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The South and the End.

August 3, 2010

Our trip through the South was very quick and we made only a few strategically selected stops. Throughout, the heat and humidity were oppressive. If we closed our helmet visors, we would sweat bullets underneath, if we opened them, it was like driving through a blast furnace. We did not want to linger, and preferred indoor attractions.

St. Louis

Here is a Good Tip we learned for anyone planning a long distance MC trip. Since tires from dealerships are very expensive, you want to try to plan ahead for tire changes. So, in your tool kit pack a tire tread depth gauge, and monitor the rate of tire wear you are getting on the trip for the first few thousand miles. Use that rate of wear to figure out where you will need tires sent. While in Wyoming, I had determined that I would need new tires before the end of the trip, and so I ordered ahead and had the new tires shipped to a Honda dealer in St. Louis. By pre-arrangement with the dealer, they agreed to receive the tires for me and install them once I arrived. The arrangement worked perfectly although I did have a scare when the dealer could not locate the tires that UPS said had been delivered. We located them after a brief search in the adjoining auto dealership. My prediction had been pretty good and I only had to throw away a few hundred miles of good tread.

After installing the new tires in 100 degree heat, we repaired to a hotel for some AC. After the afternoon heat broke we headed into town for some sightseeing and visited the Gateway Arch–an amazing structure.

Gateway Arch

We were not too claustrophobic to take the tram to the observation floor at the top.

Arch Top

The whole thing was an engineering marvel.

Westward

Eastward

That is a very full Mississippi River down there, only two or three inches from washing over the banks.

 

 

 

 

Memphis

Our only two missions in Memphis were to visit Graceland and eat ribs. We didn’t really know what to expect at Graceland and were surprised at the feel of it. Although gaudily appointed, it was not in the least ostentatious, and had a warm, lived-in look and feel.

Graceland

Living Room

The King

Jungle Room

Elvis had a LOT of gold records.

A portion of the trophies.

From what we heard and saw in filmed interviews, EP seemed like a really nice boy! We saw no EP impersonators, but the stream of people flowing past the tombstones at the family gravesite right next to the house looked very serious in their devotion.

Fans

Our choice for ribs was the Rendezvous in downtown. We had little difficulty navigating to the alley, but did have to help a local policeman find it for us (he was just a little disoriented in his direction giving and cheerfully accepted gentle corrections from a tourist). The basement joint is in an alley, service is straightforward and quick and worth whatever detour you have to take to get there.

Rendezvous BBQ

Bustling.

Sooo good!

Well wasn’t that a barbecue!

We crossed the river to Arkansas, gassed up and headed for Leeds, Alabama.

 

 

 

Barber Motorsports Park

Our original itinerary had called for us to skim across the tops of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia on our way to a piece of road on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina–called the Dragon–legendary to motorcyclists. But we had been advised by several people not to focus so much on the Dragon, but we should not miss the Barber Motorsports Park a bit south of our route just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. We’re glad we took that advice.

The Barber museum is a must-see for any motorcycle enthusiast. On five huge floors are displayed hundreds of motorcycles (plus just a few racing cars) from the earliest days to the most modern and custom racing bikes made. We can’t say they have one of every bike ever made–notably absent was a sample of our CBF bikes–but the beauty, variety and ingenuity incorporated in the bikes on display is remarkable. From the glass rear window of the museum you get a good view of the motorcycle race track just outside. This was a maintenance weekend, so the track was quiet. Here are a few samples:

...Old...

...Gorgeous...

...Engineering marvels...

...Strange...

...even stranger...

...Custom racers...

Blue exhaust

...different front brake rotor...

Suitcase scooter folded up.

Suitcase Scooter Unfolded

Track outside

So many...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dragon

In between Tennessee and North Carolina, right along the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains Park there is an infamous stretch of road 11 miles long that incorporates 318 turns. The Dragon used to be a wild free-for-all for motorcyclists of all abilities eager to try their skills on a very demanding piece of road. Accidents occurring at a rate of two to three per weekend, a significant portion of them fatal led the local constabulary to increase their presence. There is one video of the Dragon showing not fewer than twelve police cars on that 11-mile stretch. So we had received conflicting advice. Some had said, skip the Dragon altogether–the police combined with the newly set speed limits made it not the thrill it once was. Instead we should try the Cherohala Skyway, a road offering much the same ride, but much less travelled. We couldn’t decide, so we did both.

The Cherohala Skyway was milder in terms of road challenge, but was very scenic. We caught it early enough in the morning to have an eerie covering of fog. It connected to the Dragon, so we turned off it and headed for the Deals Gap Motorcycle Ranch at the bottom of the Dragon.

Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort

Deals Gap Ranch

After checking into the scene at the ranch, we girded our loins and headed up the Dragon. Two turns in, we witnessed a bike coming the other way miss a turn and pile into a ditch. Four other riders ahead of us stopped to help. In a half-second glance we concluded a) he was not hurt, b) he had plenty of help, and c) frankly, it was not our problem. We continued racing up the road in fine form until… we caught up to a line of cars doping along at 15 mph behind a truck hauling a pontoon boat. We had no choice but to poke along behind. The speed limit on this road is 30 mph with some turns marked for 20. A good sport rider will do the entire stretch at not slower than 30, and averaging closer to 60. We judged that, loaded as we were, we would have been comfortable at not slower than 20 on the sharpest turns, and could have averaged 40. We were almost lapped by a guy on a bicycle heading up the road. It was a total yawn. We completed the run and turned around and headed back the other way. At the turnaround we saw 4 police cars engaged in police business, but we had not seen any out on the road on the way up. So this time we made good speed until we caught up to a pack of Harley riders doping along at the speed limit. Had there been only a couple, we might have taken the chance to pass illegally, but there were 6 of them, and there was really no point in trying. We stopped at one point to let them get ahead, but caught up to them very quickly. While behind them, we were passed by another biker who skillfully passed first one then another of us until Phhht! he was gone. We judged that he never got below 50!

When we reached the ranch again, we decided that there was just too much traffic to ensure an unobstructed third run, so we checked out the Tree of Shame

Tree of Shame

...more parts in the tree...

...even more...

where wrecked bike parts testify to the Dragon’s wrath, shopped at the T-shirt shop, and then gassed up and headed out.

But we survived the Dragon, and have T-shirts, stickers, a hat and a mug to prove it!

Dragon Slayers!

The Blue Ridge Parkway.

We had planned to return doing the entire stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway as our route home. And we made a good start, getting about 40 miles up. We stopped to watch a cloud fill up a valley below us and then turned around to see the same cloud spilling over the ridge where we stood.

Approaching cloud

A few more miles up the road and we were enveloped in wet cloud and couldn’t see more than 30 feet ahead. It was a good thing the lines on the road were brightly painted or we’d be up there still. We slowly made our way along until we saw a turnoff leading down the mountain, and when we got out from under the cloud we saw that we’d only made about 20 miles progress, and had over 450 miles to go. We quickly saw that we would not have time to do the whole thing, and we started hankering for home.

So, we decided to leave the Blue Ridge Parkway for another trip, and plotted course for a quick way home and took interstate highways the rest of the way. We stopped outside of DC for Sebastian to keep a dinner date with friends of his from the Internet, and the next day scooted on home.

And so here we are back where we started on May 21.  In another post we’ll assemble some of our statistics for the trip and continue to reflect.

–Peter.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Marty permalink
    August 5, 2010 4:10 pm

    You mean you’re home, HOME??!! What’s the next chapter…..and Willis wants to know how many tickets are in your back pocket!

  2. Cousin Glenn permalink
    August 5, 2010 4:19 pm

    Welcome home! It sounds like the trip of a lifetime. It was great to see both of you on your way out, and your posts kept me along for the ride. Well done.

  3. Debby permalink
    August 5, 2010 5:13 pm

    Welcome Home, Road Warriors! What are you gonna do for thrills now, and how long will it take to re-adapt to life at home?! I am gonna miss reading your blog for sure!

  4. Sky Cole permalink
    August 5, 2010 6:07 pm

    Be up this weekend to see photos and hear more details.

  5. David Langlois permalink
    August 5, 2010 6:55 pm

    Outstanding !!

    Nuttin’ more t’say, ‘cept I’m lookin’ forrard to seein’ youse both in parson t’ re-live it all.

  6. August 5, 2010 8:09 pm

    Glad you’re safe at home. It was such a pleasure being part of your journey. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  7. Jeff Jackson permalink
    August 6, 2010 9:39 am

    Glad you guys are making your way home. Just got back from a week in Gloucester with Lynn & Laura. Spencer came out on Monday afternoon, I spent Tues in Boston with my GF, who was on a family vacation in CT. Sorry to have missed you, hope to see you sometime in the near future. Have a great finish to your ride, Jeff

  8. jan smick permalink
    August 6, 2010 5:15 pm

    Ye be makin’ us Prairie Pirates right proud now! Welcome home, and no plank walkin’ for youse 2. Arggg!Jaundiced Jan

  9. Sky Cole permalink
    August 8, 2010 10:39 am

    So when are you all leaving again? Now that you’ve visited all 50 states I believe the next goal is to motorcycle in all 50 states. I know you’ve done Hawaii. And of course this most recent trip covers alot of ground. All of the Northest no doubt. What’s left?

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