Smokey Mountains Motorcycle Trip 2008
Smokey Mountains Motorcycle Trip 2008 6/27/2008 - 7/2/2008
The goals of this trip are simple: Spend 6 days riding through the mountains of the Southeast, USA.
See some great sites. Avoid radar toting police and park rangers. Don't crash or run into any suicidal deer.
6/26/08 Day 1 Mark rode down from Newark, DE with a stop at Bob's BMW to pick up some oil and other last minute supplies and met me in Chantilly, VA where I was finishing up a business trip. We picked up the GS from Eagle Rider DC, grabbed some dinner, drank some Coronas and crashed in anticipation of an early start in the morning.
6/27/08 Day 2 Chantilly, VA to Lynchburg, VA.
Started early (on the road by 6:00am I think?). All in all a good day with some excitement (read on).
Starting mileage 8040
I-66W to Front Royal, VA
340S to 33W
33W into W.VA to 250S
250S to Monterrey, WV - Brake Problems started on Paul's Rented GS
250S to Staunton, VA to SR11S
SR11S to SR56S to Vesuvius, VA and onto BRP
BRP S (No Traffic except for a few non-riders on Harley's and one really sketchy looking rider on a ST1300!)
501S to Lynchburg, VA
Ending Mileage 8,451
So we have a great time burning through the mountains on some great roads like the ones pictured above and then pull into a town for some lunch. As soon as we start riding slowly around town, I notice that the rear brake on the GS was emitting a metallic grinding sound. I know the source of that sound - brake pads are shot! I also feel some shuddering from the front brake. I know that symptom as well. Warped brake rotor or wheel.
Considering what this rental bike was costing me and that we had ridden probably only 250 miles at this point, I was not too happy with Eaglerider D.C..
So I call them:
Paul: "Hello, it's the guy you rented the GS to. There is a metallic grinding sound coming from the rear brake. When were the rear brake pads last changed?"
Eaglerider: "The brakes are fine, the brake pads were checked/changed (I don't remember which he said) less than 1,000 miles ago."
Paul: "I really think the brake pads are worn to bare metal and are about to destroy the rotor. I'm going to take it to the nearest BMW dealer and get them to fix it".
Eaglerider: "The brake pads are fine. Motorcycles are not like cars, brake pads last for XX,XXXX (again I forget exactly what he said, but it was something ridiculous). Are you riding properly? (I am not making this shit up). You must have something caught in the brakes like gravel or something."
Paul: "I also noticed a shudder coming from the front brake, like the rotor is warped or something. I think I need to get this bike to a shop to get it looked at."
Eaglerider: "OK, but be warned - if you take the bike to a mechanic and have repairs done without our O.K., you may end up paying the bill yourself".
Hey, what about my safety? Jerk. The guy I talked to really was a jerk. I was just trying to figure out what to do to get the bike fixed. I wasn't blaming them or anything and he was just condescending and pretty much a jerk. Did I mention that he was a jerk? LoL :-)
Hmmm, I am getting more annoyed writing this now than I felt at the time. I was surprised and disappointed at how they were responding to me, their customer (I would never talk to one of my customers that way!), but I was just happy to be on vacation out on a ride with my brother. Mark was behind me during this conversation and he was ready to grab the cell phone out of my hand and start yelling at them. I spend so much time dealing with people and conflicts at work, I try my best to CHILL when on vacation. In hindsight, I should have just given the phone to Mark and let him have at them!
O.K., so I know how to follow instructions. We take the bike across the street and wash out the rear brakes thoroughly at the car wash.
Well whaddyaknow - It's still making that grinding noise. We get down on our knees and it sure looks like the brake pads are worn out. Maybe we are just not riding properly. :-)
Out comes the BMW Anonymous Book (note to self: renew BMWMOA membership!). Nearest dealer looks like Lynchburg, VA. O.K., we'll start heading that way and try to catch them before they close. Screw the jerks at Eaglerider, I just want to get the bike fixed so we can get on with our ride.
At this point we head off in search of the Blue Ridge Parkway and figure we will ride that down and jump off at Lynchburg. One funny incident we encountered while riding up to the Blue Ridge Parkway on a single lane connector road. We are cruising along and come across a line of cars stopped in the road. We can see a police car up ahead with lights flashing. We sit for a minute, then get off the bikes and walk up to see what is going on. There we see an 18 wheeler stuck across a hairpin turn that he never had a chance at making. I honestly have no idea what he was thinking or how he ended up on that road. Mark starts chatting with the policeman on the scene, a VA state trooper. Nice guy and probably the most laid back copper I've ever met. He let us squeeze our bikes through in the space between the embankment and the hopelessly stuck truck and we are home free. He also mentioned to Mark that he was the only trooper in 150 miles and how he was going to be tied up here for hours. Good intel! I would love to have seen how they got that truck out of there. I wish we had taken some photos.
Our first ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway was great. Major storms had rolled through earlier and I guessed chased everyone away. The road was mostly deserted. Met a few nice bikers and spent a few harrowing miles behind the sketchiest ST1300 rider I've ever seen. I truly thought he (she?) was going to eat it in a few of the turns. After a few miles, we got past safely and the road was pretty much empty until the turn off for Lynchburg.
We got to Lynchburg and checked into a hotel around 6:00pm. I called the Lynchburg BMW dealer. They are still open (Yes!), but only sales. The service dept closed at 5:00 pm and service is not open on Saturday. Doh!
After some thinking and some Internet research, we determine that our best option is the BMW dealer in Greensboro, NC. I call their service dept and leave a message telling them that we will be there tomorrow morning when they open at 9:00 am. BMW dealers are often accommodating to travelers on the road and will often fit them in for unscheduled service to get them back on the road. I hoped that my message sounded sufficiently pleading and that BMW Carolina would decides to show us some mercy tomorrow.
All in all, it was a great day even with the bike problems. 12 hours on the road and approximately 400 miles covered with less than 40 miles of Interstate traveled. Some great riding through beautiful mountains, met some nice people and the overnight security guard at the hotel promised to keep an eye on our bikes. What more could you ask for?
6/28/08 Day 3 Lynchburg to Greensboro, NC to Asheville NC.
Starting mileage 8,451
SR29S from Lynchburgh to Greensboro, NC (not a bad ride actually)
Carolina BMW for Brake Pad replacement and front rotor inspection.
I-40W to Asheville (Watch the speed when speed limit drops approaching Asheville.)
Ending Mileage - 8,751
We determine that it will take us approximately 2 hours south on SR-29 to get to Greensboro, NC. We want to be at Carolina BMW when they open, to maximize our chance of getting the bike squared away and getting back on the road. Neither of us is particularly looking forward to this ride. It looks like a straight and boring highway and we are heading away from the mountains we came to ride. It turns out to be a fairly nice (if straight as an arrow) ride with pleasant temperatures and some nice scenery.
We get to Carolina BMW shortly after 9:00 and ask for the service manager. Someone asks if we were the guys who left the voicemail last night. Yes, that's us. We talk to the service manager and explain our predicament. He is understanding and has his mechanic come out and take a look at the bike.
We are walking up to the bike the mechanic with helmet in hand for a test ride and I am repeating the symptoms; "grinding from rear brake and some shuddering on front brake, seems to be getting worse". The guy takes one look at the rear brake (I don't even think he bent over) and says "that thing is not safe to ride, the brake pads are down to bare metal".
He repeats this several times like he can't believe it and he is getting pretty excited. "That thing is not safe to ride!" he repeats to himself. Then he bends down and looks at the rotor and says; "the rotor is starting to get scored. If you ride this any further, the rotor will need to be replaced.". The service manager asks him to ride it around the parking lot to feel the problem with the front disk shudder. He says, "I'm not riding that thing. It's not safe to ride!".
At this point, I am wishing that the Eaglerider guy could hear this.
I mention to the service manager that Eaglerider said maybe something like gravel was caught in the front brake and that was causing the shuddering (sound familiar? that must be their answer for everything). He looks dubious, but comes back with some brake cleaner and empties half the can onto the front brake. Since the mechanic won't ride the bike at this point, Mark and I test ride and it's still shuddering.
The mechanic replaces the brake pads in short order and we get the old ones to take back and show Eaglerider. They were shiny and ground down to a nice metallic finish. I should have taken some photos - amazing.
We also find out from the mechanic and service manager that there are some known issues with front rotors and wheels on GSs. I believe he said that there was a recall to address this. He says the bike is safe to ride, but needs to have the front rotor replaced and possibly the front wheel as well.
With new brake pads, we are out of there by noon or so. The shuddering front brake is annoying, but rideable and we decide to press on to Asheville, NC to continue with our trip.
Thank you Carolina BMW!
A last parting gift from the service manager. We tell him that we are headed west to Asheville on the Interstate and he says watch out for state troopers right before you get to Asheville. We heed this advice and slow down at the specified area and sure enough they were out running radar. Without this info, we would have been tagged for sure. As it was, we made it to Asheville without incident.
The ride to Asheville was straight and hot and not very exciting, but we were excited to be heading back to the mountains.
At one point, we stopped for gas and Mark discovered that his R1100S was low on oil. We killed some time at a gas station, doing the oilhead oil level check routine that I know too well. Put bike on side-stand, wait 15 minutes. Then put bike on center-stand and wait again. I have an R1150RT at home that burns oil, so I have gotten accustomed to checking the oil a lot. This is the only method I have found for getting a consistently accurate reading. If you just put the bike straight onto the center-stand, you get wildly different readings. These boxers are great, but I wish they did not do this. I hear that the new Hexheads don't burn oil and so you don't have to check the oil as often.
We arrived in Asheville and found a hotel near the Biltmore estate and then went downtown to get some food. The hotels in Asheville seemed to be clustered in three main areas: 1) South end of town near the Biltmore Estate (Recommended. Nice area). 2) Tunnel Road near the Interstate beltway. This area looked a little rundown to me. 3) Downtown. There were a few hotels downtown. I guess they would be nice if you had secured parking for your bike. Downtown wasn't that exciting though, so I wouldn't recommend this area.
We rode our bikes around for a while and found a nice pizza place called the Mellow Mushroom, which was exactly what the name sounds like. It was packed and we had to wait a while to get seated on the outdoor patio, but the pizza was great, the beer was cold and the scenery was mellow. I would definitely go back to this place.
Things were looking up from the not-so-great start to the day and we headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately when we get back to the hotel, we get word that our father is in the hospital for tests due to chest pains. We discuss going home and are not sure what to do. It's late so we decide to sleep on it and call home in the morning to see how things are going.
6/29/08 Day 4 Riding around Asheville area.
Starting mileage 8,751
BRP S to Maggie Valley (Nice Ride-No Traffic)
Wheels Through Time Museum - test ride of 1942 HD XA
SR19N to 209 to Hot Springs - Very nice ride! A few Very Non RIDING HD riders!
208N to TN then 70N to Cherokee National Forest (Gravel Road back to Hot Springs)
25S back to SR19 and back to Asheville
Ending mileage 9,002
We re-evaluate the situation on the home front and status is still unknown. It's not clear what we can do, so we decide to go riding for the day and call home periodically to see how things are going.
The situation at home definitely put a damper on the day, but we tried to make the best of it and this was probably the most spectacular day of riding yet.
We gas up and head out of the hotel directly onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. We start out riding pretty slowly partly because we had been warned that there were police everywhere on the BRP and partly I think because were somewhat unsettled by the situation at home.
The scenery started off great and just kept getting better and better. At first we were stopping every 10 minutes to take pictures of the beautiful mountains, then we realized it was going to look like this for the next 120 miles of riding!
After warming up for a few miles, we started settling into the ride and gradually our speeds creep up and we concentrate on making good lines through the turns. It was good to focus on the ride and take our minds off work, life, and the previously mentioned issues on the homefront. My mind floats off mid-turn thinking about work/life then snaps back...Aack! I am not sure how hot I entered this turn. I have a mini-panic and reflexively grab some front brake. The bike immediately stands up and starts drifting towards the outside of the turn. Oops. I release the brakes, put some extra lean in and make the turn without too much drama. We were not pushing it and I had plenty of margin for error. Pretty embarrassing though. Mark was right behind me. Must have given him a good fright. I'm sure I'll never hear the end of this. :-)
I ride a few more turns then pull over to rest. If I smoked cigarettes, I would light one up now. I realize that I am pretty stressed from general life stuff going on right now.
Mark pulls up and we get off the bikes to rest and take some photos. Then he starts on me; "Dude, that was a strange way of going around a turn!" I'm not sure what freaks him out more; that he thought I would hit the brakes mid-turn on purpose or that I drifted off daydreaming in the middle of a turn!
We stopped at the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum http://www.wheelsthroughtime.com in Maggie Valley. It should have been called the Harley-Davidson museum, because 99% of the bikes inside (and outside) the museum were Harleys. It was still a lot of fun though. Harleys are not my thing. I just don't get their culture. Harley crowds are usually friendly though and we had a good time here chatting with the other riders at the museum.
The only two BMWs in the parking lot
They claimed that every motorcycle in the musuem ran and while we were there, we saw workers wandering around starting random bikes and sometimes riding them around the musuem. There were some pretty impressive burnout marks down the middle of the museum floor. They definitely were not babying these bikes.
The owner came by and started chatting with us. He found out that we rode BMWs and said "Oh I have something to show you". A 1942 Harley Davidson XA boxer twin. We had seen this earlier, but did not know what it was. He had two of these. One in pristine, showroom condition and another rattier one. I put the picture of the ratty one below for a reason.
He let us ride it! How cool is that?
We rest for a while outside the musuem and Mark calls home to get a status update. Still in the hospital. Still don't know what's wrong.
We spend the rest of the day winding around through back roads in NC and TN. All of these roads were good, some of them were fantastic.
If we had both been on GSs, we probably would have explored some of the smaller dirt roads that we passed by.
A great day of riding.
We head back to the hotel in Asheville, get cleaned up and check in with home again. Status is the same. Still in the hospital, don't know what is wrong. We decide to cut our trip short and head home in the morning.
We go downtown again to grab some dinner. Mark has a very interesting encounter with a senior citizen who tries to kill Mark with his SUV. We were riding around downtown looking for a parking spot. We see one and Mark pulls in and I wait on the street for him to maneuver his bike perpendicular to the curb before I pull in. Just then the SUV we were following starts to back up and it looks like he does not see Mark and is about to parallel park right into Mark's bike. Mark starts beeping his horn and yelling Stop! I start beeping my horn too and the guy stops with his bumper right up to Mark's front wheel. I see Mark disappear around the passenger side of the vehicle. I pull up on the driver side and I see Mark yelling at this old guy "I was not trying to steal your parking spot you F*@#%!. It seems the old guy thought we were trying to snake his parking spot and was actually going to back into Mark's bike to defend his parking spot. Mark said the old dude was spitting mad and started screaming at Mark through the passenger window over old dude's wife who sat there looking embarrassed. OMG! Freaking crazy old dude! I hope that when I get old I am a happy old person; not an angry one like that guy.
Anyway, we let him have the parking space and move 20 feet up the street and take another spot.
We have dinner at a nice cafe around the corner. I order the strangest looking thing on the menu. Shrimp stuffed with crab covered in white chocolate and habanero sauce. It was delicious, though not as spicy as I anticipated.
We spend half of dinner watching the juggler in front of the cafe and the other half talking to our sister on Mark's cell phone. We head back to the hotel and crash. I am out like a light.
6/30/08 Day 5
Starting mileage 9,002
Headed for home on I-26N (Nice Road for Interstate) to I-81N.
I-81N to Staunton. Once in Staunton got word that Dad was OK and being released from hospital in AM. Decided to spend the rest of the day riding.
250W to Monterrey then doubled back to town of McDowell, VA where we took 654N to 23N. Got lost and ended up back on 21S back to 250.
250E to 42N to I-81. (Separated from Paul due to miscommunication and improper cell phone storage)
I-81N to New Market to 211 E
211E to Skyline Drive. Took Skyline Drive north to Front Royal - Watch for the Deer!
66E back to Chantilly, VA
Ending mileage 9,599
We had planned on spending the next few days camped at the Cherohala Motorcycle campground and riding the Smokey mountains, Deals Gap, etc., but given the situation at home, we decide to start heading back today.
We planned to slab it back the whole way on the Interstate and were not anticipating that much in the way of great riding. The day started off pretty nice on I-26 out of Asheville. It was a very nice ride for an Interstate. Straight of course, but a lot of great scenery. The temperatures really cooled off and we were definitely happy we had the heated grips on the BMWs.
Once we turned off to I-81, the ride became less pleasant. The traffic increased quite a bit and the scenery was less impressive. It was still not that bad though. We stopped for lunch in Staunton, VA. About 1.5 hours via Interstate from the motorcycle rental place that would mark the terminus of my trip.
While stopped for lunch, we finally got word from home that they figured out what was wrong with our father. He had some severe arterial blockages. Through the miracle of modern medicine, he received two "stents" and they sent him home in satisfactory condition. With this good news, we decided that we did not need to rush home today, but that it would be more practical to show up tomorrow morning.
We decided to repeat our route from a few days ago into the mountains on the VA-WV border. We headed West from Staunton on SR-250 and I quickly recognized some of the same great twists and turns from before. I could not get a good groove this time around though and it wasn't as enjoyable for me. This is probably because I hit some gravel in one of the first turns and the rear of my bike stepped out and made my heart stop for a moment. By the time I got my head back together, we were pretty much through the best turns.
Halfway through our previous route, we decided to just take some smaller back roads and see where they led us. The riding on these roads was a slower pace and we saw some beautiful scenery.
Unfortunately, the rain that we had been dodging all day hit us while we were lost on these back roads. We got rained on intermittently at first, then a downpour for the next 30 minutes. We were also lost! It was still all good. We were having so much fun, we just rode through the downpour without stopping to put any rain gear on. It was warm, so we figured that we would just dry out when the rain stopped.
We did stop to put our cell phones and wallets inside the waterproof topcase on the GS ridden by me. I wish I had a picture of Mark putting his phone and wallet in the case on my bike - that would turn out to be the most ill-advised move of the trip!
After blasting through the rain, getting lost and unlost a few times, we finally find our way to Harrisonburg, VA. This town intersects with I-81 and since it was getting late, I assume we are headed back to the Interstate to blast back up to Chantilly, VA our starting and end point for this trip. This is confirmed (in my mind) when Mark asks a driver at a stoplight which way to the Interstate. I can barely hear him with my helmet and earplugs, but I can make out "I-81". We are a few blocks from the Interstate on-ramp when Mark who is riding ahead makes it through a yellow light and I get stuck. I see him drive away and I do not worry, because: a) I know he will see that I got stuck at the light and b) he will stop and wait until I catch up.
After the looong light, I start riding and am surprised that I do not see Mark. I go a couple of blocks and see the I-81 onramp. I figure he must have just gotten on the Interstate, so I roll on and figure he is waiting on the onramp. Off the onramp, onto the Interstate and still no Mark. Uh-oh. I keep riding since there is little alternative at this point. I come across the first exit, debate stopping and decide not too. I am not sure why. I do stop at the next exit which is a rest area. I am fully aware that I have Mark's wallet and cell phone on my bike and wonder what he is thinking.
I pull out his cell phone and my cell phone and settle in to wait at the rest stop munching on some snacks. I figure soon or later he will think to call one of these phones. Sure enough, in about 15 minutes, his phone rings. I answer; "Hello?" "Paul, where are you?" Turns out Mark is at the gas station at the exit I just passed trying to find me. Another biker let him borrow their cell phone to make the call. His fuel light is one and he has no wallet and no money. He says he can make it to where I'm at, so I wait and in a few minutes he pulls in.
It turns out that we both assumed something different. He was planning on stopping in Harrisonburg to get a hotel near the Interstate, so he rode past the Interstate onramp. I came along a few minutes later, assumed we were headed north and followed the onramp onto the Interstate.
One important lesson driven home for both of us - Keep your wallet and cell phone on you at all times when out riding. It's strange that Mark would put his wallet and phone on my bike and that I would watch him do this without commenting, because we have talked about this before and concluded that you should always keep your cell phone on your person. That way if you crash and fly off the road without anyone noticing, the authoritities can trace your location by your cell phone signal. Gruesome to think about, but more than one person's life has been saved by this.
I chalk this mistake up to fatigue. We had been out riding for days and had just completed a long day of riding through some cold, wet conditions and several hundred miles of Interstate. I think we were also lulled into a false sense of complacency, because we were riding together and during the entire trip had done a very good job of keeping close to each other.
It probably also wouldn't be a bad idea to keep some cash or an emergency credit card permanently stashed on your bike or in your gear somewhere.
Oh well, file that one away for future trips.
At this point we discuss how to proceed. I vote to head all the way back to Chantilly, so we can drop the bike off in the morning and I can use the hotel near the rental place as a home base to search for a rental car. We decide to do this, but since this will be our last day of riding, we will milk every bit of it. We pull out the map and see that we can hit the last 30 miles of Skyline Drive and should have just enough time to get to Front Royal, VA before it gets dark.
Skyline Drive was fantastic. We lucked out and avoided the $16 entrance fee since were arrived so late in the day. The road was mostly devoid of traffic due to the late hour, but we rode slowly just enjoying the views and our last bit of scenic riding before heading home. There were deer everywhere.
We sat and watched the sunset and snapped a few pictures of the sunset. This is pretty much the end of our trip. From here it's down to Front Royal, then I-66 East back to Chantilly/DC Metro area, then I-95 north back to DE. This will all be urban Interstate riding through the crowded mid-atlantic region megapolis that stretches from NYC to Washington, DC. Not the most pleasant riding. Just a barn-burner run to get home.
7/1/08 Day 6
Starting mileage 9,599
Headed home I-66E to DC Beltway (N?) to I-95 to Bob's BMW then BW Parkway back to I-95 to Newark, DE
Ending mileage 9729
I dropped off bike at Eaglerider and picked up a rental car for the trip back to DE. I was going to recount our conversation with Eaglerider, but decided to just skip it. They did cover the cost of the repair and discounted the day we spent getting the brakes fixed, but their customer service attitude left a lot to be desired and I would not use them again.
We stopped at Bob's BMW on the way back north. We checked out the collection of old airheads and the new bikes including the 2008 R1200GS. After leaving Bob's, I follow Mark back to I-95 northbound then he waves off and we part ways with plans to meet up in a couple of hours in Newark, DE.
A great trip even though we had to come back earlier than anticipated. Total of approximately 1,819 miles. 6 days, 6 states (DE,MD,VA,WV,NC,TN).
Thoughts about the bikes:
R1100S. Mark has made some customizations to his bike to make it more comfortable for touring. He has barbacks, motolights and I think an aftermarket windscreen. It was an excellent bike for this trip. I am not used to riding sport bikes, but I did a couple of Interstate stints on it and was plenty comfortable. One thing I noticed was different than the GS was that while the GS pulled very strongly in low gears and at low RPMs (easily lifts the front wheel), the R1100S had a rush that came on when the boxer engine spun up to higher rpms. It was deceptively fast. It was interesting to get on this bike after the GS. It felt so precise after the looseness on the GS. It also looks fantastic. With the possible exception of the HP2 Sport, I think this is the best looking Boxer ever manufactured by BMW.
R1200GS. I've ridden most BMW bikes but never a GS and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not. Immediately after leaving the rental place I thought it was crap and was anticipating an unpleasant week on this clumsy overgrown dirt-bike. After our first highway stint and first mountain pass run, I was sold. By the end of the week, I was trying to figure out how to add one to my garage. People always say that with BMWs you can't test ride them for a few blocks - you will hate them at first, but after a few hundred miles, you will love them. I don't know why I experienced this, but it's true. This is possibly the most well rounded motorcycle I have ever ridden. We did not go off-road, but it did everything else we asked of it with style and comfort.
7/2/08 - 7/7/08
Fourth of July with family in Newark and Rehoboth Beach, DE., then back to D.C. to drop off the rental car and fly back to Seattle.
Blue Ridge Parkway http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/
Cherohala Skyway http://www.cherohala.org/index.html
Deals Gap - Tail of the Dragon (Do we really want to go here? note: do not crash on the dragon)
NPS Great Smokey Mountains Motorcycle safety tips! http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/motorcycle.htm
BRP Road closures http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm