|by Anton Largiader (email@example.com)
players, and weaponry:
Five of us left Parkesburg around 7:00 AM on Thursday, heading southwest across PA into Maryland, then down 15 to meet Barton. Traffic was much heavier than expected, so the first few hours weren't very memorable. There wasn't even anything good on the radio :(
Crossing the mountains on 211, though, was remarkably clear. After the positive experience on this road a few months ago, the anticipation built as we got closer; Mark later commented that he "felt like he was being led to his doom." 211 didn't disappoint, although I was frustrated by some handling issues with the bike. With the first real curves of the day behind us, and the cornering clearance issues already beginning to surface :), we went down I-81 and then went west on 33. More good twisties there, and after a few miles of that the brakes smoked on the leader's bike as we passed "Fat Boy's Pork Palace", which gave us a decent lunch of BBQ and other greasy stuff.
Further on, construction stopped us constantly and eventually we bailed onto the interstate to get down to Roanoke. We picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) there and proceeded to turn on the speed. The BRP, for the whole weekend, was remarkably free of enforcement and we really smoked on some stretches of it. With a few days of serious riding ahead of us, we needed to get dialed-in on these great roads, and we didn't miss a chance to explore the further ranges of lean angle which are very infrequently visited back in Pennsylvania. As we got further towards Boone, though, the light began to fade and a few deer showed up. At a more conservative pace we ran the last 60 miles or so, stopping only when Mark took a huge moth-hit on his glasses, almost blinding him.
We broke off on 421 to Boone for dinner, then on to our motel at Blowing Rock. It had been a push to get there, well over 600 miles, but the bulk of the distance was behind us and we were free to explore the local roads the next day, without worry of being too late to Tapoco.
Friday morning we got back on the BRP (less than a mile from the motel) and cruised south. We made a brief stop at the Grandfather Mountain Viaduct; a bridge carrying the BRP for about 1/4 mile around an ecologically fragile region. Really neat. Then back on the gas, and we charged down the parkway, pulling off next at Little Switzerland for a blast down 226A and back up a few miles further on 80. These roads rock! Tight constant-radius corners, second gear (for me), really working the front end as you get the bike set up for one hairpin after another. The trick, simply put, is to predict and achieve the right entry speed, get the bike set up and cornering properly, get a good drive out and a good transition to the next turn, and do this every five seconds for about five miles. If it was really that easy, we'd be paid to ride like that! The new/used rotors that I put on the bike before the trip, to replace the warped ones I had, lasted about halfway into the weekend, if that gives you an idea of what it's like following Earle on a tight downhill section.
Back on the BRP, we motored on down a bit more, picking and blasting our way around the campers and Gold Wings. At one point, stuck behind some Harleys who weren't giving an inch, Eric made a full-power pass, just about making the scumb^H^H^H^H^H rider jump out of his skin! Loud pipes save lives, back at ya, bud! The big bikes and campers receded in our mirrors as we sailed on through the mountains, just to pass us again when we stopped for gas, where we got to talking to a man riding a dual-sport bike, a DR650 I think. He was a sport rider who lived nearby, and he'd just gotten a 900SS. He gave us a few tips on good roads, then we were off again.
This time we went down to 215, which ran north towards Canton. Earle was leading me, and lost me on the downhill (again), and when I caught up at the bottom, he was looking critically at his bike. Something BAD had happened, but he wasn't quite sure what. Turns out he'd hit a rock which had dented his rim enough that it banged on the swingarm with each revolution, and was losing air. After some discussion, we turned to the locals (in whose yard we'd landed) and used a borrowed sledgehammer to pound the daylights out of the rim until it was approximately round again. It was a bit out of round, out of true, and maybe we were out of our minds but it held air and was rideable. Onwards! We stopped at Cruso to visit some friends, and after a while we saw the man we'd talked to earlier; this time he had his new 900SS and his son was along on his CBR600F3. They led a spirited charge up 276 back to the parkway, and south again for quite a few miles. These people can flat-out RIDE!!! That was one of the best rides of the day; skimming through the curves with these two sportbikes in front of me leading the way on great roads which they knew very well, and Eric following me, soaking it all up just as I was doing.
After that, we went down the parkway to 23/74/19 and then 28 to Deal's Gap. Entering the dreaded Graham County, a squad car greeted us and accompanied us for a while, getting ahead after a while and later setting up in some woods. We didn't push it; with the light fading we had a great ride all the way to the Gap without going very far over the speed limit. The Tapoco Lodge accommodated us with a late dinner, then we sat around with a few beers BS'ing about the day with each other and with Jim Roche (Dr. Curve) who dropped in for a little while. Next day: GAPAGANZA!
Saturday morning came, we met the other riders for breakfast. We needed some more air for Earle's tire, so we headed over to Jim's truck to use the air tank and check out his bike selection for the weekend. Well, the night before when I'd asked what he brought, the answer came back, "Oh, just an R100." Well, he brought White Dog, the La Carrera record-holder with the K-bike front end and heavy mods. Good for 152 or 154 in race trim, this thing looks great (links on my web page soon). We aired up and planned the day. Barton had to leave to go back home (he'd made the mistake of checking his pager) but we were joined by Tim Summers from (I think) the Greenville BMW dealership, riding his Yamaha. Jim went out early for a warm-up run, then the rest of us headed out to the Gap for our own warm-up.
The Gap was better than I remembered! Better pavement, better turns, and more of them. I think the previous days of tire-scrubbing and metal-dragging had gotten us prepared, because we all (with the exception of Ambient Bob, who had Gapophobia) had a great run out and back, smooth sailing, just flopping the bikes right-left-right, dialing in our corner speeds, and just generally getting warmed up for the day's riding. Back at the beginning, though, Eric's clutch was really going south. It had been slipping a bit the day before, and we went back to the Lodge and came up with Plan B. Eric and Mark would stick together and find a Ducati dealer, the rest of us would continue our assault on the roads and contact them later, perhaps in time to rendezvous before the day was done. Tim led us on a good run down towards Robbinsville and then over on 143 to the Cherohala Skyway. 143 was just another great North Carolina road; smooth tight turns in succession, with good visibility and scenery. Tim kept leading for a while on the Skyway, then I took over for a bit, then Earle. Big high-speed sweepers is the game up there; entry speeds of 65 to 75 are common with the bikes skimming the pavement the whole while, and some truly fast ones are thrown in there, too. My bike isn't super steady cornering like that over about 85, so my poor abused brake rotors got a bit more of a workout up there!
Around the middle we saw Jim heading back the other way, and then we ran into some rain, so we turned around, got back onto dry roads, and back at the beginning found Jim at a pulloff. We kicked lies for a few minutes, found out about a cop that we must have absolutely rocketed past, and figured we'd ride together for a while. Tim led us back down to 143, and I took over on that stretch with Jim filling my mirrors as my riding skills vanished in nervousness. We gassed up in Robbinsville, tried unsuccessfully to page Eric and Mark, and got back onto 143, Tim leading again, and then went south on 28 towards Franklin.
28 was just awesome. Only a few cars were on it, and we got past them easily. I was leading, with Tim behind me, then Bob, Earle and Jim. Pretty soon it was me, Tim, Jim and then me, Jim, Tim as the curves became more regular and I got the K into a real rhythm: left-right-left again, all the way over each time, not quite as twisty as the Gap and a bit more open. At the bottom, though, when things opened up a bit the two behind me absolutely motored past, heading out across the valley in front of me and very surely vanishing into the sweepers. Don't think I wasn't trying to keep up! I was outgunned and outridden, plain and simple, and I didn't mind it one bit! We had lunch down in Franklin, where we plotted some engine upgrades for Bob, and then Jim and Tim split while Bob, Earle and I headed a bit further south to Wayah Bald Road. We got a picture of the sign: Curvy road next 26 miles, and headed up. Unfortunately, the road became wet right at the time when it got good, so we'll just have to chalk that one up to an excess of good luck and ride it another day. It'll be there, and it'll be great.
Coming back north again, along Lake Nantahala was nice but congested, so we just putted through there seeing the sights, then got back onto 28 and followed it all the way to the Gap, re-running the route which had brought us in the night before. But this time it was still light, and we picked up the pace riding the tight section along the Little Tennessee River. Soon we were at the Gap, and with less than an hour before dinner I lost little time getting onto the Dragon.
A blue & white sportbike had pulled out ahead of me, so I figured the road would be clear for a few miles. Turns out the first obstacle was the sportbike, as the rider stuck the knee way out but hardly leaned at all in the curves. After a few, though, he got sick of me in his mirrors and picked up the pace. We met a few cars, but passed easily, and by the time we were halfway to the overlook, he was really moving to the point that I was barely keeping with him. We passed a big Harley and believe it or not, he poured on some throttle and stayed dead even with us for about 1/4 mile! Ground clearance and a pickup truck in our way eventually pushed him back, but I was reminded again that familiarity with the bike and application of skills are what make you fast. On we went, and approaching the overlook I simply couldn't close the 30 yards separating us. He stopped at the overlook; I went down to the bridge and then looped back. "Man, every time I looked in the mirror, there he was! I was draggin' my knee through the turns..." It was fun, I'll admit it, hearing the sportbike rider talking to his friends and eyeing the K75"LT".
It was time for dinner, so the fourth Gap run that day was a bit more sedate. Back at the lodge, a great meal awaited us. The only concern was that the clutch contingent hadn't shown up yet! Dinner ended, dessert came around, beer ran out, and at 10:00, swapping lies in the main room, we were looking at each other with real questions in our eyes. The dealers were only a few hours away, but they'd been gone for nearly ten. Finally, around 10:30, some muffled noises sounding like super twins were heard, and as we went out to see, the staccato roar of a 900SS at full tilt came in, followed by the Superhawk. They'd had to go to Atlanta, and decided to take the scenic route back, even though that put them onto the far end of the skyway way after dark.
Their stories were told, too, and added to the rest, and we eventually turned in for the night. Although we'd lost some time in the morning, it had been a great riding day in the mountains all the way around.
Thoughts on the Gapaganza:
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