I thought I'd try to give you all the "Reader's Digest Condensed Version" of the trip to North Carolina my girlfriend Pattimarie and I went on last weekend. I did manage to take a "few" photos while on our trip, but wasn't able to get any while on the ride on the Cherahola Skyway and the Dragon, which I'll exlain later.
Anyway, PM and I left Easley around 10:00 AM on Friday, and chose to go a route that would include some nice curves and twisties and some four lane (to get up there a little sooner). Remember, PM hadn't had much practice riding in the mountains by this time, so I didn't want to overwhelm her before we got up to NC. So, we took a route that had us ride through Pisgah National Forest in NC on our way to the Iron Horrse Lodge. We took our time and stopped at a few different spots in the forst, including a Ranger's station, where we saw about a dozen Hummingbirds fighting over a feeding station! Awesome!!!!
We arrived at the Iron Horse Lodge around 4:00 PM and checked in. A couple of Conebutts club members were aleady there and were milling about the lodge, while some decided to go ahead and ride up to the Dragon for an early assault that afternoon.
We had a really nice dinner with the rest of the club at the lodge that evening and everyone was pretty excited about going on the ride the next morning, We were concerned about the weather, though, which wasn't looking too favorable. It had started raining and the forecast called for more showers in the area for Saturday. All we could do was hope that the front would pass over during the night. Naturally, it didn't, and the next morning we were greeted with a light rain as we ate breakfast. At first, we were going to wait until Noon for the weather to improve, but by 10:00 things seemed to be getting better, so the group decided to go ahead and saddle up and start our ride of about 150 miles, which would take us first to the Cherahola Skyway, then on the Deal's Gap and "The Dragon".
PM was getting pretty stressed out about going on the ride with the weather being so unpredictable (she had not really ridden in rainy weather). She didn't want to disappoint me, but was worried she might not be able to handle riding the curves with wet roads. She asked me if I would be upset if she stayed at the lodge, and I told her of course not, that it was a good move, considering her lack of riding in the mountains, especially in rainy conditions. She did want me to go, though, so I agreed and got ready to take off with the 12 other club members who were going.
I want to say right here and now that I wish like hell that I had opted to stay at the lodge as well, because the day proved to be one of the most stressful ones I have EVER experienced on on motorcycle......
Within 15 minutes of leaving the lodge, the rain became more heavy. I was having difficulty seeing through my faceshield, and had to raise the shield about three inches, which meant the rain kept hitting me in the eyes intermittently as we began going up in elevation on the Skyway (elevation 5,400 ft). Soon, it was rain AND fog we had to deal with. I was concentrating on staying close enough to the bike in front of me so I could get an idea of what the curve was going to be like, based on how much the rider had to lean. The fog pretty much shut out any view of the scenery below as we rode toward the top of the mountain. Then, we road into a cloudbank, cutting the visibility down to a few feet, forcing us to crawl along at about 10-15 mph. The lead rider in our pack pulled over at the pulloff, which was a relief to me. As soon as I got off Britta, the rider who was following me came up to me and said, "John I think your tail light is out."
WHAT??????? I checked, and sure enough, the bulb had burned out. Did I have a replacement with me? Of course not. Just what I needed on a foggy and rainy day in the mountains, no tail light. The ride leader asked me to ride in between two riders, so I would stay between people who knew my "condition", and everyone who had emergency flashers turned them on, so we could see the bike in front of us better in the fog. We set off again slowing in the foggy rain on our descent down the skyway into Tennessee and lunch in Tellico Plains, about 25 miles away. By the time we made it down the mountain, the fog and rain had subsided, and I felt a bit more relieved. I just hoped nothing else would go wrong.
We ate lunch at a really nice restaurant in Tellico Plains, even though we were all fairly wet by this point. Most of the riders all had pretty nice BMW riding suits and were dry inside, with their Gore-Tex liners, but soaked on the outside, including me. But I wasn't complaining, mind you. I thought that perhaps the upcoming ride on The Dragon would be more enjoyable than the Skyway.
As we were about to leave, guess what? Right, the rain started back up again. Then, another rider pointed to my right cylinder head and said it looked like the center bolt that held the valve cover on was missing. HUH?!?!?!? I got off Britta and kneeled down and looked into the cylinder head valve cover and saw a nice hole into the head. No bolt. Everyone else got off to take a look at my poor Britta (which, by the way, wa the oldest bike in the ride). One of the riders said that since it looked like the two smaller bolts on the bottom and side that also hold the cover on were still in place, I "probably" would not have any major problems with continuing the ride. My oil level was still OK, so I got back on Britta and we took off in the rain toward Deal's Gap and The Dragon. I admit at this point, I was not in a really good state of mind, wondering if I might have to end up having Britta towed back home.
(See Part 2 for conclusion!)