Saturday, October 27, 2007

Terra Nova, Snake Road and a fine group of fellas

I've had to work this week so this is the first chance I've had to post about the ride I went on last Sunday with a new group of fellas from
We started out from a parking lot in front of a Tim Horton's on Woodbine south of 16th Avenue in Markham. That's Bernard on the far left in the blue jacket, the fella with the serious back protection in the middle is Errol, while the person standing to the right of Errol is Ray. And that's Chris on the far right. The other fellas are going to have to write me to identify themselves because I can't remember their names.

I didn't do a count of bikes, but there had to be more than 30 who came on the first leg of the trip down to Snake Road in Burlington. We broke up into several groups.
I asked to be in the slowpoke group and a guy named Tibor, in the beige jacket in this photo, volunteered to ride lead for us.

I think Tibor was the only person there not on a sport bike of some sort -- the next pic features his bike in the foreground when we stopped to connect with the other groups in the parking lot of a church at the corner of No15 Sideroad.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's a Vulcan Classic (probably an 800). Tibor lamented not being able to ride as fast as the sport bikes, but believe me, he can really ride. I had to work to keep up with him.

This is Tim with his Kawi at the church stop. Tim and I have been comparing notes on camcorders and camcorder mounts. He's taken some pretty nice footage of his rides.

And this is Cleemore with his Gixxer at that stop.

I'm afraid I can't remember the names of the red duo, taken in the parking lot of the church, in this photo. Perhaps they'll email me to remind me and I'll add their names later. The route we took to Snake Road from there included some interesting roads with a couple of nice curves.

The beginning of the ride didn't bode well, since two bikes went down before we even got to Snake Road.

Here's a sad Mike and his bike, which he took into grass once he figured out he was going down whether he liked it or not. The fairing took a hit, but his sliders protected most of it so the damage wasn't too bad. The other pix is a closeup of the damage to the fairing.

I didn't get the full story on what happened to this Ducati, but it clearly took a fall to the right because the brake lever lost its knobby bit on the end. The Duc belongs to Chris, who's in the group shot on the top of this page.

This was my first time on Snake Road: it has a lovely rhythm to it, although it's way too short -- maybe about 10 minutes worth of riding. There are a lot more curves in it than is apparent when you click through to this Google map. But it was a long ride on the 401 to get there.

The number of bikes thinned considerably after Snake Road, and by the time we finished lunch and set off for Terra Nova there were only eight of us left. The rate at which we kept losing people was somewhat disconcerting on this last leg of the ride. Bob and Tibor got caught at a red light when six of us got through to get onto a ramp onto the 401. Here we are waiting on the side of the road to see if Bob and Tibor were coming along behind us. It turned out they didn't follow us because they thought we were taking a different exit.

We later lost two more people and then there were only four of us. But Tim was texting Bob and eventually we hooked up with Bob and Tibor near Airport Road before the turn to Terra Nova, so six of us ended up on Terra Nova.

Although Snake Road was a nicely technically challenging, Terra Nova provided lots more turns for a greater distance, and some really nice hills. Here's a link to the route Bob said we took from River Road to Terra Nova.

There was one sweeping curve that felt like it was almost 180 degrees. Part of the pavement was pretty rough and patched at the beginning, but the surface improved after that.

I was struggling to keep up with everybody. There were a lot of hills and it was almost sunset so every time I topped a hill the sun was in my eyes. I'd slow way down until I could be sure what was on the other side of the hill. I booted it a bit on a straight after that 180 to try to make up time and ... at the last minute saw the fellas waiting at the side of an intersection. Belatedly realized there was a stop sign. I braked immediately, but was going too fast to make the stop. A quick look left and right showed there was no one coming, fortunately, so I skidded to a halt and turned around on the other side of the intersection.

Bob commented that I'd just used up one of my nine lives. Heh. It's that horseshoe up my ... I mean, my lucky horseshoe that keeps following me around. Was relieved to know it's still working, though. This final shot is our last gas stop before heading home. Although we did a fair amount of slab riding to get to the curvy bits, it was a gloriously warm day and they were all within an hour of downtown. That's good to know when you don't have half a day to get up to Elephant Road or the 507.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A souvenir from the Dragon

I just ordered one last souvenir.

A website called sends out photographers to take pix of people on Highway 129 and you can buy a copy of yourself riding the Tail of the Dragon for $5US. Cool!

They put it on a CD and mail it to you, with delivery estimated in two weeks. I took a screenshot of the low-res thumbnail to put here as a placeholder until it arrives.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Fog bound, tired, but home

After staying two days with my cousins Karen and Kathy (that's Karen on the left and Kathy on the right -- and the pix below are the really cool view from the patio at Kathy's condo), left Clarksville in Indiana yesterday morning for Ann Arbor.

The ride was a scorcher. The high in the Louisville area (Clarksville is just across the river from Louisville) for the day was 91F -- almost 33C.

Had to stop about every 150 kilometres to hydrate. It was so hot that after I parked Baby in Toledo her sidestand had sunk into the asphalt by the time I came back.

Every time I stopped I had to strip off my jacket immediately. Perforated leather isn't too hot as long as I'm moving but the minute I stopped I was baking. Every time I met up with another biker he'd ask me "Aren't you hot?" My standard response? "Well, yeah. But showers are faster, cheaper, and less painful than skin grafts."

Was too hot to eat, so by the time I got to Toledo around 5 I was starved. Spent an hour refueling Baby and myself and rolled into Ann Arbor about an hour after that. Filled Baby's tank, checked the tire pressure, lubed her chain, packed her to be ready to go, and crashed until midnight. Wanted to leave for Toronto at 1 a.m. to miss a thunderstorm that was forecast to be rolling through the city around 10.

Turned out I didn't have to -- while I was travelling the forecast had changed for the storm to hit late afternoon.

Still, I managed to get here without getting soaked -- although the fog was so bad on the 403 just west of Hamilton I had to stop by the side of the road for an hour and a half. Took that long to wait for the sun to rise to burn it off. Couldn't just follow the tail-lights of a truck or car because a fine mist from the fog kept condensing in a so quickly on my face shield I couldn't see ANYTHING.

I crashed for a couple of hours and am now catching up with friends. Brought back some bourbon balls -- every time I stopped to hydrate I grabbed a cup of ice to put in ziplock bags to keep them from melting!

A weird thing: almost every time I stopped for gas in Kentucky people kept proudly telling me that you don't have to wear a helmet in Kentucky. I always asked: "Why wouldn't you want to?" I just don't understand opponents of helmet laws. I'm kind of attached to *MY* head.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Baby's got a brand-new tire

Marc went on to Ann Arbor yesterday and I swung west to visit my cousins in Louisville and Clarksville, Indiana. After staying the night at my cousin Kathy's condo and having breakfast this morning with Kevin, Karen, Krista and Kim (four of my six K cousins) got packed to go and noticed there was a rivet sticking out of Baby's rear tire.

Don't know how long it was there -- could have been just a slow leak yesterday, but the tire was flat this morning. Glad it didn't give out on the highway. When you're not rolling is the best way to find out about a flat.

I don't believe in fixing tires -- the consequence of tire failure when rolling is too extreme. So took her over to SNS Motorsports here in Clarksville to get a new one. Got one of the soft compound ones this time. Like it so much I'm gonna get her a matching front one when we get back to Toronto.

Karen went to SNS Motorsports with me. While waiting for them to change the tire I amused myself sitting on all the bikes in the showroom. Have yet to find a Honda sport bike that even lets me get my toes down -- and the ZX-6Rs are even higher than Baby. Oy. I kind of liked how the Suzuki GS500 fit. But they don't have as good a reputation for reliability and handling.

So... got to spend another day visiting with my cousins.

Hope to get an early start in the morning!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dog-tired in Kentucky

Have only a few minutes of borrowed time on a clandestine WiFi connection tonight, so this is going to be brief.

I wanted to do the Dragon again today, but Marc talked me into trying the Cherahola Skyway instead, and I'm glad he did. It was AWESOME! Not especially challenging, but just challenging enough to be fun and because much of it is on top of a low mountain range the vistas were amazing. I turned on the camcorder and think I captured the whole ride on video. Haven't recharged the battery yet to view it.

I went first since Marc always rides faster than I do, and he'd be sure to pass me. He somehow managed to pass me without seeing me and when he didn't see me at our appointed meeting place where the Skyway ended at Highway 68, he turned up 68 ... and to make a long story short for the next two hours we kept missing each other and didn't get back together until after 2.

At which point it started raining, so... by the time we headed back north to Louisville so we could spend the night across the river in Indiana and visit with my cousins, it was after 3.

After booting it up the I-75 for almost five hours, we were dog tired by the time we reached Berea Kentucky, about 40 miles south of Lexington. Decided not to ride tired.

So I missed seeing all my cousins tonight and they must be getting pretty tired of plans changing. We'd already changed the time we'd arrive twice because of weather. I hope I get to see some of them tomorrow.

Sigh. Weather is a taxing travel companion.

I wish I'd had time to do the Dragon one more time, but I'll be back. After I get lots more practice at decreasing radius turns!

Postscript: Click here to see the route we took from Maryville to Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, from the beginning of the Dragon to the end of the Cherahola Skyway.

The video I shot on the camcorder turned out to be an excellent view of the road surface for the whole of the Cherahola Skyway -- but can't see much else. Gotta work on best position for the lens...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'm not dead yet

Although I probably should be. That Dragon has TEETH. I managed to navigate every curve today, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was afraid for my life.

I never came close to going into a ditch, but that's because I never got out of third gear -- and some of the tightest curves I did in second. I'm sure I rode the Dragon much more slowly than anyone else there today. Everyone there was clearly a better rider than I am.

But my goal was to make it to the end alive, and that I did. Didn't go into a ditch. Didn't drop Baby. On the Dragon, anyway...

The top pic is of me standing at the north and south US Highway 129 sign at Deal's Gap, where you can refuel and buy Dragon souvenirs and snacks. The two below that are Baby getting fueled at a Dragon pump at Deal's Gap and the Gap souvenir shop. The next two are of the crossroads in front of the Gap -- the second one of the crossroads shows the road leading down to Robbinsville, North Carolina. Farther down still you'll see Google map and satellite photos of the Dragon.

The day hadn't started out completely auspiciously.

We'd arrived in Knoxville fairly late the night before -- getting to Harrodsburg to get the new shifter lever installed on Tuesday took longer than anticipated, and we got off the highway around Knoxville a couple of times before finding a motel in a neighbourhood we felt comfortable in. One of the places we stopped I was panhandled twice while I was trying to fill Baby's gas tank. Another woman approached me and tried to sell me a pocket knife. Oy.

Anyway, after checking late into the motel, I stayed up late to do some research, because I had an interview to do in the morning (this is a bit of a working holiday). Then I woke up early to do the interview. That was fine; I got enough sleep and was really pumped for both the interview and the ride.

We stopped by a motorcycle accessory shop near our motel on our way out of Knoxville. Bought a second disk lock for Baby's rear disk -- saw a scary video on YouTube that showed how easy it was to steal a bike when only the front disk is locked. A security camera caught two guys stealing a bike off a busy downtown street -- with a disk lock on the front disk -- by rolling it on its back wheel directly into a van. Took all of 30 SECONDS. Anyway, we shouldn't have stopped to look at bike bling... but we did.

So we were late heading out for US 129.
We got off the highway before reaching the Dragon to pick up some double-sided tape because I was going to try to attach the lens of the camcorder to the top of my helmet.

Marc took off without waiting to see if I was behind him when we left the store, though, and it took half an hour for me to find him. I finally got a call from him saying he was lost and ... where was I? So, he told me the corner where he was and I went and found him.

When I did, I rolled Baby into the gas station where he was waiting and proceeded to drop her on her right side. The entrance was canted badly, my tailbag was stuffed to the brim (laptop included), and she was top-heavy ... leaned too far and couldn't hold her up. At least it was her right side and I didn't have to buy another shifter.

But that made twice in two days I'd dropped her and this time I didn't have gravel to blame. But clearly I was carrying too much ballast, so Marc traded his (somewhat smaller and lighter) tailbag for mine.

Anyway, we lost another hour and got down to US 129 much later than planned.

But Baby felt much better without all the extra weight.

A good thing, because when we got on US 129 there was no where to stop before we got to where the Dragon waited. We'd originally intended to dump our luggage before riding her.

Ended up doing it fully loaded. Ho boy.

I've seen videos of people riding the Dragon.

The night before I left I looked at Google's satellite photos close up and joked to my friend Terry: I'm gonna die.

But I thought I was prepared. I'd taken the Turn2 course. I'd been on a few technically challenging rides in the last few weeks. By riding those at my own pace (admittedly a SLOW pace) I thought I was gonna lose it only twice: once because I was really, really tired (that's when I jumped the curb on Lil red bird's ride ) and once because I ran into gravel (on the ride heading up to meet the big ride to Aminal and Fozzy's barbecue).

Gravel is my enemy.

I thought "I'll just go REALLY slow."

Well, even REALLY SLOW... holey moley...

I WAS NOT -- I repeat -- I WAS NOT prepared for this. I don't know that anything could have.

John Reed had warned me about radically decreasing radius curves -- and he wasn't kidding. I'll ride it like a grandma, I said, laughing. Sheesh. I had no idea what I was saying. I had no idea of the reality represented by the Google map and Google satellite maps. See views further above of the especially challenging section of the Dragon approaching Deal's Gap.

By the time I finished -- by the time we got to Deal's Gap, where the technically challenging part ended -- so much adrenalin was pumping through my veins that you could have injected me into someone whose heart had stopped and got them going again.

There were at least a dozen of those 318 curves where I had to go so slow that the slowness itself was a problem. I had to push myself past my fear to goose the throttle.

Because we headed straight in, I hadn't had time to hook up my camcorder to record the ride. I finally hooked it up at Deal's Gap for the ride down to Robbinsville, but that section was really tame compared to the part we'd just finished. We decided to turn around and do it again, going north and uphill (which should be easier. Put the camcorder on Marc's bike for the ride back to the Gap. He zoomed ahead of me and when I arrived he announced he was too tired to try to do the technically challenging part again. I realized then that I was kind of tired, too. And it was 4:30 and we hadn't eaten since breakfast.

We decided to be reasonable and head to Robbinsville to find a motel. The pic on the right is a view of the river next to the Dragon on the lower leg on the way to Robbinsville. The next is of Baby waiting patiently while I take that photo. It started to drizzle as we got to Robbinsville, and we both were glad we weren't still on the Dragon when that happened. No way I wanna be on a WET Dragon.

If it doesn't rain in the morning, we'll try her again. If it does rain ... NOT A CHANCE. It would be a shame to come all this way and ride it only once, but my goal was to reach the end of it alive, and that I did.

If the weather doesn't cooperate in the morning ... I'll be back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


OK, it could have been a lot worse. Used duct tape to attach a carbiner to the end of the shifter lever and that got me 65 miles to a Kawasaki dealer in Harrodsburg, Ky, where they installed a new one. Actually, it only got me 63 of the 65 miles there -- it fell off right before I got there -- had to change gears by tucking my toe under the broken shifter for the last two miles. C'est la vie. Really scored -- the lever was only $34 and they refused to charge labour for installing it. Did I mention that the guys at Lee's Kawasaki in Harrodsburg are really awesome?!!!!!!

The ride there from Sparta (where the Ramada Inn parking lot ate my shifter lever) was on some of the best winding roads Kentucky has to offer. Took the 127 South most of the way and it was beautiful. I got a little verklempt -- this is the part of the country where my dad grew up. He used to ride his Electraglide on some of these very same roads (before he almost rode it up the back of a semi with my mother on the back and my mother made him get rid of it). All of a sudden I was really missing my dad and wishing he were on the ride. He died more than 20 years ago but as we slalomed amid those Kentucky hills I felt a re-connection.

We had lunch after Baby was fixed and were on our way to Knoxville by 2:30. Marc insisted we stop at Colonel Sanders' birthplace. Kitschy, I know. He's a nut. I think I have a pic but am too tired to download it. Gotta get up early tomorrow because I have to do an interview first thing in the morning for an article that's due when I get back to Toronto. And then ... we're off to meet the Dragon!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Aye carumba

OK, this really stinks. Haven't even gotten to the Dragon yet and dumped the bike. Marc got his oil light thing sorted out -- the oil *WAS* too full and by draining a little out that solved the problem. After spending the night in Louisville at a friend's house I rode up to join him at the Ramada Inn off Hwy 71 in Sparta, Ky., where he stayed the night.

The Ramada is on top a steep hill overlooking the Kentucky Speedway. As I topped the hill I hit some gravel, tried to turn into the parking lot and went over, landing on the bike's left side. Broke the end off the shifter when she fell. Marc just went to get some instant weld glue while I call around for Kawasaki dealers to see if they have a shifter in stock.

The left signal light popped out of its mount in the fairing, but everything else is OK, including the clutch lever (whew!)

But ... man. Do I ever need to learn how to deal with gravel.