(Biketrash Holiday New England, a six-week retirement celebration, is my first attempt at keeping a motorcycle travel diary, and it’s interesting to watch my journaling skills improve after a few weeks. Like everything else, practice, practice, practice!)
Hello from Mena, Arkansas, which is in the southwest corner of the state.
Early yesterday morning good friends John and Byron and I left Austin on our motorcycles for Mena (they’re on Beamers). Predictably, most of the afternoon was hot and Northeast Texas was beautiful — green with lots of wildflowers, but there isn’t much else to say about the ride out of Texas.
Southwest Arkansas is where the Ozarks begin. We’re staying at the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge, which is a cool historical site along the Talimena Scenic Drive. This national byway is a 54-mile road stretching from Arkansas to Oklahoma. It runs through Winding Staircase State Park in Oklahoma, which gives you an idea of all the curves and twists. This is a popular motorcycle destination and, in fact, there are more motorcycles than cars parked outside the lodge right now. Looks like the motorcycle crowd doesn’t mind ditching their mothers for Mother’s Day, huh?
Today we managed to dodge the severe weather in this area and did a leisurely out-and-back on the byway, and here I am at a stop on the Talimena Scenic Drive.
We arrived “home” just before the weather caught up to us. As I’m writing this, the wind is howling, there are tornado warnings and pounding rain, but the desk clerk assures us we’re “safe up on the mountain.” Yikes!
Time to start packing for tomorrow, when JHo and Byron head back to Austin and I head for Memphis — well, really, I’m heading to Graceland, which just happens to be in Memphis, to pay my respects to the King!
Peace on the road!
Hello from Memphis, Tennessee, where I’ve been for two nights.
I was going to do some griping about battling strong winds all day on Sunday but changed my mind. (More about why it changed later.) If Pollyanna was here, she’d say, “I’m glad the wind built my character.”
Said an early goodbye to Byron and JHo Sunday morning. They took off at 7:00 a.m. and reported a nice ride home. The first 150 or so miles out of Mena were wonderful. Very little traffic on terrific roads through national forests. (All the perfect roadways might lead someone to think an influential politician had once come from Arkansas!) In fact, I was rubbernecking so much that I missed a turn and didn’t realize it for quite a while. Had to get back to the original plan, though, because there are only three places to cross the Mississippi River from Arkansas: one by way of the superslab far north, one far south, and one in the middle, which is where I was going. Ended up finding even more beautiful scenery waaaaay off the beaten path.
Once back on track, I attempted to drive through Stuttgart, AR, to make a turn and catch another scenic road. Got to the middle of town and it looked like a bomb had gone off! Huge trees and power lines laying around everywhere and the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods were completely torn up and blocked. A DPS officer said there had been three tornadoes touch down in the area. Had to backtrack several miles and find another route.
It’s one thing to see this destruction on TV, but quite another to see it in person. I was very disturbed by it and even shed a few tears. If you’re a praying type, please say a prayer for the people who live there. This is the reason I’m not grumbling about that Arkansas wind. With that perspective, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?
This is where I crossed the Mississippi River to enter — ta-dah! — Mississippi.
Today (Monday) the original plan was to go to Graceland and then over to the Civil Rights Museum, which is located in the old Lorraine Hotel where Dr. King was assassinated. As it turns out, I was at Graceland almost all day and skipped the museum. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that but must!
Let me just say that Graceland is a gawdy shrine to bad taste, capitalism and cheese; and the more you see, the cheesier it gets, right down to the gold-plated seat belt buckles in the Lisa Marie jet! Now, having said that. . . it was fun, fun, fun! You have to see it to believe it! Elvis is the King!
This picture shows yours truly next to one of Elvis’ many Caddies at the entrance to the car museum, which also contained some very cool motorcycles.
Here is the tail of the Lisa Marie jet. Takin’ Care of Business in a Flash!
Here I am eating a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich. Totally awesome, and I can sure see why Elvis looked the way he did at the end!
Okay, that’s enough chitchat. Tomorrow I’ll travel to Eastern Tennessee. The weather is looking good!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Etowah, Tennessee, which is in the far eastern part of the state and also in the Eastern Time Zone.
Today’s ride was wonderful, as expected. I followed Hwy 64 and am wondering if it’s going to become an official scenic highway. 1) The scenery is stunning, 2) there was major construction the entire way, and 3) there were absolutely no billboards crapping it up, only state highway signs. I’d sure like to ride it again in a year or so.
The only picture for today isn’t very good, but shows some typical scenery from the day. Nice, huh? Too bad you can’t smell the honeysuckle and sweet onions.
Peace on the Road!
Greetings from Robbinsville, North Carolina!
Today unexpectedly turned out to be fantastic. When I left Etowah, the radar said there were showers on the way. The thing is, there were only these high clouds and it was bright. You know those thick clouds we have every morning in Austin? They could beat the crap out of these wimpy Tennessee clouds, but they don’t have rain, right? Right?
So I merrily — Correction! That should be I willfully take off for the Cherohala Skyway. Still just wimpy clouds, right? Well, actually, my Skyway ride ended up being a very long, stressful, chilly, wet 50 curvy miles and not much fun. Turns out I should have believed the radar. Classic case of denial and thinking I know best.
Once I reached Robbinsville at the eastern end of the skyway a little before noon and was able to peel my ass off the seat, I promptly checked into the Two-Wheel Inn. I got the room not only because of the rain, but also because this area is so beautiful and it would be a crime (misdemeanor?) to not experience it to the max. Right now, for the next two days, it’s not about the scenery or visiting a certain place; it’s all about the pure joy of the ride.
By the way, the Two-Wheel Inn is great! Everything you need for cleaning your bike is supplied here. I even have my own little garage with an automatic door opener! This next picture shows Lizzie safely tucked away.
Anyway, around 2:00 there was a break in the rain. I know this because I checked the radar and have learned to trust the radar. So I got Lizzie out and off we went to ride the Dragon.
The Dragon Loop is about 120 miles long. It’s well known with motorcycle riders and helps make this area kind of a riding mecca. Part of the Dragon Loop includes the Cherohala Skyway so I got to ride it again AND enjoy! The section known as Tail of the Dragon is much more famous and boasts 318 curves in 11 miles. It was 120 miles of fun and my smile muscles will be sore tomorrow!
My impression from riding the Tail section was that it’s not that the curves were so uniquely tight, but that before you even pull out of one curve, the next one starts, which makes it intense. The elevation changes weren’t severe like I expected. And, no, it didn’t rain — just like the radar said.
This picture attempts to show the grade of the road and a few curves along the Tail. I’d pulled off the road to get away from a jerk in a truck, but that’s another story! And, by the way, the jerk was in front, not back.
Pullout towards the end of the Tail.
So it started raining again tonight. Don’t yet know what adventures tomorrow will bring. Stay tuned. . . .
Peace on the Road!
Thanks, everyone, for writing to me. I feel connected to y’all and haven’t gotten lonely once. I miss having a riding buddy or two to rehash the ride highlights five or six (or 20!) times, which is great fun; but then when I think about the reason no one can join me — that being y’all have to work and I don’t — well, it kind of takes the sting out of it!!!! (She just had to bring that up, didn’t she?)
Took off this morning on a route suggested by Linda, one of the owners of the Two-Wheel Inn. Of course, the roads were great fun with lots of sweepers and twisties, and for a while I thought I was back on the Tail. Clearly, the Dragon Loop isn’t the only great route in this area. We sure don’t have anything like that in Texas!
Stopped several times for photos, and they pretty much speak for themselves. Keep in mind these are just quick handheld snapshots. No time taken setting up a tripod and composing the picture and all that stuff. That’s how awesome the scenery is, when it looks good without even trying.
From this photo you can see why kayaking is so popular around here. In fact, the Olympic white-water training center is located in this area.
After about three hours it started raining so decided to head back “home.” I actually don’t mind riding in the rain one bit unless 1) it’s a gully-washer, 2) it’s a very light rain and slick, or 3) the ride is technical. The other day when I thought I knew better than the radar? Both 2 and 3 applied. Yikes!
Right now it’s pouring down rain. Glad the laundry is done. My next-door neighbor says it will clear out by the morning.
Now, you might be wondering why in the world I’d need to do laundry with that big bag full of stuff on the back of the bike? Actually, I only have two outfits (if you can call them that) and three pairs of socks and you-know-whats to last me a whole month so it has to be done often. That bag is full of cold-weather clothes for New England.
Tomorrow is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s not far away at all, but if the weather is good, I may take a very long time to get there!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Hendersonville, North Carolina! There sure is a lot to tell y’all.
When I got up this morning and pulled Lizzie out of the garage, there were patches of blue in the sky and it was a glorious morning. Got the bike packed and went to check out, and by the time I got back, it started stinkin’ raining! Apparently the only cell of rain in the entire area was right over the Robbinsville area. So much for my plans to ride the Tail of the Dragon again and the Foothills Parkway! So I took the direct route and arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway in about an hour and a half.
I’ve received many warnings to not be in the Dragon area on the weekend because of the huge number of riders that converge on the area, and I see what they mean. As I was leaving town, in the rain no less, I crossed paths with many swarms of motorcycles heading that way. And most of the swarms had loud pipes!
Here is Lizzie at the southernmost entrance to the BRP, raring to go.
Throughout the morning and even into the afternoon, the fog along the Parkway would roll in and out, depending on the elevation and which side of the mountains. At first it was real cool to drive through the clouds like that, but the novelty wore off when a few of my old joints started aching! The ride was slow and easy (45 mph limit) and totally relaxing and it seems like I stopped at almost every turnout. In fact, I only made it about 50 miles on the parkway today! Tomorrow morning I’ll put on some long johns because it sure gets cold in those higher elevations.
The next picture shows a little cloud in the top of the trees. Just a few minutes after that was taken you couldn’t even see the trees anymore. That was such a peaceful, relaxing little area, except for all the birds who were busily doing their chores. Sure made me miss Desha (the birdwatcher) and wish she was there.
This shows some nice green in the trees.
Everything was so spectacular and green and pure with little pink shell azaleas and silver bells blooming all over the place, and a few times my heart swelled with tears of joy. I’d start singing Nessun Dorma (because it’s the most beautiful piece of music in the universe) to myself, and it sounded just like Pavarotti inside that helmet! Really, it did, I swear!
Later in the afternoon I exited the BRP to check out Pisgah National Forest and start looking for a room. Man, I just can’t seem to get enough of those national forests. In fact, by the time I get home, my favorite color might be green! There was a certain woody type smell in Pisgah I’m not familiar with, but it’s very pleasant.
This shows the Looking Glass Falls there. Nice, huh? Climbing the stairs to get out of there can only be called a middle-aged disaster.
Good thing I started looking for a hotel early today, because I had to go more than 40 miles off the Parkway to find a room. Something about graduation and all that in the towns along the parkway.
Peace on the Road!
Today was perfect weatherwise. Clear blue sky and in the seventies. Don’t take this as a complaint, but for me it’s actually easier to drive well when it’s cloudy because the lighting is flat and even. Today there were so many sharp, contrasting shadows from the tall trees that at times it was hard to see the center line or debris in the road.
Can’t remember exactly where this was taken. The clear blue sky was a welcome sight today!
In spite of the clear weather, it’s a stretch to call this day a total success. There were TWO detours because of bridge repairs. The first detour took about an hour and a half. The second detour was turning out the same way, getting nowhere fast, so I reluctantly got onto the interstate to skip ahead and make a little progress.
In between the two detours, though, was the Linn Cove Viaduct, which I’d been looking forward to seeing (because I’m a dork). In spite of the fact that the viaduct is an engineering marvel and is said to be the most complicated concrete bridge ever built, my emotional reaction upon seeing it was similar to when I saw Old Faithful and the Alamo: ”Is that it?” For some reason I was expecting it to be much longer than it really is. But it is interesting to read about. The viaduct was the last section of the BRP to be completed.
This picture doesn’t show the viaduct, but it was taken from the Linn Cove Info Center. You can see a section of the parkway about halfway from the top.
This was taken from underneath the viaduct. It was pretty cool to be standing there when a car passed over (because I’m a dork) to hear it rattle and echo.
TIP FOR THE LADIES: If you visit a lot of national parks and forests and drink lots of water, pack your own toilet paper. Talk about the lowest bidder getting the contract! Trust me on this!
When I rode some of the BRP in 2004, I remember realizing I’d missed visiting Mt. Airy, NC, which is the town that inspired the Andy Griffith Show, and I built it up in my mind and wanted to go ever since then. So what about Mt. Airy? In spite of the stupendous fact that Siamese twins Eng and Chang are buried here, let me say six words: Alamo, Old Faithful, Linn Cove Viaduct. I guess it’s okay if you like shopping and seeing a few old-time cars and going to places like Opie’s Candy Store and Aunt Bea’s Home Cooking. Blah!
But Mt. Airy is where I’m spending the night tonight. It’s just a few miles from the Virginia border.
Peace on the Road!
BIKETRASH HOLIDAY 5-18-08
Today’s ride was wonderful. I quickly got onto the BRP from Mayberry Wannabe and within a few miles crossed into Virginia. Here is the Virginia border crossing.
I’ve got to say I’m a little sad to leave North Carolina. I thought I’d never go to a place that’s as open and friendly as the people are in Texas, but that’s the way I found them to be there. (Well, at least to a white girl!)
The parkway changed soon after getting into Virginia. What I mean is it became more like a rural highway with controlled access in that there were houses along the way, you could see a highway running parallel to it about 200 feet away, and there were even a few towns built up surrounding it. One good thing, with all the intersections, if there had been a detour, it wouldn’t have taken long!
The parkway itself had gentle curves and sweepers, not hairpin turns every half mile like in NC. After I’d gone 100 miles or so the parkway, entered the George Washington National Forest and I got my non-civilization scenery back.
And it was gorgeous. A lot of flowers were in bloom with magnolias, lady slippers, pink shell azaleas, and flame azaleas. The flame azaleas start out yellow when they first bloom and turn deep orange as they age. It’s amazing to see several plants in different stages together. Apparently these azaleas are like our bluebonnets in that people come from all over to see them. By the way, the azalea flowers are small, not like the big ones we have in Texas.
Late morning brought a steady, medium rain that didn’t stop until around 4:00, but I was prepared with good rain gear and enjoyed the ride very much. I slowed down and was perhaps more cautious than need be, but figured slowing down would take less time than a trip to the ER! Stayed in second and third gears the entire day, which gave new meaning to the term “cruising.”
Had a wonderful lunch at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, one of just a few restaurants actually on the parkway. Had a grilled home-made meatloaf sandwich on whole wheat bread and home-made navy bean soup. Man, was it good on a chilly, rainy day! I sure felt underdressed with the after-church crowd from town there.
I’m not a good enough writer to convey just how lovely, pastoral, idyllic the scenery was today. I like a medium rain to soften and diffuse the air and lighting, and it delivered with a dreamy, misty look to it. Also, it smells so sweet. The valleys and mountains were every shade of green imaginable.
These next two pictures show a few scenes after it stopped raining. In real life they’re a million times more beautiful, but maybe you can get an idea of the beauty from the pics.
Towards the top a little to the left of middle in this next picture that’s some kind of hawk soaring.
Nope, not helmet hair – only wind!
Today’s ride was lovely and wonderful, not in spite of the rain, but because of the rain. As I was cruising along through this almost magical-looking forest, I was thinking how lucky and privileged I am to be seeing this magnificent piece of nature. For me, this is what riding a motorcycle is all about — a vehicle of experience, not simply transportation. It can never, ever be the same in a four-wheeled cage, period.
It’s true that two wheels move the soul. Two wheels move my soul.
LONG LIVE LONG RIDES!
Peace on the Road!
Today brought dry weather and a strong, cold wind in the wake of yesterday’s front, so I dug deep into my stash of warm clothes and will probably have to get out the electric vest tomorrow. I knew there was a reason I moved to the South!
Skyline Drive picks up exactly where the Blueridge Parkway ends. It’s a 105-mile national scenic byway that runs through the Shenandoa National Park in Virginia. With a 35-mph speed limit, there is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
This gives a general view of what you see from an overlook. Apparently at one time a huge amount of this land had been completely cleared and it’s being allowed to return to its original state.
You can see a little bit of the beautiful background in this next picture. That sleeve on my jacket is supposed to be black and not purple. Guess the sun has taken its toll.
Now, I just have to take a moment to comment on how mannerly and genteel the deer conduct themselves on the BRP and Skyline Drive. In, what, something like 500 miles I possibly saw a total of five of them. They politely stood on the side of the road munching whatever they were munching and calmly watched me drive by. What a nice contrast to their rude and brash Texas cousins, who suddenly pop across the road at all hours of the day and loiter on the road at night — and then they bring their whole stinkin’ family!!!!!!!! You Hill Country riders know exactly what I’m talking about!
After reluctantly leaving Skyline Drive, I went directly to Interstate 81 to make some fast progress. Geez, that was a brutal thing to do to myself, to go from several days in the protected, quiet parkway to a fast, windy superslab of semi trucks. But the ole knees-in-the-tank trick worked well, and I’m in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, tonight.
Tomorrow morning I’ll head for Boston — well, really, Framingham, which is west of Boston. There is a certain great nephew, Todd, who is going to have his eleventh birthday on Thursday, so I’d like to be there by then!
Has this happened to anybody else? I pull out the map and it looks like it will take at least two days to get there because I’m used to Texas map distances. In reality, I shouldn’t have any problem at all getting there tomorrow! These states are so little bitty. To think that Connecticut could fit inside our Big Bend National Park!
Peace on the Road!