Friday, June 14, 2013

Highlands to Lowlands - TN to FL

From the Tennessee Plateau to South Florida

All good bike trips begin with a spirit of adventure. The best trips find you and not the other way round.

So when my Friend-Neighbor-Realtor-Extraordinaire Judy sold their house in record time, her husband and part-time Ducati-Driver Dick needed someone had to drive the motorcycle trailer to Tennessee. Luckily there was room for my BMW K75S and I'd just ride it back. The LONG way, through the mountains, of course.

Remarkable how many people told me a ride like this is just TOO FAR on a bike. I'll put some final ride statistics at the end of this page. You Decide!

Of course, the Itty Bitty Biker Bitch wanted to come along. She LOVES to ride on my bike but not this time. The Biker Dog is NOT happy. Bikes are tied-down and I'm ready to drive.

Dick's Tahoe with Ducati and BMW on the trailer.
I try to take as many back roads as possible. It's weird to see the Interstates Packed Nose-to-Tail and beautiful side roads with 65 mph speed limits are nearly empty. But, where the backroads get lost in a gnarly diversion through forgettable towns, that's where I hopped on the Turnpike to I-75.

Lauren and Iván made me the best invitation to spend the night in Gainesville at Univ of FL where both are working on PhD's. Plus Iván got me a tour of the Small Animal Research Hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine! Fascinating.

Lauren, of course, took Itty Bitty's place on the Ducati for a Photo-Op. 
What it is about that Italian Bike???

Iván, doesn't speak Italian, so he rides his own 1.8 Liter V-Twin Suzuki Boulevard. 
Nice Engineering. 
Yes Dear, Helmet is secure, Thank you, Sweety. Argh.

There's not much to report about a car trip on I-75 to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. The best thrill for me -- coming from Flatistan (our quaint nickname for the ex-ocean floor we call South Florida) was to see mountains!
Soon as I got to Chattanooga, I got onto the backroads 27/29 N

Judy and Dick have a beautiful house on the lake. Up on the plateau it's cooler and I get a break from the sweltering Florida heat. It was about 45 def F (7 C) the next morning when went for a local biketour and I was happy for the leather pants. (I'll think of this a week later when I'm riding in south central Georgia at 97 Deg).
Dinner on the deck - Paradise 

My big adventure this trip was to test out bike camping. I've seen so many adventure blogs about Motorcycle camping but there is only one way to know if you will like it - so I gotta try it out!

Right off, I think I ignored the first rule: Decide what's important to take along and then cut that in half. I had too much stuff. Partly because I had driven the SUV up and had extra gear. It wasn't a big problem, but the extra weight made the bike a bit top heavy in the turns. The 20-year old BMW ran like a dream. I decided to just ride the country roads East until I hit the Smoky Mountains and find a place to camp.

Lunch Break along a small river.

There is a lot to explore in the Smokies. I was just riding along and saw a tent symbol and decided to follow it. I ended up in the Cosby section of the mountains with a beautiful campground. No one at the ranger house so pick a site, pitch the tent and go back and self-register; after name and address there were two questions: 1) How many campers, and 2) How many horses? Seems this area has strong equestrian draw. Tent pitches were special-built, raised areas surrounded by heavy wooden ties and backfilled with peastone. Perfectly level and great drainage. For $7 a night it's a great deal. Campfire is burning, bike is covered, time to check out the Army surplus sleeping bag.
Was nice to have the bike parked on pavement close to the tent.
After a couple days, it was time to head to Georgia to visit other friends. I rode south towards North Carolina and in the middle of the mountains, found the road was closed and the detour led East again on a yet narrower mountain road. But what fun that was. Never would have thought to take this little windy, country road and it took 45 min before I was back on to the main highway in the direction of Asheville. That is the pure joy of Motorcycle travel on a cool, sunny day. Sadly, I didn't stop enough to take pictures.

Denny takes a break from yard work to welcome me
From Asheville, I meandered towards Franklin and the scenery became a bit more open with grand vistas of springtime mountains and steep-cut valleys. The bike runs without a single concern. 4000 rpm yields 55 mph. My brother calls it a sewing machine, it's that smooth. I stop for gas when the fuel reserve light comes on after 180 miles but the bike will go another 80 miles before empty. It's good to take a mental break and a short snack or a cup of coffee. At 50 mpg, the bike can run longer than the rider.

View from the Bridal Suite
Lee "at work"
By midday, I find myself in the familiar roads of Hiawassee, Georgia just a few miles south of the NC border. Lee and Denny own a summer house on Lake Chatuge.. I get to stay in the Bridal Suite, Lee's pet name for the apartment over the garage. The view is again stunning. 

Everyone asked how the weather was. Perfect. Cool. Low humidity. Ideal for motorcycle touring. I learn that South Florida is having an unusual heavy rainfall for the last week, 3 or 4 inches of rain a day. And it was getting time to return. Well, that's why I brought along the Frogg Toggs Raingear.
Lee gave me a suggestion to go East through the mountains before turning south onto 441. That single road runs from North Georgia all the way to Wellington, FL. At times, in Southern Georgia, I would ride for 15 min without seeing another vehicle. I thought for a moment that the road was closed, But I guess everyone is on the big highways.

Luckily Lauren and Iván kept the guest bed as I left it and I could stay there for the weekend. Great fun touring the Gainsville area and both got a break from heavy studying schedules. I checked the weather and realized if I got up at 5am and headed South, I could beat the rains. "Don't worry, I won't wake you", I assured them. "We'll be up", Lauren replied, "Cause we're riding with you as far as Ocala". Wow, I had company for an hour and I half and it's fun to travel with another biker.

Riding from Gainesville to Ocala - Sharing the GoPro

Made it to South Florida and never hit a single drop of rain. So how was the ride?
  • 1300 miles on the bike. Never once did I feel in danger due to traffic, weather or road conditions. Most drivers were courteous to bikers. 50 miles to the gallon (4.7 L/100 km). I never feel tired riding the bike. It's invigorating.
  • Motorcycle camping is great fun. Less fun was the weight I had to carry. Need to find a smaller tent and devise equipment that serves multiple uses.
  • The new self-inflating air mattresses are the best ever. A bit bulky for the bike but it is nearly as comfortable as a good bed. Worth it.
  • The new micro gas cookers can boil a cup of water in under 2 min. Tiny and light weight.
  • Tent was too large at 9' x 7' and 8 lbs. The external support poles take too long to set up (20 min). Need to find a smaller solution.
  • My Hosts were fantastic. Thank you all!