I was excited about 2003's Spring Ride (#8) to Little Switzerland/Spruce Pine. I was imagining how much fun the KLR would be in the twisties and remembering Spring Ride 2001 on the F650. But memories of the totaled FZ-1 and the tumble that totaled it on Spring Ride in 2002 were etched clearly in my mind.
I planned to use SR8 as a test ride for my packing for the Four Corners 2003 trip. Except for the tent, sleeping bag and pad in the E-52 (which I carried empty) I packed things according to the western ride plan. Carrying even less weight at the rear of the bike had made the front end too light on the trip to Daytona Beach for Bike Week. This causes a wobble of the front wheel that is best handled by keeping your feet on the highway pegs (provided you have them). This is OK for a while, but being able to move around on the bike is paramount to staying comfortable on the KLR seat.
As I had hoped, carrying the 2QT Super Jug on the crossbar filled with water (4 lbs) helped a lot to settle down the front wheel at speed. Using the tank bag and carrying a spare tube in the front fender bag to shift even more weight forward helped too. I will definitely repeat this. I elected to empty the jug when we got to the hotel and neglected to fill it when we left. Big difference. I also decided to redistribute some of the cargo among the bags. The camera and cell phone got moved to the waterproof and lockable Givi bags, and the rain gear got moved to the tank bag since water posed little threat to it. This was a good move, but redistributes some weight back toward the rear making the 2 quarts of water over the bars all the more important in quelling the nervous front end.
The electronics I carried worked well. The Monster charger charged away and the PC provided weather and mapping data when it was needed. The wireless phone failed to function as a wireless modem despite five bars of digital signal strength. Apparently the connectivity needed for this is not guaranteed in areas that have digital coverage.
I can't rave about the Givi luggage enough. Secure, weather safe luggage makes a trip so much less hassle, and thus more enjoyable. The E-52 served as an ersatz cooler, holding nearly a case of Killians (thanks Jean!) and mucho ice over the weekend. I think the E-21's would make better coolers on the road though, their vertical orientation suggesting less sloshing. I will give this a try with sufficient quantities of soft drinks on our next annual Mother's Day picnic.
We met at the Tap room, our usual MMG meeting place (see TriDod.org for explanation). We were ready to roll at eight o'clock, eager to meet our western contingent in Roxboro. The ride to Roxboro was pleasant, but marred by stop and go traffic on Helena Moriah Rd as they paved the shoulder, effectively widening the road by over a foot on each side.
Breakfast at the Good Times diner (operated by the proprietors of the legendary Pan Pan diner of Durham) was quite good and reasonably priced. I ate too much, merely foreshadowing the coming weekend. Having joined up with our Durham and Greensboro brethren, we suited up and headed out.
The Route (from Good Times - give or take a twisty long cut or two)
The route was good. Curvier than slabbing on I-40, but routing us through Mount Airy for lunch at the famous Snappy Lunch. Snappy Lunch and their pork chop sandwiches were made famous in the semi-mythical town of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show; Mayberry having been based on Mount Airy. Down home furnishings and no-nonsense cooking and delivery of the modestly priced sandwiches keep the Snappy Lunch going year after year. Being a famous tourist attraction doesn't hurt.
Shortly after leaving Mount Airy we turn south onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, consider the nirvana of mountain riding by some, but tastier roads were to come. The parkway is quite scenic and the wide road and mostly gentle curves get you were you are going not quickly, but pleasantly. The parkway really is a nice ride but watch out for traffic moving at a wide variety of speeds. Some folks drive the parkway very cautiously. I did not enjoy the long sweepers as much as I may have for the nagging remembrance of my wreck. I'll be glad when those memories have been overlaid by enough good ones to allow me to enjoy this leg of the trip more.
About halfway down the parkway to Little Switzlerland we made a gas stop, stretched our legs and tended to a little maintenance. This being the shakedown run for George's Nighthawk, he discovered the speedometer gear had failed and was concerned about the clicking noise that emanated from the front axle area. A quick removal of the front wheel and check of the bearings had the master mechanic back on the bike and ready to roll. It must be handy to have a mechanic with you (so to speak) everywhere you go.
While regrouping at a scenic overlook we pondered the possibility of rain and the need for rain gear, but optimism won out. Not for long. Another scenic pullout provided a place to put on the rain gear for our small subgroup, the larger group having separated. Shortly after donning the gear and taking off, the wind and rain arrived with enthusiasm. Gusts of wind threating to push the bike into the other lane, and Dave L. mentioned later that the temperature dropped eight degrees in five minutes. My Frogg Toggs performed on par with my last use of them on I-95. A wet seat. The flapped zipper on the chest did not let water in, but an apparent hole in the seat wet my seat covering a circle of about the size of your hand. Not a lot of water -- just enough to be cold and uncomfortable.
We made the Pine Valley about 5PM, eager to check in and get ready for our group dinner down at the Cedarcrest Restaurant . Dinner was a good chance to unwind and say hi to folks I met last year. A little wheel spinning on the gravel lot across the train tracks and we were on our way back to the hotel to kick back for an evening of jawing.
Breakfast at the Mountain View restaurant began at 8AM us hoping to be back by 8:30 to plan the route for the day's riding, but it was not to be. JT sacrificed his leisure and hurried back to get the scoop on the route (thanks John!) while we finished out breakfast. Despite having let the waitress back in when she locked herself out on the deck, we had to pay for breakfast.
The route above, as penned over lunch at Helen's, covered some amazingly curvy roads. Having run my FZ-1 into the ground at highway speed I'm much more partial to the 30-40mph tight curves than the fast sweepers these days. We had tight curves in spades. The KLR was at home leaning from side to side wearing every last knob on the dual sport tires. "Power, we don't need no stinking power! Oh crap, how am I going to get by that car ..."
The dirt cheap Duro Medians held the roads very well, taking the occasional water runoff and sand patch in stride. After a couple of hours of hard cornering there may be a few more cracks in the center knob column of the rear tire but it's hard to tell. The engine of the KLR was great on the slow speed roads, providing great engine braking and sufficient power between 5000-7000 RPMs. Passing on the faster roads was an issue, as usual. Lunch came in the tiny town of Bakersville, at Helens. Helen, or her duly appointed representatives, cooked up a mean cheeseburger with fries for just $3.30. We even got a private room at the back of the restaurant.
After lunch, we headed out to hug the mountainsides again. Maybe it was the cheeseburger, or my compatriots growing comfort with the severely curvy roads, but I found myself further toward the back of the pack at each stop. That's OK, it was blast. The slower stuff is much more fun for me than the fast stuff, the curvy and hilly switchback more like the off-road riding I enjoy so much. The lightly loaded KLR was very easy to handle, gliding around corners that would have been problematic for me on the FZ-1. The ample cornering clearance of the KLR is very forgiving of my tendency to sit fairly straight up and leaned the bike way over, trying "dirt bike" my way around the corners. Not a good technique, and one I am making progress away from.
We reached the hotel fairly early, around 3PM, and promptly change into shorts and shoes, our riding gear having become a bit warm in the 90 degree heat. This was a big change from the windy rain of the day before, and the cool crisp morning. Missing the opportunity to check out local dual sport roads (Doh!) and connectors among the major riding routes (like 80, 194, etc.) we sat around talking about the ride and just generally being lazy. I was actually a bit tired from supporting myself with one leg at a time, experimenting with weighting the foot peg as a conering aid. It worked but I need to keep practicing. Did I mention there was beer in the Givi?
We eventually donned enough riding gear to make our way from the hotel down to the ubiquitous local Super Wal-Mart to buy supplies for the evening cook out. Having selected a brace of bacon wrapped filets, I failed to notice the absence of the word 'mignon'. It did not say filet of what. We were later to dub it Spam (c) mignon upon first taste. $3.50 for two bacon wrapped filets was too much to ask for. But the mystery meat rolls were to provide ample conversation, if not flavor, over the course of the evening. Many thanks to the provider of the Geeky cake, and to John for taking care of all the things required to put on a cook out. It was great. Jean brought the Geeky TriDoD banner, proclaiming our hell-bound riding ways to all at a glance. I think a church group was renting the remaining rooms at the hotel. They were not in evidence at the cookout.
More to come ...