Less than a second from sure death

I believe we were the first to leave the Apple Cover Inn in Maggie Valley this morning, as at 7AM, the parking spaces still held last night’s other vehicles. I had been talking up the renown Joey’s Pancake House to my wife for days, and we headed a few businesses away on our way out of town to enjoy some of the best breakfast foods I’ve ever tasted. What we found was a empty lot, as then saw the sign that stated they were closed Thursdays. What a bummer. We would have to continue on to find our morning meal before setting out for the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee.

We pulled out of the parking lot, hitting a little gravel forcing the bike sideways out of the attended path. Immediately correcting, I was able to make the turn and give it some gas to get going properly. Probably cost us an extra second of travel time, and in a few minutes, it would show that an angel was looking out for my wife and I. Maggie Valleyhas a long three mile hill to climb to get out of the valley where it is located, and the bike did great with the cool fresh engine on the bike. Passing past the Blue Ridge Parkway on our way to Cherokee for food, disaster nearly struck.

Riding along, I’m watching the road about twenty yards ahead of me, scanning for potholes and road debris from last night’s rain that had gone through. My wife behind me on the back of the Ultra suddenly dug her nails deeply in my sides and I could hear her gasp. I was just about to turn my head to the side and ask her what was wrong, when a full-sized adult doe ran in front of the bike about 30 yards ahead. The deer was at a full charge to cross the road, and had we been a second further in our travels, we would have either hit it in its side, or it would have ran into the side of us. Either way would have been disastrous and probably deadly. I slammed the brakes out of reflex when it came into my vision as it cleared the grass on the side of the road, just missing the tail of the doe.

I looked back at my wife, who had not let out her breath. Once she was able to talk again, she saw the deer running towards us on a collision course a good three seconds before I had my first look at it. Her reflex was to gasp and dig her hands into my side, bracing for the inevitable impact that by the grace of time or a spiritual hand allowed us to avoid.

Ten minutes later, we stopped at the Pancake House in Cherokee, where we talked about the event minutes before while waiting for the slowly served less-than-hot breakfasts. With our morning excitement contained, we headed out on the asphalt and truly started the day’s journey. Making our way to Robbinsville, NC, we stopped at a gas station to fill up the Harley’s fuel tank before proceeding out to ride the Cherohala Skyway. My wife enjoyed the ride as much as I did, and she continued to try to fill up her memory card with many photos along the ride.

The Cherohala ends near the Cherohala Harley-Davidson store, where the wife another pink shirt to add to her collection. We then rode the Scenic 360 route up to 411, shot down 72, then over on US-129 to the HD store near the Tail of the Dragon, a world famous ride holding 318 curves in about 11 miles. No purchases were made, but the sales lady recommended a ride to their mother dealership in Maryville. We enjoyed some good food in their custom garage restaurant behind the dealership. The Smoky Mountain dealership is supposed to be the largest store east of the Mississippi, and being in an old Lowes store, it just may be. The staff was very pleasant and made sure we relaxed from our trip.

We decided that time had finally arrived for us to start our trek homeward, and we worked our way west on I-140 towards Knoxville. A bad storm was brewing in the distance, and a previous check of the My Radar app on our iPhones only confirmed what we knew…a storm is coming, one we could not outrun. And it’s big…so we decided to find a local Microtel hotel, and bunker down for the night. We’ll play tomorrow by ear for a route home.

Since leaving out on our own, we both have been able to find some relaxation over the last couple of days. Nothing against our riding friends, but the building circumstances just warranted our breaking off and going our own way for a few days. We look forward to our next ride with them, I just think that we’ll need to cement our complete plans before leaving.

Wednesday, Location: Maggie Valley

Our first day alone had us leaving the nice town of Blowing Rock, and heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My wife is a photography aficionado, and the BRP offers many chances for spectacular viewing and image taking. She had not been to this part of the country before, and was as memorized as I was last year on my maiden trip to the area. The Canon I bought her for Christmas really got a workout, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of photos to share to the blog when I get back home.

A stop was made at the Harley Davidson of Asheville, NC in the morning; where my wife found a new jacket and I was able to get one of their newest designed shot glasses for my collection. We continued on the BRP until reaching the Maggie Valley exit, and rode down into the valley. Lunch was found at the Salty Dog, where chicken wings and a hamburger were found tasty.

Staying at the Applecover Inn last hear, I found it to be very cheap at $35, basic, and a decent place to spend the night if you aren’t looking for a high end place. We stopped in, got a room, and the wife did laundry while I took a quick nap to rejuvenate and relax. Dinner was had at Legend’s, a few businesses away and easy walking distance. The food was excellent, cheap, and no way to eat it all without getting sick. If you order the club sandwich, it is so big, you can’t get your mouth open that big. Also, it easily feeds two!

Tomorrow we plan to ride over to the Cherohala Skyway, so my wife can experience the best road I’ve ever ridden.

Breaking off from the group on the trip

There is a groups of 8 of us that are very close friends, who enjoys riding together and hanging out with each other even when not on the asphalt. We all have our little quirks, each eccentric, and have a blast together when we are in one group. We had made plans to continue on from the Ride to the Wall and the demonstration ride in Washington, DC with just the eight of us and keeping it small. Accompanying us on this extended ride would be a ninth participant, a solo female rider who had recently joined our HOG chapter, that none of us knew particularly well before leaving. She had heard in passing that we were going down south, and the next thing we knew, she accompanied us on the journey. Hard to explain, but looking back, I’m not really sure who extended the invitation to her to join us…and nobody else seems to know either. Regardless, we are a friendly bunch, and I had no problems with her coming along with us if she wanted.

Bringing somebody new into a group dynamic does one of two things…makes it stronger, or tears it apart. The new rider had stated she was unable to get some reservations made due to her late decision to join and was told the motels were full, and a few of us offered to let her crash in our rooms when this occurred. As it turned out, and we found out along the way, she had not even tried to make reservations; which was confirmed when talking to the motel clerks Sunday and Monday evenings when we realized their motels weren’t even close to being full.

This new rider stated she had 30 years of riding experience, but had never left the state or done group riding. Her riding style during our time with her varied from being good, to very bad, to good again. While many of us constantly coached her at stops, her riding style continued to present some concerns to a few of us. The last straw for me was when reentering the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday, our leader had stopped at a stop sign entering the Parkway waiting for each of us to catch up in the rain that was following. Everybody slowed and came to a proper stop leaving plenty of space between their bike and the one ahead. Except for our new rider, who drove up too fast and slammed her brakes, stopping with her front tire less than an inch from my right foot which was on the ground holding the bike up.

We called for a stop at the first available overlook off the road, and I confronted the new rider regarding her reckless riding and stopping procedures. The last thing I needed was a broken foot or leg, or damage to my bike so far away from home. Not only did she not apologize or admit her mistake, she blew it off as my concerns were ridiculous when I talked to her. I then simply told her not to ride by me, and for the remaining hour, she stayed well away.

A number of different issues also arose during this trip regarding this rider’s eccentricities, many of which we found to be rude, condescending, and irritating to a number of us. With six days of her behavior, my wife and I decided to break off from the group and enjoy some alone time for a few days. We also found out that another group of riders would be joining us the following day, adding 8 more people to the ride. What we thought would be a small group would double in size, which isn’t something that we were looking to do when we left.

So, it was just time for us to break off and find the relaxation we were searching for.

Monday & Tuesday

Time to update the blog again, been a exhausting few days. Leaving Fredericksburg, VA on Monday, our path took us onto the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting at mile marker zero on the north end outside of the Shenandoah National Park, we ensured outranks were full as we started south on the curvy 45 MPH federal two-lane road through the many forests we would traverse over the next few days.

Monday night we stayed at the Oak Haven Lodge in the small town of Floyd, Virginia. This was a nice hotel, two story with a full building patio on each floor all facing the woods and gravel driveway. Behind the building was a small strip mall with a small bistro/pizzeria, Mickey G’s. Home of the 28″ pizza, four of us ravenous riders chipped in on a pie, and found ourselves staring at three pieces that went uneaten when we were through.

The next morning found us jumping off and on the Blue Ridge Parkway for gas and a little site-seeing. All of us visited Mt. Airy, which was a partial model of the town of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. While I envisioned an exact duplicate of the town, very little was actually used in the show. There’s a Floyd’s (City) Barber Shop, and it seems like the town was using their famous son to attract tourists; not much else was familiar unless you want to consider stores that went by the names from the show like Opie’s Candies and such.

In town there is a Andy Griffith Museum, a small building with some memorabilia from the show and other items from Andy’s movie career. What we found disinteresting was that photography was strictly forbidden inside, with literally dozens if not hundreds of signs posted on nearly exhibit and many on each wall. Seriously, no photographs of old Barney’s suit, or even of the jail cell keys on display? What a turn off for such a museum

The Snappy Lunch is the only real full name business actually mentioned in any episode of the show, and that’s where we enjoyed their pork chop sandwich. In Indiana, we call them breaded tenderloins…and it was delicious. All of their prices were unbelievably good, the service some of the best ever experienced (even though we showed up 15 minutes before their closing at 2PM, and quality was perfect.

Tuesday evening found us in Blowing Rock, North Carolina at The Homestead Inn. Never been to this city, and it’s a quaint, very clean town, designed for tourists. Main street was higher end shops and splotches of restaurants. The town has a feeling of the Hamptons, with most people wearing Polo and other brand name clothing while walking around. The Six Pence Pub on Main Street was just around the block from our motel, and a very easy 5-minute walk even with our tired legs. Everybody enjoyed the food; I found the fish and chips to be somewhat lacking in seasoning but still very edible. Probably should have had the bangers, their other recommended English dinner.

The next morning would find my wife and I leaving the group and finishing the trip on our own.

Demonstration ride completed

First, now being at a Fairfield Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia with free wi-fi for guests, I’ve been able to upload the entries from Friday and Saturday (scroll down, or go to next page if needed). Again, I can’t believe that after paying an exorbitant amount for the hotel room at the Crowne Point, they require that their guests pay $10 daily for Internet access.

Today was the demonstration ride in Washington, DC; and warranted a 4am wake-up call and kickstands up at 6am. A Rolling Thunder group from Texas was staying at our hotel and left 15 minutes earlier to ride to the north Pentagon parking lot. The ride to the Pentagon was easy and uneventful as hundreds of bikes left the hotel for the day’s journey. After looping around the massive military building, we entered the parking lot to find that thousands of bikes had already been parked. Coming in with the Indianapolis chapter of Rolling Thunder, we were given priority parking privileges which guaranteed we wouldn’t have to wait hours to leave the parking lot later in the day.

The heat of the day slowly rose to the mid 80s throughout the day, but when we arrived, it was actually quite comfortable. The Rolling Thunder chapter we rode with had offered really nice bright yellow long sleeve shirts for sale, which we had previously purchased and was part of the day’s attire for most of our group. It did a great job for sun protection, and when riding, helped keep the breeze in contact with the skin longer. Many groups that arrived had designed their own custom shirts as well for the event, which really made it look like a large range of biker gangs floating around the lot. A number of motorcycle clubs participated in the demonstration ride, and due to the importance of our gathering, absolutely no trouble was seen.

A few of our female friends and my wife walked over to the American Airlines Flight 77 Memorial at the Pentagon, designed in tribute to those on the flight that was flown into the building on September 11, 2001. During their walk, they were able to see the close proximity of Arlington National Cemetery, and the markers that were affixed at each grave site. Myself, along with their husbands, found a spot on a hillside nearby that overlooked the north parking lot. Other than trips out to see some vendors that had set up around the parking lot, trips to the surprisingly clean port-a-potties, and a few trips the food vendors, our closest friends used this area as a off-and-on gathering point for the next five hours. Water, lemonade, and Gatorade was consumed by all in very large amounts, which staved off heat exhaustion and dehydration in the rising temperatures.

We were only able to see the parking lot where our bikes baked in the sun, but from what we heard, the other two parking lots surrounding the Pentagon were also being used for temporary motorcycle storage for the morning. The volume of participants was huge, and we regularly saw veteran’s groups from the other side of the world, including Australia. A lot of people are involved with, and personally impacted, by the Vietnam War and other wars that the United States has been involved with I the past.

About thirty minutes prior to noon, people who had seemed refuge from the glaring sun wherever they could star streaming back to the massive parking lot of asphalt to their wheels of painted bliss. Upon arriving, the many volunteers on hand had forced each rider to park nearly front tire to back tire, making commute between the bikes a near impossibility. That obviously created many more parking spaces in the rows, but made for frustration when somebody had picked the wrong row to walk down.

At noon, motorcycles started leaving the parking lot to participate in the demonstration ride. We were around 18 rows from the start, and each row easily held at least 200 bikes, if not more. Our group of close friends were able to park in the same row, which began the tour of follow the leader about thirty minutes after the first bike had left. 3 rows were dismissed to leave at a time, which became redundant just seconds later when these three lanes were forced to merge into a double file line due some moron’s placement of cones at a real tight turn for no obvious reasons other than to see how many people would drop their bikes. Our group did fine, but I guarantee that others either did not, or somebody angrier than us just stopped, got off their bikes, and threw the cones out into the drainage ditch to prevent a guaranteed wreck of multiple bikes.

As soon as we left the Pentagon parking lot, citizens were packed deep on the streets. At times, they were standing 4-5 deep, off the sidewalks and in the streets, most yelling thank you or waving. Lots of people held signs of thanks and even. Ore waved small novelty-sized flags in support of our demonstration. The traffic flowed well, until nearing the Capitol building. The citizens watching the demonstration of bikers spilled far into the streets, forcing our lanes of bikes together closer together to prevent citizen run-overs.

The bikes had left in a formation of two rows, but everybody quickly got scattered on the very wide Constitution Avenue of six lanes. Congestion would occur forcing very slow rolling along as well as complete stops. Occasionally large groups of citizens standing on the side would be waiting to cross the wide street, and when one brave soul walked off the curb, dozens would immediately follow; thus forcing repeated stops every block or two. We used the available space at times to move around three lanes of the blocked off streets avoiding people that had spilled out onto the asphalt.

We had been warned that every year, protestors against what we were doing would be intermingled in the crowd. Bystanders loved to put out their hands to slap hands with the riders, and at time, protestors would go to smack your hand, then suddenly grab on and pull you off the bike. We got close to the kids so that my wife could slap hands with the kids who were no threat, but we avoided the adults just to be safe.

Lots of horns blaring from the bikes, tons of waves were exchanged, and no serious issues were encountered. As the main body turned to park near the Lincoln Memorial, our small group continued on to jump on the interstate to officially start our vacation. Finding our way to the Fairfield Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia, we cooled off with a beer or two while waiting for some local friends to pick us up for dinner. The nine of us were picked up in two minivans, and taken to The Mad Crab; a seafood bar. Food was excellent, and after a tour of the downtown area to see some very historic sites, we got dropped off about 11:30 to find our way to the beds and a quick exit to sleep.

This morning finds me in thir breakfast area, enjoying a hot sandwich, orange juice, and the company of my wife. I think this is the first time we’ve been alone on this trip. While we immensely enjoy the company of our friends, sometimes it feels good to just sit down without the large group around. Weather forecast today is pretty good, but Tuesdayhas a 70% chance of thunderstorms. Seven hours in the riding saddle planned today with temps in the lower 90s, and I’ve got to go get the bike packed now. More to come later in this journey.