Day 6
October 10th, 2008
Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground
In the Blue Ridge Mountains                           
Cruso, North Carolina   


Let me say at the beginning I take poor notes in a group environment.  Solo, I work on my journal at lunch, con store breaks, supper, and just before turning the lights out.  But in a setting such as the Blue Ridge Gathering I'm engaged with the social aspects, not my PDA.

My notes over the next 2 days are kind of sketchy, and I could only take pictures when the group was stopped.  I'm not even sure of the roads, I just followed Uncle Phil.

The train out of the campground wasn't leaving till 9am, so I didn't crawl out of the tent till 8am. The mess hall was open serving breakfast early, but I'm no much for breakfast so I eschewed it for some quiet time-like dosing off and on the first hour of the morning.

Mist and fog were stuck around the mountain peaks.  "Gonna be foggy up there this morning," as I left the restroom area to see what was going on.

I dressed out and pulled the 1300 to the que line, I was up near the front.

My guess we had over 20 STs in the campground, and Peter Menard counted 18 bikes in the line.  "Big line up today Uncle."  "Yeah, and we gotta make sure none get lost and we get em all back here in one piece."  The Blue Ridge Gathering doesn't have any formal leaders, but we do have several informal.  Guys that have been coming here for years such as Uncle Phil, Peter Menard, Ron Epperly, and myself.  "Look Uncle we have a lot of flatlanders a long way from home, they might not know what it's like to lean ALL day on so many intense roads."  "I know so y'all spread out among the line, Peter said he's gonna run tailgunner."

Uncle Phil gave the morning briefing.  Which came down to this being a social ride and not a platform for folks to show off.  "If patience is not one of your better virtues, then now is the time to let us know.  We ask if you join the line to honor our commitment to get everyone back here with no helicopter rides in between." 
We understand anything is possible on these roads.  We can't eliminate all the risks, all it takes is one misread of the road surface, one misjudgment of a curve and speed, and down you go.  But we do all we can to keep mishaps to a minimum, and in a line of 18 bikes organization was going to be even more important.

I decided not to mount the video cam till the stop at Mt. Balsam.  I was pretty sure the fog up there was not going to be conducive to any video footage, and I was right.

With everyone versed in the drop and sweep we made our way out of the campground to U.S. 276 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A line of 18 bikes would be hard to manage with no one in charge.  It is in this setting people see why we call Phil "Uncle."

We headed south and very quickly ran into semi thick fog.  It was not actually fog but clouds.  This area of the Blue Ridge is almost 7,000 feet.  The Parkway has a excellent tarmac.  No commercial traffic is allowed on the Parkway, thus it is spared all the damage big rigs impose on a road surface.

Soon I was barely able to see the bike in front of me.  I flicked my 4 way flashers on in the thick soup.  "If we can make it to Balsam I'm gonna bet we break out of this."  I was pretty sure the other side of the mountains would be clear.  Just have to get there.

The views are excellent on this section of the Parkway, and in my experience the 60 miles from here to Cherokee are the best in the entire 430 miles of the road, and I'd say the best east of the Mississippi.  But on this morning I couldn't see the hand in front of my face.

We crept along about 25 mph as we struggled to Mt. Balsam, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge.  
When we dropped off the peaks we had some clear running, but it didn't last long.

Over the years I've encountered all kinds of weather on the Parkway, mostly cold, but that is not the problem today, visibility is.

Uncle led us into the Mt. Balsam overlook.  I have many pictures from this overlook, all you have to do is scroll back over past Fall Rides to see them.  But for most of our group this was their fist visit to the Blue Ridge, and Uncle Phil wanted to be sure everyone got a chance to take a few pictures.  I saw Peter Menard, who had left his SLR at home, using his point and shoot.
Uncle Phil parked his ST 1100 at the turnout so everyone
could see it and come in.  It was  misty and foggy north of Mt. Balsam on this morning.

After pictures we left Balsam for the long downhill run to Cherokee.  As I predicted we broke out of the clouds into a nice sun.  The pace picked up somewhat in the now glorious weather.  The road was bordered on both sides in magnificent fall foliage.
South of Mount Balsam, the clouds broke up.
The tunnels are just as dark as ever, and coming out of bright morning sun can be tricky.  It had been a few years from the last time I made this run south to Cherokee, so I was glad to get to do it this year.

Using the drop and sweep, we moved 18 bikes through the busy city without having to stop.  The beauty of the system is the line can keep moving, we don't have to wait for riders to catch up if they get cut off by a light or traffic.

Uncle Phil stopped at the little store at U.S. 19 and SR 28, and within a few minutes all 18 bikes are reunited.  I bought a drink and made a few phone calls.  I can't do that at the campground, no signal.
​Uncle Phil took this picture at the break before SR 28.                   
I spent time hanging out with Peter and Ron, and anyone else I could corner up.  Some of the guys I still hadn't met, and I wanted to get to know them better.  

When the break was over it was time to take on SR 28, a fine piece of road that weaves through the hills to Franklin.  The route is very intense with short, tight curves.  The pace near the front is brisk but not crazy.  I was 4th from the front.

I saw Uncle Phil pass some kind of 6 wheel flatbed ahead, but something is not right.  It is taking him way too long, and then I realize the driver sped up on him.  "It's on now, that driver is pissed at getting pased."

Next thing I know, myself, and 2 other riders behind the truck, are doing ALL we can do to keep up.  "Who is that guy?" I ask.  He was slinging the truck all over the place.  I noticed he put some distance between us. 

"Sheesh, he's opened a gap."  It was wild.  We managed to close it, but noway did any us think about passing him, but he had Uncle Phil in his sights, so we had to keep up.

The banking, twisting, roller coaster that is 28 covers about 20 miles into Franklin.  It was challenging riding.  When we came out of the hills Uncle was able to pull some distance from the truck, my guess he had to up the ante to 80 mph to get him off his back.

We stopped at Franklin for gas, and something to eat.  The Western Sizzlin that Uncle knew to be there had closed.  So we checked other options.  The first was packed full so we took a walk down the street to Cody's.  Which is where the Sizzlin use to be.

We had a large number of bikes but the waitress was efficient and the food good.  At lunch Chipster said, "dang did you see that guy in the truck?"  "Yeah he was awesome, I never saw anything like it.  I asked Uncle Phil what it was like havin that joker give chase."  "What'd he say?"  "He said it was alot of pressure, but he's seen crazy folks before in these hills."

The food was good and with full bellies we walked back down the street to our bikes.

We left Franklin and went to Wayah Road.  Wayah is not as clean as most of the roads in the area.  Lots of dust and debris, but a great ride.  I was in the number 2 spot behind Uncle Phil and we sliced and diced the road at a brisk pace.  Good riding.  When the ride ended I was dropped and waited for the pack.  I was the breadcrumb for the group.  I did my duty, our line was stretched over several miles.
Peter took this picture of me on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The sweeper came into view, and I got back in line at the back.  We followed U.S. 19 and I wasn't sure where we were going, I was just looking for the breadcrumbs Uncle Phil left behind.

We fell farther behind when a 4 wheeler, passing a long line of HD riders, bogged down the left lane.  After several miles he made it to the front of the HD line and went back in, allowing us to speed on to catch our group.

After a long run I spotted the crumb marking the turn off for Cherokee.  I followed and soon we were reunited with the rest of the group.  Uncle Phil knows we need con stores with lots of pumps, and picked a good one.  I got some gas and something to drink, and milled about.

Uncle Phil said the formal group ride was ending.  "Look here, the Parkway is just down this road, go to it, and get off at 276 and it will take you to the campground.  You only have to make one turn.  I gotta check a few routes out for tomorrow, but I'm confident y'all can make it back."

Peter and I decided to break off and ride the Parkway on our own.  We made it back through Cherokee and and for the second time today we found ourselves on the Blue Ridge.  I must say now this late afternoon ride back to the campground was sent to the Hall of Fame.  It was a great ride.

​My good friend, and long time riding colleague, Peter 
Menard, enjoying a late afternoon ride on the Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the top of roads in the east.  Great scenery, road surface and curves, but the speed limit is 45.  I've had a number of friends ticketed on the Parkway over the years, including Uncle Phil, a few years ago, and hew was in the back that day.
​I took this picture at one of the turnouts Peter and I
stopped, on the afternoon Parkway Ride.  The entire 60 
mile run from 276 to Cherokee was painted in all kinds of 
fall color.

The late afternoon sun painted the Evergreens and trees, and made the fall color even more special.  Peter and I romped over the hills at speeds we could have been put in jail for.  It was a big risk, but what the heck.  We stopped at a few places for some pics and to capture some video.  Balsam had a great view of the sunlight streaming between the clouds on the surrounding hills.  It was nice.
Late afternoon at Mt. Balsam.  I love the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We got lucky when we were stuck behind a car at the time a ranger came by.  (We later learned he snagged one of our group running behind us)  A few miles either way and we would have been toast.

The north side of Balsam was just like this morning.  Foggy, cool, and cloudy.  Amazing how mountain weather can change so quickly.  We rode briskly all the way to U.S. 276, where we left the Parkway.  The road was packed in wet leaves and we came down of the mountain cautiously, not wanting a mishap this close to home.
The last few miles are at the base of Cold Mountain, and that is what makes this particular campground so special.

We finished the ride with 228 miles.  A fun day.
​Quickly becoming one of the most asked about pictures
on the web site- a Blue Ridge Parkway scene on the way
back to the campground.

Back at campground we watched the various riders filter back in.  We stood around the area and talked about motorcycles and the day's ride.  

"Tell everyone the train is leaving for supper at the Mexican place at 7."  I figured we'd give Uncle Phil, The Chipster, and Big Ron, time to get back after they finish their reconnoitering mission.

I told Peter, "I reckon those boys are gonna be late, they'll know where to find us."  We find out later they were already at the El Porbre's waiting for US.

So we jumped on the bikes in the late evening dusk and took off for supper.  We had about 10 riders.  Some guys opted for the mess hall pickings, but I'm not a big fan of eating outside on a cool night.  Besides, I was in the mood for Mexican.

We found Uncle Phil in the parking lot when we pulled.  I spoke to him.  "What did ya find out?   "You'll see tomorrow, it will be good."  Uncle Phil is the best road captain I've ever been around.  He's gonna make sure its right before he takes a group out.  

We were waiting for our table, and trying not to be too rowdy when a second large group of locals came in behind us.  I had a conversation with a smartly dressed lady as our groups melded in the waiting area.  They had as many as we did.  "We saw all those bikes outside and was reluctant to come in, but we're surprised y'all are not scary looking like some riders we see around here."

"I'll take that as a compliment m'am."

"In fact y'all are downright nice folks"

I kidding remarked, "we are the elites of the motorcycle world."

Soon we had our table and all was good.  The food here is good, with competent service.  I had a supper entre, with all the chips, and tea I could drink for 7.95.

I was so full when I left the table I was miserable.  "Dang Big Ron I dunno if I can get back on the bike."  I managed and got in line.  The ride back to the campground with only 1 low beam and 1 PIAA was kind of dark.  Both my blown lights were on the left side, so that side of the road was dark, but the right was good.

I've always enjoyed the night rides back to Cruso after supper, just something about them.  I can remember my first trip here in May 2001 like it was last week.  Ever since then I've been attached to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
At the campground we gathered around the fire and told stories.  It was great.  I was with the people that shared the same passions as I.  I don't get much of that back home.  Some of the guys here like Peter, Uncle, Big Ron, I've been riding with for years.  I highly value their friendships, and even if I only see them once a year, I know they'll be there if I need something.

Peter was the first the hit the showers.  I don't take mine to after the campfire. I figure no need to shower then stand around a sooty campfire and get nasty again, but I couldn't convince Peter that was the right way to do it.
I left the fire, showered and went back to the tent.  I wasn't really sleepy, so for the first time this tour I took out my DVD player and watched a movie.  I only made it halfway, "watch the rest tomorrow night."

It had really been a great day.  I don't ever recall having more fun in these hills then I did on this day.
A light rain come over in the area in the wee hours, but it only made for better sleeping.