Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 4. Saturday, June 6th

Today is a special day for two reasons. First, it is my Papa’s birthday up in Wisconsin. Happy Birthday! Secondly, and one that should effect us all, today is the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. D-Day, what seemed to be an impossible mission became a victory, but with staggering loses. It is because of their courage and determination that we are able to enjoy freedom today. I would like to take a second and thank all the troops in our armed forces defending our country and to thank the families of those soldiers who have paid the ultimate price. They will never be forgotten.

After the long ride on Friday, Josh and Jon were beat, and to be honest I was as well. So we made plans the night before to head up the Foothill’s Parkway towards Gatlinburg and then head up 441 through the Great Smokey Mountain Parkway. 441 follows this really nice river/stream that travelers and locals always seem to be swimming in every time I have been by. This would be a great way to relax and have some fun off the bikes for a day.

Saturday morning we all slept in, there was no need to leave early since the GSMP was just down the road, so to speak. We eventually got rolling, packed up some towels along with our “swim trunks“and our “Flippy-Floppies.” We set out I guess around 10:30 or so heading across 143 to take 28 north. We had wanted to go up 28 for some time as it has some nice corners leading up to the store going up a 9% grade.

Once on 28, Jon took point and Josh quickly passed me to chase him down. For some reason this morning I really wasn’t feeling it. Something finally clicked with Josh as he took off and pulled away staying right with Jon. We gathered back up just before the intersection of 28 and 129 there at the store. Once the store was in sight, Josh and Jon both stopped in the middle of the road. The store was packed. They had never seen so many bikes before. Keep in mind, every time we had been up to store this far there had only been 20 to 30 bikes at the most. The entire parking lot was filled to the brim with bikes and the only way you could get in from 28 was through the small path left open to get up to the fuel pumps then across to the parking lot! We ended up parking behind some ones enclosed trailer while Josh and Jon went to use the restroom.

About the time we were going to leave, the owner of the trailer came up to us asking if we could move our bikes. He had been hit head on by a Porsche on 129 a little bit ago, and needed to load his bike up. Fortunately the rider was ok and he had a back up bike to roll out. With all the traffic up there, we knew there was no way to set a good pace. So we all eased up 129 hugging the white line. In the first corner a bike had gone down and went off the embankment, and a few miles later there was another head on between a Grand-Am and a cruiser that had the rode shut down. Turns out there were 4 head on before noon that day on the gap! We made our way safely up 129 to the Foothills Parkway. On up a few miles we pulled over to get some pictures on an over look.

We suited back up heading on to 321 then to 441 through Townsend and onto the GSMP. This road is really a traffic nightmare during the weekends. It is a really nice winding road following the river, but so many people are on it and with that come some really slow people. I finally pulled over a few miles up at a nice wide spot were some people had already pulled off as well. At this particular spot there was a nice set of rapids as well as a large “pool area” with direct sunlight. We unpacked, changed there behind the bikes, and slowly entered that COLD mountain water. All the rain from the past couple of days had brought the water level up some and increased the flow across the rapids. The current was strong, stronger than I had really expected it to be. I found this out as I tried to swim across it to a large rock that over looked the pool. We were planning on jumping off that large rock into the river; however after checking the bottom we found there was a large rock in the middle that limited the depth. We swam around for a bit and found a better spot down stream to jump in at. It didn’t take long before we realized that with all this moving water there were a lot of good skipping rocks to be had on the shore. An hour later all of us were dry but our shoulders were sore so we decided to head on back to the bikes.

While we were there a man came by us on a tube making his way down the river. Jon brought up the tube guy as we were leaving and said that we should look into renting some tubes to ride down the river on. Back in Townsend we had seen some places offering rentals for 8 dollars that included a shuttle to the drop point. It was getting late in the afternoon so we figured we could probably get a couple runs in at least. Back into town we went looking for that 8 dollar special.

Cowboy Tubing is where we ended up. We parked the bikes around back under a shade tree and out of plain sight. We paid our 8 bucks and jumped in the van. Turns out that all the tubing places on this river dropped you off at the same point and then you got out of the river behind their store front. We got back in that cold mountain water and started floating away. It was a pretty relaxing ride until we came up on a set of small rapids. We bounced our way down, laughing at each other and joking that we were “extreme.” Down the river before we got out we made our way through 3 more rapids, each one offering some different challenges, but for the most part fairly calm. The ride lasted about 40 minutes so we decided to go again.

This time, Josh and Jon lay on the stomachs on the tubes. I really didn’t like this idea seeing as how our butts would drag the rocks from time to time when sitting on the tube… Everything was going fine, Josh ended up getting stuck at the beginning of the first rapid and while Jon and I were laughing at him we didn’t realize we were heading for this really crappy area where the water was turning backwards on itself. Jon bounced out of his tube when I gave him a nudge, then as I got in the snarl. My tube flipped me over backwards and I did a back flip under water and hit my head on the rock which was causing this disturbance. I lost my bearings and ended up getting drug the rest of the way down the rapids. The rocks were extremely slick so it was all I could do to get a hold of anything to stop myself. At the end of that set, my tube had come to a rest, so I swam over to get it and hop back on. Jon asked if I was alright, which I was for the most part. My head hurt and I had water up my nose, but it could have been worse. The only bad part was that we were heading for a second set which was very rough compared to the first. The current was taking us towards the right side, which was where a lot people were gathering. About the time we got there they all started yelling at us to swim to the left and to avoid where we were heading. Turns out four kids had just gone to the hospital after going down the same rapids we were heading for. We started paddling with our hands like crazy. Suddenly, Jon started acting like a rock; his tube had punctured and was going flat. Mine however was fine, but I couldn’t get out of the way in time and down the rapids I went. Once again I was thrown from the tube and tossed down what amounted to a very sharp set of rocks. Funny how the water hadn’t eroded them yet… Some guy stopped my tube and waited on me to get my breath and come get it. I ended up resting on the shore before going after it after fighting the water for a few minutes

When I was tossed that second time I felt a few rocks catch my feet, hands and stomach. So I checked myself for significant bleeding. It all appeared to be minor cuts and scrapes so I eased back into the water tripping and falling a few more times before I got to my tube. By this time Josh had made his way down and picked Jon up on the way. They some how managed to ride together on one tube. Yes, it looked as gay as it sounds and everyone was staring. It didn’t take them long to realize that their set up wouldn’t work down the next set of rapids so after I went on down the next set, which by the way was the scariest thing I have done after falling out of that tube twice. I got out of the water and began walking back to the store front. When I got there I noticed two guys walking back as well. Josh and Jon had gave up on the two-up idea, Jon was wearing his deflated tube around his neck

The store attendant gave me some alcohol wipes to clean my cuts. We all dried off and got changed and headed to a local Pizza Hut to sit down and get our heads back before spending any amount of time back in the saddle. We had gone from riding mode, to relax mode, to survival mode and we were still a little ways from the house. Sitting at the Pizza Hut, devouring our stuff crust we somehow began laughing at the scenario and how it unfolded. How we went from near drowning to laughing about the drowning, I will never know. We sat for about an hour and dusk was working its way in so Josh and Jon topped off the tanks and we headed back the way we came.

We stopped for a moment at the intersection of the FHP and 129 and decided that we would just ease down The Dragon. That lasted for about a mile. There was no one on the road and the accidents were clear, we had the road to ourselves. This time around I worked on shifting my weight to the inside of the bike by hanging off the motorcycle. With 318 curves there was a lot of movement happening and by the end I was beat, my the thighs felt like they were on fire. My pace really wasn’t that much quicker, it was more about learning the technique than anything. We stopped at the store to talk about the run. I asked Jon how my form looked and if there were any major flaws in my body position. We sat there for about 10 minutes resting when one of the FZ members, Scott and his wife, Alicia (I think) rode up. We began chatting about the days events with them when Scott stopped us and said, “Boy’s the sun is about to set, lets’ take this up to the overlook. We have a story or two tell as well.” So back up The Dragon we went. This time I took rear, Jon decided to chase Scott & Alicia, since they are semi-locals, Scott knows the road pretty good. I brought up the rear fooling around practicing the “hanging off” technique, but about 4 miles in my thighs had given out and I just eased up to the overlook.

A few bikes had gathered at the overlook along with a few of the locals in their trucks to watch the sunset. It truly was amazing from up there. Scott informed us of the events that unfolded with the group as he was the tour guide for most of the group. We shared our story and I showed off my injuries. We stayed at the overlook for about a half hour or so before Josh headed back down to the store. He wasn’t too sure about riding back down in the dark. Jon, Scott and Alicia and I headed back down around once the sun had set and we ran out of stories for the day. Scott and Alicia took point with Jon following and I pulled up the rear again. We went at a bit of a slower pace, but still moving along pretty good in a tight formation. Scott had his high beams and extra lights on and with the three of us close together, we lit the road up pretty well.

Down at the bottom, Josh was sitting on a bench with Darryl Cannon, AKA: Killboy, and his wife, Lori. Along with them were a few of the locals and they were all just hanging out, bench racing. We introduced ourselves to the locals and pulled up a seat and began B.S.’ing the night way. Darryl and some of the store workers began working on pulling the bikes out of the ravine from the accidents earlier in the morning. They tell the owners of the bikes to come back in the evening to pick up their bikes as they do not like to remove them during peak hours. This way they don’t have the rubber necks causing more problems and they don’t have to shut the road down. We offered to lend a hand but they had it under control. A little bit later the owner of the store came by with an SUV loaded full of oil dry and some other goodies from Sam’s Club. We helped her unload and restock the store supply while we were at it.

Every now and then a local would gear up and take off making a night run up The Dragon. They seemed to enjoy making night runs better than day runs, crazy bastards. Since Darryl had recently wrecked his 750 he was out playing around on a 120cc pit bike. He had a large headlight mounted to the bars and was in his full set of leathers as well. A bit later he put his lid on and dared the locals to come catch him. The locals laughed and agreed. They wouldn’t be able to, and they admitted it.

We headed back to the house around midnight after stopping on the bridge and getting some shots of the dam all lit up. Unfortunately these didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped, oh well. We pulled in shortly after midnight, all the guys were in the garage so we shared our stories with them as we unloaded and called it a night. Lesson of the day, “Tubing Sucks!” [Thumbs Down]

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