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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moto-Touring In the Land of the Green Mountain Boys – Part 1

 

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The Green Mountain Boys. Some say they were American Revolutionary War heroes. Others condemn them as a raucous band of drunkards, outlaws and ne’er-do-well’s looking for another adventure to sink their fists and muskets into. Here in Vermont, Ethan Allen and his merry band are worshipped with religious fervor. Hero or vagabond, no one really knows, but at the very least ol’ Ethan got his name on an American furniture outlet company.

Our adventure, or more appropriately, misadventure, got started before we ever left the ground. Our 8:40 Thursday eve flight to Vermont was delayed, delayed again, delayed again, until being cancelled at 1:30 AM Friday morning. Having arrived at the airport at 6:00 PM Thursday, we have just spent seven hours in the stinkin’ Charlotte, North Carolina airport, and the next flight to Vermont was not until early Saturday AM. One day of vacation shot to hell just like that. Ethan and his boys would have probably sat down to drinking pints of ale. We should have headed for the airport bar.

Thanks to Roo’s sister, who lives in Vermont and has some big pull with Hilton Hotels, we procured a room at the Hilton by the airport, complete with shuttle service and airport parking! Thanks Tommie!

Saturday had us landing in Burlington, Vermont about 1:00 PM. Roo’s sis picked us up and drove us directly to our motorcycle rental at MotoVermont, a mere one-half mile from the airport.

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An unassuming place, quite not what one would expect, if one had any expectations. But these guys have been doing moto rentals and guided tours of Vermont for six years, and were a real pleasure to work with.

This is it, MotoVermont. One garage, two guys, but hey, it works.

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Having never rented a motorbike before, Spencer, of MotoVermont, talked me through the entire process over the phone. Everything was taken care of and explained in detail, right down to shipping our gear to them. Upon arriving and meeting Spencer and Eric, it was time to do a walk-through of the motorbike, a BMW R1200RT.

Our RT for the week

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Spencer showed me how to access everything on this bike, and left it up to me what I would use. He was very patient and professional, answering all the questions I threw at him. At this point it was time to get on the bike and run it up and down the parking lot, getting acquainted with the clutch and brake engagement. A feeling of uneasiness was beginning to creep over me as the unfamiliarity of this motorcycle made itself apparent. Even though the BMW and my Honda ST1300 are the same class of motorcycle, they are very, very different machines.

If you are traveling to Vermont and need to rent a motorbike, do check these guys out. You will not be disappointed!

Due to the airport debacle on Thursday/Friday, Roo and I decided that she would stay in Burlington visiting with her sister, while I rode the BMW 130 miles south to Stratton Mountain Resort where our moto event, STAR (Sport Touring Association Rendezvous) was being held. This would give me and my German partner plenty of time to get intimately acquainted. Roo’s sister would then drive her to Brattleboro on Sunday, where I would make the 45 minute trip on beautiful Vermont back roads to pick her up. It all worked out very well.

My trip from Burlington to Stratton Mountain took me down iconic Vermont 100 (VT100), probably Vermont’s most beautiful scenic by-way, approximately 150 miles long. More on VT100 later, but here is a small sampling of the beautiful Green Mountains and valleys that I passed through along the route.

Ethan Allen’s Green Mountains; where the boy’s were……

Arriving at the Stratton Mountain Resort about 5:00 PM, I parked the RT, checked into the host hotel, The Black Bear Lodge, unloaded the bike, then proceeded to check in for the event. Our club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association hosts our annual gathering in different locales throughout the country. This year was the eastern half of the country’s turn, so we took advantage of the location and made the trip.

The Black Bear Lodge

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 Black Bear’s parking lot is loaded with motorcycles, a beautiful sight………..

…….. and the only spot to park the RT was in a no parking zone, which to my mind, pertains only to cars.

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After getting the road grime off my body, I hooked up with some old friends for dinner at Stratton Village. Stratton Mountain Resort is a ski resort, and Stratton Village caters to vacationers with high end shops and resort priced restaurants. We were a captive audience, and we payed the price. But hey, we’re on vacation, in Vermont, on motorcycles! Doesn’t get any better than that!

Evening in Stratton Village

By 9:00 PM I was knackered. After the three day flight here (ha!) and riding the unfamiliar RT 140 curvy miles to Stratton, I was ready to crash (into bed!) Having had dinner and a beer or two, I officially said goodnight! Tomorrow I get re-united with Roo and STAR 2016 officially begins!

Next post: Battling traffic in Brattleboro; American Honda Demo Team at STAR!; Official start of STAR 2016!

Celebrating a Big One All Year Long

They say decade birthdays are BIG. That’s what they say. And they should be celebrated BIG, like maybe all year. Ok. I can do that. There have really only been two decade birthdays that have a BIG meaning for me, or impacted me in a BIG way. This one, tomorrow, and my birthday ten years ago.

the number 6

 

Tomorrow, the numeral 6 officially begins preceding all other numerals in my written and spoken age. I don’t quite know what to make of that, nor have I quite come to terms with it. But it is not having anywhere near the negative impact on me that my birthday of ten years ago did.

My last big decade birthday hit me hard. Fifty just blew my doors off. I realized my mortality. I came to the realization that I have lived more years than I am going to live (of course, that physiological reality comes about around forty-one or two, but no one thinks about that in their forties!). I realized, too, that I did not have all the time in the world!

Mellisa Holbrook Pierson, in her book The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing (a fantastic motorcycle/life introspection read by the by), stated it perfectly:

“I did not have all the time in the world. All at once, I knew. Time had become rare, elusive, choked off and breathing hard. While I was going on my way, I had unwittingly made a passage of some moment.”

“Time is like a bridge, let us say it is the age of fifty. On one side of the bridge is forever: no idea of ‘end’ intrudes on anything, especially one’s daydreams. Tell the forty-somethings, then: Go have your big parties with your big platters in your big houses. Sometime soon, it will all seem too big, too full of infinite hope; a little pointless. Life’s vista has narrowed. “

“That is when you have crossed the bridge, and that is when you find yourself thinking alarming things: Holy shit, I may if I’m lucky, have something like twenty-five, maybe thirty years left. And I’m not going to be riding into my seventies, probably: some people do, but perhaps they shouldn’t. Enough said. So, fifteen years left. That means fifteen seasons, those ever shorter leases on fine weather that blaze by and melt into cold.”

“And it hits you: You will not get to go everywhere on a motorcycle that you want to. A strange sensation washed over my riding days now. It was the knowledge that I was riding toward the end.”

Oddly enough, Melissa Holbrook Pierson put into words exactly what I was feeling at the time. And so, tomorrow, at 60, I will take the year to celebrate my having “arrived” (?), through motorcycling and non-motorcycling epic (for me) endeavors.

I have two recreational passions in my life: trail running/racing and motorcycling, particularly travel by motorcycle. This year, in celebration, I intend to ramp up each one, and experience more of what each has to offer.

Trail Running/Racing:

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  • Compete in my first and only (one and done), 50K (31 miles) trail race-as an avid trail runner, I have never run more than 25K (14.5 miles). So, this is the time to celebrate the 60. Epic.
  • Win the Xterra South Carolina Trail Race Series (age group)-I won the 55-59 age group series last year as the oldest. Now I want to take it as the youngest. It’s not that difficult. Most of the required race wins were through attrition (old guys don’t like to run on uneven surfaces). Ruth is also vying for a series win in her age group-female. A win here would lead to……….
  • A trip to Ogden, Utah for the Xterra 25K National Championships. I have run and raced in southern Utah(Moab), but northern Utah is a totally different climate and geographical experience. We would link this up with some motorcycling and possibly visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats. Not epic, but a great trip experience.

Motorcycling:

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  • Tour the state of Vermont-Our club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA), is holding their annual rendezvous (STAR) in Stratton, Vermont this year. The plan is to couple the event with seeing both Ruth’s and my family, then renting a BMW motorbike from MotoVermont and attending STAR (Sport Touring Association Rendezvous). A chance to ride a different motorcycle, see the beautiful state of Vermont by motorbike, and color in another state on my moto map hanging in our garage.

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  • Stayin’ Safe Training Tour-I am a firm believer in motorcycle skill and safety training. I like to take a course every year, as well as doing skills practice on my own. Sometimes it’s a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course, sometimes something more extensive. This year my birthday present to myself is a 3-day training tour by Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training. I haven’t quite decided which of their tours I want to participate in yet.
  • MotoMarathon-I love riding long distances, and I enjoy participating in check point rallies, but I do not ride at night. So, even the entry level IronButt Saddlesore 1000 is not an option for me. Enter MotoMarathon, a rally designed loosely around IronButt rallies, but done solely in daylight hours over four days. This year’s rally is in Colorado, with a possible event on the eastern seaboard (TBA).

So, as Melissa Holbrook Pierson writes, do I feel like I am riding toward the end? Yes, I do. But we all are. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not doesn’t make it any less a reality. But perhaps the condensing of time is the impetus for us to step up our game in the passions of our life. I know it is for me.


 

 

Getting a Quickie in Little Switzerland, North Carolina

006Quickies can be fun. They can be exhilarating. And they can be satisfying. Now before your thoughts go flying in the wrong direction, let me elaborate.

Our moto club, the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA), holds an annual gathering in Little Switzerland, North Carolina with moto central being the Big Lynn Lodge, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Last year I failed to make this years lodge reservations, and thus failed to get us a room.

Thursday AM, the first day of the gathering, our phone rings. On the other end is our friend from Virginia and fellow club member, Barbara, telling us that a room has opened up and instructing us to book it NOW! Taking direction well (she has a theater background), Roo booked it for Saturday night, and we were on our  way to enjoy a quickie!

Roo, still recovering from knee surgery, drove her car, lovingly named the “nerdmobile” (Roo is a little nerdy), while the beaST and I danced our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Little Switzerland. We arrived just as other club members were returning from the days ride.  Let the party begin!

The beaST and the “Nerdmobile”

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Our accomodations. Nothing to look at on the outside – luxurious on the inside!

002The view from our balcony

018 The Big Lynn Lodge

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The Big Lynn Lodge has a unique setup, in that the room price includes a sit down full breakfast and dinner. It is an old mom & pop mountain lodge, bordered on one side by the Blue Ridge Parkway, and on the other by this:

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It also sits right on NC 226A, another named, curvaceous motorcycle road: The Diamondback Motorcycle and Sports Car Route.

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Motorcycle Sport Touring Association, an AMA chartered club, put on the event

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Anybody wanna dance?

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Our event director, Dave (right) with Roo helping with registration

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Our gang (L-R); Jim, Barbara, Tree (yes), Rick & Roo

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The MSTA is a national club with state chapters. We have events all over the country with a national gathering in June every year alternating east coast, central and west coast locations. At this event we had members from Ohio, Virginia and even Florida come over to ride the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.

Dave officiating the door prizes

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Our buddy, Barbara snags a ballcap. She rides a new Yamaha FJ-09 and loves it!

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Roo scored a ball cap and a Butler Map of the Southern Appalachians!

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Roo loves her elder statesmen motorcycle riders, with a special affinity for two of them who show up here every year:

Roo gets a shot with Doug, route planner extraordinaire. Roo says he’s cute as a bugs ear.

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Roo gives her other elder heart throb, Syd, a cheek smacker. Syd is the  quintessential Virginia gentleman. Post ride, Syd is never without a libation in hand. 

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The Roo sammich. Look close enough and you’ll see the classic Roo blush!

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A late night of re-connecting with friends and connecting with multiple glasses of wine made for a bit fuzzy wake up on Sunday. Nothing a few cups of coffee and a high protein breakfast couldn’t take care of. After the delayed, then delayed again goodbyes, everyone was geared up, and with the sound of motorbikes permeating the beautiful mountain air, bikes and their riders were going in multiple directions towards home.

Roo got in the “nerdmobile” and headed home. Me and my ST headed out and took NC226 down the mountain. I laughed  inside my helmet as I came upon the familiar warning signs just as this road takes a sharp downward dip and the twisty parts begin. Nowhere else in these mountains have I seen signs reading like this:

No safe place to pull over and shoot a photo, so I pulled this photo off the web. Makes me smile every time. Let’s play!

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A mere 24 hours felt like we were away for three days. Being with the right people, in the right place, at the right time can do that. Was this quickie fun? Absolutely! Was it exhilarating? You bet! Was it satisfying? Oh yeah, baby. With respect to Mick Jaggers plight, we got  loads of satisfaction on this mini trip!

Contacts & information:

The Motorcycle Sport Touring Association

Big Lynn Lodge

Diamondback Motorcycle & Sports Car Route