Ross-Tech / Hex Microsystems Tour of the Appalachians

Day -2  Saturday June 2:   

We had planned this little ride for a while:

We had hoped to depart on this day, but unfortunately a  plumbing problem came up and my wife did not take kindly to the idea of me calling someone to come fix it in my absence.     So the only place we went was Lowes and Home Depot.     By the time we got the problem fixed (2nd try, bit of a kludge) it was too late to hit the road, so we decided to depart the next day:

Day -1 Sunday June 3:    A quick check of the weather revealed this:

Riding in the rain when you have no other choice is one thing, but departing on a vacation trip into the remains of a tropical storm would reduce the fun factor quite a bit -- perhaps to a negative number.   So we decided to depart the next day:

 Day 0  Monday June 4:

Which happened to be my 48th birthday. :-)     Weather was looking good.    This was always going to be a short transit day, about 215 miles from Lansdale PA to Front Royal VA:

Roads:  PA Route 23  between East Pikeland and Blue Ball is reasonably scenic.   Other than that, nothing remarkable.  We didn't leave until after lunch and ended up in the afternoon rush-hour traffic around York PA which was obviously a drag.     At Front Royal, we checked into the Super 8 and ate at a Chinese restaurant a block away.

 Day 1  Tuesday June 5:

Here's where the ride really started.   About 233 miles from Front Royal VA to Roanoke VA:

Since Eric and I each have an Annual National Park Pass from last summer, it cost us nothing to get on Skyline Drive.    Stephan had to pony up $10 to ride through.  

As expected the views from Skyline drive were lovely:

Skyline drive itself was just OK.    The 35 mph speed limit is way too low.   We had to try pretty hard not to exceed 50 where the pavement was good.     Then again, there were three sections where it was easy to stay slow -- they had recently been chip-sealed and still had quite a bit of loose gravel still.    The worst part about that kind of a surface is you can't tell visually where or whether it's loose or not.   

We had lunch at an unremarkable place in Waynesboro VA.    After that we hit the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway.   Here the speed limit was a bit more realistic at 45 mph, and we generally tried to limit ourselves to 60, which was still difficult at times.     After a while, we looked for chicken strips which while still existing were smaller than we'd ever seen them on our bikes.

The end the day found us at a Quality Inn outside Roanoke.   Next door was a Steak place.   Yum!

 Day 2  Wednesday June 6:

About 267 miles from Roanoke VA to Asheville NC

Left-to-right:    Uwe, Eric and Stephan

This was a spectacular day weather-wise and the scenery along the BRP was (IMO) better than on the Skyline drive.

This day ended at a Quality Inn on the east side of Ashville.   We did ride into Ashville proper for dinner.

 Day 3  Thursday June 7:

About 288 miles from Asheville NC to Hiawassee GA

The say started with what was left of the BRP which was again fantastic:

Then continued through Cherokee, which seemed to be nothing but a tourist-trap so we didn't stop there.  

 A bit further along we diverted to see the Fontana Dam:

After a late lunch at Fontana Village, we headed for the Cherohala Skyway:

This was a terrific road with very little traffic -- and far more bikes than cars.   The only problem with it:  At roughly  40 miles, it's too damn short.    It's easy to get spoiled by the BRP.

Exactly one mile high on the Cherohala.

Eric, Stephan, Uwe

From Tellico Plains we headed down towards Hiawassee GA where the day ended at the Holiday Inn Express.   Nice place, reasonable price, and a cool restaurant/bar next door.

 Day 4  Friday June 8:

About 222 miles from Hiawassee GA to Newport TN

We found this rather interesting creation in the back of a pickup parked in front of our hotel:

If it was an airplane, it would surely need an "Experimental" placard.

A bit later, my new Garmin Zumo inexplicably insisted we should take this road:

Stephan on the V-Strom was more than willing, but Eric and I were reluctant.   Needless to say we ignored the Zumo and proceeded on the paved road, which took us where we want to go anyway:

The Foothills Parkway was just OK.   Again, it's easy to get spoiled after having done the whole BRP.

This weather got pretty hot as we approached Gatlinburg.   We got natural air conditioning thanks to a 5 minute cloudburst.  

The Pigeon Forge area is a tourist trap in the extreme with very heavy traffic and should be avoided if at all possible.  I had intended to take Little River Road (Old TN 73) through the park instead but seem to have missed the turn, perhaps in the rain, and ended up staying on US 321.   In fact, I can't say anything nice about US 321 at all.

As we pulled into the Motel 6 in Newport, the sky looked rather unfriendly:

 Day 5  Saturday June 9:

About 317 miles from Newport TN to Lewisburg WV

Interesting mix of roads.   What's not obvious from the above map is that we started in Tennessee, cut through a bit of North Carolina, crossed western Virginia, and ended up in West Virginia.    Four states in one day.   Not bad. 

Virginia Route 42 from Route 16 to Bland was very scenic and had essentially zero traffic:

We had planned to depart Route 42 at Sharon Springs and head up to Route 61 via Route 623 through Burkes Garden like this:

Imagine our surprise when we found Route 623 at Sharon Springs looking like this:

That's Eric muttering something like "Not Ninja Approved"..:-)

Another piece of road we liked very much was Route 61 between Rocky Gap and Narrows.

We at dinner at a Chinese Buffet in Lewisburg.    Along with the bill, they gave us the traditional fortune cookies.   This one brought tears of laughter:

After dinner, Stephan and I decided some beer would taste mighty good, but we didn't think there was anywhere within walking distance of our hotel to procure some.    Save-A-Lot didn't have any, but K-Mart did.   Now I wouldn't normally post a picture of a strip mall, but I just love the colors in the sky in this one.

And it is where we found the beer..;-)

We spent the night at the Econo Lodge in Lewisburg.   It is a bit of a dump.   Would have been OK for $40 or $50 per room, but they charged us ~$85.     Not recommended.

Day 6  Sunday June 10:

About 317 miles from Lewisburg WV to Frederick MD

The famed US 219 through WV was a mixed bag.   It seems WV does not believe in paved shoulders and the good old boys can't keep the inside rear wheel of their trucks on the pavement.   This meant loose gravel in most of the curves, especially the righter right-handers.   It usually wasn't enough to be a real problem but when I see any gravel at all in a turn, I get paranoid.

Further north, it got better. :-)

I let Stephan try the FJR for a fcouple of hours that morning.   If you look carefully, you can see the grin on his face.   When I got on the 'Strom after having just gotten off the FJR, my reaction was:   Man this bike needs the throttle bodies synched or something.   But after a few miles, I realized:  Nope, that's just the way the 'Strom is.

After lunch in somewhere in the vicinity of Romney on US 50, I got back on the FJR.  Smooth as glass compare to the 'Strom.

Couldn't resist snapping this, a West Virginia Swimming Pool ;-)

I think this was still on route 219.  A wind farm.   Unfortunately, it's in an area that looks almost like a strip-mine and this is the most appealing picture of several that we took:

When we arrived at our hotel in Frederick MD we noticed that Eric's back tire was showing signs of being done.   Seemed almost like a case of Deja Vu.   

5000 miles ago (in Duango, CO) the tire looked like this.   Needless to say, Eric was not pleased that he only got 5000 miles out of it.     The worst part is that he needed a new front tire to pass PA State Inspection a month earlier and ordered a new rear at the same (same type) time to get free shipping.   

Day 7  Monday June 11:

About 163 miles from Frederick MD to Lansdale PA

PA 340 from East Lampeter to PA 82 is nice and takes you through the Amish-country towns of Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse.     Who says the Amish don't have a sense of humor?  

Yes, we just had to get a picture of Stephan in front of an Intercourse sign..;-)

We arrived at home early in the afternoon.  

It was a nice trip, but too short -- only a week and only 2100 miles.    After last year's meal, this felt like a light snack.

Stephan claimed to have enjoyed the trip despite the fact that we stuck purely to paved roads.   He did mention something to the effect that days 1 through 6 had more twists and turns on pavement than he's ever seen.   A Good Thing in my mind.   

Afterthoughts on June 23:

Personally I enjoyed the Blue Ridge Parkway more than any other road.    I can't quite explain it, but after a few hours, the BRP became my friend.    Sure it's a bit narrow and lacks shoulders but the road surface was clean and if you ride it in a sane fashion, it's like a meeting a big dog who's wagging his tail -- you know he's not going to bite you.    I didn't develop that level of trust with any of the other roads we were on. (The reader should keep in mind none of us had ever been on any of these roads before and somehow I ended up leading for most of the ride).    Besides, where else on this planet can you find single stretch of road 469 miles (755 km) long with virtually no traffic on it, no towns, no traffic signals; nothing but endless twists and turns and non-stop scenery.    I will ride it again -- quite possibly in both directions on the same trip.    In fact, I'm now dreaming about the ideal vacation home -- it should have a spectacular view and be somewhere close to the half-way  overlooking the BRP..;-)

My two bikes:   I rode the FJR for most of the trip.  Since all his bikes are dual-sports, Stephan (visiting from South Africa) got the V-Strom.  But as mentioned above, I did let Stephan try the FJR for a bit.   Except when I first test-rode the FJR, I had never jumped back and forth between the two on the same day.  Doing so really makes you notice the differences.  The V-Strom has a more comfortable riding position and a suspension that makes bumps on paved roads practically unnoticeable.   But the V-Strom's engine feels like it belongs on a farm implement as compared to the FJR.    It's impossible to tax the limits of either bike on a public road if you ride in a sane fashion, i.e. able to stop within your sightlines and at speeds which won't get you cited as "reckless", so there's never a question whether one can keep up with the other.   Another interesting point:   The FJR consistently used 10-15% less fuel that the V-Strom.   This is real-world, amount of fuel put in at the same pump every time.  Hard to explain given the FJR's displacement, cylinder count, and supposedly inefficient shaft drive.    Anyway, if I was taking this trip again and had to choose between the two, I would choose the FJR.   But I wouldn't think twice about going if the V-Strom were the only bike I had.