[editor: A collection of Motorcycle Wisdom] Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul. Most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the saddle. Life may begin at 30, but it doesn’t get real interesting until about 60 mph! You start the game of life with a full pot o’ luck and an empty pot o’ experience. The object is to fill the pot of experience before you empty the pot of luck. If you wait, all that happens is that you get older. Midnight bugs taste just as bad as noon time bugs. Saddlebags can never hold everything you want, but they can hold everything you need. It takes more love to share the saddle than it does to share the bed. The only good view of a thunderstorm is in your rearview mirror. Never be afraid to slow down. Don’t ride so late into the night that you sleep through the sunrise. Sometimes it takes a whole tank full of fuel before you can think straight. Riding faster than everyone else only guarantees you’ll ride alone. Never hesitate to ride past the last street light at the edge of town. Never do less than forty miles before breakfast. If you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride. One bike on the road is worth two in the shed. Respect the person who has seen the dark side of motorcycling and lived. Young riders pick a destination and go. Old riders pick a direction and go. A good mechanic will let you watch without charging you for it. Sometimes the fastest way to get there is to stop for the night. Always back your bike into the curb, and sit where you can see it. Work to ride & ride to work. Whatever it is, it’s better in the wind. Two-lane blacktop isn’t a highway – it’s an attitude. When you look down the road, it seems to never end – but you better believe, It does! Winter is Nature’s way of telling you to polish. Keep your bike in good repair. Motorcycle boots are NOT comfortable for walking. People are like Motorcycles: each is customized a bit differently. Sometimes, the best communication happens when you’re on separate bikes. Good coffee should be indistinguishable from 50 weight motor oil. The best alarm clock is sunshine on chrome. The twisties – not the super slabs – separate the riders from the squids. When you’re riding lead, don’t spit. A friend is someone who’ll get out of bed at 2 am to drive his pickup to the middle of nowhere to get you when you’re broken down. Catching a yellow jacket in your shirt @ 70 mph can double your vocabulary. If you want to get somewhere before sundown, you can’t stop at every tavern. There’s something ugly about a NEW bike on a trailer. Don’t lead the pack if you don’t know where you’re going. Practice wrenching on your own bike, first. Everyone crashes. Some get back on. Some don’t. Some can’t. Don’t argue with an 18-wheeler. Never be ashamed to unlearn a bad habit. A good long ride can clear your mind, restore your faith, and use up a lot of fuel. If you can’t get it going with bungee cords and electrician’s tape, it’s serious. If you ride like there’s no tomorrow, there won’t be. Bikes parked out front mean good chicken-fried steak inside. There are old riders. And there are bold riders. There are NO old, bold riders. Thin leather looks good in the bar, but it won’t save your butt from road rash” if you go down. The best modifications cannot be seen from the outside. Always replace the cheapest parts first. You can forget what you do for a living when your knees are in the breeze. Patience is the ability to keep your motor idling. Only a Biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window. There are two types of people in this world, people who ride motorcycles and people who wish they could ride motorcycles. Never try to race an old geezer, he may have one more gear than you. Gray-haired riders don’t get that way from pure luck
I got a used KTM 200 EXC. Woo hoo! Right? Well, not quite. The bloom has come off of the rose, with a couple of realizations. The first realization is that I can’t get on the bike in a dignified fashion, the second is I can’t start it very easily either. I decided to fire up the new bike and so I wheeled it out into the drive, only to find that my middle-aged hips are not limber enough to allow me to throw my leg over the seat. My inseam is about 32 inches and the seat appears to be about 36 and I’m not a ballerina. I learned that I can get my knee up on the seat to a point where it becomes lodged on the top, but the rest of my leg refuses to follow after it. Unfortunately, at this point I’m stuck in a distinctly uncomfortable position accompanied by acute groin pain and a hamstring pulled tighter than the string on a hunting bow. Luckily, I was eventually able to extricate myself from that predicament without having to dial 911.
“OK,” I said to myself, “we’re going to need to do some stretching exercises to cure that.” In the meanwhile, I decided that I could carry some sort of box around to stand on to get on the bike. No big deal really unless I come off the bike in a location where there isn’t a sturdy box handy. Reflecting on that thought, I decided that I really don’t recall seeing that many sturdy boxes strategically placed along forest trails or dirt bike tracks, so perhaps a back up plan might be in order. I found that if I leaned the bike over far enough to spill the fuel out of the carberetor bowl that I can get on the bike pretty easily, but then I’m on one leg with a bike leaned way over. Well not a problem, just toe-heal, toe-heal, toe-heal, hop, hop. I made it. Much better. “Now, I’ll just fire this puppy up,” I thought.
Whoa, the location of that starting lever means I’ll have to bring my knee all the way up under my chin. “Umph, Umph. OK, my foot’s up there. Now kick!” I felt some bumps of resistance as the cylinder bobbed up and down, as the lever plunged groundward, and the bike made a few whoomphing noises, but nothing that sounded even remotely like spark hitting gasoline vapor. “Humph, Humph, foot up. Now Kick!”, “Whoomph! Whoomp!” said the KTM. Again, and again I kicked the starter until my leg ached, and my shirt was completely drenched in sweat. “OK I give,” I muttered and then leaned the bike over. Hop, hop, heal-toe, heal-toe, heal-toe, until I could get my leg over the top of the bike. I then walked the bike back into the garage and performed about four clean and jerk maneuvers on the bike to get it back on the stand that kept skittering away from the bike every time I tried to lift the bike up on it. Finally, convinced that the bike was secure, I felt around to see if I had any obvious hernias poking out of my belly. Nope, my flaccid abdominal muscles, buried under thick layers of protective blubber, seemed to be intact. “Well, that didn’t go well,” I was thinking as I walked into the air conditioned house and flopped down on the sofa, “I hope I didn’t just make a real expensive mistake.”
Later, after having time to reflect — which was some time shortly after the heart palpitations had subsided, I thought, “I wonder if the gas lever was in the on position?” So I went down to the garage and looked at the fuel lever. I quickly determined that it was impossible to tell if it was on or not, it was just too blurry. I went back in and got my super-duper reading glasses and went for another look. After wiping away a smudge of grease, I saw that one position appears to have a small “r”, another nothing at all, and in the middle position, the word “on” is stamped into the metal. Sure enough, the lever was pointing at the unmarked location. “I’ll try again tomorrow,” I thought. “You’ve won this battle my tall-seated friend, but I’ll win the war.”
Bright and early the next morning, I looked around for something solid to stand on. No sturdy boxes around here either apparently. Then I noticed the running boards on my 4 Runner. “Yes, that should do nicely,” I thought. First, I made sure that the fuel lever was in the on position, pulled the choke knob up and then thought, “Perhaps it might be easier to start the bike, before I get on.” I stood on the right side of the bike and mashed down on the starter a couple of times, “whoomp, whoomp,” nothing.
“OK, so you’re a two stroke. Well you’re like a dozen lawn mowers I’ve dealt with in the past, I didn’t take any guff off of them and I’m not taking any off of you either, and you are going to start.” When I thought about all the ill-tempered and recalcitrant lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and gasoline powered weed whackers that I have fought with in the past, I recalled that they all have a bulb to allow you to squirt some fuel into them before you start them. So I cranked the throttle open three times and gave the starter another good mash, “whah, whah, ding, ding, ding, whah, whaaaaaah.” she said as oily smoke belched out of the exhaust pipe. “Now that’s more like it.” Holding the bike up as I maneuvered around to the other side, I put my left foot up on the running board of my 4 Runner, and bingo I was sitting on a running bike.” I gave it some throttle for a bit and then reached down and pushed the choke back in. The volumn of smoke quickly subsided and the bike idled happily. Then I hit the kill switch. I pulled my foot up to the kick start and gave it a hefty push, and the bike started right up again. “Good show, you little beastie. Now you’re getting tamed down.”
Now, I was sitting on a running dirt bike started in the normal manner. I, a total dirt-bike noob, was in full control of this mechanical wonder. I confidently, popped it into first eased out the clutch, rolled on some gas and shot quickly toward my garage door. No problem — I do ride a motorcycle every day. I pulled in the clutch, applied the brakes and she quickly stopped, with well over an inch of safety margin to spare between me and further emabarrassment.
I pushed the little red kill switch and with the swagger of a corpulent Barney Fife, I whipped my right leg over the top of the seat and planted my foot back onto the ground with authority and a sense of total victory. “Wow, that really hurt,” I thought, “I hope I didn’t tear something vital.”
My next step is to find myself a sturdy box. I’ll let you know how the first ride goes.
For weeks, I looked forward to riding to North Carolina for the Fifth Annual Redneck Rally (RNR). I was eager to meet a group of people that I knew pretty well from the Internet but had never actually met face to face. Winter had thrown its last frosty punch, the days were growing steadily warmer, the cherry trees and dogwoods had already bloomed, and the aroma of blooming privet filled the air down here in Georgia. It was time to start piling some serious miles on my bike again, and what better way than riding to a motorcyle rally. Now, the RNR isn’t a rally in the Laconia, Daytona, or Sturgis sense of the word. Actually, it’s more of an annual get together or yearly rendezvous of about fifty or so bikers that have met somewhere in the South, that ride and party together every year for the past five years. This year, the rendezvoous pivot point was the Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, North Carolina. From there it is a short ride to Deals Gap, the Cherohala Skyway and the BlueRidge Parkway.
I printed a map and driving directions from Google, but should have just written down or memorized the directions that are on their website. I packed my clothes, taking only the essentials, tightly sealed in ten-gallon ziplock bags and neatly stowed in my sissy bar bag. I loaded up the bike, went to bed early and then tossed and turned all night, due to a mixture of anticipation and a serious sinus infection, which I had determined was not going to hold me back.
Tired and somewhat groggy from a combination of sleeplessness and over-the-counter prescription medicines, I dragged myself out of bed shortly after sunrise. I brewed a pot of strong coffee, plopped down on the couch and flipped on the weather channel. The forecast was for scattered showers and thunderstorms. About eight o’clock I set out on the four-hour ride under gray skies and a light fog. I was only a half an hour down the road when I remembered that I’d forgotten to pack the half-dozen or so bottles of medicine that I needed. Shortly after nine o’clock, I pulled out of my driveway for the second time, but at least by then the fog had dissipated, although the clouds had grown darker. A wiser man would have put on his rain gear before leaving, but I was optimistic and concluded that since the fog had lifted, the sky would most likely clear as well.
An hour later the predicted scattered showers arrived and came down in sideways torrents. The rain raced down my gas tank in tiny rivulets, which took a hard turn when it hit the seat and then followed the path of least resistence down my leg, inside my chaps, and finally down into my boots. I thought about pulling over, but still optimistic I thought at best it would stop raining and I would blow dry in the wind, or at worst, I couldn’t get any wetter than I already was. So I kept riding. I know full well that a person can’t get very far on a motorcycle if they can’t stand a little rain. If I had not been sick, I don’t think I would have minded it nearly half so much. It rained intermittently the rest of the trip, allowing me to test my theory that I couldn’t get any wetter — I was proved wrong.
The map and directions I’d printed turned into a soggy ball of paper mache by my second stop. From there on, I had to stop and ask directions to each waypoint along the route. That’s correct, I asked for directions, completely abandoning the manly spirit of adventure, in favor of actually getting to my destintation. Instead, I got to stop and talk to some very nice people along the way, who guided me as unerringly as human GPS units. When I thought I was getting reasonably close, I stopped and asked some men working next to the road near the banks of the Nantahala river for directions to Stecoah. As instructed, I followed Highway 74 for a few more miles and then took a left onto Highway 28. I followed Highway 28 for what seemed a very long way, but may have only been five or ten miles without coming across the next waypoint called Tootie’s Cafe. Since I was getting low on gas and wasn’t certain whether my directions were working out, I decided to pull into a Citgo station to fuel up and get more information. The girl working in the gas station told me she knew precisely where the campground was. It was only about a mile away if I took the shortcut she knew about. I took a small side road just around the next curve from the gas station. Her directions took me through some picturesque mountain farms on a twistly little road, which terminated only a few hunred yards from the Iron Horse Motorcycle Logde. A few moments later, I thought I saw a sign ahead and after wiping the rain from my visor, I could clearly see that I had reached my destination.
Of course, I had seen pictures of the Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge on their web site, so I was pretty sure it was going to be nice, but the view that greeted me when I pulled in, put the pictures to shame. There’s just no way that a camera can capture the beauty of this place. It’s tucked away down in a little valley, surrounded by the densely-forested and often cloud-covered smokey mountains. The property is neatly cut in half by a clear, cold mountain stream called Stecoah Creek, where one can sometimes see otters swimming past, looking for a tasty brook trout for breakfast. On the near side of the stream is the spacious, split-log lodge and the bunkhouse. On the far side of the creek are the cabins, tucked away back in the trees and near them, a number of widely-spaced, level campsites scattered descretely along its grassy banks. Each campsite has its own picnic table and fire pit and I could see that several people had already put up their tents.
As I pulled under the covered parking area in front of the lodge, I was greeted by a handful of bikers that had arrived earlier and had changed into dry clothes. Some were lounging around in the chairs on the porch that runs the length of the lodge, some sitting on the front steps, beer in hand, and some leaning over the porch railing pointing out their newest chrome this and high performance thats. After a quick hello, I headed inside, my boots making a clearly audible squish with each step.
Originally, I had planned to rent a tent and camp out, but at the last minute, a private room became available. While standing at the front desk, dripping puddles of water onto the floor, my fingers completely pruned, sinuses now fully impacted, and standing in the four inches of water that had accumuated in my boots, I quickly made a command decision to opt for the room, and I’m very glad I did. The room was spotlessly clean, cozy and warm, simple, but very comfortable. After a nice warm shower and a change of clothes, I went out and sat in a chair on the front porch with some of the others and immediately was made to feel like these were people I had known for years.
Later, I went in to check out the lodge, downstairs there is the reception area, a number of long picnic-style dining tables, as well as some very large and very comfortable sofas. On the coffee table in front of the sofas, you’ll find the remote control for the T. V. — if someone’s not hogging it. On this trip the Weather Channel was a favorite of all. Upstairs you’ll find a very nice pool table, a card table, darts and some high backed leather chairs next to a book case filled with books. It’s a very relaxing place to hang out with your friends and knock back a few cold ones. Speaking of which, you’ll have to bring the cold ones with you, because Stecoah is located in a dry county. Expect to be going on a few beer runs.
One thing you won’t find yourself saying very often around there is, “I’m hungry.” The food they serve there is both plentiful and top rate. For example, one night we had pulled pork and chicken barbeque, and on another prime rib. When I say prime rib, I’m not talking about the cheap steak-house prime rib either, I’m talking about the real McCoy, large, juicy and cooked just right. One tip for eating dinner there, don’t foget to loosen your belt before you sit down, you’re going to be there a while.
After dinner, some adjourned outside to the back of the lodge where a large campfire is built nightly and there are chairs to sit in while you swap stories with the other guests and listen to the stream burbling past. Others built campfires outside their cabins and everyone moved freely from campfire to campfire either finding old friends or making new ones. Pop Cycle (The Head Redneck) regailed us each night with his original songs based on true episodes, and sometimes epic mis-adventures, from previous Redneck Rallies. I believe my personal favorite is a little tune called “Tequilla Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” I was looking for a repeat performance by the girl in question, but she has apparently tempered her drinking habits since then.
Mercifully, the day after I arrived the clouds cleared and the warm spring sun quickly dried the wet roads. Because a large contingent of Mini Cooper drivers had converged on Deal’s Gap that weekend, about 20 of us decided to take a ride down Wayah Road, which was reported to be just as challenging, but less heavily travelled. It is indeed a challenging and fun ride. For at least part of the ride, on one side of the the road are sheer cliffs going up and on the other sheer cliffs going down as you scramble up out of the Nantahala Gorge through tight curves and torturous switch backs. If you are not used to “looking through the curves,” you will either get into the habit quickly, or you’ll end up having a very bad day. To add to the thrill of the ride, most of the curves are so tight and the vegetation so dense, that you can’t see very deeply into them and you just hope that they aren’t decreasing radius turns beyond where you can see, or that rocks haven’t fallen down onto the road. Usually they weren’t and usually they hadn’t, but there is often loose gravel on this road in the turns, so the prudent rider would be well advised to exercise some caution — particularly the first time through. While the scenery is breathtaking, you’ll have to wait until you can pull off the road at one of the pullouts to look at it safely, or wear a helmet cam and view it later. Eventually, Wayah Road dead ends into Highway 64 where we took a left and headed toward Franklin. Then we followed Highway 64 to the first set of waterfalls.
There are several waterfalls in the area, but the first one that you come to, I think, is the most spectacular. If you feel like taking a walk down to the falls, you’ll find that the trail continues behind the falls and comes out on the other side. Now if this picture of the falls looks less than impressive, notice the little red dot down toward the bottom — that’s a person. More impressive now isn’t it? A couple of miles farther down the road there is a waterfall next to the road that you can ride your motorcycle behind. Be careful, it can get a bit slippery back there.
We continued riding down highway 64 to Highlands and stopped at Don Leon’s Deli Cafe at Highway 106 and Main St. for lunch. I guarantee that you can find the best Rubin sandwich south of New York City there. Be prepared to wait a while, since the place is pretty crowded and it’s not a fast-food place. In fact, Don does guarantee that your food will be served within 5 minutes, if not then 10 minutes, if not then 15 minutes, but you can expect to wait about 20 if it’s busy — which apparently it always is. If you have a chance to get to talk to Don, I’d recommend that you take the time to do so. Whether he will take the time to talk to you, well that’s another matter entirely. If you do get the chance, however, I think you’ll find that he’s quite a character.
After we left Highlands, we stopped in Cashiers, NC. which reportedly has one of the best Barbeque places anywhere. It’s called the Carolina BBQ. We passed it a couple of times, but we didn’t stop. The reason we passed it a couple of times is because we somehow got a bit lost taking a shortcut back to the lodge. Apparently, you drive right up Higway 107 to take a left at Highway 74 followed by a right on Highway 28 and then back to the lodge. I was near the back of the pack during this part of the ride, so I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but I think suspected that something was amiss when I saw the barbeque place a second time. Now, that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing since all of the roads in the area are nice twisty little ribbons of asphalt, at least it wouldn’t have been had the sky not opened up on us miles from anyplace to take refuge from the driving rain. I believe that everyone will agree that it’s much easier to put on a rain suit over dry leathers, than it is over ones that are completely soaked. Soon enough the rain passed and since we made it back to the lodge before dinner was served, I’m not complaining.
The following day about half of the rally attendees decided to ride to Helen, Ga for lunch (proving that motorcyclists always choose a destination several hours away to have lunch) and some of us decided to to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a beautiful ride and if you’ve never taken it, I suggest you do so at your earliest opportunity. It will take you to the highest elevation in the Blue Ridge Mountains which is at 6,053 feet. You’ll find that you’re riding up and down through hundreds of sweeping curves, so be make sure you glimpse the breathtaking views out of the corners of your eyes, because an extended look can get you into trouble pretty quickly, but I have to admit it’s hard not to look. On your way there, you’ll pass through the town of Cherokee. Located nearby is a Native American Casino where they will be very happy to accept your contributions for the enrichment of the reservation, if you are so inclined.
One of the louder features of the ride, if you’re riding in the middle of a pack of cruisers, are the tunnels cut through the mountains. Don’t forget to rev your engines when you go through. I know we didn’t. It’s pretty amazing how much noise twenty or so motorcycles can make in an echo chamber. I could tell you, but you wouldn’t be able to hear me.
We passed the Carolna BBQ on the way back again which I could now easily recognize at a distance, but on this day all went smoothly, despite the fact that we somehow lost about half the pack somewhere back in the twisties. If we hadn’t been afraid we’d be late for prime rib night, we would have most likely waited for them. In fact, we did discuss it and reasoned that they could figure it out on their own. If not, well we’d have to eat their prime rib — so it wouldn’t go to waste. They pulled in only about 10 minutes behind us.
That night a great band from Blairsville, Ga. called Ambush entertained us well into the night. It was great fun, but the party lasted longer than I could. I fell asleep in my room listening to ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man wafting through the trees, mixed with the sweet sound of revelery.
Sunday morning it was pouring rain again, but at least this time I put on my rain gear BEFORE I left. I really hated to leave, but parties always have to come to an end. I noticed that it’s much more fun riding in the rain to someplace new, than it is riding home. I can’t wait until next year.