Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trip Report, Part 2

Before we left Maggie Valley, we stopped at Wheels Through Time, a short walk down the street.  This is wonderful museum of American cars and motorcycles.  I've been through a lot of car and bike museums before, but this was less like a museum and more like walking through an organized garage of a successful collector.  There were cars and bikes and parts of bikes, and oil cans and racing suits and all sorts of transportation based stuff all over the place.  It also included one of the strangest two-seater bicycle I've ever seen.  I don't think this would be a comfortable ride.

We spent a few hours there, but I think it's a place I could visit again and again.

After the museum, we headed to Ashville.  We spent the next day touring the Biltmore.  This is an amazing house.  We took the self-guided tour through the building and spent the extra money to take the architect's tour.  This took us to a few more rooms on the upper level, including one that had the architect's model of the home.  Is also took us up to the roof and onto the catwalk of that front peak where we had terrific views and could see some of the gargoyles up close.

The Biltmore and grounds were beautiful, but I was a bit put off by the price of everything and the many extras they were suggesting you purchase at every turn.  I was glad to have visited once, but I think that's enough.

The day we visited the Biltmore was our anniversary, and the day before Father's day.  We have some friends who live in NC, and they came out to Ashville to visit with us.  We went out to dinner and then to the Highland brewery for after dinner beers and more conversation.  I love meeting up with old friends.  It's always as if time and distance evaporate and we take up where we left off when we last met.  The time with them was the highlight of our Ashville visit.

Our next stop was the trip was Johnson City, TN for the COG (Concours Owners' Group, which is the bike DH rides) rally, which was the main reason for this entire trip.

This was the 25th anniversary of the group and we had over 500 people in attendance from all over the US and a few from abroad (Holland).  Besides the people I know from this area (The northeast), I met folks from Chicago, Seattle, Florida and Colorado.  We took over the entire Holiday Inn in Johnson City and still had more in hotels a camp ground near by.  Kawasaki brought in a trailer with new biked for test rides.  This week just flew by.  We ate terrific BBQ, had shrimp and grits (a novelty for this northerner), vinegar pie and boiled peanuts from a road-side stand.  We visited a cavern, an animal sanctuary where they raised wolves and saw wolf puppies, watched an movie with one of the stars of the movie (The Lords of Flatbush with Perry King), saw lots of beautiful quilt blocks painted on barns, did a lot of riding and saw beautiful scenery, visited Davey Corckett's birhtplace, and even visited a quilt store.

All too soon the week was over and we were on the road again.  We traveled north through WV stopping at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.
 We took a tour of what used to be a privately held coal mine and buildings that used to be in a coal camp, including a family house, an owner's house, a church, bachelor's camp and a school house.  It was a very well done museum.

Our next stop was the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. This beautiful and huge building is no longer in use as a hospital.  It was bought by a private party and is being restored.  They hold tours that tall about it's fascinating history as well as some of the history of how mental health and other diseases were treated during it's history.    I wish we had more time to spend here.

As we traveled through PA we made stops at the Flight 93 memorial park (a very moving place), the oldest continually owned gas station in the states and a terrific tree house in Scranton.

Then we finally arrived home, safe and happy to sleep in my own bed.

It was a wonderful trip full of new experiences and new places.  We're already talking about our destination for next year's trip.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trip Report

We set out in early June to go to the COG (Concours Owner's Group) National Rally in Johnson City, TN.  We decided to take out time traveling to and from the rally to explore a bit of the US that we hadn't visited before.  (The Concours is the model of motorcycle that Wayne rides.  I ride a Suzuki Intruder.)

Our 20 day trek on our motorcycles took us to 9 states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina) and approximately 3,500 miles.  This is the longest vacation I've ever taken, the longest time I've traveled on motorcycle and the most miles I've logged in the saddle.  We had a few very minor mishaps along the way, but nothing that couldn't be fixed.  We did a lot of planning before the trip on places we wanted to see and what needed to be attended to at home.  All that paid off.  Our only surprise was that our car battery had died in the three weeks of sitting.  Apparently the electronics that listen for the key fob to unlock the doors and trunk use enough juice to drain the battery.

Our first interesting stop was in Pottsville, PA at the Yuengling  brewery.  It was an interesting tour through the hand dug caves where the beer was stored.  It's got interesting history about how they survived prohibition by making ice cream and making porter which could be legally purchased with a doctor's prescription.

Our next stop was the Haines Shoe House in Hallam, PA.  This was built by show salesman Mahlon Haines in 1948 as an advertisement.  The house still holds tours and sells souvenirs and ice cream on the bottom floor.  It was a pleasant place to stop for a rest and a snack.

After that, we traveled on Skyline Drive then the Blue Ridge Parkway for the next 3 days.  For motorcycling, these are the prefect roads (in my opinion).  There are no stop signs or lights, there is limited access to the roads, the speed limit is 45 or so and the views are spectacular.  We found the roads to relatively uncrowded and all the drivers we encountered to be friendly and respectful.  One of the things I enjoy about traveling by motorcycle (especially as a couple) is that people feel you are approachable.  Folks who would never even take a second look at you at an overlook if you are traveling by car will start a conversation about your trip, the view or whatever.  It's all small talk, but it's always nice to know that people aren't afraid of folks on motorcycles.

Three stops we made along the Blue Ridge parkway that i really enjoyed were the Music Center, the Moses Cone Memorial Park and the Folk Art Center.

The Music Center had live musicians playing and a terrific museum about the history of local music and musical instruments.

The Moses Cone Memorial Park was a beautiful building with an amazing view and beautiful hand crafted items for sale.  I spend quite a bit of time with a very nice woman named Pam Etheredge who makes handmade pine needle baskets in the tradition of her grandmother's tribe of the Choctaw in Mississippi.  I wish I lived closer to her because she teaches this beautiful craft and I think she would be a good teacher.

The Folk Art Center was full of hand crafted items - some for sale.  It had beautiful jewelry, quilts, furniture, scarves, pottery and all manner of handmade items.  It's a good thing we were traveling by bike, or my bank account may have suffered.

After traveling the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we settled into Maggie Valley, NC for a few days.   We chose to stay at the Smoky Falls Lodge because it's motorcycle friendly, and is in close proximity to The Tail of the Dragon, a twisty road that seems to be on every motorcyclist's bucket list.  Upon arrival, we saw other bikes like mine (but a bit newer) and found that we had happened upon an Intruder rally.  We met lots of nice folks, chatted about bikes and had a good warm up for the larger rally that would happen later in our trip.

The following day, we made our way over to the Dragon.  It was a rainy day and I was scared.  The Dragon is part of route 129 in the Great Smoky Mountains on the NC/TN state line.  It's advertised as 318 curves in 11 miles and is known for folks who like to travel at high speed.  I wanted to travel this road to say I had - not to break any speed records.  So, when the weather prediction for the day was rain, I almost  cancelled.  But, we decided to go to the start and make our decision then.  It was still raining when we arrived and we looked at all the cyclists who were waiting for the rain to stop.  We decided to stick with our plan and do the ride because the road was probably be as empty as was ever going to be.  After a few miles into it, Wayne's voice came over the communications and let me know we were about a quarter way through the road.  That's when I realized that I could do this safely, and started to enjoy the ride.  I understand why this road attracts riders.  It's banked well and the bike responds to the curves.  I did it, I enjoyed it, I got the sticker and it's off my bucket list.

That's the first week of the trip.  I'll add the rest later.