Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Ride to Jones Gap State Park

Thank you veterans and soldiers.

It is you who make it possible for us to live in freedom and amongst prosperity unparalleled in the history of the world.

Today is celebrated Memorial Day, so I have the day off from work. I get up early but find that the weather looks threatening with rain. I check my usual weather website and it calls for a 40% chance of rain. I go out to feel the weather for myself and decide to ride for a while.

I pack my rainsuit and my glove and boot covers just in case, along with a couple of bottles of water and some granola bars. My camera always goes along, too.

I have my usual breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, juice and milk, then get dressed. Mama always said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I [almost] always do as mama said to.

The temperature is already sixty-five degrees F and it is expected to get hotter later. With the humidity at 100%, I want to wear something that is fairly cool. I recently washed a one-piece leather suit and it shrunk a bit as it dried so it fits me too much like the casing of a sausage. I need to stretch it out again by wearing it. It is perforated on the front, so it should be cool enough.

You might ask why I washed a leather suit. Well, it was dirty...and I am, thrifty. I studied various methods of cleaning leather and came up with a way that I have used now to wash three suits. They come out clean and free of odors and sweated-in salt. The washing method appears in the latest issue of Motorcycle Lifestyle Magazine.

Anyway, I want to stretch out this suit again. Since it is very difficult to get into a one-piece suit over my armored shirt, let alone get a tight one on over it, I try a new approach: Put my armored shirt into the suit, then put on both at once. After a bit of a struggle, I find that I can get the suit on. I squirm around to position the armor properly, then add my boots, earplugs, helmet (not the one in the picture), and gloves.

I venture outside, start the bike, and take off. My route today heads through Dacusville, then Cleveland (South Carolina, not Ohio -- the one in Ohio is slightly larger).

View Larger Map
Drag around and enlarge the map to see the full route.

On US-276, Geer Highway, near Cleveland, I spot Firetower Road. "C" on the map. Hmm. My keen intellect tells me that there might be a fire tower up there somewhere. I turn and follow the road, whose surface becomes more and more broken as I go, until it ends at a circular path around a grassy area at point C on the map. This must have been the site of the tower, but it isn't here any more. I look back down the road and see another mountain with an antenna on it, but because of the fog and the trees, I cannot see much further in any direction. The upstate South Carolina blogger at Random Connections has begun searching for and posting about fire towers in the area.

Sometimes when you can't see far, you should look close by. I did, and saw quite a few low-growing wild rose bushes with bright red blossoms. I probably would have overlooked them otherwise. Here they are.

I spend a few more minutes looking around, then head back down and onward toward Jones Gap. US-276 comes out on SC-11, just east of Old Old Hwy 11 that I wrote about before. I follow 11 to River Falls Road and go north. I putter along, gawking at the mountains in the mist.

Devils Fork Road turns off to the east at Tankersley Lake. I note that a nearby mailbox has the Tankersley name on it, so the landowner probably built the dam creating the lake. I'm not sure how far the road goes since my map cuts off, so I turn around at "E" on the map and again go toward Jones Gap when I reach River Falls Road again.

I next come across Oil Camp Creek Road. From the map, I see that this is called a Jeep road, and comes out near Caesars Head. I follow the road until the pavement runs out and it turns to dirt. I chicken out. Rain + dirt = mud, and I'm not on a dirt bike. (I later learned that the road is closed off further from the spot at "D" on the map where I turned back, with no traffic allowed.) There are some homes and a few farm fields, but not a lot of special interest right here.

I get back to the main road and the try Gap Creek and Ducktown Roads. I soon find that Gap Creek intersects Devils Fork Road at "F" on the map. I could have made the circle had I known. Not much extraordinary to see here either. Mind you, the scenery isn't ugly, but there is nothing spectacular today. Still, there is a certain anticipation and joy of exploration when you don't know what wonder might be waiting around the next bend in the road.

I continue on my way and find some very nice views of the Saluda River right along the road. The river is rocky here, and fast moving, with many little rapids and sections of boulders. The fishing here must be good, as I see several fishermen along the way, using their best fly casting talents. I park my bike at several viewpoints and snap some pics, the bike first, of course.

The Jones Gap State Park parking area at "H" on the map has only a few cars in it, so I find a good spot and pull in. I lock my helmet to the bike, and tote my gloves with me as my tank bag is filled with rain gear and water bottles. There is a trout pond here surrounded by a rock wall from which they must stock the river. There are also many picnic tables that look inviting. The sound of the rushing water and of birds singing makes this an idyllic place, one where the cares of the world seem far removed.

The view up the river from here,...

...and the view down the river.

There are several trails that extend from here into the surrounding mountains. Hikers would enjoy days of exploring.

Here is a map of the trails, split in two so it is easier to print full size.

If you go, the River Falls Road has recently been tar and chip treated and is in good condition. I admit that I did not know at first what the sharp cracking sound accompanied with some instability was as I rode on this surface. I thought that something was coming apart on the Ninja. It was actually caused by the remaining loose stone from the tar and chip treatment shifting beneath my tires. The loose stone was not heavy in any of the places I rode and presented no real problem, just a little case of the jitters at times. If I were doubling the speed limit, it might have been a problem, but I don't so it wasn't. The other area roads are in mostly good condition.

I retrace my path to SC-11, then turn right and follow it past the turnoff to Caesars Head, then on until SC-8 turns south again. By this time, there is a little rain threatening that keeps me from making the trip longer -- I don't want to shrink my suit again. I go through Pumpkintown, then meet SC-135 returning to Easley.

The rain holds out, so I go to an empty cul-de-sac and do some low speed figure eights as practice. I do this about every other time I go out, to help improve my balance and throttle/clutch/brake coordination. The test layout at the DMV is also nearby, and I go there sometimes. I am amazed how difficult -- no, impossible -- the cone weave there can be if you target fixate on the cones or don't feather the clutch with the throttle open a bit and the rear brake providing a little chain tension.

I'm a slow learner maybe, but I am getting better with practice.

By the time I reach home, I have ridden about ninety-two miles, and the bike needs another bath.

I get out the hose, clean it up and put it away. Next week they are predicting rain almost every day, so I may not get out again very soon.

Oh well, I have enjoyed today anyway, especially the few minutes listening to the water and bird songs at Jones Gap Park. It was well worth the trip just for that.

My leather suit has stretched a little and feels quite comfortable toward the end of the ride.

Thank you again veterans for your service and dedication to the defense of our country.

So many of our current politicians see the military as a distraction from their socialist reengineering of America. I see the military as being vital to our freedom.

Soldiers, we salute you.

Lilies in bloom under Old Glory in South Carolina.

Long may she wave.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Guys Like This Give All of Us a Bad Name

It was a beautiful day for a ride, but I had to work, so only got out for a short time. On my way back, a group of 30 or so mostly Harleys was stopped at a light going the opposite direction from me. They were sprawled over their left turn lane and the two adjacent driving lanes.

When their light changed, some of their group positioned themselves in front of our lanes to allow their entire group to pass as one. They turned left from all three of their lanes.

We who were blocked had to wait two changes of the light.

Guys like these give all of us a bad name. They blatantly broke the law so their group could stay together. They should have been in at least four separate groups, each with its own leader and sweep.

I gave them a thumbs-down and shook my head to indicate my irritation at their brazen, selfish, illegal action. One of the lane blockers looked as though he wanted to come see who I was, but thought better of it when the last of his group went by and threatened to leave him behind.

Thumbs down, group, thumbs down!