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The plan: 7 people, 6 motorcycles, 1 truck, 1 trailer all headed for North Carolina with the goal of spending a couple days play time around Deals Gap / Tail Of The Dragon and the surrounding area and making the most of all of the fantastic roads on the way there and back. The idea being that the truck / trailer would be there for anyone who wanted a break from some riding and also to carry gear / luggage / tools / etc so that the loads could be kept light on the bikes for maximum fun.
The journey started off great, leaving my place pretty much on schedule with my KTM 950 SM loaded into the trailer and the bed of the truck full of everything we would need for the 7 day adventure down South. About 45 mins into the drive I suddenly thought to myself, "shit, do I have the key for my 950 with me?". It wasn't with the batch of keys I had for the trailer but I was hopeful that I had just left it in the ignition when I loaded the bike into the trailer. So, I immediately pulled off onto the side of the highway to check. Opening the trailer door, I was welcomed with both relief and disaster. Yes, the key was still in the ignition of the bike. However, my trusty orange friend was no longer strapped down to the trailer floor -- instead, it was laying on it's side with 2 of the tie down points pulled clean out of the floor. Not a welcome sight.
After picking the KTM up and strapping it down into one of the other spots in the trailer, we made a quick stop at Brafasco to get some more appropriate bolts to re-do all of the failing tie down points. Luckily, my tendency to over pack / prepare meant that I had a small drill with me and (hopefully) enough juice in the battery packs to drill larger holes for some bigger bolts.
We were once again on our way across the border to rendezvous with the rest of the crew in Ellicottville. After a bit of a wait at the border we arrived at the meet-up point about one hour late and were relieved to find that we were still the first ones to get there. After some food it was all hands on deck to get the trailer sorted out, which went reasonably well considering we were working on it at the side of the road. With everything packed back up we all set off for our first night's destination in Unionville, Pennsylvania.
The bikes had their route planned out, travelling through some of the more twisty back country roads to get to Unionville. The truck / trailer route was simply one of stick it in the GPS and get us there via the fastest route. The weather was good, the scenery even better and we were cruising along nicely in the truck making great time when I see a call coming in from Alex (who was riding at the time), which I thought probably wasn't a good sign. I figured there might be a mechanical issue, but my heart sank when I got the news that someone in the group had gone down. Luckily it seemed as though she wasn't too badly injured, perhaps a sprained ankle and obviously quite shaken. We pulled off to the side of the road to try and figure out where we were in relation to them and wait for the exact coordinates and news of whether or not we would need to go pick her and her bike up.
After a bit of a wait we had the coordinates and were on our way to get her, wondering what had taken place and just how injured she was. We were quite far ahead of them at this point and not to mention on an entirely different route. Winding our way through twisty country roads, up and down steep hills, sometimes raining, sometimes sunshine and scenic rainbows it seemed as though it was taking forever to get there… and really, it was. After a bit of mix-up that had us diverting from the original coordinates to the hospital where our injured friend was now awaiting assessment, we finally got to the site of the crash to find our other friends. They had been at the side of this strange road for hours now, it was dark and wet and they still had a good few hours of riding left to get to the hotel, but they weren't complaining at all -- that's a sign of some good friends and travel companions! It was now around 9pm (had we not been diverted we would have been at our original destination about 7:30pm). We loaded the bikes onto the trailer and watched the 3 remaining riders take off into the darkness. We set off to go back the way we had just came to go to the hospital to collect our 2 friends there.
We weren't back on the road for long when we got news from the hospital that the result of the crash was a fractured ankle. Not good news to be getting on the first day of a week-long motorcycle trip. More driving through crazy roads, all the while I'm thinking how amazing it would be to be riding these roads on a motorcycle (though, not in the current conditions of pitch black, rain and wind) and we finally reached the hospital. The trip was definitely over for our injured friend and the question now was how to get her home. After some serious deliberation and discussion I decided that I would cut my trip short and drive them home. We weren't that far into it and could get them home comfortably along with their bikes and gear the next day so she could get medical attention at home. I was disappointed to not be continuing and to have come so far without even firing up my own motorcycle, but the Tail Of The Dragon would still be there next season and to me, helping an injured friend is more important than any of that.
If only it could have been so "easy" as to just pack up and go from there, but we still had gear from our 3 other friends who had continued on to the hotel we were all supposed to be staying at. We would have to get it to them and sort things out so that they could continue on with the trip. We found a hotel only a few miles from the hospital and dropped off our exhausted friends (and thankfully the trailer too) and it was back on the road again for a 3 hour drive. It was pretty slow going -- the twisty, wet roads proving quite a challenge to drive on after such a long day, but I figured I had the easier end of the bargain knowing that it must have been even more of an epic route by motorcycle. If anything though, it helped keep me awake as any tiny lapse in concentration could have easily ended up with an unplanned off-road excursion. We arrived to the hotel at 2:30am, having driven nearly 1,000km since leaving home 18 hours earlier.
The next morning was a bit somber. The trip we had all been looking forward to for a while now had changed for everyone considerably. The group of seven would now be down to three continuing on to the Dragon. Four of us would be back home only a day after leaving. But, we obviously didn't plan on having someone in our group go down and break themselves. Alex, Marina and Paul packed what gear they could manage to take with them and we said our goodbyes. I definitely had mixed emotions leaving, but was focused on getting the 3 hour backtrack to where we left last night over with as soon as possible.
We picked up our friends, hooked up the trailer and got the fuck outta dodge. At this point we were on a mission to get home as swiftly as possible. We managed a pretty good journey home and were waived fairly quickly through the border with the official there obviously sympathetic to the still smiling wounded rider sprawled painfully out in the back of the truck. We finally arrived home exactly 36 hours after we first departed.
Within a couple hours we got an update on the fractured ankle… she was being admitted for surgery the next day. When I finally got around to unloading my bike from the trailer the next morning I discovered a big puddle of oil under it -- possibly a result of it falling over in the trailer, or perhaps an issue related to some warranty work done on it earlier in the week -- either way, it was dripping at an alarming rate. So, in the end, I was happy to have gotten my friend home to get the attention she needed and now, I sit staring at my bike that might not have made it rest of the trip anyhow. Funny how things go sometimes.