Friday, April 11, 2008

Chapter Four: The BuRP Rally -- The Ride That Changed My Life

Dawn announced its arrival with the muted slamming of a few motel room doors. Voices filtering in from outside were the prelude to engines starting, several of which belonged to motorcycles. It was my intention to grab a farewell glimpse of the ass on the Harley lady in the adjacent room, but I divided the effort into the potential ass glimpse and came up short. I closed my eyes again thinking to catch a few more winks, when I heard the cheery resonance of Wayne Whitlock chatting with his wife Lucy. He was outside, wiping down his Harley.

“Shit,” I thought. It was a quarter past six, and I had yet to shower.

Twenty-minutes later, we roared out of the Days Inn parking lot and made tracks for North Carolina. I didn’t know it yet, but this would prove to be the most challenging day of the ride. We had two different schedules to meet. The first called for picking up my friend Ricky on his Honda VTX 1800 in the unlikely sounding village of Little Switzerland, NC. We told him we’d get there around 1pm. Rick told us not to worry as there was a touristy kind of strip mall there, where a geology shop sold interesting rocks. He’d just hang out until we arrived. The directions were simple. We were to get off at the Little Switzerland exit on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and turn left. He’d be right there.

The second schedule called for getting into Maggie Valley before it got dark. This sounded like a piece of cake as we only had about 230 miles to go and it was basically an hour after dawn. I wasn’t real keen on taking the Blue Ridge Parkway and Wayne suggested we could follow secondary roads in that general direction. This sounded perfectly reasonable to me. A secondary road would be faster than the BRP, with more options to stop. According to Wayne, we would follow the “Chain Gang” Highway to Desolate Road, and then pick up US-221.

If you love curves and dramatic changes in elevation, then North Carolina is for you. There isn’t three miles of straight paved secondary road in the whole state. (A museum in a small town we passed through has a section of guardrail on exhibit, though they have no idea what it is used for.) There are three kinds of curves in this state: hairpin, blind, and descending radius (with or without). The “with” or “without” is an interesting option offered to bikers. It means with or without gravel. The Department of Public Debris liberally sprinkles pea gravel and other things on curves and tight intersections to add to your riding pleasure. It certainly added to mine. By the end of the day, Lucy commented that she had never heard a man say “fuck” with regards to loose stone as often as I did.

Wayne rode his 46,000-pound Harley like it was a skateboard. He leaned it far over, dashed in and out of curves, and steadily pulled ahead. I could not match his competence. At first, I tried copying his style, but only ended up scaring the shit out of myself. I then decided to “ride my own ride,” pulling back in a more prudent fashion. It quickly became apparent that “riding my ride” meant moving slower than a glacier on stilts. And the intense heat, high in the mid-nineties, was starting to get on my nerves.

It is important to remember that this was my second season as a reentry rider after a 30-year hiatus. I had held my license for exactly three months. It is also important to note that I had gained 2,362 pounds since I last rode a motorcycle any distance. The noise augmenting my muffler was both halves of my ass slapping the spokes in my back wheel. Plus the fact that my arthritis cursed me with the reflexes of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

My knees do not reset to “zero” at the beginning of each day. They find the midpoint in the highest pain range from the day before and start there. But I am determined not to squeal like a pig and throw in the towel. So I grit my teeth and mount up.

I was starting to hear from my knees again and they weren’t happy. Furthermore, we were riding on the kind of secondary road that gave no indication of progress. Endless trees, small open fields, and the occasional unnamed side road did nothing but add to the mystery. Road conditions would run from very good to sandpaper quality (with or without, but mostly with). The gas light came on after a bit and Wayne followed me into the Hog Waller General Store and Gas Station, about 90 minutes after we’d been on the road.

Between the pain in my knees and humidity as thick as possum pie, or whatever the hell it is they eat in North Carolina, I was in bad humor. I was gassing up the bike (while straddling it), when the hose slipped out of the tank, shooting a quart of high-test all over the motorcycle and my crotch.

“Somebody get me some water,” I yelled, thinking the rig would burst into flames.

“Got some right here,” said Wayne. He’d found a hooked up garden hose. Wayne hosed off the tank, my mesh jacket, my jeans and me. When he was through, the cool water was running out of my helmet. The situation was preposterous... And I started to laugh. I was hurting like a mother-fucker and this was hysterical. The local folk stared a bit when I waddled into the general store to take a piss. At first glance, I suspect they thought I’d already speed pissed without unzipping my pants.

We roared into the pretty little town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina later than midmorning. I was interested in learning how the town got its name but Wayne said it wasn’t what I thought. This is an upscale resort with delightful little streets, featuring unique shops, romantic restaurants, and charming accommodations. It is the kind of place where the letters in your alphabet soup spell “seduction.” Our tour of the town lasted all of ten minutes.

Then the road got tough.

Who needs the Dragon’s Tail when you have US-221? The first sign we saw coming out of town said, “Dangerous Curves Next 22 Miles.” The second sign read “Not Recommended For Trucks Over 30 feet Long.” And the last sign said, “Do Not proceed If You Have A Very Fat Ass.” This last warning made my blood run cold.

The road changed elevation, direction, and camber more often than a runway model switches dresses during a the fashion show. At one point, a blind curve felt it’s way around a huge boulder that stuck out into the road, before switching back in another direction. The road also followed itself through a vertical loop and hopped over a valley via an abandoned ski jump.

The first picture ever taken by my cell phone camera.
This boulder leans out over the road on a blind turn.
The shot reveals the spartan controls of a 1986 BMW K75 with a Sprint Fairing.

US-221 led us over Grandfather Mountain, which was hosting some damned Scottish festival. The mountain was alive with the ugliest women I ever saw wearing plaid skirts. (Closer proximity revealed they were men in kilts.) I came across two elderly ladies standing in the dead center of the road on the other side of a tight turn. Leaning “Blue Balls” over to a degree less than horizontal, I just missed them, though one has a dark streak from the corner of her eye to her ear where she got kissed by the clutch caliper I bet!

Though a lot grainier, this shot gives a better idea of the perspective of the boulder in the curve. 
Situations like this are commonplace on North Carolina's mountain roads.

I got separated from Wayne in this stretch, as he insisted on going faster than 30 mph. On a long incline, I came across a a bicyclist struggling like a mad person against the grade. This woman had enough on her mind without worrying about traffic crowding her off the road. I centered myself about 20 feet behind her, and protected her perfect Spandex´®-covered ass for about 5 miles. Yet when we started down the hill, this ungrateful person wouldn’t yield and I ended up crawling down the mountain as slow as I went up. Wayne and Lucy had signed up for oil painting classes at the bottom of the run.

The rendezvous with Ricky didn’t come off quite as planned. Since we weren’t on the BRP, the directions got a little muddled. We ended up on remote road by a firehouse. Fortunately, a firefighter was hanging around and gave us directions, the last line of which was, “Turn left at the red lot.” I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Finally, he said, “The red lot. That thing that makes cars stop and go.”

I laughed, and told him and I thought his accent was genuine and refreshing. He replied my New Jersey accent sounded like broken glass in a paper bag. We were 90-minutes late meeting Rick. Worse, the rock shop had been closed all day too. He’d been cooling his heels the better part of the afternoon. Little Switzerland has its charm and places to see. Regrettably, we were getting short on time and decided to make the push into Maggie Valley, which was still about 50 miles distant. My rest intervals were getting a bit more frequent, and it was during one of these that Wayne’s Harley made that unusual noise again and refused to start.
Wayne Whitlock's beautiful Harley started blowing 2000 amp fuses.
This picture was taken by Pete Buchheit on another trip, where he poured maple syrup under Wayne's bike to simulate an oil leak. Wayne has promised to kick his ass and to kick it really good.
Pete has always wanted a photograph attributed to him.
©Copyright Pete Buchheit

Wayne and Ricky had the appropriate side covers off the beast in an instant. Sure enough, the 2000 amp nuclear reactor fuse was toast. Wayne popped in another, which promptly blew too. Things were starting to look dicey for the home team, as Wayne was down to the last spare. He and Ricky then resorted to the most scientific of actions: they jiggled stuff (meaning wires on the bike).

The Harley restarted and we went like hell to the Laurel Park Inn, at Maggie Valley, arriving with an hour of fading daylight left to go. It had taken me three nights to do what most riders in my Beemer club do in a day. But I didn’t know them then... And I know better than to care now.

We covered 225 miles that day, hitting a new personal best for me. The feeling of accomplishment was incredible. Wayne Whitlock and his wife Lucy are two of the kindest, most gracious people that I will ever meet. I regret that Wayne now spits every time my name is mentioned. North Carolina is a breathtakingly beautiful place filled with hospitable people. I rode through there again the following year and was able to enjoy the ride more and swear less, primarily through experience -- Experience that started with this trip.

In the Chapter Five: The BuRP Rally Begins.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

3 comments:

BMW-Dick said...

I finally got around to catching up on your BuRP Rally stories. Fun reading about how you've inflicted pain on others and still have friends who will ride with you.

Sojourner rides said...

Jack, I read "Chapter 3" before reading this entry. Incredibly insightful to me as I'm planning a trip to NC this season on the SV650and had planned to do the BRP and Cherohala Skyway. I enjoyed the exchanges with your ride friends--it's about as close as I'll ever get to riding with others.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

Motorcycling is essentially a solitary pursuit. Riding with my long-distance companions (Pete and Dick) is just like riding alone as I refuse to take corners at the speed of light. Consequently, I get to enjoy their company at two-hour intervals, when I catch up to them. Honestly. On one ride, I asked, "where should we meet if we get separated?"

The reply was, "At the hotel."

It was 7:30am. We expected to hit the hotel at 6pm. I had a pleasant ride alone with my thoughts.
I'm glad you liked my previous chapters. No one has ever called my work "insightful" before.