Tag archive: Scrambler Ducati
This whole thing – test riding other Ducatis – started because my friend Michael practically wrestled me to the ground and forced me to ride his Panigale.
He’d ridden behind me a few times and determined that I am a stronger rider than I believed myself to be. Make no mistake, I do feel confident in my riding, but not so much that I have a false sense of bravado. It was truly a high honor and strong validator of my skills when he insisted on making me ride his incredible machine. Not gonna lie, I was scared at first. It was so much more machine than I was used to. But when I was done, it put a huge smile on my face and it got me to thinking: it’s time I expanded my range of skills and possible motorcycle options. The next weekend I headed off to my local Ducati dealer in search of enlightenment. After spending about 30 minutes each on two brand new 2017 Ducatis last Saturday, I’ve come away with a greater understanding about motorcycles in general and learned something valuable about myself in the process:
- Motorcycle models are designed differently for a reason, and
- I am a hell of a rider.
I’ve reached the 2nd anniversary of bringing my Scrambler Ducati Icon model home (lovingly dubbed the Falcon) and in the past 2 years I’ve put over 20,000 miles on it in a wide variety of conditions, both on road and off. It’s been an incredible bike for me. I’m as in love with it today as I was the day I drove it off the lot, perhaps more so since we are now so intimately acquainted. But after my first test ride of the day on the new Scrambler Ducati Café Racer a light bulb went off in my head alerting me to the possibility that I have underestimated and undersold my own riding ability. Shortly after heading out on the Supersport S a little later I was practically banging my head and laughing because I finally fully grasped for the first time that I’m a much more accomplished rider than I had previously given myself credit for. AND I understood that I’ve literally been forcing my bike to perform maneuvers it was never designed to make with any kind of grace. It’s obviously capable of corner carving at the speeds with which I tackle them but certainly not without a great deal of effort and manipulation on my part. But, like the bumblebee who has no idea that it’s not supposed to be able to fly considering its design, I had no clue my bike is not supposed to flit around the twisties at high speeds alongside my more experienced fellow riders on R1s, GSX-Rs, Panigales and the like. I’ve just figured out how to make it work.
My sweet husband Neel, who is my main riding partner, has been signing my praises for a long time and I have poo-pooed him and downplayed his compliments because, while I feel like I’m a strong and intuitive rider, I wasn’t ready to claim any sort of proficiency in the presence of our more experienced riding associates. I mean come on, how can a 50-year old woman who’s only been riding motorcycles for 3 years, with her only formal training being 2 MSF courses and no track time, consider herself to have legit riding prowess? In the spirit of full disclosure, however; I am compelled to reveal that I’m an experienced and excellent rider – of horses! I grew up riding and breaking horses on a cattle farm. I rode barrels and other competitive gaming events and in general my ass has seen more time on the back of a horse than most people’s asses will see in a lazy boy in a lifetime. And my ass has seen a lot of time on the ground from being unseated by a mistake in my reaction to, or misjudgment of, the next twisting buck of a young colt or by not paying attention to a perceived threat which might cause a horse to suddenly shy away. We had lots of horses to ride and by switching mounts often I felt that I became a better overall rider. A person can appear to be a top rider on one horse, but if that’s their only horse, they’ll get lazy and complacent. That rider will learn that particular horse’s habits and quirks and adapt to their way of going. But throw that rider on a different horse with different conformation and mannerisms, and you’ll quickly find out if that rider has real skill or is in fact a one-trick pony themselves. To be a better horseman, a person must be able to sense subtle changes in their mount, observe upcoming obstacles, and make lightning fast and equally subtle changes to their body positioning to avoid a disaster or to simply elevate the quality of the ride in any particular situation. Not unlike riding a motorcycle.
I’d like to think that a lifetime of riding different horses has prepared me for the world of riding motorcycles. I seek to continually better my riding skills – with horses in my past and now, in motorcycling. Every ride is an opportunity to test and stretch my abilities or those of my mount; finding little maneuvers that work and revealing ones that don’t. Even short trips to the store gives me opportunities to build on my foundation and practice things; more time in the saddle hopefully translates to faster skill acquisition.
But I’ve spent 2 solid years on the same mount. I’ve only occasionally ridden a couple of other bikes, but not often enough for my liking. I’ve been worried I’ve gotten lazy and complacent even though I work hard at challenging myself on my Scrambler. When my local dealer got in a couple of demo models of interesting brand new bikes, I eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to ride them. I’ve sort of been thinking for a while that I need a second bike to handle the sport bike riding I like to pretend that mine does. Having another bike would save wear and tear on my Scrambler, which is set up perfectly for my long-distance riding on variable terrain, and I am at a point to which I feel I could give quality riding time to more than one bike. I know there is no one bike which is fully capable of peak performance in multiple riding disciplines, although, I must say that my Scrambler is as well suited to being a one-size-fits-all bike as just about anything out there is. If I could only have one bike, this is the one for me. It does a variety of things quite well but can’t really complete with style-specific bikes when pushed to their limits. So my search for a sport(ier) second bike commenced with a trip to Garcia Moto last weekend.
First up on my agenda was a ride on the Scrambler Ducati Café Racer. This one seemed like the logical choice to ride first as I feel I’m more than qualified to sort out the subtle nuances that Ducati incorporated in the new model. To quote the words of my salesman and good friend Steve Rakes, it felt “intimately familiar yet seductively new”. I had already done a bunch of homework on its specs and done a side-by-side comparison between it and my 2015 Icon so I had some head knowledge of the differences. At first glance it looks like the same bike with some cosmetic changes but if you dig into the finer details you’ll see they’ve made seemingly small changes which effectively equates to significant changes in how the bike handles and performs. I discovered within a few blocks of driving off that the smaller front wheel, shorter rake, shorter trail, lower clip-ons, and higher seat, all combine to give this bike great advantages over the Icon for carving corners. This bike practically BEGS for an opportunity to dodge and weave. I hardly moved my butt out of the seat in the turns when taking some of my favorite twisty roads at the same speeds I normally ride. In comparison, I have to glide from side to side on my Icon, never really sitting down, and hanging off like a GP rider to sling it around tight turns at speed. Combine the more aggressive riding position, greater agility, and more user-friendly levers with the new fuel mapping and smooth-as-silk throttle response, and we have a wonderfully refreshing new animal in the Café Racer. It’s so different that I could EASILY own this bike as my second ride regardless of the fact that it looks so much like my main ride. However, because of the more aggressive riding position, I wouldn’t keep this bike as my #1 all around rider. I still enjoy having my Icon for that.
Second up was the Ducati SuperSport S. While I had been marginally interested in it prior to riding the Café Racer, I was now only riding it as a matter of due diligence. I was THAT enamored with the Café! I don’t have much sport bike experience so it was a little intimidating at first. But when I threw a leg over it and felt the (slightly) more upright position than say a Panigale or R1, I felt more at ease. In fact, just sitting on the SuperSport S without even moving felt very comfy and cozy. While the cockpit was gently spooning me, I fired it up and its purring motor whispered to me to drop into gear and go. I took it out around the same roads as the other ride (roads I’m intimately familiar with) and again, within blocks I could feel the differences between this bike, the Café, and my bike. I instantly fell in love with the way the tank and seat formed a cockpit to hold me securely in place. And again, that smooth-as-silk throttle response which is so different from my clunky, on-off throttle, was a pure delight to roll on. BTW, I was in touring mode and kept it there – I can only wonder what race mode feels like. The S model comes equipped with a quick shifter which could spoil a person in no time. I acclimated to it so fast that had to keep reminding myself to pull in the clutch at stops! The Öhlins suspension is a highly coveted upgrade to the Scrambler suspension and boy did I feel it! Not a single bump threatened to unseat me. Speaking of which, in the turns I never once moved out of my seat to sling into a corner. It is THAT smooth and confidence inspiring. So much so, that several times I checked my speed thinking that I must have backed way off and must be only going 35 but in fact the speedo read 65. (I NOW get why my friends can go soooo much faster in the chicanes without looking like they’re expending any effort at all. While they’re seemingly putting through the turns I’m performing gymnastics just to keep up!!) Many people have reviewed that they hate the digital bar tach, but I found it to be in the perfect position, just in my periphery so I never had to take my eyes off the road to check RPM- which I was doing often. I then took the SuperSport S on the highway to see how it performed there and it was nothing less than stellar in my opinion. I left the adjustable windscreen in its lowest position and was quite comfortable with the amount of wind blast but I should have raised it to the higher position to see how it felt. My bad. When I wheeled back into the dealership, I honestly was ready to plop down a deposit on it if it weren’t for one major drawback: the inferno-like heat coming off the engine scorched my inner thighs. The heat was so blisteringly painful I was almost teary the whole ride! That was kind of a deal breaker and I’m not sure how to overcome the flame-thrower effect. The rest of the ride was so incredibly enjoyable though, so if anyone can offer a viable solution I might consider going into serious debt to buy the SuperSport S!
So, there you have it. Getting out of my comfort zone yielded valuable revelations about myself, my personal motorcycle, and the prospective ones I rode. That little exercise gave me a greater appreciation for, and inventory of, my current riding skills. Now I also understand more about how different motorcycles are supposed to perform according to their designed purpose. I’m making a vow to test ride many different brands and styles of motorcycles this year, as I feel much more confident in my ability to make an educated and informed decision!
Let the games begin!!!!
Please share your own experiences or recommendations!!Details
You can’t make a shameful ‘peace’ with dragons. You must kill them as I have done.
After overcoming several seemingly insurmountable obstacles, my partner in crime, David Aman, and I were finally on the road to Bryson City to meet our fellow Dragon Slayers, Greig Hochreiter (Devolve Moto), Steve West (Silver Piston) and Will Sease who were awaiting our arrival with skeptical eyes on their wrist watches and itchy trigger fingers on their throttles. Instead of a leisurely jaunt through the western Carolina mountains, we were now on a mission to get to our cohorts with superhuman speed. Fortunately we were on motorcycles so we didn’t have to rely on human (super or otherwise) powers, and (for any law enforcement folks reading this) we didn’t utilize our machines to break any IOMTT lap records to get there. And get there we did! Sliding sideways dramatically to a stop, David and I gave the riders up sign and burned out in a cloud of dust as the boys scrambled to slap on their helmets and catch up to us. – – Um…no….that didn’t actually happen. In reality, the guys had grown impatient to the point of wanting to leave without us so we were lucky they were even waiting there at all. After abbreviated introductions (the niceties must still be observed), the 5 of us were finally on the road together with a DRAGON in our sights!
The further westward we rode the more spectacular the mountains appeared to loom in front of us. Great billowing plumes of white vapor puffed out of the valleys and rose above the peaks giving the impression that a real-life fire-breathing beast was lurking in a hidden cavern. Was this our Vermithrax snorting ominously in anticipation of our impending battle? I guess they don’t call them the Great Smoky Mountains for nothing. Being oblivious to the route and just following along, I had no idea where we were or what to expect along the way. Even if I wanted to GPS the location I couldn’t because we had reached a place in the wilderness where no cell or GPS signal could penetrate. We got off the main highway and pulled onto a pretty, twisty, mountain road. Was this it? THE Dragon? There were no flashing neon lights telling me so, but Steve and Greig took off like a shot and I fell in behind them determined that if it was, I’d show those boys that a girl could hang with them. I ain’t scairt. It had rained so we were on some slippery pavement but they kept up the pace and so did I. I had to catch my breath a few times as we rounded some tight slick corners, but my Falcon held her ground as I pressed her harder into each turn. I had lost sight of Steve in the lead, but I could still see Greig’s taillights. I’m not doing too bad. After a little while, Steve pulled over to wait for the rest of us to catch up and he said that he was sorry about leaving us but that he doesn’t get up this way often enough and he was going to make the most of his ride – we would just have to catch up to him later. No one begrudged him for taking it fast and we sent him on his way once again. We came down a hill and crossed a bridge and were met with a huge, sheer rock-face precipice on the other side. Its cliffs actually overhung towards us making for a dizzying optical effect in person. There’s no way a two dimensional picture does it justice but I took one anyway. You can see how tiny our bikes are in relation to the cliffs if you squint really hard.
The road was getting really tricky now. I had almost exhausted my adrenaline reserves fighting off demons and obstacles earlier in the day so focusing on the task was becoming a bit tougher. Still determined not to let the boys completely show me up, I set my jaw and rode harder than I’ve ever ridden to keep my headlight in their mirrors. I certainly wasn’t deluding myself that I could outride them, but like Rocky knew, just going the distance at a respectable pace would be a victory in itself. And then it hit me – SPLAT!!!!! Like a well aimed missile, the biggest, gooiest, splattiest, bird shit ever landed squarely on my face shield effectively blinding the entire right side of my field of vision. REALLY??!! That bird couldn’t have made that shot again in a million years. Did I mention that focusing was becoming difficult? Now it was exponentially more so – literally. So with only my left eye to guide me, I rolled on the throttle, loosened my nervous grip on the bars and dug in my spurs. This was war! The steam rising in rolls from the river as we wound around close to its edge was perhaps the single most stunning vision I’d ever had the pleasure of encountering, but I had no opportunity to take it all in properly. It’s too bad. Mental note – come back another time, ride slowly, stop and take pictures. By now I’d lost sight of the guys ahead of me but there were still a couple behind me so I wasn’t the last straggler in our group. In fact I wasn’t far behind the leaders at all when we suddenly found ourselves at the fabled Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort.
I pulled off my helmet and felt a wave of accomplishment flooding through my body. OH MY GOD I DID IT!!! I cannot WAIT to see the professional photos of my run. I killed it! It was tricky, but it wasn’t as bad as everyone said it would be … It’s funny though, I don’t really remember seeing any photographers stationed along the way. Eh… With a mental wave I brushed that inconsistency aside easily enough owing to the fact I had a metric ton of fowl fecal matter obscuring my view. Then a new thought crept in. I realized that once I caught my breath and put my kidneys back in place, I’m going to have to ride that same road again just to get back. Oh boy… Just as I caught myself between mentally slapping my own hiney in congratulations and contemplating drowning myself in the river to avoid the return ride, Steve nonchalantly drops a bombshell, “Um, we haven’t ridden the Dragon yet. This is just the beginning right here.” WHAT???!!! ARE YOU MENTAL???!! Isn’t arriving at the gift shops and resort the reward for completing the ride? My spirits plummeted and my heart almost imploded from dejection. A string of swearwords that would impress the Old Man from A Christmas Story scrolled through my head but I had the good sense to keep them in there and not let them fly free. Or maybe I didn’t, I don’t remember…
I was without a doubt, knocked down a few rungs but I wasn’t beaten. I didn’t come this far to quit now. It was late in the day (after 5PM) but it was only 318 turns and 11 miles more. We could still get this ride in and get back to Asheville at a reasonable time. We took a little break to grab a drink and a snack and purchased our souvenirs in advance in the case the gift shops were closed when we came back off the mountain. Having my patch and decals in hand before I’d even been on the Dragon almost felt sacrilegious (if not a bit hypocritical) and bordered on bad form. I’m not superstitious but there was a teensy voice in my head that whispered, “now you’ve just cursed yourself.” SHUT UP little voice – I made it THIS far in the face of your doom and gloom predictions and I WILL finish it! Steve, clearly being the fastest of us all, told us all to look for him at the top of the mountain where he’d be waiting for us in a gravel pull-off on the right. I was about to slap on my helmet and head out, when I re-discovered the dried sticky bird poo epoxied to my face shield. OOPS, please wait for princess Colleen again…..
Alright, NOW I’m ready. We swung our legs over our steeds and our engines roared to life. Summoning my strength, I closed my shield like a knight going into battle, but I this time I was determined to hold myself back and ride this thing at a quick enough pace to feel like I’ve challenged myself, but not be in competition with anyone. They could all pass me if they wanted to, I just wanted to finish with the rubber side down. Here we go…. Wow the scenery is UNREAL! Gosh I wish I had a pic- – – HOLY CRAP!! I almost tossed my cookies in the first turn. THE FIRST TURN!!! I had 317 more to go. Oh boy…. dial it back even more. Each turn brought something new and dangerous. The road isn’t just twisty; it’s got changing elevations and cambers. It was completely unpredictable and unfathomable to a rookie rider like myself. I can see why it’s called a proving ground for motorcyclists. And it’s also easily one of the most breathtakingly beautiful country roads you’ll ever ride. Its a fight to stay focused when all you want to do it gawk at the scenery. But there’s no time for gawking. You have to use every ounce of self-control to keep your eyes on the road and force your brain to use every skill you’ve ever been taught to maneuver each square inch of asphalt. Here again, I want to thank MSF!! In my classes I’ve discovered that even though it feels to me like I turn my head to look through a corner, I’ve been told that I don’t do it quite well enough. It only took a couple of turns on the Dragon to drive that point home in real time. I will never again be caught doing anything less than a full on Linda Blair in a curve. Oh, and that oft bandied about little bit of advice to avoid target fixation? You think you do that well? Think again. Suddenly everything on this road becomes a target since your line of sight is only yards in front of you. You can’t see what’s coming around a turn so it becomes natural to only look at the immediate. But focusing on the immediate will sail you over a cliff in seconds if you don’t snap your head up and around. You have to LOOK THROUGH THE TURNS even when there’s a solid rock wall in front of your face. Trust the training and not your instincts. As I quelled my natural inclinations I heard a new voice in my head. A comforting one:
Don’t laugh – If you’ve ridden the Dragon you’ve heard Obi Wan advising you too and if you ignored him you wrecked. And if you’re thinking you’re more than a match for this hell road, be aware that the road itself isn’t the only hazard on the Dragon. There are signs all over the place warning you to stay in your own lane and for good reason. Other riders and motorists are out there too along with random wildlife potentially crossing your path of travel. Some of the motorists are attempting to set their own speed records and come barreling down the mountain in the opposite lane barely keeping on their side of the yellow line. Or they zoom up on your butt behind you and want you out of their way so they can pass. Trying to control my motorcycle, look through the turns, stay on my side of the road and simply not wreck, left little time for looking in my mirrors. Even a split second falter could prove deadly. But check your mirrors you must (says Master Yoda). There are limited places to pull off but you had better be aware of what’s behind you so you can utilize those precious shoulders when they suddenly become available. Getting onto those blessed tiny strips of gravel safely is a bit like landing a plane on an air craft carrier. Coming to a sudden stop on the side of the road successfully without dumping your bike is only half the battle – you then have to accelerate FAST to make your entrance so you don’t catch someone else off guard and get rear-ended pulling out. At first I was so focused on my own ride that I wasn’t paying attention to my rear. After an inordinate amount of time I noticed a man on sport bike keeping a respectable distance behind me but it was obvious he had the skill to outstrip me and I was rude not to let him pass. I pulled and off he went. I got back on the
track road without incident. Whew. A little while later I was wondering why my Ducati suddenly sounded like a growling rumbling fighter jet. A quick glance in my mirror told me that I was being targeted by several rally cars who were reving their engines to get me out of their way. Aaaaaand another successful pull-over and re-entry to the fray…. Whew again.
BUT, the speed-racers weren’t the only other folks out there. If only they were, that would have been just fine. Nope, we had car loads of families lollygagging and trucks pulling trailers to dodge too. Not all of them could stay on their side of the yellow line through the turns – it was physically impossible which made these slow moving bogies potentially more dangerous than squids on suicide machines. As I focused on getting around a turn without braking I could have easily run up on a lumbering vehicle in my path. You literally have no idea what awaits you around every curve!
The hairpins and decreasing radius turns kept coming at me with blinding speed and my stomach lurched out from under me at every dip. The g-forces pulling me up and down made me feel like I was on a roller coaster, only this was one ride I had to stay conscious and alert on in order to stay alive. I couldn’t shut my eyes and wait for it to end since I was the one in control. Here’s another nauseating fact. The speed limits are anywhere from 10 to 30 MPH. I was riding at double the limit in most places. So, big deal, you say – I was only going 20-60 MPH right? A little reality check – 20 MPH in a 10 MPH decreasing radius banked, down (then up) hill curve with a rock face on your right and drop off to your left feels like 120mph. But puking in your helmet is not an option. This Dragon was no joke. Somehow I kept it together on the outside but inside I was screaming to get off this ride. So, slow down you say. Here’s a problem with that, there are two ways to slow down: brake or simply let off the throttle. Either option will stand your bike upright and take you out of a lean – the LAST thing you want to do in a turn. Once you’ve entered a turn too fast, you are committed to it and you must maintain throttle in order to keep your traction and lean. And slowing down means you might have to add shifting to the maneuvering which sort of mucks up the works even more. The turns kept coming at a furious pace so I found it better to stick to one or two gears and just push through the tight turns and be satisfied with a slower pace on the almost non-existent straights. And to think I was scared to run heavy equipment last month. Pshah!
As I crested what turned out to be the last hill I saw them – 3 of my guys were standing next to their bikes on the right on a nice wide gravel pull-off. I let off the throttle and raised both arms over my head whooping and cheering!! This time it was for real!! I slayed that Dragon! I put both both hands back on my bars and came to a complete stop and neatly toppled the falcon over to her side -again. On my right elbow – again. Dammit, that hurt! The really funny thing is that, as I was impetuously pumping my fists over my head coming down the hill I thought, don’t pull a Lindsey, don’t pull a Lindsey, so I was REALLY careful to make sure I got both hands back on the bars to complete my ride. What’s that? You don’t know what pulling a Lindsey means? In 2006, Neel and I watched her Olympic run in disbelief when it happened. Wikipedia sums it up like this:
During the gold medal final of the Snowboard Cross at the 2006 Winter Olympics on February 17, 2006, Jacobellis was approaching the end of the course with a 43-meter (140 ft), three-second lead over Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. On the second to last jump Jacobellis attempted a method grab, landed on the edge of her snowboard, and fell. Frieden passed her to win the gold; Jacobellis recovered and settled for silver. In televised interviews, Jacobellis initially claimed the grab was meant to maintain stability, but later admitted that it was unnecessary showboating that cost her the gold. She said, “Snowboarding is fun; I was having fun.”
I had failed to calculate the toll the latest adrenaline surges had taken on my body. I was a floppy mess and had no strength left. Nearest I can figure is when I came to a stop, my legs couldn’t hold me up so when I set my feet down my knees buckled and we just kept going. David was right behind me and watched it all unfold. “Oh no she didn’t,” he thought, full of embarrassment for me as he shook his head in disbelief watching me go down. The other guys (whom I was trying so hard to impress) were returning my cheers fervently so they too bore witness to my ungraceful dirt plant at their feet. To be fair, since I completed my run successfully and came to a complete stop with both hands on the bars AND the showboating didn’t actually cause my fall, I couldn’t technically be guilty of “Pulling a Lindsey”, but that’s splitting hairs. The two events (no handed cheering and subsequent tumble) were close enough together to be linked in everyone’s minds and I’m sure I’ll be the butt of jokes for years to come.
*(edit 12/29/2015 – Newly released footage of our actual ride! This is Greig’s ride on his Urban Enduro Scrambler. He was just in front of me in the pack so you miss out on seeing my epic wipe out, LOL. If you have trouble viewing it’s because Vimeo can’t handle all the movement so the video might appear to have heavy artifacts. If you want the 1080 version go to the link and choose “download” – “original” then wait a minute or two or three for it to load. The video was compiled and edited by David Aman.)
With hardly any time to revel in our victory, Steve gave us our next instructions. Comprehension dawned on my foggy brain. Wait, WHAT??!! OH. MY. GOD. I have to ride this whole Dragon thingy down again AND ride the crazy route at the beginning to get out??!! All of the promotional garbage lied! It’s not 318 curves in 11 miles, the Dragon is 636 curves in 22 miles – you can’t go up without coming back down! Somehow I didn’t bargain on that. I could hardly even stand upright much less grip my bike. Whose idea was this anyway? How did I get into this mess?!! Does AAA do airlifts? It wouldn’t do me any good if they did; we had no cell or GPS service – none. There was no communication with anything but nature out here in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Get a grip woman! On the way up we passed an overlook to the Calderwood Dam. We would ride back a mile or so to that point, get off our bikes and take some pictures, then ride back down to the gift shops and regroup again. I shakily got on my bike and was none too steady pulling back onto the road. I stopped and took a few breaths. David was kind enough to give me encouragement and he was clearly concerned for me. I didn’t want to be a baby and cause him reason to take his concentration off his own ride, so I sucked it up, got a grip and said, “let’s go.”
Let me interject here that until I researched the area in preparation for writing this blog (not in advance of riding it – that would have been too much like logic) I was unaware of the water features in the area. Remember me talking about (sort of) seeing the steam rolling off the river on the route up? That’s no river. It’s a really, really, long, skinny lake. The view looking down from the Calderwood Dam overlook was almost as dizzying as the view looking up to the rocky cliffs at the Fontana Dam at on Route 28.
An older gentleman rider was taking in the view at the same overlook and he made a point to say hello to me. I glanced at his bike and immediately recognized him as the first rider I let pass by me earlier. I apologized profusely for not being cognizant early enough of his presence and hoped he wasn’t angry that I impeded his path. He was so kind. Turns out he lives nearby and rides the dragon multiple times a day on different bikes. This was his 3rd ride that day and was in no hurry whatsoever. In fact, he said he enjoyed riding behind me and in his experienced eyes he noted I was “really getting on it.” That’s all I needed to hear. I could have kissed him! My shattered confidence needed a desperate boost. I had no reason to doubt my own ability but I had moved well beyond the point of riding for challenge – I was now simply riding to stay upright and my day was far from over. Even if he was full of crap and attempting to charm his way into hooking up, I used his words (genuine or not) as a battle cry of encouragement which gave me a few 1Ups and I felt my life meter refill. A few more pictures and “see ya at the bottoms” and we all peeled off down the mountain at our own paces. Thankfully, the ride DOWN the dragon was not only easier, it was way more enjoyable. Somehow the physics of the turns going the other way were waaaaay less intimidating. Instead of clinging on for dear life, I found that familiar smile creeping across my face again, reminding me how much I LOVED riding. I loosened up and rode those turns as if I was barrel racing on my favorite horse. Piece of cake!
Careful not to pull another (almost) Lindsey, David and I pulled expertly into the Killboy gift shop to find Will and Steve waiting for us. They nervously asked if we’d seen Greig. We had not, he left before all of us and if anything he should be here already. We all paced around fretfully. What if he wrecked and was off the road somewhere? UGH, I didn’t want to imagine him lying in a twisted wreck viciously impaled on a tree. Now’s a good time to remind you once again, that we had NO CELL SERVICE! No one could call anyone, so we were reliant on making visual contact to communicate. Finally Steve and Will made the decision to go back up and look for Greig. David and I stayed at the bottom to wait for them to return and to let Greig know where the others were if he showed up in the meantime, because, he WAS going to show up! Trying not to worry, David and I ate some snacks, took turns using the restrooms and browsed the gift shops again. We snapped some fun pictures in front of the iconic statues to pass the time:
Time passed ever so slowly… We waited and waited and waited… It was something like an hour and 20 minutes later and NONE OF THEM came back off the mountain. Darkness was beginning to creep over us and the vapor from the lake was quickly becoming fog. Soon both would envelop us completely and we still had that intense ride back down route 28 to contend with followed by another 3 hour ride to get back to Wendy and Michael’s haven in Asheville. Sometime between 7 and 8 PM David made the call, that for our own safety, we needed to leave right now. Dammit, that put an even bigger monkey wrench in the works. Since no one could communicate, we couldn’t even let the guys know we were leaving and we had no way of knowing if ANY of them had gotten away from the Dragon alive. I felt like a deserter. But David was right, we HAD to go. Given the deteriorating conditions, we took this ride much more slowly and cautiously. We drank in the beauty of the lake and paused to take another pic of in front of the cliffs at Fontana Dam.
After this brief pause to admire nature, we pressed on. We had to get out of the wilderness as quickly as possible. Eventually we came to a rest area along the highway which had cell signal. God bless modern technology! Coincidentally, Will had pulled into the same rest stop at nearly the same time!! He let us know that everyone was safe and that Greig had misunderstood the last instructions Steve gave us. Instead of meeting at the Calderwood Dam overlook, he kept on going all the way to the Calderwood dam itself! He was waiting, and waiting, and waiting for us to arrive. A simple misunderstanding coupled with no technology caused more than a bit of panic for all of us. At this point our phones lit up with text messages from Greig explaining his error apologetically. I was so happy he was safe that I didn’t care at all – no apology needed. (I will, however, punch him in the arm next time I see him!) There was a plan for us to meet for drinks that evening, but the day had turned into such a fiasco, I just wanted to get back to my comfy bed with no more incidences. We called our spouses (who were freaking out at this point since we hadn’t contacted them in many hours) and reassured them we were alive and well. The “well” part was a little manufactured, but we had to placate them. We hit the road hard and tried to keep our bleary eyes open. We were far, far from calling it a day – in fact it was well into night at this time and we had hours (PLURAL) to ride yet. The temperature dropped like a rock and we resorted to putting on our rain gear as an extra outer layer of protection against the cold. (It’s also more highly reflective so hopefully we would be a bit more visible to the surrounding highway traffic.) Poor David was leading the way and was shaking so badly from the cold I’m surprised he kept his motorcycle on the road at all; he had way fewer layers on than I did so I was a little less bone-chilled than he was. God bless him for navigating us over the mountains through fog and darkness on unfamiliar roads. Fortunately we didn’t have to dodge any deer but you know they were out there lurking just out of sight. Pulling up to our hosts’ community entrance, we called for them to open the gate. Now, you’re thinking we made it. NO. WE. DIDN’T. Go back and refresh your memory on the hellacious roads of their fancy, schmancy, mountainside resort. It’s now around 11:30 PM, there’s no streetlights and no reflectors. AND NO GUARDRAILS! Somehow we navigated to their impossible driveway. Dear Lord, if I can just make it to the top without dropping my bike, I swear I’ll become a nun! God never left my side and put wings on our motos and got us safely to the top and into their garage. When I turned that key off I wanted to kiss the concrete beneath my feet. Michael, you’ve got tequila? I NEED IT! STAT. You’re not gonna believe what’s transpired since we left you this morning….
While Wendy slept (just how she did that I’ll never know) Michael fed David and I our alcoholic beverages of choice while we recounted our adventures with trembling hands. Sometime in the middle of the night we retired to bed. The next day, we pulled ourselves together and in a haze made the 6 plus hour ride back to Raleigh. Long stretches of straight highway used to be the bane of my existence, but for some reason I had never been more grateful for them.
We did it. We slayed a dragon and everyone lived to tell the tale! When asked, “how was it?” My reply has been and will always be, “The Dragon is a pucker factor of 11 on the sphincter scale, and the scale only goes to 10.”
My payoff? Some awesome shots to prove I did it and some grandchildren-worthy stories to tell.
A fun little video of a hotdog ACTUALLY pulling off an honest-to-God Lindsey Jacobellis-style showboat just minutes before me on the timeline. I normally never poke fun at somebody wrecking, but he rode away with a thumbs up and wasn’t hurt. Laugh at your own risk. Karma could be coming to bite you:
Heroes are born from adversity
Being extremely organized (not OCD!), I was up early to consider my needs and re-pack my provisions for the day. I would need some basic items like food, water, and rain gear but not all my clothing and toiletries. I could forego the unwieldy (and obnoxious) tail bag if I carefully filled the precious space in my tank bag – NOT that I wanted to carry that ugly thing either, but a full day’s ride meant I needed to pack like a prepper. My buddy Greig Hochreiter (of Devolve Moto) had assembled a fine team of superheroes to mount an assault on the winged, fire-breathing beast slumbering in the mountains so my partner David and I were obligated to arrive with a complete arsenal of weapons of our own. Feeling satisfied that all was in order, I got dressed and strolled downstairs with all my gear in hand. We ate a leisurely breakfast and killed time chatting with our gracious hosts until the riders up call was sounded. Our meetup was at high noon in Bryson City, about an hour and twenty minutes west of our current location, so if we left at 10 AM we would have plenty of time to get there and dally along the way. While David was outside checking the oil in his bike, I frittered away some time playing with Charlie, who was intent on ferociously shaking and “killing” her favorite toy: a dragon no less.
I contented myself with a cursory T-CLOCS inspection not being overly concerned as the Falcon is practically brand new and it was in fine shape last night when I kissed her goodnight. Eh, it all looks the same as ever – turn signals work, brake lights work, nothing puncturing the tires, oil is good, hey is that a little bubble in my brake fluid reservoir? Nah, it’s probably always looked like that. Well OK then, all good to go! We mounted up and launched off down the ski jump driveway. Wheeeeee … hmmm, do my brakes feel funny? Well, that was a heck of a hill we just came down; I probably had to squeeze the lever harder than normal to stop … I’m sure it’s my imagination … Gee, I don’t remember David’s bike smelling like that yesterday … Is that smoke? OK, yes, that is most definitely a huge plume of black smoke. What in the WORLD??? By now I’d figured out there’s something seriously wrong with his moto which is blowing oil like the Exxon Valdez. I backed waaaaaay off to keep from getting splattered and choked to death by the geyser spewing forth from his bike but I had to find a way to get him to stop. Fortunately at the next intersection as I wheeled up to him frantically trying to get his attention he had figured out there was a problem, especially seeing as his right pant leg, now sopping wet with oil was the only thing stemming the gushing tide of black gold. A look down and – DOH – he had forgotten to replace the oil cap.
<Deep sigh>. Back to square one we went. While David got busy hosing down his now slick and glistening motorcycle, Michael, kindly went to the store to buy him more oil. Have I mentioned that our hosts are the most gracious people EVER??!! With our early head start blown, instead of killing time, now we were going to be late. We texted Greig and he was running behind too so no worries, we were OK. For real? Whew, dodged a bullet there. I shook off the anxious feeling that this was a bad sign.
An hour and a half later, bike and man were good as new and here we go down the ski jump again…. Uh-oh, I am NOT imagining it, my brakes feel really spongy. Ignore, ignore ignore, lets just get on down the road. Um… that bubble in the reservoir is most definitely getting bigger – it’s like taking up half the tank now. UGH, I do NOT want to deal with another delay, especially one that requires a mechanic to fix. CRAP, I can’t ignore this any longer. So I blew David off on the highway and took the next exit knowing he’d follow. We pulled into a gas station and inspected the situation. There was indeed a leak and you could see fluid spurting out the bottom banjo bolt with every squeeze of the brake lever. It was nothing we could fix ourselves so now I had to face the fact that I had a real problem. My hopes for meeting the guys and riding the Dragon were dashed. I was just praying I could locate a motorcycle shop that could take me in on the fly at noon on a Saturday and patch me up good enough to get back home. If not, I figured I might be able to buy some brake fluid and keep refilling the reservoir as it leaked out and at least limp home praying nothing broke loose for real and left me with no brakes at all. “Go on without me, I’ll only hold you back – Save yourself” I dramatically cried and offered myself up sacrificially like the damsel in distress whose twisted ankle struck her down amidst a zombie horde hungrily clawing at her legs. Or maybe it more like a stoic admission that I was doomed but there was no reason he couldn’t at least accomplish what we set out to do – someone has to survive to slay that dragon!! AVENGE ME….. (Hey, it’s my story – there’s room for zombies, Vermithrax, and Wolverines.)
But in true loyal, hero fashion, David refused that notion outright and stuck by me. He was magnanimous enough to accept that if nothing else, we had an adventure in just getting this far. Another text to Greig to tell him that I had a breakdown and we probably couldn’t make it at all was answered by, “Get it fixed and hit the road, we’ll wait.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? These are some patient and good-hearted fellows I’m surrounded with! Feeling emboldened, I started Google searching for motorcycle shops on my phone. The first shop that came up was the one I called: MR Motorcycle in Asheville. They are not a Ducati dealer, but after explaining my symptoms it seemed like something they could repair and they could get me in immediately. Thank you Jesus again! It was only 6 or 7 miles away and as long as there weren’t too many stops I could manage by engine braking – I do that most of the time anyway, which is why my leak probably didn’t show itself more than it did before now. Pulling into their lot was a bit like pulling into Motorcycle Mecca. They had a separate building for service and their showroom eclipsed anything I’d ever seen at least in regards to non-Harley shops. Jason in service was kind and easy to work with and Tex, the mechanic was incredible!! He finished his lunch early so he could get me fixed up. While we waited we strolled through the showroom in what I called the Candy Store. OMG they have EVERYTHING… I want one of those, one of those, two of those… I honestly wasn’t too disappointed to be stuck there, but my bank account might have suffered irreparable damage if we lingered too long. Fortunately the guys were quick and efficient and got us out in no time. And yet there it was again – that nagging feeling this was another bad sign …
By now it was well after noon and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. There was a little bar/restaurant nearby so we swung in there to regroup and refuel. Upon leaving we had to wait on a little uphill incline before we could jump out into 2 lanes of fast moving traffic to our right. We waited forever it seemed and finally David settled on a wide enough gap in the oncoming cars to make his move. I released the clutch to fall in and BAM! In a blink of an eye the Falcon and I were suddenly and savagely slammed to the ground. She had bucked me off like a bronco stung by a bee in the belly. Who the? What the? How the? My elbow was in immense pain and I was lying in the middle of a street with a 400 lb motorcycle on me, so I couldn’t take time to ponder how we got there. I had to get my horse back on her feet – NOW. I tried the backwards lift thingy I’d seen demonstrated on videos, but holy cow, that’s not as easy as they make it look. I got her about up to my calves and was about to go for another heave when a red Jeep Wrangler came screeching in behind me. The guy jumped out, picked my bike up like it was a 10 speed and asked if I was OK. I told him I was fine and before I could hardly thank him, he and his girl sped off out of sight. Thank you Jesus for sending angels to my rescue yet again.
Right about now, David had figured out that I’m not in his mirrors so he’s thinking there might be something amiss. Ah, there he is, I knew he wouldn’t leave me. After a U-turn, he arrived on the scene and was clearly shocked to find me standing next to my bike and not on it. He took charge and calmly helped me to a nearby parking lot and I tried to make sense of what in the hell just happened. I could feel my wobbly, adrenaline filled muscles begging me to just sit down quietly but my elbow was screaming in pain and I was torn between crying like a little girl and kicking the ever living shit out of something. I opted instead for objectively assessing the damage to my body and the Falcon before giving any more thought to why or how it happened. I took off my jacket and made a visual inspection of my right arm. Oooh, that’s gonna leave a mark.
I’m pretty tough though and have survived much worse (like my horse brutally breaking my nose with the back of her head causing a fountain of blood to spew down my front as I tumbled to the ground writhing in pain. Not once, mind you, but on three separate occasions). My current injury wasn’t that gruesome and nothing appeared to be broken or in need of stitches, so while this was going be sucky, it was far from sidelining. The Falcon suffered only minor, superficial injuries: the tip of the brake lever snapped off (no big deal, my hunny had already ordered me hot new sporty, shorty racing levers for my birthday!!), the right mirror was scraped up and loose but fully functioning with a little tightening, and there was a scuff on the muffler cover. Like every warrior, my Falcon obtained some battle scars to add to her character and charm. I could live with this.
Unlike the earlier brake line failure or great Gulf oil spill, there was no blame to pin on another party for this setback; it was all on stupid me – on soooo many levels.
- First, I chose my riding attire based upon two things – warmth and looks. It was easy to justify: It’s chilly in the mountains and I should be wearing my warmest gear, and, everyone knows you’re going to get some cool professional pics while riding the Dragon, so I should be sporting my best Fonzie leather look, duh. Buuuuut this is my only jacket without elbow armor. — Oh believe me, I mulled that over before I left my home and still went with that choice anyway. I even mentioned my misgivings about lacking those crucial pieces of protection to Michael, David, and Wendy before leaving the mountain side retreat this morning. Karma??
- And second, the Falcon didn’t just decide to violently throw us both into the pavement. Nope. I popped the clutch and stalled her. BTW, stalling an 803 cc Ducati is nothing like stalling my little 250 cc Suzuki. Not. Even. Close. And why did I pop that clutch? My only defense is that I was holding it in the friction zone to keep from rolling backwards on that little incline and I needed to be able to gas it and go when a sliver of an opportunity presented itself. I didn’t reckon on sitting there so long though. I guess I just forgot where my hand was and when I let it go it was already so far out that the little bit of throttle I rolled on wasn’t nearly enough. As my dear, dear friend Pastor Jim Gillespie always says, “more throttle.” Apparently there’s no problem big enough that more throttle can’t fix; so far in my experience he’s been spot on with that advice. <Bigger Deep Sigh>
So just how thick did we have to be? There was no mistaking it now, this was surely a sign from God telling us to just turn tail and skip the ride altogether. The day was getting on and we still had 3 hours to go just to get to the base of the Dragon, then we had to somehow survive that storied monster, and ride back to Asheville the same night. How many more demons could we withstand? It seemed insurmountable.
Hold on a minute – – I’m not a sacrificial maiden. And I’m not a quitter dammit – even when I should be. David isn’t either, God bless him. So with all the resolve we could muster we beat a path to Bryson City where our cohorts were (not so much now) patiently waiting for our arrival. We had a beast to tame and wussing out was not an option!
The final chapter is about to unfold.
Hitgirl meets a worthy adversary
It was 6 PM or so on a Thursday evening when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Greig Hochreiter of Devolve Moto looking for folks interested in meeting up for a ride on Saturday. No big deal, just a little jaunt through the western Carolina mountains culminating in a saunter down a widely known and well traveled country road which promised splendid views and exciting curves. Sounds like a perfect afternoon excursion right? Except that the starting point was 6 hours away. And the country road? It was another 3 hours farther and is none other than the infamous Tail of the Dragon which winds though the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee! What’s that? You’ve never heard of this not-so-mythical beast? Let me enlighten you:
“Sure, I’m in!” I enthusiastically (and hastily) answered up. Then it hit me that in order to arrive at the meetup time I would have to ride most of the day on Friday to get there AND I would need to stay the night on Saturday AND I would need all of Sunday to ride home. Very quickly, an impromptu little ride had turned into a 3 day mini vacation with all kinds of expenses. Oops. I’m nothing if not impulsive. I called my husband and asked if he wanted to go, but he couldn’t get the time off work and he so kindly gave me his blessing to go it alone. I googled lodging choices as fast as I could and called what appeared to be a good one. My skill (luck) in picking out decent places was getting a workout lately. I made my reservations then I ripped off a short email apologizing to my co-workers for the sudden notice, but I would be out of the office and unavailable until Monday. Then I ran to the grocery store to load up on supplies, came home, boiled some eggs and organized the chuck wagon. Before I can hardly get the grime off my gear from the last road trip, I’m repacking for the next one. I didn’t have time to wash any specific clothes but fortunately most of my intended garments were already clean and fresh, so right before bed I quickly and carefully packed my tailbag.
The next morning, while going through emails and taking care of last minute work items online my good friend and fellow filmmaker, David Aman (he shot and edited our hilarious JDRF Egg Crack Challenge video) hit me up and asked me if I was going on the ride. He had just found out about it but thought he could make quick (REAL quick) arrangements and go too, and if I could wait for him we could ride together. I was happy to do that. It would be nice to have a partner on a long ride for a change. Fortunately for us, both David’s wife Wendy and my husband Neel are secure spouses who understand that our partnership only extends to film making and traveling. When I met up with David in Durham, he asked me where I was staying and offered me a place to sleep at his friends’ house in Asheville where he was going, saying that he’d already cleared it with them and I was welcome. I didn’t think I could get out of my reservation so late but I gave it a shot because I would love to save on that expense. I called and they let me off the hook with no penalties or charges. Yippee! Now I was on the road to an unknown destination. I smell another adventure….
Speaking of smell, I’m not really a clean freak (if you’ve been to my house you are nodding your head) but I have my weirdnesses like anyone. I don’t mind sleeping in a barn, in a horse trailer, or under the stars on the ground, but I have an aversion to sleeping in a stranger’s house. I’m not so much a germophobe as I am a smellophobe. I have an extremely sensitive olfactory organ, so much so, that I’ve bandied about taking up a career as a drug sniffing dog (don’t laugh, I can smell your weed a mile away even in a lead container buried in a landfill). And speaking of dogs, do these people have a pack of smelly, mangy curs who want to bowl me over and sleep in my bed? Do they even know what that toilet brush is used for? Do I dare sit on that couch (ew, what are those stains)? I should have been concerned about the ferocity of the Dragon and my ability to endure 3 days of riding, but noooo, my mind was now occupied with horrific thoughts of sleeping on a filthy mattress and sharing a bio-hazardous bathroom. My inner delicate diva was having a serious cat fight with my outwardly badass persona.
Kind of like a cage match between
Scarlett O’hara and Sarah Connor.
Other than my private anxiety regarding my (surely) dubious accommodations, we had an extremely enjoyable, if not monotonous, ride on Friday. It got a bit dicey, however, the closer we got to Asheville in the mountains. It begin raining enough to cause us to pull over and put on rain gear on the side of the highway and the traffic was simply dreadful. Oh, and the highway in that area was under construction to boot. Lots of cones, barrels, lane shifts and those diagonal rut-like grooves in the road that cause your motorcycle tires to track them right into the concrete barrier if you’re not careful. I found out later that the traffic snarls were mainly a result of college dorm move-in weekend for all the big schools in the vicinity like UNC Ashville and Western Carolina. So there we were, right smack dab in the middle of Hormonal Highway in the pouring rain, dodging construction obstacles surrounded by lane hopping minivans laden down with ALL the essential college survival gear (kitchen sink anyone?) carrying pimply faced passengers in high hopes of encountering the opposite sex without supervision, moms who can barely keep their emotions in check as they verbally vomit every life instruction ever to their eye-rolling fledgling, and piloted by white-knucked, exasperated dads who know better than to say anything to anyone. David, who was wearing a Bluetooth unit on his helmet, was getting audible GPS turn-by-turn directions in his ear so he had just enough time to adjust his course to the next lane or exit ramp as needed, but I did not, so I stuck to his back tire like a sticky booger you can’t flick off your finger and watched for any indication he was going to make a move while keeping my eyes peeled for other drivers making an un-signaled dart into my lane. All of this was a bit unnerving, but oddly exciting too. Just another day in paradise…
We finally got off the highway and began the hunt for the dwelling of these so-called friends of David’s. The winding country roads were just what the doctor ordered after 6 or so hours of highway nonsense. Ah, Asheville, what a stunning locale – when you can look at it properly instead of scanning for an unobstructed path of travel that is. I’ve never been here before so it was a treat to get to see it on a motorcycle. Pretty soon we were well out in the country weaving down rural roads. “Ooh look, there’s a field full of wild turkeys, and look over there, a herd of deer. Oh right, he can’t hear me – I don’t have a Bluetooth system in my helmet. Oh well, I’ll have to remember to ask him if he saw them. Hey wait….just how far out are we going? Do I hear banjos???” Yeah, those were some of the thoughts rolling around up there in my attic.
After a brief stop and phone call to verify our location and get final directions we approached the entrance to a GATED COMMUNITY on the side of a mountain and were met by our lovely hostess Wendy (don’t get confused – not David’s wife – this is another Wendy, but not Peter Pan’s Wendy – another one). You heard right folks, it appeared that we were headed to an honest-to-God palace – not a rundown, leaky shack with a thatch roof and flea-bitten mongrels slobbering on me. Thank you Jesus! Wendy informed us that she had a very steep driveway so be prepared. Yeah, I’ve seen steep, you’re not gonna surprise me, I thought. The gate slid open and onward and upward we rode into a most magnificent neighborhood of homes complete with a country club and golf course. The roads were so narrow, twisty, and steep that the center line was more of a guideline to keep you on them rather than a divider between lanes. In fact, the roads were almost single lane width and there were no guardrails protecting anyone from plunging down the mountainside and no reflectors or lights in place to help you even see the road. Which wasn’t a problem as it was still daylight….now. It was a fabulous ride to get to our hosts’ home. And then the driveway suddenly loomed up out of the earth in front of me like Godzilla rising from the ocean. Did she say steep? She was being modest; she meant VERTICAL!! Not even exaggerating. Think ski-jump ramp. I waited until she made it up in her car and David made it up on his bike, and then I held my breath, gunned it and flew up it to the top all Robbie Maddison Las Vegas style. (C’mon, it’s only a minute and a half long – you know you want to click this video and honestly you only need to see the first 11 seconds.)
“Hot diggity dog, that was fun! Let’s do it again!” I thought after I quelled my fibrillating heart. Upon removing my helmet and getting a better look at my residence for the weekend I could see that the appearance of civilization wasn’t deceiving. Our hosts Wendy and Michael were extremely generous and their home was as splendid as any bed and breakfast I could have stayed at. And keep in mind, they had virtually no warning we were coming. David called them only this morning, so they didn’t have time to spiffy up for us. They had a complete floor of their house reserved for guests and were not just welcoming, but they were grateful to share their secluded abode us. My room was filled with all the niceties you would expect in a fine B&B: complementary toiletries, freshly laundered linens on the bed, candle burning on the dresser next to brochures hawking local attractions, a TV, and a bathroom fit for a queen. The whole house was scrupulously clean and inviting. They did have a dog, Charlie (a lab mix who was just the sweetest, most well-behaved, non-smelly girl) and an ancient kitty who reminded me of one my own babies. With a cathedral ceiling and windows on the whole wall, their living room extended through to a deck that overlooked the valley and mountains in the distance. Other than the fact my whole house could fit in one of their rooms, I felt right at home!
Our hosts gave us some time to unpack, settle in and freshen up and then provided us with some yummy fresh fruit and adult beverages. Michael, as it turns out, is a bit of a tequila connoisseur (yay me!) and kept quite a selection of fine beer as well. David easily found his drink of choice as did I. Once we were all relaxed they took us to dinner on the town at the Texas-sized estate of the Sierra Nevada Brewery. I’m not a beer drinker but if I was, you know I’d have found myself in a little slice of heaven. In addition to the brewery, they have an enormous restaurant/bar both inside and outside, a giant herb garden you can stroll through, an amphitheater, a gravel path leading off somewhere in the woods (we didn’t get too far before we were called back to our table), and they’re dog friendly. They’re also bicycle friendly. The bike racks in the front parking lot (which is hardly a lot – more like tree-lined, paved paths to park your car) have tools hanging from cables in case you need to make any repairs or tweaks. They’ve thought of everything!
We whiled away a few hours chatting over tappas style foods and drinks. I normally go to bed by 9PM and it was a bit later than that when we finally wound our way back up the mountain to their home. Although I was tired, it was a lovely way to cap off the day! I nestled into my luxurious (and fresh smelling) bedding and thought that tomorrow’s adventures are going to be AMAZING if today’s ride, our accommodations, and tonight’s events are any indication.
Bring it on Dragon, I’ve got you in my sights!
What I didn’t bargain for, was that it knew I was coming….
It sounds great when you say it like that , but all that stuff was luck – I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help –
~Harry Potter, The Order of the Phoenix
1794.2 miles later I successfully completed my journey (read Part 5 here) and picked up lots of tidbits of wisdom.
There’s a lot to be said for taking a solo road trip on a motorcycle and there’s a lot that cannot be said; some experiences must be, well… experienced. You have to live them, ponder them, and reflect upon them later with a wistful smile and nod of your head knowing that no matter how hard you try with your pictures, words and gestures you’ll never be able to adequately relate your personal perception of all the (tangible or intangible) aspects of your journey. Despite the fact that I actually rode solo and completed my journey alone, I in fact, was given a great deal of assistance along the way and can in no way claim to be the independent warrior my escapades would lead you to believe I am. With this final installment of my 6-part blog, I’ll do my best to wrap up my thoughts on what the journey meant for me, give you some practical information, and share accolades with the folks who deserve it.
Some pros and cons of solo road tripping:
PRO – Have it your way
You can plan as much or as little of your trip in advance as you feel comfortable doing. You aren’t held captive by an anal partner who feels a complete itinerary with exact expected arrival times is the only way to prepare. If you’re the free spirited adventurer type (me), you can loosely make a plan and then wing it as you like. Sometimes the most amazing memories are made from those unplanned, off-route adventures.
CON – Not enough forethought
On the other hand, if you’re going all Wild West style (I don’t need no stinking plan!), and you fail to leave yourself enough viable options you could find yourself in big trouble. And be all alone. What if you’re in the boondocks and dump your bike and there’s no one there to help you get it upright, or you have a mechanical failure or a medical emergency, or you find yourself in a less than friendly situation, etc. AND there’s no cell service so you can’t even call for help. Yeah, a buddy sure would be helpful now…
PRO – Talking to strangers
I’m a people person; I love to hear people tell me their stories. As an actress, I pull from these folks’ experiences when I need to use them in creating a similar character. There’s no better place to hear real-life stories than from strangers you meet on the road. That dirty homeless looking guy? He’s actually taking a break from his labor job to get some refreshment and has a loving wife and kids at home. That creepy guy with the backpack? He’s on his own self-discovery pilgrimage and revels in the fact you took time out to listen to him. That stuck-up looking woman with the bratty kids waiting in line for the bathroom? She’s escaping some personal demons and trying to give her children a nice vacation away from the drama. Every person you meet has a story and they are more than grateful to tell it to a sympathetic ear. You will be blessed and enriched for taking time out of your scheduled itinerary to inquire, listen, and acknowledge your fellow human beings.
CON – Crossing paths with unsavory characters
While I was completely blessed and had no dealings with such, I’m not unprepared or naive enough to think I couldn’t be faced with a potentially dangerous confrontation. The Lord had his guardian angels working overtime for me and I never once felt the need to use my weapons (yes I had them – multiple ones stashed in multiple locations) to defend myself or the felt the urgent desire to flee. But those situations can and do occur on the road. No road partner means no one has your back – literally.
PRO – Pee breaks/leg stretches on your own timetable
Going it solo means you can take breaks when you want, for as long as you want, and you set your own pace because you are your own boss and the best judge of your capabilities. If you gotta pee – LIKE RIGHT NOW – you don’t need to clear it with anyone while you do your best to keep your bladder from exploding; you just pull over when it’s convenient for you and take as much time as you want – No toe-tapping impatient partner pushing you onward. OR if you want to keep riding through, you aren’t stuck breaking your stride to pull off so your partner can stretch their legs while YOU now find yourself being the frustrated toe tapper.
CON – No one to share the memories
Not having a partner to share in the journey kind of sucks when days/months/years later you excitedly exclaim, “Remember that time… Oh wait, no, of course you don’t…” as you hang your head and drop your shoulders with the dawning comprehension that your comrade wasn’t there and they are sick of hearing you recount adventures they had no part of. ~Heavy sigh~
Planning, packing, and hindsight lessons:
I don’t want to call this section advice. Advice makes it sound like I know what I’m doing. You’re smart people, you think smart thoughts, and you haven’t made it this far in life without being able to make critical decisions on your own. So here’s list of some things I did that made my own ride better (or worse) in no particular order:
- Helmet Hair – My Schuberth C3 Pro Women’s helmet ROCKS! It really does, but there’s no extra room in it for bunched up hair. I have long hair so I braid it to keep it from getting tangled in the wind (you know what I’m talking about – those wind knots that leave you crying in pain and considering just shaving your head rather than go through the torture of the de-tangle). Before I took this trip I experimented with different configurations for the most comfort, and lets face it, least hideous look when the helmet came off. Single french braid down the back, single dutch braid down the back, single regular braid down the back, two tight braids on either side, etc… Turns out, in order to avoid having my helmet drill into my forehead causing excruciating headaches within minutes to hours, leaving my hair completely down was the best option. This however was not a practical solution (tangles remember?) so I figured out that loose braiding (either single in the back or two pigtails) was the only way to go. I HATE a loose braid, but gosh darn it, it works for this application.
- Food – I have lots of food intolerances and allergies so in addition to packing my bags with the necessary clothing/tools/gear, I have to make room for ALL of my food for as long as I think I’ll be on the road. I cannot stop at a restaurant and grab something along the way. This adds to the prep time and weight and bulk of my bags, but I’ve gotten pretty creative over the years and know how to pack enough nutrients, calories, and liquids to last me for a very long time in as small a space as possible. (BTW, eggs are nature’s perfect protein for a journey! If you hard boil them and leave them in their unbroken shells they can literally last for weeks without refrigeration.) Some of my medical issues require that I take in more salt than most people and my all-natural diet means that I do not get hardly any unless I make a point to add it to my food. Even if you don’t need to do the same, do not underestimate the power of salt in your diet! Oops, I failed to pack any – absolutely none! On my return trip I happened to purchase a bag of fried pigskins (weird that I can eat those, but yes I can!) and it was while ravenously devouring them that I understood how much I had been lacking this precious compound. My foggy brain got clearer almost instantly and my body was better able to process the water I was drinking.
- Comfortable Gear – As I talked about in Part 3, my knees took a beating from ill-fitting knee armor and continuing to ride while ignoring the pain actually created an unsafe situation. The day after I arrived at my folks’ house I got right online and ordered some flexible Forcefield Net replacement armor for the return trip. BIG difference! Also, I didn’t mention this before, but the day before I rode out, I purchased an in-helmet speaker system so that I could plug into my cellphone to listen to GPS turn-by-turn directions if I wanted to. It was a brilliant setup and worked great until 2 things happened: 1. my ears were squashed into the bars of my glasses and caused even more excruciating pain than the knee armor, and 2. having my phone running GPS for so long caused it to overheat and shut itself down to keep from exploding. Midway through day 2, realizing I knew the way and could check my GPS sporadically if I needed to, I ripped out those speakers and felt waves of relief spreading through my tender ears. I think a Bluetooth setup is in my future and well worth the expense.
- Things you can’t have too many of – Plastic grocery bags, ziplock bags, water, and paper towels. I found myself grateful each and every time I dug one of these items out of my bag. I can’t even remember what I used them all for, so you’ll just have to trust me and be sure to pack more of them than you think you’ll need. With the exception of water, the other things squash down to an almost non-existent size, so you don’t have to worry about taking up valuable real estate in your bags.
- Products worth carrying – Chain lube, helmet shield cleaner, flip flops, spare gloves, and lock. I didn’t need the spare gloves but I had them. Mine dried out enough on the road between rain bursts so that I didn’t have soggy hands the whole time, but it sure would have been nice to put on a dry pair if I needed them. I also never used my cable lock on my bike, but if I had to spend the night in a questionable place I sure would have been glad to be able to lock my bike to something sturdy. Can you imagine coming out the next morning to find your ride had been stolen? I did, however, make good use of the other things. The chain lube was important since I went through lots of rain and wanted to keep my chain in tip-top condition, and the helmet shield cleaner (and paper towels – rags tended to smear) was a God-send. I use Plexus on my shield and it acts as a rain repellent in addition to cleaning the bugs, tar, and gunk off my shield. Get yourself a mini can and keep it on your bike! Also, having some sort of footwear besides the riding boots was pretty nice on my tootsies at the end of the day!
- Places of interest – I’m not just talking about plotting out picturesque twisty roads, quaint villages, and roadside attractions. Those are valuable things to plan for to make the most of your journey for sure, but what I mean specifically here is knowing where your essential places are located. The two most important being gas stations (I needed to know where my last possible gas stop was before entering the Shenandoah National Park and exactly how much fuel I was likely to burn through before I got to the next fuel up) and possible lodging choices (I had multiple ones scoped out along with their contact information so if my plan A didn’t work I had a few more options to burn through before I really had to wing it), and I carried an honest-to-God paper road atlas in my bag just in case my GPS failed and I needed to sort out my route.
- Battery charging – Of all the amazing features on my Scrambler Ducati, I think the one I love the most is the on-board USB port. I NEVER have to worry about running out of charge on my phone. Having a charged cell phone could have meant the difference between life and death (as long as an emergency happened within range of cell signal or free Wi-Fi of course). The USB port on this bike only charges the device plugged into it as long as the motor is running meaning there’s no chance of draining my bike battery by leaving a device plugged in. And speaking of battery charging, I always keep a charger with all the pertinent connections under my seat so if I happen to run into the situation where my bike battery fails, I could either jump it off another bike (NEVER off a car!) or plug it into an outlet to recharge.
- Endurance and Stamina – I learned early on that taking short breaks more often was way more refreshing than trying to ride longer spells and take longer breaks. Even just getting off the bike, walking around for 30 seconds and getting back on was enough to last me for another 45 minutes to an hour on the road. Getting stiff is your enemy – especially on demanding roads in rainy, cold, weather. Take time to eat, use the bathroom, drink, etc. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me, you can actually forget or ignore those signals from your body. My comfort and awareness was greatly enhanced by getting a little nourishment or having an empty bladder. And take your vitamins. I take lots of Vitamin C but, while on the road, knowing the added stress my body would be under, I made a point to pop several more than I normally would throughout my day. I didn’t get sick once and for those who know me, you know what an accomplishment (and testament to my diet/exercise plan) this was.
I’ve likened my trip to zombie hunting and by now you know I didn’t actually get to slay any real-life ones along the way. That’s not to say that I didn’t meet any un-dead creatures waiting in ambush or tearing after me in hot pursuit, metaphorically speaking anyway. Anything can be a zombie. Walkers, like the classic style zombies (Night of the Living Dead, Walking Dead, or my personal fav Shaun of the Dead) come at you slow, stumbling, and relentless so that it’s easy to dismiss their real danger until it’s almost too late. Runners are more like the modern style zombies (Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, or 28 Days Later) who rush at you in hyper speed and there’s no time to formulate or debate your attack plan. For me, my zombies came at me in the form of physical pain, sudden bad weather, emotionally resounding memories, obstacles in the road, other (stupid) motorists, and all around endurance testing. Some of those zombies were walkers and others were runners, but all of them were real enough to me and they served a valid purpose of keeping me on my toes and mentally alert. You cannot ride for 8-10 hours at a stretch and allow your body or mind to be lulled into complacency. That’s when accidents happen and shit gets real. On a motorcycle, I learned the zombies are always out there, waiting for you to drop your guard. Constant vigilance!
(Thank you Professor Moody for those two little words of wisdom!)
When I initially set out to ride to NY it was simply for the fun of riding. But through the process of planning, preparing, testing, and doing, I learned an awful lot and self-discovery was inevitable. I might have expected to stumble upon a few things on such a journey. Things like “damn, my pack job was great”, and “next time I won’t wear X article of gear/clothing”, or “holy cow I’m a better rider than I thought I was”, or “crap, I’m not that good of a rider”. But I also gained personal insight into my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses, my ability (or inability) to quickly recognize, process, and take action in the face of dangerous situations, my unexpected visceral emotional responses to people, places, and things, and how well (or not) I was able to keep a level head and ride through adversity, and most poignantly, how much I simultaneously absolutely loved being alone and despised not having my husband with me to share in the experience.
My blog wouldn’t be complete without recognizing that, like Harry Potter, I didn’t do this alone even though it was a solo adventure. I almost always had help! I would like to thank the following people, products, and companies who helped make this journey not only possible, but immensely enjoyable. Each of you helped in your own special way whether you realize it or not and I’m grateful for your advice, assistance, motivation, inspiration, kindness, and prayer.
- My husband, Neel Guest
- Johann Keiser, Motomotivo
- William Vaughan, DMC Motorsports
- Neale Bayly, Neale Bayly Rides
- Robin Dail, Moto Girl Cafe
- The Flying Vs
- Do The Ton Triangle
- Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)
- Joanne Donn, GearChic
- Genevieve Schmitt, Women Riders Now
- Alicia Mariah Elfving, TheMotoLady
- Joan Krenning, Steelhorse Sisterhood
- Steve and all the guys at Garcia Moto
- Dime City Cycles
- Greig and Clark, Devolve Moto
- Lackawanna Bed and Breakfast
- Zion Springs Bed and Breakfast
- My best friend Jean Graham
- My crazy, lovable family, but especially my parents and my brother
- All the random bikers and friendly people at every gas station break
- Tequila, specifically Lunazul Primero and Milagro Añejo
- And most of all, Jesus Christ – without the Lord’s help, grace, and mercy in everything, I would be lost!
But the fun doesn’t end here! Stay tuned faithful followers, another exciting adventure is on its way – Zombies aren’t the only villain in Hitgirl’s sights! There’s a certain Dragon taking up in residence in the Great Smoky Mountains calling my name. Superheros are always on duty and sometimes it’s not pretty….Details
Thursday July 16th and Friday July 17th – Leaving one home to find another
Happy sunshine streamed in my window at an early morning hour and signaled me to get up and get moving; my month-long sojourn in the land of my birth had come to an end (read Part 4 here) and I awoke rested, refreshed, and ready to get back home to my husband and animal menagerie. Most of my belongings had been shipped out via UPS the day before and I had taken the time to pack almost everything to be carried on the bike before going to bed. Even though the tantalizing prospect of returning to my hunny and critters was pulling me southward, it’s always tough to leave the farm; no matter how many times I’ve done it over the years the pain is always just as fresh as it was the first time. Waving goodbye to my folks while they stand on the back lawn always makes me cry. They put up a brave front pretending not to be sad but I know they’re just waiting for me to get out of sight before they let their own waterworks flow. BUT, there’s no crying on a motorcycle (it fogs up your shield) so I stuffed back the emotion and focused on the job ahead. After all, the zombies don’t care if you’re emotionally fragile, they’ll eat you just the same. I’ve never heard one say (on film anyway), “Pardon me, is this a convenient time for an encounter?” Nope – buckle up buttercup and get your gameface on; it’s time to kick some ass.
I’m sure I’ve complained enough over the years and many of you already know that I simply abhor driving through Pennsylvania. It’s the bane of my existence. If I could skip the whole state I wouldn’t mind the drive between NC and NY at all. Any of you reading this who’ve had to make the same journey more than once knows what I’m talking about – Route 81 guarantees to have the ever popular and never-ending construction delays and the Poconos will most assuredly have some sort of crappy weather regardless of the time of year or forecast (fog, rain, snow, fire and brimstone, plaque of locusts, etc…). ~ Insert heavy sigh ~ Since I was forced to take that route on the way north, I was determined to get in a bit of sightseeing on the way south. PA must have something enjoyable to offer and I was going to find it. Unlike the outset of my journey, I hadn’t spent a month pouring over the atlas and Google Maps plotting my return trip. I figured I would plan that out when I got to NY but instead, I put it off until the last minute meaning I would pretty much have to wing it. My brother had been driving a tanker truck all over the roads of NE PA all summer so he had a good handle on which routes were looking decent and which ones might pose a problem. With his counsel, the night before I packed up I made a quick assessment of things, booked a B&B in Virginia and wrote a few quick directional notes to stuff in the clear window of my tank bag for easy reference.
Honest to God, I not only had a very enjoyable ride though PA, but it was the first time I can ever remember smiling and wishing it would never end! FOR REAL! When you get off the highway and ride the rural roads, you can see what a beautiful state it is. Every little town was quaint and welcoming. I wasn’t in a hurry, per say, but I was focused on getting to my destination, so I didn’t dawdle on this trip and I didn’t take nearly enough (or hardly any) pictures. Someday I’d like to take the same ride and take quality pictures of every church I pass to make a coffee table book. Every single one in every single town was a work of art. And then quite suddenly and completely unexpectedly I was thrust into the Lackawanna State Forest near West Nanticoke in Luzerne County which turned out to be one of the highlights on my impromptu route. That was a fine motorcycle ride indeed which had me rambling down twisty roads following a gurgling stream surrounded by wilderness galore. I DID get a picture here!
Picturesque towns and amazing landscapes were things I would have expected to see in good ol’ PA but I did, however, pass a a few things which caused me to double take, snort out loud with laughter, and made me wish I had turned around to get a snapshot. I saw (as big or bigger than life) Bigfoot, King Kong, bandits posed on top of a roadside saloon, a green tyrannosaurus rex and a purple triceratops. NOT. EVEN. JOKING. Apparently the folks in PA have a love affair with ginormous concrete statues. I’m kicking myself for not getting pics of any of those.
Onward I rode until I reached the point of having to check my GPS to be sure I was taking the right roads to my aforementioned B&B reservation at Zion Springs Bed and Breakfast. I wasn’t lost and I felt confident in my ability to read signs, but I wasn’t really sure I was on the right path either. You see, a couple of roads before I was to arrive at my destination, I found myself on a one-lane, tricky gravel
motorcycle trap, er… road. Was this correct? The B&B reviews all said what a fine establishment it was and it ranked at the top of the list of places I googled for that location. Yep, GPS said I was right on track. Ooooookay….. so let’s just keep riding. Thank God for dual sport tires! A couple of nerve-wracking miles later and the highly rated place of lodging appeared like a beacon on a hill. WOW!
It was a stunning locale and I got to ride right past horses in their pastures. And not just any old horses. I was right smack dab in the middle of Virginia horse farms with obviously very expensive equine operations. Oh be still my heart. Someday I’d like to live in VA and have my own horse farm in the gentle rolling hills and temperate climate. The innkeepers were so conscientious they left me an email with instructions to check myself in since they were away from the home when I got there. I called to let them know I’d arrived and was welcomed with all kinds of information on where to eat, things to do, and amenities they had to offer. Honestly though, I had packed enough of my own food to last me for several days and I wasn’t in the gallivanting mood, so I simply settled in for the evening quite early and retired with a glass of Milagro Anejo tequila and a well-read, but never-the-less enjoyable book.
The next morning, I made an appearance on the beautiful deck overlooking the back valley where my gracious hosts and other guests were conversing, simultaneously introducing myself for the first time and saying my goodbyes. They offered to pack my bags with some home-baked goodies for the road since I was missing out on the breakfast, but I couldn’t eat them anyway with my allergies, so I politely declined. God bless them. It was such a pleasure to just roll in, crash, and roll out with no fuss.
I couldn’t resist stopping at one of the horse farm fence lines on the way out to get a picture of my steed in front of the real ones. Real. That word always reminds me of The Velveteen Rabbit. Before the house fire (our house burned to the ground when I was a kid), I received that book for a birthday or some other gift-giving occasion and it was an instant favorite. I replaced it as soon as I could (along with another favorite, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson). I wonder if my Falcon looks at the horses with their swishing tails, gleaming hides, and snorting breath and wonders when it too will become real. It’s real enough to me. Love makes it so.
From here until I arrived at my front door in North Carolina, the trip was predictable, uneventful, and very pleasant. No zombies to behead or Bigfoots to get blurry photos of. I made lots of discoveries about the places I thought I knew and about my own intestinal fortitude. I came home a changed woman. However, the bite of the road warrior had infested my blood with a yearning for more. It wasn’t long before I succumbed to its viral fever again. There was a certain infamous Dragon (or at least it’s tail) calling my name. Being a superhero is a full-time job, and the Falcon and I were called into action before we were fully prepared for another battle. Time to don the cape and wig, here we go again….
But before I expound upon the next adventure, I’ll take time to recap some of my lessons learned on this one. Read the next installment soon to pick up some advice on what to do or what not to do on your own solo road trip adventure while I compose my thoughts on how to relay my little Dragon Tale.
Mid June through Mid July – The fun never ends…
YEEE HAAAA! With a momentous sense of accomplishment after planning and executing my first ever solo road trip on a motorcycle (read Part 3 here), I was looking forward to exploring familiar haunts on my summer vacation.
Buuuuuuut Mother Nature has a sick sense of humor and she wasn’t done with me yet. The rain I endured on the ride up? Oh, it was just the beginning. It pretty much rained for a month. Not a deluge that caused devastating floods like I’ve witnessed in past Junes in the Southern Tier, but irritatingly steady enough to put the kibosh on any possibility of seriously enjoying some road time on the bike. Those depressing weather stats I quoted in Part 3 are grounded in hard, cold facts. And speaking of cold, the misery of the rain was compounded by temperatures that consistently hovered at or below average (and the averages for this time of year in the good ol’ STNY aren’t pretty). Pity party in 3, 2, —
WAIT! I’m not a Debbie Downer, no sirree. No amount of chilly precipitation was going sideline me – am I a New York farm girl or what??! My odyssey had only just begun and I still had the return trip ahead of me to combat zombies and outrun nuclear explosions. Even if I parked the bike for a month and didn’t fire it up until time to put on the battle gear again I was already ahead of the game. Now that I’d arrived I had beloved family and friends to visit and a variety of entertainment options awaiting me which more than made up for any pseudo self-discovery pilgrimage I might have imagined myself on.
First things first. The timing of my journey was no accident. Although I left myself an open window for the exact departure date based on the weather forecast, I had a firm arrival date on the calendar. One of my uncles had passed away recently and our family, many of whom were traveling from all over the country, planned special memorial services in his honor to be held on the weekend I was to arrive. I won’t write a novel about this portion of my stay; instead I’ll just leave the intimate details to your imagination and I’ll cherish the events and memories in my heart. Suffice it to say, a lot of tears were shed and a great deal of laughter shared.
On one of the first breaks in the weather that coincided with my day off (I was still working my day job which I can do remotely BTW), I hunkered down over a road atlas old school style at the dining room table with my mom and together we plotted a wonderfully scenic ride that I hadn’t taken in almost 30 years: a tour of the Cannonsville and Pepacton reservoirs in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. Both reservoirs were created in order to provide water for New York City and several small towns were sacrificed in the name of progress. The town of Cannonsville, NY was flooded in 1967 to form the Cannonsville Reservoir and several small towns (Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove) were sent to a watery grave to form the Pepacton Reservoir in 1955. My folks tell me that when the water level gets low enough you can still see skeletons of building structures eerily lurking below the surface. Obviously, you’ve read enough of my whining to know that we’ve had plenty of rain so the water levels were more than sufficient to hide any evidence of lost civilizations.
Winding around the twisty roads with serene rivers and lakes on one side of me and cool rocky cliffs on the other certainly rivaled my Skyline Drive experience in breathtaking oooh and aaaahh moments. If you’re in the area and want a nice ride I highly suggest the either one, but be warned; the roads surrounding the Cannonsville Res were so atrocious any delight you might derive from the ride will probably be sucked right down the drain by having to expend your energy concentrating on dodging bumps, holes, gravel, and steaming piles of – was that dinosaur dung? – around every blind curve.
Next up, after I cajoled my dad into staining and painting the deck on the house, I set off for the Brookfield trail system where I spent a great deal of time tramping around the trails and camping with my (real) horse in my slightly younger days. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears while revisiting some of the familiar trails and destinations on my new horse knowing I probably won’t ever get to revisit them on a living beast again.
That same day, I stopped at the Old Mill in Mt Upton, NY where my folks used to take us for elegant meals. This former grist mill located in the Unadilla Valley, which had once been regarded as the western boundary of the United States and the division between the white and Indian territory, has since been turned into a restaurant with a dining room that overlooks the Unadilla River.
And you can’t visit that neck of the woods without making a stop at the historic White Store Church and Evergreen Cemetery, a Union Church built by the Methodists, the Baptists and the Universalists, and the neighboring cemetery which has twelve Revolutionary soldiers buried in it. The church’s name is derived from the fact that the store (which was built in pioneer times) was painted white, which was not in accordance to custom, for if a building was painted at all, red was the prevailing color–hence the name White Store.
And this wasn’t the only cemetery I visited. In addition to dragging my folks all over several counties visiting the final resting places of our dearly departed, I found time to visit the monuments of some local celebrities. Exterminator, one of the most famous Kentucky Derby winners of all time, was owned by Willis Sharpe Kilmer of Swamp Root fame, and lived out his retirement on the Kilmer estate on the west side of Binghamton on Riverside Drive. Old Bones, as he was famously nicknamed, is buried on the hill behind Ross Park Zoo. I visited his monument and by sheer dumb luck on another day I also happened to ride past the Kilmer Vault in the Floral Park Cemetery.
Here’s a collection of video footage featuring some of the local wildlife on the farm, shooting pool with my dad, me running the excavator for the first time, and me sneakily recording my dad playing the harmonica from the other room Oh and rain, did I mentioned it rained during this stay?
And as I said earlier, I there were lots of entertainment opportunities at my beck and call. The Triple Cities offers a plethora of live music, theater, and cultural events happening all the time. In fact, it’s difficult to choose which soirees to attend as there’s so much overlap, but I made room on my dance card for as many as I could. I also visited several churches whose sacred spaces and congregants hold dear places in my heart. I don’t possess a wide enough vocabulary to eloquently enough convey my experiences so I’ll just let the pictures in the video montage below tell their own stories. It features the song Strangers We Meet, by The Black Feathers, so you’ll want to click on this just to hear the song if nothing else.
After all the touring, visits with loved ones, wildlife sightings, laughter shared and tears shed, my final night to enjoy one last serene sunset on the farm from the peacefulness of the deck overlooking the valley had come. Mid July had settled into a warm, breezy summer with no rain in sight so my return journey was most likely going to be a lot drier, if not a downright pleasant, ride.
Would that brilliant sunset portend a rosy road ahead or was it just lulling me into a false sense of security? Stay tuned to find out.
Monday June 13 – 333 miles/8 hours.
After an epic first day and a good night’s rest (read Part 2 here) the zombies emerge…
Yawning and stretching I lazily rolled out of bed having slept like a baby at the Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast after a stellar adventure on the road the day before. Peering through the window panes between the silky sheer curtains I spied a dreary hue of gray that I hoped was just an indication of the time of day rather than unsettled weather. I glanced around the room. Somehow my bags had managed to regurgitate their contents overnight splattering the room with clothes, food wrappers, and toiletries. Viewing the carnage, I groaned apathetically; the thought of packing my gear seemed a little less romantic today than it did yesterday. UGH!
I gave the mess a dismissive waive and stumbled into the bathroom to begin the ol’ morning routine, when – SURPRISE!!! Mother Nature thought it would be funny to to bless me with a reminder of my femininity. This was sooo not good. Like a Boy Scout, I planned for everything and I was prepared with the necessary supplies; but I was not, however, prepared to ride for another day or two in unendurable misery, clutching at my contorting, convulsing, contracting, delicate internal lady parts while searching for decent restroom accommodations. This was not how I intended my personal Blue Highways exploit to unfold. I had envisioned discovering picturesque sights in unexplored, fringe outposts of civilization, having stimulating conversations with exotic characters who told compelling, unbelievable stories, and narrowly escaping pitfalls, landslides, earthquakes, and nuclear explosions while outrunning zombies on my trusty Falcon. DOUBLE UGH!!
Begrudgingly, but meticulously, I repacked all my scattered belongings being sure to place everything in an orderly, accessible fashion and made up my mind to hit the road as quickly as possible to minimize the, shall we politely call it, “discomfort” of the day. Leaving prematurely, I was going to miss out on the fellowship of my new friends and not be able to delight in the scrumptious breakfast at the B&B, but the road would, without a shadow of a doubt, become more arduous the longer I waited, so I trudged down the stairs and began loading up. I was all packed and about to throw my leg over the Falcon, when it began. Remember the gloomy skies I saw an hour ago? That wasn’t daybreak greeting me. It was light and misty, but yep, it was definitely raining. TRIPLE UGH!!!
I almost considered just riding out as is, thinking it wouldn’t last, but I’d be an idiot to set off while my battle-tested rain gear was tucked neatly away in my tail bag instead of on my body where it belonged. Alright, I spat through gritted teeth, then began the tedious task of unbuckling, unzipping, and unpacking the precious impervious attire, painstakingly stuffing myself into it, then re-zipping, re-buckling, and re-securing my bag once again. A good 10 minutes later and feeling like the Michelin man, I was finally ready to climb aboard my Scrambler Ducati and, given the inauspicious start of the day, prepare to battle the inevitable zombie hoard attack.
At 7:30 AM the kickstand went up and off I rode into the misty, drizzle under an umbrella of low hanging clouds. I didn’t exactly have a definitive path mapped out from this point to my final destination because the majority of my day would be spent traveling through Pennsylvania and I’m more than acquainted with the eastern PA roadways. Given the current circumstances, I chose a rather scenic byway with a slower pace in the early part of my day thereby allowing me to feel out my riding muscles and perhaps still reaping some rewards of the journey before I was forced to grit my teeth and power through on strength of will alone.
Honestly though, once I hit the road, a silly grin sneaked across my face beneath all that gear. I could feel my responsive mount tugging on the reins begging me to give her her head. Ah yes, this is where I belonged – sitting astride a beast full of untapped power. Drizzle and impending girly problems wouldn’t dampen my spirits – I DO LOVE RIDING!
A short time later, I was puttering though Harper’s Ferry, crossing and re-crossing the Potomac, standing up on my pegs to better view its waters happily bubbling over its boulder-filled river bed. I was mesmerized watching the eddies and swirls as I rode over the bridges and traveled along its banks in the shadows of the tree-lined cliffs and rocky outcroppings. There was no safe place to stop to take pictures and where I could pull off, the view wasn’t as spectacular, so I have no visual evidence to show for it. You’ll just have to trust me on this, put Harper’s Ferry on your moto destination list! And whaddaya know – no zombies here.
Next, I made an obligatory stop in Gettysburg, PA. because, well, it’s Gettysburg. I could have just ridden past as it’s a hair out of the way, but come on, if you’ve been there you know you don’t bypass it. First order of business: rain gear OFF! Whew, that’s better. Next, I hung out in town, gabbing with the locals and eating some lunch. BTW, everywhere I went, G-Burg included, people were enamored with my Falcon. She’s not like any other bike out there and draws quite the crowd because not many Scramblers have hit the roads in America yet. After wrapping up my Scrambler TED talk, I plopped my butt back on the seat and went on a little tour. I love this historic town and riding through the rolling battlefields with its trees growing out of formerly blood-soaked soil always makes the hair stand up on my arms. Its history is humbling. However, I’ve spent much time here in the past visiting the must-see sights like the wax museum and Hall of Presidents, touring the battlefields, and nosing around the shops so I didn’t dawdle too long today.
Thus ends the enjoyable portion of Day 2. Once I got to Harrisburg it was all highway, all the way baby. I now needed to put as many miles behind me as quickly as possible. The rain gear went on and off several more times and I can tell you, riding at 80 plus mph for hours on I-81 without a faring, battling intermittent rain, and enduring cramping pain is not for amateurs. Boys and girls, don’t try this at home.
Let me take this moment to complain about something else (as if this whole blog post isn’t one long PMS-y bitch session). I love my Joe Rocket Alter Ego riding pants, really I do. But I do not love the original knee armor that came with them. They have always drilled into my knees leaving angry red grooves and purple bruises. I attempted to remedy the problem by cutting ovals out of a yoga mat and inserting them into the armor pockets to cushion my tender (knobby) knees. That solution seemed tolerable on my preliminary test rides, but not even an hour into Day One I was miserable and had to remove the fabricated cushions – they just made my pants stick to my legs in a weird way and didn’t really buffer the pain. When I got dressed this morning I briefly contemplated removing the armor altogether to alleviate the problem, but quickly shot that down. The whole point of wearing ATGATT (all the gear all the time) is protection. (Don’t believe me? Click here to read MotoLady’s blog about her recent crash. Or click here to read about GearChic’s recent crash.) BIG sigh… If I was already going to have to use my superpowers to override pain sensors today I could override a few more. I am Hitgirl after all (If you click the video be warned – it’s graphic – but so much fun):
An unfortunate side effect of ignoring the pain and riding for hours at a time without shifting was that my knees sort of locked up. When I got off the highway for a gas stop in Wilkes-Barre, I could hardly straighten my legs to set my feet on the pavement at a stop light and then I couldn’t upshift properly once I had to move ahead. Awkward … and a little scary… time to take a break, refresh my reserves, and get my act together. I was only an hour or so from the end of my journey so there was no quitting now!
Gathering my strength, I took a few deep renewing breaths, focused my superhero brain on the task at hand, and braced myself for the crappy conditions ahead. How do you know what lies ahead, you ask? Oh c’mon, it’s NE PA and SE NY – crappy conditions are a way of life there – no need to check the forecast – According to Wikipedia:
Binghamton is the 10th rainiest city in the United States, with 162 rainy days a year. With 212 cloudy days annually, it is also the seventh cloudiest city in the country, and the cloudiest east of the Rocky Mountains. Binghamton’s proximity to the Great Lakes results in significant cloudiness and precipitation, as weather systems traveling over the lake pick up significant moisture, and cooler air masses from the west and the north culminate in a continuously unsettled weather pattern.
Without prolonging your suspense any longer, I’ll just cut to the chase. I made it to my folks’ home without having to actually whack the heads off any real zombies. With the full power of my steely mental reserve, I successfully battled my metaphorical undead villains which came at me in the form of physical pain, shitty weather, and highway traffic. Remember in yesterday’s blog how I raised my arms in victory like Rocky at the end of the day? Well, when I crossed the NY border today, I was most certainly more subdued and slightly battle worn, but no less appreciative of the victorious ending to my day’s ride.
“I did it. I’m home, I’m home,” I said out loud and proceeded to cry big fat tears of joy and relief mingled with pride. Most definitely pride!
Less than 15 minutes later I approached my final hurdle with a bit of apprehension. As I turned the corner to head up my parents’ long and rocky driveway (no seriously – we’re talking river rocks, washed out ruts, and not much gravel!) I held my breath in preparation for sliding around and losing control, having visions of dumping my bike spectacularly while my dad stood shaking his head watching out the window. About six feet into what could have been my downfall (quite literally), I realized this was some of the most fun riding of my entire trip! There goes that silly grin across my face again. My Falcon’s stock knobby-ish tires LOVED the gravel obstacle course and let me know it really is dual sport bike!
I wheeled up to the back door of my childhood home to find my mom waiting for me just inside with a big smile on her face. Given an opportunity, no doubt she would have taken the same adventure – we’re cut from the same cloth. Suddenly feeling revived, I couldn’t WAIT to get out there and see where else the Falcon would take me.Details
Sunday June 12 – 354 miles/10 hours
After the preparation (read Part 1 here), it’s time to roll…
Early Sunday morning, my husband Neel watched me struggle to carry all my gear outside, strap it all on the Falcon, then tear it all off and strap it all back on because I forgot to plug in my USB cable under the seat. He kept quiet (good man!) but I could see he was straining hard to keep from proffering his much-needed help. I politely (that’s the way I remember it) acknowledged his intent and declined assistance as I was all too aware I wouldn’t have him in the coming days and needed to be sure I could do it on my own. When I was finally all packed up and ready to roll for real, he hopped on his Bandit and rode along for about the first 20 miles to be sure everything was OK. It was going to be our last ride together for a month and though I was more than ready for my solo adventure, this made me feel a little sad and quite sentimental. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but the open road was calling to me with her alluring whisper and a promises of delights. Who can resist her beckoning hand? We made a quick stop to pee and re-adjust my tail bag straps, then with a mixture of trepidation, pride, and sadness of his own, he kissed me one last time and bravely waved me off. (Goodbye sweet prince….)
The first 50 miles or so, I traveled roads I was familiar with, but once I got off the last recognizable path, my excitement began in earnest. Now I was on an adventure! I wound through country roads and small towns having delightful conversations with interesting people at gas breaks along the way. One such fellow was this gentle soul and his dog, Repo and Rocket, who were journeying on foot.
After about 6 hours of leisurely riding and taking long breaks I reached the lower entrance to Shenandoah National Park. At this point I had to take a gut check and realistically inventory my mental and physical reserves to determine if I was up for riding the entire length of Skyline Drive. I had taken the precaution of filling up on gas at the last possible stop before the park just in case I decided to continue. BTW, that was the only gas station I actually scoped out in advance on my route planner. I knew I’d need a full tank to get through the park so I wanted to know exactly where my last chance for gas was. Alternatively, I had given myself an optional stopping point here and could have stayed at what looked like a delightful bed and breakfast, lazily rehashing my day and plotting my next course of action. But of course, being ever the optimistic (hard-headed) adventurer that I am, it took me all of 5 minutes to scarf down my lunch and give myself a virtual chest bump and verbal “hell yeah, we ride!” before charging into the park entrance.
Not gonna lie – it turned out to be a mentally and physically demanding 4 hours. Luckily, I am one tough cookie and what my body lacked, I made up for in sheer willpower. It was soooo worth it though. The vistas were beyond incredible. I figured out early on that I couldn’t possibly stop at every overlook or I’d NEVER get out of the park. The speed limit is only 35mph tops and the cars in front of me were intent on sticking to it.
In addition to navigating the crazy twisty roads, I got caught in one a hell of a rain storm high up in the mountains. Many times that day I was grateful for my carefully thought out trip-specific purchases and superb pack job with easy access to helmet shield cleaner and rain gear. A little tip I gleaned from reading other blogs on the internet was to put the rain gear on BEFORE you need it. Wise advice indeed. I put that gear on and off 3 times in the first day alone and I was glad I did. However, even with all my research, I somehow missed the fact that about halfway into the park is a welcome oasis for tourists – a restaurant with real bathrooms (not outhouses like the rest of the park), intermittent cell service (one bar, maybe), and a GAS STATION! I was prepared to not need the fuel, but gosh darn it, it was a thing of beauty to behold and I stored that little nugget away in my brain for future reference. Also, of note, cell service in the entire park is almost non-existent; let that sink in if you’re planning on riding alone in the park (again). Lots of motorcyclists were holed up at this little hotspot after just riding through the same storm. We exchanged greetings and commented on park conditions while waiting to dry out (some had more drying to do than others – not me, hehehe) and with only a short break, I rolled out of the civilized area and back on the drive. Upon making the final descent out of the park and seeing the ranger station entrance booth, I coasted down the incline with both arms raised in victory like Rocky Balboa conquering the steps at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. I did it!
The next item on my list was to locate lodging for the night. While I picked out several potential places to retire in advance, I hadn’t actually called and inquired about availability or even made contact with any of them. The day before my trip, I could see some available rooms at the B&Bs I selected, so I figured I’d just wing it. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I would be stopping before Skyline Drive or after. I didn’t want to be forced to ride more than I was able, nor did I want to be grounded when I could have kept riding. I could have used my now-working cell phone to call someone to secure a room when I stopped for gas in Front Royal, but heck, where’s the adventure in that? I had directions to my number one pick, so I tooled on up to the front door of the historic and secluded Lackawanna Bed and Breakfast, road worn, wringing wet with sweat, and probably smelling like a rotting corpse. Ding Dong, do you have a room to let? Once the gentle innkeeper composed himself and suppressed his gag reflex, he kindly showed me in and booked me in the last available room. You caught that right? LAST AVAILABLE ROOM. Someone’s got a guardian angel…
Before I could unpack my motorcycle and scrub the road grime from my suddenly weary body, the innkeeper wanted to give me a tour. I LOVE tours of historic places so, what the hey, if he was willing to put up with the smell, I was willing to walk, listen, and learn. Fascinating place. A variety of factors went into my decision to select the Lackawanna as my number one pick of B&Bs for this leg of the trip. Perhaps the least important, but most sentimental, was the name. Growing up in the Southern Tier of NY, I’m more than familiar with the word Lackawanna (meeting of two rivers, or stream that forks) so I found it oddly enticing that a place in Virginia would have a name from my home territory. Turns out the original owner of the home was from Scranton, PA. SMALL WORLD! While playing the role of the impeccable docent, the innkeeper became aware he’d forgotten to turn on background music, so he paused to play, wait for it, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, before continuing his tour. A warm glow filled my heart and a wistful smile spread across my face. I hadn’t even told the man where I was from or where I was headed – he had no idea that both the history lesson and the music selection were just more signs that this is where I was meant to kick back for the night. After a much needed hot shower, I could be found relaxing with my feet propped up on the front porch, sipping on a complimentary glass of wine, and watching rabbits gamboling in the front yard as I desperately tried to articulate in 10 minutes everything that had occurred since our parting to my darling husband. He’s no stranger to my excited blathering and overwhelming information vomit following my exploits, so I imagine he might have been a wee bit happy to get me off the phone, although he’s WAY too kind (smart) to let on.
A man and his son, also staying at the charming B&B, were road-tripping on their BMW motos so when they returned from their dinner outing we chatted the evening away, swapping stories, and scratching the ears of the innkeeper’s two sweet standard poodles until I begged off and hit the hay. It was a perfect end to a perfect first day. I drifted off to sleep, blissfully nestled in my comfy bed, oblivious to what awaited me in the morning.Details
From baby steps to a big adventure
A little over a year ago I took my first ever tentative ride on a 250 cc motorcycle. Wobbly and scared, I slowly let out the clutch and rolled on the throttle while my encouraging husband nearly exploded with pride like a daddy watching his child ride a bicycle for the first time.
Giddy with excitement myself, but tempered with a healthy dose of respect, I embraced what became a motorcycle obsession with fervor and within a month I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider’s Course (MSF BRC), obtained my full endorsement, and conquered some long-standing childhood fears. After attaining a little more intuitive dexterity in manipulating the levers and controls, a forgotten voice in my head whispered, you were born to ride. Growing up on horseback (almost quite literally) I already knew that riding was akin to flying and as natural as breathing for me, but it was an intoxicating surprise to find that my passion and natural inclination transferred seamlessly to a machine-driven beast.
In short order, I began the hunt for my next bike, a bigger one. After months of searching and researching and agonizing and dissecting what MY riding style is (or will be) and what sort of bike lit my fire, I was left with a ho-hum attitude and a feeling that nothing in particular filled that bike-shaped hole in my heart. And then one day while randomly scrolling through Facebook posts, I saw a silhouetted head-on image of the new Scrambler Ducati about to be unveiled at the impending 2014 Intermot show in Germany. Ah-ha!! I had at last found my personal Holy Grail without even a shred of info about its specs or a real picture of it. Two days after the actual reveal I put a deposit on one at Garcia Moto then endured seven long months of (sort of) patient waiting and pouring over every scrap I could find on the internet before the Falcon, as she would come to be called, would be mine. Why the Falcon you ask? Because upon downshifting she sounds EXACTLY like the Millennium Falcon when it can’t make the jump to hyperspace:
Without the teensiest bit of buyers remorse, I was pleased to find that the Scrambler was everything I’d dreamed she would be and oh, so much more! So what’s a girl to do with just a year’s worth of riding experience (10 thousand miles!) under her belt and a brand new 803 cc bike in her possession? Why, take a solo road trip adventure of course! Every summer for 18 years I’ve traveled from North Carolina to upstate New York to visit my family and friends back home. This year I vowed to RIDE the nearly 1200 mile round trip journey plus rack up some scenic miles in the beautiful mountainous regions of upstate NY and northern Pennsylvania.
The Falcon needed only a couple of modifications for my purpose. I simply had to have lower handlebars for my personal comfort (and aesthetics) so I purchased a set of superbike bars from Dime City Cycles and enlisted my buddy William Vaughn at DMC Motorsports to put them on. Then I quickly figured out that I needed something to secure my tail bag straps to and found a handy DIY solution from a fellow Scrambler owner on one of the forums. And that’s about it. The bike itself is a handling dream and with an on-board USB port I never have to worry about losing charge on my cell phone (which BTW, I used quite often to check my GPS to ensure I was either on track or to make diversions). THAT alone is worth its weight in gold let me assure you!
With the major-ish mods out of the way, I focused my efforts on planning routes, plotting sites, purchasing gear, and picking apart every little detail I could think of as I counted down the days to my journey. Among my trip specific purchases were a Schuberth C3 Pro Women’s helmet and an Olympia Horizon rain jacket and pants, BOTH of which proved to be more than worth their expense and lived up to every review I’d read about them! I logged tons of miles on day trips and took a small overnight ride with my husband in an effort to appraise the best configuration of my set-up and gauge my stamina. I picked the brains of fellow road trip warriors and scoured the internet for advice. I planned and packed for every possible scenario (and my pack job, by the way, turned out to be brilliant as a result of all the time I spent visualizing and thinking through the placement/purpose of every little item). A week before I set out, I took and passed the MSF Experienced Rider Course so I was refreshed on my riding skills and knowledge. And in the event of a breakdown (assuming of course I had cell service) I had my trusty AAA card ready because, as my dear friend Johann Keyser of Moto Motivo told me in his suave South African accent, “There is nothing on this bike you will be able to repair.” Then he smiled and told me I would be fine with the basic tools and gave me a cheery send off. Even the world famous adventure rider Neale Bayly was kind enough to impart some good advice to me, “Don’t forget to stay loose, don’t grip the bars too tight, and have fun,” to which he sprinkled humorous (albeit, potentially valid) suggestions of items to pack.
Finally, after all the analyzation, preparation, and anticipation, the day of action arrived as determined by the best – or rather, least horrible – weather forecast. Ready or not, it was time to throw caution to the wind, load up the Falcon and hit the road.Details