This year I decided to stop wanting and ride to Birmingham.
On any ride this length, with a destination like this, there are almost more moments, more impressions, than a mind can possibly absorb.
Me, I’ve hung too much with eggheads and arty types, so I scoff at artificial restrictions like narrative continuity.
Linear narratives are for the weak.
On a one to ten scale, with one being a Mother Goose story, and ten being William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, I skew heavily Burroughs.
Of course, Burroughs gave us Hassan O’ Leary, the only fictional Arab Irishman of which I am aware.
As an actual person of Arab and Irish descent, I feel a certain odd affintity for Hassan’s problemmatic creator.
That aside, I have no problem starting a tale in the middle, or kinda at the end, if that’s how it feels to me as I think about it.
Anyway, that’s how I roll, and if you find it distasteful or disorienting, you are more than welcome to take your attention to the “Once upon a time” department, located on our second floor….
Skipping right past how I found myself riding back to Jefferson from Birmingham on a day when I hadn’t been expecting to be making that trip, I was really in the groove, and fully expected to be spending the night in back in my own bed.
Conditions were textbook perfect — high 60s to low 70s F, with minimal wind, light clouds. My K bike had received a thorough Mihalka-brand ‘Italian Tune-up’, and was running as smoothly and strongly as it ever had.
Miles were just effortlessly disappearing.
It was just too damn soullessly efficient.
My long solo trips are pretty infrequent at this busy stage of my life, so I’m not of a mind to be leaving things for later.
And there’s just something that bothers me about a ride that’s all about miles, and somehow isnt somehow about the sheer magic, grace and joy of the ride.
On my way south to Alabama, I remember seeing signs on 1-81 with exits marked for the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’d filed them away for later.
It was later.
It was, all things considered, a little later into our now shortening fall days than was optimum, but I just had the feeling that even a hour on the ridge today was an hour to be treasured.
I’d been on the lookout for it for more than a hundred miles, so when the sign came up that read Floyd, Blue Ridge Parkway, I didn’t overthink it, I just took it.
Had I overthought it, I’d have likely noticed that the Parkway isn’t really that close to the Interstate at that point.
Not that it turned out to matter, as the road up to the Parkway, Virginia 8, is very nearly as nice as The Parkway is.
I found myself in a column of four vehicles working our way up the ridge. None of them were rockets, but none of them were slouches either — we frieght trained through sunny switchbacks, and kept up a good rhythm of spirited corner entraces and exits up the stream draw that the 8 follows.
After about 15 miles of this, the speed limit signs indicate one’s entrance into Floyd, which is as charmingly unmolested an Appalachian Village as you’ll ever see. It shows a population of 4-fifty-somethin’, and has several cafes, galeries, eateries and an old Hotel. Things are neat, tidy, well kept, and even at under 30 miles an hour, in ninety seconds or so it was just gone.
Approaching the summit, coming out of Floyd, the road opens up some. Three miles or so out, there appeared an unnaturally long straight, made all the more unusually wierd by the tight technical mountain pavements we’d been working for more than a while. You could see up the grade for more than a mile, and then up a steeper grade for another three quarters or so.
It was clearly a specific kind of opportunity, and I wasn’t the only one that thought so.
The second car in the column was a big black VW Taureg, and a certain cetane perfume struck me that it was one of the few V10 Diesel Powered Beasts — nobody ever called these ones ‘Clean’ — that were sold here in a brief window before an EPA rules change made them illegal.
Taureg Dude clearly saw an oppuntunity, and dumped the throttle — the smell of a highly stressed diesel hit my nostrils — and he flicked left and moved smartly past the first car in the chain. With this huge vehicle clearing the path in front of me, I dropped a gear and rolled the K12’s cable throttle open to the stops.
In a half second I was passed the third vehicle, and another second and half I was past the former first one. Tuareg Dude was still all the way in it, and after having closed a great deal of the gap on him initially, as that big V10 spun up, the trend reversed and he moved smartly away.
I spent much of my weekend at Barber hanging out at Ace Corner, surrounded by the Ton-up Boys.
In my own way, I honored them here.
The top of the ridge came up way too quickly, and as the Black Beast continued to just open it up and disappear, I braked hard, rolled left and entered the Drive.
It took all of 3 seconds to be sure that this detour in the middle of a 700 plus mile day had been absolutely the right thing to do.
As soon as I made the left turn from the stop sign on the ramp, things immediately took on an eerie, other-worldly quality.
Above 2500 feet, on the very top of the ridge, all of the deciduous trees had all started to turn to their fall colors. The majority of those trees had snapped to a bright gold, and with the sun low on the horizon off to the west, every sunlit area had taken on a golden light that would have made every fine art plein-air painter ever born simultaneously moisten themselves.
It was the kind of aggressively gobsmacking visual beauty that can make retaining the mandatory motorcyclist’s focus a bit of a challenge.
As I completed my shift up into third gear, a mature male Bald Eagle jumped from a tree on the road’s left side and with a pair of slow strong strokes climbed into the air directly in front of me, right in my sightline.
As much as I appreciate the wit and wisdom of Ben Franklin, and his opinions on the deity and zymurgy, an up-close view of a Bald Eagle in flight is a pretty convincing proof of why Ben lost his bid to have the Wild Turkey be our National Bird.
That is, unless the very next corner provides one, as it did me, with an up close view of the biggest Wild Turkey I’d ever seen, hustling out of the roadway and into the trees on the right side of the road.
Upon brief reflection, the Gobbler was pretty damn impressive as well. Tie goes to the eagle, though.
Maybe, as a sometime poet, I place too much significance in things that appear to be obviously heavy handed symbols.
With said symbols practically falling out of the sky in my path, I slowed my respiration and tried to find the meditative focus that it takes to be safe and successful on a remote, technical road like The Drive.
Snicking the KBike into fourth gear, I relaxed and adopted a sit-up posture with a mild forward lean and dropped the electric shield to below my line of sight. With the bike in 4th, it gave me an effective torque spread that allowed me to operate between just under 40 mph to just over 70. I directed my gaze out as far forward as I could to aid in reading the road ahead and concentrating on my roadcraft.
I figured that given the time of day, I had a little more than two hours available to me before diminishing light would dictate that I head back down the hill.
And for those next two hours I did my level best to let my throttle hand do the talking, almost never using my brakes, and danced with the Fat Girl from farm to farm, across sunlit meadows, leaning this way then that, staying on the sides of my tires and achieving that state of agile and responsive biker grace.
Being the end of Sunday afternoon, anyone that had to head back to DC with more sense than me had already split, so I had the good fortune to have the place essentially to myself. In the roughly 100 miles I spent up there, I think I saw about 5 cars.
Three of those I easily passed. The other two were headed south.
In truth, it was so staggeringly beautiful in that unearthly golden light, it was taking a fair amount of effort to keep from laughing out loud inside my helmet.
A suspicious guy might have concluded that that Taureg had really run me over back on the 8, and this was apparently Rider’s Heaven.
As usual, I wasn’t the only one having a tough time dealing with the extreme bounty that nature was serving up.
On one corner exit, there was a fairly long downhill straight that ran alongside a mown bowl of a meadow that was completely bathed and glowing in the Golden Light. About a third of the way down the straight was a recent Mazda 3 coupe, sitting stopped in the middle of the road, with both its doors wide open and the cars occupants standing on either side — hands raised above their heads like they’d just entered into the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church.
They can be forgiven — in one way I guess they had.
I shared their appreciation, their praise for a bountiful maker.
Except, of course, that it seemed to have escaped them that they were standing in the middle of the road.
This one time I did use my brakes.
As I moved around them at walking pace, I’ll admit I attempted education, futile though that may be.
“Yes, it IS pretty, but ya might have considered PULLING OFF.”
That, in truth was the only interruption to what became a wonderful meditative rhythm that was just what a guy in the middle of what would prove to be my longest one day ride ever needed to restore my concentration and energy.
Usually, the drive is awash in deer, necessitating a certain reserve.
I only saw one the entire ride.
The KBike was in full song — more than a thousand miles of running hard up top had cleaned up injectors and blasted carbon off valves, and she took throttle with smoothness and authority, and gave back speed on closed throttle without a single pop or hiccup.
The LT is a big, heavy motorcycle, but the rigidity of its frame, coupled with a set of Ohlins shocks and a fresh set of Avon radials makes for a resposive, compliant twisting road dancing partner that doesn’t grow old until one runs out of will, fuel or light.
In my case, it was light that became the limiting factor.
I was no longer feeling tired, having been fully refreshed by this pure riding experience and expression of the joy of physics.
In four days when I looked at more motorcycles than I thought existed, watched people race them, show them, and put them in pedestals in museums, a hundred miles of twisting mountain pavement was able to show me again why we all do this. If the Barber is a Church we build for it, The Parkway is where we really celebrate the sacrament.
But as the shadows lengthened, I knew that I’d been lucky. I’d actually found that ephemeral road grace that can be so elusive. I’d found it, but it had, unsurprisingly, disappeared with the light. With it gone it was time to come down off that hill, get somewhere on the other side of Roanoke, and pick up the highway for home.
I was still more than a couple of hundred miles from home.
Far enough that anything could happen.