Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway, all the way (Day 1, continued)

Previous post.

From the map, it was clear that after I entered Tennessee (at Johnson City), the tedium of riding on a busy freeway will be a thing of the past, and I will be traveling through forests and hills.

But Johnson City was another 140 miles on I-81south.  By now my butt was getting a little sore.  I had been riding for more than 6 hours, after all.  I wondered about the IronButt association's honors for relentless riding, some of which are:
  1. SaddleSore and BunBurner: 1000 miles in 24 hours, or 1500 miles in 36 hours.
  2. SS2000: 2000 miles in 48 hours or less.
  3. 50CC: Coast to coast on a motorcycle in 50 hours.
When I was around eight, my dad took my sister and me on his scooter from Patiala to Dehradun and Rishikesh.  It was "only" 200km, but since a scooter could only average 35kmph or so on the tricky Indian roads, we were on the saddle for 5-6 hours on day one.  After about 3 hours of riding, my sister and I were jumping up and down on the scooter seat to relieve some pressure on our butt, even if momentarily.  That annoyed my dad, since the scooter wobbled out of balance every time we did it.

In a rare prank, he dropped us both near a river bridge, and rode off.  My sister and I both started crying.  In a few minutes we saw him coming back toward us.  I don't know if we loved him or hated him at that instant.  After that incident, we merely tried to wiggle our butts without leaving the seat.  But it was mighty uncomfortable.  It was our mini-BunBurner ride.

But this time it was only me on the motorcycle, so I had full freedom to wiggle, to lift my butt for a few moments, and do other amusing manouvers.  They helped somewhat, but I realized I needed to take rest stops every couple of hours.  I stopped for gas after an hour or riding at a village aptly called "Rural Retreat", and had another stop for sipping some iced tea another hour later in Bristol.

I finally exited I-81S onto 26-East, and it was a welcome change.  Now the scenery was lush forests on both sides of the road, with ominous clouds looming low.  The air was cool and moist, and smelled of damp soil and grass.  Up ahead on the horizon the clouds were dark and I wondered if I would be able to continue to ride without getting wet.  About twenty miles in there was a "vista point", and I stopped for a few minutes to admire the view.  Here's a photograph of the motorcycle from the top of the vista point:

It was a beautiful spot, but as you can see, the storm was gathering up ahead.  I climbed down and was back on the highway.

Not ten minutes had passed that drops of rain started hitting my helmet visor.  It was just a drizzle, and I felt confident that I could ride on.  Oh but soon the drizzle turned into a downpour, and I was getting soaked.  The leather jacket and the helmet were protecting my upper body, but the raindrops hitting my legs (at 60mph) felt like darts.  It was so bad that I wondered if there was hail and not raindrops.

Thankfully there was an underpass up ahead, and I exited the highway to shelter under it.  I must have been there for almost three quarters of an hour.  But it was fantastic to see the torrent come down.  It was almost 5pm and those who lived nearby were going back home from their places of work.  Every few minutes a car would pass me while I was just standing around watching the rain.  It was Friday evening, and I imagined that these people must be looking forward to the evening and the weekend.

Twice it happened that a woman driver passed by me and slowed down to take a better look.  One of them even missed the stop sign and had to reverse her car.  I allowed myself to think of a poetic and romantic turn of events befitting a Wong Kar Wai film.  I imagined a woman stopping to ask me if I was fine, and inviting me to her abode for a cup of hot chocolate.  And then, we would part ways and think of what could have been, never to see each other again.

Suddenly there was a cacophony of sirens.  Three, four and then five emergency vehicles went by me on to the eastbound highway.  I was alarmed that an accident must have happened due to the rain and the slippery road surface.

Soon the rain slowed down and the sky became a little lighter and some birds came out.  It was time to be on the road again.

To be sure, a few miles down the road there was a bad accident involving two cars, one of which had gone off the road into the median.  There were ambulances and fire engines and I hoped nobody was injured too badly.  Just a mile from there another car had gone off the road about thirty feet down into the grass valley.  I tightened my grip on the handlebars (but not too tight, as the motorcycle safety foundation will tell you!) and became even more alert and cautious.

But the raindrops were again increasing in intensity.  At that speed, the front wheel of the motorcycle was throwing back the water on the road on to my lower legs and my feet were soaking wet in the squishy socks.  The road was good, and the traffic was fortunately light.  After about ten miles the dark clouds gave way to a lighter sky.  I was in Asheville.

Another hour or riding, and I was off the highway onto country roads.  I had rode such a long distance, that it was perplexing to me when an expected exit wouldn't come, and I had to check my GPS a few times to make sure I was going in the right direction and on the right road.  Finally I saw Lake Junaluska and "Maggie Valley" on the signboards, and heaved a sigh of relief.  The lake was not too big but it was pretty, and here's a picture of it:

I reached the quaint "Clarketon motel" at around 6.30pm.  The man at the reception desk had no clue how to handle a check-in (he was filling in for his sister).  He forgot to give me the room key.  He allocated me the room right next to the road, and when I asked for a better, quieter room, he said there was a better room which cost $15 more, but I could just pay him $5 cash if I wanted it.  In the first room, he asked me not to sit on the bed or anything.  I complied.  I was shivering with the cold and with my feet still soaking wet, and as soon as I entered the "more expensive" room, I turned on the heat and changed into dry clothes.

The room was, um, interesting.  The ceiling was around seven feet high, and it had a kitchen sink instead of a washroom sink.  Well, never mind.  The heating was working and the bed was king-sized.  I went out for dinner, got soaked again, filled up the gas tank for tomorrow's great ride, came back, closed the curtains, and went off to sleep.

Outside, the motorcycle's trip-meter showed 525 miles traveled that day.

The day wasn't over yet.  I woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to check the time.  The room had no clock, so I had to go get my phone which was getting charged.  The room was dark, pitch dark.  As I gingerly and groggily trudged toward the phone, suddenly I hit something metallic, and hit it hard, near my right eye.  I winced in pain and crouched on the bed, cursing silently and not understanding what I had hit.  I switched on the light, and it was a badly positioned TV stand at eye level, with metal edges jutting out.  It could have taken out my eye had I been walking an inch to the right.  I inspected the injury in the mirror and it wasn't bleeding, but it was swollen.

Cursing the room, but grateful for my still intact eyes, I went back to sleep.  But before I did so, I made sure the curtains were open just a little, to let in some light.

What a day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your Travel blogs, are beautifully written. Hope you are well:-)