Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain Man

Monday morning, we left the luxurious Hilton Garden and walked across the street to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A sharp contrast to the rustic patina of Wheels Through Time, the NHOF is a sparkling $190-million showpiece packed with all sorts of high-tech interactive wizardry. Yes, the past is prominently displayed with the reverence due it. (And, yes, there is a functioning moonshine still.) But it is very much a grand showpiece, and worth more than the 3 hours we afforded it. We stopped by the equally modern racetrack outside of town, and hit the spit-polished race shop of Roush Fenway before pointing the bikes north for the ride home. We did catch some of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way up, convenient as both the shortest route to I-81, and the smoothest, fastest section of the 469-mile road. We made good time clipping along at 55, until it started to...

Yep. At least it was almost the end of the day when we ended up suiting up. By this time, Bryan should have been about home having headed his own way when we left the Hall. The downside was that it was dusk, and the deer were getting restless. We ended up riding the last miles in the dark in the rain, which sucks as badly as you might imagine. We went to bed with one day to get 400 miles, and a forecast that couldn't be much worse.

We opted immediately for the direct route, and set out with the rainsuits on in a light drizzle. Well before we ran out the first tank (only 125 miles or so on my bike, which is the weak link) we found ourselves in a steady downpour. The kind of rain that defeats even the best rainsuit. Parts were getting wet and cold, and it was looking like a long, long day.

Then it got worse.

About 80 miles out, it started coming down in torrents. So hard, in fact that we were actually passing cars that were pulling onto the shoulder and stopping. And they are the ones with windshield wipers. The sky started to flash. Not looking good for the home team.It was time for even stubborn people to let discretion prevail.
On bikes, however, stopping on the shoulder when visibility is zero is generally a bad, bad idea. You lose track of where you are in your car, and we don't have crumple zones. Lightning is also a very good motivator to get off the road and to shelter. We reached the next exit a few miles up the road and found that shelter in a travel center / Burger King.

We got off the bikes and sloshed our way in, through the quickie mart and over to the BK. All eyes were on us as we stripped off all our gear and revealed ourselves basically soaked from head to toe. We took over two tables, and soon the manager sent out a kid with a mop and a yellow wet floor sign. We sat down with a cup of hot coffee, surveyed our sorry scene, and laughed uncontrollably for a good 5 minutes. It was hysterical.

We contemplated what time Judge Judy came on, and if there was a liquor store near the closest hotel, and then eventually got about the business of getting back out there. The frightening part of the storm had passed, and we were back to your garden-variety downpour.

When we stopped again for gas 2 hours later, we were in Pennsylvania, and the rain was finally starting to give us a break. From there we were a couple miles short of making it home on gas, and I dug out a dry shirt and sweater from the bag. We never did get completely out of the rain, but it was light and intermittent enough that the dry shirt stayed that way. One more gas stop, and we were home free.

Looking back, the weather ended up pretty much as advertised: wet every day. We were grateful that the two days we spent down there were the drier ones, and in fact got a glimpse of blue sky there on Sunday night. I guess it could have turned out to be 4 days of slogging through the rain, which would have made it a total loss, but in my experience that never really happens. Look out your window the next time there's a rainy week and you'll see what I mean. It just doesn't pour for 96 hours straight.

So we got it about as bad as it gets, survived, and proved that age-old maxim yet again: the worst day on the bikes is better than the best day at work.

See you next time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Ole Boys

The concept for this trip was hatched over the winter by Dad, who wanted to take a couple days to ride to Charlotte and take in the brand-spankin'-new NASCAR Hall of Fame and museum. I don't think of us as rednecks, you might disagree, but we do like the simple things. And bottom line, we're gearheads. We love to ride, we love to drive, and we love to take stuff apart and make it better than it was. The only thing that kept us us from being racers ourselves is pictures of Ben Franklin. We don't have enough of 'em.

Anyway, he invites us along, and immediately I add a day to the trip and a bunch of stuff to the itinerary. I wanted to ride some of the Blue Ridge Parkway again, and see the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, NC, and take Donna on the Tail of the Dragon (as seen in prior blog linked at right.) We didn't have enough time for Dad to get the Dragon on the itinerary, but he did a great job of laying out an awesome ride.

After a 500-mile day on the Interstate, the morning agenda was an invigorating ride through the serpentine roads sprawling the hills of Appalachia, headed to the antique museum in Maggie Valley.

Moonshine country.

The roads were awesome when not wet, which was only about half the time. The other half was spent gingerly negotiating hairpin turns and scanning the asphalt with unbroken focus. We made it to the museum in late morning and unsuited.

Wheels Through Time is awesome. Dale Walksler and his son went right to the top of my list of coolest people I've ever met, and I could listen to them talk for days. That is, when I wasn't listening to their toys run, which is the whole point of this place. Every car and motorcycle runs, and they happily fire up whatever visitors have an interest in. A place like I have never seen before, in a part of the country unrivaled for motorcycle riders. Paradise.

We stayed longer than planned but less than we wanted to, and headed over the ridge one last time towards Charlotte. Dad was devastated that the BBQ pit he'd read about was closed, and we swung and missed a second time before lucking into a decent joint a half hour short of Charlotte. At least we hadn't had the rainsuits on since leaving Maggie Valley, and in fact I put on a dab of sunscreen before leaving Bridge's Red BBQ. We got to Charlotte, showered, and hit the town. A round of top-shelf tequila for the boys, a couple margaritas, and some nachos, all enjoyed on an outdoor patio downtown. This is livin'.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nothin' Could be Finer

...than to be in Carolina in the morning. At least, that's how the folk song from elementary school went. Or were we the only ones that learned that song?

So it was that we took off with Mom and Dad for a ride to North Carolina, by way of Tennessee. To really sweeten the pot, my brother was going to head west out of Richmond (yes, Lydia, I know you live in Chesterfield. I'm generalizing) and meet up with us on the way down for what was expected to be a long weekend full of good times.

In the week leading up to it, however, we were beset by a progressively worsening cascade of maladies starting with a miserable forecast, and culminating in Donna's emergency root canal 20 hours before our scheduled departure. She walked into the house wacked on Vicodin and unable to move her jaw. By then the forecast was 4 straight days of rain. Disappointed, I reluctantly called Dad and cancelled. It was his trip, and he was more disappointed than either of us.

Donna, being the most stubborn person I ever met, called him back 10 minutes later and said, "mmph rrph erbim glurbin rurrer," or words to that effect, which it turns out translate to "don't listen to this idiot, we're going. See you at 8."

We got exactly one block before pulling into the repair shop behind our lot to put on our rainsuits. At the other end of the state, it was pouring as we pulled in for our first gas stop. We did actually have them off when we met Bryan in Virginia, but it wasn't long before we found ourselves under another gas station canopy, joining a few other groups of riders in an impromptu rain gear fashion show. It's also where we had a good laugh.

One of the things I love about our family, and that definitely includes Donna and by extension her ex's Dad, is that we're all motorcycle people at our cores. We understand what it is to be exposed to things that most people never will, and it's part of us. When I rode up to their house to work on Katrina's car, and a thunderstorm had just rolled through as I was packing up to leave, my Mom didn't freak out and tell me I was crazy. She said, "Be careful. Do you need to borrow my clears?" Of course, I had a pair of clear lenses with me and off I went. But that's how we are. So, there in a rainstorm off I-81 in Virginia, when Bryan opened his "rainsuit" bag to find... his bike cover, it had been a long time since I saw Mom laugh that hard. Priceless. We'd do what we needed to keep him from freezing to death, but that moment was a family heirloom.

We did ultimately make it to our planned stop in Johnson City, TN late in the day and just in time to see a rainbow arching over our hotel. As we got off the bikes, you could see the street beyond us dry, and actually see the line where the rain behind us caught up and stopped with us. When we get old, we will have a lot of stories to tell.