Road Trip USA 2009 ...

Chasing the Trail

The first part of the my planned route chases the Appalacian Trail as detailed in the book Road Trip USA. I set out on Friday 17 April aiming at my older brother, Clive's, house in Boston. This would give me a short trip to get used to the weight of the luggage which weighed in at about 75lb and to test my little GPS. The Interstates around Boston were very scary, especially when I was under taken by two cars on the hard shoulder! Clive tells me this is legal on some of the motorways around Boston!

Setting out

Setting out from Phil's place in Rochester

The next day, after trying out Clive's online car racing game (I crashed into the wall) we set out on the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts. It was great riding together after talking about it for so long, although I had the feeling he was a little bored with the slow pace I tend to ride at. The Mohawk Trail was a fantastic road, and a great taster of what was to come. I especially enjoyed looking at all of the tacky Mohawk themed souvernir shops and the junk for sale on the trail, there was even a fire engine for sale! At William's Town we parted company, Clive headed back at speed for a cancer walk and I went to The Clark in William's Town. I expected a small art collection but what I saw was amazing. The collection is quite a large one and contains a number of works from the masters. It rivals a number of more well known Art Collections I have seen. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area. After leaving The Clark I headed down Route 7 into Conneticut.

Our bikes at the end of the Mohawk Trail

Our bikes at the end of the Mohawk Trail

I passed through a number of picture perfect small towns. The sort of American small town that every foreign tourist thinks of before they visit. Stockbridge is a good example of this ideal. When I came into the town I wasn't paying to much attention to speed limits etc and I saw a police car do a U-turn and follow me with lights flashing, I turned and turned again, thinking 'oh well it can't be me' and I saw in my mirrors him roar past my second turning. Either he wasn't following me or I out ran him! I stopped at Elm Street market for coffee. It was the a mixture of deli, shop, magazine shop and gossip hangout for the local wrinklies. What it was not, is global chainstore hell, for those of you who don't know I try to avoid global chains (Starbucks, McDonalds, Coke etc) as they are on my 'evil list'.

Elm Street Market, Stockbridge

Elm Street Market, Stockbridge

The run into Conneticut took me through stables and very expensive looking homes, the roads were also full of Harley's with very expensive looking people piloting them! I also crossed my first covered bridge into Cornwall Bridge, the sort you see in the movies. It wasn't that exciting to be honest, sort of like crosing well 'a covered bridge'. Why do they cover them anyway?

My first covered bridge, Cornwall Bridge

My first covered bridge, Cornwall Bridge

Cornwall Bridge is a very quaint touristy town that seems to survive on selling tat to tourists, especially the large number of bikers who have it on their weekend route. I ate at the Moosehead Tavern, which is a favourite breakfast stop for bikers, according to the expensive looking people riding a BMW that I spoke to. They looked a lot smarter and cleaner than me even though I had only been traveling for half a day. I hope the breakfast at the Moosehead is better than the dinner, because it sucked! I camped nearby in a campsite that should have cost less than $12 but it cost $22, it also said that alcohol was prohibited. I always thought camping, like fishing go hand in hand with alcohol! It was also bug infested, and the bugs seemed to like my Deet bug repellent, that stuff is useless. I should have got some of that toxic Polish army stuff I have used in the past. That keeps everything at bay, including bugs! After a long day in the saddle, and with no real lighting I went to sleep with the sun and woke up with the sun.

Cute railway station, Cornwall Bridge

Cute railway station, Cornwall Bridge

During the night there was a small shower and so when I woke up it was cold and wet, I packed up and carried on Route 7 stopping at any place that looked interesting, like Kent Falls which has been the subject of many American Impressionists.

Kent Falls, Route 7

Kent Falls, Route 7

There were also more covered bridges, like Bull's Bridge but if you've crossed one you've crossed them all I think. I'm not really sure I understand folks who 'bag' all the bridges. I guess the difference is I'm not really destination, or result, focused. I am more experience focused, I like to experience something and then move on! I guess that's not exactly a recipe for success in life where results are rewarded rather than a rag tag collection of experiences.

My second covered bridge, getting boring now, Bulls Bridge

My second covered bridge, getting boring now, Bulls Bridge

After Conneticut I rode into New York state, not the city itself. I have been to New York city and I didn't like it, I'm a country boy at heart. New York state was very odd, in Brewster for example there were lots of young men hanging out on the street corners wearing baseball hats or hoodies looking very threatening. The really odd thing was that there were no kids, no old people or women around, it was a bit twilight zone like. I'm not sure if they were gangs but they sure looked like it to me! I didn't care to stop to find out, so I rode on through. The pass alongside the Hudson, called the Bear Mountain Bridge Road would have been a great ride had it not been for the New York driver who sat right on my wheel and kept on hooting at me because I had the audacity to obey the speed limits! The lookout from the top of the pass over the Hudson was spectacular, but probably not worth the trouble I had in backing my bike out of the parking bay. I must remember to park up hill only as I don't have the strength to push the bike back up even a small incline! In keeping with my desire to do 'one cultural thing a day' I decided to go on a tour of West Point. I rode up to the gate and noticed that every car was being searched, I thought 'this will be fun, opening and searching my luggage will take a good hour or two'. It turned out I was at the wrong gate, the guard was very friendly and politely pointed me in the correct direction. The tour was very good, and the civilian tour guide had an encyclopedic knowledge of the academy. The Chapel was the first stop, walking up the stairs the old lady in front of me fell so that added a bit more drama to the details provided by the tour guide, for example 'the Chapel has the most organ pipes of any church, 23000' and 'there is enough wiring to go around the world three times'!

Chapel, West Point

Chapel, West Point

The famous view over the Hudson from West Point lived up to its' billing. The tour guide pointed out where a chain was stretched across the Hudson to prevent British ships from sailing up the Hudson and dividing the states during the American Revolution. She said 'this contributed to the victory'. I pointed out that it wasn't a 'victory' to everyone present, being 'British' it was a 'defeat' to me. Either she didn't hear me or she just ignored my sarcastic comment!

Hudson River, West Point

Hudson River, West Point

There are many statues around the campus but probably my favourite one was of General Sedgwick, of the 'they couldn't hit an elephant at this distance' fame (he died immediately after saying this when a sharpshooter shot him in the head). Apparently there is a tradition at West Point that if you think you are going to do badly in your exams then you should spin General Sedgwick's spurs (they move) at midnight before your exam and it will bring you good luck. There is a orderly queue before the statue each night before exams. The tour also included the function of each of the buildings at the academy, my favourite was the Social Sciences building where students learn 'how to combat terrorism', funny how times change! At the end of their time at West Point they are awarded with BSc. in Engineering, mmmm 'engineering' with a gun and C4. I like it, I should have done that instead of BSc in Aeronautical Engineering!

General Sedgwick of 'They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance' fame, West Point

General Sedgwick of 'They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance' fame, West Point

From West Point I headed out through the horrible traffic of New York into Pennsylvania and the Deleware Water Gap National Recreational Area, this was a welcome break from the crazy traffic on the Interstates, being boxed in by three massive eigthteen wheelers is scary! While riding through the Deleware gap I became envious of a guy who was cycling alongside the river on his mountain bike, I wish there was some way I could carry a mountain bike in my luggage! In the city of Deleware Water Gap I met my first bunch of a-holes, they were from New Jersey and despite it being very obvious that I was a biker sat down at the next table and started complaining about bikers. The father was the worst of the lot, he basically said that since we only have two wheels and ride a small bike that we should accept the fact that we are fair game to him and his big truck and that he would run over any biker who got in his way! He also said that anyone who rides one of those Japanese bikes should 'get a real bike, a Harley'! He also seemed to be under the mistaken impression that his truck is faster than a sport bike, or crotch rocket as they call them over here! I think they were deliberately trying to start an argument with me or get a response from me, I just got up and left which for me is quite surprising! As you may have gathered I don't particularly care for the states of New York and New Jersey! After searching for a campsite and getting increasingly tired I eventually decided to stop at a Comfort Inn in Bethlehem, not very adventurous I grant you. On turning into the Inn, my front wheel slipped on a pile of gravel and the front folded. I thought 'oh no down we go' and chucked a foot out, which is a very stupid thing to do (a number of people have broken legs by sticking feet down with hard luggage on the bike) and actually managed to save it! The next morning I headed out for Lancaster and Intercourse, Pensylvania home of the Pensylvania Dutch. I thought it would be cool to take a picture in front of the 'Welcome to Intercourse' sign and add a pithy comment such as 'as close as I will get this trip' but I am glad I didn't as Intercourse turned out to be the worst sort of tourist trap you can imagine. There were loads of very girlie shops selling tat (I guess that's why it's called 'Intercourse', if it was aimed at blokes it would probably be called 'Fu&^') and a T-shirt shop selling shirts with witty slogans like 'I love Intercourse, PA'. I wonder what the Amish think of the 'English' (everyone who is not Amish is apparently referred to as 'English', thanks guys) exploiting them! The proprietor of the shop pictured below thinking I was Australian told me that he had just finished a book that was based in Australia, when I asked if he had been to Australia he said 'no, but once you read my book you will think I have been'. That got me wondering, is it really necessary to travel to a country to know and understand it? I thought the Amish would be hiding from the rain, but I saw a few out in their buggies and in the fields when I rode Route 772 through the farmlands. Maybe their low impact lifestyle is one we will all be forced to adopt in the future of global warming.

Future and past transport or are they? Intercourse, PA

Future and past transport or are they? Intercourse, PA

After visiting Intercourse I headed for York and the Harley Davidson factory tour. When I arrived, soaking wet (my boots kept making squelching noises and leaving puddles everywhere) I was proud to see there was only one bike in the huge parking lot, a Wee-Strom, mine. Ha, call yourself real bikers? I got some gentle ribbing for replying 'Suzuki' to the question 'What do you ride?' The tour was really quite good, it started off with a movie of Harley's history and then we walked through the factory, wearing protective goggles, to see how various parts where made and how the bike was assembled. It seemed very labour intensive, there was one guy who's job was to pick up a small stainless pipe, polish it and stick it in a machine to bend it. This part was then used as decoration on the fender (mud guard) of touring models. When I commented 'I can see why Harley's are so expensive' one of the other guys said 'yeah, and they're all union workers'! The assembly line was interesting as well, with one Harley completed every two hours. I loved it when the guide pointed out all the modern technology on a Harely, fly by wire throttles and fuel injection as if these were unique in the motorcycling world. I left thinking 'yeah I wouldn't mind one of those in the future, especially the Road King Classic in custom toffee paint' so the tour must have done its job in promoting Harley! I spent quite a bit of time talking with a guy from Utah. He had ridden 2600 miles down from Utah on a Triumph Thruxton, now that is hard! He advised me to go to some of the lessor known parks as they aren't as flooded with tourists.

Harley factory tour. York, PA

Harley factory tour. York, PA

From York I headed down to Gettysburg, where I decided to be a wimp and stay in a Motel 6 rather than trying to put up a tent in rain.

Drying boots and gloves. Motel 6, Gettysburg, PA

Drying boots and gloves. Motel 6, Gettysburg, PA

The next day I headed off to the Vistor's centre to learn about the battle of Gettysburg and to find out where the main battlefield sites were. I should have stayed in Gettysburg another day as there is so much to see in this wonderful small town. I found the movie and cyclorama (which displays a massive painting by artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux depicting Pickets Charge, the painting is 27 feet (8.2 m) high and 359 feet (109 m) in circumference) very moving and emotional which is strange as it happened so long ago and doesn't have much impact on me. I think the reason why it had such an impact may be that it focused on individual's stories as well as presenting an overall view of the battle, for example on one soldier who when wounded amputated his own leg with a pen knife in order to keep leading his men. He died later. It was also amazing to see that in the whole battle lasting three days only one civilian was killed, compare that with Iraq and Afganistan!

Visitors center and cyclorama. Gettysburg, PA

Visitors center and cyclorama. Gettysburg, PA

The main fighting centered around Cemetary Hill, which has been restored to pretty much what it looked like during the battle aside from the addition of statues to each of the regiments but the really surprising thing is how much territory the whole battlefield spreads over, riding out of Gettysburg I was still coming across statues and markers miles and miles out of town.

Cemetary hill. Gettysburg, PA

Cemetary hill. Gettysburg, PA

The cemetary also contains the remains of all those killed during the battle, unlike Arlington most of the soldiers are unknown and are marked with a small numbered white brick. It is also the site of Lincon's famous Gettysburg Address.

Lincon address memorial. Gettysburg, PA

Lincon address memorial. Gettysburg, PA

From Gettysburg I rode through the Catoctin Mountain Park, site of Camp David although you wouldn't know it as it isn't sign posted anywhere. I got hopelessly lost after riding through the park and ended up on the Interstate for an hour trying to get back on track and to find the start of Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park. I had put on my full waterproofs and high visibility vest as the weather looked like it was going to turn, and boy did it turn later on in the ride! At the start of the ride it was nice and sunny and the speed limit of 35mph for 105 miles looked relaxing enough (ok I may have been riding a bit faster) but it soon turned cold, very wet, with high winds and thick fog.

Start of the skyway. Shandoah National Park

Start of the skyway. Shandoah National Park

I was a bit disapointed that the visitors centers were closed as it was 'out of season' but I guess that by being 'out of season' there was a lot less traffic than normal on the Skyway.

All visitors centers are closed as not season yet, note rain gear in full sun shine. Shandoah National Park

All visitors centers are closed as not season yet, note rain gear in full sun shine. Shandoah National Park

The ride before the storm hit was great, I can only imagine what it must be like when there are leaves on the trees and the sun is shining!

Last photograph before the storm hit. Shandoah National Park

Last photograph before the storm hit. Shandoah National Park

After a torrential downpour, and temperatures approaching freezing I arrived at Big Meadows campsite. I met a family who were hiking a part of the Appalacian Trail, they inquired whether I had anything to eat and when I said 'no I'm going to buy something from the camp store up the road' they said 'it's closed but you can share some of our food'. They gave me freeze dried beef pasta and hot cocoa, I felt very guilty for eating something they had lugged on their backs across the mountains and thanked them again and again! They said 'no problem, just do someone else a kindness during your trip'. It seems the further south I go the more friendly and helpful the people are, although I must admit these folks were from Massachusetts. When I asked how much weight they carried they said that the average Appalacian Trail hiker carries about 40lb but they were packing 65lb. I guess there goes any ideas of me doing the trail, I can't carry 25lb never mind that much!

Campsite at Big Meadows. Shandoah National Park

Campsite at Big Meadows. Shandoah National Park

The park has a population of deer and bears, I never did see a bear but I saw plenty of deer. They were very tame and munched their way around my tent. Later on in the Smokeys I thought it funny when I saw people straining to get a picture of a deer when at Shandoah they would just about eat from your hand!

Friendly deer munch their way around my tent. Shandoah National Park

Friendly deer munch their way around my tent. Shandoah National Park

When I woke with the sun in the morning I was greeted by the sight of ice on my bike and tent so it must have dropped below freezing in the night although I was warm and toasty in my cheapo sleeping bag!

Frozen bike it must have got cold last night. Shandoah National Park

Frozen bike it must have got cold last night. Shandoah National Park

Although it was cold it was at least sunny so the remaining 50 odd miles to the park exit turned out to be a great ride. I think the weather the previous day had put everyone off going to the park as I seemed to have it all to myself and the roads were deserted.

Cold and very windy but at least it's not raining. Shandoah National Park

Cold and very windy but at least it's not raining. Shandoah National Park

I stopped at each of the overlooks (as the call them here) where they tend to have a little information on what you are looking at or what animals and plants may be found in the park. It is impossible to capture the scale and beauty of the views in a photograph, so after trying a few times I gave up and resolved to just enjoy the views and the ride and to remember as much as I could.

Stunning views from the overlooks, hard to capture the scale. Shandoah National Park

Stunning views from the overlooks, hard to capture the scale. Shandoah National Park

At the end of the park I took a small detour to Charlottsville to see Jefferson's house. When I got there I decided to skip the tour of the house as it looked like I had arrived on school tour day, the place was packed with screaming school kids. Exactly what I didn't need after the tranquility of Shandoah. So I headed into the historic center of town, where I came across southern manners for the first time. A guy 'begged my pardon' when I was standing in his path gawping at the town square, you don't get that in any big town I have been two. Another gent jumped at the chance to offer his services in taking the photograph below, capturing me in a rather camp pose in front of General Lee's statue. I was a bit shocked to see that the statues of Lee and Stonewall Jackson were erected in the early twentyth centuary. I am fine with remembering one's past, for example I believe it appropriate for Russia to retain the soviet era statues of Lenin and Stalin, but to remember one's past a hundred years later by errecting statues of men who fought for something no one would defend as appropriate just seems wrong. It's a bit like the Germans erecting a statue of Hitler to comemerate that period of their history fifty years after the fact or South Africa errecting a statue of PW Botha! I wonder what the African American population of Charlottsville think about statues of men who fought to keep their ancestors in bondage? I liked Charlottsville, it had a good small town feel without having to travel through miles of strip malls that blight other small towns that I have been to.

In front of statue of General Lee, I must be in the south. Charlottsville, VA

In front of statue of General Lee, I must be in the south. Charlottsville, VA

From Charlottsville it was onto the Blue Ridge Parkway which for me is probably the highlight of the trip so far! The parkway is similar to the Skyline Drive, but has a speed limit of 45mph, and is a road where all commercial traffic is banned. The whole length of the parkway was just about deserted at the time of year I rode it and where I came across a car they would often let me pass. In the northern section the road climbs and drops off four thousand foot peaks with beautiful open corners. If you ride a motorcycle you have to ride this road at least once in your lifetime! Imagine all the best bits of the best roads you have ridden, improve the surface, remove the traffic, remove the police, provide a great view, make it 469 miles long and you'll have some idea of this road. Make sure you ride it out of season, especially 'leaf peeper' (autum) season and you'll have it to yourself.

Blue Ridge Parkway, shaping up to be one hell of a ride. Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway, shaping up to be one hell of a ride. Blue Ridge Parkway

The first night on the BRP I stayed at a campsite near Natural Bridge, the campsite was probably the worst I have stayed at. The guy said just pick one of the primitive sites at the bottom of the park. It wasn't hard, only one wasn't under 2 inches of bug infested water! At least it gave me easy access to the tourist trap of Natural Bridge itself! Natural Bridge is one of the seven 'Natural Wonders of the World', why they feel it necessary to embelish a wonder with a wax figure display, a dinosaur experience, a huge shop selling tourist tat and a light and music display at dusk is beyond me. The bridge itself is quite wonderous (is that a word), when I asked a little girl what she thought of the bridge she said she didn't like it and that it was scary, it turned out she was scared after reading the sign that says watch out for falling rocks. Her little sister was much happier, she had found a handful of pet rocks to add to her collection, a budding geologist I think. My conversation with them was interupted by a bike bore, who started discussing the ins and outs of his bike collection and their gas millage. Lord save me from the bike bore, I've met a few along the way so far! I also found it wonderfully pragmatic of the American's to think, hey a natural bridge and promtly build Route 11 straight across the top of it'! I'm not sure we'd get away with that in Europe!

Natural Bridge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Blue Ridge Parkway

Natural Bridge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Blue Ridge Parkway

The BRP also has some other attractions along the way, such as Mabry Mill which is an authentic Appalacian Mill. Unfortunately it was closed, like all the other vistor centers but it still provided an interesting cultural diversion from the riding.

Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

I especially liked the illegal distillery in the back of the mill, I think the BRP could do with a few of those now as it is a baren, dry place alcohol wise now! You see more Baptist churches than beers in the south!

Wiskey Distillin' Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

Wiskey Distillin' Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

I also liked the slightly wonky, drafty Appalacian houses, man it must be cold during the winter living under snow in a place like that!

Appalacian House, Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

Appalacian House, Mabry Mill. Central Blue Ridge Parkway

The BRP also has nice overlooks every couple of miles with a little story or some useful information at each one such as this one which detailed how you could hear the hounds from the hill in the valley.

Fox Hunter's Paradise, Blue Ridge Parkway

Fox Hunter's Paradise, Blue Ridge Parkway

After spending the whole day riding some great roads on the BRP I decided that I would be quite happy living in one of the Appalacian houses and riding the roads each day, okay maybe only during the summer! If eternity means riding my choice of bike on the BRP each day and means crashes don't hurt then sign me up! The Bringer family house would be a good choice, daddy Bringer used to farm a few pigs and make shoes for the rest of the community. The house was left to the Park by the family with the provisio that Mrs Bringer could live there until she died, apparently she didn't like the noise and left at the beginning of the twentyth centuary! It didn't say where she went that was quieter!

Bringer Family's house, I could live here and ride the BRP every day! Blue Ridge Parkway

Bringer Family's house, I could live here and ride the BRP every day! Blue Ridge Parkway

After a great day's riding I stopped early and setup camp at Racoon Holler campsite, as I was not sure whether I'd find a campsite further south that was open (most of the campsites run by the park that I had already passed were closed). After the boggy swamp that I camped in the previous night it was a pleasure to stay in a well run camp, although it did seem to have a big population of 'land yachts' (RVs) that seemed to be permanantly moored to the park where decking and gardens provided an anchor. I was a little dubious of the Baptist prayer meeting room on site, not being a practionier of organised religion I was worried they might try to convert the heathen scum that is Troll. Not only was it cheaper, and drier, than the previous night it even came with a water and a electric hookup. I got my unleaded stove working without setting fire to myself or causing an explosion and had a (not so) delicious meal of vegetable soup, and pork and beans from a can!

Reflecting pool, Racoon Holler Campsite. Blue Ridge Parkway

Reflecting pool, Racoon Holler Campsite. Blue Ridge Parkway

My campsite, Racoon Holler Campsite. Blue Ridge Parkway

My campsite, Racoon Holler Campsite. Blue Ridge Parkway

South of Racoon Holler the BRP starts rolling through beautiful farms and fields and when I stopped at the side of the road to take a picture it took forty five minutes before another vehicle passed. Even the car drivers waved as if they were glad to see another human on the BRP reminding me of when I rode in Western Australia! I ran into the first of four diversions off the parkway. This was a sight I was not prepared for or willing to see but it did mean I got a chance to see what lay just off the parkway, it turns out that the roads dropping off the parkway are a good ride as well and provide great places to fill up and have a breakfast of eggs and bacon on a biscuit (sort of a scone rather than a ginger nut or digestive biscuit if you're wondering). At one place I stopped one of the regular old guys was saying 'I see some one was buried yesterday', the other old guy said 'yup', to which the first said 'all the old folks are dying', 'yup'. I almost laughed out loud, it couldn't have been scripted better!

Moses H Cone Memorial Park. Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H Cone Memorial Park, maybe this would be more comfortable than Bringer's place? Blue Ridge Parkway

Another highlight was Laurel's Falls, the sign said 1.5 mile hike so I thought easy. I didn't count on hiking being so hard in boots and full waterproofs (I wore them to keep the cold air in the morings at bay). When I got to the first view point I was quite disapointed as they looked tiny. I guess once you have seen Victoria Falls all others pale into insignificance. I did see a black snake on the trail as well, the locals said it was relatively harmless but that didn't stop a German lady from being scared especially when the locals replied 'yes' to a question regarding whether the snakes climbed trees!

I walked all the way here and the fall's are this big? Laurel Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

I walked all the way here and the fall's are this big? Laurel Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

At the second viewpoint the true beauty of the falls became apparent, I wish my poor photograph could do this little gorge the justice it deserves. I just hung out at the vantage point for a while trying to remember as much as I could and to enjoy the quiet.

Ah so this is what the fuss is about! Laurel Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

Ah so this is what the fuss is about! Laurel Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

From the Falls it was on to Mt Michael the tallest mountain in the east, which has a Canada like climite and many species of plants and animals that are only found in Canada. Apparently these are remenants of the last ice age. I met a guy from North Carolina there who pointed out all the significant sights below, such as which areas were Republican and which areas were Democrat. It turns out that all of it was Republican and only his county turned Democrat, he said he and his family and friends celebrated the night Obama won. He was quite open and loud about his dislike of Bush, and this seemed to keep the viewing platform clear of any other people. He was a very colorful, friendly type, he seemed to be a bit sad though as he said he may have to leave the area to get a job as he hadn't worked in five years. Most of the folks I've met down here are big Republican's and their dislike of Obama is worn on there sleaves, or trucks (a bumper sticker 'Don't blame me I didn't vote for him!' is very popular) and I've had a few people say to me in response to any complement I may offer regarding their country is that 'the biggest problem with the country is the government'. I try to keep my opinions to myself.

Looking back on where I have been from the top of the highest peak in the east. Mt Michael, Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking back on where I have been from the top of the highest peak in the east. Mt Michael, Blue Ridge Parkway

After taking a big diversion I rejoined the BRP at Renoake only to be confronted by a huge lightning storm, I could see massive strikes on neighbouring mountains so decided to get off the BRP and find a campsite. The petrol station attendent suggested I take some gravel roads and find a free roadside campsite, my bike felt very skitish on the loose gravel but I stayed upright (I must learn to ride standing on gravel). Unfortunately all of the free sites were occupied and when I came off the gravel I had been turned completely around so got more and more lost and tired. At one point while attempting a U-turn I dropped the bike (no real damage only a few scratches on my crash protectors and luggage). I got up swearing, took off my helmet and put it on the ground. A few seconds later a truck screeched to a halt and a guy jumped out offering to help (southern manners and hospitality again). It was then that I noticed that his truck was parked on my helmet, I said 'is that my helmet under your truck'. Luckily it was undamaged and after removing the luggage we managed to get the bike upright again. Ironic how I can ride 5 miles off road only to drop it on a simple U-turn! A few miles down the road I stopped to help a Harley rider (one of the battery leads had rusted through) but he had it all under control so I continued on until eventually I found a great campsite next to the lake in Greenville Georgia.

My campsite, Greenville

My campsite, Greenville

The next morning I headed north again aiming for the Newfoundland Gap Road, Cherohala Skyway and Dragons Tail in the Smokey Mountains. When I approached Cherokee I saw huge numbers of Harleys parked at every motel, resturant and service station. It turns out there was a bike meet at Cherokee, I thought about stopping to see what the bike scene was like but after being confronted by too much leather (leather chaps and tasselled leather waist coats are not a good look guys), too much dubious facial hair (ZZ top would be put to shame), too much whale tale / too much tramp stamp on girls who really should not be showing whale tale I decided to skip it. Signs like 'We welcome Harleys' and a hand signal from a Harley rider that couldn't be interpreted as friendly either persuaded me to continue. When I stopped at the visitors center and was offered some advice by a couple featuring all of the above fasion feux pax to 'trade that thing in, if it ain't got a reverse gear' my decision was only reinforced! I talked to a another Harley couple later on (see Mike below) they told me there are two types of Harley riders, genuine ones (like Mike and like the guy who I stopped to help who bought his old Harley at a police auction) and fake ones who hang out and try and chase a lifestyle that no longer exists and which was probably a myth anyway! When I say fake I mean it, there were fake tattoos for sale at the York Harley factory! There were only a few non Harley's around, with the Goldwing being the most comon non-Harley, Goldwings seem to get respect from most of the Harley crowd, I think as they all think they will get one when they're older! The Newfoundland Gap Road was great, it even features a full 360 degree 'Spiral Curve' (funny road signs warn you of 'Spiral Curves' not 'Hairpins' or 'Sharp Turns') crossing under itself.

The ribbon of road I travelled to get here, Clingman's Dome

The ribbon of road I travelled to get here, Clingman's Domek

On the ride down from Clingman's Dome I followed a girl on a small (750) Honda cruiser which was covered with flags and badges. She kept on riding faster and faster, and on one right turn I thought that's it she's had it as she hit the brakes hard on the apex, ran wide across the road into the path of a Goldwing coming the other way. The Goldwing hooted like mad and took avoiding action, she just waved and carried on as if the guy was just tooting hello at her!

My campsite. Tent up early, tired of the dawdling traffic. Cades Cove, Smokey Mountains

My campsite. Tent up early, tired of the dawdling traffic. Cades Cove, Smokey Mountains

I ignored the advice of a couple against riding into Gatlinburg, I wish I hadn't it was bumper to bumper and the streets were covered with lemming pedestrians trying to kill themselves. Gatlinburg is very tacky, very much like an English beach town, its full of amusements and tacky gift shops. Weekends in the Smokeys are crazy, the place is packed full of people doing the nature thing crawling along looking at deers butts and bikers and sport car drivers trying to beat their time on the Dragon and Cherohala Skyway. How more people aren't killed I don't know. After spending 40 minutes staring at the back of a 4x4 as we crawled along a scenic route near Cades Cove I decided at three o'clock that's enough I'm setting up camp now.

My campsite. Tent up early, tired of the dawdling traffic. Cades Cove, Smokey Mountains

My campsite. Tent up early, tired of the dawdling traffic. Cades Cove, Smokey Mountains

I hiked up the small trail behind the campsite that evening for some quiet, fat chance you can hear those Screamin' Eagle Harley pipes from a hundred miles away. My neighbours at the campsite, from Maryland were very friendly and brought over a beer and invited me to their site. We spent the night talking and raising hell, the two girls seemed pretty drunk even though they only had a few beers between all of us. I think I was accepted as the little mutt they had adopted from a local Flea Market didn't growl at me like he growled at everyone else! It was a good night and good to have some company after mostly being on my own for so long.

The Smokey's are 'this big', I feel great!. Cades Cove trail, Smokey Mountains

The Smokey's are 'this big', I feel great!. Cades Cove trail, Smokey Mountains

The next day I left early trying to run the Dragon's Tail before anyone else woke up. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea, so I shared the Tail with nutty sport bikers, Harleys and Goldwings. The most scary thing on the Tail were the sport cars, they all run in a group and a lot of them drift the car in the turn taking up most of your side of the road. It's a crazy road and I can see why people become adicted to it, as it is a bit like a roller coaster of a ride. The turns all tighten, are heavily banked and there is no run off! I got stuck behind a guy on a Harley who didn't seem to know the rules of the Tail (let faster people past), I let a couple of bikes past me and they had to force their way past this guy. It was probably a good thing as it meant I didn't take too much risk. There was a young girl on a GSXR 1000 (the bike was bigger than she was) wearing typical American sport bike protective gear, a nice little pink tank top, a bandana and some sneakers. I thought 'you must fall into the category of those yet to fall' (there are two types of bikers, those who have fallen and those who are yet to fall, those who have fallen tend to ride slower and more carefully).

Bikes at Deal's Gap after running the draggon, parked mine at the back so as not to ruin the shiny lineup. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

Bikes at Deal's Gap after running the dragon, parked mine at the back so as not to ruin the shiny lineup. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

My second ride up the Tail was also a bit of a flop, this time I let two super motos through and then got stuck behind a van. At least I had some time to admire the view, but even though I ran it slow at least I can say I survived the Tail.

I survived the dragon, by riding behind some real slow coaches... ssshh don't mention that part. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

I survived the dragon, by riding behind some real slow coaches... ssshh don't mention that part. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

There are a bunch of vetern's who seem to live for running the tail, one old salt who had built the bike below for the task was telling the story of how they had a race down the Tail on childrens plastic tricycles. There are some beat up tricycles in the 'Tree of Shame' and parts of various bikes thet didn't make it each of which is inscribed with the story and injuries (or in some cases death) of its owner.

Custom made for the gap, in front of the 'Tree of shame'. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

Custom made for the gap, in front of the 'Tree of shame'. Deal's Gap, Smokey Mountains

I also ran the Cherohala Skyway which was a great road, as Clive promised. Unfortunately his warning of the corner at mile ten came a bit late (bikers paint SLO on the road as a warning) and although I made it a beat up ZX6R in the overlook after the turn looked like it did not. It's owner was probably in a helicopter somewhere. The road was great, much better than the Tail I think as the corners were more open, in a lot of ways it reminded me of large portions of the BRP. There were a few corners where the sport car guys had brushed gravel onto the apex which weren't much fun. At the end of the Skyway I met a Harley (although he swears his Kawasaki Vulcan was a much better bike) couple, Mike and Kim who gave me some of their lunch and we spent a pleasent afternoon occasionally meeting up at overlooks and the Misty falls. They are lucky enough to be able to ride these roads every weekend, I am very envious of them!

Misty Falls. Smokey Mountains

Misty Falls. Smokey Mountains

I really enjoyed the first leg of my journey, I just hope the next leg across the bottom of the States can live up to what I have ridden so far!

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Comments

Posted by Wilma on April 29, 2009

You write really well. I love reading your chronicles. The photographs in addition are fantastic. Keep safe

Posted by Derek on April 29, 2009

Nice story Troll, very entertaining. It also means I can experience the trip vicariously. Keep 'em coming. Btw. I always tell Harley Bigots that when I am looking for a bike that doesn't go, doesn't stop and doesn't handle I'll be sure to buy a Harley.

Posted by Alicja on April 29, 2009

Great stuff Troll... waiting for more ! Would love to be there !

Posted by Clive on April 29, 2009

Great detail and wow do you find strange things to look at. Mile marker 10 is a bitch

Posted by Val on April 29, 2009

Looks like fun! Except for the rain. Wish I was there

Posted by Steve on April 29, 2009

Looks like you are having way too much fun! Bike looks good as well.

Posted by Craig on April 29, 2009

Awesome stuff - cool pics, and great roads. sounds like your are pretty sorted out there. - of course I'm having way more fun here at my desk................. NOT you managing your target of 300miles in a day?

Posted by Linda on May 2, 2009

Looks like fun! Except for the rain. Wish I was there