Part 2, continuing the journey. The heat wave continued through the end of the week. Friday I again fired up the bike and let her float her way to Seymour. The morning ride is pleasant, it's the afternoon that's brutal. I left the mesh jacket at home and instead threw on my ATV riding jersey over my scrub top. Nice and cool on the way there.
Don't get me wrong. I prefer all day long to ride with David. But he DRIVES for a living. He's out in his work truck 10 hours a day in the heat and often with no A/C. By the time he gets off, he doesn't FEEL like driving his bike for recreation. I get that. Me on the other hand, works in the A/C sitting on my arse all day long. I'm DYING to get out and feel the freedom of the wind, but since I'm most definitely still a beginner rider, David doesn't want me off gallivanting on my own for long rides ... especially since I have that little problem of being directionally challenged. But I'm SO thankful that he approved of this ride. It's familiar, it's challenging without being dangerous, and it fulfills the yearning in my soul to leave behind the aggravations of work and lose it all in the wind. My compromise is that I don't mind taking a familiar route over and over if it means I get to ride :)
Before I knew it, Foothills ended onto Hwy 129. A left hand turn takes me to The Tail of the Dragon. A right hand turn takes me home. With no hesitation, I turned right heading back home. I kept my speed at a comfortable one somewhere in the vicinity of the speed limit, and before I knew it, Khaleesi was safely snuggled back into the garage, and I'd clocked 80 miles solo on my experience meter. It was a GREAT ride, ranking below every single ride David and I have taken together, but at the top of all my work commutes.
The following evening, Saturday, the boys and I made a beeline to the IMOK dealership to embark on our first group ride. KSU was 5:30 pm; a welcome time since Saturday dawned again hot and humid. We dressed as lightly as possible with our lightweight pullovers, and met up with our "mystery" group. We conversed with other like minded people and soon headed out to Dead End BBQ a quick 15 or 20 minute ride across town. We enjoyed the food and the conversation, and just an hour and a half later, we were once again left to our own devices. David devised a bold plan that would test my beginner legs big time. Our first honest to goodness night ride. Yes, we headed out in the dark last week to stargaze, but Foothills Parkway is a mere 30 minutes or so up the road ... and we didn't even take it all the way out. We went to the overlook and turned around and went back. It was a recital, a precursor for last night.
7:30, we pulled out of the restaurant, and made our way yet again to Foothills. We cruised through its curves and undulations, and found ourselves at it's end, once again facing 129. This time, we turned left. As our tires began the 11 miles and 316 curves, the time rolled over 9:15. I could feel my arms try to tense up and the voice in my head attempt to scream at me as I coaxed Khaleesi through the dips and curves. We were run up on by the most sport backs EVER; each time, I pulled into a pulloff and waved them by. They honked in thanks and took off, tearing through the turns at break neck speed. David and I pulled into the Killboy parking lot and stretched our tense limbs in thanks. The ride felt smooth, but not my MOST smooth. Like I said, I was fighting my own brain and my muscles at times, but I just shook my arms out, turned my head left and right, and let the machine do it's thing. This ride was about machine vs. asphalt. No photographers, no distractions, just us.
After a brief stretch, we zigged over to Moonshiner 28 and cautiously rolled through the higher speed curves towards Cherokee, NC. We hit the Smoky Mountain Expressway and I held Khaleesi firm against the crosswinds and the buffeting of cruising 70 mph through the mountains. I kept my head down against bugs as I had my visor anchored in the up position for now. My oh so expensive Indian helmet has a defect in the visor to where it wants to SLAM down on me. I HATE that. I like to ride with wind in my face, but sometimes you need the protection of the visor. I had one GIANT bug smack my cheek, but other than that I was pretty safe. I began to pray for stop signs so I could stand and stretch my legs, relieving the pressure off my rear. We made it into Cherokee unscathed and stopped to top off our tanks and relieve ourselves. I'm here to tell you. at 11:00 at night, Cherokee NC is ROLLED UP. The convenience store already had their bathrooms closed, so after a quick chocolate pick me up, we found another store to avail ourselves of the facilities. BARELY!
As we buzzed out of town and into the National Park, our radars were continually sweeping for wildlife. David rather abruptly turned into an overlook that was filled with cars, but no lights and no people around ... strange. By this time it was about 11:45. We swept around into a parking spot, cut the lights, and we were shrouded by complete and total darkness. Pulled off our helmets, stretched out flat on our backs, and took in the utter amazingness of God's creation. The stars were the deepest and brightest I'd EVER seen, including when we took off into the back woods of Oregon, over an hour outside of any city. The lack of light pollution and the lack of a MOON allowed the twinkling stars to shine in all their glory, even the line of the Milky Way was visible. We laid there for an indeterminate amount of time just taking it in, then mounted back up to make the final leg home.
We soldiered on through the National Park in the complete darkness, trying to combine our headlights to illuminate the road as best we could, and motored through Gatlinburg. It was in stark contrast to Cherokee, with throes of people happily wandering the streets at just after midnight. The stores were all closed, but people were walking as though it was noon. The coolness of the mountains had waned and a moist heat settled over the city. I'd added an extra jacket after our stargazing, and I decided to leave it be since as I get tired, I get cold more easy. The connecting road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge invited us to urge the bikes faster and we rolled smoothly through the city to a McDonald's parking lot for a final rear end stretching. I was almost too tired to appreciate the fact that I'd tackled my first REAL night ride incident free. I'm NOT a night owl, so I was pretty shocked that 1:00 in the morning, my eyes were awake and my brain wasn't trying to shut down. My body was exhausted, but mentally I felt fine.
Final stretch! David gave me a scare pulling out of the parking lot; he wobbled so badly if it had been ME, I would have gone down. We went through Wear's Valley across and down the mountain, back into Townsend and back to the house. It was about 1:45 am as we thundered into the safety of the garage. We went roughly 250 miles, STARTING at 5:30 pm. It was a life changing experience! Riding in the pitch black of the National Forests and the National Parks forces you to focus solely on the road, no distractions due to the landscape. You feel SO small. You can sense rather than see the vastness of the surrounding mountains and your headlights illuminate the road directly ahead of you with no hint as to which direction it will choose to twist. It was much more a mental test than a physical one, but physically, I was exhausted!
I give all the glory to God for riding with us all night. He gave us alertness, he gave us the glorious view of His vast universe, and he gave us both the endurance and the adrenaline to safely tackle tricky mountain roads at the wee hours of the morning when a typical LATE evening for us is 11:30. We rarely see midnight roll around, lol. It was an amazing experience that I'm glad I got to partake of, but probably won't happen very often. <3 nbsp="" p="">