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Illustrated Trip through Smokies, West Virginia, & Ohio 555


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Illustrated Trip through Smokies, West Virginia, and Ohio 555color=red>


I just got back last night from a 10 day combined vacation with my wife and two boys and then a business trip. It started in Tennessee, and then moved through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and then back through Ohio and Kentucky. None of the days were long, though some were quite hot. I thought I'd jot down some notes because parts were pretty memorable to me.


Sunday, 11th


I hadn't moved or even started the bike since returning from Gunnison. Partly because I was busy catching up, but also because I wasn't in the mood to ride. But the passion for it built again, and I was definitely ready by the time Sunday rolled around. My wife and our boys were going to drive and I was going to tag along on the bike, since I had to split off after our vacation and they'd drive home.


As the departure got closer, though, I noted how hot it was going to be...and decided that I needed some "Smokies Therapy." So I left real early and told them that we'd meet in Banner Elk, NC.


My new helmet had arrived the day before, and I installed the Autocom speakers/microphone. I was worried that it might not be comfortable, so I sent the one it replaced with them in the trunk, figuring that I could endure at least 450 miles of the new one. Turned out to be wonderful and I haven't looked back.


Before dawn, Sunday morning brought cool, clear air, and it felt right to test myself a bit. There's an 8 mile shortcut from my house over to the route I was to take. It is twisty, unmarked, full of gravel, and very narrow. I figured I'd see how well I was riding and then pick the route accordingly. It could dump me onto 70N, a wonderful road, or I-40, an interstate.


I was riding well and things felt natural, so I grinned to myself and decided to take the long, challenging way. That meant along northern TN, then drop down across the NE portion and run Deal's Gap from the north, then parallel the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the entire southern edge, then up through Cherokee, Bryson City, Asheville, and finally to Banner Elk, NC, up in the mountains again. I found one new road in the mix: 95, just NW of Deal's Gap. Sweet. I had been on the rest of them.


I was really enjoying myself. My focus was good and I felt aware of things, unlike my return trip from Gunnison, when I wasn't on my game. Life was good.


I got to the north end of Deal's Gap and decided to try and run my best time, assuming I didn't run into much traffic. It's 311 curves in 11 miles, and I clocked it at 15 minutes and 20 seconds (average 43.5 mph). For those of you who haven't been there, there may only be a half dozen interesecting roads in the whole thing and you don't need to worry too much about other traffic or deer or anything else, save the occasional sport bike running wide in a curve . Your limit on the road is yourself, not the road. The RT is not a good bike for this road, though, and it's lots of work to ride it fast. I would choose a lighter, more powerful bike.


I passed about 20 bikes on the "run" and two passed me. One was an R-1 and the other was a GSXR 750. They made me look like I was pulling into a parking space.


There were two cops parked at either end, without radar on. I guess they were just making a point. The entire road has been repaved, too, which is nice...though the gravel hasn't settled down.


I got to Deal's Gap around noon, and had my customery Pimento and Cheese sandwich, chips, and milk. Then saddled up and headed back out. My route ended up being 100 miles longer than theirs, and I got there 2 hours after them! So much for avoiding the heat. Worse yet, when I pulled into town I realized that I had no idea were the cabin was that my in-laws had rented. My wife didn't know, either, and we found each other wandering around town. Finally we found it, an hour later.


One final note on Deal's Gap. It's not fair to talk about the "sportbike" crowd without distinction. Many of them are riding in shorts and tanktops and the requisite helmet, but there is a significant portion of the sportbike crowd that freakin' know what they are doing. They wear great gear, too. I consider them real riders.


Monday, 12th


Our oldest son is going to college next week as a freshmen, and he'd asked me to do another "photography day" with him. So we set off (in the car) to capture Appalachia. (Have you seen "Deliverance?" It's like you can see stand-ins for the movie everywhere.)


Jonathan had seen an old abandoned factory on their drive in, so we headed back that way. After an hour we found it and set about trying to get inside. Finally we crawled through a fence and start shooting. He and I love old run down places.


There were three black guard dogs we kept an eye on. They didn't seem aggressive. Can't say the same for the owner, who ran us out. I was still scoping so I didn't get anything. My son did, though, and I'll post some when they come back from the lab. I was shooting with my medium format camera (what you see below were taken with a digital).


We just hit back roads for the rest of the day and found a remarkable cemetery. It was obviously populated by family members of very poor folks. Many of the markers just said "Dad" or "Friend."


One in particular was haunting because of the juxtaposition between death (grave marker) and modern computer life (the inscription).




In another section the markers were just paper in plastic holders. I didn't capture those, but here's an entire family of four, memorialized with flimsy aluminum signs.




Tuesday, 13th


My wife isn't much of a swimmer, so the boys and I and the cousins went white water rafting. It was a little tame for me (with "3" rapids), but it was a very full day and we were exhausted.


Wednesday, 14th


My family was going to leave to go back home around 9a, but I wanted to beat the heat again, so I left at 6:30a. The night before Buck had kindly offered to let me bunk on the floor. But I was still in need of riding therapy, and the idea of not having any set place to stop appealed to me. (Thanks, Buck! I'll take you to dinner next time I'm in the area.)


I had a full two days to get to Cleveland, and figured I'd have a little fun both days. I headed over to Boone (just a bit east of the shortest route), and intended to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north. But it was closed at the entrance ramp, so I decided to stop for breakfast at a mom and pop diner, my favorite kind.


I sat down and read a week old Wall Street Journal I'd thrown in the bag. Just before my meal came, a very distinguished looking gentlemen (tall and slender, maybe 45 years old) was seated at a table. He obviously saw my helmet and gear and knew I was associated with the motorcycle outside. He didn't say anything to me, but when he conversed with the waitress I noticed that he had a significant speech impediment and also struggled walking, as if he was afflicted with MS.


I finished my breakfast and as I made my way to the cash register, he said something which I pretended to understand. I made some kind remark that was innocuous enough for him to think (I hoped) that I had understood.


As I suited up I saw him walk out to where I was standing, even though he wasn't finished eating. He just stood there for what must have been 30 seconds. Finally he managed to communicate that he thought my bike was beautiful, and that he had an R80 for years but couldn't ride anymore. Isn't a motorcycle a remarkable bridge between people? Wow. We chatted very warmly, but with difficulty.


Since the parkway was closed, I headed up 221 and then 21 through NC and then VA. Pretty challenging roads, especially on your suspension. I picked up I-77 (an interstate so twisty it's actually fun!) and then stopped for the night in Parkersburg, WV, all poised for a fun day tomorrow.


Thursday, 15th


I had heard so much about 555 through SE Ohio, that I just had to run it. It extends from 50 (on the WV/OH state line) for 70 miles until deadending into 60. From there I took 93 up to Cleveland.


Let me tell you that this is a road worth riding. It's not relaxing (Buck had warned me), but it is challenging...and virtually deserted. It's hard to believe something like this is in OH, of all places. It's very curvy and had abrupt rolling hills.


I thought this was pretty funny. I call it Convergence, what with the mile marker and warning speed matching. Of course it doesn't help that the direction arrow points in the wrong direction...at least at first.




As I stopped to take this picture, an oncoming car passed, turned around, and came back. He wanted to make sure I was alright. As he started to pull away, he said: "I ride a Harley, but we gotta stick together." Amen.


Soon I came to the town of Speedwell, OH. The sign gave me a chuckle:




You won't find nearly enough warning signs on 555, and the rolling hills limit visibility. I saw one "hump" ahead with a clear shot of no traffic, and managed to get a little air under both wheels. Probably just enough to fit a slip of paper under the wheel, but the engine sped up when the rear lost traction.


I took a picture to illustrate the challenge of the road. Here you are, in a 55 mph section, probably going 65-70, covering the front brake, wondering what the heck is just over this "hump" in the road:




You know it doesn't go straight (unless you want some dirt riding), but which way does it go? Take a guess first, and then click this link to see what it looks like just over the crest.


Later on I came across this thing, which could be named Aviation Meets Agriculture:




And then I came across this sign that also cracked me up. I guess you need to make sure to check those used cars real well to be sure that he didn't borrow parts from her cars!




On to Cleveland. And anybody who says that cops in OH aren't out to get you hasn't driven in OH. But no stops, even though they were pulling them over in droves.


The rest of the trip was lecturing, then a quick trip to Detroit to see my brother and his family over lunch, and then an uneventful drive home.


Thanks for reading!

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"(an interstate so twisty it's actually fun!)"


Aint that the truth. I did a SS1000 last weekend and ran 77 from Ohio 250 all the way down to I40 in Statesville NC then over to 75 N to 71 in Cinci and home. The last half was no where near as fun as the first. Those folks in WV sure no how to construct a fun interstate. I've only ridden a short stretch of 555 but enough to know it does keep you guessing. I'm heading down that way Saturday to practice my skills (or lack of) and 555 will probably be one on the route. Thanks for the ride report David, I'm glad to hear you found some pleasure riding in our State.

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Nice post, David. As you said, Ohio cops just have an itch to catch speeders ... I think it's some genetic thing. How I've avoided getting a ticket on a motorcycle in the past 27 years is a miracle. laugh.gif

Good job, boss ...

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In reply to:

I got to Deal's Gap around noon,
and had my customery Pimento and Cheese sandwich, chips, and milk.

I'm sorry David...but there has just GOT to be a story behind that one...come on now!?!? wink.gif

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You were in Detroit and Mitch and I didn't get a chance to say hi?!?!?! I know, a quick stop, family....I know the routine. smile.gif


What part of the Detroit metro area did you visit?



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I think this is my facorite part of the forum. I just love ride stories. And pictures, what's a good ride tale without pictures.


Thanks for tha story, now I gotta ride

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I'm sorry David...but there has just GOT to be a story behind that one...come on now!?!?color=blue>


Well, it's not really a big deal. You know how silly traditions start. Anyway, there aren't many places to buy a sandwich like that, and I've always liked them, so I make it a point to order just that every time I'm there!


It's kind of an informal hangout. I don't think I've ever gone and not known another rider, and often many more than that.


A few visits ago I came across Tom and his wife camping there, and shot the picture here:



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In reply to:

You know how silly traditions start.color=blue>

Well...I think another one just got started...Who wants to organize the first annual "Pimento and Cheese Sandwich eating contest at the next Un-Rally?" thinkerg.gifxyxthumbs.gif



click pic!

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Great read David. Thanks for your post. Haven't been into Ohio on the RT yet but West Virginia does have some delightful mountainous roads. I gotta get back there one of these days.

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Shawn, I visited my brother and his wife and three kids in Redford. Just popped in, went to a nice lunch at a Chinese place, and headed back. A good 400 miles lunch ride! I would have said something earlier if I knew I had had more time.

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I know you were pushed for time my friend. Maybe next time you are up this way visiting your brother gives us a heads up and we will gladly buy you lunch. Just so you know, you were 30 minutes from either Mitch or I.... smile.gif

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Great read, David. Hope we can give you some memorable experiences when you're out here next month. Guess I need to go on a scouting mission for run down places and out of the way cafes. Maybe a run down out of the way cafe will work.

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Loved the two shots of the turn. You are right, it gives no clue to the direction. I picked right. Wrong!!! Remind me to bring along my "Cheated Death Again" sweatshirt if I ever ride that road.


By the way, all the shots were interesting! Nice post.

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An ace of a report. I really loved the pictures. At first I guessed correctly on the road then second guessed and would have ended up in the weeds. I'm glad you have fun. When is your trip across to AZ. Let me know if you're crossing AR and if you want company I'll tag behind, way behind. smile.gif I got to go, it's time for my long long way home Friday Ride.

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Enjoyed the 555 comments. I "discovered" this road for myself a few years ago on one of the first road trips that I took on the RT. I overcooked it a couple of times and had some moments, such as coming over a crest with the front end feeling very light and having the road curve one way or the other. I also guessed wrong about the direction a couple of times. I really started to feel the heft of the RT compared to my previous R100RS that weighed a good hundred pounds less!

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"The night before Buck had kindly offered to let me bunk on the floor."


Um, actually I offered him a spare bedroom complete with a nice double bed-in a 3500 sq ft house in the hills (wooded), his own bathroom, a garage for his motorcycle, dinner and microbrews at our local private lodge, an optional stop at my best friend's house down the road to use his hottub, and even if he doesn't like me he would have had the company of my wonderful and beautiful girlfriend Candi, whom everyone likes (but I really don't need to know why, okay? wink.gif )


Regardless he decided to turn the offer down. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with him.

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I rode the whole stretch of 555 yesterday. I just couldn't settle in and enjoy it. Almost every turn had gravel thrown into it. I guess I'm more of a sweeper than a twistie kind of guy as I found the Cherohola and also I77 in WV much more fun than the Dragon.

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Great Write (which made for an) Excellent Read !


Thanx for including detail about the gentleman at the diner ... "there but for the Grace of God ..."


- DQ

"not quite Bug Splat 08/19/02"

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