Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Day 07

Day 07
Friday, August 14, 2009
Front Royal, VA to Rocky Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA
297 miles

I woke up with a huge feeling of eager anticipation. Today was the day the trip REALLY got started. I had 3 days of parkways ahead of me, some of it new territory. The bike was packed and before I knew it, I found myself stopping for a photo shoot at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive!

Starting to get hungry, I stopped at Big Meadows for another national park sticker for the ST and some food for me. After perusing the menu at the cafe, I opted for a take-out sandwich and bottled juice.

Half an hour later I was off the bike again, enjoying my lunch at a vista point.

On my way again, I crossed out of the national park and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'd been a little concerned about getting confused at the exit, but the transition was seamless.

Out of the national park, the area immediately began to feel more inhabited. I occasionally saw farmhouses and fields through the trees. Still beautiful though.... and NOTHING like riding through towns and past billboards on a state highway.

I'd been eagerly anticipating spending the night at Willville Bike Camp, a motorcycle-only campground at the midpoint of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It had been a long day of riding and I was very ready to get off the bike and relax.

However, when I pulled up to the driveway to camp and saw that it was a steep gravel road down to more gravel and lawns, I twisted the throttle and rode right back on to the parkway. I'd remembered seeing a national forest campground about 10 miles back. I spent the entire ride trying not to speed and grumbling to myself about proprieters who call themselves "motorcycle-friendly" yet neglect to pave their cliff-like driveways.

Note: I realize that most motorcyclists don't have this particular problem of mine and I'm sure the campground is very nice. I just wish it took into account vertically-challenged riders of heavy bikes.

On further thought, I suppose my previous day's experience with the mud had given me more than my fill of uncertain surfaces.

Rocky Knob Campground turned out to be very nice, with a paved driveway, a paved campground loop, and even *GASP* paved campsite pull-ins.

Absolutely no cell phone service though. I set my SPOT to send the nightly sign-off and set up camp.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Day 06

Day 06
Thursday, August 13, 2009
near Williamsport, PA to Front Royal, VA
272 miles

I've ridden in some pretty scary situations. I think the forty miles of snow back in 2004 is up there, closely followed by that snowy pass in Yellowstone and the endless gravel construction zone in 2005(?).

The two miles on that muddy dirt road eclipses them all.

Those with plenty of dirt experience are probably pooh-pooh-ing right about now. Mud isn't a big deal, right?

Well, try it a few 1000 miles from home on a big heavy expensive touring bike!

I was in no hurry this morning, trying to give the road time to dry off. Scott and his mom were following me in the mini-van to make sure I had help if needed.

The first part of the road was mostly dry. I started out slowly but with a little confidence. I kept reminding myself to stay loose and look ahead.

I made it through the first little mud patch, but the rear end slid around and my feet went down reflexively. After a deep breath I continued, that familiar sick feeling in my stomach.

In the second mud patch, the bike went right, went left, and went down. Scott jumped out of the van and helped me off. I wasn't injured and the bike didn't appear to be damaged, but I knew that this wasn't going to work.

After indulging in a nice little panic attack, I helped Scott pick up the bike. It was resting on the cylinder head and saddlebag, so not completely over, but the wheels kept sliding sideways in the mud. We took another break once it was upright and then began the slow process of pushing it the remaining mile or so to the paved road.

I don't do well in bike-push situations (understatement). My sense of balance disappears and a constant fear of falling over manifests. We took frequent breaks and experimented with different speeds. I kept the ignition on to have access to the power brakes and tried to ignore the gnawing fear that the battery would be drained by the time we made it to pavement.

The 6" deep sucking mud ruts finally gave way to graveled dirt. We rolled onto the chip-seal and parked the bike.

I stripped off my riding gear to dry off and catch my breath while everyone admired Scott's muddy boots. A passing neighbor expressed astonishment that we'd gotten the motorcycle through the road.

After good-bye's and profuse thank-yous, I started up the ST and shakily rode off.

I've found in the past that after a scary experience, it takes me a while to relax into the road. The steep pass over PA-487 through Ricketts Glen would normally be a fun experience, but I was too stressed out today. Orange construction signs on the Pennslyvania roads made me instantly tighten up. Happily, I encountered nothing more serious than loose gravel on chip seal.

In Sunbury, I treated myself to some iced coffee and a break before once again riding along the Susquehanna.

I finally began to relax and enjoy myself riding through Catoctin Mountain Park near Hagerstown, MD. There was scenery, curves, and lovely sunlight filtering through the canopy of trees.

I love stopping at historical sites. Earlier in the day I'd passed through Gettysburg and had been torn over whether to explore the battlefield (had visited on a family vacation several years ago). I ultimately decided to skip the already-been-there Pennsylvania battlefield in favor of a visit to Antietam in Maryland.

I had originally planned to camp that night in Shenandoah National Park, but found myself checking into a hotel in Front Royal, VA late in the day. I was aching for air-conditioning and just couldn't face the additional 50 miles to the campground (assuming it would take hours on slow national park roads).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Days 03 & 04

Days 04 & 05
Tuesday - Wednesday, August 11-12, 2009
near Williamsport, PA
0 miles

After a relaxing Tuesday morning, a group of us decided to spend the afternoon hiking in Ricketts Glen State Park. Scott's mom drove us to the top of the canyon, promising to pick us up at the bottom in a few hours. The ~3 mile long hiking trail follows Kitchen Creek down a series of waterfalls.

That morning, we'd found construction equipment starting to grade the dirt access road to the house. Scott's mother had struggled to avoid the loosened mud on one side of the road. Coming back through a light rain storm that afternoon, the equipment was gone, but so was that lovely hard packed dry dirt road. I tried not to think about getting the ST out of there.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the porch and walking around the property. As the sun set, we walked down to the nearby lake with fireflys flickering around us.

It rained that night. Hard.

On the following day, Scott took me out on the lake in a two-person kayak. We paddled along the dam, visited the beaver house, and plucked blueberries off bushes overhanging the water.

I kept hearing horror stories about the state of the road. Just before dinner, we drove out to survey the conditions. The road was mud. Most of it was relatively smooth, but there were a few places where the rain wasn't draining well and several ruts were torn in by passing traffic. An alternate route through the fields was dry, but it was essentially a deeply rutted jeep trail with at least one steep hill. I was more worried about getting stuck in the woods than falling in the mud.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Day 03

Day 03
Monday, August 10, 2009
Winchester, VA to near Williamsport, PA
235 miles

I was more excited than usual to begin my ride this morning. I had a little over 100 miles of interstate, followed by about two hours of local roads that I had high hopes for.

Back on I-81, I quickly passed through West Virginia and Maryland. Concerned about rain, I hadn't mounted the camera. I stared ruefully at the "Welcome to" signs as they flashed by overhead.

Just before Harrisburg, I exited I-81 to ride north along the west bank of the wide Susquehanna River.

Unfamiliar with what I call "the roads paradigm" of the east coast, I wasn't sure just how rural the area around the house would be. I was picturing the "few and far between" gas stations in some prime riding areas of California, Utah, and Nevada. Scott's mother had given me the names of some towns near the house with gas stations, but I decided to stop early (100 miles out) to get lunch and fuel up. I was spending too much time watching my gas gauge and not enough time enjoying the road. I shoudn't have worried. It turned out that there were little towns with adequate fuel availability all along the route.

From the road reviews I'd read while planning my route, US 220 was supposed to have been one of the better motorcycling roads in the area. There were some nice curves, but also lots of construction. Portions of the road were grooved and I was stopped a couple of times by flagmen.

The local roads close to Scott's family's house really shone. They dipped and curved over wildflower covered hillsides and through tunnels of trees.

I had been dreading the final approach to the house. Scott had warned me about the mile+ of hard packed dirt road that I'd need to navigate. Riding buddies know that I have an irrational fear of dirt and gravel roads. It had rained recently in the area, but the road was fine. I tried to relax, stay loose, and let the ST move as it needed to.

I ended up overshooting the driveway by a few feet, but Scott was sitting on the screened in sun porch and saw me arrive. He and his sister's husband helped me get turned around and gave me a push to get off the dirt road and onto the gravel driveway. I parked the bike and unpacked, very ready to stop riding and relax for a couple of days.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Rocketbunny in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Day 02

Day 02
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Athens, TN to Winchester, VA
481 miles

I was feeling very good about my schedule getting to Pennsylvania. With only ~700 miles to go and two days to do them in, there was no rush.

My SPOT was flashing a low battery light that morning, so I decided to look for a Radio Shack along the route (I also needed another stereo extension cable). I found a likely exit near Knoxville and pulled over in a strip mall to consult the GPS. A shouted question to a man who happened to be walking by resulted in a point at the large shopping center just across the street. I thought that I couldn't get any luckier until I rolled up to Radio Shack and found that it wouldn't open til 11:30 (over an hour later) on Sunday. I ended up finding everything I needed at the adjacent Walmart, but the gear-down and lock-up required for shopping at a large store delayed me more than I had really wanted.

I felt a little silly stopping for lunch at Hardees (Western Bacon Cheeseburger, WOOO!) less than 100 miles into my day. At least I was on I-81 (the interstate that would take me all the way to Pennsylvania) at that point.

I encountered some of the worst traffic of the trip on I-81 in Virginia. The interstate was congested and hilly. This translated into abrupt slowdowns that made this section of the trip one of the least relaxing. I was forced to cover my brakes more closely than usual.

For Scott:

I had been hoping for a cool down in temperature as I got into the mountains. Instead I had another crazy hot day. It was so refreshing to walk into my air conditioned motel room in Winchester, VA, only 230 miles away from tomorrow's destination in Pennsylvania.