Every year the MTF hosts a series of “Flower Sniffing” rides across the United States and in the past couple years there has been a ride that hasn’t been too far from home for me. Last years local ride was the West Virginia Summer Mountain Ride that was centered in Beckley, West Virginia. This year, the local flower sniffing ride was held on Labor Day weekend at the Iron Horse Lodge just south of Robbinsville, North Carolina. I was a bit unsure if I was going to make this trip since Labor Day weekend in the mountains can be a nightmare as far as traffic is concerned. However, after staying at the Iron Horse during the last night of the “End to Ender” ride, I decided it would be worth it; after all I hadn’t made my yearly trip up Deals Gap and the Cherohala Skyway.
After the End to Ender ride I was sure to call Jon Mock and Josh Beasley to inform them of the MTF ride at the Iron Horse and let them know that I will be going, and it would be in their best interest to come along as well. As you can imagine, I really had to twist their arms to come along.
Starting a new job just a month earlier I wasn’t able to get the time off that I really wanted since the ride was scheduled for Thursday – Monday. However, Curtis, my supervisor was nice enough to let me take a half day on Friday so I could get up there that evening and have all day Saturday and Sunday to ride then come home on Monday.
The week before, Hurricane Earl had decided that it might be changing some plans for us; fortunately it decided to stay on the coast and not come inland. However, Jon Mock, who now lives out in New Bern was a little unsure of everything, so he decided it would be wise to head up to my place in Raleigh on Thursday night and beat the storm. He arrived around 9:30pm and we un-hooked his trailer (he towed his bike this trip due to the distance now that he is on the coast) put it up in my garage and then headed out for a night on the town with some more friends.
After a long night on the town, thanks to the tow company, getting up early the next morning was bit rough. Once I got to work it seemed like that clock would never make it to 11:00am. Jon ran some errands that morning and finished up with the packing details so that when I got off work all I had to do was suit up and we could head out.
I think we headed out around 12:30 or so taking I-40 W to Winston-Salem, where we would meet Josh and then carry on. Josh was late, big surprise, so eventually we got back on I-40W and made our way to the mountains.
The quickest way to get to the campground was by taking I40 W to Asheville then 74 down to 19 and up 28. Talk about a boring ride, I was on I-40 for about 300 miles. Eventually we made it to Asheville, making a couple stops along the way to pick up some beer and refuel (Graham county is dry).
Right at about sunset we ended up pulling into the campground. We found some rain on the way in, but it was brief and looked as though it had moved through. However it wasn’t 30 minutes after we got to the campground and started setting up, the bottom fell out. Awesome.
The next morning we got up around 7am, took showers and made our way to breakfast. We ended up leaving the lodge I guess around 9:30am or so and made our way east towards Cherokee to get on the end of the BRP. I told the guys how much fun the end of the parkway was and they seemed interested in it, so we took the parkway north till we caught 74 I think, just outside of Dillsboro.
I had spoke with Jordan and Brooke a week prior to the ride and mentioned something about stopping and meeting Uncle Jesse at the Jarrett House in Dillsboro for lunch on Saturday. Once he got word of this he got rather excited and we made that lunch stop the only plan of the trip. Once we made it off the parkway we started on our way toward Dillsboro and made a lap of the town. As you can imagine that took a long time… Ironically enough we actually caught up to Uncle Jesse on the way back to the restaurant. I’d recognize that mini-van anywhere! (I think I may have startled him a bit when I pulled up next to him at a traffic light.) As we pulled up and circled the parking lot I was surprised to see Maw-Maw walking up to the restaurant as well. She had pulled a fast one and when she heard that we were all meeting Uncle Jesse for lunch she decided to come up, too.
Lunch was good, as always, and it was good to see Uncle Jesse and Maw-Maw again. It had been since the last Gap Trip that I had seen either of them due to some complications in the past year. A few other riders that I sometimes admit I associate with had made their way to the Jarrett House for lunch as well. We had originally intended on eating together, however due to my lack of understanding of the situation I completely blew it. They ended up sitting at a table across from us. Hammer Down Brown continued to scold me for my actions, however I was the bigger man I recommend some deserts for them to try that I knew they would love. We all left around the same time after cracking some jokes at each other and then agreed to catch dinner together that evening at the lodge.
After lunch we made our way down 23/441 like we did last year to Franklin. However, last year we were all a bit disappointed in the road surface on Wayah Rd, so we headed west across 64 to check out some water falls.
The southern side of Hwy 28 was a blast, lots of elevation changes, nice tight corners with large shoulders. (for the mountains) We were tearing it up and I could tell that I was holding Jon up in some the corners from time to time. This was the first time he had been back in the mountains in a while so it took him a little bit to get warmed up again. It became clear at this point that he was back in the grove and I was in his way! I found a wide spot, slid over in the lane and waved him by. I was doing my best to stay with him; however I was losing ground quickly. A few corners later we caught up to another bike, cruiser with a passenger, and they were doing all they could to get down the road. Jon was patient and waited for a good time to make a pass and fortunately enough the rider waved Jon around on a downhill before a left hander where the visibility was good. Jon took the opportunity and snuck around before the corner and railed the heck out of it. The passenger on the cruiser apparently really enjoyed the show because after Jon pulled the corner she turned and smiled at me and gave me thumbs up. The next spot to pass came up and the rider waved me on so off I went trying to chase Jon down…. Ha. I was dragging the pegs in every corner doing all I could to keep him in sight. I just couldn’t catch him. He was in the zone.
A few miles later we found our way to the intersection of 19 and 28. We all gathered up and talked about the last few miles waiting on Jon’s dad to bring up the rear. It wasn’t too much later that he showed up, but I have to be honest, he didn’t have the biggest smile on his face. Those tight corners didn’t make the ride easy on that big Harley.
We made our way up 28 to The Store on 129 in rather short time and managed to top of the tanks with gas before The Store shut down for the evening. Traffic seemed a bit heavier than normal for this time of evening but we took off anyway knowing it would get dark on us soon. As expected we ended up catching some traffic a couple miles into the run, however I was able to make a safe pass and get around the car. Unfortunately, the driver did not know what pull offs were or what they were intended for, so at the next short straight away I came to a stop which held the car up and allowed Josh and Jon to get around clean. Back to the fun! I pulled rear spot for about a mile, but I was feeling good and Josh was still getting used to the new set up on his bike and was holding me up a bit. After coming out of a right hander I had a good run on him which led to a short down hill straight away and then into a hard left. I flashed the lights, pulled the trigger and came around him before entering the corner. However, what made life interesting was that when I started to slow the bike up I hit the rear bike on the yellow stripe. The back tire started to slide, I released and hit it again to have it slide a bit more and start to step out. I pushed the ass end back straight and released, kick the shifter down once then hard on the front brakes for a second more, leaned off to the left, knee out. RPMs around 9000, through the apex, I grabed a hand full of throttle bring the bike back to vertical, catch third and then set in for the next corner out of the 318. Wow what a rush, I felt like Valentino Rossi out there backing it in to a corner. But then the fun stopped a few miles later as we found ourselves stuck behind an Escalade and a FJ Cruiser. After a few corners the Escalade, which was out front, found a pull off and moved over. We waved and carried on behind the FJ, hoping that he would follow suit… we were wrong. This guy thought it would be fun to race up the mountain, busting double yellow at every opportunity. The three of us weren’t amused; he was only racing himself since the three of us were riding with one hand through the corners…mainly because we were flipping the dude off every time he crossed over.
Seeing this as a great opportunity to get some neat footage with the Go-Pro, I pulled the rear spot and followed Josh and Jon down The Gap at night.
Once at the store we gathered up Jon’s dad and headed back down 28 to the campground and called it a night after having a few cold ones.
The link below is for the video of our pass down deals gap at night. Video is taken from my bike following Jon with Josh leading.
Once on the skyway I pulled over to take some pictures and let Jon’s dad read up on the road at the information pull off. We decided we would meet up at the peak over look and told him to just take his time and stop if he wanted to anywhere along the way as the three of us would probably be getting the job done going up. I mounted up the Go-Pro and we took off.
We hung out at the overlook for a little bit before heading on down the rest of the way to Tellico Planes. As we got to the bottom I remembered going to a large waterfall at the base of the skyway just outside of Tellico with my parents once. So after discussing it with the group we headed that way. We spent the better part of an hour walking around the falls talking and taking pictures. When we left we decided to find some food near by before heading on down 68 which was off 143. We found a cool drive in next to the river that seemed to be the happening place and stopped for a bite to eat.Lined up at an overlook taking a break.
Below is the link to the video taken of our pass up the skyway. Camera is on my bike leading Jon.
68 turned out to be a fun road, lots of corners and elevation changes. Traffic was light and continued to thin out the further south we got. However we did find some traffic and managed to get stuck behind them for a while. I started to get antsy and when I saw a short straight I went ahead and passed on the double yellow, Josh followed. There was a slight left hand corner coming up so I checked up and settled into the corner after getting around the car. As I entered the corner I saw in the mirror that Jon was making the pass too, which was odd for him. He normally doesn’t attempt those passes, especially to be making it that late. The next thing I noticed was a car in the other lane coming at us. I looked back again to see Jon making it back into his lane and I continued on to the next corner. After rounding the next corner I looked back in the mirror to see Josh, but not Jon. Something was wrong; he was always right behind us. I turned around and headed back, no sign of him yet. So I turned around, heading back to where I saw him last...dreading to see what I knew had happened.
I came up on the scene that will forever stick out in mind and I will never be able to forget. Cars were pulled over on the shoulder, 4 way flashers on. Jon’s bike is laying on its left side in many pieces covered in grass and dirt. One of the drivers is on his knees talking to Jon who is lying in the ditch on his back, helmet off and looking at the sky.
I got off the bike, took off my helmet and ran to him. The gentleman sitting with Jon assures me that he is ok, but says he took a nasty tumble. I begin going through the motions with Jon. Why is your helmet off?
(He said he took it off it was hard to breathe) I asked him to wiggle fingers and toes, count my fingers and watched his eye moment. I asked if anyone had called 911... There was no cell service to be had. Great.
I ran back to the bike and hit the 911 button on my SPOT, then back to Jon. At this point traffic was building up behind us. People were helping out and directing traffic around the scene. It wasn’t long until till I saw Jon’s dad pulled up behind a line of cars. I started waving my arms and motioning for him to come through and yelled at the people directing traffic to let him by.
A few moments later a couple of the neighbors had arrived, I asked if they had called 911 yet to which they informed me they did, but they were told that emergency crews were already on their way. Go SPOT!
First responders began showing up and taking care of the scene, not too long after them an ambulance arrived along with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Once they were there I went back to one of the neighbor’s houses so I could call Mom and Dad to let them know what was going on because SPOT was supposed to notify them in an event I activated the 911 feature. Sure enough, they had been notified and they were very concerned. They were out for a ride that day as well and they had happened to be stopped in Boone for lunch. After I explained the situation they decided to head down our way and help in any way possible.
Back at the accident scene, Jon had been taken to the hospital via the ambulance. The THP was finishing up his report and talking with the witnesses. Before he left he made damn sure to talk to Josh and I which was understandable, however his words and comments to the situation really were not necessary and quite frankly uncalled for. I know he was doing his job, but seriously, some things are better left unsaid especially when it is quite apparent that Josh and I are extremely upset about the entire situation.
The neighbor that let me borrow his phone loaned us his pick up so we could put the bike in the back and park in on the side of the road near their house. He parked it just beside an old building so that we could pick it up later that night with Jon’s trailer. (Thank god he towed his bike this weekend)
After working out the details with Doc, Josh and I suited up and made our way back to the campsite. Unfortunately the quickest way back to the campground was the way we came, up 68 and across the skyway. Normally I would never turn my nose to the thought of riding that road, but at this point the last thing I wanted to ride were twisty roads…
The ride back to the campsite was difficult to say the least. To start, the officer that handled the scene rode behind us all the way up 68. Then once on the skyway, we tried to keep moving quickly but it was difficult to do because of what all had happened, in addition my nerves got the best of me a couple times and I almost pulled over just to let go. Though Jon was conscious and coherent when I last saw him, he was starting to panic just before I left. He couldn’t remember taking off his helmet, was losing memory of the accident and starting to panic. With an accident like this, internal injuries are always a possibility and though he seemed fine when I saw him last, one can never be sure. We made it back to the campsite an hour later I guess it was. We pulled in rather quickly, knowing we had to change clothes, grab clothing for Jon and his father, hook up the trailer and haul ass back the way we came to pick up the bike and then to the hospital. As we pulled in I could see riders making their way out of the campsite restaurant and making their way quickly to our site. Mike Newton (Grizz) and his lovely wife (Momma Bear J ) were leading the group along with Don Norwood. Once they made it to the tent, Josh and I were in a mad dash, throwing clothing everywhere trying to get things together and ready for a night at the hospital. After briefly explaining the situation, Don began making phone calls to the hospital Jon was at in attempt to find out his status. Grizz, seeing that I was rather upset and struggling to get my shit together pulled me to the side for a word.
After a few very kind words on Grizz’s behalf I was able to regroup and get things together in order to head back to retrieve Jon’s bike and go to the hospital. Grizz and his wife’s kind words meant a lot to me and will forever stay with me.
An hour and half later Josh and I made our way back to the accident scene and picked up Jon’s bike. Now at this point we were really scratching our heads because it took like four of us to get the bike into the neighbors truck earlier… and now there are only two of us. However, we are both engineers; surely we can figure out something. Well after some head scratching and pondering we finally got the bike out of the little pickup and onto Jon’s trailer and strapped down. Off to the hospital.
Back at the hospital, Jon has been released with a concussion and some bruises! That was a relief. Jon hugged both Josh and I (no homo) though it was a rather emotional moment for the three of us. We walked out of the hospital got in the truck and then made our way back to the campground to call it a night. Mom and Dad had arrived a few hours prior and reserved a cabin for the night and made sure to get Jon and his father a room as well so that Jon could be off the ground that night and get a good nights rest. Josh and I made our way to the camp fire with a few cold ones and began discussing what we were going to do next.
The next morning we got up slowly, packed up the camp sites and made our way home. Before we left we went up to the cabin to see Jon and say goodbye. He was getting around pretty good though he was a bit stiff and sore. We thanked all those that helped with the situation, Mike, his wife Cindy, Don, the management and staff at the Iron Horse and the various other MTF riders who were still around.
Mom, Dad, Josh and I rode home together and parted ways in Mocksville so I could continue on to Raleigh. I stopped in Burlington to have dinner with a friend that goes to Elon and eventually made it home later that night. For the weekend I logged close to 1200 miles, it was good ride/weekend considering the circumstances though it could have been much worse. It's times like these that you realize how special friendships are and how much people mean to you. We all learned a lot of from this weekend and I know I personally took a lot back from it. We were riding hard, too hard, and there is no since in riding like that on the street. Riding like we were belongs on the track, period. Lesson learned.
I spoke that there is an image that comes to mind every time I think about horsing around on the bike.... these are those images.