Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Freedom is Never Free! -- Rally to Ridgecrest, 2011

My Memorial Day long weekend this year was again spent at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina; a weekend of honoring our military, riding, fellowship, learning, music, and the hearing of speakers who have lived the military life and who are Christians. 

Here is the story of just one example for you, Master Sergeant Raul (Roy) Perez Benavidez, in written form and in video

The occasion for the weekend away was the annual Rally to Ridgecrest, where motorcyclists this year from as far as 1100 miles away got together.

As usual, I planned to make a day of it getting there, so here is the route I wanted to take. (You will find out about what route I really took -- and why -- in a minute.) 

View Larger Map

The desired route includes US-178 from SC-11 to Rosman North Carolina, NC-215 from there to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Parkway to NC-80, NC-80 to near Old Fort, and a short section of gravel to see Andrews Geyser nearby.  These 160 miles of roads are mostly curves and twists, with lots of pretty scenery around. 

A great route...if only I could see much it.

The weather starts out poor: Rain.  I decide right away to forgo the US-178, NC-215, and part of the Blue Ridge Parkway sections of the ride, and head toward Asheville North Carolina on the four-lanes.  I can easily get to those close-to-home roads on a quick day trip like this one.  At Asheville, it does look promising toward the west:

Maybe I can skate through all the way to my destination in this opening of clear weather. 

Alas, it is not to be on my Friday's jaunt.  The rain and fog become so heavy in the higher elevations I can only see the tarmac directly in front of me.  That causes the going to be slow, with the four-way flashers on.  Not fun. 

This next photograph is the view at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center parking lot, milepost 364.6.  Fog is the only thing I can see from here right now, but the rhododendrons are a beautiful sight near here in the spring.  The other motorcycle there in the misty center of the picture came in from the other way, and the couple riding it told me that the same conditions prevailed in that direction. 
So, I am at a decision point.  I figure out where I am relative to my destination and decide to backtrack about eighteen miles, then head east to Ridgecrest by way of lower-elevation main roads. I am disappointed, but that is the prudent thing to do today. 

On good thing: My raingear is serving me well on this ride, I am pleased to report.   I am trying out my [ugly] blue-green Frogg Toggs for the first time, and have combined them with my Tour Master Deluxe Rain Boot Covers and FieldSheer Overgloves, all available from MotorcycleCloseouts, and bought a couple of years ago.  They keep the rain out the whole way. 

See, I told you.  Ugly!  Right?  I have no other defense except to say that they were on sale!  The street price of about $60 is too high a tariff for me. The high-visibility reflective vest is a must, especially for poor visibility conditions. 

The overgloves in use.
And the boot covers.  
(I did tuck the boot covers into my rainsuit pant legs before I started out.) 

By the way, in the photo of the glove covers you can also just see the edge of the rain solution for my non-waterproof GPS setup: A Ziploc bag.  Clever, eh?  My tank bag has its rainsuit on too, as do my saddlebags and tail bag. We're all bundled up against the onslaught. 

I am surprised how well the Frogg Toggs work, their being made of a non-woven Polypropylene material with no apparent coating.  They seem very flimsy, so we will see how they hold up in the long run.  They are, however much easier to get on and off than my one-piece rainsuit.  (Read a now-slightly-humorous aside about a dire rainsuit experience half way through this posting about a rainy, late-night trip from Lawrenceville Georgia.)   

I am also not enjoying the passing scenery because I find that I cannot not see very well at times, despite having my Foggy Respro Breath guard in place in my helmet so it doesn't fog.
The problem is that the mist is so fine that it coats my visor and doesn't run off very well.  I wipe it with my glove but that doesn't help much, so I try opening the helmet visor.  I can see better, but this introduces the very uncomfortable feeling of icy needles penetrating my tender face.  Fortunately, I ride out of the rain and fog when I get to the lower elevations.

The ride east on I-40 is dry and easy, but the trucks are numerous and running above the speed limit, many of them.  I get buffered by their wake, but it is just a little uncomfortable, not unnerving.  I try to stay out of the other traffics' blind spots, and make sure I am not between another vehicle and any of the freeway entrances or exits. 

I go right past Ridgecrest (On purpose.  Yes, I know -- you thought I was getting lost again.) and on to Old Fort, then up to Andrews Geyser.  When I get there, I find that it is not turned on today.  "Turned on?" you ask.  Yes, that is correct.  It is controlled by a valve almost two miles away (at Pushpin "A" on this map, the geyser being at Pushpin "B"), and about 500 feet higher up the mountain, that directs a flow of water from a lake near the Inn on Mill Creek.  In a dry year like this one, they periodically turn it off to allow the lake to refill.  You can find out when it will be turned on by looking at the inn's Facebook page.

Right around here are also a series of loops in the railroad, called the Old Fort Loops for the nearby town of Old Fort, devised a century ago to scale the Blue Ridge Escarpment, which was a formidable barrier to development of the land west of here. 

Here is a great fall aerial view of the inn and their lake, taken by Nick D'Amato.  
As it turns out, Nick is also interested in railroads. He put me onto a book written about the railroad loops near the Geyser. It is The Road by John Ehle, which is historical fiction but describes the building of the railroad through here. For a better description of the area, see Part II of my postings from last year's Rally to Ridgecrest, whose links are listed at the end of this post. Nick has some other of his very professional photos posted on Railpictures.net.

Here is one at the geyser, taken by Mr. D'Amato in October of 2010.  Notice the locomotive beyond and considerably above the geyser:
Prints are available from Nick D'Amato
This is another photo taken near the geyser by BurghMan in Railpictures.net.  He describes the scene: "Although not much of the train is visible, I believe this photo demonstrates the formidable challenge of the Old Fort Loops. Local train P57 was starting into the first loop. Less then two minutes later, it passed in the opposite direction on the higher track."
Another shot near this place is from the website of the fictional Charleston, Roanoke, and Eastern Railway, an N-scale model railroad.  The railroad loops near Andrews Geyser were an influence on the model railroad's layout. 

This year, the gravel part of the road between the geyser and Ridgecrest is a little more challenging, with some slick mud.  I am careful and get through just fine, but my bike gets a fair splattering that is destined to remain through the weekend.

The road winds up the grade toward Ridgecrest, roughly paralleling the railroad, below and on the right of the road in this photo.
Here is the route I have taken from I-40 to the geyser and back to Ridgecrest: 

View Larger Map
The geyser is at Pushpin "C".  My visit last year, with quite a bit of descriptive info, is located here

A little while later I arrive at the Ridgecrest Conference Center.  I park in front of the main building, doff my helmet and rain gear, and walk in to register. 
Several of the rally officials recognize me from last year and welcome me like an old friend.  They must have good memories.

After I register, I note that sport and sport-touring bikes are in the minority again this year, most of the crowd riding Harleys, Gold Wings, and the like.  The people range from a bit shaggy to well dressed.  (I will later tend toward the former: I forgot to bring my razor.)  Throughout the weekend, all were well behaved, as is appropriate for a gathering at a Christian conference center. Even the loudest pipes were not too bad. 

I am the first one here from our group, so I park in front of our room and begin to unload.  My Ninja waits alone for my return. 

Since no one else from our group is here yet, I get back on the bike.  I know a trail to an overlook further up the mountain that I want to see the view from there yet today.  I motor upward on the conference center roads, then split off onto a gravel path.  (Yes motor vehicles are allowed.)  The overlook is at the Pushpin on this map:

View Larger Map
From here you can see I-40 clearly, that white slash at right-center: 
I get my picture made while I gaze at the scenery for the first couple of minutes. 
This sign is nearby.  Good advice.
I decide to stay for a while, looking at creation unfolded below me, then head back down, park at the room again, and get myself cleaned up for supper.

While writing this, it occurs to me that the reason I was so easily recognized when I registered is that I have worn the same suit as last year.
2010 photo by Rally to Ridgecrest
As it turns out, I think I am the only one in full leathers again this year.  Many riders are wearing jackets and jeans, some riders are wearing motorcycle-specific jackets and pants, but many riders are without protective gear of any kind except helmets, which are required in North Carolina.  I don't understand the lack of protective gear.  Why take the additional risk of riding without appropriate protective gear? 

Soon enough, the others arrive and settle in, and there is a constant stream of bikers finding their places for the weekend.  One of our group, David, is a strapping fellow who rides the 400cc scooter in the foreground below.  He could keep up quite well with the rest of us, thank you, and he had much more storage room than our bikes as well.  Maybe he has the better idea. 
There were a fair number of attendees who trailered their bikes in, including this group from Florida.  In fact, all together, there were quite a few from the Sunshine State.  Several from there who are acquainted with another member of our group, Jimmy (who rides the V-Strom just behind the scooter above), had trailered their bikes to his house in Walhalla, then rode with him to the rally -- a nice part-day ride. 

I walk around the conference center a bit, and find that a shrunken version of Noah's Ark has apparently landed here.  Hmm.  This isn't Mount Ararat, so this seems odd.  Actually, it is a playground fixture for the younger kids who come here for the many programs they put on year around.

In the evening, we meet for supper in the dining room.  The food is quite good for cafeteria-style dining.  You can have as much as you want, too.  Later, we gather in the auditorium for singing and to hear a speaker.  The music is mostly Christian rock again this year, so I don't get into it much.  I think Gospel music is much more appropriate to get you into a worshipful mood.

There are several breakout seminars after that.  I choose "What Do You See?"  The theme is safe motorcycling, but the subtheme is evangelism -- reaching those who do not know Jesus Christ as their only way to heaven -- while teaching riding classes and inviting riders to join group rides.  There are many bikers out there who realize they might be killed on the road just around the next curve, but have no idea what will happen to them after they die.  The reality is that there is only one way to heaven, by accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior.  All other paths lead to an eternity of pain and suffering. 

After the seminar, we bed down for the night.  The room sleeps as many as four in bunk beds and a conventional queen-size.  I am asleep almost before my head hits the pillow.  It has been a long day.  I sleep soundly.

The next morning, I am up early to go to a devotional on the steps outside the main building.  The chaplain speaks plainly, so it is a good start to the day.  The weather is to be hot today, the same as for the next few days.  Breakfast is a robust mix of scrambled eggs, bacon, grits (yuck -- not for me), fruit, and other goodies.  I eat a fair amount -- I don't want to get weak during the day, you know. 

Shortly after breakfast, I start out on a ride.  Many others are also going on rides too, but I don't like riding in large groups and with people whose riding skills and style I don't know, so I strike out by myself.

I plan to go up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the north to around Boone, and to the original Mast General Store in Valle Cruces, and then return by other secondary roads.  This ride is longer than most of the others mapped out for the rally, but I want to see as much of the countryside as I can as long as I am here. 

My route has been laid out in Google maps as usual.  Here it is, about 180 miles:

View Larger Map
The first leg is east on I-40/US-70.  I-40 is a rather steep, sweeping, high-speed trip downhill from Ridgecrest.  The semi tractor-trailers have to stop before the downgrade to view a sign that shows the route, the grade, and the location of the runaway truck ramps on this stretch.  Fun.

Once US-70 branches off at Old Fort, I get on NC-80, also known as the Devil's Staircase.  It rises more than 2,500 feet in just 10 miles, ending at the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pushpin "B" on the map.  This is a favorite of motorcyclists in the area. 

It is a challenging road, with many twists and turns.  To my surprise, there is a photographer, Blind Kenny, near the Parkway at this spot snapping photos of passing traffic.  If I had known earlier, I would have put on a little more speed.  As it is, I am just putting along:
I thought about going back for an encore performance, but didn't take the time.  Oh well, my slowpoke reputation is intact, and now documented a second time.  The first time, back in June of 2009, is described here.

You might be wondering how they came to be called "Blind Kenny" Photography.  I wondered the same thing, so I asked them.  It seems that Kenny and Donna Behm share a deep love of blues music.  They found a Muddy Waters single at an on-line auction site that they wanted to bid on, but did not have a username as yet.  They created the name Blind Kenny in homage to all the early blind blues singers like "Blind" Lemon Jefferson.  When they started their photography business, the name stuck, it being both short and memorable.  I will certainly remember it. 

Actually, I have to say as far as riding recently, that I have had far fewer "oh, oh" situations on this trip than previously.  By that I mean situations where I find myself fearful of the immediate riding situation, like entering a corner hotter than I am comfortable with.  This may be because of two factors: 
  • I go relatively slowly -- certainly true on unknown roads. 
  • I am becoming more skilled -- however slight that improvement may be. 
One other thing: I must be certain that my confidence is not outpacing my ability.  That is easy to do until some crisis presents itself.  I don't think that is the case lately, though. 

I still, on occasion, talk to myself when riding, mostly reassuring myself that the bike can handle the conditions, and convincing my brain to handle them as well. 

In the above-mentioned time on route 80, I am going slowly because I don't know that road at all.  My biggest fear is a patch of gravel or sand on the road, or some other hazard around a blind curve.  You never know what might be there -- and there is no penalty for going too slowly, only for going too fast.  The road today has very little traffic, so there is no one on my tail as I ride. That takes off a little pressure, though I usually pull over if someone continues to follow too closely or seems impatient. 

Once I reach the Parkway, the road is without traffic and crossroads.

To find your way around on this spine of a road, here are some good, printable-in-sections maps available at the Virtual Blue Ridge website.  They also sell motorcycle-specific maps of the Parkway, touring guidebooks, and they sell replicas of the famous motorcycle warning signs; the lower one in this shot.  
Photo by Ryan
This is mighty fine motorcycling today, if I may say so.  I don't stop to take many pictures, and I don't stop at the visitor centers.  I just ride for the pleasure of riding.  Maybe I am getting the kind of satisfaction from riding today that I have read about on the 'net.  If so, I am liking it. 

I do stop at one overlook, at milepost 329 near NC-226, and find that it has an explanatory sign for an engineering feat, the Clinchfield Railroad loops.  This is a series of loops and tunnels, not unlike those near Ridgecrest, begun in 1905, completed in 1908, and now part of the CSX system.  There are eighteen tunnels in this 13-mile trackage section, needed to overcome the elevation change of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.  The distance is only about four miles as the crow flies, however!  The ridge was a formidable barrier here just as it was near Ridgecrest and Saluda.  Mostly Russian, German, and Italian immigrants provided the labor for this project. 

Here is a map of the railroad route: 
You can't see much of the route from the overlook, but the Frograil railfan website has a good description of it. (Search for "Clinchfield Loops Overview".)  That site does not have many pictures, but is intended to document the best places to view the track and the trains running on it.  You can experience a simulated a trip up the loops in this video

I continue on for many miles, passing Grandfather Mountain near Linville at milepost 305.  I stopped there last year.  The road to the top is steep and tight, but the view is great. 

I use the Parkway all the way to near Blowing Rock, exit and head to Boone, and then to Valle Crucis.  According to Wikipedia, the name of the town is Latin for "Vale of the Cross", a reference to a valley in the area where three streams converge to form a shape similar to an archbishop's cross.
Sounds a little far fetched that streams can come together looking like that, but maybe they saw something I don't.

Anyway, I have come this far to visit the original Mast General Store, which opened in 1882.
Photo by Mast General Store, Valle Crucis, NC
They have a lot of old-time items, and a lot of new-fangled, high-priced goods too, in an annex nearby.

On the back porch, there are a couple of older gentlemen strumming guitars and singing for a small group of visitors.  As I walk through on my way back to the bike, one of the strummers stops and drawls with slow precision to his listeners, "I sure don't know what that was that just went through," in reference to my appearance -- again.  I smile and continue on my way. 

I don't spend long at the store because it is hot today and it is not air-conditioned.  I need to get moving again to cool off.  I go back the road I came in on, and head south on US-221.  This is a twisty two-lane with some good views including one glimpse of the Lynn Cove Viaduct.  I missed taking a picture of that last year, and I repeated it again this year.  There just isn't a good place to stop or turn around nearby, but you can see a pic of it at the Wikipedia link just above. 

About now, I find myself becoming fatigued.  Maybe it is the heat and maybe I have been too ambitious with the mileage today.  I had planned to take NC-194 to US-19E, NC-226 to Little Switzerland, and NC-226Alt back to NC-226, back to US-70 and Ridgecrest, as on the map above.

I know that NC-226 and 226Alt are technically difficult, and I would really like to go there, but I don't think it is a good idea today.

So I decide to take US-221 all the way back to US-70 instead.  Like this:

View Larger Map
It is still an interesting route, just not as challenging.  This way, I can come back when I am more rested. 

I get back mid-afternoon, shower, and get ready for supper.  I am famished from my ride today, so I eat heartily.  Pastor Dave Burton speaks tonight on "There Ain't Nobody Like Him!"
Photo by Rally to Ridgecrest
The meaning is that God can do anything, natural and supernatural.  There are untold numbers of accounts of this being the case in the Bible, but also in more recent history and in real life today. He recounted many. 

After the evening worship, we attend another seminar.  This time I select "Sharing Your Testimony in Three Minutes".  When you want to tell others about how to get to heaven, many times you only have a few minutes to do so.  The attention span of most people is about three minutes long -- not much -- so you have to make it count.  The steps the teacher Marc Merritt describes are as follows:
  1. Tell about your life before you met Christ,
  2. Tell how you met Christ, then 
  3. Tell about your life now
He even gives out a sheet with some examples of how to explain these things succinctly.

After the seminar, I spend some time with David, the scooter rider.  He speaks fondly of his family of six children, five of which are adopted.  He and his wife are providing a good home and upbringing for these kids who have had a tough life so far.  We talk for a few minutes longer, then head to the room for some shuteye.  I am certainly ready for that again tonight. 

Well, you have read a recap of the first two days of the long weekend.  I'll continue the account in the next post.  There is more riding and other good things to come, so don't forget to come back and experience them with me!

Links to related postings:
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

1 comment:

oldchigger said...

Let me start out by saying, Love the report!!! Great to see a Christian out riding and witnessing for our lord Jesus Christ. Our numbers are increasing by the grace of our Almighty God and we'll all have that picture perfect ride in paradise someday! As creepy as it may have been riding in the fog and drizzy like you did I have been on the Santa Cruz CA. coastline in those same conditions and enjoyed the "slowed downed" other drivers sharing my road travel. It made for a twenty mile an hour nicely paced ride along the coast ending with a hot cup of coffee and warm conversations for about ten of us back in 1979. BTW I tryed your Hyper-link "photo's posted on railpicture's. net and found that someone has hacked in two Trojans on your link. Thank the lord I did a hard system shutdown before they jumped into my hard drive. Keep riding for the Lord and someday we'll ride together in the sunshine of Heavens Best Motorcycle Roads.