Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First Longish Ride, Boiled Peanuts, Pumpkintown, and a Good Feeling



Early November 2007 - about fifteen months ago.

One of my first rides away from the roads near our neighborhood was up route US-178, north from Pickens South Carolina to its intersection with SC-11. There is an Exxon convenience store at this intersection called the Holly Springs Country Store. They sell gasoline, but also have a small restaurant and a gift shop. This is a convenient and popular meeting place for motorcycle riders of all flavors. At almost any time on a weekend, if the weather is tolerable, there will be motorcyclists there. Sometimes one, sometimes many.

There is frequently also a vendor who sells boiled peanuts on this corner. He has an LP-gas-fired cooker, so they are freshly boiled. I have eaten only two boiled peanuts in my entire lifetime. Why anyone would do that to a peanut is beyond me. I think roasted is the only way to eat peanuts. Maybe it is an acquired taste. …or maybe I’m still too much of a Yankee to appreciate this part of the southern cuisine.

Route 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway, is 115 miles long with very long sweeping curves and straight sections near here. The cruisers and touring bikers like it, as do bicyclists and sightseers in general. There is much to see along the way. It follows the south side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment where there are not only mountains, but forests, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Many parks along the way provide hiking, picnicking, and nature viewing.

US-178 to the north of 11 is twisty and is a favorite with the sportbikers, but everything from scooters to touring bikes ride it too. In the summer, it can get a bit too busy with a mix of fast and slow traffic, and the law enforcement officers are adept at nabbing speeders –- even those on fast motorcycles. Tractor trailer trucks maneuvering the tight turns, blind curves, and too-fast motorists on the wrong side of the road can be a danger. It is to be several weeks into the future before I venture to the north of 11 on 178.

I was still learning some very basic skills. I admit that I was overwhelmed at first with the simplest mechanics of riding. I had trouble with tasks that were later to become more automatic, including corner preparation, proper gear selection (let's see, which gear am I in?), smooth clutch engagement, modulation of front and rear braking pressure. I also had to remind myself fairly frequently to look where I wanted to go. These tasks, the basic underpinning of riding, had to be practiced, improving them while I kept the safety aspect of riding –- what the MSF class refers to as SEE: See, Evaluate, Execute -- from becoming submerged in the mechanical technique.

Early November 2007 - about fifteen months ago.

One of my first rides away from the roads near our neighborhood was up route US-178, north from Pickens South Carolina to its intersection with SC-11. There is an Exxon convenience store at this intersection called the Holly Springs Country Store. They sell gasoline, but also have a small restaurant and a gift shop. This is a convenient and popular meeting place for motorcycle riders of all flavors. At almost any time on a weekend, if the weather is tolerable, there will be motorcyclists there. Sometimes one, sometimes many.

There is frequently also a vendor who sells boiled peanuts on this corner. He has an LP-gas-fired cooker, so they are freshly boiled. I have eaten only two boiled peanuts in my entire lifetime. Why anyone would do that to a peanut is beyond me. I think roasted is the only way to eat peanuts. Maybe it is an acquired taste. …or maybe I’m still too much of a Yankee to appreciate this part of the southern cuisine.

Route 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway, is 115 miles long with very long sweeping curves and straight sections near here. The cruisers and touring bikers like it, as do bicyclists and sightseers in general. There is much to see along the way. It follows the south side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment where there are not only mountains, but forests, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Many parks along the way provide hiking, picnicking, and nature viewing.

US-178 to the north of 11 is twisty and is a favorite with the sportbikers, but everything from scooters to touring bikes ride it too. In the summer, it can get a bit too busy with a mix of fast and slow traffic, and the law enforcement officers are adept at nabbing speeders –- even those on fast motorcycles. Tractor trailer trucks maneuvering the tight turns, blind curves, and too-fast motorists on the wrong side of the road can be a danger. It is to be several weeks into the future before I venture to the north of 11 on 178.

I was still learning some very basic skills. I admit that I was overwhelmed at first with the simplest mechanics of riding. I had trouble with tasks that were later to become more automatic, including corner preparation, proper gear selection (let's see, which gear am I in?), smooth clutch engagement, modulation of front and rear braking pressure. I also had to remind myself fairly frequently to look where I wanted to go. These tasks, the basic underpinning of riding, had to be practiced, improving them while I kept the safety aspect of riding –- what the MSF class refers to as SEE: See, Evaluate, Execute -- from becoming submerged in the mechanical technique.

Back to that first longer ride. I turn to the right on SC-11 and cruise along the smooth asphalt headed north. The day is pretty, and I am enjoying the ride. I sometimes take a glance at the mountains rising to my left. The trees and occasional rock outcroppings are attractive, but I must concentrate on my riding and on watching for hazards. I don’t go too fast…I’m new to this, remember…maybe 55 miles per hour at the most. I spot the sign for Table Rock State Park. Its Visitor Center is just off the road, so I decide to stop.

I make the turn, and slowly motor into the parking lot. I shut down the engine, put down the kickstand (I did learn something in class.), and sit astride the bike while taking off my gloves. I dismount and remove my helmet.

My legs are a little wobbly from being on the pegs for a few miles, from my inexperience, and probably because of my excitement at riding on new roads to new places. I carry my helmet and gloves with me. Oops -- forgot to take the ignition key. I return and retrieve it. I would never have done that in a car. Why is this different?

The Visitor Center contains a few exhibits of wildlife and history, as well as a topographical model of the area. The view of the granite outcropping called Table Rock is good from here. Lake Oolenoy is small but picturesque, and is adjacent to the Visitor Center. You can fish or use unpowered boats on this lake. The 80-mile-long Foothills Trail runs through the park along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. There are several other trails within Table Rock State Park, ranging from easy to strenuous. Table Rock Mountain and Pinnacle Mountain are two of them.

I take in the displays and the views and snap a few pictures. I walk out onto the dock that extends into the lake and take a few more photographs.

I confess that I find myself admiring my fine motorcycle as I walk back to it in the parking lot. I look it over from stem to stern with some pleasure that it is mine, and that I am venturing on it to interesting and enjoyable places. It gives a sense of freedom that driving a car doesn’t seem to be able to do. I might even class this as feeling a bit giddy.

All right, come back to earth, Bucky.

After a time, I put my helmet and gloves back on and remount my steed. I carefully go through the starting-and-putting-into-gear procedure. I slowly ride out of the parking lot, check for traffic, and turn north onto SC-11 again.

I proceed until I reach SC-8. At this corner is the Pumpkintown Mountain Oldtime Barbeque Show that is said to feature music, comedy and dance in its theater. The building is a bit time worn and the grounds are overgrown, but it might be a good place for an entertaining evening some time. There is a large rocking chair and a pumpkin that you can walk into to attract attention to the business.



























I turn sharp right onto SC-8. [OK, now think, Bucky: Signal. Brake. Clutch in. Downshift a gear, no two gears, no three. Watch where you want to go. Don’t look down at the pavement. Blip throttle. Clutch engage. Smoothly roll on throttle. Turn off signal. Shift up. Whew – all this for one simple corner.]

Route 8 to the west has gentle curves as it flows toward the little crossroads called Pumpkintown. We kid whenever we hear that someone lives in Pumpkintown. “Do you mean downtown Pumpkintown?” we ask. As far as anyone knows, there is no downtown section, just a four-way stop with a little restaurant and bait shop, though there is a seasonal fruit stand on another corner. Pumpkintown has -- you guessed it -- a pumpkin festival once a year that draws thousands to buy crafts, eat, and listen to music.

A half mile beyond Pumpkintown, I turn left onto SC-135 south where it begins. It gently winds through the farm country back toward home.

I find that once I reach home, I have ridden about 55 miles on this route. Somehow, it didn’t seem that far. Maybe that is the joy of and attraction to riding. Getting away from it all in a new way. Seeing new things. Making the time fly by. Later, I would begin to make new friends while out, but for today, I am happy to have completed my first relatively long ride.

I back the bike into the garage, take off all my gear, and put it away. I am a little tired from the exertion, not so much physical, but mental. My breathing is more rapid than I would have expected, and I am sure my heart rate is up, too. I am on the edge of feeling exhilaration -- a good feeling. I greet my wife, who, by this proclamation, now knows that I have not perished while riding this thing today. She asks how the ride was. I tell her some of the highlights, but I cannot adequately describe the good feeling, other than to say that it is fun.


Footnote:

I am a bit sheepish to say it, but later that evening I steal out to the garage to admire my bike again. I take pleasure in looking it over for a few minutes much as I did at the Table Rock parking lot.

Am I alone in doing this, or are there others who do this as well? Come clean. Admit it if you do.


Footnote 2:

Lest you think the scenery is drab in these parts, here are a couple of pictures taken at Table Rock in April of 2008. Pretty, aren't they?










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