Day 12
October 10th, 2010
Moonshine Campground
Balsam, North Carolina

The Iphone fired off at 6am, but I was already awake.  I hadn't sleep well in 4 nights, and I really didn't know why.  It was still dark when I crawled out of the tent, and flashing fireflys looked like LED lights floating in the air.  It was cool but not cold, temps in the high 40s.  I thought back to a brutal Blue Ridge morning in Cruso when the temp was 28 on departure morning.  "Dang that was a tough morning, so not complaining about it being 48." 

I struck camp in the dark.  I needed to be in Maggie Valley by 8, so I gave myself a hour to get packed, 30 minutes to get there, and 30 minute cushion.  Everywhere guys were stirring about taking down tents, riders like Ron Epperly had a long ride ahead of them.  Big Ron was looking at a 700 mile ride back to Central Florida, but he has done it many times.  I didn't envy him going through Atlanta, something I've never done by bike.
Using my flashlight, I inspected the rear tire on the ST, it was slick but no cords were showing.  If I wasn't on the way home, I'd replace it.

I booted up the GPS and put it in the cradle so it would be locked on the satellites when it came time to leave.
By dawn I had the 1300 loaded and was milling about saying goodbye.  It had been a great Gathering, one of the best, but now it was time to ride home and put this abbreviated touring season in the books.  My riding the last few years has been half what it was a few years ago, sometimes life gets in the way even for long riders, but always next year.

Uncle Phil was still in his tent when I was ready to roll out, but he told me last night he was tired and sleeping in this morning.

Sunlight didn't hit the campground till 10am, so I was still in the shadows when I made my way out of the campground, and down the winding local road to the highway.  I had the church bookmarked in favorites, rightly thinking last year would not be the last time to visit St. Margaret's.  One of the things a nun at Christ The King once told us, "God is going to put you where ever you put him."  I took that to mean, if I go the extra mile to attend church on the road, He's going to treat me likewise.

Leaf color had made dramatic progress since my arrival a few days ago.  All around the campground and highway I could see lemon color leaves mixed in with the reds. 

The GPS took me north on U.S. 74 to Waynesville.  I was chilled in the cool mountain air, but confident the day would warm up nicely.  I stayed with the leather gloves and sweatshirt under the Roadcrafter, but it wouldn't have hurt to have made the upgrade to lined gloves and jacket.

Waynesville was fast asleep when I came through.

From there I went to U.S. 19, to Maggie Valley.  After turning off the highway for the church, a Long Rider has a series of options to contemplate.  Several driveways zig and zag on the campus of St. Margaret's, but the fact I had captured the coordinates in my Zumo last year, I was deposited right on the door step without a fumble.

One of the things I like about St. Margaret's the church sits on a hilltop, surrounded by trees and views.  The left wall and sanctuary are glass so you get the sense of sitting outside.  Nothing like Mass amid Fall color.  Good for the soul.
It was 7:45 and folks were making their way in the church.  I found a empty spot near the front, took my gear off, and went inside.  I left my helmet and coat in the front lobby. 
I was happy to fulfill my Sunday obligation at St. Margaret's.  I love the uniformity of Catholic worship.  Every Mass at every parish in the world today, will have the same scripture readings, same prayers.  Today's service is identical to one in my home parish.

Most in attendance were from out of town, because Maggie Valley is a tourist spot.  I was gearing back up in the parking lot, when a middle age couple came up to me, the man asked, "where ya from?" 

"Central Alabama, on the way home." 

"The Lord will bless you for taking the time to attend Mass today, because He knows it took extra effort when you could have skipped it." 

"Not that much trouble, but I could use any extra blessings He decides to give me."  

"God ride with ya today." 

"Thank you."  Last order of business was placing the Iphone on charge.

Feeling good I punched the ST to life, and followed my custom route. I always have a warm glow after Mass.  It is a good way to start a long ride. Years past I use to ride home by West Georgia, but that is no longer a good ride, so I created this route to Newfound Gap and over the Smoky Mountains to I-75 south of Knoxville.

I rode the last few miles of the Parkway to Cherokee where I went to U.S. 411 into Smoky Mountain National Park.  I took a chance and passed a few cars and got away with it.  Past experience has taught me the ride up to Newfound Gap would be mostly traffic free, but the descent would not.  That observation proved correct today, as I had free space all the way to the gap, and then a bog down.

After several days riding minus touring load, the ST felt like a covered wagon this morning as I negotiated the curves on 441.  The bad tires didn't help.

I didn't stop for any pictures on 441, because I already have pictures from the best spots.  I was open if I saw something, but that didn't happen today.
​Early morning at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and U.S. 19.
A few days after my arrival in the area, leaf color was more pronounced. 
It was nice.

The ride down was a 25 mph slog.  Thank goodness not that many miles from Newfound Gap to the turn off for Cades Cove, just short of Gatlinburg.  Leaves in the Smoky Mountains were still a long way from changing, but that didn't deter tourists.

I've ridden the road from Gatlinburg to Maryville many, many times, dating back to the 70s, but I still enjoy it and cherish it, a great ride along the Pigeon River.  I saw the Cade's Cove turnoff, "not making that mistake this year."  I tried it last year but abandoned it when I became stuck in a 10 mph train getting in, through, and out the area.
​This scene is on the Parkway near Cherokee.  A great morning to be on 
a ride.

By now the sun was warm, and I was no longer chilled, I left the park on U.S. 321 and started working my way to I-75.  I stopped at 66 con store not far from the Foothills Parkway for a morning break.  The store had a annoying doorbell that chimed every time someone walked in.  It drove me crazy the short time I was there, I don't know how the clerks stood it.

When I finished my Mountain Dew and muffin I called Debbie, who was at home taking it easy.  "I'll call ya at lunch, by then I'll know more about when I'll get home."  My son sent a text they were getting ready for Mass in the abbey.

A big sidewalk art festival was going down in Maryville, that and lots of church traffic in the area, slowed me considerably.  The weather was perfect and everybody was out.  The ride from here is mostly urban sprawl to where I pick up I-75 in Lenoir City.  It took awhile. but I finally made it to the interstate.   I tabbed the home icon on the GPS coming down the ramp, and sped south on I-75.  "I'll eat lunch in Athens," lots to choose from at exit 48.  I've been through here so many times I know all the good exits.

In Athens I saw a sign for KFC buffet. "Thats me, it will be quick and easy," but the place was packed and it wasn't.  I finally made it to the line, and was behind this big lady who was really piling it on her plate.  She embarrassingly looked back at me and said, "I'm kinda hungry."  She had 5 lbs of food on the flimsy paper plate that I thought was going to buckle any second.  I said, "go ahead don't mind me." 

Using the Iphone app for USA Today I read the news and checked weather radar.  Nothing for miles.  I called Debbie and said, "look for me about 4."

  "Ok becareful."

"Time to get back on the road and deal with Chattanooga." Athens to Chattanooga goes for about 50 miles. 

Trucks and SUVS were everywhere, but I bobbed and weaved around them with ease.
​I was on the way back to the interstate after lunch when I found this
tree changing colors at a farmhouse near Athens, Tenn.

Now that construction is finished in Chattanooga, getting in and out is much easier.  For the second time this tour I was in the city.  I crossed the ridge and made the long descent toward downtown and I-59, for the dog leg through Georgia into Alabama.

Less then a hour from lunch, my butt was getting stiff.  "I must be gettin old, I never had this problem before."  Not use to the sensation, I squirmed around on the fly trying to find a better spot.

Past Lookout Mountain, I went to I-59 South for the final stretch home.  Chattanooga is the halfway point, but the ride is much quicker from this point south.  The malfunctioning gas gauge was right on cue.  It went 3 bars to flashing, "I'll gas up at the usual place," which is the Pilot Truck Stop at the Rising Fawn, Georgia exit.

After filling up with the cheaper Georgia gas, I went inside to give my stiff butt a break.  I bought a Mountain Dew, and called my brother, and checked the latest scores from the NFL.  A rider on a Kawasaki Concours 14 also arrived.  He bought a drink and stood outside, and made a phone call.  We didn't speak, but the C 14 is a great bike.

A young lady exited a red pick up truck as I was getting on my bike.  Her boyfriend remained at the wheel while she went inside, she said, "nice bike, what kind is it?"  "A Honda ST 1300", been a long time since I had a comment on the Honda.  It does not get a fraction of the praise the BMW gets when I have it out.  In the warm sun of a Alabama Fall, I switched to summer gloves, removed my sweatshirt, and vented out the Roadcrafter, before mounting up.

"Next stop home," as I left the driveway and went back out to the intestate.  

I-59 was mostly quiet on this Sunday afternoon as I knocked down the 70 miles to Gadsden.  The ride is totally rural, as I went past fields and hills.  I've always liked it, but the tarmac is rough, and badly needs repair.  I camped in the left lane most of the ride because it seemed a little less bumpy.

"Too nice a day to ride interstates all the way home, and I don't want to deal with Birmingham," so I left I-59 at the Rainbow City exit for the back roads.  Even though my sister was only a few blocks away, I skipped stopping in because I knew I'd be unable to get away, and I wanted to be home by 6.

I skirted through Gadsden and picked up U.S. 411.  I had a great ride through one of my favorite valleys,  into Ashville and Pell City.  I leaned the curves going across the mountain, but after all the leaning I'd been doing the last several days it was nothing to get excited about.

U.S. 231 was busy near the lake as I left Pell City, but I was not in a hurry anyway.  "Dang my butt is stiff again?"  With that in mind I stopped at the same Jack's in Harpersville as on Day 1, only this time no staff meeting was taking place.  I favor the lemon pie here.  I called Debbie and advised her I'd be home in about 90 minutes, also checked a few more scores.

Afternoon shadows were growing long as I motored down SR 145 to I-65, near Wilsonville.  It had been a good ride, but it did little to assuage my mood absent a cross country ride.  I miss riding to California, and look forward to next June, that come hell or high water, will find me riding west.  I'm also planning a ride to New Mexico in the spring to prep me.  But lately my plans have not been working out.  Funny how that works, for 7 years virtually nothing impeded my riding, but not every year your son joins the seminary.

SR 145 is longest stretch of 2 lane road I know in Alabama without a traffic light or stop sign.  It runs 27 miles to I-65, and unless traffic gets in the way, you don't have to touch the brakes.  That's unusual in this state.  I put in some good mental exercise on the ride to I-65.  The homes and barns along 145 were quieting down for the night, and I spotted several owners rocking on the porch.  Along the way I had to pass several slow pokes.

With the Peach Tower water tank in sight, I went left on I-65 South for the final few miles.  Back in Autauga County a few miles later, I put the ST on 85 mph and came on in just ahead of a fast approaching dusk.  
The driveway was clear and I landed the ST in the garage after a 441 mile day, and 2,776 miles for the tour.  Debbie came out to great me and escorted me in.

"So what's for supper, or do we need to go get something?"  I asked.

"I dunno, I can cook if you want"

"Do that, I've been eating out last 2 weeks"

I left my stuff on the 1300, "I'll unload tomorrow, don't feel like it right now"

"So how was your trip?"

"Good, missed peak foliage in the mountains though"

"Awww I know how you like that"

"Yeah, but its hit or miss, always has been, we've hit maybe 4 out of 10?  But it was still good, lots of good riding and scenery."

After taking a shower and supper, I sorted through 2 weeks of mail piled on my desk, not to mention all the stuff on the DVR.

Nothing left to do now but bring on the Holidays, and get ready for next spring.


Epilogue-  I unloaded the ST the next day, piling up my laundry near the washing machine.  I managed to make the tour without losing anything such as phones, glasses, or wallet.

Next day I removed my camping gear and set my tent up in the front yard.  Best method to let it air and dry out in the fresh air and sun.  It was damp from all the dew in the Blue Ridge.  A day later it was dried out so I carefully packed my tent, tie downs, and straps in a 5 gallon bucket, then covered it with the Moto Fizz's rain cover.  Storing a wet tent is cause for mildew.  I won't even look at that stuff till next spring, but I know it will all be there when needed.

A week later I washed and cleaned up the ST and the RT.  The rear tire on the ST is still not showing any cord, even after a few hundred miles of riding since my return.

Lots of good feedback from guys attending the Gathering in our new venue, I don't see us changing anytime soon.  All of my friends made it home without incident.

The zumo made the tour without blowing up, you always hold your breath on a tour with GPS.
I really like the Syn ped mattress, it works alot better then a thermarest.

As always questions and comments are welcome about the tour or anything else.  Email me here FIRFYTR@aol.com