Land of the Noonday Sun

Nantahala. Cherokee language translated as land of the noonday sun. And that is quite precisely the only time that the Nantahala Gorge sees any sunshine, that small window of yellow light as the sun climbs over the easterly mountains to its zenith, and then immediately begins its westward descent, and the gorge is once again enveloped in shadow.

I was just up the mountain in Western North Carolina, attending the 10th annual Honda NC700 owners gathering at the Kickstand Lodge, a great place to moto camp or rent cabins when in the area. It is located in Stecoah, North Carolina, in the middle of nowhere between Robbinsville and Bryson City.

Kickstand Lodge

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The grounds are beautiful, the staff very friendly, and of course, there is a camp dog. Newly acquired at only four months old, this is Jo-Jo, a chocolate Lab. She loves belly rubs, and yes, that is my hand she is using as a chew toy!

Jo-Jo

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My riding this weekend would have me on two fantastic motorcycling roads: Wayah Road, accessed from the Nantahala Gorge, and the Cherohala Skyway, an indescribable twisty, 50+ miles one way from Robbinsville, North Carolina to the little hamlet of Tellico Plains, Tennessee. It had been years since I had ridden either of these roads. I was pumped. Both are very scenic, and, as I was zoned in on the curves on the Cherohala, I neglected to stop and take photos! Here are a few from Wayah Road:

Wayah Road begins its ascent up to Wayah Bald, where a hard pack dirt road and short hike will take you to the summit. I elected to forego the summit, having been there before. I was getting hungry, and Franklin, North Carolina was at the end of the road. So was lunch. The descent into Franklin is a nice twisty two lane, but caution is advised, as the in and out of sunlight plays tricks with your eyes and a crucial curve may be missed. How those Isle of Man TT guys do it I’ll never know. Finally pulling into Franklin and searching for a parking space on Main Street, I came upon this:

A car show!

As much a car guy as motorcyclist, this was a moto weekend, and I was hungry, so I passed the car show by.

Back in the saddle and onward to Tennessee via the Cherohala Skyway. As mentioned previously, no photos: I was in such a sweet spot winding through the Skyways curves that I didn’t want to stop and break the spell. What a fantastic road.

It was a long day in the saddle on curvaceous mountain roads. Seven hours and 230 miles later I was back at Kickstand Lodge and sufficiently tired. A shower, a couple of beers and dinner with the guys put a great cap on the day. Oh, and we found the true location of Sasquatch.

If you’re ever in the middle of Nowhere, North Carolina, check out these roads. And stop in at KSL and say hey to Jo-Jo (don’ forget the belly rub!).

 

Expanding The Motoring Horizons

Change is constant, we are told,and although it doesn’t seem like it on this blog, the reality is our adventures have modified a bit. Periodically, those of you who follow this blog see a post thrown in with our Mazda Miata MX-5 Roadster as the main character. We have had the little four wheeled sport bike going on two years now, ever since Roo has not been able to ride a motorbike due to back surgery. The MX-5 has become her “motorcycle.”

This change coincided with the motorbike downsize from my Honda ST1300 to now, my Honda NC700XD, which I ride solo. Even though the method of conveyance changes from time to time, the intent is the same: to have fun blasting back roads and touring on two wheels or four, seeing interesting places our readers might like to visit, and reporting on motoring events we attend.

 

So, we decided to combine our passions of touring by motorcycle and sports car into one blog site. Many motorcyclists are sports car enthusiasts and vice versa. Content will continue as mentioned above, but beginning with the next post, the site will be            re-named Motoring Adventures. Categories will also change to make it easier to find specific motorcycle or sports car content.

We invite you to continue to follow us on our adventures, and although some trips will be driven in the MX-5, the roads taken will all be motorcycling roads!

“Everything will change, then will change again”

-Tom Petty

 

Staying Safe in the Mountains of North Georgia & Western North Carolina

 

Is that The Stig** next to my motorbike?

ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) , situational awareness, conspicuity, skill level. No, this is not a soap box diatribe on motorcycle safety, although I completely espouse the aforementioned safety attributes. Rather, this post is a recap and mini-review of a most excellent street oriented motorcycle safety weekend tour put on by a company called Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training.

Those of you not residing in the USA may not have heard of Stayin’ Safe, those here in the States probably have. Started in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s (?) by Larry Grodsky, a witty and sarcastic (I love it!) moto safety guru and author, the program is a on street, real world, real speed, training course to help motorcyclists become more proficient, and thus safer, dealing with riding environments we encounter every time we straddle a saddle. Upon Larry’s untimely death, Eric Trow, lead instructor at the time, took over the company and expanded it to what it is today.

Friday

My gear is packed in my tank bag and drybag, I’m ready and chomping at the bit to get on the road, put miles on my tires, and fully immerse myself in the Stayin’ Safe Training Tour. It’s been a hell of a long winter. My ride today is about 130 miles to the town of Cornelia, Georgia. The tour actually starts just six miles from Cornelia in Clarkesville, a beautiful small North Georgia town that Roo and I visit often. The Super 8 hotel I am staying in is ……………..well, it’s a Super 8, what more is there to say.

Saturday

It’s six AM as my alarm goes off. I jump out of bed anticipating the rigorous riding schedule that Ryan, our instructor for this tour, has on tap for us. I pack up my gear, eat a small breakfast and caffeine up. It’s going to be a long, tough day riding the twisty roads of the North Georgia and Western North Carolina mountains. My Honda NC700XD parallel twin has been warming up and is ready to go. Six miles away is Java Joe’s coffee shop in Clarkesville, where our group will meet up and begin our training tour. It’s 43 degrees at 7:30 AM, but I’m so excited I don’t even feel the cold.

The Group

Surprisingly, everyone in the group starts rolling into Java Joe’s parking lot at the same time. We have five total in this group; four participants and one instructor. Stayin’ Safe Tours are intentionally kept small. Everyone in the group was a “seasoned” rider. At 22 years of riding experience, I was the novice. All the others had started riding before they could walk, rode dirt bikes at Baja when they were five, have owned sixty bikes over the last 10 years, blah, blah, blah. You know the story..

L to R: Joe, Skip, Ryan our instructor was the “baby” at 36, Steve. That’s Skips Yamaha FZ09 they are gathered round.

We came from all over; Joe & Skip trailered their bikes down from New York, Ryan is from Dahlonega, GA., Steve from Atlanta, and myself from South Carolina. A diverse group with the common goal of learning to become better, safer motorcycle riders and have fun doing so. And, as I had hoped, we all got along really well and enjoyed each others company throughout the weekend.

What’s it like?

In a nutshell, Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training is motorcycle safety training in real time at real speeds on everyday roads. Riders receive instruction and feedback via one-way radio from the instructor. Training is broken up into lessons that are “taught” at roadside stops throughout the two day tour, each lesson building on the other. As the tour goes on, every rider gets to lead the group while the instructor gives instruction, tips and positive feedback to the rider in the lead.
A roadside lesson stop

As we warm up in Java Joe’s, eating breakfast (number two for me), and drinking Java, introductions are made, forms are filled out, tour packets are passed around, and Ryan lays out the plan for the next two days. “Be prepared to work, be more prepared to have fun!” he says.

By 9:30 we are on the bikes and heading to a community college parking lot for some slow speed drills and warming up of tires (and bodies). Then it’s off to the mountainous terrain of North Georgia we go. I haven’t ridden in the mountains since last year, so I knew I was going to be a tired puppy tonight.

Ryan started us out easy for the morning session, on nice sweepers as we climbed upward, with Ryan in the lead on his BMW GS1200, followed by Steve on his Indian Springfield, myself on my Honda NC700XD, Skip on his Yamaha FZ09, and Joe bringing up the rear on his Triumph Speed Triple. By lunch time, we had crossed the state line into North Carolina. Lunch was a welcome respite. Information processing and putting that information into practice on mountain roads was beginning to take it’s toll.

Ah! Lunch! Everyone say beagle! (Can’t say beagle without smiling)

Our lunch stop is a very popular moto destination!

 

Look at that smile! This pup was having a field day! Treats from everyone!

After lunch, it’s back on the bikes for the afternoon session. Ryan kept it easy for a little while, letting lunch digest a bit until blood flow gets back to the brain. He coaches us to get our “motorcycle minds” in gear, as we start working on the skills to negotiate the much more technical mountain roads in North Carolina.

Lessons in the afternoon session focus on being aware of potential hazard areas and how to spot them when they are hidden and finding the proper line for optimum sight distance in the many blind curves of these North Carolina mountains.

I am very familiar with the roads here, as this is part of my moto playground on any weekend day. But, Ryan took us down some roads that I never knew existed, or be able to find by myself, except perhaps,from making a wrong turn. And these roads were sick! One and one-half lane roads with no center line and no shoulders makes you stick to an optimum line for maximum sight distance, or you could become a hood ornament. Trial by fire!

By early evening we arrive at our destination for the night, The Oak Park Inn in Waynesville, North Carolina. We’re all tired from a long, just shy of 200 mile day, negotiating mountainous terrain. Park the bikes, clean up, we all pop a beer and hang for a while talking about the day before walking to the Sweet Onion restaurant for a most excellent dinner, compliments of Stayin’ Safe.

Oak Park Inn 

Sunday

Sunday was an early start. Where’s the coffee? Two hard boiled eggs and a Hammer Nutrition bar, then I’m off to Ryan’s room to meet the other guys for a 7:30 AM rider’s meeting and video review of yesterdays lessons. We all had questions and suggestions and ideas about the topics we were discussing. Ryan guided us with questions and scenarios as to why our strategies may or may not be best in a given situation. Like riding, it was a dynamic exchange, ever changing with no hard and fast rules.

After the riders meeting, we suited up, bid farewell to the Oak Park Inn, and headed to a vacant parking lot for some smooth braking practice, and learning how to “push the bike down” as Ryan put it, to execute tight, slow speed turns. It’s counter intuitive, and a bit scary, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really lots of fun and effective!

Back on the road, we headed to Clydes restaurant in downtown Waynesville, for brunch, again, compliments of Stayin’ Safe. Clouds were rolling in, as rain was forecast for this afternoon. The afternoon session was similar to yesterday, albeit shorter, putting into practice what we had learned, but on even more technical roads. By 3 PM we were done. Everyone received a certificate of completion, a patch, decal and pin. E-mails and phone numbers were exchanged as we all said our goodbyes and headed home or to hotels.

Clouds were heavy as I headed south. Looking up at Cold Mountain I could see the summit was enveloped in cloud. As I climbed to the Blue Ridge Parkway, visibility decreased to about 10 feet. I did stay ahead of, and sometimes behind, the rain, but it was very wet and misty going through the clouds. Up and over the top, about one quarter mile down the other side, I burst through the cloud cover. From then on it was clear sailing into South Carolina, practicing the new techniques I learned all the way home.

Thoughts

This is a very well designed on-street safety course that I encourage everyone to take, regardless of how many years riding experience one has. You will be surprised at what you will learn, and what you may have forgotten. This is a thinking riders course, using dynamic mental strategies to safely ride a motorcycle in what can be described as a ever changing hostile environment. It can definitely make your moto riding safer, build your own self confidence, and increase the fun factor to your motorcycle riding.

For more info: Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training:

** The Stig. BBC TV series Top Gear, The Stig is their track car tester and race driver. Nobody knows who he really is (except the producers).

Hiking, Paddling & Trail Running in the Blue Ridges. Oh yeah,and Motorcycling!

The Blue Ridges

Quiet. Peaceful. Haunting. Beautiful. These adjectives are an apt description of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The beautiful blue shade one sees in the early mornings is a spectacle worth getting up early for, a result of the sun rising above the horizon and it’s rays bouncing off the clouds that have settled overnight. Hence, the name.

Quiet. An adjective that one cannot use to describe many places anymore. Except here, in the Blue Ridges. You can hear birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, a farm dog barking way off in the distance, a cow mooing from a pasture. And you can hear nothing, absolutely nothing, in between. No cars, no phones ringing, no music blaring, no construction noises and none of those damn leaf blowers. This is what Roo and I came here for this weekend: to escape to peace and quiet in an idyllic setting.

Except for one particular sound. The bark of motorcycle exhausts. What, what? The third weekend in July is our moto club’s annual rally in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Our wonderful mom & pop motel is the Big Lynn Lodge, and it sits right by two of the best motorcycle roads in the East: The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), and North Carolina 226A; The Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route.

Friday: Chasing the bigger latitudes

This year we took a different approach to this rally. Roo’s back was acting up, as such she didn’t think it wise to be perched on the pillion seat of a motorcycle. So she drove her car while I straddled my NC700XD and rode to the Big Lynn Lodge. As we were heading to the Blue Ridges, there was only one road appropriate to take us to our destination: The Blue Ridge Parkway. I had a blast negotiating the curves of the BRP while setting the NC’s transmission in auto mode, Sport Level 3 (highest). A stop for lunch at Mount Mitchell State Park, home of the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi River, then onward as we rode to bigger latitudes and cooler temps. Five hours later, we pull into the Big Lynn parking lot amid motorcycles and our people.

If I did dirt, this would be the bike I’d do it on……. 

After unpacking the car and parking the NC in front of our room, we cleaned up and went out to say hello to friends we hadn’t seen since last year’s rally.

Roo (right) greeting her moto-buddy, Barbara. Barb rides a Yamaha FZ-09

Three members of our club are accomplished Blues musicians, and on the first night of the rally each year they donate their talents to entertain their fellow motorcyclists.

The Alligator Blues Band

They always put on a fantastic show playing and singing classic blues and jazz with a bit of rockabilly thrown in. Awesome!

Saturday: Peace and quiet with Ma Nature

This is the day Roo and I would really decompress. It has been an emotionally and physically fatiguing past few months. The chill out started with the ride up to Little Switzerland on the BRP yesterday. We all know the therapeutic value of riding a motorbike. Seeing old friends, catching up, and a couple of adult beverages got us in the chill groove. Today, Mother Nature would take over.

After a communal breakfast in the lodge, everyone geared up, fired up their bikes, and went out on their respective routes for the day. Except me and Roo. We hopped in Roo’s Nissan Versa and turned onto the BRP. It was 9:00 AM. A beautiful, crisp morning. We drove about ten miles, the only vehicle on the road. We pulled off to an overlook and shut the engine. We heard ………………. nothing. Nothing but the breeze rustling the leaves and birds chirping. It was heaven.

Our first stop was to Linville Falls. Beautiful and breathtaking. We would hike out to the falls overlook, then hike down into Linville Gorge.

On the way out to view the falls, we came upon this very, very old pine tree. The trunk of this pine was tremendous, as you can see below:

Roo the tree hugger

We could hear the rushing water of the falls as we got closer and closer. Just the sound of rushing water is enough to make me relax. Don’t even have to see it. We did, and it was gorgeous.

Linville Falls

That’s a long way down into the gorge, and that’s where we’re headed next. We are a few hundred feet above the falls, and the falls drop another few hundred feet into the gorge. It’s going to be quite the hike, especially climbing back out!

Linville Gorge

Our descent started on this staircase, the only man made steps into the gorge.

It continued on rooted and rock strewn singletrack through rock tunnels like this:

Halfway down, I looked up along side the wall of the gorge and took this photo. The tree gives some perspective of the depth of this gorge, and we were only about half-way to the bottom! Looking up while going down!

Getting closer, we can now see the Linville River, below the falls. We’re almost at the bottom of the gorge!

Finally! We break through some dense foliage and climb around a couple of huge boulders, and we hit bottom! Standing on the banks of the Linville River at the bottom of the Falls.

Some folks were here already swimming in the river.

This photo of Linville Falls was taken from the banks of the Linville River at the bottom of the gorge.

We pulled up some rock and relaxed, just taking in the astounding beauty of this place. After a while, we started the climb back up. Wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. It pays to be in good physical condition!

Back in the car and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for our next adventure. Paddling and trail running at Ray Price Lake, right on the BRP. In a very unusual role reversal, Roo wanted to trail run, and I wanted to do the chill thing and paddle on the lake. She changed into running gear and quickly took off down the trail. I rented a canoe and serenely paddled out onto the lake.

Ray Price Lake

What a gorgeous lake. Paddling here in a canoe had me seeing flashbacks to Boy Scout camp as a kid, paddling lakes in Upstate New York.

I came across this beaver dam in a backwater section of the lake. How cool!

Interesting flower.

Photos from amidships

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What a wonderfully decompressing day. Outdoors all day long, a wonderful lunch in a fantastic Italian restaurant in the town of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and driving the Blue Ridge Parkway for hours. The sun is setting, it’s getting darker on the Parkway, and it’s supper time for critters moving about, as we head back to our motel and our moto buddies.

Sunday: “One more cup of coffee before I go, to the heat in the valley below.” (Bob Dylan paraphrase).

Yes. Heat. Lots of it is forecast for back home in South Carolina. Triple digits worth, topping out at 101 degrees F. But right now, early morning in the Blue Ridges, it is wonderfully cool. Roo and I pack up her car, then head into the lodge for breakfast. Everyone is geared up and wanting to get on the road early. Some have hundreds of miles to travel. We, too, are anxious to get an early start., so I can minimize time spent in the heat and humidity. As soon as the NC’s headlight is tilting downslope, the temps begin their upswing.

Hugs, handshakes, goodbyes, and everyone is heading out. The sound of motorbikes is everywhere. It’s not quiet, but that therapeutic sound is a fitting end to another great rally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding Through the Land of Waterfalls in North & South Carolina

Here in the Upstate of South Carolina and Western North Carolina, we are fortunate to have numerous beautiful waterfalls as well as breathtaking vistas, thanks to the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the Smoky Mountains. Not to mention (but I will), the best motorcycling roads east of the Mississippi River. But the focus of these words is not about the riding, but about the absolutely beautiful natural surroundings we were riding through.

A few Sundays ago, 30 or so motorbikes showed up at our local meet-up to ride the much anticipated Waterfall Tour. After the pre-ride briefing, we broke up into four manageable groups and headed out on the route, two groups clockwise and two counter clockwise (or anti-clockwise for those across the pond). The group I was in with seven other bikes were making our first stop at Twin Falls, here in South Carolina. The ride through the South Carolina countryside was beautiful. My NC700XD rode flawlessly as we made our way to Twin Falls, a waterfall I had yet to see in my twenty years living here.

Our group on the trail to Twin Falls

After traveling on gravel and dirt roads for about a mile, which I (a street only guy) and my NC did with aplomb, I might add, we parked our bikes and took a short hike to the falls overlook. It was a stunning sight!

Twin Falls

These falls are off the beaten path. There are no signs, so unless someone told you about them or you read about them somewhere, you would never find them. A true back country find if you were hiking!

Mounting up, we rolled back down gravel and dirt and headed north to cross the state line into North Carolina. Looking Glass Falls sits on the main drag on US276, connecting Greenville, South Carolina with Waynesville, North Carolina. As such, these popular falls become very crowded. Visiting as early as possible is one’s best bet to be in the tranquil setting of nature. We did not, and were not. Beautiful just the same.

Looking Glass Falls

By now it was getting near lunchtime. Leaving Looking Glass Falls, we turned southbound to Brevard, North Carolina, riding through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest. Our lunch venue this day is Hawg Wild BBQ, right at the entrance to the Pisgah.

Hawg Wild

A very popular place, especially with motorcyclists. Bar-B-Que is the name of the game here, but they also serve up non-BBQ for those that don’t want to eat what used to be this:

Lunch!

Part of our group

The food here is very good, highly recommended if traveling in this area. Good food, good conversation (i.e. no religion or politics), new friends made with a great bunch of men and women with the common passion of motorcycling. We pushed away from the table, suited up, and off we went down the hill towards South Carolina. A more obscure waterfall was on the docket next; Connestee Falls.

Connestee Falls

Finished with the waterfall sightings, now it was time to look out over the beautiful and stunning vistas that South Carolina has to offer atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment. An escarpment is a geological upheaval of the earths crust. Unlike the formation of a mountains gentle slope, an escarpment, almost literally, juts vertically toward the sky. Riding through the escarpment from South Carolina to North Carolina is a motorcyclists dream. The roads are laid out in multiple, steep switchbacks to accommodate the vertical gain of the escarpment. Going up is fun. Coming back down is Mr. Toads Wild Ride!

Perched atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment is Caesars Head State Park, our next destination. The views from the observation deck are just stunning and absolutely gorgeous.

Caesars Head State Park

The View

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It is a very weird feeling standing on the deck and looking down to see hawks flying below you, above the treeline! Whew!

Still heading southbound, now in South Carolina, we pull over and park to take in the view from another popular place. Graffiti Rock.

Actually, it’s real name is Jumping Off Rock. This huge rock formation is called a bald; a rock outcropping in a mountainside.

Rumor has it that there have been a few non-bungy jumps off the end of Jumping Off Rock. Not sure how true that is, but I have seen a few automobiles that have crash landed at the bottom of the bald. Jumps not withstanding, the view is beautiful.

One final scenic stop before rolling back into the city awaits us. A small waterfall and a popular swimming hole, right by the side of the road:

Wildcat Wayside

After a rain, the small waterfall turns into a torrent of raging water, but not for us today. Still beautiful, and a great place to cool off after a long day in the saddle.

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The riding was great, the group was wonderful, and the natural beauty of our corner of the world was the main event.