Saturday, June 13, 2009

Local Photographer on Twisty Roads

Nearly anyone who rides a motorcycle has heard of the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina. Actually, it is route US-129, and has 318 curves in 11 miles. That is a pretty crooked road, though they embellish its description a bit by counting any curve with a varying radius as more than one.

You may also know that there are several photographers who take prodigious numbers of pictures of vehicles as they pass through there. Amongst them, Killboy, MoonShinePhoto, and US129 Photos. They sell prints on their websites to put food on their tables. Many motorcyclists from around here make the 150 mile trip to run the Dragon, in part, to be able to get a picture of themselves carving the curves.

I have written several times about traveling US-178, north of SC-11. It is a favorite nearby motorcycle road with good scenery surrounding it.

As you have come to know, I like to explore that scenery and have ridden the road quite a bit. All manner of bikers from scooters to trikes travel it.

The gathering point for almost all the motorcyclists and bicyclists is the Holly Springs Country Store at the intersection of SC-11 and US-178.

Lately, a local amateur photographer, Patrick Welch of P.G. Welch Photography, has taken to snapping pictures of riders on a section of US-178 north of there.

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Patrick classes himself as an advanced amateur photographer, and he is out today. He has positioned himself on an S curve just south of Rocky Bottom.

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The S curve consists of one with a larger radius than the other, but both decreasing radius. The rider can stay within the speed limit and still be able to get his knee down.

Now I'm no where near skilled enough to try that, but I want to see my form in the curves, so I make a few passes -- well, maybe more than a few. Apparently it is a slow day for motorcycles, because my multiple passes cause me to get the most exposure of any rider.

Here are thumbnails of pictures taken by Patrick as a sampling of the bikes out today.

Through the wonders of the Internet, you can see the road here.

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I ordered some prints and their photo files on CD-ROM as well. Here are some shots he took of yours truly navigating that S curve.

Headed north just coming out of the south curve of the S.

Done with the south curve and headed toward the north curve.

Headed back south on the south curve.

The photo CD-ROM even has a label on it containing one of the photographs and the date and location of the shoot. He is very accommodating, and gives quick service through SmugMug. I think Patrick does a good job of framing the shots and getting a sharp image. Maybe some day he can quit his day job and do this full time.

If you come through here, look at his schedule to see if he will be out with his camera. He also does other types of photography, so look him up.

When not watching the birdie today, I ride up to the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain. The road is well paved but bumpy almost all the way to the top. Here is a terrain map to the top from Rocky Bottom.

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The turnoff at Rocky Bottom has this distinctive home across from it.

I pass two bicyclists laboring their way up, but that is all. There is no other traffic. The road has a short downhill section in the middle of the climb, so you have to regain the elevation lost there. The bicyclists tend not to like that.

At the parking lot near the summit, a middle-aged man emerges from one of the hiking trails carrying a backpack, saying that he had been out for several days, and is about to head for home in Pickens. He looks tired, having hiked over the tallest peaks nearby and now to the highest point in the state.

The short trail from the parking lot to the top starts here.

Photo by Ryan Cragun, on the Summitpost website.

By the way, the ride starts in Rocky Bottom at about 1745 feet in elevation and climbs to the 3560 foot summit in slightly less than 6 miles.

The tattered sign at the top near the parking lot.

There isn't much to see from the top without hiking a ways because it is almost completely undeveloped and there are no overlooks. Actually, that is kind of nice: There are few people to disturb the solitude. Nearby hiking is plentiful and information about it is here.

After I have a couple of granola bars and a bottle of water, I head back down the hill and make one more pass of the photographer. I get up a little more speed this time, and I am closer to my (not the bike's) limit on the tighter of the two curves that is decreasing radius from this direction, but I don't panic and make it through just fine.

I motor home via. Table Rock State Park and Pumpkintown.

In all, I have ridden 113 miles today, an interesting day out.

Now, to examine those pictures to see about my riding form.

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