problem – the battery was spun around and the terminals were crossed.  Within 15 minutes, the hayseed engine surgeon had changed the fuse, charged the battery, and had the bike running again, with all of our tails between our legs – how did we miss that?  How did the starter turn (albeit backwards)?  Lights came on?

Glad we got it back running, I should have tipped the guy – it was worth $20 not to have Bart riding BITCH all the way back to Hoover.

Giant Chicken, Dothan, AL and Unrideable Rains: A Ride Report

Teachers are lucky or maybe just smart. Two and a half months off once a year, why am I not a teacher? My better half is and as soon as the last bell rings, she takes the kids south to be with her family and leaves me here to feed the animals. These getaways usually happen a couple times each summer and include lakes, beaches, beer, wine and all varieties of good time. This year I got wise and decided to go down for a couple days and we’d take the kids to the beach. I’d get in on some of the fun and I’d get to spend some time in the saddle.

  I left Thursday morning about 6:30am. Bluff Park is generally a few degrees colder than the city proper and this day was no exception. It was just starting to get light and when I pulled out it wasn’t just chilly, I was downright cold. Blowing through my neighborhood, I hit 65S and merged through the light traffic before splitting to 459. Getting off on 280, I was surprised at how bad traffic had already gotten. More than I expected but not so much that I wasn’t able to blow through most of it and up Double Oak Mountain.
I’ve always liked roads like this one and 31. Small towns, lots of independent businesses. It is casual, easy riding and my time is usually spent getting all my mental ducks in a row. Head clearing time like this is far too rare sometimes and I enjoy it when I get it. I thought as I got out onto the main roads and the sun got higher in the sky it would warm up. The sky was overcast and I stayed cold.
Right around Sylacauga I saw the signs for 231S and got ready to exit. I’ve ridden this route before to get to my destination: Dothan, AL. In case you don’t know, Dothan is the Peanut Capital of the World. Every November they throw a peanut festival and have even expanded, building a park just to house the festival. I’ve been, it was fun. It is a carnival type deal with rides, concerts, contests, etc. Good stuff for the entire family.
231 is good old fashioned back road. Nothing twisty, challenging or crazy but solid varied riding. You get everything from woods to open fields to small towns and typical small town speed traps. It was still pretty cold at this point and when I got on 231 it actually was briefly a little colder. It actually didn’t heat up until a good while later. I stopped at an interesting looking graveyard just to take a few photos and stretch my legs.

I was getting hungry and could have (not desperately) used gas. I started looking for a nice mom and pop cafe or diner to get a bite. I passed several that looked good waiting for the one that looked great and most likely missed a killer breakfast. I gassed up at a small station and went inside to pay and use the facilities. There were several old timers sitting around the register desk bs’ing and chain smoking. This is the type of charm you don’t get on the main roads. The clerk looked like he probably owned the place and had for some time. He was friendly and asked where I was headed. I drank a YooHoo and ate a granola bar in the parking lot. I shot a quick text to the wife to let her know where I was as cell service on 231 can be spotty at times.
Back on the road I turned the music in my ear-buds up and really enjoyed just being on the bike. Most of 231, other than the towns, has a 65mph limit. I was not in any hurry so I kept it around there. If something caught my eye, I slowed down. If I was really interested I stopped. Sometimes there is too much to see, like a group of hotels that all have cool old neon signs or a strip of curiosity shops. I do have a destination today and I could spend all day looking at stuff like that so I press on. I did see a something that had to be captured on film so I did pull a u-turn and snap a shot.

Going through Troy I got a little mist but nothing too terrible. I pressed on and arrived at my brother-in-law’s place. I caught up with my wife and kids and we headed out for lunch. Several years ago, an independent study found that Dothan, AL was the best city in the united states to open a restaurant. Hence, the main road in Dothan, Ross Clark Dr, is covered in restaurants. My wife has her favorites from her high school years and she wanted me to try one so we settled on Mexican Connection. I love my wife but from this day forth will forever question her taste in Mexican food. I do have a new rule: if the name of the Mexican restaurant is not in Spanish, it will not be good.
Over the remainder of the day and the next we did a bunch of fun family stuff, including a day at Panama City Beach. This town should be renamed “Teenagers on Rented Scooterville.” I got to hang out with my brother-in-law who rides and was my companion on my trip to Canada and a subsequent trip to NC. He has a killer old Ironhead Chop which I keep telling him needs some of his attention. Its condition has not changed, much to my chagrin. I won’t bore you with any more family stuff…back to riding.
I looked at the weather before I left and it appeared it would be smooth sailing. Things changed and there was a bad line of storms that was supposed to move into Dothan the night before my departure and stick around throughout the day. I had planned to attend the Annual Slocumb Tomato Festival and leave for home after lunch but if I woke up to rain or threats of rain, I was going to tear ass back to Birmingham.
In my estimation, there are only two types of rainstorms: rideable and unrideable. Traveling in one can quickly become the other and that means seeking shelter, delays, etc. These things can turn a four hour ride into a six hour ride. In these cases, it is good to have some extra time on the clock.
I planned on getting up around 6am to survey the situation. Thanks to cooking out, drinking beer and swapping lies into the wee hours, I slept in. My backup wristwatch alarm saved my bacon or else I might not have fared as well as I did. I awoke and did my best not to stir my wife and children. I dressed, got my stuff together, put the pack on the bike and got a quick breakfast. There was hot coffee and butter rum muffins (yep, every bit as good as they sound) so I was not going to leave without having a couple of those. Everyone was up at this point so I was able to give out proper goodbyes.
 It was looking good outside. There were no storms and I felt good about my chances to beat the rain, stay ahead of the storms and make it home dry. I didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood and onto the main road when I felt the first drops. I needed gas and to put on my rain gear. This consists of a single black bandana that I keep in my back left pocket. I tie it around my face as that is where, to me, the raindrops hurt the most. I got back on the road and cranked the music to try and keep my mind off what had moved past mist and to full blown rain.
For the next stretch through Dothan, to Ozark, and onto Troy my life was pretty interesting. All the while I was certain that I was merely flirting with the edge of what was a much worse beast. There were times when I swear I felt myself pulling away from it when I would feel the drops grown greater in number and I would worry that I was about to be overcome at any moment. I stared at the sky always feeling that the patch ahead of me was clearer and dryer than the patch I was currently under. I cursed the small towns in between and dreaded seeing signs that read “Reduced Speed Ahead.” I kept at a consistent 75mph when I could until I hit the outskirts of Troy. That is when the real rain started.
  In every bad rain I’ve ever ridden in, the unrideable rains, there has been that split second where you can see what you are about to ride into. You see the drops intensify and grow larger and your brain has but a moment to prepare for what is coming. In an instant you are wet, soaked through. No bandana was going to spare me from painful impacts. Moisture was on both sides of the lenses of my glasses and my breath made fog. It was a recipe for blindness. At times like this I always pull the glasses down a bit and navigate my path through the thin line of vision. I got through Troy riding like this. I contemplated riding on but I was tense and I felt heavy from the water. I kept on and out of the corner my my eye I saw an abandoned gas station with an inviting overhang. I made a u-turn and pulled in.

I got off the bike and quickly the dry area under the port was getting wet from all of the water dripping off of my clothes. I removed my earphones, if I was going to continue I needed to concentrate. I wrung out my leather gloves. The dye had turned my hands a mustard yellow and the water coming off of them had the same hue. I did the same with my shirt and bandana. Every step I took, I came down into a puddle inside my boots. I dumped them out and wrung my socks out too. I was feeling lighter and better, it was good to have a break. I texted back and forth with my wife, let her know I was ok but telling here where I was and what I was riding in. I checked the weather on my phone. Montgomery, a mere 50 miles away, was clear.

I waited for a break in the storm and got back on. The first few minutes were rainy but much lighter. Eventually it all lifted and the only water hitting me was coming off the bike. I was still pretty wet and just like Thursday, I was cold the remainder of the ride. Making the stop when I did was probably the best decision I made the entire trip. That small amount of time and de-watering did so much to improve how I felt and how comfortable I would be for the rest of the day.
Rain was also due in Birmingham in the afternoon so I opted to pickup 65N in Montgomery proper. I stopped for gas, there were no old timers. I hit the interstate and made good time all the way home. It started out rough but turned into a killer day of riding. Even the bad stuff is an adventure and I dig having experiences like that. While you are in them all you want is to get out of them but strangely, I always look back on them so fondly. Typing this makes me want to get back out on the road.  Read more at  JT’s blog