I wanted to document my recent trip on my MP3 500 from my home in CT, down to Virginia, all the way down Skyline Drive, all the way down the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the Dragon, and then back home. Total distance was about 2100 miles in six days. It's taken me a few weeks to find the time to write it all down. Hope you enjoy!
A bit about me:
I've been lurking around here for quite a while, and I figure it's as good a time as any to introduce myself. I'm 33 years old and relatively new to riding. My MP3 500 is my first bike. I purchased it, along with a Vespa LX150 for my wife in April 2008. I owe the pleasure of my new found hobby to my wife. She always dreamed of owning a Vespa (she had never ridden before either.) She picked out a pretty sky blue one at the dealer and outfitted herself with all the pretty blue Vespa and Corazzo gear to match. While at the dealer, I first laid eyes on this thing called the MP3 500 - they had just gotten a red one in from the initial shipment. Wow, did I like it. That night I spent most of the night reading about the MP3 500 and first found the modernvespa website. The next morning I decided I would purchase the MP3 also. After all, my wife and I thought it would be great to take the MSF course together and get our licenses, and we dreamt of all the riding adventures we would one day have.
I had never ridden any kind of motorized bike before. When I was a kid I lived on my bicycle, so I suppose that might have had something to do with me feeling totally at home riding from the get go. My wife struggled a bit but quickly got the hang of it. We practiced together riding up and down our road and in a nearby parking lot. We both did well in the MSF course and got our licenses. Last summer and into the fall we began commuting to work on our bikes. I rode into December, so long as there wasn't ice on the ground. My wife didn't deal with the cold as well as me, and last rode around October.
This past February my wife got quite sick and I unexpectedly lost her in March. She never got to ride her Vespa again. Of course words can't express how I feel about the whole thing. One thing I realized is that I found riding my MP3 comforting somehow, and needing something to focus on, I set about planning this trip. I spent much of the spring and summer deciding where I would ride, and then spent loads of time working on selecting the right gear. After debating about heading north into Canada or south into Virginia, I decided making my way all the way down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway would be great for my first trip, if not a bit ambitious. I kept reading about everyone's trips to the Dragon here, and decided I might as well try to work that into my plans as well. I had never ridden further than about 100 miles in one day, but I've always felt completely comfortable on the bike and thought the challenge might do me some good.
I do want to thank everyone for the various answers to the few questions and problems I've had, some of which I've asked about in the forums, some of which were addressed for others. This forum has been so very helpful with everything.
Anyway, enough about me...
On to my trip report:
First of all, for those of you that have been asking if the MP3 500 is capable of touring, the answer is clearly yes. I ended up with close to 100lbs of gear and baggage strapped to my bike and had no problems whatsoever. For those of you that have been asking if you are too big or too tall to ride an MP3, I have to believe the answer is no. I'm a big guy - about 6'5" and 300lbs. I find I am perfectly comfortable on the bike and with the riding position. I can lean the 500 nearly to the ground and lift it without much trouble while standing over it. That helps I suppose, especially with normal handling when the bike is loaded with gear. Bottom line is I think this bike is great for big people. I had it loaded nearly to its max weight, and had zero issues.
Let's see... After a period of weeks with various packages showing up at my doorstep from all the things I was ordering, it was nearing the time of my departure. I am not big on hot temperatures, so I figured if I were heading south I would try to go when it was a bit cooler, hence my planned departure at the end of September. Besides all the gear (I'll detail that below) I took care of a few other things before leaving.
I joined the AMA in case I needed some towing assistance. Figured that would be good to have in a pinch. And I needed a new rear tire. I had about 6300 miles on mine. It didn't look that bad - there was another millimeter maybe to the wear bars, but the middle section was looking rather worn. I'd have maybe gotten another 500+ miles out of it, but I needed a tire to last 2000+ miles and didn't want to have to deal with a tire change in the middle of my trip. So the helpful people at Scooter Centrale / Vespa Hartford squeezed me in a couple days before I was leaving to install my tire. I had previously ordered an exact replacement for the OEM Michelin Gold Standard 140/70-14 online after much debate about going to a wider size. I decided I liked the ride, handling, and wear of the OEM one and finally decided to stick with it.
The day before leaving, I updated my Garmin Zumo 550 with the latest maps and software. I spent quite a while wrestling with the mapsource program to detail out my various routes and then transfer them to the Zumo. Once I had everything set up, the Zumo worked well enough, though I have never been much of a fan of its user interface (it was the first thing I added to my 500 right after I bought it last year.) I loaded a bunch of mp3s onto the Zumo to listen to while riding through the bluetooth headset built in to my Nolan helmet.
For something else to listen to, I also picked up one of those new portable HD radios. It fit in a pocket of my jacket and I could run the wire up to the input on my helmet since the radio didn't have bluetooth.
I laid out all the items I was going to bring with me on my dining room table, and the floor, and the garage... I was bringing too much stuff. I figured I would pack up everything after getting a good night's sleep and then leave behind what I couldn't find room for. I didn't get much sleep that night. I was pretty excited about beginning my adventure the next morning.
September 28 - Hit the Road
South Eastern CT (home) to Lehighton, PA
States: CT, NY, PA
In the morning, I found myself spending quite a bit of time deciding exactly how to pack everything up. By the time I had my bike packed up the way I liked it (took a little bit of experimentation to figure out how to find a spot for everything while making certain everything was nicely balanced) it was a bit after 10am.
For the curious and gear conscious, here is what I ended up with gear-wise. I was very happy with everything:
The gear I was wearing: Tourmaster Transition II jacket, Tourmaster Tracker Air Pants over a pair of regular pants, SDI boots, Olympia gel gloves, and the Nolan N102 helmet with the bluetooth kit
For clothing and assundries I packed them up within various sizes of those Eagle Creek packing cubes. I got a bunch of them when my wife and I went backpacking through Europe. I love those things and use them whenever I travel. Highly recommended. They really let you fit a bunch of stuff in a small space and still keep things organized.
Under the seat: 5 bottles of water, assorted packages of dehydrated camping meals, hot cocoa mix, 2 bottled of iced tea, tool roll, Yuasa motorcycle jumper cables, Stop'n'go tire repair kit, AirMan Sparrow Air Pump in carrying case (fits perfectly in that recessed hump area at the back of the seat - and has a screw-on type connector for the tire valve), extra drive belt, cargo net, tie downs, bike outlet chargers for helmet, cell phone, and portable radio.
In the Coocase S48 top box: Big Agnes inflatable air mattress. Nemo Morhpo AR tent, Adventure Weekender medical kit, Snowpeak titanium mug/pot and spork, MSR Dragonfly camp stove, toilet paper and tissues in a zip lock bag
In the FirstGear Silverstone saddlebags: 2 MSR 30oz fuel bottles (1 in each saddlebag) filled with 93 octane, packit cube containing toiletries, packit cube containing some clothes, container of baby wipes, packable rain jacket, warm lining for Tourmaster jacket, flip-flops
In the Bags Connection 60L waterproof roll-top duffle bag mounted on the back seat: 2 packit cubes containing clothes, Big Agnes Hog Park sleeping bag, REI camp pillow
In the Givi tunnel bag: FirstGear Rainman rain pants, camera (point and shoot, figured I'd leave the digital SLR at home), various batteries, LED flashlight, LED headlamp, assorted snacks, drinks, warmer waterproof Frank Thomas gloves, assorted items for cleaning visor, sunglasses/glasses, Insignia portable HD radio, and lots of other odds and ends I thought might be useful. It's amazing how much stuff you can fit in this bag.
I went with the Airhawk medium cruiser for my seat. I can't say enough good things about it.
Here are some pics of my MP3 all loaded up.
My intention was to avoid taking the highways and to enjoy a nice scenic ride from my home all the way to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I headed out on various back roads through CT and into NY. I was having a great time right from the get go even in my own state, as I had never really explored much of western CT. Upon entering NY I made my way up into the Appalachian Mountains and found some very scenic vistas overlooking the Trapps of the Mohonk Preserve. Here is a picture from wikipedia:
Coming out of the mountains I hit a bit of rain. I had previously treated my helmet visor with Raincoat, which is basically like rain-x but specifically made for helmet visors. I never used it before, but will be using it from now on. It works miraculously. The rain just doesn't adhere to the visor. Highly recommended. Thankfully, the rain only lasted an hour or so.
The scenery of rural New York and into Pennsylvania was really breathtaking. I'm kicking myself for not having taken any pictures. It was picturesque farm after farm and field after field. My route really took me through some off the beaten path areas, and once I had a bit of a worry about finding gas. I would definitely make a trip just to go through rural PA and take in all the farmland.
The terrain changed drastically as I went through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. I had no idea what that was, other than it was thickly wooded, totally secluded, and the roads were nice and peaceful to ride along. I passed by various camping areas, so I believe it is some kind of national park. Nearing its exit, I came to the first intersection in many miles, and an SUV pulled up along side of me. The driver and passenger were very eager to ask me all sorts of questions about the MP3. As there was no one else around in sight we had a nice conversation at the light before heading our separate ways.
As night was falling I found myself on windy country roads nearing Lehighton, PA. I hadn't made it nearly as far as I wanted on my first day, but I happened upon a Country Inn and Suites and figured it was a good time to call it a night. Dinner was some pizza I had delivered to the hotel.
September 29 - Onto Skyline Drive
Lehighton, PA to Skyline Drive
States: PA, MD, WV, VA
I set out early after filling up on a half way decent hotel breakfast. I wasn't sure if it had rained overnight or if it was just an excessive amount of morning dew, but my bike was completely soaked. I wiped it down with a towel I had brought for the purpose. I had purchased a waterproof motorcycle cover before leaving on the trip, but didn't bring it as it took up quite a bit of space packed in its pouch. That's ok, I remember reading somewhere that adventure riders don't use motorcycle covers...
Anyway, my goal for the day was to get into Virginia and make it onto Skyline Drive.
The road out of Lehighton was interesting, with some generally steep declines and some twists down into a gorge and along the banks of a river. The downtown area had a very pleasant small town feel and had a nice looking old fashioned railroad station that seemed like it could have been right out of the 1800's.
I continued on rural roads mostly paralleling highway 81 and eventually reached Harrisburg. The capitol building in Harrisburg is very impressive. You get a very nice view of the complex when riding in to Harrisburg along a narrow straight road heading directly to the capitol building's large dome in the distance, before veering off and around at the last moment. I would have liked to have taken some pictures, but the area was bustling and the traffic was moving quickly.
I wasn't expecting it, but my route did have me get on a short stretch of highway for just one exit (can't remember which one.) Before getting on the highway, there was a big sign that read, "PASSENGER CARS ONLY." I wasn't sure if that meant I wasn't allowed on the road, but figured I was only going to be on it for one exit. Luckily, I didn't end up in prison.
It seemed like I had been in PA forever when I finally reached West Virginia. For some reason I really felt a sense of accomplishment when reaching the border. It really is an incredible feeling to travel by bike.
Getting through West Virginia, Maryland, and into Virginia was a breeze. And once into Virginia, Skyline drive wasn't far away. I arrived at the entrance to Skyline Drive at about 5:30pm. I figured I still had a couple of hours of daylight, and turned around to fill up on gas and find something quick to eat (I had skipped lunch and was quite hungry after a full day of riding.) It was about 6pm when I turned onto Skyline Drive and pulled up to the booth to pay my entrance fee. I think it was $10 - they give you a bit of a break for being on a motorcycle. Before I continued I examined the map I was given at the entrance booth to look for a place to camp. I figured I would try to get to the Big Meadows campground which was about 50 miles away. To do so would require a bit of travel in the dark, but I was running behind and wanted to try to make up some time.
Look, I made it onto Skyline Drive!
The first thing I noticed about being on Skyline Drive was that deer were everywhere! The light was beginning to fade, and deer seemed to be around every corner. They weren't too frightened by the bike, and I had to slow down and practically come to a stop numerous times to allow them to meander across the road before I could continue. There wasn't enough light to take any decent pictures, but here's one that you can make out the subject matter:
The scenery was beautiful as I made my way down the road. Even when the sun set and it was dark, the views from road of the lights of the towns and cities in the distance was spectacular. The road was a tiny bit treacherous at night though and I began to wonder if I might come across a bear or something as I climbed higher. I hadn't seen another soul for about an hour, and it began to get quite cold. I came to this amazing lit tunnel cut into the mountain and really wanted to park my bike in it to take a picture, but was nervous about encountering an animal or causing an accident. I was also getting quite tired and was ready to get some rest. I began counting the miles until I believed I would be at the campground.
I was very relieved when my headlights finally shone on a sign that said Big Meadows Campground. Turning off Skyline Drive I made my way down some side roads and to the pass office of the campground. There was a small van transporting some campers which was just pulling away from the office, and the office had some lights on, but was closed. I left my bike in a designated spot behind where the van was and walked up to the office to figure out how to check in after hours. They had this system where you were supposed to take a special envelope, go down into the campground, find a site that wasn't reserved (it wouldn't have a special marker affixed to a pole in front of it), record the site number and some other info on the envelope, break off a portion of the envelope and bring it all the way back to the pass office, and leave the other portion of the envelope on the site marker of the site you picked. Then in the morning return the marker with a payment of $15 (I think - maybe it was $10?) Anyway all this seemed rather complicated to me as I stood there in the dark, cold and tired from my day of riding. I think I must have been reading for like 20 minutes before I had a clue what I was supposed to do.
So I turned around and... couldn't see anything. Somewhere out there in the complete darkness was my bike. I hadn't thought to bring a flashlight with me to the pass office. Oh well, after some stumbling around in the darkness, I happened upon an MP3 which was likely mine, and if not, it would fit the bill. I had picked a general area of the campground that was marked no generators figuring it would at least be away from RVs, etc. It was a bit after 9pm, so I did my best to quietly select a site, unpack the bike, and pitch my tent. I felt badly about possibly disturbing other campers so only left the bike running with the headlights on long enough to get my bags off the bike and my camping gear out of my topbox. The nice 4 led head lamp I picked up from REI worked great as I set up my tent in the darkness.
The Nemo Morpho tent I decided to go with was pretty neat. I just had to stake out the corners, and hook up this small compressible foot pump to inflate two air beams. Very quick to setup and no stakes to take up room in my baggage. In about five minutes I had my campsite ready and began tossing all my loose belongings into the tent. After filling out the required paperwork, and trekking back up the hill to the pass office, I was ready to settle in and get some much needed rest.
The tent was just big enough for me (I'm about 6'5"), my super comfy Big Agnes Hog Park sleeping bag and inflatable mattress pad, the saddle bags, the tunnel bag, the duffel bag, and my helmet, riding jacket, pants, and boots. A few things were resting up against the wall of the tent, but in the morning there was no moisture inside the tent whatsoever.
The night was quiet, clear, and starry. Beautiful. I slept about half the night with the outer flaps of the tent open looking out the mesh at the night sky. At some point the wind picked up and I closed the outer flap to keep warm. I kept perfectly comfortable and had a great night's sleep.
Here are some pictures from the next morning of my first ever motorcycle camp site:
The Nemo Morpho is a single wall tent, so I expect it might be a bit warm in the summer since it doesn't have a separate rain fly to completely remove and expose lots of mesh. The entrance flaps can be rolled up to make one side completely mesh. You can even retract a portion of the floor, move the entrance inward, and convert the former entrance to a covered vestibule for cooking, etc.
There is a vent at the back as well.
September 30 - Blue Ridge Parkway Day 1
Skyline Drive to the Blue Ride Parkway
I got up a bit before 7am, and crawled out of my tent a bit blurry eyed. It took me a moment before I noticed movement to my right, and after blinking a few times, I realized there was a deer about 3 feet away. In fact there were a number of deer walking all around my tent. I have plenty of deer at home, but this was the closest I had ever been to one. They didn't seem too frightened by people. Maybe campers have been feeding them? I walked up to the entrance area of the campground where there were some bathrooms and showers. Everything at the campsite was very clean and not at all what I was used to from my days of camping back when I was a kid. They had a number of private shower stalls which were $1 in quarters for about 5 minutes of nice hot water.
I packed up my site which took me longer than I would have liked. It was a bit time consuming to deflate the air mattress, and roll/stuff everything back up into their stuff sacks, and pack everything away again, and then load up the bike. I think it must have taken me an hour to do it all - maybe with more practice I can cut that in half. They had food at the lodge at the campground, but I was eager to put some miles behind me, so I skipped breakfast. I hit the road at about 9am, with the intention of making it the rest of the way down Skyline Drive, and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I filled up at the campground's gas station at the entrance to Skyline Drive, had another conversation or two with people interested in the MP3, and continued southbound. Wow. I don't know what else to say about the scenery. It was beautiful. The speed limit of 35mph was a bit limiting, you could easily safely do 45-50. The road was rather quiet, perhaps because of the time of year. I passed by one motorist who was pulled over by the police, I presume for speeding. It was the only time I saw police on the road. For the next few miles I signed to the motorists heading the other direction that there were police ahead by tapping on the top of my helmet. Not sure if everyone knew what that meant, but one large group of bikers definitely did and thanked me as we crossed paths. I kept my speed at about 40 and had a pleasant, relaxing, and scenic ride.
At a bit past 11am I reached the end of Skyline Drive and came to the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Before continuing I headed towards the nearby town of Waynesboro to get some lunch and some gas. I stopped at a Hardy's there, and dismounted my bike. I suddenly heard someone crying next to me, and took off my helmet to find this adorable Boston terrier sitting in the drivers seat of the truck next to me, crying like a baby! He was just staring out at the Hardy's, whimpering and half-howling. I have a real soft spot for dogs and was reminded that I was missing my pug at home (she means the world to me.) I felt awkward about it, but I surreptitiously took this picture to remember him by:
Ok, so is it just a Hardy's thing (we don't have them at home) or is it a southern thing in general? The counter people would leave and wander around the restaurant, asking people how their food was, bringing people extra napkins, etc. Kind of nice at a fast food place. Oh, and there was this guy sitting in the booth across from me who I noticed began breaking up the remnants of his burger into a bunch of little pieces and placed them all on the wrapping paper. I was wondering what the heck he was doing (you know, maybe it was an OCD thing?) when he walked out of the restaurant and over to the truck parked next to me bike. Aha. So that's why the cute little Boston terrier was crying - he was impatiently waiting for his burger leftovers. I wish I had a video camera to have recorded the guy's reaction to the MP3. Out of all the (hundreds of?) interested onlookers on my journey, his reaction was by far the funniest. I think he almost broke his neck when he noticed the two wheels in the front of the bike. He then walked all the way around the bike studying it from every angle, until he made his way back to the front again - and again he did some kind of double-take when he noticed that there were, in fact, still two wheels there. He literally clapped his hand to the top of his head in disbelief. It was almost cartoonish how he choreographed so clearly that he wasn't believing what he was seeing. He then went into his truck and retrieved a disposable camera and began taking pictures of the MP3 from every angle. I guess to make sure his friends believed him later? Anyway, I no longer had to feel at all guilty about having taken a picture of his dog.
Before getting on to the parkway, I stopped at this little visitor's center set up there to see about getting a map with the available campgrounds on it. Inside were a few other bikers and some VERY nice and helpful older ladies who were very eager to give me all the advice they had on where the best places to stop for camping were and where there was gas and food, etc. I got the map I needed (they seemed to have hundreds of different ones), and I was on to the Blue Ridge Parkway!
The Parkway was an incredible ride. Beautiful. The speed limit was 45mph which felt much more reasonable than Skyline Drive, especially since most seemed to be moving at about 50mph or so. Some pictures:
Here is the lowest point on the entire parkway, Otter Lake:
And here is the highest point on the Virginia portion of the parkway:
At around 5pm (I moved pretty slowly taking in all the sights along the way) I had made it to the Peaks of Otter campground, and having liked the name of the place and wanting to set up camp before dark (unlike my previous night), I decided to stay. I think it was $16. There was a lodge nearby with a restaurant, but I wanted to make use of the camp stove I had brought with me and try out some of the dehydrated meals I had. The MSR Dragonfly stove worked great, but was a tad loud. All I needed it for was to boil a couple cups of water (I had packed about 5 bottles of water under the seat) but it has adjustments on it to control the temperature of the flame so you could presumably do some real cooking with it. The Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef was perfectly decent. I'd have it again for sure. All it maybe needed was a bit more hot sauce. I'll have to bring some next time. The campground was quiet and there were lots of trails to explore. I could easily see camping there for a few days. Anyway, I had another great night's sleep.
In the morning I managed to shave 5 minutes off of my packing time. Getting there, I guess.
October 1 - Blue Ridge Parkway Day 2
Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC
States: VA, NC
I headed out at about 9am. I left the parkway in search of gas and ended up getting a somewhat decent breakfast at a Huddle House in a town I can't remember the name of. Then it was time to ride all day. I wanted to get as far along the parkway as I possibly could, as I wanted to make sure I had time for my planned excursion at the end to the Dragon.
More beautiful scenery. There were all sorts of different exhibits and things to see along the parkway, besides all of the incredible scenic overlooks.
And a little after 3pm, I made it all the way to the North Carolina border.
Some more scenery.
Daylight was beginning to fade. Looking at my GPS and my map, I was within driving distance of Asheville, if I didn't mind driving through the dark for a couple of hours. I decided to keep on going, as Asheville would put me in a good position to make it to the Dragon the next day.
Sunset over the Blue Ridge mountains:
Unfortunately that night it began to mist/sprinkle a bit which made it a bit difficult to see clearly through my visor. My eyeglasses were giving me trouble with fogging too. It also seems I had reached some of the curviest parts of the road that evening. I adopted the strategy of trying to ensure I had a car ahead of me so I could better see what was coming up by watching him. The cars ahead of me would invariable turn off into an overlook or random small road into the woods. Once or twice I pulled over to wait for a car to pass me by so I could follow. I never had to wait more than a couple minutes. At around 9pm I made the turnoff to Asheville. Not far from the parkway, I found a Best Western and spent the night there.
October 2 - Rode the Dragon!
Asheville, NC to Wytheville, VA
States: NC, TN, VA
I headed out from my hotel in Asheville at about 8am and made my way straight back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The plan for the day was to finish up the Parkway, take a quick jaunt over to the Dragon and then begin my trip home.
I needed to find gas and pulled off the Parkway onto a side road that went to a little town that I believe was called Stoney Park. My GPS had it labeled Pisgah Highway (map says Rt. 151.) I was so happy I needed gas where I did. I highly recommend this relatively short and somewhat narrow (but well paved) stretch of road. It makes its way downhill in a crazy series of twists and turns including a number of 90 degree corners and 180 degree switchbacks. I later noticed it had a sign that said something to the effect of "Sponsored by the Miata Ridge Racers Club." I've just googled it and it and it seems others have this road as one of their favorites in the area. It was mostly wooded but there were a couple of areas where some small bubbling streams of water trickled their way down over large rock walls replacing the trees. Very calming. And then very exhilarating when you hit the next 180 degree turn. Down this road, gas was about 15-20 minutes from the Parkway. I'd have ridden it a few times if I had the time.
The rest of the Parkway (southern portion) was the most beautiful, in my opinion. Many great tunnels. The road gradually made its way higher and higher until I was finally riding in the clouds. Visibility became quite poor nearing the Parkway's highest point. Here are a couple of pictures:
And here is my little mp3 after having scaled to the absolute highest point on the parkway:
For those wanting to know, the altitude didn't cause my check engine light to turn on, and I was keeping an eye out for it. Much of the last portion of the Parkway was around 5000 ft. with the higher points being around 6000 ft.
At around 11am, With no fanfare or even any signs that I could see, I made it to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It just kind of stopped at an intersection. A bit anti-climactic, but that's ok because I was moving on and making my way to the Dragon.
I rode through this really interesting (and very touristy) Native American themed town called Cherokee. Looked to have tons of souvenir shops, some museums/zoos, some small amusement parks, lots of motels, and places to eat, etc. Lots of people were out and about. I would have liked to poke around a bit, but I didn't have time to spare since I was running a day or two behind schedule. So I rode for another hour and a half or so, first on some highways and then on some more mountainous roads. It was drizzling a bit, but eventually it cleared up. I hadn't seen another vehicle in quite some time and it really seemed as if I were in the middle of nowhere when I rounded a corner and suddenly saw the packed parking lot filled with motorcycles in front of the Deal's Gap motorcycle resort. The MP3 of course garnered lots of attention. I pulled over, stretched my legs, and picked up a pin and a sticker at the Tail of the Dragon store.
I'd never seen so many motorcycles in one place before. It was pretty cool to hear (and feel) the continual roars of the louder bikes as they began their trips onto the Dragon. After taking a few pics, I started up the gradual incline and began one of the most fun rides of my life.
I rode it fairly aggressively but felt perfectly comfortable and in complete control the entire time. I was frequently scraping the center stand around the corners, which to be honest was a highly satisfying feeling. It felt like the bike was on rails, as if I were riding this great rollercoaster and all I had to do was control the speed. Great fun. I wish I had a road like it closer to home. There are a number of websites that take pictures of riders and post them online to sell prints. They were all good, but I decided I liked the quality of the ones on the killboy.com site the best. Here are a few pics from killboy.com:
I didn't realize I had made it to the end of the dragon. At one point there were a bunch of people pulled over on either side of the road. I kept going past them (there were still a few more nice twisties after all.) I guess that was the endpoint. The road straightened out and travelled along the edge of Chilhowee Lake (quite pretty.) I pulled over to consider my options for beginning my trek home.
The road home:
I figured it had taken me over 4 days to get to where I was, and I wanted to be home in 2 days. So I plotted a new course on my gps taking highways all the way back to save time and began my trip home. Before getting too far I stopped for a burger at this place called 129 Motorcycle Pit stop at the intersection of 129 and 72. Really great burger and friendly service. While eating I had a nice conversation with a couple of Harley riders on their way to the Dragon. They left before me and noticed my bike outside. As I finished my burger I watched them through the window studying my bike from every angle. One of them came back inside to ask me what the hell it was. So I gave him the usual string of answers, joined them outside, and finished with a demonstration of how it leans. They were pretty fascinated. Turned out one of them grew up in the same town in Massachusetts as my dad. Small world.
So I made my way to the highway and took 81 through Knoxville and back into Virginia. It was getting dark by the time I made it to Wytheville, VA so I pulled over at the exit and began looking for a place to stay. I considered driving a little ways to a KOA campground that was indicated on my GPS, but a Comfort Inn was right there and a Ruby Tuesday's was across the street, and being fairly tired and quite hungry, that's where I stayed.
October 3 - Rest of the Way Home
Wytheville, VA to South Eastern CT (home)
States: VA, WV, MD, PA, NJ, NY, CT
I got a late start in the morning due to somehow not having set the hotel's alarm clock properly. I checked the weather forecast and saw it should be smooth sailing for the day. There was a chance that Connecticut was going to get some rain, but it was likely to be after midnight. In the off chance that I might hit an unexpected storm, I put another application of the raincoat stuff on my visor. After loading up the bike and a quick bowl of cereal, I hit the road at about 10am. My plan was to continue on highways to get a bunch of quick miles under my belt and see how far I could get before getting tired and finding a place to camp or stay.
I can't say enough good things about the performance of my 500 travelling at speed on the highway. The highways through VA and PA are quick - speed limits seem to usually be about 70 with most traffic moving closer to 80. I rode most of the day near and above 80mph. I was worried I would get fatigued more quickly doing long distances on the highway since I don't have a windscreen. Nope - I was as comfortable as could be with the exception of my rear which was finally starting to ache a bit. In the beginning of the day I would go through about a half tank of gas, pull off the highway, and stretch my legs for a few minutes before continuing. After half a day of this, I put a bit more air in the Airhawk seat cushion, and I was able to manage running through a tank of gas before needing to stop. Anyway, the miles were just ticking by and I began to realize I could probably just keep going until I got home.
I stopped at a rest area for a bite to eat and some gas. While I ate, I watched my bike from the windows and chuckled to myself as a guy drove by in a truck, noticed my mp3, came to a quick stop, and reversed back to check it out. He then took out a camera and circled my bike in his truck about three times while taking pictures of it from various angles. I need to start charging people to take pictures.
In PA a truck ahead of me blew out a tire and I had to do some quick swerves to avoid the tire debris while traveling at about 78mph. The bike moved effortlessly and truly felt like a natural extension of myself. After I weaved through some of the rubber, a car in front of me and a lane over hit a large piece of the tire rubber and sent it up into the air and into my lane. I avoided it, but it was a bit unnerving. Also when the sun was getting low in PA, as I was nearing the end of I-78 before getting to NJ, I gradually realized I wasn't able to see very well. I can't describe the number of tiny bugs plastered on my visor (I should have taken a picture.) I pulled over and had to give the visor a good cleaning before I could continue. For the purpose I had packed a tiny little spray bottle of some anti-fog cleaning solution I had picked up at Cyclegear. Keeping it in one of the small outer pockets of the tankbag with a rag worked out nicely. Unfortunately, the cleaning solution must have also cleaned off much of the raincoat coating I had applied at the beginning of the day, and I would be regretting this later...
The weather was beautiful until I got into NJ when it began to drizzle a bit. Mist mostly, off and on. I had to stop for gas, and as I was dismounting the bike, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea if it was the law in NJ that an attendant fill your bike like they must do with cars. As soon as I popped open the gas lid door, the attendant was there taking over. I was amazed at how well he did filling the tank, topping it off just the way I like too, without overfilling at all and without spilling a drop. I found myself having yet another lengthy conversation about the mp3 (he had never seen one.) Turns out he used to ride scooters in India and many years ago had a small Vespa he couldn't say enough positive things about.
I went through New York City at night and over the George Washington Bridge. Keeping some loose change and a bit of cash in the outer pockets of the Givi tunnel bag worked out nicely for having to pay tolls. As I was getting nearer to my home state - wow, what a difference in roads. It seems I'd travel a hundred miles in VA before hitting a tiny bump in the pavement, and there would be a warning sign indicating "rough road ahead" well before you got to the bump. Ha! Roads at home in CT are generally bad, but getting through NY felt like off-roading. There were a few times I found myself saying "ow" out loud when I hit a particularly bad gap between sections of pavement. I suppose a bike with greater suspension travel in the rear might have given a more comfortable ride versus the setup on the mp3, but then I would be reminded of the advantages of the mp3 when I would hit an unavoidable pothole or patch of broken pavement.
All hell broke loose when I was nearing Bridgeport, CT on 95. The weather turned from an occasional light mist/drizzle to a complete torrential downpour. It was around 9pm or so and Visibility was almost nonexistent. I realized the rain was no longer rolling off my visor and cursed myself for not having re-applied the raincoat coating to it after having given it that cleaning earlier. Turning my helmet to the left and then to the right usually gets enough of the rain off the visor so I can see, however traffic had slowed to only 30mph or so and there wasn't enough wind to get the visor clean. Wiping it with a gloved hand worked somewhat. Bottom line is that I began looking for a safe place to pull over or get off the highway. Suffice it to say I was getting very wet - all the zippered vents were still open on my jacket, I wasn't wearing my waterproof gloves, and I didn't have my waterproof over-pants on. The top adjustable vents were still open on my helmet, and water was streaming down inside over my face and over the inside of the visor. The water was getting deep on the highway. A car next to me hit a big puddle and sent a nice dirty mini tidal wave of runoff water right into my chest, shoulders, and legs.
Wondering why the heck I hadn't found a safe overpass to take shelter under, I missed an exit (or two?) due to the poor visibility and then found myself traveling over a long bridge. Now I was being buffeted by serious wind as well. At one point I felt the tires break loose and I hydroplaned a bit from right to left in my lane (first time for me while on a bike.) Scary feeling but the bike stayed perfectly straight and when I eased off the throttle letting my speed come down, the tires sank to the pavement and caught before it was a real problem. Finally I found someplace to turn off, but before I could get off the highway, the rain pretty much stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Figures.
So I hopped off the bike, completely drenched from head to toe. I had a huge puddle of water in my lap. It's a weird feeling taking a shower with all your clothes on. I took my gloves off and realized how heavy they felt. I squeezed them out and was amazed at how much water they were holding. Olympia should market these gloves as a competitor to the Shamwow. I wanted to get a quick report on the weather, but my phone (and internet access) was charging under the seat. To get to it would be a bit of a hassle. Coincidentally, right at this moment my helmet started to ring. It was my mom who lives in the next state over calling to see if I had made it home ok, because she had heard there was a tornado watch in Bridgeport at right about that time (aha.) So I asked her to look up the latest radar picture for me (I like to use the weatherunderground site.) I should mention that she is relatively new to the whole "surfing the interwebs" thing, and while she has made some amazing progress of late (she no longer has to take her eyes off the screen, look at the mouse, move the mouse, look back at the screen, be amazed at where that darn pointer has moved to, and repeat) this task proved to be a bit too much for her. After much consideration, she was pretty sure it was clear the rest of my way home, or that it was a complete deluge. Oh well.
So I had to decide if I was going to continue for home and risk the weather, or get a room someplace after traveling all day by bike for over 600 miles, when I was only 60 miles from home. I quickly zippered up the vents on my jacket, put my water proof over-pants on over my wet riding pants and soaking wet regular pants and legs (why not?), struggled to slide my wet hands into my nice and dry waterproof gloves, and closed up the vents on my helmet. I still had the small towel I used to apply and buff out the Raincoat coating on my visor that morning stashed away in my tunnel bag. I gave the visor a good rubdown with the towel hoping all the residual Raincoat stuff would give some benefit (it did!) I checked out my soft saddlebags and the tunnel bag to see how they were holding up for waterproof-ness. They all have a waterproof liner that goes over them, since the fabric is only claimed to be water resistant. Everything in the saddlebags was completely dry. The contents of my tunnel bag were beginning to get a bit wet, but everything that mattered I had in Ziploc bags so I didn't bother to put on the covers. So back out onto the highway, where it once again began to rain.
About 20 miles later I was in New Haven riding through another awful downpour and (I would later find out) a tornado warning. I wasn't getting any more wet though. And the rain was streaming right off of my visor. I found myself smiling as I was riding through the rain, and believe it or not I was having a wonderful time. I did, however, hydroplane one more time when hitting a particularly nasty pool of water. Again the bike stayed perfectly stable until the tires regained traction, although I did slide out almost into the neighboring lane. As I was sliding along, I briefly felt guilty thinking that if anything went badly, my mom would be crying over my casket wishing she had spent more time learning to use the internet and reading weather radar.
Anyway, I made it home safe and sound. The rain finally withered out about a half hour from my house. I got home about 11:15 at night (13 hours of riding and nearly 700 miles.) To be honest, if it wasn't for being completely drenched, I'd have been fine riding for at least a few more hours. I really, really love being on that bike. Here is a picture of me (wet and exhausted) and my very wet bike in my driveway after finishing my adventure.
Total distance travelled: 2100 miles in 6 days.