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Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Tales from the Asphalt, Volume 1

Tales from the asphalt 

On the open highway, with the sun melting into the horizon, the man in black rides his steel horse out of the last remaining light, charging into the darkness at breakneck speed, seeking the warm glow and comfort of home, where his wife and children anxiously await his return.

I always wanted to write some cool intro like the ones you see in really great books. Welcome to my first “Tales from the Asphalt” story. The stories I’ll be sharing with you will be mine and mine alone and they will be stories of my personal experiences, observations and insights while I was out on my motorcycle. If I do share someone else’s story, they will be given full credit for the story, but the story telling will still be mine. I hope you enjoy… 

Volume 1, The King and the Dragon

That's me on my 2017 Harley-Davidson FLHRXS, riding the Tail of the Dragon, or as it's known by it's government name- US Highway 129 between Tennessee and North Carolina.  This picture was taken in the fall of 2019- just two years after picking up this beautiful machine from my local Harley-Davidson dealership. The photo creds, as you can see, go to Darryl Cannon, aka "Killboy" and if you ever have a chance to ride this amazing stretch of highway, make sure you go to his website and support him and the other photographers up there, by buying a cool picture of yourself. The Dragon is an 11 mile stretch of  highway that winds along the edge of the mountain, following every single curve... specifically, all 318 of them. On the Dragon, and several of the other stunningly beautiful roads in that area, riders from all walks of life are out in droves, riding everything from big touring bikes like mine, to the smallest "mini-moto" bikes, like the Honda Grom. The guys to watch out for though, are the Moto-GP wannabes. Those riders that seem to forget, or maybe just ignore the fact, that these roads are actually public roadways and not closed circuit racetracks. Don't get me wrong- I'm not bashing them, hell, it's cool to watch these guys laying flat in the corners with their knees dragging the asphalt, hitting the switchbacks at 60 mph... but they are the ones that will eventually cause NHTSA to shut this highway down and build a straight, flat, boring bypass around it. 

Trial and error

This was actually my second time being on the famed road- the first time was a few years earlier, on my 2011 Road King Classic and that's the story I'll tell today. It was my second solo trip of that year- the first was a Spring ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Living in South Mississippi, the Natchez Trace is a must-ride motorcyling road, one that I had been on several times, but never all 444 miles of it in one trip. I had wanted to take the trip for several years, but the group of guys I usually rode with never would commit to it, so in the Spring of 2016, I left them behind and took a solo trip along the entire length of the parkway, from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN, then up to Madison, TN before I pointed the Road King southbound and headed back home. It was my first big solo trip, so it was a learning experience. I had taken the trip in just two days- 1,230 miles round trip. The weather was good when I left the house, but 474 miles into the trip, I ran into bad weather in Tupelo, MS and decided to take shelter at a local hotel. It was good- I had a pizza delivered to the room, got a hot shower and had a comfortable bed to sleep in, but I didn't get much rest. It felt more like I was running away from something instead of having an adventure, so the next morning I got up, had a couple of cups of coffee and a muffin from the breakfast bar and hit the road. The weather was still pretty nasty and the rain had brought in a cold front, so for the remainder of the trip along the Trace, I was cold and wet- not my ideal riding conditions. When I made it to Madison, TN, I had made the decision to turn back and head home. It must have been meant to be, too... because as soon as I got into Alabama, the sky cleared up, the sun came out and I had an easy, comfortable trip back home.

Several months later, I began making plans for my next solo trip. This trip would be different though- no hotels, no pizza delivery and no complimentary breakfasts. This trip would be a solo camping trip on the back of the bike. I packed my weatherproof bag with the bare necessities- only the most essential clothes, sleeping bag, tent, healthy road snacks, insulated water bottle, basic toiletries and a few basic camp tools. With the Road King all packed up, 

I pointed the big Hiawatha headlight toward the Appalachians and twisted the throttle. I made it to Tellico Plains as the sun was setting and, by the time dusk had dissolved into night, my camp was set up in the Indian Boundary campground, right off of the Cherohala Skyway. Once I got settled in, I picked up my phone to call my wife to let her know that I had made it to the campground safely, but to my surprise- there was no signal. None. I spent the next hour or so, walking through the campground trying to get a signal, but it wasn't happening, so I decided to turn in for the night and try again in the morning, once I was back out on the road. Even though I had slept in a sleeping bag on the ground in a cheap Ozark Trail tent, I slept like a baby and woke up as soon as dawn began lighting the sky. I woke up feeling rested and refreshed- unlike I did at the hotel during the Spring trip up the Trace. Once I made it back to the Cherohala Skyway, my phone started blowing up with all of the unread text messages, phone calls and voicemails from the night before. I 
quickly called home and assured my wife that I was okay, then told her about the spotty cell service in the mountains and how the first leg of the trip went. We spoke for a few minutes, then I headed toward Robbinsville, NC. The Cherohala Skyway is an absolutely beautiful road- the scenery is stunning and the road surface is great. It winds through the Cherokee and Nantahalla National Forests (hence the name) and is an incredible motorcycling road. Be warned though- it has some challenging curves, steep inclines and sheer cliffs... leaving the margin for error pretty narrow for new riders. My best advice for anyone riding these mountain roads- take it easy and use the pull-offs to enjoy the views. When you're riding- focus on riding.

Once I made it to Robbinsville, I fueled the bike, got a cup of coffee and a snack, then I headed north on US129... toward the infamous stretch of highway that I had heard, and read, so much about. Not having much knowledge of the area, I assumed by all of the curves in the road, that I was already on the Tail of the Dragon once the road started going uphill. My initial plan was to ride up US129 to North Carolina Hwy 28, aka, Moonshiner 28, then back down toward Cherokee, NC so that I could get on the

Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a good thing I was so caught up in the riding that I missed the intersection of NC28 and US129 at Deal's Gap, because if I had turned where I was planning, I would have missed riding the actual Tail of the Dragon. Instead, I ended up riding the Dragon all the way up to Clark Bar Rock, just a few miles north of the northern "end" of the Dragon before I realized that I missed my turn. When I realized where I was at, I happily turned around and hit it again... this time with a little more confidence (which is evident if you look closely at the picture- the bike is literally dragging the asphalt). When I got back down to Deal's Gap, I stopped in the store to peruse the souvenirs and maybe get a fresh bottle of water. After resting a bit, I took out again, this time, running down NC28, headed for the next stop- The Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, just north of Cherokee, NC. 

Not having much knowledge of the area on my first trip up there, I ended up missing quite a few really spectacular roads, but it was okay by me, because I was having a great time exploring the Smoky Mountains. I had ridden the Ozark Mountains a couple of times a few years earlier, but they didn't hold a candle to the Appalachians for sheer expanse. The Appalachian mountain range just seems to go on forever... and it's amazing. I stopped for gas and picked up a fried chicken dinner before heading to a small campground just north of Highlands, NC for my second night of the trip. Van Hook Glade Campground was relatively close to the road, but it was very peaceful, nonetheless. I got there right at dusk and, after a long day of riding, I was ready to eat my dinner and get to bed. Shortly after pulling in and finding my spot, the campground host came by to say hello and give me the "bear warning." He was a nice, older gentleman that was living his best life in retirement. My campsite was located on a hill, under a power line easement and he told me that, just a few weeks earlier, they had spotted a bear a few yards away from there. He told me that if I had any food, not to leave it in my tent or in my saddlebags, because if a bear happened through again, it would tear the bike (and the tent) to pieces... he didn't know about my fresh, hot crispy fried chicken dinner that was in my low side bag, waiting for me to dine. After he left, I ate my dinner, then threw the bones over a nearby cliff to draw the hungry wildlife there, and away from my site, if they did come through. I took a shower in the bath house, then crawled into my tent and fell fast asleep to the sounds of the Smoky Mountain wilderness. 

When I woke the next morning, the bike and the tent were still intact, so I packed up and headed out. My exhaust pipes were sort of loud, so I was trying to roll out as slowly as possible so not to disturb any other campers. As I was coming down the hill where I tossed out the bones from my previous night's supper, I looked over and to my shock and shame, I saw something that looked like a garbage can had exploded. There was a small camper and an SUV at the site and it looked as if a bear... which may or may not have been drawn to that particular site by the smell of deep fried chicken bones... tore up the trash can and attacked the gear that they had left outside. Oops... if y'all happen to be reading this... sorry about that.

After I got rolling, I started making my way back south. The early morning air was crisp and cool and the sun was shining through the autumn leaves, making the light shimmer and glow on the roadway. I was in heaven, or as close to it as I have ever been while riding. I found my way down to Mountain Rest, South Carolina, then headed west toward Tallulah Falls, Georgia. From there, I made my way toward Helen, GA, which is a cool little town that is made up to look like an Alpine Village. It's sort of tourist trap-ish... but who cares, it's a neat place in a very pretty area. 

Over the next few hours, I slowly made my way back toward home. I'll skip telling you about the traffic congestion on the interstates because it was awful and we've all dealt with traffic on the superslabs. When I made it back home later that night, I had clocked 1,549 miles over three days of riding. Sadly, just two months and one week after I got back home, two reckless teenagers threw lit matches on the ground as they walked through the Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It was an amazing trip and the Road King Classic served me well during the journey.

Sadly, just two months and one week after I got back home from my first solo motorcycle camping adventure, two reckless teenagers threw lit matches on the ground as they walked through the Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The subsequent forest fires burned more than 17,000 acres, destroyed more than 2,500 structures and killed 14 people. 

The following summer, Harley-Davidson introduced the first new version of my favorite motorcycle in years- a blacked out beauty called the "Road King Special." I fell in love with it and fate would ultimately force my hand when the ABS system on my '11 Classic had a critical failure. I brought the new Milwaukee 8 powered machine home in August of 2017 and began planning for my next road trip... but that's a story for another day, in a future volume of the MotoWriter's...

Tales from the asphalt!