Thursday, June 10, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend Rally, Part II, The Ride Up

I posted a few pictures earlier from the Memorial Day Weekend I spent at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest North Carolina.

The occasion for the weekend was the annual Rally to Ridgecrest, where motorcyclists from as far away as Illinois and Florida get together to honor our military veterans. There were several hundred bikers there of all shapes and sizes -- big ones, small ones, mostly men, but some women.

The bikes were all shapes and sizes, too. A couple of big scooters, lots of cruisers, many touring and sport touring bikes, a sprinkling of sportbikes, a few trikes, and one sidecar rig. Here are pictures of some of them:

The weather was spectacular. It remained partly cloudy with only occasional periods of overcast, with those mostly at the higher elevations. I didn't get into any rain until the last thirty miles from home. You couldn't ask for better conditions; an answered prayer, by the way.

As you might expect, I made a day of it riding from home to Ridgecrest. If I had wanted to get there quickly, I could have gone this way, maybe 90 miles, but I wanted to see as many things along the way as I could. I know that doesn't surprise any of you who have read previous entries in this blog of mine. I like to poke around to interesting places when I am out.

The actual route I took going up looks like this:

View Larger Map
Remember that you can explore the map by holding your mouse button down and moving it about. You can also see a larger version with routing instructions if you click on the "View Larger Map" link.

The route starts out going up US-178 from Pickens South Carolina to Rosman North Carolina. This is one of the favorite roads near here for bikers of all kinds. It is mostly well paved, most of the curves are marked, and it has many advisory speed signs. It is not a good idea to speed, however, since it is patrolled by officers in fast cars and on faster motorcycles. There isn't much traffic today, but come the weekend it will be more crowded, especially with motorcyclists. I enjoy the ride today on this familiar road.

Aside: One thing I have noticed since I first rode up US-178 to Rosman way back in February of 2008, is that it doesn't take as long for me to get there as it used to. The first time I tried this road was when I had owned the bike for only about four and a half months, and had ridden a total of four hundred miles. I am sure this quicker time today is because of somewhat higher skills. (For reference, I have now owned the bike for almost three years and have ridden it over 19,000 miles.)

At Rosman, I continue north on NC-215. This road is in the process of being repaved along almost this entire length. Unfortunately, the preparation for paving has brought with it a number of edge traps and other hazards.

First, here is the intrepid rider's steed as it takes a rest break on the way north, stopped at an overlook on NC-215 just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Note my luggage for the trip, Cortech Sport saddlebags and tail bag, and my usual GTmoto magnetic tank bag. This combination holds enough for three days, but it is Spartan, requiring some items to do double duty, such as Nylon pants that serve both as casual wear and for use under my suit to increase its wind resistance if necessary.

Now, here is a photo of the road at the overlook:

Note how the road crew has cut out sections of the existing deteriorated pavement in long strips and have installed new asphalt paving material into the resulting gaps. They will eventually pave over the whole thing, making the driving surface smooth, but right now, every one of the patches has the potential of an edge trap that can trip up the motorcyclist.

Here is the definition of an edge trap from the Community Christian Riders website (under "Safety," then "Road Hazards"):
"An edge trap is any raised pavement edge or groove running parallel to the lane direction. For instance, when a lane is repaved, the edge of the new paving is raised several inches higher than the old paving. That raised edge can be out in the traffic lane. If you allow your front tire to ease up to a raised edge, it’s very likely you will lose control and go down. It is called an 'edge trap' because it tends to capture your front tire and trap you into a fall.

"Once your tire is trapped by the raised edge, it’s almost impossible to avoid a spill. Crossing an edge trap can be tricky. If the surface is only 1" high you can ride over it without much concern so long as you approach it at an angle of at least 20 degrees. Anything higher than about 1" and you must put as great an angle of attack to it as possible. Ideally you want to cross over it with a 90 degree (perpendicular) angle."
At the very least, it can be unnerving to cross over the joint. At worst, it can prevent you from making a steering correction. Since you don't want to cross the edges of the patches at shallow angles just in case there is a step there, the effect is that you cannot use the full width of the lane when making curves. That should cause you to slow down a notch or two compared with an unpatched surface.

Do you also see the very significant dropoff on the pavement edge? This overlook parking area is gravel, and the drop from pavement surface to gravel surface is two or three inches. Now that is not too bad going down if you try to do so at as near ninety degrees as possible, carry a little speed, and have room beyond the dropoff to slow down and correct for any mischief it causes. (You must remember that the overlook lot is gravel, and is unforgiving of quick maneuvers.)

Going back up the edge of the pavement can be a real challenge, though. The first thing to do is look for a place where the dropoff (now a step up) is at a minimum. You must then watch for oncoming traffic, and you want to enter the roadway at as close to that ninety degrees as possible, which requires a steering correction just after getting onto the paved road again. This combination of challenges can be difficult whilst feathering the clutch and getting your feet up onto the pegs.

One more thing in the picture: They have installed steel guardrail (euphemistically referred to as "meat grinders" by the motorcycle set) along almost this entire section of NC-215. It protects the cager from running off the downhill side or into the mountainside, but it can slice and dice a motorcyclist who hits it. That is another reason for caution...and for ATGATT

After a short rest and a drink of water, I manage to get back onto the road without incident and find the entrance to the Parkway just a mile or so up the road. I enter and head north.

The ride is sweet. There is no commercial traffic here. There are few tourists, even though this is a holiday weekend. I stop at several overlooks and gawk at this little part of creation. I move along at the speed limit of 45 MPH in most places. I am enjoying myself quite a bit. Since I am alone, I can do what I please. The pace, the time and place for stops, and the activities at each stop are all up to me. I like that freedom, though it would be nice to have a like-minded rider along in case of trouble and to converse with at stops. Alas, I couldn't find anyone else going this way today.

The Parkway is currently closed between milepost 405 and milepost 399.7 (Bad Fork Valley Overlook) due to the potential for rock slides after recent heavy rains. Just before I reach milepost 405, I find that I can divert off the Parkway on NC-151. The first part of this road is known as the "Devil's Drop," a technical and very challenging road. It has about a 7% downgrade and many tight curves.

I get a chance to try out the low-gear-and-light-rear-brake downhill turn technique I wrote of in an earlier post. I am not sure I have the hang of it yet, but it seems to stabilize my descent without my eyes getting as big as saucers due to gaining too much speed. ...and I take it easy anyway.

I finish out this twelve mile stretch of NC-151, and make my way east a bit and south again, then regain the Parkway southeast of Asheville.

These next few miles pass through a portion of the Biltmore Forest. It happens that the Parkway through here also functions as a local road, so there is a bit more traffic. This forest land was once owned by Mr. George Washington Vanderbilt, who built the largest private residence in the United States, the Biltmore, completed in 1895. The house and grounds are open for tours, and it is a bit pricey, but that is because it is not government run, and relies only on entrance fees to pay the way, not on taxpayer dollars. Yea! That is the way it should be done, of course: If you want to visit, you pay your own way. What a concept!

I continue on, enjoying the road and the scenery, though the distant scenery is less available here than further south on the Parkway where I came from. That is, there are fewer overlooks and the view from most of them is less spectacular. I realize that I am, indeed, fortunate to live near the better parts of the Parkway.

I must admit to a temptation here. It is to go faster than the speed limit. The road is good, there isn't much traffic, so why not? Well, there are several good reasons. One of which is that it is against the law, and I might get a ticket. The tickets here are quite expensive, I understand around $250.

Another reason is that there are others on the road who may not be watching the road, and who may wander across the centerline. They may also be going slow or be stopped to look at something.

A third reason is that there are some of these:

[photo courtesy of Ryan]

The curves are generally well marked, but you have to be careful, because you never know what might be lurking just out of sight.

Still another reason is animals. There are lots of them around, deer being the most likely to cause trouble with passing traffic. Today, a large bird started running across the road right in front of me, and the only reason I missed him was that he got scared and flapped his wings to help get out of my way. It might have been a pheasant, but whatever it was, it scared me quite a bit, as it could have caused me to wreck.

After my heart rate slows again, I motor on to Mount Mitchell, and ride to the upper parking area. It is a short walk from there to the highest point in North Carolina, and the highest peak east of the Mississippi, at 6,684 feet above sea level. The temperature at the summit is 62 degrees F, and wind is gusty. (Down in nearby Asheville, NC, the temperature was about 78 degrees at the same time.) There are some dark clouds so the visibility is not great, and thunder is audible nearby, but there is no rain.

A view of the road up, taken from the top. It happens that the sky is clearest in this direction.

I take the obligatory proof of visit photo of the elevation benchmark. You can tell it is I by the boots, right?

I have been up here once before, and you can read about my previous trip by following this link.

I go back down the mountain. After a few more miles, it is time to leave the Parkway, and I use NC-80 and US-70 to go south and back to the west; becoming nearer to my destination. There are three more things I want to squeeze in today before I rest, however.

The first is at Old Fort. There was once a fort close to this little town, built by the colonial militia before the Declaration of Independence, and the settlement served for many years as the western-most outpost of the early United States.

From the Old Fort website.

You can see one of the places of interest in this old photograph, the 1892 railroad depot. (You know I like trains.) The depot, restored in 2005, contains railroad and area artifacts as well as the Chamber of Commerce office. It is a quick visit.

The second point of interest is the tall pointed object (appropriate, huh?) on the right side of the photograph. Back in July of 1930, they erected a nearly thirty foot tall arrowhead hand-chiseled from granite and set next to the railroad depot. It is still there.

Here is the dedication ceremony announcement:

From the Old Fort website.

The arrowhead was intended to be a symbol of the peace achieved in an earlier century between pioneers and Native Americans.

Next, I go a few miles to another point of interest on my list today. Along the way to view it, I see glimpses of the railroad right of way, on its torturous path upgrade. If you look at this section of the Google map, you see how it twists and wraps around to minimize the grade.

View Larger Map
Click on "View Larger Map" above and then enlarge and move around the general area to see the railroad right of way that roughly parallels the road. You can follow it all the way from the depot in Old Fort, Pushpin "A" on the map, to the Ridgecrest Conference center at Pushpin "D."

Do you see all the loops and curves in the railroad? Enlarge the view if you can't pick out the tracks. Starting from the Old Fort depot helps trace it. The route is about thirteen miles by railroad, but only about five as the crow flies. They certainly put in a lot of civil engineering to get it built. Mr. James W. Wilson, who lived between 1832 and 1910, was the chief engineer and president of the Western North Carolina Railroad, planned and built this section. There is a commemorative plaque to Mr. Wilson back at the depot.

The road I am on has a few turns, but soon enough I come across the desired point of interest, Andrews Geyser, at Pushpin "B" on the map. Now you may have thought that geysers only exist in Yellowstone National Park in the western United States and at a few other places in the world. Well, you would be right about that. The truth of the matter is that there are no natural geysers near here. This one is man made, and is actually better described as a fountain.

From Wikipedia:
"The fountain is named for Colonel Alexander Boyd Andrews, a North Carolina native who was the Vice President of the Southern Railway Company and one of the men responsible for the construction of the railroad between Old Fort and Asheville, North Carolina, in the late 1800s. The fountain was constructed in 1885 with a dual purpose: it was a feature of the Round Knob Hotel, and a tribute to the approximately 120 men who died building the railroad through this particularly treacherous stretch of land, that culminates with the crossing of the Eastern Continental Divide through the Swannanoa Tunnel. The fountain was said to be eye-catching for railroad passengers ascending the 13 miles of track and seven tunnels that peaks at the top of Swannanoa Gap because it could be seen several times along the route."
Here is a postcard showing the Round Knob Hotel with the geyser in its original location:

"The Round Knob Hotel burned to the ground in 1903, and the fountain fell into disrepair. In 1911, George Fisher Baker, a wealthy New York financier and philanthropist who had been friends with Colonel Andrews, funded its restoration. The Southern Railway Company did not grant continuation of the easement for the fountain at that time, so a new, five-sided basin was constructed about 70 yards across Mill Creek, and the piping and nozzle were moved (to the fountain's current location). The town of Old Fort was given rights to the basin and the pipe that carries the water, and the fountain was formally named Andrews Geyser.
"The town of Old Fort continues to use Andrews Geyser and the surrounding area as a public park. Andrews Geyser underwent extensive restoration again in the 1970s, and was rededicated on May 6, 1976. Signs at the park describe Mr. Fisher's role in the early 1900s and the role of Old Fort's private citizens in the 1970s in keeping the fountain running.
"Andrews Geyser shoots water continuously to a height of about 80 feet. Its water supply is drawn from a pond located at the current site of the Inn on Mill Creek, a local Bed & Breakfast. The Inn's property contains the original dam constructed by the railroad in the late 1800s, and the pond formed by the dam with the water of the Long Branch of Mill Creek. A 6-inch diameter cast iron pipe runs from the dam, through a hidden gate valve, then underground approximately two miles downhill to the fountain. The water comes out a half-inch nozzle pointed skyward, and the 500 feet of elevation difference creates the pressure that drives the fountain."

Here is the fountain today:

I spend a few minutes taking in the view, but I am nearing my final destination now, and I am eager to get there. The closest route takes me to the southwest on a continuation of the road I have been on.

There is only one small detail: it turns to gravel. You may know that I seem to have developed something of a habit of finding gravel roads to ride on with my bike, despite its decidedly non-off-road design. Remember these posts? Green River Road, Musterground Road, Toccoa. They all describe some escapade on gravel, or worse, on dirt roads.

This graveled section doesn't look too bad [yea, as usual, Bucky], so I gingerly continue. All goes well and I stop a few times to take pictures.

After a mile or so, I run into a steep upgrade with larger loose stone. I pick my way up, but stall out and start to roll backward a bit. I manage to stop that disconcerting trend by clamping the front brake, which is effective. It then requires deft manipulation of the front brake lever, throttle, and clutch to get started up the grade again. I manage to get rolling, and make it to the top, through a narrow railroad underpass (pictured above), and on to a flatter and more forgiving section of road.

I pass the Inn at Mill Creek where there is the lake where the water for the geyser originates, and shortly thereafter, I find myself on asphalt pavement again. Well, that stretch wasn't too bad, and I believe I am within a mile or so of Ridgecrest.

There is an interesting thing that I find here where the hard pavement starts again. Route US-70 used to run through here, but has been closed to motorized traffic. It is now called the Point Lookout Greenway Bike Trail. It runs 3.6 miles from outside Old Fort to near Ridgecrest, and is nicely paved, in contrast to the gravel road I just negotiated. It is ironic that they would close a hard-surface road, leaving only a nearby gravel road open, but I suppose that I-40/(new) US-70 is the better way around this stretch of old US-70 for those in a hurry.

Here is a video of a fellow, Peter Savage, who negotiated this same road between Old Fort and Ridegcrest in February of 2009 on his V-Strom.

Just one more reference: The Swannanoa Railroad Tunnel is here on the map, almost in front of the Conference Center. If you are a hardy soul, you can hike down to it on a path that starts near the historical marker.

This is a shot of the tunnel entrance -- and the light at the end of the tunnel -- I took November 7, 2008 when I went to a South Carolina FaithRiders Rally at Ridgecrest.

Well, my ride today is almost at an end.

I find the entrance to the Conference Center, park right in front, climb off my trusty mount, stretch and loosen up a bit, then go in to register.

The desk is busy, but the line moves reasonably fast and there are other motorcyclists to talk with while waiting. One topic of conversation that a greeter representing the rally brings up to me is that he doesn't think I have ridden in on a Harley. I can't imagine why he would say such a thing, since he hasn't seen my bike. Can you figure it out?

On the Oscar Wigginton Memorial Scenic Byway, July 3, 2009

Soon enough, I am signed in by the pleasant desk staff. I lug my bags (is that why they call it luggage?) up to my room and settle in. Supper will be served in an hour or so. Yum, I'm starved.

I am rooming with another guy who is riding in separately, but he has not arrived as yet. This has me a bit concerned, but it turns out that he was caught in rain near his home and got a late start as a result. I am glad I started out early this morning.

I have safely traveled about 195 miles today, spending time at a host of interesting and picturesque places, and riding roads that are entertaining. I am tired, but pleased with the way the day has unfolded. I was on the road for about eight hours.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Links to related postings:

Rally to Ridgecrest, 2013 -- Day 1
Rally to Ridgecrest, 2013 -- Day 2
Rally to Ridgecrest, 2013 -- Days 3 and 4

Freedom is Never Free! -- Rally to Ridgecrest, 2011, Part I
Freedom is Never Free! -- Rally to Ridgecrest, 2011, Part II

Rally to Ridgecrest Facebook Page

Memorial Day 2010 Weekend Rally
Memorial Day 2010 Weekend Rally, Part II, The Ride Up
Memorial Day 2010 Weekend Rally, Part III, Saturday
Memorial Day 2010 Weekend Rally, Part IV, Sunday and the Ride Home.


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