Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The final route

Is roughly as shown on this map - there are a few errors down to so many amendments to the Google maps page the most notable being we rode skyline drive back as well - but its roughly there.  At the bottom is a google street view of one of my favourite parts the Jeb Stuart Highway 58 out of Tennessee into Virginia - a superb twisty!

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View Larger Map

Monday, 8 June 2009

The end of the road

Well all good things have to come to an end some time and today was the final day of our tour. And what a day it was - the 105 miles of the Skyline Drive in glorious sunshine (as opposed to the thick fog of the previous attempt). Some of the most stunning scenery you could wish for and all viewed from the seat of a Harley - this is what these great clunking lumps of steel are made for - cruising through the long and winding roads of the US with your buddies.

We have met some great folk along the way, but the couple that we bumped into at one of the viewing points on the Skyline Drive were the best - the elderly bikes had brought their small chihuahua (Gabrielle) out for a ride, complete with doggy crash helmet and goggles! What a pair  of nutters - they had been at a Veterans' ride out at the weekend and taken their other dog with them dressed up as General Patten. Don't you just love the Americans?!

The end of the Skyline Drive also spelt the end of the ride and the parting of the ways as Al headed off to see his family in Virginia, Roger and Paul headed back up towards Vermont, Brian headed off back to New Jersey and Tim, Ian and I headed for Dulles airport (where as luck would have it, a complimentary upgrade awaited us - result!). There was hardly a dry eye in the house as hugs were dispensed, backs were slapped and the magnificent seven went their separate ways.

It was left to Al to have the final word (funny that...!) Or two words, to be precise.

"Nova Scotia".........

Now there's a thought.

Here are the boys in action.........

Riding the skyline drive

The second time around it was a spectacular ride all 105 miles in bright sunshine and around 80 degrees F - Roger saw a 300lb Brown Bear - although annoyingly we did not - i also saw a large brown Hawk swoop dow in front of me.  Its up there as one of my top rides in the US, with the Pacific Coast Highway, Key West and the Painted Desert National Park.

Click on the images to get the full view

And now the end is near....

A few thick heads this morning after last night's farewell dinner. To continue the surreal theme of the trip we ate in an Outback Steakhouse (Aussie themed restaurant in the middle of Virginia) and watched the basketball play offs between LA and Orlando on the TV.

Paul had his last martini of the trip. And it tasted so good that he had another. And another. And another, before falling asleep next to the authentic gas powered coal effect campfire in the hotel courtyard. Paul is a martini connoisseur and has educated several barmen along the road on how to mix a perfect martini. Paul is a realtor (trans. Estate Agent) from Vermont and good buddy of Roger's and a really nice bloke. He rides a Road King and has the most waterproof waterproofs of us all (Ian - in that subtle way of his - asked him if he was planning on going on a fishing trip when he first put them on on the first day).

Earlier, Ian was proud of the fact that he had correctly identified the hotel receptionist's accent as being from Virginia on the basis that she sounded like Agent Starling from Silence of the Lambs (here's a clue, Ian - we are in Virginia). He was disappointed that Pam (said receptionist) was unable to place his accent as being from Ramsgate, but perhaps one day Jodie Foster will do a movie where she has to learn how to speak like Ian!

Right - time to saddle up and ship 'em out.

Wrap up and SWOT analysis to follow later today......

Last Day

Today is our last day and the weather looks glorious. We are going to re-ride the Skyline Drive, 105 miles along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains reaching nearly 4000 ft - if its clear the views will be spectacular. From there onto Winchester to the HD dealer to get my second HD T Shirt (that I will never wear), and then about 40 miles to the bike drop off in Chantilly - taxi to the airport and home.

A great trip and we are all looking forwards to this last day,

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Blue Plum

One of the joys of these trips is stumbling upon unexpected jewels like Johnson City. We only stopped at Johnson because of the rejigged schedule caused by Friday's rain, but what a great place it turned out to be, mainly because we happened to visit on the Saturday night of the annual Blue Plum Bluegrass festival. Bluegrass music is a cross between country and rockabilly music featuring guitars, mandolins, banjos, double basses and violins. The whole of Johnson had been pedestrianised for the event and there were live music stages set up at each end of the main street. And the place was rocking! There were arts and craft stalls, food stalls, corn sack throwing areas and lots of beer. We found a great little restaurant and had some creole type food and did a lot of people watching. A great night. And as a tribute to Timbo (in bed with flu still) the final band did a Blue Grass version of the Who's Baba O'Reilly - superb.

Today's ride (300 miles) was the sort of ride that epitomises these trips - bright sunshine, wide open empty roads, breathtaking scenery and lots of banter and camaraderie. The group has really bonded and it will be very sad when we all head our separate ways tomorrow afternoon.
But that is tomorrow and we still have our last night and Brian's birthday to celebrate. We are staying at the very nice shiny and new Marriott Residences in Staunton Virginia. Each room has a microwave, hob and dishwasher. Thank goodness we weren't staying here on Thursday night - heaven knows what ways Brian would have found to dry clothes with all that equipment!

It has been a great day and we have another in store tomorrow - but first some beer, methinks.....

Pink Cadillac

At the Pink Cadillac diner on Route 11 which is a tribute to Elvis as
he stopped here once - greater tourist attractions have been built on
a lot less in the USA. But its just perfect for us.

Tim is feeling better!

We ate in Wendys for a pit stop about halfway to our hotel so another
140 miles to go.
We have had a great morning; riding through the Cherokee and Mount
Rodgers national parks - superb scenery and it's 82 degrees.

It doesn't get much better than that.

The shark

Introducing Brian. Brian is 51 tomorrow. He has a tyre (or in American "tire') business in Ridgewood New Jersey. He is a great guy. When the fire trucks turned up to the Country Inn in Asheville the immediate suspect was Brian. He was seen the previous afternoon checking out the fire escapes "just in case". When we got soaked in the rain on the first day, Brian shared a handy hint with the rest of us which was how to make your hotel room closet into a drying room using the hotel's hair drier and the standard issue bible. He also shared with us his secret of how to change the temperature of a hotel swimming pool using a wire coat hanger.
Brian has a kind of adult ADD. He cannot sit still. When we stopped for a breather after completing the Tail of the Dragon, Brian disappeared. And then reappeared on a rock face opposite where we had stopped. He was "looking for critters".
When challenged on his inability to remain seated for more than a few seconds, Brian responded that he is like a shark. If he stops, he dies.
Brian is mad, but he is a great guy and this trip would be much the worse without him.

Our pool is not even half empty

Still we are off out to the bluegrass festival in town - I am sure we
will hear the theme from Deliverance a few times! 

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Feeling hot....

After yesterday's rest day everyone was up at 7 am ready and raring to go for the eagerly anticipated rider to the Tail of the Dragon. Everyone, that is except Timbo who had evidently caught swine flu at the Mexican restaurant yesterday and was feeling unwell. To add to his misery I had accidentally shut his fingers in the door of the taxi on the way back from the pizza restaurant the previous evening, so a trip up and down the corkscrew that is the Tail of the Dragon was not really on the cards. So Tim went the direct route up the Interstate while we set off on a 300 mile loop round the Smoky Mountains.

Truth to be told, the Tail of the Dragon was a bit of a let down. Some selfish person had fallen off half way up so our death defying slalom round the 300+ bends in 11 miles was more of a funeral cortege behind the ambulance which was taking the hapless casualty off the mountain.

Still - we rallied. The sunshine and the scenery were fabulous and we wound our way through some beautiful Tennessee countryside on our route up to Johnson City.

It is a strange part of the world, this. Some of the most beautiful landscape you could ever hope to see, interspersed with some of the most vile, ugly and vulgar places on earth. I am of course referring to Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood, the world's only theme park devoted to the unfeasibly large breasted chanteuse herself, Dolly Parton. What a dump. It is a bit like someone (probably that bloke who bought the old London Bridge and transported it to the Arizona desert) had tranplanted Blackpool pleasure beach to the middle of the Smoky Moutains National Park. But it was heaving with cars and people driving from tacky amusement park to tacky amusement park. Bizarre.

We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Johnson City early evening. After a long hot day, Al was looking forward to a dip in the hotel pool, so imagine his disappointment when the young man behind the desk told him that the pool was closed for maintenance. He couldn't believe it and stood there "oh man" ing and pacing back and forth until eventually he leaned across the desk and said to the guy "is Mr Hampton in"? He then dissolved in laughter. What a guy.

We're off for some Bluegrass and pasta.

Almost at Johnson city

It's a tradition on these rides to stop for an afternoon ice cream -
so here we are and it's for sale but they opened up especially for us!

I had a diet coke.

Fire at hotel

We left tim tucked up in bed with the flu and he just sent this
picture with a brief message about a fire!

Tail of the dragon

Beautiful day and scenery and a very slow ride down the tail of the
dragon as we followed an ambulance down carrying a road casualty !!