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RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend 2012

Tuesday July 10th I set my Navigon GPS app to the Scenic Roads setting and left the office at noon headed for Maggie Valley, NC. My destination was the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend for 4 days (weekend?) of riding and fun. The RoadRUNNER Touring weekend was to be my first motorcycle rally. I was anxious and a little worried about what I would find there. I chose this rally because I anticipated it would be attended by riders who shared my love of touring, motorcycles, and riding. I was hoping to find a congregation of like minded people. These hopes where based solely on the content of the magazine. It’s a testament to RoadRUNNER Magazine that I was not disappointed, even with the wet weather.

As I motored along the 500+ miles to the rally I began thinking about when I left home to go to college. My car all packed up, I headed across the country to a place where I would know no one and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been on overnight and week long motorcycle trips before, but always with a group of riders I knew. This was my first solo adventure. Like my trip to college that double punch of excitement and anxiety you get when the roller coaster is just cresting the top of the hill was with me the whole ride. In this case however that could just have been the mountain roads I choose to ride.

My GPS found roads that kept me off the highway but still moving at a good clip. Passing through small towns and hugging river valleys I arrived in Wyethville, VA around 5:00 pm and booked myself into a hotel for the night. So far I’d avoided the rain but looking at the weather for the next few days I suspected I would be getting soggy. 80% chance of showers all day and continuing through Saturday. My only solace was that temperatures would be in the high 70’s to low 80’s. “Well, at least it’s not hot” would become a mantra for several of us at the rally for the next damp four days.

Wednesday dawned dark and cloudy as expected. I slid into my gear and one piece Revit! rain suit prepared for a wet 200+ miles to Maggie Valley. Almost immediately the rain started in and kept up off and on for the rest of day. Even with the wet it was a memorable ride. The GPS picked a route that was a preview of the guided tours setup by the RoadRUNNER staff for Friday and Saturday. Having ridden to the Smokey Mountains a few times now I think you have to look pretty hard to find bad motorcycling roads, even when they’re wet.

The following days at the rally where spent in a cycle of ride, eat, repeat. We centrally gathered under the “circus” tent for any and all events. This provided for plenty of opportunities to meet fellow riders and magazine staff members. Whether we were preparing for a ride, eating dinner, listening to seminars or just hanging out there were always friendly people to talk to and good stories to be heard. A few times the laughing and story telling lasted well into the night accompanied by live bluegrass and rock and roll.

Photo by John Flores

Friday saw my first group ride leave under cloudy skies and rain. I joined up with a leisure touring group lead by John Flores (contributor and blogger for RoadRUNNER Magazine). One look at my 10,000 kW Hi-Viz rain suite and John declared, “I’ll be able to see you in another state” and designated me his sweeper for the ride. The pace was a little slow at first. Once I settled in, however,  the slower speed allowed me to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Smokey Mountains as we looped along twisty tree covered back roads. At Lunch I was fortunate to be able to have a conversation with John and pick his brain about the magazine, writing, blogging and photography (one of his passions). It was very informative. John is terrifically nice guy and so easy to talk to that it was a real treat. After lunch the skies cleared up and we were able to appreciate the roads and the ride with out distraction.

Saturday I switched to a sport touring group lead by Florian Neuhauser. Once we were all sorted out into the right place in the group we flew through the first mostly sunny day of riding all week. I’m actually glad that I was able ride with the leisure group the day before and enjoy the scenery. Most of what I saw on this sporty ride was the yellow divider line and the taillight of the bike in front of me. Florian set a pretty spirited pace. It was nice to be able to let the connie stretch her legs a bit. I found myself at Florian’s table at lunch and, like the day before with John, had the opportunity for some Q and A about writing and riding for the magazine.

Saturday evening we were lavished with a meal of steak, potatoes, salad and drinks. Dinner was to commemorate the late Christian Neuhauser, who’s family started RoadRUNNER Magazine in 2001 just 2 years after moving to the US from Austria. Christian passed away in 2004 but he and his “family’s undaunted enthusiasm for motorcycle touring” live on through their commitment to riding and the magazine they started together. As the evening wore on goodbyes where said, email addresses exchanged, and promises to “See you next year” where made. I have a feeling that many of those promises will be kept.

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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Rallies and Events, Ride Reports

 

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Blue Ridge Parkway Trip Sept 21 – 25, 2011: Ride, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

Rain falls down plunking off my tent roof as I lay awake on the last night of our five day ride down and back up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia. It seems fitting since that it’s raining at the end of the trip since that’s how the trip started. Not to mention the rain that we had during the trip. Even so, it’s been a memorable and fun adventure.

On September 21st Ron, Paul, Brian and myself started out at 8:30 am from Warrenton, Va to pick up our fifth member, Carlos, in Madison, VA. at the Pig and Steak. From there we were set to ride about 330 miles to our camp for the night. Our route took us down Rt. 29 to Waynesboro, VA where we picked up the BRPW. At Roanoke we exited the Parkway on Rt. 221 to Rt. 58 to Grayson Highlands State Park. The riding was good. The weather was pretty bleak. Most of the trip on this first day was under heavy cloud cover with occasional rain. At the start of trip like this though you have to try hard not to have a good time.

Arriving at Grayson Highlands State Park we setup our tents, stretched out the large tarp over the picnic table and started a fire just in time for another rain storm. The tarp was a employed many times during the trip as a rain shelter. This time the rain was short lived. The fire stayed strong thanks to coals provided by the camp host,  a friendly and lively older man in a USMC hat and faded field jacket. He checked in on us again after the rain to make sure that the “green horns” (he made sure to tell us) where still OK and had a fire to keep us warm.

After the short rain storm we set about to cooking dinner for the night: brats, peppers and onions, and corn on the cob. After dinner the group took advantage of the lack of rain and the fire to dry out boots, gloves and socks to varying degrees of success. An inspection of the nights efforts in the morning  found several melted boot soles and a chard sock that had been sacrificed to the fire in hopes of appeasing the rain gods to keep the rain at bay. It seems to have worked, but most agreed that they would need new footwear when they got home.

Day two of the trip found us winding our way back south following Routes 88 / 105 / 194 / 19 / 197 through Pisgah National Forest and then picking up the BRPW at Bee Tree Gap just north of Ashville, NC. From there we rode the Parkway to Cherokee, NC the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway on this stretch is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and fun section of the 469 mile road. In NC the parkway swoops up high into mountain passes with elevations ranging rom 4,000 to 6,053 ft, the highest elevation on the BRPW.  Tight switchbacks and long sweeping corners with stunning views of valleys and mountain tops made it hard to pick a speed. Take the corners fast and the sweepers slow so you can enjoy the view and you get the best of both worlds.

Somewhere along the way, at one of the scenic pull-offs that line the parkway, stunned by the view into the valley below, Carlos not only left all his cares behind but his cell phone too. He noticed about an hour later at the next stop and he made a run back to the where he thought it might be.He said he’d catch up with us at the camp site that night. He arrived about an hour behind, phoneless and disappointed, but at least we had dinner ready. This was the first hiccup in the trip but not the last. A quick call to his carrier and he had a phone waiting for him at home when he got back from the trip.

We stopped in Cherokee (minus Carlos) and picked up provisions for the night. A short 20 mile trip west to Turkey Creek Campground and we were ready to setup camp, cook dinner and take a much needed shower. Dinner was steaks, potatoes, and green beans cooked over the campfire. You really can’t beat a good day of riding (more riding for some than others) followed by a steak and a hot shower. I know I slept well, full and happy. I drifted off to visions of the next days adventure to the Tail of the Dragon and the tap tap of rain drops on my tent roof.

Day three and it was off to the Tail. This was a trip we’d plan to make last year but the weather and Ron’s dead battery conspired against us and we had to skip it. This year we had mostly clear skies and all the bikes started up without a hitch. After a breakfast of eggs and bacon prepared by Paul we packed up and headed out for the famed Tail of the Dragon. If you’re not familiar the “Tail” this is a short section of US 129 in NC with 318 turns packed into just 11 miles of road. Deals Gap has become a destination for motorcyclists and like the BRPW has made it’s way onto a number of must-ride-before-I-die lists kept in tank bags or nailed to shop walls all over the country. I have to admit that I was a little nervous. If it hadn’t been for some instruction over the previous few days given to me by fellow rider on this trip and former motorcycle racer Paul, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed it nearly as much. As it was, I attacked the Dragon with as much gusto as I and my fully loaded Connie could muster. When we reached the end I was surprised at two things 1) that I had so much fun on such a short road and 2) that I mostly kept up with Paul (who I’m sure was taking it easy).

After regrouping at the end of Dragon we turned up into The Great Smokey Mtn National Park on our way back to Cherokee. There we’d pick the parkway back up and ride to Crabtree Meadow Campgrounds. That was the plan anyway. As they are want to do on a motorcycle trip things don’t always go as planned. A few miles outside of Gatlinburg, TN. Brian started to feel his back end get a little wiggly. Turned out his rear tire was loosing air pretty fast. No problem, several of us had patch kits, as good travelers should. No luck. Brian was riding a later model Harley with spoke wheels and tube tires (really?!?!). So we pumped in two cans of fix-a-flat, turned on the emergency blinkers, and headed into town. A few stops to get directions and we found a chopper shop that was more than willing to fix the tire. We all decided, with Brian’s blessing, to head back to Cherokee, grab some food, and get back on the BRPW so we could get camp setup and dinner started before dark.

We made camp at Mount Pisgah Campground right off the BRPW in time to get the tents setup and get dinner cooking before dark. Chow was chicken fajitas, peppers and onions, salsa, shredded cheese, lettuce and macaroni salad. Always good eats on the road. The camp ground was at an elevation of about 5,000 ft so it was by far the coolest night we had. No rain and a big fire made it a wonderful night. Brian made it to camp about an hour behind us. The culprit was a roofing nail he’d pick up somewhere on the route. He has plans to mount it on top of his helmet (ala Kaiser Wilhelm helmet).

Packing up dry gear for the first time on the trip was a nice change. Day four put us back on the BRPW to just outside of Roanoke, VA. From there we broke off to Smith Mountain Lake for the last night of camping. The ride on this section of the parkway is filled with sweeping turns through tree lined tunnels that open to large fields separated by split rail fencing. The scenery really brings you back to when this area was frontier country. It’s easy to get lost in thoughts of log cabins and farmsteads as you ride by. Coming down out of the mountains also brought us closer to the wildlife. Deer, wild turkeys and what Ron described as a “jumping squirrel” (rabbit?), came out to greet us but staid, for the most part, off the road.

A notable stop on this section of the Parkway is Mabry Mill. There’s a quaint restaurant and the most photographed structure on the parkway, the Mabry Mill itself. We meet a really nice couple here on their Indian, complete with matching black and red Indian leather jackets and chaps. They where on their way down the Parkway the way we had come so we chatted a bit about the weather and road conditions they where going to run into then parted ways. The rest of the ride that day was in and out of fog with breaks of sunny and warm weather.

We arrived at Smith Mountain lake, setup camp and then rode to a restaurant we’d passed on the way into camp. Tired and a little warm after being in higher elevations for the past few days we opted not to cook out. The camp site was very clean and the showers where a blessing. We stayed up a late knowing that the next day was a shorter ride. We talked over the ride and several other topics as the fire burned down and the last of snacks where consumed.

Day five was a run up to Waynesboro, VA where the beginning of the BRPW meets up with Skyline Drive. From there we broke off to Rt 29 and headed home. The day started out a little damp. Rain that night meant packing up wet gear again, but by then we were pretty used to it. Rain, fog and sporadic bursts of sunshine where the norm for the day until we got to Waynesboro. From there all the way home was a variation of light rain to heavy rain, mostly heavy rain.

Ron, Paul, Brian, Me, Carlos

94 miles of rain later I pulled into my garage and started striping off  wet gear watching the water drip off my bike and form a puddle under the center stand. All in all the trip was about 1400 miles and five days of riding, eating, laughing, camping, and more riding. On more than one occasion we all commented on what a unique event it was. To be able to bring 5 people together (Paul for the first time) who made the commitment to a five day riding trip, but we were all happy and grateful that we set the time aside. With all of our business and family commitments we were  very lucky to have this opportunity. On the last night as on the first we made a toast to our good fortune, good friends and to our families for allowing us this chance to have this adventure together.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Ride Reports

 

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Morning Ride: Miles 153 – 281

I pulled out of the garage with the sun just coming up and mist still hanging in the trees. The Ninja slipped out onto the road and I was off for a four hour ride (three hour tour?). This is the first time I’ve had a chance to go on a long ride and I was looking forward to seeing just how comfortable the saddle and the ergos really are.

My first stop was just a short hop from my house to get some water and a little snack for breakfast. It was going to be a hot day with the temperature already at 70 degrees and it was only 6:00 am. I had a great chat with a local rider about the bike, the blog and riding in general. He was drawn in by the Ninja’s good looks, the California plates and possibly the guy in the yellow helmet wearing an H-D mesh jacket (me). This isn’t the first time this has happened in just the few days that I’ve been riding the Ninja. Other riders have asked about her and wanted to know more. Good thing I read all those reviews and spec sheets. After my morning snack I was off down Rt. 17 to meet up with Blue Ridge Mountain Rd which snakes it’s way up and over Mt. Weather. The elevation and tree lined road were much appreciated in the morning heat.

From Blue Ridge Mountain Rd I connected to Rt 7 for a just a second before turning onto Snickersville Turnpike, a long meandering road that passes through the heart of Virginia Horse country. Usually I’d take the turnpike all the way to Rt. 50 but I decided to turn off at New Ford Rd. and drive through St. Louis (VA) just for fun. Coming out on Rt. 50 I made my way to Middleburg and stopped for a stretch. One hour in the saddle is pretty much my limit so far on the bike. The seating position is good from the waist up. I get no strain on my back, arms or wrists from the seat to handlebars setup. Below the waist is a different situation. The seat is pretty firm and does allow me to move around a good bit which helps but I need to develop some riding callouses or I need to get a seat pad. The foot pegs are another area that, if I were able, I’d change. Sacrificing some lean angle for a little more room would be appreciated. However walking around for ten minuets every hour does the trick too.

After my stop in Middleburg I jumped on Rt 626 to The Plains where I picked up Rt. 55 to Front Royal. Route 55 is another long sweeping road that I love to lose myself on. The ride from The Plains to Front Royal has just the right amount of sweeping turns and rolling hills. There are roads close to my neck of the woods that have tighter turns and more of them but I’m still courting Ms. Betty and we haven’t gotten there yet. We will, and I think she’s ready, but I’m not … not yet. From Front Royal I took Rt. 522 to Rt 211 all the way back to Warrenton.

All in all it was a nice ride with maybe a few more stops than I would normally have taken. Fun and spirited as I expected. I think I’m going to like this bike.

 

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Ride to Monticello

Saturday June 13, 2009

On Saturday I meet up with the Warrenton Area Street Riders Association to ride out to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home outside of Charlottesville, VA. The ride started, as all good rides should, at a diner. The Frost Diner in Warrenton is a landmark and the real deal when it comes to diners from the 1950’s. I ordered up a plate of blueberry pancakes while I waited for the others to arrive.

The group for this ride was pretty small. Four riders, two Honda Shadows (Ron and James), one Yamaha FJR 1300 (Jeff), and my Harley Electra Glide Standard. Ron, the group organizer, laid out the plan while the four of us devoured the diners specials. We were to meet up in Luray, Va with the Shenandoah Riders coming from Winchester, Va. That meant taking Rt 211 over Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, a great little stretch of road with some nice but tricky curves, as we were to discover. Then we would follow Rt 340 to Charlottesville and Monticello. We talked and continued to eat (the portions are not for the faint of heart) while we waited for the call that would tell us the Shenandoah Riders had left Winchester. The call came in around 9:30 and we saddled up and headed out.

Rt 211 comes into Warrenton nearly across the street from the diner so we were on our way with full bellies and great weather. The ride through Amissville and Washington lead up to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The scenery was green Virginia in the summer and gorgeous. Where Rt 211 starts up the mountain there is a large (and I mean large) state sign pointing out that this is a “high motorcycle crash area”. I’ve taken this pass only two other times before this trip and there are a few corners that make me a little nervous, that sign does nothing to help my confidence, it was, however, appropriate. Five minutes up the road Ron and James on their Shadows pulled ahead of me as I held Jeff on his FJR in check (not on purpose, I’m just a little slow in the twisties). As Jeff and I came around an “S” curve we both (as I discovered later) saw a motorcycle on the ground and thought, “Wow, someone crashed … oh wait that’s Ron”. Lucky for Ron the cars (yes plural) that were coming down the road stopped and people were out of them before he stopped sliding. Behind Jeff and me was a Semi who stopped to block on coming traffic from behind us. There were no serious injuries to Ron, a torn jacket and a little road rash were all he had to show for a 20 ft slide. The bike was rideable but we would need to break out the tool kits once we got off the mountain. It appears that a combination of tires with 14,000 miles on them, a damp road and possibly some trail braking all contributed to the low side slide across the road.

After making sure that Ron was ok, we all mounted back up and headed out for Luray, albeit a little bit slower. The fact that Ron made it through this incident mostly unscathed is really due to 1) wearing a good leather jacket 2) wearing riding boots 3) having crash bars on his bike. The helmet never touched the pavement, but I’m sure that if it did the full face helmet would have helped out. It was really a great stroke of luck that this went as well as it did.

We met up with the Shenandoah Riders, a very diverse and friendly group of riders, in Luray. We broke out the tool kits and got Ron’s bike in working order, gassed up and were off to Charlottesville. The route took us on 340 south all the way to Charlottesville, and then a quick hop on 64. The ride was a beautiful romp through farm land, small towns, and some sweeping forests roads. Most importantly we stayed dry even though the rain clouds threatened several times.

Monticello was pretty packed, this being the beginning of the tourist season in the Virginia/Washington DC area. Something to note when attempting to go to Monticello, make reservations for tickets before getting there. When we arrived around 1:00 pm we were told that the next house tour was starting at 3:00. We were also told that if you want to go anywhere other than the gift shop or the small restaurant you had to buy a $20.00 ticket. So I grabbed an Ice Tea and the four of us sat down and plotted a ride home. Nice ride down there but none of us wanted to wait around until 3:00 for a tour of the house.

The ride home was great. Nice sweeping, back country roads and very little traffic. We took Rt 20 to 231 by Orange, then turned on Rt 522 ending up at Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill. We ordered drinks, nachos and onion rings because the kitchen was transitioning from lunch to dinner. If I were to rate the food at the tavern based on what we ordered I’d have to give it a poor (and a silly). The nachos consisted of watery cheese dip in a bowl and obviously the end of a bag of tortilla chips. The onion rings, all 3 of them for 4 of us, were good … but come on … 3 … Well they did bring out a whole 2 more when we pointed out the obvious issue and that Ron, along with getting into an accident, also got stung by a bee in the taverns parking lot. Not really Ron’s day.

Talked turned from the days ride to past rides to accidents to future rides. Jeff roused all of our wonder lust by recounting his tales of 3,000 mile rides and camping trips to Canada, ambiance, brandy and all. The stories lead inevitably to the planning of a camping and riding trip. I’m looking forward to the details for the ride on the WARSA website. It’s going to be a 5 day ride to Deals Gap. Sounds fun. From Griffin Tavern we took back roads back home which was a perfect end to the day. I enjoyed being able to reflect on the days events while riding past horse farms and mansions. I can’t wait for the next ride and to meet up with the WARSA guys (and gals) again. This was my first ride with them and I’ll be back for many more.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2009 in Ride Reports

 

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