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life IS like a box of choclates........
it was not the mountain trip i envisioned or hoped for............the yamaha fz1 laying on its side mangled in the middle of the wet right hand corner made sure of that!
what started as an end of the year blitz trip to the mountains to enjoy fall colors and curvy roads turned into a succession of endless riding challenges that severely tested "the commitment" and the "sense of humor" of our group. was it a great adventure? YES!! would we do it again? YES!!
read on to get the full story......
it all started when tom bridges sent me an email about the beautiful fall colors in the smokey mountains. since tom lives right at the base of those mountains; i figured that he spoke the truth... i was already thinking about one last mountain trip when i got the message. with tom's legendary hospitality and offer of shelter ; i decided that the trip was a definate "go". the motivation to go was also due in part to a sensitivity to the "trailer bitch" label that has been unfairly attached to my person. what better way to quiet the critics than to ride 700-1000 miles thru the smokey mountains in a day and a halfs time?
i assembled my "team". some question the judgement of having two triumph tigers along on the same trip. derek is a good friend , an accomplished skilled mountain rider, and he promised to keep his evil green tiger muzzled. Ted was new to the group and piloted his cagiva e900 elephant dual sport bike. yep our trip was shaping up to be quite a "safari". steve and his yam fz1 were late additions . tom and his evil serpent sprint rs triumph rounded out the team.
we headed west after work on saturday. the weather was perfect and the further west we got ...the more gorgeous and vivid the colors on the leaves. spirits were high and it looked like we had "timed" it just right..... gonna have a big time in the morning! saturday just built a promise of an adventure of awesome content.
we arrived at the bridge's house in morganton nc at 8:30. the high speed traffic flow on I -40 got us there in under five hours with a stop for fuel and dinner! in my opinion the drivers on I-40 are not concerned with law enforcement. looks to me like the inmates control the asylum. we cruised at a steady 90-100 mph....! apologies to morris and his yamaha virago....
tom and sheila greeted us with cold beer and fresh hot pizza! they have a lovely house and were fantastic hosts. i showed my ineptitude at the pool table by losing game after game. losing was not so bad as they had a great movie playing on the home theater.... it was fun! would have gone swimming but i ain't no polar bear!....and my butt is too big for the water slide!
since we were all excited about the next day's adventure; we turned in early at 2:00 am. i must admit that i questioned tom's logic when he gave me the downstairs bedroom. the idea of a 6'9' sleep walker ...sleeping in a water bed....surrounded by walls decorated in all manner of modern and classic "edge" weapons (sword&kinves!!). it is just way toooo scary to think about!
first shock of the day....it was raining! or it had just been raining.....! why do i have butterflys of doom flying in my stomach?
second shock of the morning: tom is playing a stunt riding video on the home theatre! this is very bad! even worse ; i disturbed the karma by commenting on the inappropriate nature of this selection!
my statement was : " you should not ride your bike for thirty minutes after veiwing an extreme video" much like waiting for thirty minutes after you eat before going swimming....
it had quit raining as we saddled up. the roads were very wet. i asked tom to lead us to the bojangles where i intended to give the "pre mission " breifing that would include the fundamentals of mountain riding: (line of sight, late apex , braking rules, setting corner speed early, stay comfortable, no trail braking, paint is wet, if you are scaring yourself ..you are doing it wrong, etc). realizing that the BackRoads Adventure Team mantra is "curve density"; tom turned left on a curvaeous route to the bojangles. a route that when combined with new wet pavement and relative inexperiance almost ended in tragedy. I AM NOT IMPLYING THAT TOM IS IN ANY WAY RESPONSIABLE FOR WHAT HAPPENED. hind sight has me wishing that i had done the "pre flight" expectation/rules briefing ....before we left. this would possiably have saved us from having to deal with THE FLIGHT and the resulting carnage.
happened right in front of me. i knew it was going to happen. the "hopeful" side of my brain rationalized away the concerns of my subconcious. just like in racing ...many times you can spot the guys that are going to have problems. it is a sub concious thing...seeing certain flaws in decision making or technique that your sub concious knows are very likely to end up badly. some times it is a lack of experiance . some times it is ego driven. many times it is just a case of never being exposed to the "right" thinking or "proper" techniques.
it all started when we left tom's house. the pavement was streaming water. there is a left hand corner at the bottom of the hill. it was in this corner that my concerns reached a cresendo. at 45 mph the yamaha fz1 brake lights flicked on several times ...way deep in the corner. the bike crossed the center line and the rear slid slightly as it crossed the wet paint. i know that this got steve's attention! the braking showed some indecision and the slip of the rear on the paint "tightened" him up.
stop sign at top of the hill. turn left .......first right hander. we are going 45-50 mph. the corner is nothing special . traction " LOOKS"questionable but it is acceptable. steve is in front of me but behind derek and tom. ted is behind me (he is riding last...my preferred position ....but HE would not give it up!..what animal wants a tiger BEHIND it?). steve enters the corner but never really turns... the slip on the previous left hander has left him extremely unsure and tenative. the yamaha crosses the center line . my throat tightens up .....luckily there are no on coming cars. the bike is pointed "wrong" and is heading for the greenery on the outside of the corner. he is slowing down but not rapidly enough . my estimation has him running out of road but at a greatly reduced speed. bike suddenly slides sideways as steve goes for the rear brake. bike is well crossed up when steve instinctively releases rear brake. .....bike hooks up ...reverses direction and flicks steve off the high side! he lands mainly on his right shoulder and back pack before tumbling into the grass. i am extremely calm...too calm. i put on the four way flasher and brake to a stop . running on the shot of adrenaline ;steve has popped up and raced to the bike trying to quickly right the slain beast. i dismount with my heart in my throat and help steve right the bike. i quickly scan for fluids and control damage.
steve is ok. the large backpack he was wearing took the brunt of the impact. helmet and gear did its job. steve was completely uninjured.
note: it is my opinion that ABS (anti lock braking) would have had a major effect on the ultimate outcome. if steve is on a bmw with ABS.....this is a non incident. i also feel that the low crankshaft mass (light flywheel+high hp) of the yamaha are NOT user friendly characteristics . especially on the street.
the bike had suffered significant right side damage. luckily the pipe and bar protected the motor. the fairing was crunched but rideable. the most significant damage was to the right handlebar and which was bent down completely flat against the fairing. we did not try to imediately start the bike.best to let the oil run back into the bottom of the crankcase and let the carbs settle down. the bar made the bike unrideable. i was confident of my ability to straighten it but was also sure the sucker would "break" before it got to an angle that would make the bike operational. i bent it up.....and then a little more....and then it fractured almost completely !
we got bike started . ran good. the right hand bar is only barely attached and will not accept any pressure. someone mentions a truck but i veto that . some of the post crash bikes that i have ridden in my twenty five years were far worse than this. steve decides that he can handle the chore. i explain that all steering needs to be done with the left hand. rear brake is choice for stopping. it is only two miles back to tom's house; we will effect repairs there...wonder if shelia has already emptied my cofffe cup? bet the coffee is still warm!!!
steve did great. he gamely and doggedly rode the stricken beast back to tom's lair.
i remember that tom's gs1150e has a drag bar . it is not titatium like the yamaha's ;but it is the right diameter, and available. took us 30 minutes to do two bar removal/installs. it was at this time that my beloved gerber multi tool fell in to the clutches of evil motoman....where it remains today! a mechanical prisoner of war! this multi tool is an important part of my everyday life. i cut things with it and open beer...i gotta have it! evil motoman has it held hostage....guess i gotta go back to the mountains and secure its release!!( gotta do what ya gotta do!)
steve did not even hesitate to get back on . there was no question of him missing this adventure! he is intelligent and determined. he is a relatively new rider but has worked hard to gain the experiance necesary to ride well. he demonstrated grit by getting back on the bike. he did not overreact or ask for a bus ticket. he thought about what happened . what circumstances led to the incident. what control inputs were involved. how he might approch a similar situation in the future..
unfortunately and unbeknownst to any of us......we were about to be faced with all manner of peril! steve dealt with them with courage and a studied approach.
bojangles at the base of hwy181 dry but overcast. it looked like the day was finally going to start living up to the previous day's promise. as we climbed up the mountain ; the long compound sweeping curves teased us with the variety. the trees and mountains were rich with vivid colors of fall.
it ended way too soon. only about half way up hwy 181; THE DAY CHANGED! the road was wet from the rains of the evening before. a fog had decended reducing visiability significantly. having already had one incident ; we had set a conservative pace. the speeds reduced even more as the fog got thicker and thicker.
THEN WE ENCOUNTERED "THE OIL". yep ....besides the wet pavement, and limited visability, and previous incident. now we had an oil spill that went all the way to the top of the mountain . great fun...oil on wet pavement ! pissed me off to no end! at the rate the oil was leaking; i expected to encounter the culprit parked on the edge of the pavement. probably some old car but could possiably be from a harley or an old k bike bmw (like mine). the oil trail and reduced speeds gave me plenty of time to think about what i would do to the person who was creating this moto environmental hazard. i can tell you this...in every passing zone ; he liked the left lane. he got "off line" a few times and cut some corners. you could tell when he sped up...the oil was in bigger drips and further apart!!
picture this: much anticipated mountain trip. is now reduced to controlled survivalist thinking. fog has obscured the foilage...oil and water have ruined the "fast line". steve and the recently repaired yamaha fz1 are dealing with these challenges well.
about 1/2 mile before the turn onto the parkway. the "exxon valdese" turns off and frees us from its grip! we get on the blue ridge parkway and head south. ever the opptomist...THINGS ARE GOING TO GET BETTER!
1/2 mile south on the parkway.....the oil trail reappears !! the s.ob. is a local and just took the little shortcut to save a little time!! damn! we make the most of it ......."great scenery" .....everything is fog grey in color and it is getting more and more difficult to see! we are crawling along in fifteen feet visability . the fog and wet/oil has everyone straining to stay safe. those with emergencey flashers have deployed them . those with out ;have turnsignals flashing for the same reason. WE GOTTA CLIMB OUT OF THE SOUP SOONER OR LATER.....
NOW WE ADD THE LEAVES.. just to torture us further; the winds of the previous day have knocked alot of the leaves off the trees. the parkway covered almost completely from edge to edge. fog, wet, oil, leaves.....bring it on! steve and the rest of the crew rode well and with great care. there was NO joy....there was No euphoric deep lean angles and massive strong drives off of corners. there was No state of "flow" or wonderment of the beauty of the world and how fortunate we were to be out in it.
IT WAS SURVIVAL ..PURE AND SIMPLE!
i am not one to quit. BUT there was nothing gratifying about the experiance. i pulled off at an overlook and consulted my riding buds. it was agreed that we would retrace our steps to pineola nc, get a cup of coffee, and make LEMONADE......
the cup of coffe was great! the highlight of the day to this point...,.
laughing at adversity is an art form... we laughed long and hard as we worked on the lemonade plan.
two hardy bmw riders from winston salem were there with us. i asked them about potential routes that headed east . told them we were looking for scenery and fun. thought about heading to asheboro and picking up 42. 42 is a good highway with lotsa curves and traditionally beautiful fall foilage.
the beemer riders suggested hiway 90 to hwy 268 to hwy 67 to winston salem. it was a great call!!
ted and tom split from us. ted had an appt in winston salem. tom had to go dry out ....yet agian! he got so wet on the road atlanta adventure that it took him days to get the water out of his gear..
derek, steve and i headed off on hwy 90. it was a revival of sorts! the road dipped and dived with many many mid speed sweepers. alot of the corners were heavily cambered . the DRY... OIL FREE.... pavement allowed some fun cornering action. the lack of fog allowed us to enjoy the fall colors!! even steve seemed to relax and enjoy the opprotunity to do some ridge runnin'!
hwy 268 was more of the same. alot like the parkway or skyway ; hwy 268 was curvy enough to be entertaining while allowing plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view.
some how missed hiway 67. did not realize we missed it until we hit pilot mtn nc. we stopped for dinner/brunch at a local country eatery. food was great! steve got the buffet and almost had to be wheeled out the door! this is what the weekend was supposed to be like....friends...good food...good scenery...great twisty roads.
we got our only rain of the trip home. it rained on us for about 15 minutes as we headed down hwy 52 toward winston salem.
ride home was FAST! made it from pilot mtn to jacksoville in under four hours..with two stops. traffic was really moving and it was good to be riding a speedy triumph tiger. bike made short work of all the "pretenders" out there on the interstate.
tiger proved its merit as a sport touring bike by comfortably making it from pilot mtn nc to south of warsaw nc before the fuel light came on. this 200+ mile stint showed off the range of both the tank and the seat.
in the end: it was not the trip i envisioned. as an adventure it exceeded all expectations!! the experiances and fun of riding a motorcycle with friends is always an opprotunity to grow and face challenges. i belive that motorcyclists are optimists by nature. they attack the unknown with knowledge, courage, and humor. you do not get to ride a motorcycle for many years before you become a master of making "LEOMADE".......
look for the best in every situation. revel in the unknown ....seek challlenges! make it happen!
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