Monday, February 4, 2008

A Break From the Cold!

The past few weeks here have been far from beautiful. The days have either been really cold and windy or rainy, or the two combined. The other morning as I drank my cup of coffee, in hopes of waking up to function before my 8 a.m. lab, I noticed that the weekend ahead looked like it might be promising for some riding. However, I didn't get my hopes up since the weather hardly ever holds true.

As the weekend approached, it was clear to me that it was going to be nice. I was staying in Charlotte this weekend in order to get some HW done in preperation for the week to come. So I made sure I had every done that needed to be before Sunday.

It was Saturday night, and being the engineering nerd that I am, I was working on some homework, Basic Electrical, as a matter of fact. Josh came in from being with his new lady friend and we began planing on out our trip for Sunday. We knew it would be warm around here and it seemed as though the mtns. would be as well. So I began to look for some neat roads around that area, other than the Parkway.

My father had sent me a link at one point that was a website where riders would submit roads in every state that were nice or that were not. We'll as I began to look for roads on that site, I started out looking in Western South Carloina, just to see what I could find. After some reading I found where someone had posted about a Hwy 178 that runs from North Carolina to South Carolina. The description stated, lots of corners and switch backs. So I turned to Google Earth to see exactly where it was and what was available near it. It turns out that Hwy 178 was just south of Asheville, off of Hwy 64, which is quite a ride away, so I began to look for other roads around it to justify riding that far for a couple roads. Turns out, there is another road, Hwy 274, that runs almost parrallel to it on its eastern side, that looked like it would have something to offer.

Josh was reluctant at first, just for the simple fact that we would have to ride so far on the highway to get there. But after looking at our options we decided to just go for it and head out early in the morning, which was going to be a brisk ride to say the least. So we strapped on my new Nelson Riggs tail bag, or as Dad and I call it, "The Trunk" because we knew that it would be cold starting off, but would be quite nice as the day went on and we would need some where to put the layers as we came out of them from the morning ride.

9:00 a.m.: The weather channel says it feels like 39 degrees out, and we are on the road heading to Asheville. Google Earth said the fastest way to go was to take Hwy 85S into South Carolina, then take Hwy 26N back into North Carolina towards Hindersonville. Josh and I didn't see the need in going that far south just go back north, espicially when Hwy 74 connected the two, before entering South Carolina and it seemed like a perfectly fine road to us. So thats what we did. 85 south to Gastonia, 74 east to catch 26 north into Hindersonville.

Highways are boring! 85 had moderate traffic, but since it was before noon, and most of North Carolina was still in Church, no one was on the roads. Once we got on 74 we realized quickly that this was not a very populated area seeing that we only passed 3 cars while on it! So Josh and I found ways to amuse ourselfs while going straight for far too long. The markers on the road became pylons for which would avoid. Of course while cruising at highway speeds there is no way to go around each one, so we just aimed for every 3rd or 4th. Then came the going past each other while making in-appropriate jestures and just trying to have a good time. Boys will be boys, right?

We made a quick stop on the side of an off ramp to check the map and see how far it was till we reached 26, fortunitly we weren't far off and continued on our way after watering the country side.

20 minutes later we found ourselfs on Hwy 26 heading into Hindersonville and a few miles later we were off on 64 which would take us to Hwy 178. We made a quick stop at McDonalds (being sponsered my Momma's College Fund, had to eat cheap) and while we were in civilization we went ahead and topped off the tanks.

I was under the impression that Hwy 178 was just down the road. Well, like most things, I was wrong, it was a little ways down 64. I was also under the impression that there would be a large sign for Hwy 178 saying turn left here. I was wrong there, too. Turns out that the town that 178 starts in, Rosman, in is much like Denton, There is one little sign on the side of the road that tells you turn, right here. Sure enough though, we found the road and started down it, behind a pick up... So we found the first wide spot available and pulled off to let traffic go and to get our heads in the right place before heading down this road. At this point you would think that I would be focusing and trying think about turning, which we haven't done since we left the appartment. However there was snow on the ground in the shaded areas and I was like a kid in a candy store. The snow was hard due to the ice on top of it, that didn't phase me any since that is all we get back home anyway. I began making snow balls and throwing them at Josh. He was lucky in that my throwing arm is not what I thought it was. I was lucky to get them 15 feet from where I was standing.

A group of riders weny by at one point, so we knew were in the right area, and after they get down the road a bit, we decided to take off after them. The road started out slow, several straight aways, and a few nice sweepers, but then it became another animal as the advisery signs began to show up. It was a nice smooth road and it had many sharp corners that had some elevation changes to them as well. After about a mile or so of some nice corners we crossed the state line to find out that we haven't seen anything yet. Once in South Carolina the hairpins and decreasing radius corners showed themselves. However at the best part of the road, 8 switch backs in a row, we were stuck behind another pick up truck (not the one we started out behind).

We managed to get around him and continued our way down another mile or so through some interesting corners before we stopped to turn around and do it again. Going up the mtn. is much easier than coming down it. For some reason, I guess because it is easier for a novice like me to maintain throttle going up hill than going down. The hairpins were amazing, it was nice to find myself getting lower than I had before on the bike and Josh was staying right there with me. He has improved alot since this summer. On our last couple outings he would normally stay a corner behind me or so, but not this time, he was right there with me all the way up. We continued at a comfortable pase till we got to the state line where we pulled off the road, it is the turn around spot for the guys who make laps on it. We talked for a minute laughing about how much fun it was and such when a couple other riders came up for a break as well. We talked for a bit, small talk mostly and then headed back down the mtn. looking for Hwy 11 to connect us over to Hwy 274. When we got to the intersection there was a large gas station to our left which was apparently the hang out. There had to been 30 bikes sitting off to the side of it. Bikes were coming in and out all the time. We stopped again to top off the tanks and rest a minute or two as well as to snag a few pictures with Josh's camera. We also took off several layers at this point since the temps had come up to above 60. I packed up the clothes and pulled out the map again to see about how far it was to 274 and we headed out.

A short 10 minute ride down Hwy 11 and we were on 274 headed back up the mtn. Once again, the road started out slow, but it quickly changed. The road surface was not as good as 178, but it was still good enough to push the corners. The corners were mostly hairpin type, but they had much more elevation than 178. We got behind a couple cars on the way up, however this road has points where it turns into two lanes to allow faster traffic to get around slower traffic. These would occur before and during the hairpin areas, which was nice. It allowed you to swing a little wide to apex the corner where you wished. We took advantage of these lanes a couple times as we had to get around a couple cars. These lanes where short lived, however, the cars knew we were behind them so they pulled off a bit as well and stopped. We attempted to wave, however the corner that was following this was extreamly tight and it was these corners that I was on the verge of dragging the foot pegs. At the top of the mtn. there is a senic over look with a little walking area. Josh and I stopped to check things out and this is what we found.

It looked as though some rain was heading in, but we decided to go back down the mtn and up again just for the simple fact that we aren't on roads like this everyday. We eased our way back down since both of us prefer making time coming up the mtn. I decided to check the milage on the way down to see how long this road was. About 2 miles down we had caught up to a pick up, he pulled over at the first wide spot we came to and waved us on. I was impressed with this since we weren't being agressive, I waved back and we headed on down. We turned around at a intersection, 8 miles from the over look. That was 8 miles of nothing but tight corners and hairpins! We started back up again, and at this point I started getting into a nice groove, things were starting to "click." I began downshifting faster and smooter when entering corners, my stance was more agressive and I found myself getting much lower and holding more speed through the corners. After a few miles we came up to one of those slow lane areas in one of the back to back hairpins. I went towards the yellow line in my lane and kicked the shifter into second gear, the tach shot to 9000rpm as I applied a little front brake to apex in the lower part of the corner which put me back on the white line in the short straight before the hard left. I accelerated through the corner and up the hill through the straight. I got a handfull of front and fed the rear brake to lean the bike back hard to left to make the 100+ degree left hander. Josh said that at that point my left foot peg was just shy of dragging, however he didn't seem to see much of me after that. I found myself in the zone, the zone that I loved to find myself in when riding the ol' KX in the woods. From there I checked out from Josh and continued the next few miles up the mtn. entering corners harder than I have before and keeping the bike low. Things were flowing, my shifts were smooth and my throttle controll was amazing if I do say so myself. I forgot how good it felt to be in that zone. Once I got to the top I relaxed, came out of my zone and slowed down to let Josh catch up, which didn't take too long. I realized afterwards that this zone is not the best thing to get in on the street, but given the fact that there was little to no traffic and intersections were not to be found on this stretch of road, other than the track, this was one of the better places to find it.

We continued past the overlook and back in to NC. We stopped to talk about the last run up the mtn and discussed our path home, which was the way we came in. We got off of 274 and back on to 64 and we reached the area before 26S where stopped to get gas for the last time. As we were fueling the rain began to fall. My parents have cursed Josh and I. Everytime they go riding they seem to get wet, well, they passed it on. We put some of our layers back on and since it was starting to get dark at this point, and Josh switched over to his clear shield. Since I only have a tinted one and it is much harder to change the shields on a HJC than a Scorpion, I just put on my Lab Saftey Glasses so I could run my shield up in the dark and we headed out. It was apparent that we were on the edge of the storm since it would come and go as we the highway would turn. At this point we picked up the pace a bit more to get ahead of it, since the last thing I wanted to do was to be on 85 in the dark and in the rain.

It worked. We managed to get away from the rain on 74 and on 85 it never even put a drop down. But 85 was weird enough. There was a bit more traffic out than in there was in the morning and people were really moving. We kept on rolling and were watching everyone around us at all times. My visor would slam shut from time to time due to the wind, which never failed to scare me everytime it did. It seemed like it took forever, but we managed to get back to the appartment, no fun and games on the return trip however. We went roughly 2 hours with out a break and my left hand went numb at some point, but we made it. I was glad to be off the bike, as was Josh.

The trip was fun, 371 miles in total. It was well worth the highway time to run those two roads and we were glad we did it. Josh and I are looking forward to getting back that way again.

May this spring weather start showing up more often.

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