Saturday, September 12, 2009

650R = Dualsport for a Day?

My ride today is on a long-shot route. I had looked at the map and saw a road that appeared to go from US-276 north of Caesars Head toward the east, meeting US-25. Google Maps shows that it goes through, but Google has been known to be quite wrong about the actual locations of roads in the western North Carolina region.

Nevertheless, I start out to see whether I am on a wild goose chase. I had planned to go at this road from the east, starting out by going up to Saluda North Carolina along the Greenville Watershed road (Old US-25), then turning west on US-176, meeting US-25 south, then exiting onto the road in question, Green River Road.

At the last minute, I decide to go from the other direction. The road from the south of Caesars Head is twisty and steep, while the road to Saluda is mostly sweepers and far less steeply graded. I am still a bit skittish on downhill tight turns, so up toward Caesars Head is the better way to go for me today. By the way, I don't totally avoid the tight downhill turns in my riding, and sometimes I can't avoid them, but right now I don't feel quite up to tackling them.

As I begin to go on my way, I pass a peculiar sight that I must show you. There is a fellow who has set up a sign to advertise his Bush Hogging business. He used an old mowing implement, painted up nicely in bright red, with a couple of pieces of angle iron and a sheet metal backing to hold his sign. Pretty clever and eye catching, I'd say. He must have had to wait for the sign to be painted, because the mower sat there for some weeks with no sign in place, but recently it appeared. It looks very professional and should draw the attention of those who might need his services.

The peculiar thing though is the way he attached his new sign to the steel back plate. Look closely:

Yep, those are plastic pants hangers -- seven of them, in various lengths, to be exact. Hmmmmm. I guess it is functional, and it got my attention. Maybe that is his idea to get more calls.

After I examine this fine sign, I continue on my trip today. I motor up SC-135 through Pumpkintown, then SC-8 and US-276 to the top of Caesars Head. I only stop a minute there to take a slug of the G2 version of Gatorade to maintain the all-important hydration. By the way, this vile tasting stuff is supposed to replace vital electrolytes, but I certainly don't like the way it goes down.

I continue north on US-276, but cannot find Green River Road. I spot a fire station on the right, just down Cascade Lake Road, with a dirt bike out front, so I figure that someone there ought to know how to find the road -- and maybe I can meet a fellow biker. As I park, a man comes out to see what I want. At first he seems slightly irritated that I have stopped in the parking area. Maybe he thinks that the bike might be in the way of the firefighting equipment should it be called. It turns out that the fellow is a volunteer firefighter, though not the one who owns the dirt bike. He says he rides a big cruiser, though. I ask him how to find my road.

He is a talkative sort, and tells me all about it. Actually, the road I want is a continuation of Reasonover Road, which turns to the right just fifty yards from where we stand. He adds, however, that about four miles down that road where Green River Road starts, it turns to gravel...and into one lane. He ruminates a minute and opines that with the recent rain, it might be rutted and difficult for me on my Ninja.

Too, he says, there is a summer camp that could be changing campers, and the road may be busy today -- a relative thing I suppose out here on a partly-gravel country road. He wants to make sure I have the right directions, so he repeats them for me. That's OK; as I am getting more forgetful as I age. He also tells of another way to bypass the gravel road, but that way ends up in Hendersonville North Carolina, further north than I want to go today.

I decide to go at least as far as the gravel and see what the surface looks like. The road on the way is well-paved and curvy with several places where little hills make it difficult to tell which way the road turns on the other side. I ride slow and steady so I don't misjudge.

I finally reach Green River Road. It is indeed unpaved, but the majority of the surface looks smooth with some gravel outside the car tracks. It is a little wider than one lane. I proceed. I get into my best gravel-riding stance: Weight on my pegs, loose grip on the bars, look ahead, and go slow in first gear.

Less than half a mile from the start of the gravel, I pass the summer camp the fire fighter told me about. It is the Green River Preserve. They have camps here aimed toward "environmental" activities. I think that means that they go out into the woods and look around while learning about what they are looking at.

As I continue, I note that I am roughly paralleling a river -- the Green River, I deduce, using my keen intellect. Remember, this is Green River Road I am on. There are some deep valleys through here, though surprisingly the road does not have many hills and dales. All of the surroundings are heavily wooded, so there are no long views, just a pleasant road through a quiet and secluded place.

Isn't it wonderful that our scooters can take us to places like this? I get a thrill out of going places that not everyone has gone or can go. This road is certainly not the most out of the way place in the area, but the gravel keeps lots of people from coming this way. If I had a dirt or dualsport bike, I would be able to get further "away," but for today, this is a good start that I am enjoying quite a lot.

After a mile or so, I get a little more used to the gravel, so I shift into second gear and go a bit faster. The road condition remains about the same as it started out -- easily passable with some care.

A bridge appears, crossing over the Green River. The river rocks provide a pretty picture.

...and slightly further on...

At a few places along the way I stop and snap more pictures. After four miles of gravel have disappeared beneath my wheels, I emerge -- at the corner of Bear Paw Ridge Road -- onto a paved road surrounded by farm land.

I am at once glad that the gravel part is over, but I feel a minor sense of accomplishment at having come through it.

The road on this side of the gravel section is not quite as hilly as on the other side, so I go along at a pretty good clip. I am a little cautious at first, as my tires might still have some mud on them.

Once I reach US-25, I take it north to the US-176 exit and turn toward Saluda. I have never been on this part of the road before. It has a few sweeping curves. About half way to Saluda, the road runs across a bridge over a high valley. An older bridge still stands to the south of this newer one, and there is a parking lot -- the former roadway -- at the east end that I pull into for a better look. The old bridge entrance is blocked by concrete barriers, but you can easily walk out onto it.

Here are some bikers going up the hill after crossing the bridge, going the opposite direction I am.

I go out onto the old bridge, and take in the views of the valley below. It's a pretty deep valley.

I also look over at the newer bridge, and at one other thing that I know you know I will find interesting, being the engineer that I am. There is a large black pipe running down the valley beneath the west end of the bridges. The pipe is a canvas for graffiti artists, but what is the pipe's purpose?

I walk down to that end of the bridge and look closer. The pipe appears to be about eight feet in diameter, possibly made of creosoted wooden staves with threaded steel rods wrapped around the outside to tighten the joints. There is a trickle of water leaking out of the pipe in a few places. A maintenance ladder is propped against the pipe.

The pipe is well supported on cradles resting on concrete pads, with steel structure as necessary to carry it over low spots.

Here is a closer look at the pipe's construction:

I later learn that this pipe probably carries water downstream from Lake Summit. That lake exists because the Green River -- the very same one that I followed a little earlier today -- is dammed south of this point.

A reader tells me "That big pipe is a penstock from Lake Summit to the Tuxedo Hydro Station." The website he references calls out these further details: "The Tuxedo Hydroelectric Station is operated by Duke Energy Carolinas, and has two 3.2 MW generators. The station began operation in 1920. The wood stafe penstock and turbine runners were replaced in 1993. The project includes a 130ft high, 245 ft long single-arch concrete dam."

Everything you ever wanted to know about wooden penstocks, tanks, and piping is here.

I examine the surroundings to see if I can get down to the pipe easily. I can't see a way to do so without climbing down through the grass and scrub, so I don't try to do so. After I gawk at the pipeline, I look back at the new bridge and note again how high it is above the bottom of the valley.

I walk back to my bike and finish a granola bar and bottle of G2 (that terrible-tasting stuff), then get ready for the rest of my trip today. I head into downtown Saluda, pass the crest of the Saluda Grade, and turn right on the Greenville Watershed Road, beginning to go toward home now. This is the road I traveled with Ryan the first time we rode together.

Today, I am more confident of my technique that I was then. There are a few pavement buckles that nearly launch a rider off his seat, and some broken pavement, but outside of that, the road is pretty good. There is not much traffic today, so I have clear sailing almost all the way to US-25 just north of SC-11. There is no development along a lot of this route, so cross traffic and driveway-backer-outers are not a problem. A few of the curves are blind, and there are many bicyclists who use this road, so a bit of care is in order.

I run the short distance down 25 and turn right on SC-11. This is a familiar route that many riders use in various ways. Some ride it in preference to most other roads. The cruisers especially tend to do that. The sportbikers tolerate its benign route only to get to their favorite twisty places to ride.

This is a good time to list the roads that go up the Blue Ridge Escarpment, in order from east to west, as described by Andy Simons on the Motorcycle Tourer's Forum:

"Some of the best riding in the South is located along the South Carolina/North Carolina state line in the mountainous part of the states. This area, bordered on the South by SC Scenic Highway 11, to the East by I-26, to the North by Highway 64, and to the West by Highway 28, is dominated by the southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. An escarpment is defined as a long continuous cliff caused by erosion or upheaval. The roads in this area that run between SC and NC are all a blast to ride and some of them are as challenging as any that can be found in our country.

"Starting at the eastern end, at the intersection of SC 11 and I-26, go north on
I-26, you will soon see the signs warning truckers about the upcoming grade (the Saluda Grade). Because of the engineering challenges, the Saluda Grade was the last portion of I-26 to be completed. The road here widens to give the truckers an extra slow lane and is made up of a series of high-speed sweepers (if you have the power). My favorite part of this ride is at the top where you can look to the left and see most of the northern part of SC.

"The next road,
US-176, is a narrow winding 2 lane road. While 176 does not feature any terrific views, there are some beautiful little towns along the route. US-176 was the detour for 1-26 while the highway up the Saluda Grade was completed. I traveled over it several times (in the car with my parents) until the interstate was finished more than 30 years ago. When I drove up 176 last summer, it seemed as though time had stopped in the early 70's (after I-26 opened).

"The next road to the West is
US-25. US 25 is a major traffic route for citizens of the Greenville, SC area who are heading north. The road is interstate quality with some good views and many pretty farms and homes along the way.

"This is probably a good time to talk about
SC Scenic Highway 11. This road runs along the base of the escarpment for 70 miles. The highlight of the ride along of SC-11 is the spectacular cliff formations that are visible to the North as you travel along the highway. Also, one of SC's best parks, Table Rock State Park, is on SC-11. SC-11 is not a challenging road - no twisties or real elevation changes.

A hot spot for SC biker's for years has been
US-276 between SC-11 and Brevard, NC. This highway is a two-lane road, paved many years ago. There are many tight switchbacks as the road goes through considerable changes in elevation. Again, you go through some small towns where it seems like time has stood still. The road goes through Caesar's Head State Park and the overlook at the top, 'Bald Rock' is worth stopping for.

"Next road to the West is US-178. Highway 178 runs from Rosman, NC down to SC-11. It is similar in character to 276 but the road is in better shape. I recently went through this route with a group and we had a great time playing in the twisties. One warning - traveling south from Rosman, just as you cross the state line, 178 opens up and flattens out for about 1/2 mile. It is really tempting to put the hammer down in this section, especially if you are behind others in your group. However, the SC State Patrol likes to station one of their finest in a special pursuit Camaro to help control speeds in this area. Beware the bear.

SC-130 and SC-107 are 2 more roads that climb the escarpment. There is a beautiful waterfall off 130 [just north of the North Carolina state line] you can see if you don't mind a short hike. If you go all the way up 130, it changes to NC 281 as you cross the SC/NC state line.

SC-107 is an old road and is not as spectacular as some of the other roads in the area. I like it because of the town at the intersection of 107 and 64, Cashiers, NC. There is a gas station/restaurant there with some of the best hot dogs I have had.

"Last on my list is my favorite,
Highway 28. The good part of this road actually starts in Walhalla, SC at the Steakhouse Cafeteria (sorry - no steaks). North from Walhalla, the road travels up and down several ridges and includes nearly every combination of turn you could imagine. Traffic is normally light and I have traveled the complete section from Walhalla to Highlands, NC without being slowed by cage traffic. One piece of advice - Highlands is a favorite spot for the NC jet set. Traffic there can be heavy on the weekends. [From a local rider: I try to avoid the section of 64/28 aka the gorge. It is a very curvy section of road but the traffic crawls through there, usually in the wrong lane. I’ve even had one local in a truck try to run me off the road there before. That combined with the tar snakes and nowhere to safely pass and I gave up on that section of road. I've found better roads like Norton or Buck Creek to bypass the gorge.] The shops are nice but the price is high. If you have your significant other with you and stop here it might be expensive ;O).

"BTW, if you really feel like riding, 28 goes all the way to
Deal's Gap, ending at the intersection of 28 and US-129 - the start of the 'Dragon'. I have used this route to the 'Gap' several times and it is never boring. Hope you enjoy the ride."
Today, I take route 11 over to US-178, crossing my earlier path, and stop at the Holly Springs Country Store for a quick rest and to see if any other riders I know are there. Alas, there are none, so I head back through Pickens, SC toward home. The road between the store and Pickens is full of nice sweeping curves that are a joy to ride. I feel free here, where the road is familiar.

This is the map of my trip today:

View Larger Map

When I reach home, I find that I have traveled 126 miles over good roads and not so good. It is great to be out enjoying God's creation on two wheels.

I wonder if I should call the clever Bush Hog sign guy to have him do some work for me....


Ryan said...

Hey you mentioned me. Cool :)

They sure have improved that road over the last couple years. You about needed a truck to get thru there then. I guess hunting season hasn't really started yet though. Beautiful country though! Thanks for the write-up & pics.

Anonymous said...

That big pipe is a penstock from Lake Summit to the Tuxedo Hydro Station.