For this trip, I am submitting a daily entry to
Wisconsin Motorcycling, partly to
continue my tradition of keeping an on-line journal of my trips, but mostly just to rub it in to the other folks
that I am having such a great time! Anyway, to give this journal a sense of immediacy and let the reader get a
feel that it is happening "now", I am writing this in the present tense, something I usually tend to avoid.
Hopefully, it will still be an enjoyable read. On with the show...
Sunday July 23, 2006
Leaving home at 5am Sunday, the morning is cool and calm, with ground mist rising from the fields. I HATE
traveling on Interstates, but it sure helps to tick off the miles. Sunrise over the Mississippi River as I
leave Minnesota behind and head into Wisconsin. Things are going smoothly and before I realize it, the Illinois
state line is behind me. I'm five hundred miles into the day when my headset breaks, leaving me without
tunes and radar audio. I can do without the radar detector, but not having tunes is horrible. Around the
700-mile mark I make a stop for gas, shoot the breeze with an old fella (the one who misses his old bike),
and notice the oil level seems low. But it looks like the bike isn't on even ground so I make a mental note
to pay attention to it. The bike doesn't want to start up right away when I take off and seems to be running
a little rough, but not enough to worry me.
Coming into Paducah, KY I decide to swing into a Wally World to get a quart of oil just in case. When I
pull off the highway, the bike is chugging and gurgling and stalling. I have to hold the throttle about halfway
open just to keep it running. Sounds like it's missing on one cylinder. Had a similar problem in Missouri this
year, after tipping the bike on its side and figured at the time on a stuck float...a belief backed up when the
problem eventually worked itself out. I decide to continue on to Nashville, let me and the bike rest and see how
things look in the morning. Check the oil, seems ok now. I make it to Nashville, but the bike is still missing
and sucking gas. I still think a stuck float is flooding one of the cylinders.
A very nice morning, but the bike is no better. Check oil again - a little less than half way up the window.
I top it off and get on the road. My plan is to get out of Nashville and find a bike shop in the next decent sized
town. No one has worked on the bike besides me since I've owned it so I'm not big on taking it to a shop, but I
have neither the time, inclination, or confidence to tear into it so far from home. I roll into Shelbyville, TN
and borrow a phone book at the gas station to find a shop. The only one that looks promising is 25 miles back the
way I came. I call them up and get a message that tells me they don't open until 9...it's just after 7 now. I see
there is another shop in Tullahoma which will be on my way after I leave Lynchburg where I plan on taking the Jack
Daniel's tour. I decide to continue and stop in Tullahoma on my way through.
Jack Daniel's tour is really cool. I highly recommend it if you're in the area, even if you aren't a fan of
the product. The guide tells us Jack Daniel's is the first and oldest registered distillery in the United
States (1866) and other interesting facts. Jack Daniel's has 74 barrel houses, each containing over 20,000
barrels, or one million gallons, of whiskey. The barrel houses are scattered around a dry county. It was
impossible to buy any alcohol at the distillery until 1995 when a special act of the Tennessee Legislature allowed
the sale of commemorative decanters containing Jack Daniel's whiskey...with a $3.50 donation to Moore County for
every bottle sold. I buy a bottle of JD in a bottle with an image of Mr. Daniels, as well as a bottle of 1954 Gold
Medal JD at the distillery, a JD tumbler from their shop downtown and get on the road to Tullahoma.
Around 11am, I cruise through Tullahoma but don't see the shop. I stop at a gas station and notice a Harley and
a Kawi ZX-6 at a pump. I ask the guys if they know where I could find a bike shop. They ask me what kind of bike
I have, and when I tell them Kawasaki they say "We're heading over to the Kawasaki dealer right now if you want
to follow us." Of course I do.
We get off and they tell me my bike sounds real bad. Yeah, I know. "Don't worry; Charlie is the man and he'll
fix you up." Charlie looks at the bike and says it's definitely missing on at least one cylinder. Running rich so
he says might be a float, but maybe just a fouled plug. I can tell he isn't real excited about having to squeeze
it in, but he does anyway. I give him a hand pulling off the plastics and getting the tank off. We see fuel
standing in the carbs, so that's where we start. He drains the carbs, pulls the bowls and checks all the floats
and needles. Nothing obvious. Old plugs have lots of carbon built up from running extremely rich, so we throw in
a new set to be safe, and Charlie blows out fuel lines before putting the bike back together enough to run. No
dice, but we hear the pumps continue running and see one of the carbs dumping gas. Definitely float related.
Charlie has to go meet his wife over lunch, but says he'll be back in an hour. I get something to eat nearby
and hang out at the shop waiting for Charlie. I sit on a
ZX-14...what a monster;
way lighter and more compact than the ZZR with an engine that can "suck the paint off
your house and give you family a permanent orange afro." (guess that ref.) Also sit on a
I can see myself on something like this. I BS with the other guys in the
shop, everyone is incredibly friendly and laid-back...within a few minutes we're talking and joking like longtime
friends. One of the reasons I like the South. Everyone's amazed when they find out I rode down from Minnesota.
Charlie finally gets back around 2pm, and we get back into the carbs. Still can't see anything with the floats
so next step is to pull the seats and check the screens. The first two seats come out easily...no resistance.
We look at the O-rings. They're in tact, but hard and sort of flattened. We both think we've found the culprit.
There aren't any O-rings that size in the shop, but Charlie finds something at a nearby hardware store. We put in
the new rings, the pumps fill the carbs then stop, we fire up the bike and Voila! Nothing sounds or feels as good
as your bike purring along after you've been struggling with it a thousand miles from home. I thank everyone, pay
my bill for the service (seemed like a bargain), and finally get back on the road. It's now after 4:30, but I've
only got 150 miles to go.
One of my directions was inaccurate, so I end up off my intended route but not out of my way. I check the map
and verify my new route works out just fine and keep going. At one point the road splits, but I see it meets up
again later on. I take the road less traveled and soon see the squiggly road sign I love so much with a "Next 22
Miles" appended to the bottom. Sweet.
Now I am very near the cabin. My directions are technically correct, but the back road I'm on, Lowery Rd, turns to
gravel. I'm not averse to gravel, but this is loose, nasty stuff on an uneven, twisting banking road. With a
heavily laden bike, it's a bad mix. I push on for a few miles, and almost dump it a couple times before finally
giving up and calling the folks I'm meeting. I'm close to the cabin, but the road I'm on is not the way to
go...obviously. They say turn around head to the Citgo station and they'll meet me there. Which they do.
On the way in, I see we are on Lowery Road, but it is paved from this direction. As we make the turn to the road
for the cabin, I see a "Pavement Ends" sign on Lowery. I'm curious as to how close I was when I turned around.
The cabin is incredible. The view is breathtaking. There is a large garage where I pull in. Before I am even
off the bike, Jill comes out with a large Jack and Coke in hand and I am officially in Heaven. Dinner is waiting
for me, and after a quick shower I devour it. More Jack, less Coke and the night is going fine. I tell everyone
the story of my trip down. The cover comes off the hot tub. More Jack...what's Coke? Soaking in the
tub, breathing the fresh mountain air. What a day. I can't say it was bad. In fact, I feel it was quite the
opposite. As troublesome as it was, I met some great people, complete strangers who did everything they could to
help me. Because of them, everything came out fine in the end; I'm safe, happy, and looking forward to a great
week of riding.
Slept great last night. Woke up this morning and the coffee was ready. Bacon and eggs for breakfast and
we take our time getting ready. We head down GA-60 into Suches and check out
T.W.O, the motorcycle-only resort.
Hwy 60 is a great road. We continue on to Helen, GA. It's a tourist town which is entirely done up in a German
theme. We stop for a quick lunch and a short stroll through town. It rains lightly while we are having lunch,
but it's over by the time we get back to the bikes. Another rider stops to tell us it's raining heavily where
he came from, but we are heading the other way.
We complete a loop that brings us back into Suches on GA-180. Another great road. Lined with lush
forest, the air is cool and feels great. I wave Jill and Cindy by as I stop for a photo. Get back on the
bike and take off playing catch-up. They have pulled off on a side road to wait for me but I'm having so much
fun I blast right by them without realizing it. When I get into Suches and see no sign of them, I figure I
must have passed them. I turn around to head back and see them within a mile. We join back up and continue
back to Blue Ridge, GA for supplies and get back to the Cabin. Mike magically produces some ribeye slabs,
Jill makes the corn-on-the-cob and fried taters. It was an excellent meal.
Tomorrow is a 200-mile loop hitting the Carolinas and Tennessee. As I'm typing out here on the deck, the
sun has set, the ice cubes are tinkling in my glass, and it's time to enjoy the company of my friends.
Wednesday morning...time is going fast. We get an earlier start today. Maybe more Coke and less Jack has
something to do with that. We are on the road before 9am heading east down US-76. Four lanes, nothing exciting
but it gives me a chance to take in the scenery and realize why these are known as the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Must be something in the air that give the pine covered hills a bluish tint. A sort of haze in the air is
probably the reason they are also known as the Smoky Mountains. Before long, 76 goes back to 2-lanes and gets
much better...and the scenery is still fantastic.
We get off the beaten path once we reach Clayton, GA by taking Warwoman Rd which ends in 15 miles of endless 25
mph corners just before it connects us to GA-28. We dip just barely into South Carolina. I take Jill's SV650S
for a quick rip deeper into the Palmetto state. It seems tiny compared to the ZZR, but it's fun to play on a
V-twin through the tight twisties. Mike puts me in the lead as we take 28 back out of South Carolina, through
Georgia and into North Carolina. What a blast.
We stop in Highlands, NC. Very upscale touristy town. Lots of overpriced shops etc. We get a snack at a
coffee shop, then Cindy and I satisfy our sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) with some ice cream. Jill does a little
shopping while Mike peruses some real estate brochures. He's looking to retire to this area. We head down out
of Highlands on US-64. Absolutely gorgeous roads. Cliffs rising on one side, forest on the other, dropping off
occasionally to provide a fantastic panoramic view. But I can't look too much, since I'm constantly tossing the
bike from one side to the other.
Just outside Hayesville, we stop at a dealer since Mike needs some new tie-downs. I sit on a few more bikes.
A Kawi Z750,
as well as an
None of which really excite me too much. We drop down to 76 and buzz back to the cabin. I drop my bike
at the entrance when I stop to wait for Jill and Cindy. The road is going uphill in front of me, the
entrance to the cabin area is uphill to the left, and I am unknowingly in 3rd gear. I see Jill's
headlight, and as I take off, the engine bogs where the roads come together in a 'V'. I put out my
left foot on the downhill side of the bike, but by the time I touch ground, the bike has too much
momentum and I can't even lay it down gently since it's attempting to pin my leg. Frame slider takes
the brunt (again), but I get a little scuff on my brand new Givi, and the edge of the cowling gets rubbed.
Showered and rehydrated, we're all relaxing, but there is a little touch of excitement building. It's been
getting more noticeable since our lunch stop as the ride was winding down. Feels like the last half of the day
was just a precursor. Something is coming.
Rain in the forecast. Clouds in the sky. No matter. There isn't much that will keep us from Deal's Gap
today. I for one didn't come all this way not to ride The Dragon. With the anticipation I've built up, I
dread having to ease my way through it on wet roads and slick tires, but one way or the other I'll be riding
Deal's Gap, even if it has to be at a snail's pace. So if it rains, we get wet...
It doesn't rain.
The road is empty as we make our way north. The surface is damp in places, downright wet in others, but
no rain falls. TN-60 ducks and weaves, lined with lush vine covered trees. Everything feels clean, fresh,
and new. The cool moist air washes away any apprehension I had about the mythical Dragon and any nastiness
it might have in store for me. I am ready.
We make it to Tellico Plains and stop at a gas station for fuel and a break. While paying for a bottle of
water, I see a pin shaped like the Route 129 road sign, with "The Dragon" emblazoned across the top.
Collecting pins from my travels is one of the things I do, but I wonder as I pick it up if there may be some
bad mojo involved in this action - buying the pin before I have actually ridden the Dragon. The thought is
short lived. Mojo will play no part in this day.
We cross over to North Carolina on the Cherohala Skyway. The views are incredible as we ride over the peaks,
nearly 5,000 feet up. The temperature chills and mist hangs in air. Everything today seems mystical.
Corners are all marked 25 mph, and we keep the pace reasonable, but every bend is begging to be taken flat
out. A couple times I back off and do just that. Everything is fine. The bike is humming (Thanks again
Charlie!), my mind is focused, everything I've learned and practiced over my riding career comes into play.
The skyway was nice. Bring me the Dragon.
At the end of the skyway, we take a shortcut to get to Route 129. I stop off to snap a few pictures as
the others continue on. On my own now, I pass below the Fugitive Dam and enter the first few corners
leading up to the Deal's Gap resort. I drop down in 1st gear and the bike screams, announcing it's presence;
calling out the Dragon. I see Mike's Virago in the parking lot. There is a temptation to continue on to the
Dragon now, a surprise attack, but that would not be fair. It knows I'm here. I will let it prepare for me.
In the meantime, we meet up with Mike Willuweit, an old friend of Mike Orr's from days of riding in
SW Wisconsin. He has moved to Tennessee and now lives with the Dragon in his backyard. In his own words,
"that was no accident." Lunch at the resort...the BBQ sandwich is very good. We linger a while as the
Mike's catch up. I watch as bikes pull out from the parking lot and head up the Wheelie Hill leading
to the Gap, like a parade of potential victims or heroes. Finally, Mike says "Well, are we ready?" and
I all but leap from my chair to get to my bike. So much for playing it cool. But this is not anxiety,
it is eagerness. 318 curves in 11 miles of road await.
Mike Orr is in the lead, Willuweit in second, and I follow. This is not my main assault, I am only sizing up
my opponent. The girls are staying behind to run at their own pace. We pass a few cruisers, then get stuck
behind a large group and pull off to put some space between us. By the time we pull out again with Willoweit
now in the lead, other cars and bikes have passed, and before long we are stuck behind a truck and a Harley.
While waiting for an opportunity to pass, I see a bright yellow Gold Wing in my mirror. I check the shield
and it is short and darkly tinted. The "famous" Yellow Wolf
whose peg-scraping video is floating around in cyberspace.
The truck pulls off to let us pass and we overtake the Harley at the same time. I note every corner and
there is nothing here that is too surprising. We reach the lookout and pull off amidst a crowd of Harleys and
other large cruisers. Before long, Jill and Cindy join us. We strip off our gear and catch a cool breeze
coming up the hill. Fighting Dragons is hard work.
I am just about ready to make my final assault when the cruisers pull out, so I wait. I've waited years
and traveled a thousand miles to get here, a few minutes won't hurt anything. Once the road has been clear
for severl minutes, I don my gear, mount my steed and approach the Dragon's lair. Another scream of the
engine and I enter the fray.
Rising up the slope, the first few corners are cake. The bike seems as ready for this as I am, there is
even an angry note in the howl of the engine, a war cry. The mighty Zed is as undaunted as I am. I have a
moment to think that I am behaving out of character, this brashness is not normally in my nature. Granted,
I have been trying not to show it, but I know it's there now all the same. No matter, I grin inside my
helmet and pass another cruiser just before an uphill right hander, dropping a gear the instant before I
enter the turn. Perfect. My boot drags through the corner as I bring up the RPMs.
I approach a sportbike stuck behind two Harley's. There's no where to pass and I've just about resigned
myself to back off and get a cushion when I see my chance. A series of short back and forth bends leading to
a downhill right hander. Downshift and WOT. The sportbike and the first Harley fall behind. There is a gap
behind the next Harley and for a moment I contemplate tucking in. No. Now is my chance. And the Dragon makes
I complete the pass and downshift as I get on-line for the corner. Releasing the brakes and clutch to let
the engine take over I suddenly glide ahead. I've shifted into a false neutral and I'm coming into a downhill
turn carrying extra speed from the pass. A quick touch of the brake to scrub what I can before I flick the
bike in, at the same time stomping on the shift lever to get the bike back into the fight. It refuses. I've
pushed my entry farther than I wanted. Releasing the brake and pushing the bike into the corner, I finally get
a gear. The front end is pushing slightly, but as I ease out the clutch and get back on the power it tucks back
in. No time to savor the victory, the next corner is here. Things go more smoothly this time.
I reach the resort and pull into the lot. My challenge is met. Mission Accomplished. So I head back
down the Dragon to meet back up with my friends. About halfway through, I pass the Mikes coming the other
way, so I turn around and join them as they finish their run. The girls pull in and we are done with the
Dragon...for now. I am tempted to say it is slain, but I don't think it can be. It will always be there...
I fuel up and we all head out back the way we came. Back through Cherohala, this time nothing to do but
enjoy the ride. At the end, we say goodbye to Willuweit, and come back down 60 into Georgia. Jill, Cindy
and I split off from Mikey to re-supply our Corona stash. We are meeting up with Shawn, another longtime
friend who has found his way down into this area of the country.
Plan for tomorrow...there is no plan. I need to prepare for my next challenge:
The Iron Butt Association's Saddle Sore 1000.
Friday and Saturday
Friday morning and the trip is nearing it's conclusion and I start thinking about the trip home. I am
not looking forward to having to leave, but if it must be done then let's get it over with.
The Iron Butt Saddle Sore 1000
is a simple enough concept: 1,000 miles in 24 hours. Seems easy enough, too. In fact, I almost did it on the way
down by riding 875 miles to Nashville. The last 125 would have been easy. But I was fresh then. The 220
mile ride to and from Deal's Gap yesterday reminded me that I was no longer fresh. Long days of technical
riding in high temps can take a lot out of you. And the more I think about spending a full day riding in
forecasted temps in the 90's, the less I'm sure about being able to pull off this ride.
The solution hit me as we were waiting for the temperature to cool enough to get into the hot tub: ride
through the night. There were many benefits, and since the ride was all interstate, many of my concerns
about riding at night were lessened, if not eliminated. It would be cooler, traffic would be light to
non-existent, the road would hide no surprises in the darkness, and animal involvement would be less likely.
The problem would be keeping my mind sharp and staying awake. Night time riding, especially on the interstate,
can be mesmerizing.
Avoiding the heat is the clincher, so I make up my mind to leave on Friday evening and hope to make it back
home around noon on Saturday. The temps would be dropping as I left, and would not have fully returned by the
time I get home. I promise myself that if I get tired at all, I will stop. An IB certificate is not worth that
kind of risk.
I reluctantly stay behind on Friday as Shawn and Mike head out to explore while Jill and Cindy return to
the Cherohala. I spend the morning packing. Melody has mailed a replacement headset to me and it arrives
at the rental office around 10am. The only ride for me that day is to pick up the headset, then find a station
nearby with a printed receipt that will work for the IB certification. Back at the cabin, I prepare the bike,
checking tires, oil level, chain, and electrics. I prepare myself by moving slowly, staying cool, drinking lots
of water. Once the bike is fully packed, I have a light lunch then try to get in a nap. I typically have no
problem staying up all night, but a little insurance can't hurt.
Everyone returns and we get ready to head out for some BBQ for our last meal together. I regret that I don't
give my friends my full attention, but I can't keep my mind of the trip, going over everything and reviewing my
plan. We say goodbye in the parking lot of the restaurant, Mike and Jill sign my witness form and at 6:30 EDT,
I give a toot on the horn as I pull away on the last portion of this trip.
Once on the road, I start to lose time immediately by fiddling with the headset. It's cutting out and I
can't figure out why. Within the first 15 miles, I've stopped 3 times to change batteries and check connections,
before finally giving up. To join with the interstate, I take US-64/74 from Copperhill, TN and it is a fitting
road to say goodbye on. Beautiful deep green forest on one side, rushing whitewater river on the other. It
has rained and the road is still wet, but fairly clear of traffic.
On the interstate, I make good time to Chattanooga, where darkness and rain fall at the same instant, but
the rain is light. The road spray is more of an issue. Passing semis through a wall of water is not pleasant.
By Nashville, the rain is gone and the roads have dried. I am surprised at the amount of traffic at this time
of night, but it's not really slowing me down.
My first few fuel stops, I make sure to get off the bike and stretch. My problem now is physical, sitting
on needles. To keep blood flowing to those areas I figure out a series of stretches and..."clenches"...that I
go through every 15 minutes. It seems to work pretty well. If nothing else, it gives me something to do. I
leave Tennessee, roll through Kentucky, and into Illinois, the least appealing portion of the journey.
Around 2am, I get groggy. It comes on very suddenly. I am feeling fine, then all of a sudden my eyelids
want to droop. This is the test I have been most concerned about. I find a rest area, find a secluded picnic
table, and stretch out using my jacket to cover myself. I set the alarm on my cell phone to give me just over
an hour. I start to think about what I'll do if I can't fall asleep and the next thing I know, the phone is
ringing and vibrating in my hand.
It's now 3:30 am, I've just had to take an hour long nap, and I still have 500 miles to go. If I haven't
shaken the grogginess, the Iron Butt award may be in jeopardy. I use the facilities, splash some cool water
on my face and get back on the bike. The nap has worked wonders. I feel refreshed, my exercises are keeping
the worst of the pains-in-the-ass at bay, and by putting my Boostaroo amplifier back in-line, my headset is
now working perfectly. I bop along the road and enjoy the view as the rising sun lights up the world in front
There is so much mist rising from the fields, I sometimes can't tell if I'm looking at farmland or a lake,
but the road stays clear. After 4 hours, the catnap is starting to wear off and I begin to feel a little
droopy again. I begin to think about finding another spot to stop, but Rockford is approaching. Traffic
begins to pick up and dealing with it gives my mind enough to do to wake it up. I decide to try to get into
Wisconsin before looking for a place to stop, but making it back into familiar territory has given me a second
wind and I am able to keep going without a stop.
In Madison, I call to check in with Mike, Jill, and Cindy who are in the middle of their own trip home.
I debate letting Melody know where I am, but decide to keep the surprise. She doesn't know I've ridden
through the night and isn't expecting me until late Saturday/early Sunday. Another stop in LaCrosse before
collecting my final receipt at the station near my house at 12:30pm CDT. I can cross another motorcycling
goal off of my to-do list.
Final stats for IBA Saddle Sore 1000:
1,089 odometer miles
1,040 mapped miles
9 fuel stops (incl collecting start/end receipts)
1 rest stop
1 tired, stinky, sore-assed rider.