Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tail of the Dragon -- But Nearer By

I have never been to the famous Tail of the Dragon at Deal's Gap, but many bikers go there to experience what is claimed to be 318 curves in 11 miles.  I've heard that it can be very busy with auto and motorcycle traffic, with the occasional semi tractor-trailer thrown in for an element of increased danger. 

I may get there some day, but I have found a place that a few have said is better.  And it starts about one third of the distance to the Tail of the Dragoon from home.  The best-paved section is 5.6 miles long with seventy-four curves, if I have my count right, or 13.2 curves per mile.  Tail of the Dragon has 28.9 per mile. Higher density on the latter, but I made up of the lack of curves per mile by taking seven passes at it before I left.

I couldn't help myself. 

It was a bright, clear day.  The temperature was in the high fifties, and there was no traffic to speak of.  The road surface was almost spotless with only a scattering of gravel in a couple of places, and a little half-lane patching that could create an edge trap in a few places.  The sight distances around the curves are adequate in most places, too.  There were some piles of pine needles that can act as little rollers for tires to slip on, but they were easy to see and avoid. 

The route is also rather scenic, but you have to watch the road unless you are just putting along.  I did a little putting, just to see the purdy leaves and to scope out the road, but I also took a few runs at higher speeds, though not as fast as I am sure many others can go on a road like this.  By the way, the speed limit is 35 miles per hour.  The fall colors were a little beyond their peak, but there was still enough to be inspired.

A view from the road.  

Views of the road. 

The curves are nicely spaced so the rider has enough time to prepare for each as it comes, for the most part.  I had the road almost to myself for the entire time I was on it.  Only a couple of cars were seen.  What a great opportunity to practice and to enjoy the curves! 

Once I had fed my addiction to this road, and time had flown away, I reluctantly headed back to more familiar -- and much busier -- roads to get home again.  

What a great day of riding and discovery!  I will have to go back again soon.  Winter, stay away a little longer. 


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving.  Prior to this, each state, mainly in New England and other northern states, scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times. 

The document states that the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."  It was actually written by then Secretary of State William Seward.

Here is President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

Take a few minutes today to thank God for our country, for our manifold blessings, and for our freedom.
Freedom from Want
Norman Rockwell, 1943

Thanksgiving at Bucky's house this year.  Yum!
(I have to go take a nap now.) 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Well, That Never Happened Before

November 12, 2011, about a week ago, I had planned a ride up north to a road I had never been on before, NC-281.

This is the actual route:

View Larger Map


The weather is clear, and cool this morning -- starting out about 35 -- but it will rise to about 50 degrees later in the day up in the mountains.  I have bundled up, so I am comfortable, though.  

The point at which I will join NC-281 is west of Rosman North Carolina, and the most direct way to get there is up US-178.  I am getting more used to the turns on this road with each traverse, I find, with a little less trepidation and maybe a little more speed in places.  Still not fast by many measures, but a little faster than before.

Above Rosman, I turn left onto US-64, a heavily traveled road that I don't particularly care for because of that traffic. I pass by the turnoff to NC-215, an interesting road that leads to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and that has recently been paved.  It is smooth as silk.  I think about going that way for a few seconds. 

[No, Bucky, you have other plans right now, to see some new places.  Maybe later.] 

I go for a little more than seven miles until NC-281 branches off to the right.  There are several side roads for the first two or three miles, but then it gets more desolate as the terrain becomes more rugged. 

The road surface is disappointingly rough, and there is gravel scattered in some places.  That, coupled with my unfamiliarity with the road, make for a less-than-ideal ride.  To boot, two other riders pass me as though I am standing still.  Both of them make control of their bikes look so effortless.  They are out of sight in mere seconds.

That grinds on me, though I shouldn't let it.  On a curvy road, it only takes a short time for another rider to get out of sight, after all, even if he is only going a little faster than you are.   Yet, I long for more skill and to trust my machine, its tires, and the road more like they seem to.  It is mostly the latter -- the road -- that is the most concern.  A patch of sand or gravel could make for a loss of traction in a turn, so I am continually playing it very safe. 

I press on to my goal, the dam on Wolf Creek Lake, at Pushpin C on the map.  It turns out that this earthen dam is not very interesting.  The fall colors are all gone here.  A few truckloads of Christmas trees pass while I am stopped looking around -- the only traffic I have seen up here. 

I decide that I should turn back instead of going further on 281.  I had originally planned to head back east on Charley's Creek Road, to the north.  It looks very twisty on the map, and, with my luck today, will turn out to be a bust.

[Bad attitude coming out, there Bucky.]

I retrace my path a little ways to Wolf Mountain Road.  I make a left, toward the east, there.  It turns into Tamassee Creek Road, and, later, Joe House Road (or Tamassee Gap Road) before reaching NC-215.  The road is fairly well paved, and there are some sheer cliffs high above the road along one stretch.

At 215, I could turn left, to the north, ride only about eight and a half miles, and see if the Blue Ridge Parkway is open.  The Parkway is almost always a good ride, though it may be closed due to the weather here at the higher elevations today.  I have seen some icicles on the north-facing cuts in some places I have been today, so I decide not to go that way.

As I turn onto NC-215 south, I find that there is a glut of traffic.  Slow-moving traffic.  Nuts, another downer.  This recently surfaced road is wasted today.  I pull off three times to allow the cars to get ahead, but I catch up to them too soon. These nine miles are not much fun.  I ought to just slow down and enjoy the scenery

All in all, my day has not been the most inspiring.  I am bummed out by the trip thus far, in fact.  Maybe close to pouting. 

At Rosman, I retrace my route back down US-178.  The traffic has thinned out here compared to 215 for some reason.  I step up the speed a little, since I am more familiar with this road than with others I have been on today.  I feel a little better now, and there is a glimmer of hope of enjoyment for this segment of my route.  The road surface is clean, so that helps instill a bit of confidence as well. 

I am not yet in a great mood, but it is improving a little.  

Well, I get to about the same spot that photographer Patrick Welch caught me digitally back in June of 2009, rounding the S-curve here just south of Rocky Bottom.  The southern curve has a tighter radius than the northern, so your lean angle has to be greater at the same speed.

See the curves here.  The Pushpin is at the tighter of the two curves.

View Larger Map

A photo taken by Patrick:

That is when it happens.

I am doing just fine, and I'm pretty much in comfortable control.  [That's nice.]  It almost feels as though I have found a "groove" on this turn, as I am not tensed up as much as I have been in the past. 

At the tightest spot of the curve, I feel a scraping.  Whoa!  What's that?   I am still in control, not crashing, as far as I can tell.  [That is a good thing, generally speaking.] 

It dawns on me that the toe of my boot has touched the pavement! 

That has never happened before. 

A quick post-toe-touch analysis of the moment reveals that I have the arch of my boot, rather than my toe, on the peg.  It is more comfortable for my long legs that way, and even though I know putting your toes on the pegs in preparation for a turn provides more clearance, I had never had to put that into practice.  My boot is tight against the stay, so I don't think it is pointed outward very much. I have my foot positioned with the toe pointing downward somewhat, so the ground clearance is less than it would otherwise have been.

The evidence:

Let's check that.  A closeup, taken from another 2009 picture in that curve, shows me with my other boots on.  I had the ball of my foot on the peg instead of my arch then.

Looks like a few inches between the toe and the road, I'd judge.  I was probably not going as fast back then as I am today, so the lean angle was less. 

This time, the toe of my boot is positioned closer to the ground, so that is probably the reason for the scrape.  The peg feeler didn't touch, by the way. 

Once I realize that I am OK, not crashing, and that nothing has come loose from the bike, I feel a rush of  -- what?  Pride?  Accomplishment?  Amusement?  Elation?  An I-gotta-tell-all-the-guys moment? 

I don't know exactly what the feeling is, but it is a good feeling.  

I feel my mood change almost instantly for the better.  Maybe it isn't a wasted day after all.

I must note that I did not panic when the grinding began, or thereafter.  I didn't chop the throttle.  In fact, it felt like just another sensory input.



At a time I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, on a less-than-great ride, something new and interesting happened.  Maybe it wasn't such a bad day out after all.

I'll have to make it a point to ride with my boots further back on the pegs when I am riding faster from now on. 



Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall is Here

Last posting, I told about not being out riding much.  I have tried to rectify that situation.  I got out on a couple of recent Saturdays, and the colors of the trees were really coming out.  Tourists were also coming out -- in droves.

So, even though I enjoy seeing the pretty scenery, I also have to be constantly on the lookout for slow and stopped vehicles.  They are all seeking to prolong every viewing angle of each tree, it seems.  Now I am not exactly complaining, understand, since everyone has his right to the view, but it can be somewhat frustrating if you prefer to go at a faster clip, and it is occasionally dangerous as well.  The lady in the Volvo stopped in the lane, and the guy in a pickup only half-way off the road, both in curvy sections and heavy traffic, were highlights of the frustrating part. 

I have, on occasion, suggested to other riders to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak, when in tourist traffic or during the winter months when the mountain roads might be treacherous, instead of trying to rush about at top speed.  That is easy advice for me to give, since I mostly go slower than they do anyway. 

Lately, however, some of the other riders near here who post in on-line forums, say they have resigned themselves to becoming a bit more patient when in these situations -- to just relax and go at the slower pace.

Saturday 1 -- Caesar's Head and Dupont Forest

Well, October 22 is one of those days.  After working until the middle of the day, I set out toward Caesar's Head State Park, and to Dupont Forest, a ways beyond there.

This map shows the whole route. 

View Larger Map

I ride the gently curving roads to the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, then take twisty road, US-276, up the hill.  It is very busy -- almost bumper-to-bumper -- today.  I pass a few cars on the double-laned uphill sections, but cannot get ahead of enough of them to gain much speed, so I smell the roses instead, so to speak.

The pavement on this road is deteriorating in places, so some care is necessary, but the almost steady uphill and the fairly good sight distances make this road enjoyable to ride.  (Downhill here is not as much fun for the reasons I have written about previously, but I notice that I am less anxious about the descent that I will face later in the day than I once would have been.) 

As soon as the pack of cars -- with me in the middle -- reaches Caesar's Head (at Pushpin B), we find the parking lot to be nearly full.  I nevertheless find a place, and walk the short distance to the overlook.

This is a shot of the lake visible in front of Table Rock.  .

The colors at the lower elevations are not yet as well developed as up here, more than two thousand feet higher.

This is a glimpse of both the nearby foliage and that far below me.

The air is particularly clear today, so the view is quite good.  Remember that these mountains have always had a naturally-produced bluish haze over them -- not man-made pollution as we tend to think these days.  I tarry for a few minutes to gawk at the scenery from here before I continue onward.

The next stop is to be Symmes Chapel, also known as Pretty Place (at Pushpin C), a covered, but open-sided chapel on the YMCA Camp Greenville property.  The view is usually breathtaking, but today there is an unusually steady stream of cars going in. I eventually come upon the reason for this: There is an apparently steady stream of weddings taking place here on this fine fall day.  When that is the case, they don't want a bunch of other traffic interfering, especially someone on a motorcycle. So, I can't go all the way in to see the chapel today. 

Here is a picture from Pretty Place I took way back in August of 2008. 

The haze was heavy that day.

Here is a picture taken from here by a friend last November. 
Photo courtesy of Fred
It is indeed a pretty place. 

I settle for a quick stop for refreshment near a camp athletic field, then head back out the access road. I turn toward the north again, and stop at Dupont State Forest. This is a great place for hiking, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, motorcycling, and bicycling (road and mountain). There are gravel roads for the dualsportsters, too, but the trails are off limits to all motorized vehicles.

I pick out Cascade Lake Road, to go a little ways on. It is gravel, and fairly well groomed. It skirts Cascade Lake, but I don't go that far today because I am limited on time.  I find this little cascade right next to the road, near Pushpin D on the map, though.

There is a large dam further on. The writer of the Life at 60 (mph) blog has a posting about kayaking on Cascade Lake, and there is a picture of the dam from both the lake side and from below.  I'll go there, and beyond, another time, perhaps. 

I turn around and head out of the forest toward Brevard North Carolina, a few miles north, at Pushpin E.   I stop at the Chamber of Commerce, where they have a huge selection of literature about the area, and a group of always-helpful volunteers.  ...and a bathroom for those with full bladders (thank goodness).

The makeshift zipper pull on my suit is behaving today, by the way. 

I motor through town and turn right at the junction of US-276 with US-64.  There are usually war protesters -- possibly left over from the Vietnam era -- on this corner, but there are none today for some reason.  The center of town is busy, as there are many little shops open, selling all manner of crafts and other merchandise and services.  Brevard is famous for the Brevard Music Center Festival, and for a species of white ground squirrel.

Where US-276 turns to the left and continues to higher elevations, including passing Looking Glass Falls and the Cradle of Forestry, I instead turn right, following US-64.  This is easy riding, and after a couple more right turns, I am back in Dupont Forest.  I pass through, hit 276, and head southward toward home.

The downhill twisties are slow because of traffic, just like on the way up.  I don't get much practice slowing to the right speed for tight turns, but there is one instance where a little braking at lean angle was necessary because of a backup of people buying apple cider from a roadside stand.  This stand is not in a good place, as it creates the potential for slow and stopped vehicles where there is only limited sight distance. 

Well, it was a nice day to be out.  I have ridden only 134 miles, and endured a lot of traffic, but the trees were pretty, and that made it worthwhile. 

Saturday 2 -- Tamassee and Some Twisty Gravel

"Where in the world is Tamassee?" you ask.  Well, right here in South Carolina, a little west of Salem, of course, not far from the road to Whitewater Falls. I have spotted some interesting roads on Google maps, so I laid out this route:

View Larger Map

The ride up SC-133 is easy, as is the stretch of SC-11, a good get-to-the-more-interesting-places road.  I turn right on SC-130, and cruse up this sweeping-curved route that I have taken many times before.  The road surface is mostly very good, so you are easily tempted to exceed the 45 mile per hour speed limit; to get that feeling of acceleration in the seat of your pants as you ride.

It doesn't seem to take any time at all and I arrive at the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Facility entrance.  I go to the end of the pavement there and stop at the overlook.

That is Lower Whitewater Falls at center, left, and a view of an arm of Lake Jocassee.

Another view of Lake Jocassee, taken from the same spot. 

And still another view of the lake. 

Sure is nice weather today. 

I gear up again and stop at the entrance to the Musterground Road on my way back to SC-130.  The Musterground gate is open, since it is hunting season, but I don't go further because I have another interesting road in mind for later.

I ride back to SC-130 and turn right.  It is only a short jaunt to the Whitewater Falls parking area.  The parking lot is almost full of leaf peepers who have come here on this fine fall day.  I trek up the path to the falls and snap a few pictures.

Here is a picture of a lad sitting and taking in the view of distant Lake Jocassee from the falls trail.
And a fine view it is today. 

I maneuver from the parking lot and turn right yet again and go for a few miles on NC-281 to Gorges State Park. This display of beauty stops me to snap a picture. 
Beautiful foliage (and pretty bike).
At Gorges, there is construction going on, so the best distance views are not available, but here is a glimpse of a nice section of the main park road.

There is good hiking in this park, and there is the gravel Chestnut Mountain Road that leaves from the furthest parking lot.  It links with Auger Hole Road, another gravel road, and is said to hook up to the Horsepasture Road.  This is definitely four wheel drive or off-road motorcycle territory, as the hills are steep, the gravel is loose, and the road rough.  (I know this because I tried a few hundred yards of it one day.)   

After I leave the park, I turn south, and enjoy the sweepers again on NC-281 and SC-130, until I reach SC-11.  A right for a short distance to find North Little River Road and turn right again.  I get to Pushpin D, then turn left onto Whitmire Church Road.  The Whitmire Methodist church is long gone, but this marker and the graveyard across the road indicate its location. 

Whitmire Church Road turns into Cherokee Lake Road, then I make a right on Jumping Branch Road. (The map above is far easier to understand than this mess of road descriptions.)  This skirts Lake Cherokee, a private lake. Don't think you can take a dip or launch your boat here.  There are forcefully-worded signs that forbid  it. 

Finally, I reach the road I have been looking for, Winding Stairs Road, veering off to the right from Jumping Branch.  Sure enough it is gravel.  You can't tell this from Google maps, or even very well in Google Earth, so you have to take a chance.  It looks passable, so I start along it. 

It is desolate.  There are no driveways or much of anything else along the way for the next four miles or so.  The grades are not challenging, so this is fairly easy riding for me on my street Ninja.  There are a few places of washboard, and loose gravel, but it is not bad enough to turn back.  Most of my molars remain intact, though slightly loosened by the rough spots in the road.  Maybe I should bring a football mouth guard with me for use in these situations. 

There are steep dropoffs in many places, and not a guardrail in sight.  It almost seems as though I am a thousand miles away from civilization.  The entire area is heavily wooded, so an accident here could remain undiscovered for a long time.  So Bucky's going to be extra careful through here. 

Part way along, there is a short bridge across a brook.  I park and take in the view. 

This place is set up as a campsite.  The brook toward the rear looks as though it might offer some good fishing. 

The fall colors here are beautiful.
God's paintbrush has surely been at work. 

The road ahead looks a little straighter.
And it is, but just as lonely, until I come out on SC-107.  There, I find that the road I have been riding is called Cheohee Road instead of Winding Stairs.  I think the latter describes it better.

Here is the gravel section by itself:

View Larger Map

SC-107 is a great road that connects Cashiers North Carolina toward the north with Walhalla South Carolina to the south.  Actually, it connects to SC-28 before you reach Walhalla in the southern direction.  Twenty-eight is called Moonshiner 28, because it was once a route used by moonshiners to deliver their goods.  It is a twisty-in-places road favored by motorcyclists, and it reaches all the way to the famous Tail of the Dragon. I'll have to go all that way some time. 

I follow 107 and 28 to Walhalla, then over to Westminster, and to SC-123 toward home.   The ride from Walhalla to home is about as boring as it can be.  The roads are straight, with almost no character.  But, it is the fastest way back, so I twist the throttle and get 'er done.

I have gone 162 miles today, and seen some great country and a few new roads.  I have had the opportunity to be utterly alone to enjoy a wild place, yet just a couple of miles off paved roads. 

Now, here are some pics of the fall color around the house. The maple tree comes first. 

This Burning Bush (Euonymus) looks like it is doing as its name states. 

Even though it looks like an evergreen, the Bald Cypress is turning brown and will lose its tiny leaves for winter. 

Pretty, but I don't know its name. 

The Magnolia keeps its leaves for the winter. 

The Chrysanthemum is in full bloom. 
And here is a great picture of Table Rock taken by a friend.
Courtesy of Fred



Veterans Day


If you see a veteran, or a current service man, take a minute to thank him for his service, helping preserve our precious freedom.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Take One of These Along to Avoid Being Trapped

I learned something important the other day that I need to share with you, kind readers.  I almost got trapped by a seemingly simple little problem. 

I came through it all right, but for a while there it was nip and tuck, and it could have been bad as well as embarrassing. 

Pressure was building rapidly, with no solution in sight. 

I racked my brain for an answer before it was too late.  My entrapment was causing considerable distress, both physically and mentally. 

No solution was coming into my now-desperate mind.  Extreme methods were considered. 

What was this dire situation, you ask? 

You see, the zipper pull on my leather suit broke off completely. a very inopportune time. 

...just after dismounting and hurrying into the loo

Actually, this was the second time the pull has broken.  The first time, just the end broke off, the pull being a very thin zinc die casting.  The zip was still operable that way, but now, the whole thing came loose from the slider.  

Try as I might, eyeballs turning a deep shade of yellow, I could not cause the slider on the zipper to move.  It has a little dog inside it that locks the zipper until it is retracted by the zipper pull.  That is so the zipper doesn't come open on its own. 

The pliers almost came out of my toolkit to do the job quickly...but expensively.  The zipper would have to be replaced if I damaged it with my set of pinchers. 

Finally, I thought of something.  I went back to rummage through my tank bag, and came up with a possible solution. 

A paper clip.  One of those oversized ones. 

I threaded the end of it through the zipper slider, going by feel, since the slider was at the top of its travel, under my chin.  It didn't work.  Now what to do?  I was becoming frantic, with real pain now. 

I looked at the zipper slider the best I could using the mirror on the bike to help me see it.  I must have had the paper clip in the wrong place, so I threaded it through again.  This time, the slider released its grip on the teeth. 

I yanked the slider down as rapidly as possible -- to a point -- after which a somewhat slower, more careful technique was employed.  Then I had to spend some time extricating shorty because it was cold that day, and I was dressed in layers of underwear

Finally I reached my goal, and the pressure was relieved.  Just in the nick of time, I might say. 

So, the moral of the story is:

Always carry a paper clip or two with you when you ride.  

It might save you from becoming trapped some day as I was. 
...and maybe you have some papers it could hold together in the mean time.