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El Paseo through One Person's Eyes


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Just a few short months ago, during the height of winter fever, we thought about meeting in the Smokies for El Paseo I. Here's how the invitation started:


Yep. This just needs to happen. And every year, too. Probably twice a year. For a long time I've wanted to organize a gathering in the Smokies that those of us east of the Mississippi can look forward to, much like you read about in relation to Death Valley Days or Torrey or whatever.


I have no illusions that this will be like that off the bat, but I'm committed to it. I know enough people who will come to be sure we have at least ten people. We might get quite a bit more.


I don't care about numbers. I just want to ride myself, help other people ride better, throw some things in the memory banks, dream forward and dream backwards.


I knew for sure that Bill Hawkins, David Bearden, and Larry Rudolph would be there. Larry will go anywhere. Tell him there will be motorcycle gathering, and he'll ride day and night to be there.


It was obvious that other people had cabin fever, too, and the names started to show up. Eventually it looked like we might overwhelm the hotel, and then bad weather struck. One of the worst lows in early April since people remembered. The day before, as people made their way from 20 different states, looked like this:




As cancellations came in (about 15), I feared that we'd all be eating three plates of prime rib each. But then new people decided to join at the last minute. I still didn't know what to expect, but pulling into town I told my riding companions that I'd be surprised if there were a dozen bikes for the Friday ride. We ended up with 32, many piloted by riders with interesting stories about trying to get there. The main N/S route (441) was closed due to snow, and quite a few had to detour for 100-150 miles in the cold night to get there. Many never made the Friday ride because of travel delays.


But back to the start (and I didn't take pictures, being too busy doing other things, but I'm sure there are great ones coming). Steve Knapp rode down from Chicago. He was going to stay at the house Wednesday night, but only made it to Bowling Green after his visor kept icing up. So he called it a night, 70 miles away.


Meanwhile, Mitch is freezing to death coming from Detroit, about 60 miles behind Steve. Mitch calls from Dayton wanting me to find a place (on the internet) that had a heated vest for sale. What kind of mental case lives in Detroit and doesn't have a heated vest? grin.gif No luck, so I suggest that he go to Wal-Mart and buy those heat packs hunters use. No luck there, either.


He heads on south, and after he's gone it occurs to me that he's going to hit the same snow. So I leave a message on his cell phone, hoping he'll check it. Then I call Steve, comfortably eating at Cracker Barrel (he likes them). But he doesn't have a pen or paper so that he can write down Mitch's number. In a pinch, apparently a french fry, dipped in ketchup, works as a writing instrument. So they hook up and share a hotel room.


Meanwhile Jake flies in from Florida Thursday morning at 8:20. I pick him up, and just as we get back, Knappy and Mitch pull in, still in the 30s and raining. We've had the garage door open so they could pull straight in.


Julie has made us homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee, which seem to go over well. Mitch borrows a vehicle and drives to a dealer to snag the last heated vest. And then we are out of here by 11:30a, Thursday, thinking we'd do a little playing in the mountains first.


It was raining when we started and it rained almost the entire 275 miles. Cold, dark, rain, on slippery back roads. Not exactly what we'd planned, and during the first half hour I was thinking how silly this was, especially to be doing it on the Ducati. The RT is made for that kind of ride. But once you get into a rhythm and accept the weather, it's not bothersome. We all had the right gear and stayed dry. And we stayed attentive, too. There's nothing like cold, wet tar snakes high up on a mountain pass in the rain!


Incidentally, the initial misgivings about taking the Ducati faded on Friday. I've put 3,000 miles on it, now (and thrashed a set of sport tires in the process), and once the weather cleared up, I was really glad to have it.


Our route that day was across 70S, 30, 39, and 68 into Georgia. But it started to get dark and we decided that we didn't want to be riding those roads in the dark and rain. So we went back up 68, and then west on 64, to spend the night in Cleveland. We walked to Cracker Barrel (did I mention that Steve likes them?).


Got up early. Still 30 something degrees, but not raining. Walked over to Awful House where we tried to put my gloves back together. (Never mind--I'm sure they'll tell you about it.) Headed down 60 so that I could treat them to 2/52, one of the better roads in Georgia. As we climbed the mountain, we were quickly enveloped by fog. And I mean fog so thick that it was "raining" in the fog. I was leading and barely idling in first gear I couldn't see more than 25 ft. I couldn't even see a driveway or intersecting road fast enough to turn off. Finally there was a wide shoulder and I pulled off, and suggested that we turn around. It was getting worse, and it was quite unsafe. So we inched back down the mountain...and then made a fast run the rest of the way when the fog cleared. Across 64 again, and up 19. We moved fast, because we'd lost lots of time and I needed to be there for the first ride.


We pulled in, 175 miles from the start, at 12:20p, about 40 mins before the first ride. Jake checked us in. I unloaded and had the route sheets passed out. We gathered and without much ado just headed out on a 155 mile ride.


There were more than 30 of us in four different groups. We were in the second group. I quickly learned that Al (aka Crackenback) was not a rider I was going to lose. It was like I had a sticker of him in my mirror. Unless I pulled away with power or more cornering clearance, that boy was like a bad dream that I couldn't shake! grin.gif I'm not sure I've seen someone ride an RT like that before.


We also discovered that 64, between Franklin and Highlands, is a fun ride to hoon it on if you don't think too much about the cars swinging ride, the narrow lanes, and the gravel everywhere! Needless to say we were concentrating.


Two riders on RTs went down between Highlands and Cashiers. The tally is one very sore shoulder and elbow for Peter Scott, and an RT that needs a new mirror and such; and then a broken collarbone for JR Lunsford and one less RT in this universe, since it kinda got trashed. Obstacles in roadways aren't particularly fun, I understand. When Steve came on Peter, he was hanging on the guardrail trying his level best to not slide down that little mountainside. grin.gif I stopped and made sure everyone was okay, and then waved our group on through. Larry Rudolph and Steve Hebert and several others had things well in hand and the last thing we needed was more people on that road. Later, another rider smacked into the guard rail, bounced off, and kept going. That's a pretty cool trick, eh? (Peter rode 700+ miles home by himself with some major aches--he's a tough dude.)


So while I was checking on things, Mitch has taken the lead to keep us moving. He keeps the lead down 64, and then onto 215. Now this road, heading north up the mountain, is Pure Heaven. And Mitch is having fun. I couldn't tell if he was wanting the lead and determined to keep it, or just being helpful. So I make some smart comment about "when are we gonna go fast, Mitch?" He sneers "Bite Me" over the FRS, which is reason enough for me to pass his sorry ass and quit playing with him, moderator or not. grin.gif That boy from Detroit rides purty good even though he has a dirty mouth.


We climb the top and Heaven turns to Hell. We should have guessed this, because the Blue Ridge Parkway, parallel to 215, is closed to all traffic. And when we get to the northern exposure part of this road, it's icy, sandy, cold, and wet. You would have seen a very ginger group heading down that mountain. The lead group was on radio, and we slowly caught up to them, meeting up at the agreed upon "camp" which was now a muddy mess. It was too cold to chat much, so we made the next leg to Maggie Valley to the Wheels Through Time Museum. They had 220+ motorcycles and 12+ cars. The owner gave us a deeply discounted rate, kept it open more than an hour past closing, and led us on a personal tour. You want to hear what a 90 year old motorcycle sounds like? Point to it and he'll start it up, usually on the first kick. How about a 70 year old bike that he road across country on a year or so ago? Or a straight eight Dussenberg with dual overhead cams? Wanna hear what it sounds like? I may have some of the details wrong, but the stories and mechanical genius and patient explanations were really remarkable. They even had a "Goulding" vehicle, related to our own Shawn Goulding.


Afterward we all ate dinner at the Salty Dog. And then rode home 20 miles to Cherokee. It was 9:00p or so, misting, very dark, cold, on a road with sand. And I forgot my clear shield. That wasn't the most fun 19 miles I've ridden! But we had beer and cigars and chatted while people trickled in. Then I collapsed in bed after a long but very fun-packed day.


Saturday Jake and I were up at 6:15 for a 7:00 breakfast. Then a brief meeting at 8:00 before the big ride started. I wanted to try and get people ready mentally for the riding we'd be doing. Much of it was technically challenging, and we wanted to limit the incidents. We did, too, since only two people found the limits of traction that day. I had written up some thoughts about how to ride each section and what skills people might want to work on, but it seemed appropriate to reinforce that with a brief safety meeting.


We tried to stretch out the starts, but 30 bikes ended up leaving together, before we stretched out pretty quickly on the back roads. We went west on 19, and then south on 28. Gosh darn it I love that road, especially in the other direction where you can corner very deeply under power.


Then on to Wayah Bald Rd., which is spectacularly beautiful, taking you up mountain sides through 15 mph switchbacks, then through a deep valley with waterfalls. The corners are blind, the road is narrow, and the surface had some gravel, which is how we lost two other people (Randy's son and Phil Fuson). Nobody was hurt, though, and the bikes were picked up, dusted off (a K75 and RT), and both our friends finished the day.


The gravel was the small, fine type, not unlike ball bearings. So it required concentration. We knew the road would be touchy, but riding on stuff like that is good for everybody, mainly because it teaches smoothness. On that point, when you most want to tense up, the bike needs you to loosen up and relax. It cannot recover unless you get out of the way and allow it to. I found the edge of traction myself taking a lefthand switchback, leaned over. The power delivery was smooth, but I hit more gravel and the rear end stepped out. But the bike will usually recover if your speed is reasonable.


Then on to the Cherohala Skyway. What a road, and by now the groups are getting smaller as people find comfortable riding partners doing a pace they can enjoy. Eventually our group got down to me, Bearden, Hawkins, Al, and a few others who came in and out of it. And what a glorious ride this portion was. Exactly fitting weather. No traffic. Perfect surface.


I was feeling good and in a groove, so I took off and "sticky Al" wasn't far behind. We all stopped at a snowy lookout and smoked ten-year old Fuentes (believe it or not, I never smoke except on BMWSportTouring outings--you all trying to kill me?).


Back on the Cherohala to Tellico Plains, where Randy Shields suggested that we dump my official recommendation for lunch and get BBQ instead. I felt a little bad about all those bikes parked in the Cafe, but only until I munched down and had a really great meal, shared with 20 or so new and old friends. Some of the guys were ready to sell their worldly possessions and apply for jobs at the place just so they could be next to the waitresses, but we grabbed them kicking and screaming to finish the ride (we finished the ride with the riders, not the waitresses).


I'd been going hard all day and the five and one-half hours of sleep started to catch up with me. I knew I wasn't going to be riding my best the second half of the day, so I asked Bearden to take over and I filtered back to ride with Jakester. I wanted to be with him when he experienced Deal's Gap the first time, since I knew he was looking forward to it. I led up 360 while Bearden and crew pulled away, then 441 and 72. When we got to Deal's Gap, I motioned Jake around so that he could set the pace for us. I'm figuring that we'll have a "stroll" through the 11-mile ride, but Jake had other plans. Geez. As Jake pulled away, I realized that "recess was over" and he meant business. When we got to the end I pronounced all his winter cobwebs to be gone, and indicated that he could no longer claim that excuse for anything.


We saddled up and headed down 28, only to get the scare of our lives when all our V-1s lit up like tacky Christmas trees. Turns out the dear fellow was a half mile in front of us, hitting oncoming traffic with "instant on." We made our way to Bryson City to pick up some beer for dinner, and then pulled into HQ.


Dinner was great, and we had 58 people around the big tables, chatting like long lost friends and already lying about their day. I made some announcements, including a fun one. I made Brynda Insley stand up, who had come to ride on her R1100R, with husband Ken on his RT. Then I made the four guys she passed stand up to be ridiculed publicly. Of course one of them (who will remain nameless, but whose initials are Steve Hebert) had just finished the 100CC run, so he was absolved.


Jake explained the UnRally concept and urged people to come in October. And then passed out BMWMOA mileage forms so that people could count that day toward their totals. Then we went out in the parking lot to do more drinking, smoking, and lying. Today I road back with David Bearden and Bill Hawkins, the two fellows who helped put those great rides together.


  • Closing thoughts:
  • We had 62 people who spent part of that weekend together, from 20 different states, as far away as IL, TX, and MA.
  • Two-thirds of these people have never been to a BMWSportTouring event.
  • One-half of these people had never ridden the Smoky Mountains.
  • In case you haven't gathered yet, our events are full of riding, talking, and eating. They aren't about sitting around your tent for days on end.
  • These are the easiest things in the world to put together. People are flexible and appreciative and easily entertained. You ought to do something in your part of the country. Announce it and they will come, whether it's a ride, a tech daze, or just a party. Take a look at Pilgrim's recent announcement and you'll get the idea.
  • These are good people that get together. Whenever anyone needs something, there's always a helping hand. Take Steve and Patty Bearden, from Houston, for example. They trailered both their bikes up. When JR went down and had to go to the hospital, they volunteered to take him home. Of course he lives in Florida and they live in Houston, but never mind. Steve will ride his bike out ahead while Patty drives our wounded friend back home, with what remains of his bike on the trailer. And of course they drive an hour to get his prescription filled and positively spank the pharmacist into releasing the medication to them, despite his protestations. That's the kind of people you'll end up hanging around.
  • It was fun to watch people care about their riding skills and really work on things. And the difference between how they rode at the beginning and how they rode at the end was gratifying. For some folks it was just about shaking off the winter.
  • Riding with people, and then sitting around talking about it, builds bridges faster than a lot of other things I can think of.
  • Leaned way over at a high RPM in 4th gear, with an engine singing in your ear, is a very sweet sound, no matter what you are riding or what personal circumstances you might have brought to the party.


Thanks for coming, folks. Can't wait until we do it again! grin.gif

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David, I can't thank you enough for putting this trip together. Ever since I went down on the Skyway I've been wanting another crack at it. While I'm sure I didn't burn it up like you and the "fast guys" did, I can honestly say I don't have a millimeter of chicken strip left on my rear tire. I had an absolute blast. And just to be sure that it wasn't a fluke...I rode the darn thing again in the same direction I was going when I crashed last May.


It's a darn shame that we live less than 3 miles away from each other and the only time we get together is 275 miles from home.


Thanks again!


Check out pictures of my adventure at http://www.chadhargis.com/cherokee.html

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Thanks for your efforts. Had a great time! smile.gif

Will try to be at future ones so the four guys passed by Brynda can have someone to pass. blush.gifgrin.gif


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David, I commend you on doing a great job at planning everything. The roads were great. The mix of roads was technical and humbling, fast and fun, and a mixture of everything. I used your hints on the ride sheet and worked on my skills at riding the road. I feel like towards the end of the weekend that I had made great progress at confidence and reading skills, as well as braking and throttle control. In other words, I had a blast. I look forward to next year.


Al and I made it back to Birmingham about 9pm, We left leisurely Sunday morning and had lunch in Helen Georgia and rode to Suches through Wolf Pen Gap, where we were stopped for a sport biker that went off and met a tree. The officer said he was unresponsive and on route or already at the hospital. We then made our way to Rome Georgia, Gadsden AL and on to Birmingham. Al left this morning for Hattiesburg.


I think I have discovered my problem I had Saturday afternoon, I think I may have gotten trash in my carbs, because it cleared up yesterday afternoon and ran like a top. But it started again this afternoon. I bought some new spark plugs and some carb cleaner gas treatment and will try that in lieu of pulling the carbs, as I have never done that before. I may have to learn. frown.gif. (I do have my service manual.)


I enjoyed meeting everyone there and am glad that nobody was seriously hurt. That was the most fun ride I have ever been on.


Chris Barnett

Trussville, AL

2001 Kawasaki Concours

Motorcycle Tourers Forum

Kawasaki Concours Forum

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Awesome write-up, David and spectacular pictures, Chad! Amazing scenery and great tales that make me wish I lived closer to you guys! Wow - amazing stuff.


I sense a trip east on the way in the coming year!


Also - Congrats, Chad on 'conquering' the road that bit you a while back. Must've taken a lot of will and guts to do that - not once but twice! Way to go.

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I have to admit that I was a bit nervous when the run began, but I settled down and got into the "zone". I was leaning the big GS to the edge of the tires. I had a blast! I'm going to do it again soon.

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David, first my sincere thanks for putting this excellent weekend together. As your write up indicates, the trip was full of great roads, camraderie and one outstanding museum.


JonBoy and I started with a spectacular view of the snow covered mountains as we came through Rutherfordton. This was my first experience with clean (or semi clean blush.gif) roads and notable snowfall on the sides, and it was an experience I'll always remember. But for the trip having been planned, a weekend in the mountains wouldn't have been a likely choice that Friday.


Sorry for contributing to that 30 bike start. It was all the fault of the long red lights; it had nothing at all to do with being too eager.


And I'd also like to say that it's always enjoyable to find another riding partner that you can get so comfortable riding with after the first few miles. JonBoy and I have been riding together for one season and we both really enjoyed following Chris Kinney's spirited pace through the mountains. (After a few sparks, though, he's definitely ready for those new Wilbuurrrsss.)


Looking forward to the next trip!

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David, I commend you on doing a great job at planning everything. The roads were great. The mix of roads was technical and humbling, fast and fun, and a mixture of everything. I used your hints on the ride sheet and worked on my skills at riding the road.


Thanks, Chris. One of my biggest goals for this site is to provide a forum for people to ride better. I think I'm most proud of how the Ride Well forum has evolved into lots of good information from people riding in the real world. It's one of the truly unique things about this discussion board--concentration on skill and technique.

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JonBoy and I started with a spectacular view of the snow covered mountains


And I'd also like to say that it's always enjoyable to find another riding partner that you can get so comfortable riding with after the first few miles. JonBoy and I have been riding together for one season and we both really enjoyed following Chris Kinney's spirited pace through the mountains.


Randy, John, and Chris:


Thanks for letting me join you for the rides Friday and Saturday. The pace was perfect, and we all seemed to click fairly well riding wise. I hope to ride with you guys again sometime soon.




Thanks for all the hard work putting on this wonderful event!






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Ditto on all the previous comments. It was good to meet you, and to put so many faces with names. In spite of the brutal ride down from Indy on Thursday (30s and 40s, rain, sleet, snow, etc), I'd do it all over again!


Tasker Day

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David, would you mind posting the riding tips sheet that was handed out? Mine flew out of my unzipped tank bag and almost hit Tim in the face shield. (I'm gonna sue that BigMak, or maybe just send him a picture of Hillary.)


Still on a high from the weekend. Thank you over and over again.

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David, would you mind posting the riding tips sheet that was handed out? Mine flew out of my unzipped tank bag and almost hit Tim in the face shield. (I'm gonna sue that BigMak, or maybe just send him a picture of Hillary.)


Still on a high from the weekend. Thank you over and over again.


Bill, click here for the thread with the route sheets. There are maps in the thread, and then you can click the links for Word or PDF files on the routes and riding tips for each section.


Nice to see you, too, and thanks for the coffee from Huehuetenango. We've been enjoying it. smile.gif

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Ditto on the comments from everyone about good times, great friends, and terrific rides. If leadership is about understanding the organization and then responding in a way that creates excitement and a desire to be involved - you are a champ!


Can't wait for trip to Torrey.



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>> Randy, John, and Chris:


>> Thanks for letting me join you for the rides Friday and Saturday. The pace was perfect, and we all seemed to click fairly well riding wise. I hope to ride with you guys again sometime soon.



Bill -- absolutely! And non-riding wise too. And with that Hi Viz 'stich, JonBoy could even spot you in the shadows even though he couldn't see the gravel! Wish you could have stayed for the Saturday dinner festivities. There were lots more laughs as we recounted the days' rides.




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Thank you David. I had a great time & learned what my RT can do. Made some new friends & had a great time following Mitch down the dragon. Hey Mitch can we go fast next time?

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Ditto David, a big thank you. What a great trip. Great riding, great people, great food. I kept having flashbacks of Gunnison! There's something about this group of folks. Every time you turn around you're meeting someone you've never met. But I never once felt like I was meeting a stranger. Same thing happened in Gunnison. Talk to someone for a couple of minutes and your long lost buddies. Thanks David for giving us an excuse to come together! Anyone that can't make Eureka Springs will be missed. Can't wait!

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