Aug 5th. I wake in a fog, pack up and walk out the door into a dream. The fog is so thick I can’t see the ground in front of me and glide through the dream to the front office, where a just-as-kind-as-the-night-before host greets me through sleepy eyes and present the continental breakfast. I wolf down some serial and 2 cuppas… On my way to the Dragon, we gotta catch it tonight! If I ever come through this way again, I will make sure to stay here, if it’s under this management. Never have I gotten better service. Anyway, I have to make up for yesterday, so off we go in a slightly lifted fog. 1 hour. The fog gets thicker and I’m forced well below the speed limit, playing tag with some Harley’s out of Quebec Canada who start to become very aggravated at my ability to see farther into the fog than theirs… Passing, stopping, snapping a pic, and then passing them again… They stay quiet when I approach them for some chats on a pull-out. Oh well, but I think they called the cops on me….
15 minutes and quite a bit more fog cleared I’m thoroughly enjoying myself on the road, I mean, it’s only 8:30 and there is NOBODY on the road. I haven’t seen any deer and I’m feeling very confident. As I’m slowing down for a patch of fog a Park Ranger pops out of the fog bank light ablaze! WHAT? How does his speed detection work through this fog? I’m pulled over on a turn out and have my info ready before he can catch back up. Right then and there I had the most honest transaction with the law I have ever had in my life! He said that 62 in a 45 in this fog is completely unacceptable and turned to go write me my ticket, which took 5 min, instead of the regular 15 with a quick goodbye afterwards. Proper business as usual.
Note: I respect that he never tried to hide behind safety or anything else “nice”. It was all about revenue and money and he didn’t care that it was blatant, because he was the law, the authority. Right, that I can respect, but when officers hide behind this and that it irks me to the bone. Just take my money and go sit on a broken off broom handle, will ya. Business as usual.
So I take it slower not being able to afford anymore business and sit 5 over the speed limit for 1, 2 hours. I stop off at Little Switzerland and run the loop on a recommendation from a friend. It’s good, no doubt, but not as I’m envisioning the Dragon. The waitress at the eatery there takes a particular liking in me… Oh, if only I had more time honey….
Another hour on the road. Progress is slow, there is no way I can make this happen. Just when my patience was getting thin and for the first time in my life I have a cage train behind me, the 3 BMW’s from the day before come blasting past at warp speed! FANTASTIC! I latch on to them like a hungry tick onto a wet dog and so we go! They pass people, irrespective of how many yellow lines there are on the road, and I eventually get by everybody to catch the group in the corners. They’re a bit crazy judged on their passes, but they’re not that fast…. After the 4th time this happens the last rider gives me a very enthusiastic thumbs up and I take that as an inclusion in the group. GREAT! With them running interference up ahead I can be free to make time with them, and so we go for 2 hours under a sky threatening to wash us away at any moment.
When they get tired and I start feeling the pangs of many miles creep into my behind, they pull off. I notice they now have a guzzi with them. They recognize me as the red 250 from the day before and I them. We chat briefly. The guzzi goes for a whiz by the trees and as we are creatures of imitation a line of riders form 5 streams of parallel yellow streams, painting the bushes. Sometimes it feels good to be a guy!
Back on the bikes and not 35min later they turn off the Blueridge toward their camp ground. I forget to take note which side of the Blueridge we come off of because they’re fast, the road is tight and technical, and I want to say goodbye before I continue on my journey. Once at camp I say my goodbye and turn to head back up following form an off hand comment one of them made denoting the direction we went. Once back up to the Blueridge I see I was on the right side of the road, so I head back down the same road, 5mph faster than before, being much more familiar with it now. 5mph isn’t a lot when you’re dealing with 60mph sweepers, but it’s a damn sight more when you’re dealing with reducing radius 15mph and 10mph corners…
Off the Blueridge, quitting on the rest of that road to get to the motel on time I feel like a bit of a failure, but have no time to think on it too long. I come rolling into Maggie’s valley, for Marysville isn’t far on the map. Running into the first thunderstorm of the trip, and having no rain gear (having lost them in the fire), I get soaked and park at a diner to get some grub and get some affirmations to my questionable sense of direction. The authority everybody refers me to is the owner, and as I scarf a delicious burger and coke-float the big man lays it on me. Yes, according to the map Marrysville is only 50 miles away, but the faster route would be through the interstate, I-40, which would be 150 miles away.
I don’t ask why (I should have), but assume that if the locals say so, I would be foolish to try and run these tight, technical, and now very wet canyons at the brink of dusk, so I follow his advice and blaze a path through the newly soaked road leaving steam in my tire tracks towards I-40. Once on the highway I set a new downhill landspeed record for a semi-stock Ninja 250 through the Smokie Mountains doing their best audition for a starring role in Lord of the Rings. It’s painfully obvious where they got their name froml, with fog rolling off, onto, up, down and sideways through their jagged edges and shrubbery. My attention is torn between their mythical appearance and showing up all the other vehicles on the road with my mad cornering skillz. I haunt a Cadilac Seville driven by a big man with something to prove behind the wheel for a few miles, him leaving me for dead on the straights, and me running right up his tailpipe in the corners.
I do not have to brake for these curves after all. Unfortunately the same can not be said of his gluttonous body, attitude or car. Eventually he gets tired of being blinded and consents to my superior abilities, or maybe he was just being smart. As soon as I pass him and give him a “thank you” nod I see a state trooper. BASTARD! You totally set me up! Well, the trooper must have been munching on a doughnut or something cause I saw no flashies and wasn’t gonna stick around to catch a glimpse either.
I come barreling out of the smokies on a rabid 250. The bike has sensed the pressure and is giving it her all. She’s running better at 80mph than she has all trip and wants to go. I take her up to 90mph and there is a thrumming in her heart as light as that of an evening gallop. I LOVE THIS BIKE! So into and through Knoxville her and I run a breeze stopping for nothing and no-one. We roll into Marysville feeling pretty damn good for what turned into a 800 miles day and I call my room mate exclaiming in triumph that we’re here. He answers with a laugh. My triumph is squashed. He says it’s fantastic that I’m in Marysville, but he’s in Sweatwater… WHAT? How did I get that mixed up…. I’m disheartened, it’s only 15 miles, but psychology is a bitch.
I roll into Sweatwater around 10:45 and meet Erik for the first time. I’ve texted this guy 8 times, emailed him once, and spoken with him once 45 minutes ago. I have no idea what kind of person he is and I don’t care. If he’s a serial killer, he better have a damn good way of killing me, cause I’m all kinds of charged up at myself for miss planning the last 2 days so poorly. The Blueridge was fun, but much to much too long, and I’m ready to take that anger out on whoever is willing to take it.
I think he sensed it because he was very careful with me at first. After some talking and a hot shower I felt and acted human again. We swapped stories and got a feel for one another. Seems yet again I walked into a fantastic place with a fantastic comrade in arms. I must make sure to respect this fellow, he absolutely deserves it! We make our plans for tomorrow and hit the sack.