Evilcade 2008 Ride Report
Evilcade 2008 was shaping up to be a very well attended event. It *was*, that is, until Biff bagged out (plantar vagitis – PUSSY!), Scrounger bagged out (bikeless – HOMO!), Thinker bagged out (job interview, arguably the only acceptible excuse among the three), and Chef Andy from Bayonne (had to fire manager and stay home to run the restaurant). That left me, Plan B, FNG Chris Ferrari (soon to be named “Mr. Furious.” More on that later),and of course Evil Bill.
Here were the preparations made by each rider:
1) Choose bike: Ducati or Yamaha? DUH! I did the ride to Deep Creek and back on the Duc just a few weeks ago and so had nothing to prove on that front. Evilcade would be over 1,500 miles roundtrip and three nights. Hard saddlebags are my birthright for this kind of trip. Yamaha it is.
2) Prepare GPS: I loaded up the Zumo with routes from NJ to Front Royal VA (start of Skyline Drive), Skyline Drive to Troutville VA “the fast way” (highway at the end of Skyline) and “the fun way” (Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of Skyline), and finally Cherokee NC to Route 81 near Knoxville TN via Deal’s Gap aka The Dragon.
3) Stock up on supplies because for some reason Evil Bill has planned all of the stops to be in dry towns. Therefore I needed alcohol for 7 person-days of drinking. 4 on night one, 3 on night two.
4) Pack clothing: pants, shirts (plain and wicking type for hot weather), u-trou, socks for 4 days. Fleece for cold, raingear, sneakers for off-bike walking
5) Pack incidentals: razor, toothpaste, advil, aleve, Vicodin… all the things necessary for a civilized life.
1) Pack ancient nylon throw-over bike luggage for 4-day trip. 50% of all space taken up by a bike cover.
2) Pack clothes for 4 days: 1 pair tightie whities, 1 pair socks. 1 t-shirt. DONE!
3) Check garage for flimsiest bungie cords. Discard ones that stay attached. Use said bungies to affix totaly broken zippers on ancient soft luggage. Cross fingers. Pray.
1) Call Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse order:
* Tail pack
* Joe Rocket 2-piece suit, “inside-out” waterproofing special (more on this later)
* Worlds Worst Windshield for Triumph Speed Triple
* Motorcycle handlebar camera, to shoot action movies of Skyline and BRP
2) Affix $1,000 worth of recently purchased accessories to motorcycle & self.
1) Find motorcycle keys (NOT a trivial task, apparently, from previous performance)
2) Put on motorcycle jacket
3) Done! Change of clothes? Nope. Raingear? you have GOT to be kidding. Toothpaste? Razor? Superfluous!
Ya gotta like a man who travels light.
Plan is to for Evil and Mr. F to leave around 7:30 AM, meet up at the BARNES & NOBLE on Route 10 in Parsippany by 8:45. Mr. F made it early and came straight to my house, catching me while I was still suiting up for the ride. Evil was early too, but blew by the B&N looking for BORDERS due to an earlier e-mail that had the store listed incorrectly. He called me while Chris and I were stuck in traffic less than a mile from the B&N. I heard my phone ring in my tankbag, and I KNEW it was Evil but couldn’t pick up. We were late by that time, and I assumed he was calling to ask us WTF we were doing. Wrong. He was calling to say he was 5 miles down the road and hadn’t seen the right meetup spot.
Chris and I made the B&N parking lot about 10 minutes late, check voicemail, left voicemail, and went in to pick up coffee for the 3 of us. Within minutes Evil was seen gesticulating wildly from the opposite side of the road, and I talked him in to the parking lot like an air traffic controller. We did quick introductions, swilled our coffee, and hit the road, Jack.
First Leg: NJ to Front Royal Virginia
Nothing much to say about this. In fact, these 5 hours passed in no time at all. Route 287 to Route 78, cross Delawhere? River to Route 81 to Route 66 for the last five miles. First stop was in Midway PA for gas & coffee, the two crucial fuels of a motorcycle tour. Cellphone call to Plan B to let him know our ETA (are you paying attention, gGlen?). Second stop was near Winchester VA for more of the same. In a scheduling miracle, my cellphone rings and it’s Plan B! He’s at a gas station just outside Front Royal. I, as the conscientious Logistical Officer, have turned my brain off for the highway slog to VA and have turned all the navigational duties over to my trusty Garmin Zumo 550 GPS. I wasn’t really paying attention to the time, so I hadn’t noticed that the GPS was giving us an ETA at the entrance to Skyline Drive that was 15 minutes into the future. For all practical purposes the Yankee contingent and the Rebel contingent had converged on Front Royal at exactly the same time. A tribute to GPS and Cellular Phone technology!
On the last stretch of I-66 before Front Royal Evil Bill was leading and we were doing maybe 90 mph out of excitement. I know that Spokus, Greek God of Motorcycles and Other Two Wheeled Vehicles Except Segways was watching over us, because some damn minivan got in front of us and slowed us to the snails pace of 80 mph. I know Evil considered an aggressive passing maneuver because A) I did… we all did, and B) he said so later. Spokus intervened and we held back, just long enough to blow past a VA cop. Good omen for the rest of the day.
At 3 PM give or take 5 minutes we pull into the entrance to Skyline Drive. There is a copper-orange Hayabuse parked by the “Welcome to Skyline Drive” sign. Yay, Plan B! Since we had gassed and rested just 15 minutes ago all we needed to do was shake some hands, make some introductions, and snap some commemorative pictures before saddling up and heading into the park. Oh, and there was time enough for Evil Bill to gloat that his Olde Pharte ID card would be sufficient to grant him free access to Skyline, while us whelps would have to pay $10. We promised Mr. Furious that we would make a point to stop at some of the scenic overlooks for DSLR photo-snapping. What is it with these guys on Speed Triples? He’s got only a tankbag and tailpack, and half the tailpack is taken up by a bigazz DSLR with a telephoto lens.
Skyline drive is… awesome. The weather is perfect. It’s Wednesday afternoon in October so there is very little traffic. The road surface is smooth and grippy. The turns? Fast sweepers, one after another after another… The only negative is the 45 mph speed limit. Evil warns us that they patrol the road heavily, and I’ve heard the same, so the plan is to keep it below 60 mph. Mostly. When I’m leading I use the GPS displayed speed as my guide. I do this because it’s more accurate (spot-on military precision, good enough to deliver a JDAMS is good enough for me) and because my GPS obscures my speedo Since most speedos read around 10% fast, I’m pretty sure my GPS 60 mph was showing up as 65 mph to the other guys. Then there’s the passig. Traffic was light, but we still hit a car about every 10 minutes or so. Luckily there were few enough cars coming in the other direction, and most cars were singletons so we usually didn’t have to wait more than 30 seconds to get an opening to pass. For safety these passes were done with throttle WFO and I saw 80 mph often enough to add a little spice to the ride.
We rode this perfect road for over 3 hours. We stopped for scenic pictures, but not really as much as we had promised. It had pretty much the perfect geometry for the FZ1 and Hayabusa. Long, sweeping turns ranging from 25 to 40 mph, mostly marked at 35 mph. Almost no straight sections in between the turns; just turns linked to turns linked to turns. Once again the GPS has proven to be my most useful motorcycle gizmo. By setting the zoom on the GPS map correctly, I could watch the next two upcoming turns out of the corner of my eye. After a few miles I had a lock on how the real world turn (and it’s speed marking) compared to what the picture on the GPS showed me. Even though I had never rode this section of Skyline Dr. before, it was almost like I was on a local road that I had memorized in a hundred rides. I *knew* what the exit of each turn looked like, and I knew what the next turn was so I could set my speed accordingly and plan my passing. I’m sure some of the maggots will claim that the GPS is an unnecessary crutch that is turning my brain into tapioca and allowing dumb people to breed. Fuck them! GPS on a bike is a must-have.
Another bit of technological marvelousness: I am listening to mp3’s on my Apple iPod Touch. The Touch has a new feature called “Genius” that supposedly generates playlists for you based around a seed song. I hand it a song called “Lehigh Valley 353.” It’s a modern take on the old ridin’ the rails hobo across the heartland of the USA type song. I’m hoping the iPod will understand that I’m riding along a classic American road through rural VA. Amazingly it does! It hands me a huge playlist full of Woody Guthrie and Aaron Copeland music, plus some Americana-rock like Simon & Garfunkle’s “America,” Kansas’ “Song for America,” etc. It’s amazing. I’m a computer engineer, and it’s still nagging me how this little iPod has enough musical taste information to do this.
Later in the afternoon, with a million scenic overlooks to stop at and take pictures we pull into the ONE parking area in the whole of Skyline Drive with absolutely no view. Scenic misfire. However, there is always amusement when riding with the maggots, and while we all stand around blathering Chris Ferrari’s Speed Triple proceeds to take a piss right there in the parking lot. About 12 ounces of bright green coolant dribble out near the backside of his engine (apparently his bike has prostate issues, since the stream was weak). To me it looks like it came out of the location of the coolant overflow hose, but Chris and SS look closer and insist that it’s coming from a spot up on the engine. If it’s overflow, it’s nothing. especially since the engine was just serviced and the coolant was topped off and this is the first time the bike was run really hot. If it’s from an engine gasket it could be bad mojo.
Chris is pissed. He has been a bit puzzled as to why he is named “Mr. Furious,” and it started right here. He demonstrated a level of public anger that was about one click, maybe 1.5 clicks above what one would consider socially normal. One “fuck” or “goddam” would be expected. Three is just a teensy bit too much, but not into the “take a Valium” level. Plus he whips out the camera to document the incident for Triumph. Take note of that. Do not cross Mr. Furious and expect to get away with it. There WILL be evidence.
We exit Skyline Drive at dusk. Skyline ends, and the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at a notch in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where there is a break in the trees and gorgeous vistas off in both directions from the ridgeline. It’s decision time: Do we go on and ride the BRP for an hour, or do we bug out onto the highway and head to Troutville “the easy way.” On the plus side, if we ride the BRP now we will have the first 40-50 miles of the Blue Ridge “in the bag” for tomorrow. It’s very unlikely that we will backtrack in the morning, so this is really our chance to hit the first few miles so that we have a shot at our “Blue Ridge Patch,” for having rode the entire length of the Parkway. On the negative side, it is dusk. It will be dark in minutes. Do we really want to ride the BRP in the dark? With curves and deer? It’s also getting cold. In the end fatigue and cowardice win out and we drop off the Blue Ridge mountains and onto the highway.
Highway riding is highway riding, at least on a clear, cool day. One gas stop and one high speed blast to the far side of 100 mph (maggot rule: you must “do the ton” at least once on every maggot ride, like a Samurai must blood his Katana every time it is drawn) and about one hour later we are at Evil Bill’s planned stop in Troutville VA.
Evil Bill has a thing about Holiday Inn Express. Maybe he owns stock. Maybe he gets points. Maybe it’s the deep senior citizens discount. Whatever it is, when he plans the stops you WILL be staying at Holiday Inn Express. This one ain’t too bad. It’s a plain old highway motel of the early ‘80’s vintage, with the major advantage that it is across the parking lot from a Cracker Barrel. It has the major disadvantage of being in a DRY COUNTY. There should be a maggot rule banning dry county stops. This one bit MJ last year, so we were warned. I used up a significant portion of my motorcycle luggage to counter this problem. One liter of Bombay Sapphire Gin, one half liter of Bulleit Bourbon, 375 ml of Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth, one jar of olives, one shaker, a cocktail shaker, a jigger, and six plastic martini glasses. As everyone de-suited into street clothes for dinner, I mixed and poured. Evil Bill made it clear that I was “A God-damned jewel” It’s good to server a useful purpose.
Ideally I would have preferred to stay at one of the more traditional 1950’s style motels that we passed along Route 11 off the highway. The one-story kind where you pull your vehicle up to the door, under the awning. These are perfect for maggots, since you can part on the “porch” with a cooler and drink while watching the world go by. I think in future Evilcades I’ll push for this, especially since in a dry county you don’t need to stop at a place within walking distance of a bar because there ARE NO BARS.
Cracker Barrel for dinner. Gotta love a place that will make you two eggs over easy, hash browns, and sugar cured ham at 9:30 PM. Some of us had been on the road for almost 12 hours, and the cozy white-supremist gemutlichkeit of the Cracker Barrel hit the spot. Service was a tad slow, but WTF we pulled in 20 minutes before closing. Still, Bill threatened the waiter with “don’t make me release EVIL on you!” I’m sure the waiter was thinking “don’t make me bury you up to your neck in a pen with starving hogs.” Either that or he spit in Evil’s decaf. I wouldn’t touch the “country style white gravy” after that either.
Back to the H.I.E. for more Martinis, Bourbon, and a bowl of mother nature or two. It was only AFTER breaking the law that someone noticed security cameras all over the place. Great! There goes the political careers of 4 maggots. I mean 3. Evil Bill is clean.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Reason #4 to stay at H.I.E: Free breakfast. Later on Mr. Furious will note that none of the breakfast foods are portable (no granola bars, only fruit is squishy, non-saddlebag-friendly bananas…). The theory goes that the truckers will steal the stuff for lunch. God knows some of US tried to pack our luggage with stuff.
Plan B needs to decide: Get right back on the highway and head home, or follow us to the Blue Ridge and go home via the BRP and possibly Skyline again in reverse. Vague plans are made to meet him at some state park in Maryland on Friday night, where he’s going camping with (among others) The Zar. Steve chooses the honorable path and escorts us to the nearest entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. He goes North, we go South. The time is about 9:00 AM. That is not a late start for the Maggots, unless you are aiming to ride the entire remaining length of the Blue Ridge Parkway before the end of the day. Cue ominous music.
BRP vs. Skyline: In my opinion, Skyline is better. There, I said it. Before you flame me, I must defend myself. Skyline is better, but the BRP is still one of the best roads in the whole USA. To use a food analogy: It’s like Skyline is Peter Lugars and the BRP is Ruth’s Chris. Both are awesome, but one is just that much awesomer. Another caveat is that this applies only to the first 300 miles of the BRP; more on that later.
The geometry of the BRP is just a little less curvy than Skyline. There are more 45 mph turns and fewer 20 mph turns. That’s it. That’s the only reason. See, not a big deal.
Scenery on the BRP is more varied than on Skyline. The Blue Ridge runs right through many farms and communities that look like they come straight out of Life magazine’s view of Perfect America. The farms are picture-perfect. When riding in PA and WV you come across a lot of farms that are clearly struggling. Run down. Tarpaper shacks and beat up trailers. On the BRP the farms look like they are owned by retired executives and run as a hobby and/or a bed & breakfast. If that’s not the case, then there are a LOT of affluent farmers living in Virginia and North Carolina. Makes for great scenery.
On a whim I notice that the GPS is showing me some insanely twisty roads leading off to the left. I’m leading the remaining maggots, so I hit the blinker and take us up what turns out to be Roanoke Mountain. It’s a 10-mile single lane strip of perfect asphalt with many 5 mph turns on it. Yes, 5 mph. It’s really a paved hiking path. I wuss out and refuse to try to hammer the bike. There are old trees millimeters from the pavement, which does not appear to be wide enough to accommodate many cars. Doubleplus fun!
In a nod to Chris we pull off later at a promising scenic overlook. One thing you don’t realize on much of the BRP is that you’re riding at the top of a pretty high ridge. These farms and meadows are at the top of a mountain. For long stretches it seems flat and you forget. Then you stop at a scenic overlook and realize you’re 4,000 feet up and there is a gorgeous view of the entire Shenandoah Valley spread out below. At one such stop we must have caught the attention of this motorcycle riding couple from Detroit. I use “motorcycle” loosely, since she was on a Can Am 3-wheel thing. Not exactly a bike. He was on an Electra Glice. She must have seen us, thought “if they’re taking pictures then it must be something great to see” (HAH! how little she knows of us). She slams on the brake, and so does he…
…Now is the time to mention something else about the BRP and Skyline: The road engineering. It’s very well done. The curves are banked like a NASCAR cirtuit. While you’re riding them you don’t notice, other than the fact that it’s so easy to swoop through the turns, and sometimes you can really feel the g-forces build. However, if you were to stop, on the wrong part of the curve, with a near-900 pound bike, and short legs…
…You would flop over. Like Mr. Detroit Harley did. He must have just stuck out his foot expecting it to meet pavement, only to find that it was still a foot below his sole. Tiiiiiim-beeeeeer! It’s a nothing fall, landing on the case protectors. He uses his mighty Harley-muscles to hoist the bike back up but it won’t start. Apparently FI Harleys have a anti-tip sensor that cuts out the fuel pump for a few minutes after a tipover. Sitting dead in the middle of the BRP is no place for a $20,000 bike, so we help him push the bike into the pullout of the scenic overlook. His wife on the 3-wheeler just puts it into reverse and glides backwards to meet us. Nice.
By 1:00 we stop at the one and only (as far as I can tell) rest stop on the BRP. It USED to have gas, but now it’s only a restaurant, camping supply store, and visitor’s center. Now is the time for another food analogy. No, we did not get lunch (although Mr. Furious wanted a hamburger in a bad way… lay on some FAT sir, and you can survive more than 3 hours between meals!). To beat the steakhouse analogy to death: imagine your friends take you to a steakhouse that has the most awesome prime rib. There’s a catch, though: they won’t let you out of the restaurant until you clean your plate of every serving. “Bring it on!” you say. “I LOVE prime rib.” So they bring out a 48-ounce King Ludwig Cut. You chow down, thrilled at this feast. You’re just mopping up the juices when the waiter comes out with ANOTHER plate. “Here’s your second 48-ounces” he tells you. Second? Ummm… how many are there? This is about how I felt as I compared the GPS estimate to our destination and what Evil Bill was about to say. “One more after this!” says the waiter. THREE 48-ounce helpings of prime rib? Could that maybe be just a tad too much?
That’s how I felt, at 1 PM and kinda shagged out after 4 hours of great riding (and 4 martinis last night). GPS says we’ve got like 2 hours to go, but Evil Bill says: “We are not getting to Cheokee until after dark.” Cue the organ music of impending doom. It’s becoming clear that the remaining 6 hours of riding on perfect roads might not be quire as enjoyable as the first 4. Add to this the fact that the day is no longer perfect. It’s a hair shy of perfect. It’s gotten colder. Not cold enough to make you shiver, but enough to make you think that maybe plain leather gloves aren’t cutting it. The sun is gone too. It’s now a steel-grey overcast, and that’s just not as nice as sun & puffy white clouds.
I can’t speak for the other maggots, but I had a slight change in mood after that. Instead of relaxed enjoyment of the ride, with a feeling that there was no hurry and we could stop wherever we wanted, I now had a nagging feeling of urgency. For most of the rest of the day I wasted some of my brain that could have been spent musing on the scenery, the road, the wind. It got switched over to a background process that said “gotta make time gotta make time gotta make time…”
Oh, and the GPS let me down. I had programmed in the hotel in Cherokee NC as a destination, but not a route. This destroyed the accuracy of the GPS ETA estimate. Here’s why: The BRP is NOT the fast way to Cherokee, so the GPS estimate of arrival time was based on it’s mindless little plan to jump off the BRP at the next possible cross street and get on the Interstate that would take us straight to the Indian Casino. That meant that at our “lunch” stop the GPS was telling me 2 hours to Cherokee, and Evil Bill was saying 6.
On top of that we were running out of gas. There is NO gas on the BRP. None. There are NO gas stations that you can see at any of the crossroads. Evil Bill lies about this fact. There comes a point that I am riding on fumes, and if I’m on fumes, how the hell are those guys on the notoriously short-ranged Speed Triples still moving? I punch in the GPS to find us the nearest gas station, which it does dutifully. 8 miles off the highway, 16 mile roundtrip at a point that I’m getting antsy about making time.
The gas station is in Boone NC. I experience a certain dissonance watching the roadside scenery to and from Boone. This area looks a lot like what we see around Terra Alta WV when riding with Bing, and it feels remote and rural, even backwoods. However, there are lots of affluent looking businesses lining the road. Case in point: there is a Nissan dealer apparently doing a booming business in 350Z’s, which are about $50K and more what I expect us City Folk to be interested in. Odd, that.
At the gas station itself, we get a full view of Evil Bill and Mr. Furious. Partly I take this as evidence that they have taken the same reduction in positive mood that I have. Partly it’s due to the fact that all the credit card slots on all the pumps are taped over with packing tape. You hae to go inside and prepay, which is unheard of these days. Also the girls behind the counter don’t seem to be able to grok the concept of someone wanting to fill up the gas tank and not wanting some exact dollar amount of gasoline. It goes like this:
girl: “How much gas you want?”
Mr. F: “Fill it up”
girl: “How many dollars”
Mr. F: “Just fill it up”
girl: “That would be how much money?”
(this goes on a few more times, demonstrating that communications are clearly broken)
Mr. F: “Just take my Fuckin’ credit card and hold it and turn on the Fuckin’ pump!”
We have clearly cemented any opinion the people of Boone NC might have gotten about NJ by watching The Sopranos. Sometimes you just fall into your own stereotype. The hilarious thing is that pretty much the exact same exchange happens with Evil Bill. It’s as if the girls behind the counter hadn’t just gone through this 10 seconds before! But wait! It gets even better! 10 sedonds before Mr. Furious, *I* had gone in and handed them my credit card and told them to hold the card and turn on the pump so I could fill up. The look in their eyes told me they didn’t quite understand what was going on, but when presented with direct orders and no room for thought they had just acted for me. So THREE times they are presented with the same scenario, with the solution worked out for them the first time, and both subsequent times they fail to make the same kind of connection that a Labrador presented with an invisible fence can make.
For the rest of the day we ride the BRP. It gets better as we go South, and we get to ride some wild sections clinging agoraphobically to the edge of the ridge. We also get hit with some detours, the worst of which comes at the last 80 miles. It takes us precipitously down the side of the mountain, on some scary steep switchbacks and dumps us in a nondescript NC mountain town. The detour signs go on for maybe 30 miles, putting us on I-40 towards Knoxvill TN until they disappear. We can’t get back on the BRP, and it’s getting late. I’m leading, and I take the Logistical Officer command decision to just follow the GPS straight to Cherokee. Apparently this cuts off the best part of the BRP, but at that point I’m done for and it looks like my riding compatriots are wiped out mentally and physically as well. They do seem to get spooked by the fact that the highway signs are telling us that we’re on our way to Knoxille, but GPS turns out to be faithful and gets us on the most direct road to Cherokee.
There is one last rest stop just off the Interstate, just to talk and re-evaluate our gear. The sky has spit some rain on us, but not enough to justify a switch to rain gear. Evil Bill tries to hose-clamp his right rear turnsignal back on the bike as it gets looser and more dangly by the mile. There is visible relief on the faces of the maggots when I tell them that the GPS puts us 15 miles from our hotel.
The last ride into Cherokee is on a 4-lane undivided highway crammed with businesses geared towards vacationers to the Great Smokey Mountains. It reminds me of Route 9 around Lake George in NY. Motels, amusement parks, miniature gold, outlet stores… all embedded in majestic wooded mountains.
Things get significantly seedier as soon as we cross the sign that says “Welcome to the Chrokee Native American Reservation” (or something like that). It’s not nearly as bad as the Navajo reservations in Arizona, which make Camden NJ look like a garden spot. It’s just maybe two notches more run down than the vacationland we had just rode through. To put it in perspective, I will NOT go back to the Navajo reservations in AZ for any reason. I’d go back to Cherokee any time.
Once again we stay at a Holiday Inn Express. This one is right across the street from the Harrah’s Indian Casino, and brand new. It’s one of those modern businessman hotels where your room door accesses the inside hall, not the outdoor walkway. One odd thing: The very weird looking woman behind the counter who checked us in asked us if we knew how to work the shower. My brain said “Yes, you goober! I’m from a civilized part of the country where we ALL have indoor plumbing.” Luckily my mouth said “Gee, if you have to ask that question that must mean there’s something funny about it so show us.” It turns out to be nothing too strange, just a nonstandard way of activating the showerhead. Oh, and about the person behind the counter: I can’t tell if she has a pregnancy with bizarre medical complications or the oddest potbelly I’ve ever seen on a human, let alone a woman. In these situations it’s best to keep your mouth shut, which I (uncharacteristically) do.
After de-suiting, a phone call home and two martinis later we head out on foot across the street to the Harrah’s Indian Casino. I guess nobody told them it had to be renamed the Harrah’s Native American Casino. I’m sure they’ll get around to that. Or maybe it’s owned by a holding company in Mumbai. Apparently the Indians are friendly, because instead of running us over in the Jersey barrier chute, the employee shuttle picks us up and gives us a ride.
The maggots are starving. The casino has two sit-down restaurants, high-end and low-end. We go straight to the high-end one, and are summarily kicked out. They claim they have a huge party coming in and can’t seat us. I know it’s prejudice against bikers. We end up in the low end room, which is pretty much equivalent to a Denny’s. It turns out to be exactly what I needed; burger and onion rings after nothing but fruit and powerbars all day.After a long ride, this is gourmet.
Evil Bill and Mr. Furious are intent on some Casino action. I’m no gamble, but I tag along. The Casino itself is pretty large and tastefully decorated in an Injun motif. It’s about equivalent to the Foxwoods Indian Casino in Connecticut. Better than some of the crappier Las Vegas casinos (I’m looking at YOU, Orleans). One major problem brings them down: It is 100% slot machines. There are NO table games. The other two maggots go to what LOOKS like blackjack tables, with a “dealer.” However, these are really just blackjack slot machines embedded into the table. No cards. The dealer “deals’ you your cards by pushing a button. Lame. The maggots lose $100 each in about 30 seconds and it’s time to go home.
Back at the H.I.E. we set up shop at the pool to finish off the Gin and smoke cigars. Once we are dry (in a dry town because no alcohol is sold on the reservation – wonder why?) we call it a night. Exhausted.
And then there were two. Friday and time to part ways. Evil will continue South and we will turn back North. But first Mr. F and I will head West by South to ride through Deal’s Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.
We’d been watching the weather and knew this was coming. It poured buckets all night, which kinda sucked since I left the thermal liner to my Vanson jacket out with the empty Gin bottle all night so it was soaked. Not a big loss for now because it was still pissing rain and I was going to need by rainsuit. Layering the waterproof non-breathable rainsuit over my leathers would keep me warm for now. The weather report called for drizzle on and off all day in the Great Smokies, but no rain up in Maryland where we were headed. We were guaranteed suboptimal weather for Deal’s Gap, but at some point along the trek Northward it would clear up. The question is when?
The ride to Deal’s Gap is on roads which are arguably better than either the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive. After a mistaken turn & u-turn out of the hotel parking lot we were on our way through tight, tight twisties for almost the last 40 miles leading to the Gap. As predicted it drizzled on and off, but Deal’s Gap is such a motorcycle mecca that we weren’t going to blow it off just because of wet roads. For the most part we could take the turns pretty quickly, riding at about 60% of nominal. Still fun. Any time I saw leaves on the road I brought it WAY down. Early on, once or twice I felt the contact patch go greasy under the wet leaves, and I did not want to have to call for a flatbed 800 miles from home.
The road gets progressively twistier and twistier as you approach the Gap, and you start to see places with names like “The Iron Horse Pub” and “So-and-so’s Motorcycle Ranch.” This truly is motorcycle country. A lot of the ride is past what I believe are two separate reservoirs or possibly TVA hydroelectric projects. At the first one Chris asks for a photo stop to get a picture of the dramatically drought-stricken lake. Just before the last turns into Deal’s Gap there is the arm of another lake with huge Penstocks rising what looks like 1,000 feet up the ridge. Definitely a hydro facility. They look old, pre-WW-II but in well maintained state.
We know we’re in Deal’s Gap when we see the famous sign for the Tail of the Dragon Campground. It’s a motorcycles-only place, and the sign has been run in so many magazine articles I recognize it instantly. Of course we must stop for more pictures. The Tail of the Dragon itself looks a bit disappointing. Magazine articles gave the impression that it was a big place on many acres. In reality it’s tucked into a cramped notch in the mountain. It looks claustrophobic and just a bit dumpy. It would be a good place for a maggot visit! They have a shop stocking sport-touring accessories and souveniers, but we don’t stop. Shame, that, but I want to get into the Gap.
Deal’s Gap is exactly as you’ve heard. 11 miles of relentless switchback turns. Think of the ride up the twisty hill on Route 50 on the Red Rocks Run near Club Bing West. Those are the *widest* turns on The Dragon. Now sprinkle in about an equal number of total hairpins plus every kind of turn in between. Now imagine that it’s drizzling and there are wet leaves on 1/3 of the turns and you get the picture. I am not proud of the speed I rode. We did pass two guys on Harleys, but we were in turn passed by a guy on a Honda VFR. However, he did not zoom away from us. After passing, he walked away slowly. One amazing thing is that an 18-wheel tractor trailer (labeled with some tire maker’s logo – Bridgeston, I think) was coming the OTHER WAY. Incredible! I do not think it’s possible for an 18-wheeler to negotiate Deal’s Gap, but apparently he did. I’m betting he was carrying motorcycle tires to the sport-touring accessory shop at the other end.
When we came through the other side of the gap I experienced another emotional letdown like I did at lunchtime on the BRP. The Gap was behind me, I had rode it on a crappy day, and now I had over 600 miles of highway slogging to get to a promised meeting with Plan B at some campground in Maryland. A thought went through my mind. Another analogy, but this time not about food. Pick your favorite unattainable ultra-hottie. I’ll use Uma Thurman for my purposes. Imagine that through some miracle you’ve arranged a date with Uma, and she’s made it clear she wants sex with you as part of the deal. That was the weeks leading up to the ride of Deal’s Gap. As the assigned day approaches, she let’s you know that it’s kinda sorta maybe “her time of the month” coming up. On the night of the date, you find out it is indeed that time. Do you go through with it, even though “conditions are suboptimal?” Well, if you were Uma’s steady boyfriend or if you lived within an hour of Deal’s Gap, probably not. You’d have a nice dinner as “Plan B.” If this is possibly a once in a lifetime experience, you bet your sweet ass you go for it. That was the feeling as we saw the deteriorating weather report and then rode through imperfect weather to the gap. Uma, I hope I get to do you again next year, under better conditions.
Getting out of the Great Smokies was a reverse of the process getting in. The roads got progressively less twisty, the towns came closer together. Eventually we reached Knoxville TN, where GPS farted in my face again. The highways in Knoxville are under massive reconstruction and none of the exits matched the GPS internal map. I had to (*gasp!*) read the road signs to get on the proper highway towards I-81.
The Long, Slow(?) Distance…
(apologies to the Dixie Dregs)
Just outside of Knoxville we needed gas and food. Mr. Furious was looking a bit wilted too. Where to stop? Cracker Barrel! If we had eaten there in Cherokee we could have made this the Cracker Barrel trip. Peeled out of the raingear and tried to thaw out while eating breakfast at Noon. Chris was much colder than I was, and the fact that they put us near a drafty window was driving him into a Fury. Note: while we were there a group of about 8 bikers showed up. I neglect to mention that even in the bad weather we saw lots of bikers in Cherokee on Thursday and on the roads near Deal’s Gap on Friday. Only 3 other bikes *in* the gap, but lots on the roads around the Gap. Cool.
After lunch we threw on extra layers and headed out for the long highway ride North. I handled the ride by cueing up podcasts on my iPod. Libtard NPR stuff like This American Life, Studio 360, Radiolab, and Car Talk. Each one lasts just under an hour and they help to pass the time on a boring highway. I was reasonably warm inside my raingear, but even the waterproof overgloves over my leather motorcycle gloves could not keep my hands warm, and they definitely started to claw up. I get the impression that Chris was hurting. He was a tad cranky but somewhere along I-81 the Stoicism of the Road kicked in. It comes when you realize you’ve got a long way to go still, but that the suffering is not getting any worse. It’s when you decide to just tough it out. This is a good thing, and you couldn’t do a multi-day motorcycle tour without it.
The rain was on and off. Sometimes it got to the point that the road was actually dry, but sometimes it came down hard (though only for a few miles). The biggest problem was visibility. A misty drizzle fogs your visor much worse than hard rain, which runs off. I tried to keep it to about 80 mph but too often I’d get lulled by the drone of the road and just fall in behind a car and follow them at whatever speed they were going, usually around 70. This did not make Chris happy, and he would grab the lead and run it back up to 80.
This went on for hours.
We made good mileage though, and by the second or third gas stop we were in Staunton VA. Mark your maps, because this is where the sky cleared up, just in time for dusk! The sunset was beautiful, mainly because we could see it.
Stopped at a gas station in Staunton because A) we needed gas, and B) it was getting REALLY cold. At least to us, damp and in the wind. I think it had dropped into the high 40’s. Waling into the gas station to get coffee and a snack Chris was shivering like a Chihuahua. There were some college girls chatting by the coffee machines, and they gave us the fisheye as we pulled off our rain and cold gear. I giggled uncontrollably form fatigue and the weird juxtaposition of us looking like some Everest expedition and them in short sleeves.
Back on the road, with the sun setting, Chris chose to do a Bad Thing. Among the $1,000 of touring equipment he’d bought for this trip was a bar mounted movie camera. He’d been catching video of our rides on Skyline, the BRP, and Deal’s Gap. All of it pure gold, I’m sure. With the sun setting behind the chiaroscura of clouds in the West he chose to attempt to remove the camera from its SECURE mount and point it at me to get a dramatic shot.
This is not a task one should attempt with frozen claw-like hands. He dropped the camera.
I didn’t see it. 5 miles later he pulls ahead and leads me off the exit. On the ramp he tells me what happened. He wants to ride back and look for the camera. On the road. In the dark. I’m a dick, so I tell him I’ll wait for him at this here gas station.
I make some calls to Bing and Steve. Still planning to meet him camping. Have a Red Bull and a bag of pretzels. After about 20 minutes Chris is back. Or should I say, Mr. Furious.
I am treated to the biggest display of thundering rage I have ever seen. Ever. There is cursing. There is punching. There is the ripping off of the Velcro-attached crappy windshield he’d bought followed by an attempt to break it into pieces (futile – it’s Lexan). Finally he scrapes it all over the ground, violently, and snaps a picture of it with his hand giving the digitus impudicus to send to the manufacturer. It is totally amusing, and I have to bite my lip to keep from breaking out in laughter because I know that will NOT improve the situation. It’s a pretty shitty thing that happened, and I don’t want to make it worse, but I can’t help but feel there is a huge nugget of humor buried in the shitpile. Remember my theory (oft stated) that we most remember the rides where things – BAD things – happen to us? I’m thinking the Mr. Furious is making memories to last a lifetime.
By 9 PM we’re done for. OK, Chris is more done for than me, but it’s clear that we’ve gotta stop, and we’re NOT going to meet Steve an hour West and South off a dirt road. The Maryland border is there, and Hagerstown has a lot of hotels.
This time NO Holiday Inn Express. Instead it’s Springhill Suites. Some residual anger burbles in Mr Furious towards the check-in guy, but we manage to get a room right off the lobby in short order. At this point even I am starving, so we head out for food. There are a dozen restaurants around this part of Hagerstown, which is like some kind of open air mall. Mr. F just wants something fast to take back to the room so the desk clerk points us towards Taco Bell.
Franz Kafka’s Taco Bell.
It’s only about a ile away, and it’s the first time I’m riding without the GPS in 3 days so it’s the first time that I can see my oil pressure light pop on when I accelerate hard. YIKES! How long has THIS been going on?
Pull into Taco Bell, dismount, go inside. Taco Bell employees look… shocked? Manager says “you didn’t lock the door! Who let them in?” Wha? It’s about 9:30. Don’t Taco Bell’s advertise “fourthmeal?” (“You’re not fat enough! You need an extra meal each day! Eat fourthmeal at Taco Bell!”) We say as much, and the manager informs us that they are indeed still open but only for drive through, not counter service.
“OK,” says Mr. Furious. “I’ll have a…”
“No. I can’t serve you in here” says the manager
“Because we can only server drive through”
“Just ring me up on the drive through register”
“Nope. Can’t do that.”
“But I CAN SEE THE REGISTER RIGHT THERE”
“That’s only for drive through”
“FUCKIN RING ME UP NOW OR…”
Time for a soothing voice. I jump in:
“OK, we’ll just walk around outside and go to the drive through window.”
“No you won’t.” says the manager
“WHAT?” says me, getting into the Furious thing
“We can only serve you on a motor vehicle”
At this point I’m starting to see that nugget of humor in the shitpile of Soviet Bureaucracy and I have to suppress giggles again. Chris’ head is ready to explode, but I hustle him outside and back onto the bike so that we can order food. I’m muttering that this is Kafkaesque as we head out the door, but I don’t think the staff at Taco Bell know who Franz Kafka was or how his writing applies to them.
Back at Springhill Suites we chow doen on our fast food and stock up on beer from the lobby convenience store (yippee! no more dry towns! God Bless Maryland). Around this time I broke it to Chris that his maggot name was probably going to be Mr. Furious. He got the reference to the Ben Stiller character in the movie Mystery Men, but insisted that it was Captain Furious. A bet is made as to who is right.
In the morning, over free hotel breakfast, I note that they have a few computers set up in the lobby with access to the Interwebs. A quick check of IMDB wins the bet for me.
It’s even colder in the AM, but perfectly clear and sunny. We’ve got maybe 2.5 hours ride to get to NJ, which is our reward for riding 12 hours the day before. I add a half a quart of oil to make my oil light stay off, which seems to do the trick.
With a late start and so little ground to cover we make Hamburg PA close enough to Noon to justify going into Cabelas for lunch and to ogle the amazingly huge selection of taxidermy and outdoor equipment they have there. I’ve been there 10 times, but that place still amazes me.
When we hit the Allentown PA area I lead us up Route 22 so that I can peel off and visit Scrounger in Nazareth. Chris keeps going to get to his girlfriends place near the Delaware Water Gap. The ScroungeFamily is not yet home from a Halloween parade, but through the wonders of the cell-phone I know to hang out in the driveway for 15 minutes until they get home. My reward is a hot meal off the ScroungeGrill. Eventually they trhow me out and I get home by mid afternoon,
Ramapo MC Fall Foliage Run
While I was on Evilcade my wife and kids went to visit family in Maryland. They wouldn’t be home until late Sunday, so I decided to join BOTA, Thinker, and MJ on the Ramapo MC fall foliage run out of Elmsford NY. Since this was a “short” ride I decided to take the Ducati.
The morning dawned clear and crisp. Crisp as in below freezing. I bundled up in multiple layers, which makes it a bit hard for a chubby guy to curl up into a Ducati crouch but I’m willing to give it a go. The run starts at some “El Toro” diner off 287 on the East side of the Tappan Zee. Turns out there are TWO diners of the same name, owned by the same people. Guess which one I stopat? I manage to eat a quick breakfast before realizing that there should be more bikers here for this big run. More than just me, that is. I ask the waitress and she points me to the correct diner, about one mile away.
Rolling into the correct diner (as witnessed by the 100+ bikes in the parking lot) I wave hello to the other fly yellow Ducati Superbike apparently identical to mine, and almost run over MJ. Eventually Thinker shows up on his newly scratched up K1200GT followed by BOTA sporting his new post-divorce girlfriend on the bike, along with a half dozen little silver bells that just scream “gay biker.” Apparenlty they’re some kind of good luck charm, or their placement tells other gay bikers which form of deviant sex you prefer. One of those two things.
We dawdle over coffee until we’re the last riders left. Ramapo MC provides a guide if you ask for it, and thank Spokus we did. Got their Ride Captain to lead us on the most complicated path you could imagine through Westchester NY and parts of CT. They had ride sheets for us, but there is no way in a million years we could have followed them. It was basically a ride through residential streets, with a turn every ¼ mile. After Evilcade, it wasn’t even that amusing a ride. Stop, regroup, look for traffic, turn. Stop, regroup, look for traffic, turn. Over and over.
The ride ended at a neat little burger joint in Connecticut. We hung out and had a snack and headed for home. One final noteworthy incident: First, the guy on the other yellow Ducati (which turned out to be a 748, not a 996) had left knowing that he had a dead battery. Some of the other riders helped him push start his bike. Then, with almost nobody left in the parking lot a guy on a Gold Wing (a fookin’ GOLD WING) asks me for a jump start. This is humorous for two reasons. First, it’s like a Pekingese humping a Saint Bernard. Second, Honda Gold Wings are considered among the most reliable bikes in the world, and 2002 Ducati 996’s are considered among the LEAST reliable bikes in the world. Next time some Honda CBR rider says he thinks my bike is kinda cool but he’d never be able to own something that was so hard to keep running, I’ll tell him about this. Lucky for the Gold Winger that the 996 body work is attached with quick release dzus fittings, making a 30 second job to strip the fairing off and get at the battery.
The ride home is uneventful, if cold and cramped on the Duc. An anodyne to the excitement of the past 5 days.
Oh, and Chris a.k.a. “Mr. Furious?” He’s disputing his name, but I’ll tell you this: Ask him how he broke his hand. On Sunday morning. Leaving his girlfriend’s house on the bike. He made an attempt to spin the rear tire on her dirt/gravel driveway, and the bike got away from him (DAMN those wet leaves!). The bike went down and so did he. Did he break his hand in the fall?
Broke his hand punching the bike. This is not the actions of “Mr. Calm.” So Mr. Furious he is!
This was a damn good ride. I wouldn’t change a thing that was in my power to change. The weather on Friday was poor, but that’s an act of God. I wouldn’t change the route, or the distance planned each day. Even the “bad” day (Friday) was memorable. A little long, a little hardship, but well worth the effort for the payoff. Maybe, *maybe* I might have pushed harder to meet Steve at the campground, but I fear that would have been asking for trouble in more ways than one.
Even though the trip was front loaded with the good weather and “good” roads, the highway ride at the end served to make the mountain roads at the beginning all the more special.
I look forward to the next Evilcade. you should too.