Day 9
October 7, 2010
Moonshine Campground
Balsam, North Carolina

A heavy dew settled over the campground last night, my tent was very wet on the outside.  Uncle Phil wants to scout a few routes out for the "train" ride tomorrow.  He wants to make sure there are no surprises.  When it comes to such stuff he's organized.

On this tour I was trying out the new Exped Synmat self inflating mattress, on loan from Ken Hendrix.  I can report it is a substantial improvement of the tried and true Thermarest.  It sleeps like a airbed, and inflates like a self inflating pad.  You inflate it with a built in hand pump.  Takes about 2 minutes.  I packed it in the Helen 2 Wheel Sack, same as the Thermarest.  I'll be buying one before next season.

Like years past, I don't take very good notes riding  in the mountains, I'm with a group so I tend to be sociable.  Today we have a line of about 6 bikes and we'll be following Uncle Phil.  I didn't worry about where we're going or how we'll get back, I assumed Uncle Phil had all that worked out.

The weather was perfect.  Warm sun, blue skies.  My time in the Blue Ridge this time of year has taught me the climate can be anything.  Last year the mornings were rainy, and cool, this time it was nothing like that.  My best guess the leaves were a week behind last year.  We were at peak this same week last year, but foliage is a fickle thing, hitting the peak is a nonprecise enterprise.

We started the day off with breakfast at Clyde's.  From there we went to  Sylva to check out U.S. 281, a great road but the pavement was recently scraped in a few portions, so not as good as it could have been.

We went on a few others, but the one I remember the most was a very tight, switchback road, we ran it uphill.  Leaning was not possible, I had to drop to 2nd and sometimes 1st, and rev the bike so as not to stall when I let out the clutch.  Making a U turn on a steep uphill is very tricky.  One of the most challenging roads I'd ever been on.  Everyone made it without a mishap, but a line of 25 bikes, mostly flatlanders, some 2 up, would have no business on this road.

The rest of the day was a blur, thus no pictures.  This was more of a business day.  We had to run these routes and give feedback to Uncle Phil on which roads to use, and which to leave off.

On the way back in we took SR 215 over to the Jukebox Junction in Cruso for supper.  We had a good day of riding, I had leaned so much I thought I might have vertigo.  We logged about 200 miles, most of it in the hills.
After supper Peter said, "still early, why don't we take the Parkway back to the campground?"  "That's a good idea since we're over this way, we only come here once a year, might as well take advantage of it, we still have a hour of light."  This evening ride on the Parkway went in the Hall of Fame. 

Our decision allowed us to enjoy 215 back to the Parkway.  It was late afternoon and the sun was dropping below the mountains as my good friend and I leaned our bikes around the curves.  This is a great road, and we were on the best miles of it.  We kept our speed at 50 to avoid tickets.  Traffic was mostly gone.  

The sun was very low when we arrived at the Mt. Balsam Overlook, so we took out cameras and captured a magnificent sunset.  The orange ball dipped lower and lower and when the final light disappeared behind the hills we had to catch our breath.  It was a inspiring site, and one of the reasons I do what I do.  I don't know how many years I have left in this life chapter of Long Riding, I know I'm on the backside, but I'll always remember watching my first sunset from the Balsam Overlook.
​One of the great scenes in the Long Riding.  Sunset in the Blue Ridge

With the sun gone we figured we should be also.  With PIAA lights blazing, I led us back to U.S. 74 and the campground, about a 10 mile run.  The ride back was spooky.  Darkness enveloped the area very quickly, and the temp dropped almost as fast as the sun.  A ninja deer was a real possibility this time of day, we countered by keeping our speed in the 45 mph area. 

Being in the Blue Ridge this time of year renews me.  Places like the Jukebox Junction are part of my psyche.  I have so many fond memories of this place.  It felt odd not camping in Cruso, but everyone seems to be making the adjustment just fine.  The Moonshine Campground is not as big, but clean with a friendly staff that wanted our business.  It has quick access to the Parkway, and convenient to Waynesville.

Back at the campground many more riders had arrived, including my long time good friend Peter Menard, who had just arrived on his red 1300 (best year for color).  We had a great campfire that night.

Tucked down in the hills, the campground is unusually dark, and the night sky was brilliant.  The last time I'd seen so many stars I was camped in the desert.

I had a conversation with Uncle Phil and we agreed taking the train on the switchback road was not a good idea, "I got the ride for tomorrow worked out, we're good to go," said Uncle Phil.  "What time is the train leaving?"  I asked, "tell em we're leaving out 8am."

After meeting and greeting the many new riders, and swapping war stories around the campfire, I retired to my tent.