​Day 5
​October 13, 2013
​Moonshine Creek Campground

​Balsam, North Carolina

The campground started waking up a hour before the sun.  I was still in my sleeping bag with the knowledge I would have to join in soon.  I could hear guys striking camp all around me.  I had to be in Maggie Valley by 8am to attend Church (7am Alabama time) so that meant I had to get "cracking."  Weather was still warm for this time of year.

Even though it had been awhile, I was confident I could repack my stuff with little trouble.  Like most riders I have a system, honed in after many, many, camp outings and miles.  It generally takes 20-30 minutes if someone doesn't interrupt me.

Morning dew was heavy.  My tent was soaked, and water dripped off the ST.  Anything not covered paid the price.

With the bike packed and ready to go, I secure my person.  "Phone- check, neck wallet- check, camera -check," goes the mental exam.  I booted up the GPS, and fired up the Honda.  With the bike warming up I strolled over and said a few good byes.  "See y'all down the road."  Unlike years past, Uncle Phil was taking his time.  He is usually  leaving out before the sun.  I asked him about that and he said, "nah not today, no hurry, age sometimes means concessions."  "I hear ya," I said.

My route home from the Gathering last few years has been over the Smoky Mountains to Gatlinburg and then home via Chattanooga and Birmingham, but scuttlebutt in the campground was SR 321 out of the park to Marysville was closed due to government shutdown.  "I doubt that, but what if its so?"  I thought.  If true, it would mean a long run around the Knoxville area to get to I-75, and there was little need to battle the congestion on US 441 if 321 was closed.  The main selling point going home that way was the chance to ride it.

In the early years I went home through North Georgia, picked up I-85 in Lagrange, and home from the east.  But it is no longer 2001, and the sprawl out of Atlanta has now absorbed much of that route making it very painful to get through.  Currently the ride over the mountains is my preferred route, about the same time and miles, and much more fun.

I decided to play it safe and return home via Chattanooga, but come into the city from the east instead of the north.  "I'll just auto route to my sister's place when I leave Maggie Valley and let the GPS lay me route."  With that decision made, I put the final touches on my packing.
With the goodbyes out of the way, I dropped into first and made my way out.  Down the twisty, pitted road to the highway I went.  Over the railroad tracks, past the Balsam post office, to US 74 for the quick run to St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Maggie Valley.
  
Highway speeds quickly blew off the morning dews from the windscreen.  My right foot felt the wind due to its separated sole and heel.  If anything, this trip brought out the need for some equipment upgrades, with new boots at the top of the list.

The church is in the GPS file and I tabbed it, but I knew where it was located having been there in the past.

Folks were filing in St. Margaret's when I pulled up at 7:50, and like years past I placed my coat and helmet in the lobby and took a pew in the back, so my riding gear and boots would not draw attention.  I love how the South wall of the church is all glass so a guy can look out at the mountain sides and the changing leaf color.

About 45 minutes later I was heading back out to the bike, exchanging "hello how are ya" with a few of the locals.  I went to the "favorites" folder of the Zumo and tabbed "Janice" and I was on my way.  It was kind of cloudy when I left the church and picked up U.S. 74, where I correctly assumed the auto route was going to be a repeat of the original ride home the first 100 miles.  I went by U.S. 441 where I normally turn for Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains.

I grew depressed when I realized I was going to have to ride the 20 miles through the Nanatahala Gorge, that seems to wrap 74 like a Boa Constrictor.  The highway funnels down to just 2 lanes and is strangled by slow moving traffic, raft busses, pedestrians, and RVs.  Have been times where it took 45 minutes to get to through.  The ride went quick and before I knew I was behind a raft bus.  "Aw man this is going to be painful."  The bus locked me down at 25 mph and I was stuck behind him almost the entire length of the gorge.  There is nowhere to pass.  Even when I had the broken line just too many shops, cafes, for a guy to pull out at you while you're in the middle of a pass.

Finally, near the end of the gorge the bus pulled off, releasing myself and 7-10 other vehicles that had been trapped behind him.  It was awful.  I crested the hill, rolled down the other side where 74 grew back to 4 lane divided.  "Free at last!"  I shouted in the Arai.  Took 40 minutes, the experienced reinforced why I no longer use this route.

Beat down, I took a break in Murphy 15 miles later.  The McDonalds' located there and I are old friends.   On this morning the place was really busy, and I didn't feel like waiting in line.  "I'll just go sit down, make a few phone calls and let things thin out."  That proved a good strategy, but it still took 15 minutes to reach one of the 2 operating registers.

I took a long break with a short order of hash browns and a drink.  I caught up on the news with my Iphone, and watched NFL pre game shows on the flat screen.  It was a long break, and the place stayed busy the entire time I was there.  "Better get goin, need to get home decent hour," and on that note geared up.

A few miles later I was surprised when the GPS directed me to turn south on Spur 60, I had assumed the GPS would track me to Chattanooga via 74, but not so fast.  Spur 60 and I go way back, and since I knew the road, I was anxious to see what new twists I might see since my last ride through here.

The only thing new seemed to be the ever increasing spirals of Atlanta.  Suburbs of the city now reach out 100 miles in all directions and directly affects this once quiet corner of Georgia.   My first few rides through here going home seem desolate compared to the Spur 60 of today, as fast food rows, Wal Marts, and motels crowd the banks of the highway.

The day was warm as I rode south into Georgia past the familiar towns of Mineral Bluff, Elljay, and Blue Ridge.  Another Fall Festival was taking place in Elljay and signs directed traffic on how to get to the attractions.  My long break in Murphy put me a little behind schedule but I wasn't concerned.

South of East Elljay I took a right on SR 53, a highway I knew had a few curves.  It had been a few years since I leaned these curves so I took it easy.  Motorcycles were converging on the area to enjoy the nice weather, most of them cruisers.  The farm houses touching the shoulders of 53 looked hopeful and bright in the Autumn sun rays, and the riding was good.

The stop sign in Fairmouth controls the intersection of SR 53 and US 411, where for years I turned south.  I did the same today, but this time I made a quick dog leg on 411 where I went back on 53.  For the first time today I was led to a highway not been on before.  "I hope this thing knows what's it doin."  I knew I was approaching Rome, Georgia when I crossed under I-75 and traffic and sprawl choked me down.

The GPS was directing me to Gadsden (my sister) by Centre and over Lake Weiss.  I'd been this way before, but believe it or not, that was in 1974 on my Z1.  In all my travels since then, none led me back to here.  I recall passing through Rome that trip, but none of the city looked familiar to me on this day.  I'm sure the area has changed greatly since then, and whatever remained, is now lost in 40 years of fuzziness.

While following SR 53 through Rome I picked a Long John Silver's for lunch.  No particular reason other than not been in one for years, and there was the added bonus only 1 car was in the parking lot.  I ordered a couple of fish planks and took a seat at the window booth.  The fish wasn't bad but the fries were so so.  "Gonna get back to eatin right when I get home."  Last year at this time I was marathon training and disciplined.  Now I'm just jogging.  Without a race to motivate me I tend to lose focus.

I tried to call my sister but no answer.  "I'll stop in anyways, she said she'd be lookin last time we spoke."  After picking up a few football scores it was time to hit the road.  It took a while to clear Rome, but I managed.  I dodged a high pick up truck coming out of a car wash just west of the town.  He never saw me as he left the parking lot with water drops flying off the back.

In Alabama the route changed to SR 9.

Temps were in the mid 80s as the ST and I crossed Lake Weiss.  Traffic had picked up but the riding remained mostly good.  Lines of cars occupied both lanes working past this popular recreation area.

I came into Gadsden on US 411 aka Rainbow Drive, and rode by all the things that have become so familiar to me after 40 years of riding motorcycles here to see my sister.  I went by the building that was once the bridal shop where Debbie bought her wedding dress.  I was left waiting in the car for 2 hours that day while my sister and wife to be shopped.

Alpine View came into view and I veered off Rainbow Drive into my sister's neighborhood, and was soon idling down the long drive to where I usually park my rides.  Her 2 labs barked, but quieted down when they realized it was me.  I set the stand, removed my coat and helmet and went up the stairs to find my sister in the kitchen area.

I called out to her, "Hey! What's goin on?"

"not much, you're early"

It is quiet around her house, they have been empty nest about as long as Debbie and I.  My brother in law was out running some errands.  A football game was on the flat screen.  I spent a hour talking to my sister and the things siblings do.  We are down to just one last uncle out of both sides,  My mother had 9 brothers and sisters, my dad had 5 siblings, but only the youngest uncle on my mother's side remain.

"Growing up I always figured they would all be here, you just don't think about that kind of stuff when you're growing up."

"Guy, a 21 year old has no concept of old.  Old is something they don't think about, nor understand, they just don't."

"You're right, at that age ya think you'll always be 25."

We chatted about the upcoming holidays, but didn't make any decisions. 

"Look, I better get home, Debbie will be lookin for me"

"Ok, but come back soon"

 I geared back up and got on the road.

I have 3 options for exiting Gadsden.  SR 77 through Lincoln and Pell City, US 411 via Asheville, or I-59.  I took the first, which means a ride past the Coosa River recreation areas, which were sure to be busy on this Sunday afternoon.  "What the heck, not in a hurry anyways."

Checking the gas gauge, I knew I had enough to reach Clanton, 125 miles away.

I was riding south on 77 when I noted the north bound bridge over the Coosa in Southside.  One of my Uncles was a truck driver for a steel company in Montgomery.  He hauled the steel used in the bridge for 2 years, 150 miles each way.  Each morning he came in, climbed in his truck and headed out, dropped the steel and returned, where the night shift loaded the truck for the next morning.  It was there waiting for him when he came in.  I thought about that as I rode past it.  "What a hard worker he was."  That was a common trait among those of that generation.

These are the things that come to mind while on a ride.

In Lincoln I veered off 77 for a short ride on I-20 to Pell City.  I learned the short cuts around the city many years ago.  I employed them as I maneuvered a few county roads to U.S. 231 south of the city, saving the 15 minutes it would take to ride through the city.
The sun was beginning to slip in the sky but I had plenty of daylight before home.

The last 100 miles home was just a routine ride over roads I've been riding for 40 years.  The essence of the ride has changed little since the early 70s.  All the bridges have been upgraded, roads resurfaced and widened, and intersections improved, but the soul of the ride remains the same.  A few of the once well kept farmhouses and homes, lie empty and in disrepair, but that is countered by the new dwellings and buildings you will also find.

I worked the backroads (mostly SR 145) all the way to the Clanton-Lay Down exit of I-65 where I gassed the ST to make the last 30 miles home.  It was a quick stop, and a quick ride south on I-65 to home.  The interstate was busy in both directions as folks put the finishing touches on the weekend.

The garage door was open when I pulled up so I coasted in and put the stand down, completing a 381 mile day, and 1764 miles for the tour.  The GPS configured route saved me about 40 miles.  Previous rides home from the Blue Ridge went for about 430 miles, no matter if I went East Georgia, or Chattanooga.

I went in looking for Debbie and found her on the patio.

"I didn't hear ya ride up.  How'd it go?

"Great, nice weather, good roads"

"I know you were glad to see your friends again"

"I was, and I learned this"

"What?"

"I miss long riding"

And on that  we went back inside to figure out the supper options.