It was going to be one of those occasional warmer February days and I wanted to get out on my FZ1. I invited all the usual suspects, but it was short notice so nobody was able to go. My original plan was about a three hour ride. Staying closer to home meant sunshine and mild temperatures. Just as I was about to saddle up I got a text from my buddy Stretch. He said he was leaving and he would be at our usual gas station around noon. That’s about when I would be there too, so I waited a couple of minutes for him. He rolled up and we talked for a few minutes and he said, “I see you are going on a short ride today. We will probably have to split up, because I am going on a long ride.” He then explained that he was headed to Deal’s Gap.
From where we are, that is a pretty good ride. I told him that heading too far north and too far west would mean rain and his response was, “I have rain gear.” Fair enough, I called my wife and told her I was going to be longer than originally planned and we set off on a fantastic ride. We rode for about 8 hours and around 315 miles. Here’s the route we took:
We are just coming out of a cold snap with some snow and ice so we knew the roads were probably not going to be in great shape. Right after leaving the gas station we headed down 178 and there were very large sand patches everywhere. You really had to stay focused to make sure you could dodge them. The entire day would be spent on poor road conditions except for a few sections. I honestly think North Carolina spreads pea gravel evenly across all the roads every winter.
At least we had good weather though. The sun was shining and the temps were in the high 50’s and we were out on our motorcycles in February!
Stretch was on his DR650 and I was wondering how the DR650 and the FZ1 would compare. Stretch is an excellent rider, way better than me, so I thought if anybody can ride a dual sport bike fast enough to keep it interesting on an FZ1 it would be him. I was not disappointed. Stretch used to have an FZ1. When we were both on our FZ1's I had to ride pretty hard to keep up. With Stretch on the DR650 I was riding as hard as I was willing to ride on those roads and we were zipping through those hills at a very nice pace! The DR650 in the right hands is a formidable street machine!
As we rode further north the weather was getting cooler and almost all the roads were wet. We ripped through the twisties and made it to Franklin, NC just as the light rain was starting. We stopped at KFC for some fried yard bird and by the time we finished eating the rain had stopped. The temps were in the mid-40s and everything was wet so we put the rain gear on and kept rolling.
We ate up some more twisties and enjoyed the winter mountain views. Everything looks so different up there in the winter. There was one section where the road was just carved into a cliff and you could see across this big chasm where the road was about to take you. Above us, below us, and all the way around these big cliffs were covered in huge chunks of ice from the water leaching out of the rocks and freezing. There was so much ice it actually made this part of the mountains brighter. This section of road looked like something out of the Rocky Mountains instead of the Appalachian Mountains. I normally stay out of the hills that far north in the winter, but I am really glad I went today!
Stretch and I kid each other when we ride together. He says I always bring the rain and Stretch has a way of getting me to push my limits a bit on the motorcycle. Like I said before, he is a better rider than me so I get to test my skills while riding with him. We were on Tellico Road and he stopped to turn around. We went back to this dirt road called Needmore Road. Stretch said, “this is the smoothest dirt I have ever seen” and he wanted to know if I wanted to try it. Keep in mind, I am on an FZ1 with street tires, it’s raining, and the dirt even has some slushy ice mixed in. I hesitated for a few moments and then I decided to go for it. I had to really work the clutch and concentrate on keeping that bike completely vertical. I have those new Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires on the FZ1 and when Michelin says they are street only, they are not kidding. That was a very slick ride, but I have to hand it to Stretch, it was a great dirt road. It was only for a couple of miles, but we were meandering along with the river and the scenery was fantastic. The river looked like it was fairly shallow but it was very wide. That dirt road was only feet from the bank of the river.
Once we hit pavement again we started our trek back towards home. The original plan was to hit the Tail of the Dragon one time, but the roads were so bad we just couldn't keep a pace fast enough to get us there. We did get pretty close though. On our way back we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. Stretch said the road used to go behind the waterfall, but there were too many rock slides so they rebuilt the road around it. There is still a pull off so you can drive behind it, but it was closed while we were there because of all the ice buildup. We did manage to get some cool pictures.
Before we left the falls I had to take my glasses off. I could keep my visor defogged, but my glasses were constantly fogged up. We were losing daylight and I knew it was going to be hard to see with fog and loss of light. The only time I ride without my glasses is when they fog up. The weird thing, is without my glasses I feel like I am towering above the road. That was really messing with my head when I went to lean into the curves. It took me about 15-20 minutes to get used to this new feeling. Luckily, this section of roads was surprisingly clean. The roads were wet, but these new PR4 tires are the best tires in wet weather I have ever used. I started the day feeling them out on wet roads, but by the end of the day I was just letting them rip!
Before we got out of the mountains the sun had set and we were in the night twisties once again. I only had my dark visor for my helmet so the last two hours I rode home with my visor up and no glasses on. It wasn't too bad for debris, but it was cold on the face. It’s not a good feeling when your nose is just running down your face and there isn't much you can do about it.
We stopped in Marion for some gas and Stretch asked me if I could see. I told him I haven't been able to see anything since it got dark. We looked at my lights and they are completely encrusted in a salty mess. I used the windshield cleaner at the gas pumps to rinse my lights off and viola, I could see again.
We may not have made it to our ultimate destination, but this ride had everything! We had sun, rain, fog, warm temps, cool temps, dry pavement, wet pavement, clean pavement, dirty pavement, ice, and even dirt roads! I don't think I have ever had a ride so packed with different conditions in a single day.
What I Learned:
- This was my first ride ever where I had complete rain gear. Having a full set of rain gear is worth the money. Why did I wait so long?
- Riding a street bike on a wet dirt road requires a lot of finesse.
James 1:17 NIV “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Opportunities are unexpected gifts. We don't always know what’s in the box, but we should never miss an opportunity. I had a couple of chances to miss some opportunities on this ride. The first opportunity that I started to turn down was the ride to Deal’s Gap itself. I knew we would get into bad weather, but I decided to go for it. The second opportunity I almost turned down was riding down the dirt road. Against my better judgment, I went for it. That dirt road is where we got our best pictures and the whole ride was truly an adventure. On both of these opportunities my best judgment was telling me I should pass, but instead I threw caution to the wind and stepped out of my comfort zone. I am really glad I did!
Have you ever taken advantage of an opportunity that you almost missed? How did it turn out? I want to hear your stories.