Late July means it’s time to join our (mostly) southern netscum for BBQ, laughs, and a ride in the Smokies.
We both had to work Thursday, so there was no opportunity for an early departure. Still, we were basically ready to go shortly after Karen arrived home from work, departing around 6:30pm.
It turns out that this first night’s dash south would have to be a bit longer than usual. Our normal strategy is to get to the Ohio River valley, which usually translates into Portsmouth, OH and the convenient Super 8 hotel just outside downtown. I went to book a room just before we left only to find no rooms available at the inn. Well, that’s never happened before! On a Thursday night? WTF? We had to have someplace to go, so I booked a room further along our path at a hotel outside of Ashland, KY.
We stopped for bike fuel and human fuel in Marion, OH. While we munched our late dinner, I checked weather and found that our evening might end in a damp note. Scattered thunderstorms were crossing northern Kentucky and we were headed right into them… unless we could beat them to Ashland. We gulped down our food and headed down the road.
When we passed through Portsmouth, we discovered why the Super 8 was unavailable this trip: it’s being renovated. Windows were in various states of replacement. Most of the air conditioners were missing. Much of the parking lot was torn up. It was a mess. At least I know now that they didn’t see me coming and try to keep me away.
As is our custom, we were using the Waze app to provide navigation for our travels. One idiosyncrasy of this custom is that Waze sometimes goes to unusual lengths to save you a few seconds of travel time. This time, I could have simply kept us on US23 into Ashland and then diverted us west far enough to reach the motel. Instead, it chose to route us as follows:
- Through a business park.
- Down a dark winding goat path. Ok, so it was paved, but it was so narrow, I couldn’t see anything much bigger than a goat navigating it, much less a full-sized touring motorcycle.
- Passed a correctional facility.
Naturally, this convoluted route took enough time for the rain to catch us, adding rain and fog to the challenge.
When we finally emerged from the backwoods and rejoined civilization, we found ourselves directly across the street from our hotel.
Yes, Waze, you got us here, but did it have to be such an adventure?
Failures in Rain Dodging
By the time we were awake on Friday, the rain was long gone and the roads were relatively dry. The sky was still cloudy, but it was nice and warm. We got our act together and made our way back towards US23 south of Ashland.
I just love US23 through Kentucky. It’s a four-lane, but it’s not limited access and has more character than many good-old-two-lane highways. It winds between and over the forested hills of eastern Kentucky, sometimes following river valleys and sometimes following old railroad tracks. Yes, you do have to navigate around plenty of coal trucks who, based on their driving behavior, being paid by the load instead of the hour, but it’s still a pleasant ride along sweeping curves up and down the landscape.
With all the cloud cover around us, it was assumed that we’d be getting rained on sometime today. Consequently, I was checking my MyRadar app fairly often to see where the rain was crossing our planned path. This leads me down a techno-geek subject…
I mount my iPhone 7 on the Nightowl in the cubby hole in the dash where the BMW Navigation GPS is supposed to go. The hole in the dash is just big enough to accommodate the screen, but not the often-used home button. No home button means I can’t get to the home screen to open another app or double-tap the home button to access the app switcher. This is where Siri (voice commands) come to my rescue. I can press a button on my Sena 20S and say, “Open Road Trip”, and the iPhone will switch to the RoadTrip app, which comes in very handy for entering gas fill-up information. Here’s where it get funny. When I say, “Open My Radar”, the iPhone finds more than one app that is associated with the keyword “radar”. It responds by asking my which radar app I want to open, the Weather Channel app or the MyRadar app, but it pronounces “MyRadar” as “mirra-DER”. If I ask to open “mirra-DER”, it translates her own pronunciation of that app name into something totally different. The end result is that I can’t open the radar app purely via a voice command. I have to ask for “MyRadar”, let the phone ask which of the two apps I want to open, and touch the screen to select the desired app. Not ideal, but workable.
For those of you who don’t know, the MyRadar app does nothing but show you the last 30 minutes of animated Doppler radar in your current location and requires no real human interaction, which is good if I want to check weather radar while riding down the road.
During this specific check of radar, it was obvious that we were going to start getting rained on pretty soon, so we stopped in Pikeville, KY for lunch.
About 25 miles south of Pikeville, US23 climbs a mountain pass that marks the state border between Kentucky and Virginia. The road climbs a mountain with the rock face to your right and a nice view of a valley to your left. As you crest the pass, the nice view changes from your left (into Kentucky) to your right (into Virginia). This time, however, the view into Virginia was severely molested by the low hanging cloud that the road disappeared into. Visibility didn’t drop down to dangerously low levels, but it did prevent us from seeing anything more than about 1,000ft away.
The descent down the Virginia side of the mountain also brought another inconvenience: rain. It started as a drizzle and slowly increased to heavier drops as we ventured farther south. The Nightowl does a pretty good job of keeping the rain off of the riders, as long as you’re moving at a healthy clip, say, 60 MPH or higher. Shortly before Big Stone Gap, VA, I decided that the rain was heavy enough that any prolonged stop would get us pretty soaked and I knew there were several stop lights in our imminent future; I took shelter under a gas station canopy and we donned our beloved rainsuits.
With the angst of getting rained on mitigated by our rainsuits, the next few hours passed quite nicely. We joined I26 just past the North Carolina border and broke out of the rain just before the really nice mountain riding began. I find this region of the Appalachians especially pleasurable since most of the high vistas provide a view of layers upon layers of distant ridges, overlapping each other with varying degrees of visibility due to the hazy clouds clinging to their sides. A typical mountain view, like the Grand Tetons, certainly wins on total grandeur, but it can’t beat the Appalachians for depth.
The early start and brief lunch meant that we reached Asheville, NC before the Friday afternoon rush hour. Go us! There was still some congestion leading into I40 west but nothing that actually made me stop and put a foot down.
We arrived just in time to join some of the other attendees for dinner at Speedy’s Italian restaurant. Food was obtained, appetites were sated, and it was back to the motel for drinking an camaraderie.
One of the primary reasons I attend MISFIT is because most of the other participants are people that I don’t see for the rest of the year. I dare say I don’t like to go a full year without extended conversation with characters like Paulie and Larry Riggsbee.
As a special bonus, a long-lost old-time netscum appeared out of nowhere to attend this event. I didn’t even recognize Hawgeye when I first saw him, which is totally sucky on my part since Hawgeye is the guy to repainted the Cruiser’s shiny bits after the wreck in 2001. It was great to see him again and catch up.
We cold have stayed up all night but Paulie had gone to the effort to plan a nice tunnel tour for Saturday. Consequently, it was necessary to eventually go to sleep.
Blue Ridge Tunnel Festival
While Friday had been cloudy and dull, Saturday morning was absolutely gorgeous. Bright blue sky, nary a cloud to be seen, and cool temperatures. A beautiful day for a ride up in the mountains. Paulie’s plan was to lead us off to the east through the valleys for a while and then jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway to head back past our starting point an all the way to the southern terminus at Cherokee, NC. The special feature of this plan was that we would pass through 17 tunnels along the Blue Ridge part of the route.
Seventeen tunnels? Cool.
The trip east through the valley passed through a few nice little towns before eventually finding the entrance to the Blue Ride Parkway. Then the fun began. We wound along the ridges, enjoying the views. It wasn’t long before we started encountering the tunnels. George Pollard like to honk his horn in the tunnels, and a few of us followed suit. Paulie would later tell me that he caught the view of the Nightowl’s lights in one of the tunnels in his rear view mirror and confirmed that the Nightowl definitely has an “angry bird” look to it. (It’s always nice when someone, other than the owner, gets the name of your bike without explanation.
One unusual detail for a beautiful Saturday on the Blue Ridge was that we enjoyed long stretches with no view-gawking automobiles impeding our progress. This meant Paulie has ample opportunities to clean the dirt off the underside of his highway pegs by rubbing them against the pavement. Follow-the-Leader should always be this much fun.
When we reached Cherokee, we stopped by the visitor center to see if the Elk herd that often visits that field was in attendance; they were not, so we made our way out of the parking lot and back to the highway. Pulling out of the parking lot on an uphill start, I was suddenly reminded that the Nightowl’s engine has nearly no flywheel to speak of, which adds extra challenge to uphill launches… especially when you leave the transmission in second gear.
The engine stalled.
I caught the bike with by left foot… but my foot was too close to the bike.
The Nightowl continued to slowly capsize to the left. I realized that I couldn’t bring it back upright, so I concentrated on dropping it with a minimum of impact. Eventually, the left foot peg mount was threatening to bore a hole into my left ankle and I had to let go, which resulted in my being spit out onto the road to the left like a watermelon seed squeezed between your finger and your thumb. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Karen was gracefully making a one-footed dismount as if nothing had happened; she gets bonus points for doing this in sexy high-heeled biker boots.
Given the slow-motion drop, the Nightowl remained perched on the tires and engine/saddlebag guards; nothing else met the pavement. As a result, I was able to pick up the Nightowl even before John Ross was able to dismount to give me a hand. Karen re-mounted the bike and we rejoined Paulie who was down the road wondering what had happened.
Note: Only egos were injured in the making of this trip report.
The remainder of the group ride passed without further incident or humiliation.
The next order of business was dinner, which led us to venture a little bit east to Butts on the Creek, a nice little low-key establishment with excellent BBQ (Butts = pork butts). As usual, we ordered too much, ate too much, and laughed too much.
After we returned to the motel, we gathered together for a group photo and an Assholes photo. Then the mascot of the MISFIT run, a blow-up sheep named Dolly was handed off from her current custodian (chaperone?) to her keeper for the next year: Jeff Clark.
The evening concluded with more drinking, deep philosophical discussion, and rubbing elbows with celebrities. I could offer more details, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.
Exploring Kentucky Highway 11
Karen and I had two days to make our way back home. We had the same strategy last year, but that idea was shot to hell by a plugged rear tire that wouldn’t stay plugged. We’d already traveled the most scenic route across the Smokies from Maggie Valley into Tennessee, so we decided to take I40 across the Smokies (visually speaking it does not totally suck) and spend the bulk of our day winding our way across Kentucky on back roads.
It took a while staring at a map (the Rand McNally app for the iPad) to find a suitable route. Eventually, I noticed that Kentucky state highway 11 (KY11) lazily wound its way from near the Tennessee border to the south all the way across the state to Maysville on the Ohio River. I’d crossed the Ohio at the Maysville/Aberdeen bridge several times in the past and was excited to do it again. The plan was set.
Lucky for us, Sunday morning looked just about as good as Saturday had been. We packed up, said our goodbyes, and rode off in search of I40. We enjoyed an uneventful ride through the Smokies and a short jaunt on I81 before exiting onto US25 heading north towards the Kentucky border.
As would befit a beautiful summer’s day, there were countless boats plying the waterways of Cherokee Lake, a reservoir north of Morristown, TN. Speedboats towing skiers and a variety of inflated toys. Party barges slowing parading past the lakeshore, and fishing boats settled near strategic reed patches in hopes of catching a trophy-sized fish… or perhaps just something just big enough to cook for dinner.
We knew that KY11 looked to be fairly remote, with significant bigger-than-wide-spot-in-the-road towns few and far between, so we elected to catch a quick lunch in Barbourville, KY. Just north of our lunch venue was an innocuous right hand intersection down a nondescript country road, but it was preceded by the telltale 11 sign, so we naturally turned right.
If you have nothing to do for a day and want to enjoy a casual back-road ride, go find Kentucky highway 11. This road seemed to be bound by gravity and didn’t climb very high over anything. Consequently, it religiously followed river valleys, weaving it’s way in the very general direction of north. Sometimes the valley got tight and was walled by rock faces; other times it was wide and filled with the fields of small farms. The scenery is tighter and the road curvier south of Beattyville. As you venture farther north, the scenery opens and curves soften, allowing more pace at the expense of less character.
The road itself was in good condition, the curves were clearly marked (albeit conservatively), and it was never so congested that the need to pass severely limited our progress.
In short, it was a great way to enjoy a casual day’s ride.
Eventually, we found ourselves navigating into Maysville, KY, on the southern bank of the Ohio River. Maysville was the original settlement on this river (Aberdeen came much later), and the town has a quaint old-style downtown district and a nice park on the riverfront in the shadow of the two-lane suspension bridge crossing the Ohio. The park is separated from town by a large concrete levee decorated by hand-painted murals of the town’s history. Karen and I spent some time enjoying the views and photographing the murals.
Towards the end of the park visit we took the opportunity to scope out lodgings for the night. There was a nice little Days Inn up in Hillsboro, about 40 minutes away, that would suit our needs. We remounted the Nightowl, ventured across the bridge, and made our way west along the river to pick up the highway to Hillsboro.
The staff at the inn was very helpful and informed us that the best restaurant in town was open on Sunday evenings. It served Mexican fare, including the all-important margueritas. Bonus!
After dinner, I hooked the iPad up to the hotel room’s TV and we streamed a few episodes of Game of Thrones.
Not a bad day at all.
Take the Long Way Home
After the enjoyable scenic route on Sunday, we elected to try the same strategy for Monday. Instead of jumping on I75 and blasting home, we would stick to the two-lanes back roads and enjoy ourselves.
The rural scenery through Ohio isn’t quite as varied as it was through Kentucky. Most of this region of Ohio is flat and occupied with large swaths of farmland, the skyline broken only by the occasional grain elevator, which usually marks the location of a small town.
The only near-mishap during the day was a missed turn northwest of Columbus (see the shark’s tooth turn on our route). This wouldn’t have been a big deal at all if we weren’t almost out of gas. We stopped for gas in Marysville with the distance-to-empty gauge reading 2 miles.
We stopped in Kenton, a larger small town with a nicely preserved downtown, for lunch. I carefully watched for the dining venues in town and eventually found one where the parking lot was filled with dusty pickups and older four-door sedans. We parked at the Midway Restaurant and entered the establishment. Inside was a collection of locals. Nothing but locals. Mostly farmers and a couple of families on their way home from church, still in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.
Yup, this is what I was looking for.
The offerings on the menu were standard, but they were done quite well. Karen had nice things to say about their chicken salad and I really liked the spicy breading on their chicken-fried steak.
After lunch, we continued to weave our way north. Shortly after crossing the Maumee river on a new bridge that was under construction the last time we passed this way, we stopped at a nice little place to use the restroom. This business was multi-purpose: a gas station, a general store, a drive-through beer/wine outlet. I half-expected there to be a travel agency hidden in one corner and an internet service provider sequestered in a back room. All this in a new timber-frame building. Very interesting; I hope they make it.
After passing into Michigan and through downtown Adrian, we eventually found ourselves on the roads we usually take during day rides from home. We noted that the bridge construction in downtown Manchester is finally done, so we should visit the picturesque Dairy Queen located on the river front on our next day ride.
Soon enough, we rolled into our driveway, engaged the door opener, and killed the ignition.
The following are the statistics for our ride to the 2017 MISFIT run. Only data geeks (like me) care about crap like this.
Total distance: 1,381mi (2,222km)
Longest day (mileage): 363mi (584km) – Maggie Valley, NC to Hillsboro. OH
Shortest day (mileage): 130mi (209km) – Day ride around Maggie Valley, NC
Average distance per day: 276mi (444km)
States visited: 6 – Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina
Total trip days: 5
Travel days: 5
Longest day (time): 8:41 – Maggie Valley, NC to Hillsboro, OH – 363mi (584km)
Shortest day (time): 3:32 – Day ride around Maggie Valley, NC – 130mi (209km)
Highest altitude: 6,071ft (1,850m) – Highest point on Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lowest altitude: 451ft (137m) – Ohio River at Maysville/Aberdeen.
Average fuel efficiency: 41.99mpg (5.61L/100km)
Best fuel efficiency: 44.97mpg (5.23L/100km) from Barbourville, KY to Marysville, OH
Worst fuel efficiency: 37.42mph (6.29L/100km) from Ann Arbor, MI to Marion, OH
Total fuel cost: $93.09
Total fuel used: 33 gallons (124.9L)
Average fuel cost: $2.831/gallon ($0.75/L)
Highest fuel cost: $3.299/gallon ($0.87/L) – Ann Arbor, MI
Lowest fuel cost: $2.629/gallon ($0.69/L) – Pikeville, KY
Longest distance between fill-ups: 305mi (491km) – Barbourville, KY to Marysville, OH
Most gas pumped during a fill-up: 6.782 gallons (25.67L) – Marysville, OH
Note that the documented tank capacity is 7 gallons (26.5L)