Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gettin' Dirty on Winding Stairs

You know that I have a tendency to go on gravel roads from time to time, even though my Ninja -- and certainly its tires -- are not really designed for that.

[OK.  So, what does that have to do with Winding Stairs, Bucky?  This?]

Winding Staircase in Spello, Umbria, Italy
Dave Burns Photography

No, not those winding stairs, though they are in a pretty part of the world, I understand.

Actually, near where I live in South Carolina, there is a road by that name.  I had a hankering to explore a little, so I looked at the map.

Click here for an interactive map.
(Cane Creek is mislabeled.  It is actually West Fork Townes Creek.)

Intriguing, don't you think?

Thirty-three miles to its east end from home, and only a little over 4 miles long.  Worth the trip, I'd say, to have a look. 

I do a little research and find that there is another name for the road: Cheohee.  An Indian name, for sure. It might actually be Tsiy’h, defined as "Otter place," from tsiyu; variously spelled Cheowa, Cheeowhee, Chewohe, Chewe, etc.  Here, it probably refers to a former settlement on a branch of the Keowee River, in Oconee County, S.C.  

Now you know as much as I do.  I guess we don't have to know everything about it to go ride on it, do we? 

I do go on to read that it descends from the east end to Townes Creek, then rises again on its way to SC-107.

I start out and make my way to the east end of the Winding Stairs, mostly via. SC-133 (Crowe Creek Road), SC-11, North Little River Road, Cherokee Lake Road, and Jumping Branch Road that circles the private Lake Cherokee.  These are easy roads with few significant curves, but they're a good way to get there.  The start of Winding Stairs is only about 12 miles away from Whitewater Falls, a destination I have gone to quite a lot over my years of riding 

I reach the start of the road, off Jumping Branch Road.  I stop and change the battery in my GoPro to make sure I don't miss anything.  While I am doing that, I scout out the road condition.

■ Dry.  That's good.  A showstopper if not.
■ Smooth.  Maybe recently graded.  Very nice. 
■ No significant loose sand or gravel.  Excellent. 

Set to go, then.  The road is pretty straight at first, and the riding is easy. There is a steep downhill, but not dirt-bike worrisome. 

Less than a mile in, I find a primitive campground.  I stop and look around while I have a slurp of water.

Looking toward the road in.

Looking toward the road leaving.
Lots of big rocks here.  The creek is not very high, so it isn't very photogenic today.  Being winter, you can see quite a ways into the woods.  There are no structures that I have seen anywhere yet. 

Just across the road is the trailhead for Winding Stairs Trail, a 3½-mile hike that is said to be good for beginners.  This end is the lower elevation; it climbs from here about 1100 feet to the Cherry Hill Campground up on SC-107.  To keep things straight (if you go for a hike), the creek to the south of the trail will be Crane Creek, while the creek to the north will be West Fork Townes Creek.  I'm glad to know that, but I don't think I'll do any extensive walking today.  These boots are nice and protective, but not made for walking.  
Besides, I still have the some more gravel to explore just ahead. 

Soon enough, I mount up again and begin ascending.  The road becomes more twisty.  I expect that a dual-sporter or trail bike rider would enjoy this, though it might be too tame for seasoned riders.  I take it slow and easy, in case of anything untoward like loose gravel or oncoming traffic.

I find that the whole way is easy enough for almost any street bike.  The surface is smooth, with only a little scattered gravel in the center and on the edges.  No deep gravel or sand.  There are a few short sections where there is washboard that rattles my fillings, but nothing much worse than that. Weighting the pegs helps me though those sections. 

I find a spot to stop and look over on where I have come. 


From down there... 

...and there. 

Pretty country. 

I continue to scan the surroundings and find no sign of humans.  No signs, houses, or anything else.  The only guardrails were at the bridge over the creek back there. 

After only 15 or 20 minutes, I emerge onto SC-107.  I turn south and run through some tighter curves.  I stop for a few minutes at Oconee State Park, then go through the towns of Walhalla and Pickens on my way home.  The state park has a lake and lots of picnicking and camping spaces.  It is a good place to visit on a hot summer's day.

I pass Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel, both at the same site.  The entrance is on the left in a blind curve.  Watch out for turning traffic there. 

Walhalla has the Oconee Heritage Center museum and Oconee Veterans Museum that are interesting to visit. 

I arrive home in too short a time.  I only had time to ride about 114 miles today, but I enjoyed the little twisty, gravelly bit on Winding Stairs.

Go visit it when you have a little spare time to wind around. 

Additional Hiking Information:

Other Destinations Nearby:

A Similar Trip With Some Fall Color

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Winter View from the Wigington Byway

I went for a short ride last week.  Up towards Whitewater Falls again.

It seems that I go that way a lot lately.  Mostly because the road is in good condition, having been completely replaced, top to bottom, between North Little River Road and the North Carolina state line.  The road south of Little River Road is a good condition too.

The curves are all sweepers, and you can go pretty fast, though the speed limit is only 45 miles per hour.  Almost every bike I see when I go that way is pushing that limit, some by a considerable margin.

I will admit, it is easy to do. 

That road to the falls, South Carolina 130, is a good one for beginners just starting to ride in the curves, I think, and I have fairly recently ridden it with three other guys who were just learning how to ride.  You can read about those outings here: New Guys, and here: A Really New Guy.

In fact, it is one of the first roads outside our neighborhood that I took just five months after I started riding and having bought my Ninja 650R: First Trip to Whitewater Falls.  My discovery trip that day was exciting to me, having experienced my first destination ride.

When I go the same way, even now, I remember that newness and excitement of going there for the very first time.  

I wonder how many people feel that excitement and elation when they are in their cars.  I'll bet, quite a lot lower percentage than for those who get there on two wheels. 

Well, anyway, on to the latest ride.

I check out the tires and oil, and give the bike a general looking over.  Then I mount up and take off toward the north and west. 

Today, it is overcast, so the scenery was not very colorful, but the roads are clean, and the temperature is about 50 degrees F.  I am comfortable, wearing my winter gear.  There is not even the usual draft around my neck today.  Maybe I have learned how to seal up that wind tunnel. 


I first enjoy the curves of US-178 from Pickens, then less so the nearly straight SC-11 toward the west. 

The curves of the ten miles of route 130 between SC-11 and Whitewater Falls pass quickly.  I know that the falls parking lot is closed, however due to a wildfire here not long ago.  That fire was not connected to the Pinnacle Mountain fire I wrote about recently, but also occurred during the lengthy dry spell we had last summer.

I am a year-round rider, venturing out when temperatures are above freezing, but this winter has been a good one even for fair-weather riders.  There has been a lot less cold weather and only one snowstorm so far.  Some say we are in for more cold in a month or two, but I'll look forward to this mild weather with child-like eagerness. 

Instead of going to Whitewater Falls, I turn left a mile or so before that, onto the Wigington Byway.  Actually, this is part of what is known officially as the Oscar Wigington Memorial Scenic Byway.  It is only a little over two miles long, and connects SC-130 with SC-107.  There is no development along it whatsoever.

Bikers enjoy this short stretch because it has a few steeper hills and some tighter sweepers than 130.  A few go like crazy here assuming that the radar of those Highway Patrolmen doesn't reach here.

Whatever the case, I still take it easy. 

This road does have an overlook onto Lake Jocassee and the Bad Creek pumped storage lake.  This view isn't very pretty on some overcast days, but today, it has a striking beauty, I think.

Resting bike in front of pretty view
Click image for high-resolution version.
The almost monochromatic appearance off in the distance is quite beautiful, though the photographs don't do it real justice.

I think these unexpected vistas are part of the reason I enjoy riding.  I probably wouldn't come here as often in the car, because my car isn't much fun to drive on curvy roads.  But just getting there on the bike is fun, and can be exciting. 

And seeing sights like this is frosting on that cake.

I have been able to visit many different sights in the nine years or so I have ridden the motorcycle. You can read about many of them -- and laugh at some -- if you page back in this blog.

My two-wheeled steed of some 71 horsepower has, indeed, been an eye-opener for me to the beauty of the area near where I live, and I have met many different people along the way.  

What about you?  Is there a picturesque sight you have seen or an interesting character you have met during your two-wheeled travels? 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Clouds on a Brisk Winter Day

Yesterday, I went out for a few hours of riding.  We can usually ride all winter long here because of the moderate temperatures in South Carolina.

Although we certainly get cold weather, snow, and ice, it is usually gone in a few days, and the roads are once again calling to those who ride on two wheels.

The day's temperature started out in the mid-40s, so I bundled up, started the bike, turned on the grip heaters, and took off for parts unknown.  The weather was overcast when I first went out, so I didn't go anywhere that might otherwise offer a distant view, like the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain, or Caesar's Head.

Instead, I just meandered around in the lowlands and headed for Poinsett Bridge.  That is an old stone bridge used by stagecoaches.  I have visited there many times, and it is a picturesque sight.

As I ventured along on my meandering route, I noticed that the clouds were not as gray, and that there were patches of blue scattered about.  Some of the blue was, in fact, brilliant blue.

And the clouds became a panorama of beauty that changed as time passed and as my direction turned.

I could hardly keep my eyes on the road, in fact, for all the sights to be seen in the sky.

See what you think.

Two crescents of blue

But still mostly gray

More blue

And still more

Look at the pattern of those clouds in the center

Looks like billows of cotton

Sand on the road ahead, left over from the recent snow

And another pattern comes into view

What a display!

Following a yellow Goldwing for a while

More variations

Little clumps of clouds

Table Rock beneath the clouds

The water tower in Easley, the town where I live

Low speed practice on an empty court

 I only rode about a hundred miles, but the sky was the best part of the ride today.  

God is certainly a great artist. 

Don't you agree?

More clouds: