Monday, June 16, 2008

L-o-o-o-n-n-g Ride

Decided after having the motorcycle for a couple of months now that it was time to put it (and me) through its paces, so I packed up a few things and hit the road Saturday morning heading for Dad's house in Yancey County. I took the Old Greensboro Highway through Snow Camp to get to Greensboro and went through town and out US 421 past the Greensboro-High Point Airport. That joins the pre-bypass I-40 through Winston-Salem and then runs up past Wilkesboro to Boone. I'd planned on dropping down to Blowing Rock and having lunch at Tijuana Fats and then picking up the Blue Ridge Parkway at Cone Manor and running all the way down to Buck's Creek Gap (NC 80) for the short ride on to Dad's. But as I was climbing the hill towards Boone I could see heavy rain to the north and more over the ridge to the west, so I took a quick cruise through Blowing Rock without stopping (it was packed with folks there for Art in the Park) and headed on to the Parkway. I almost immediately pulled off at an overlook to exchange my shades for my regular glasses and my riding jacket for the top half of the rainsuit (I could hear thunder while I was stopped) and started on down. It was a great ride over the Linn Cove Viaduct and on past Grandfather Mountain - a couple of sprinkles but no big deal. But just as I got past Linville Falls the bottom dropped out - actually the bottom was all around me as I was in the thunderstorm clouds at that point. There was one car in front of me that pulled off onto an overlook after a couple of miles but without any shelter, I didn't really see any reason to stop. Of course that was before water starting running down the INSIDE of my face shield where I couldn't wipe it off. I finally realized that I could actually see a little better with the shield halfway up. I managed to putter along at about 15 mph all the way down to US 226 where the rain thinned out a bit and I headed down a mile or so to the gas station at the Wal-mart, where I was able to dry my glasses and the inside of my helmet. Rather than get back on the Parkway, I took 19E down to Micaville and then NC 80 on to Dad's for a total ride time of about 6.25 hours.

After a huge breakfast on Sunday, I headed back out for home. I'd given some thought to riding NC 80 down to Marion and then taking some combination of US 70 and US 64 on home (I had no intention of riding I-40 at all) but decided that since my Parkway ride was both miserable and aborted, I'd do the return trip in reverse. I left a bit before 1pm to much nicer weather and reasonably dry roads. There were of course eleventy-leven fellow motorcyclists on the Parkway but most were heading south and traffic northbound was not bad at all. I did have to slam on brakes once to let a tom and hen wild turkey herd their brood of chicks across the road, but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing. I stopped off in Blowing Rock this time to park long enough to have something cold to drink and then headed on into the quickly warming afternoon. There were a number of stretches of US 421 where I had the bike up to 70-75 mph (and of course I was being passed by everyone else on the road) and it did fine at that speed, although I'll admit that it seems happiest at around 55-60. I held up a bit less well, with the helmet starting to dig into my forehead after two solid days of riding and the seat finally starting to get to my butt. My throttle hand (especially my thumb) get pretty tired and of course the worst was tightness across the top of my shoulders. However, I'd say that 6 hours one day and at least a couple more the next before feeling any discomfort is pretty damn good! I was certainly ready to be home by the time I got there just before 7pm (the return trip took right at 6 hours) but I was damned impressed at how well the bike did and how long it provided a very comfortable ride. While I don't think I'll be doing that again any time soon, it's nice to know that I can and it's also nice to know that an hour or two of riding will not be uncomfortable at all. I had my stuff in the drybags we have for kayaking, which worked great (although the left saddlebag was pretty dry anyway). There was a marked improvement in gas mileage as well, going from around 42mpg on my commutes to 47-48mpg on the trip. Not half bad!

I'll need a bigger bike before I do trips like that very often (and I have no plans to get a bigger bike any time soon) but it was a lot of fun and a great way to get more familiar with the bike!