Sunday, August 23, 2009

Down the Blue Ridge to meet Chris

Tuesday, Aug. 18, my last evening in Charlottesville, my sister Jeannie took me to a fabulous restaurant up in Madison, Va., the Graves Mountain Lodge, which serves family-style meals in a long, rustic dining hall overlooking a lush valley. A family from Columbus, Ohio sat at our table. The mom said they found it in a AAA guide more than a decade ago and have been coming back every year since for the specialties, such as yellow squash casserole, which wasn't my favorite, but the fresh corn on the cob and roast pork were tops.

Graves Mountain Lodge's rustic dining room

My sister Jeannie at the lodge in Madison, Va.

In the morning, I took the KLR to a car wash and removed a few thousand miles of oil and dirt. Then, I packed up, said goodbye and headed to Wayne's Cycles in Waynesboro, Va., to have the new fork seals and gaiters installed. I spent a long afternoon in Wayne's showroom fondling the new bikes while a mechanic became available to do the work. They were finished by 5 p.m., luckily. I'm afraid if I'd stayed longer, I might have ridden out of there on a new Kawasaki Concours 14. I admit I was doing monthly payment calculations in my head.

The KLR's shiny new fork boots

Waynesboro is at the south end of the Skyline Drive and the north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The inevitable afternoon thunderstorm came through during my wait, but the weather cleared just as I was leaving and I had a beautiful ride down about 80 miles of the parkway to the campground and lodge at Peaks of Otter, pitched my tent and rode to the lodge for an incredible $11 turkey dinner that I couldn't finish even though I missed lunch. The lodge overlooks a quiet pond where a great blue heron was at work and meadow where deer were grazing in the dusk.

Sunset at Peaks of Otter

The Lodge at Peaks of Otter -- a great place for dinner

After northern New England's moose and Pennsylvania's elk warnings, I shouldn't have been surprised by Virginia's bear alerts -- but I was. There has been no shortage of prime wildlife habitat on my journey in the reforested eastern mountains and nature is taking advantage of it.

Bears? In Virginia? Yes.

In the morning I was off to Kingsport, Tenn., to meet Chris, leaving the BRP at Roanoke and heading back in time, twisting through the farms of the western Virginia hills.

Motorcycling bliss: 40 mile-per-hour S-bends

Unfortunately, Wednesday's weather wasn't as cooperative as Tuesday's and three different storms washed over me -- the first right at the West Virginia border, the second when I was back in Virginia and the last as I rolled into Bristol, Tenn. This last storm was a real gully-washer, flooding the streets. Under one railroad underpass, the water was at least a foot deep.

The mist rises from the hollows below the Blue Ridge

I put my GPS into the tank bag to stay dry and stopped at a cycle shop to ask directions. The shopkeeper said to head out past the Bristol Motor Speedway and take a right for Kingsport. "Of course it's raining," he said. "It's race week and it always rains during race week so all those guys in RVs can get stuck in the mud."

The Speedway was an impressive sight -- right up there with the stadium I drove by at Penn State, which is now the biggest football stadium in the country, seating 107,282. In fact, Bristol seats 165,000 around its half-mile oval!

It was race week at Bristol Motor Speedway

"This is Joe. He followed me home. Can I keep him?" Chris asked, pulling up next to me on his Harley at the Warrior Path State Park campground in Kingsport.

Joe DiSalvatori is a big, suntanned New Yorker from Staten Island who rides a full-dress Kawasaki. He and Chris met for the first time that morning at the Waffle House in Murfreesboro where they were both having breakfast. Joe was on his way home from San Antonio, Texas, and planning to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway north. Naturally, they joined up and rode east to Kingsport together, pacing themselves to stay in the dry space between two thunderstorms, while I rode west.

Chris and I set up our tents and the three of us went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, then stopped at a Chilli's for a beer before Joe took off to ride overnight straight through to Staten Island, despite Chris' urging him to come with us.

We didn't notice the railroad crossing near the campground entrance until the coal trains started coming through around 11 p.m., an almost hourly event all night long. Each train, of course, had to blow two longs, one short, one long on its whistle while the crossing lights flashed, bells rang and the bar came down to block the road. The racket from the trains was punctuated by raccoons' knocking over the trash cans. Meanwhile, a gentle rain guaranteed our bikes and tents were well-soaked by morning.

Motorcycle camping isn't for wimps.

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