Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway

You don't have to crisscross mountains, rivers and continents to have a great trip and not all trips have to be epic to be therapeutic.  Sometimes a short trip is just as great to clear your mind.
My good friend Mike recently invited me to visit him in North Carolina.  He lived in New Jersey until a bad accident in North Carolina a couple of years ago and after a long recuperation at a friend's house he never returned to New Jersey.  We used to ride together quite often in New Jersey.  With winter fast approaching I made a decision to go see him before sub freezing temperatures are the norm.  The trip down, 635 miles, was easily done in a day.  I left the house at 7:30 in the morning on a Friday, went west to Harrisburg, PA to pick up Interstate 81 south and then in Virginia took I77 towards Charlotte.  I arrived in downtown Charlotte at 7pm where Mike and CarieAnn were already waiting for me at an Irish Pub.  After a quick fish and chips meal and a Bud Light we retreated to CarieAnn's place.

For Saturday, Mike had planned a ride to one of the most scenic roads in his area.  Mike, CarieAnn and I went out for breakfast but after finding the first place packed we decided to go for a quick breakfast at a Chick-fil-A.  It was my first ever breakfast at a Chick-fil-A.  After breakfast we met two other friends at a gas station and then the five of us headed northwest to catch route 421 in Mountain City, about 120 miles away.  I had never heard of route 421 or "The Snake" as it is better known.  The website describes "The Snake" as 33miles, 489 curves, 3 mountains and 1 valley.
"The Snake"

I didn't take any pictures until we reached Shady Valley, about a third of the way in.  The road twists and turns through the countryside and little towns and it is a spectacular road for motorcycle riders.  We stopped at the Country Store in Shady Valley for a warm cup of coffee and lunch.

Mike on his Goldwing spaceship.  The Goldwing has heated grips, heated seat and two little openings on the side that channel hot air from the exhaust to the toe area for those cold winter rides.  No wonder he's always smiling.

Looking north on 421

Looking south

A beautiful Ducati 996 I saw at the Country Store, perfect machine for The Snake.

and there he goes towards the switch backs

We left Shady Valley and continued west towards Bristol.  I didn't take any more pictures, we rode many beautiful miles and then the return trip was done at night which took us a few hours.  After returning home we did a quick change of wardrobe and then went out to dinner by car to Lancaster's, a local restaurant. This was the appetizer we ordered for the three of us, fries with pulled pork and smothered in cheese, a direct attack on our arteries. I had a pulled pork sandwich which was delicious.

You know you are in Nascar country when the centerpiece of the restaurant is a large V8 engine and the ceiling is decorated with hoods from the race cars.

CarieAnn's beautiful dog, a cross between a boxer and a Mastiff.  This guy is huge and powerful but a very sweet dog.  I love his name, a very royal "Arthur".

Mike's not too friendly German Shepherd, didn't trust me and kept barking at me, unusual since animals always love me.

The look Arthur would give me when I pointed the camera at him, the "Royalty" look.

The next day I started heading home at 7:30 by following country roads instead of the highway.  I went northwest on route 16 until North Wilkesboro, a beautiful country road passing old towns and then picked up route 18 until I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I stopped in North Wilkesboro when I saw the beautiful Wilkes Heritage Museum.
The Wilkes Heritage Museum, Inc. was established in 1968 with the intent of restoring
the Old Wilkes County Jail to its original 1860 appearance and operating it as an
educational center for the community. Since then, restoration of the Old Wilkes County
Jail has been completed as well as the 1779 home of Captain Robert Cleveland, the late
19th century Finley Law Office, and the 1902 Wilkes County Courthouse. Website

My next stop was at the point where route 18 and the Blue Ridge Parkway meet, it was time for a good breakfast and I found it at the Lake View Restaurant.  In the background you can see a bridge, that's the Blue Ridge crossing above route 18.

In the rural areas you can see how bad the economy really is, lots of boarded homes and closed businesses.

After breakfast it was time to enter the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, 255 miles of probably the most scenic road on the east coast.  The Blue Ridge ends where Interstate 64 crosses it in Virginia and where the southern most point of the Skyline Drive starts, another very scenic road.  The Blue Ridge closes during winter.  Visit the site to see a nice video

The Blue Ridge is famous for its Fall colors but this late in the year, most of the leaves are long gone.  Everything is a brown color but the views are still spectacular and the road is beautifully kept.  The speed limit on the entire road is only 45mph, a little too slow for me, luckily the road was mostly devoid of any traffic and I only saw one cop car and a few adventure riders.  I wasn't doing the speed limit.

The road follows along the top of the mountains offering beautiful views at every corner.

This is how I take a lot of my pictures but on this day whenever I removed my glove my hand would freeze, the temperature was only in the mid 40's.

It was getting colder as the day progressed, you can see the sun already low behind the trees.

A tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The late afternoon sun does present some challenges, you get dark areas and at every turn you have to be very careful and keep on the lookout for deer.

This is my favorite picture from the day's ride, the sun reflecting off the mirror.

These pictures really show the beauty of the road at this time of the year.  The leaves are gone and the tourist stay at home.  I was able to park the bike in the middle of the road, take the camera and snap a few pictures, never saw anyone, this is my kind of adventure.

I love this picture taken late in the afternoon, my visor makes me look a little like RoboCop.

Once I reached the end of the Blue Ridge, I jumped on 64 and headed west until I81, then rode north for another 120 miles to Martinsburg, WV where I found a motel for the night.  There were too many trucks on the road and it was already dark, no point in continuing.

The Blue Ridge Highway

The next day I left the motel at 7:30 and the temperature was 37 degrees. From Martinsburg to my house it is still 250 miles, I arrived home a little after 12.  It was a perfect short trip, the kind of therapy I needed to recharge myself.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 18 - Almost to Deahorse

This post is a continuation of my Alaska trip in 2012 for anyone reading my blog for the first time.

The last leg of my long trip north was ahead of me, only 240 miles left to reach Deadhorse with absolutely nothing in between but mountains and tundra.  This last leg of the trip was something I had been dreaming for a long time, my head going through all the scenarios both good and bad.  Lots of things could go wrong but I had prepared myself for this most difficult part.  Coldfoot to Deadhorse is 240 miles of unknown road conditions, could be an easy ride if dry or a difficult one if it rained, so many other riders had warned me.  My Super Tenere has a range of 240 miles at a steady speed, I had brought a Rotopax and it was now filled with an extra gallon just in case, giving me an extra 40 miles of range.
We left Coldfoot and soon we were in the midst of the most beautiful scenery I had seen so far.  The mountain ranges gleaming in the afternoon sun.

It had rained quite a bit but we were lucky, the road wasn't too bad and the rain was ahead of us. We stopped to take pictures of this beautiful mountain gleaming in the late afternoon sun.  I was leading the way, this was my trip, I wanted to make sure I would have photos without anyone in front of me.

For a while the road was very wet and slippery but at 50 or 60mph the bike hardly moved under me.  Riding slowly is actually the worse thing you can do.  Early on, the road is a brownish color, then all of a sudden it changes to a dark grayish clay like consistency and there were lots of potholes and ruts making us pay a little more attention to the road.

I could see the clouds ahead, most likely rain and we still had to deal with the Atigun Pass, elevation 4,739 feet (1,444 m).  The Atigun pass cuts across the Brooks Range in Alaska.  I stopped occasionally for photos and then continued moving further north.  The potholes were the biggest pain, I had to continually look down to try and avoid the bigger ones.

Soon we came up to this mountain, a long climb ahead of us.  If you look careful right in the middle of the picture is a truck coming down the hill, not the blue one ahead of us but the white and yellow in the far distance, that gives you an idea of the climb.  I'm amazed truckers do it in winter too.

My beautiful Super Tenere covered in mud mixed with Calcium Chloride which is used to keep the dust down and to attract moisture to help the gravel stay packed solidly.  It works well when the road is dry but when wet it's slippery as stepping on soap in a bathtub.  This stuff also attacks metal, specially aluminum, with a vengeance.

We came upon Atigun Pass and it started raining quite a bit all of a sudden.  We stopped before starting the climb and donned our rain gear in heavy rain. I didn't get a photo from the bottom because it was raining so badly. We start the climb and stop about a quarter of the way up for a few pictures. The view of the road going south.

View towards the north, heavy clouds and more rain.
Atigun is the only pass in the Brooks Range that is crossed by a road.  The pass has been responsible for taking many drivers off the road and is also home to avalanches during the winter. Wiki

The top of the pass was treacherous, made more difficult because of the heavy rain but then we come down the other side and the rain has stopped, the sky has opened and it looks clear for a while.  I let Dave go ahead and if you look careful on the photo below, the little black dot on the other side of the bridge is Dave waiting for me.  We are now in a beautiful valley with smooth road ahead of us.

The Atigun River 1 north of the pass and the beautifully colored mountains.

We stopped to take a break on a clearing on the side of the road near the pipeline.  Heavy clouds all around us but the rain had stopped finally.  It's difficult to explain how desolate but stunningly beautiful at the same time the scenery is this far north.  I hope my photos are able to show the beauty of Alaska.

A few shots while riding, my helmet and visor covered in mud sprayed by crossing trucks.  Hadn't shaved in a few days.  Notice also how burned my face is from so many days of riding in the sun.

A late afternoon stop on the Dalton, it was actually around 10pm and the sun was still way above the horizon. We finally had a few hours of rain free riding and blue sky above us.

A reminder of the dangers on the Dalton Highway, a crashed pickup on the side of the road.
Approximately 1 in 50 motorcycles who drive the Dalton will crash, and the nearest medical facilities are in Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear. Wiki

We had left Coldfoot without any plans other than getting to Deathhorse, find a place to pitch our tents and spend the night.  There are two or three motels in Deadhorse, they are for workers staying temporarily or visitors to the oil sites.  They are expensive and offer basic accommodations. We had decided to rough it up and camp near Prudhoe Bay.  About 60 miles before Deadhorse we stopped on a clearing on the side of the road to drink water and eat a snack.  While walking around exploring the area we started talking about our plans.  The picture below was taken at 11:30, my bike was on the side of the road and I had walked to the middle of the highway.  The place was so serene, no rain in sight and it looked liked we were going to have a clear night.  We still had another hour or so of riding to reach Deadhorse.  I looked at Dave and asked, why not pitch our tents here and spend the night?   He looks at me a little surprised but quickly agrees, we survey the area for bears, find a soft spot on the tundra and proceed to setup our tents.  The tent was actually on top of low grass which made for a comfy ground.

With the tent setup and a quick meal made of snacks, energy bar and water, I was ready to hit the sleeping bag when I hear a rumbling noise coming down the road.  It was one of the haul trucks going towards Prudhoe Bay.  He saw us, blew his horn, we waved at him with thumbs up, meaning we were okay, he blew his horn again and continued at full speed on his way.  That was the last vehicle we saw that night.

I walk to the middle of the road and take one last picture of the sunset, it was 11:30 and the sun is clearly above the horizon, it never went below the horizon.  I go back to my tent, made sure I did not have anything with food with me and retreated to my sleeping bag.  I could hardly believe I was spending the night in the middle of nowhere surrounded by arctic tundra.
Arctic tundra contains areas of stark landscape and is frozen for much of the year. The soil there is frozen from 25–90 cm (10–35 in) down, and it is impossible for trees to grow. Instead, bare and sometimes rocky land can only support low growing plants such as moss. Wiki
I should mention that I setup my tent with my jacket and helmet on because mosquito must have spread the word that there was fresh meat nearby.  We were swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes as soon as we stopped.  I sprayed myself but still, they were relentless, any piece of exposed skin was a clear target for them.  At every previous stopped we had been swarmed but usually we were stationary for short periods of time.  This time we were spending the night and they could sense us from very far away.  As soon as I was done taking photos, I got back in my tent, zipped it well and proceeded to kill the mosquitoes already inside.

I lay in my sleeping bag staring up into the sky, happy to be spending the night so far up north.  The mosquitoes were still buzzing around outside the tent as I quickly fell asleep.

Tomorrow we will cover the last 60 miles to Prudhoe Bay, have breakfast in one of the motels then turn around and start heading south.

More to come.....