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It's a somber day, our last day in the great playground that is the smoky mountains. The last breakfast is again munificent and as we pack our lunch along with our meagre possessions, we bid our temporary home, the snowbird lodge, adieu. We will be back.
The anguish clearly translates into our riding. Heading south, we need to turn to head to the Blue Ridge parkway. Marina rides ahead as I wait for Paul. The instructions "turn left in about 2km" are heard as "turn left after six miles" and then when there is actually no turn in six miles, executed as "ride for 20 miles before turning around". In other words, while Paul and I make the turn, we're not sure Marina has. Paul waits while I hare down the road Marina ultimately did take, but I clearly didn't go far or fast enough. I reached a point and decided she must have gone the correct way. So, I turn around, pick up Paul and press on. By the end of the road, there's still no Marina. I again leave Paul and turn back. Just as I arrive back at the original intersection, Marina is coming the other way, about to go past in the opposite direction...
The party is now reunited and we press on. There's no more mishaps that morning and we eventually hit the parkway. It's a wonderful ride, some few thousand feet up in the air. As you'd expect, crossing from peak to peak, it's full of twists and turns of varying degrees, all of which are grin inducing if traversed correctly. And therein lies the fun. The Americans, in their infinite wisdom scored two brilliant victories with this road. Firstly, there's virtually no intersections and secondly, there's no room for most RVs or trucks. As such, it's usually very quiet as it was when I rode it. Oh, and the views are lovely, not that I really stopped to look at many of them.
Lunch was, however, one such occasion. The view from the something or other lookup was indeed fantastic, but then aren't they all? After lunch, it's time to head off. As in the morning, Paul and I have been alternating sitting back with Marina, while the other terrorizes all the Floridians that seem to drive on the skyway so slowly (they're probably startled to be so high up after living in such a flat state). This time, it's Paul's turn to take flight and off he goes. Problem is, he goes quite far. Or perhaps not far enough. Remember I told you there are virtually no intersections? Well, on a road that's about 500km long, with no gas stations, that can cause a problem when the fuel light blinks to life as the Triumphs invariably did. Luckily, we were just at an intersection. The problem, as I am sure you will see, is where is Paul? We've no clue, but we also know we can't press on without risking running out of gas.
After discovering that the nearest gas station was only two miles off the road, we went for it. After all, it'd be maybe five minutes lost. I'm sure you can see where this is headed.
It transpires that Paul, who has gotten far enough ahead to wait for us had gotten bored with said waiting so he turned back to look for us. At this point, after he'd passed where we turned off, we rejoined the road and headed onward. After 30 minutes, we realized Paul wasn't there, so I call Paul. The phone was off so I left a voicemail and then left Marina and turned back. Paul, having reached the point we had stopped for lunch, realized he must have missed us and started back up the road.
If this sounds like an Abbott and Costello movie, it gets better. After heading past where we originally turned off and assuming that Paul can't have gone that far, or that I would have seen him by now, I decide to head back north again. I'd left Marina alone for forty minutes but just before I arrived back, Paul clearly had the phone on and told me his story, that he was now at the intersection we'd used and moreover, that he now needed gas. I told him where the gas station was, but we were also at least thirty minutes North of Paul. Better still, we'd wasted two hours on this, it was almost five and we still had some 250km left to go.
If you followed that, good for you. Suffice to say, the plan was that as I was with Marina and thus somewhat slower than Paul, we would continue he would catch us before too long. Funny how plans never work that way, isn't it?
While we both ended up shooting up the parkway, it was getting dark. Changing the visors on our helmets, we realized we also had Paul's clear shield. We called him again, but there was no reply. And we needed gas again. We told him the nearest gas station and headed there to wait. After waiting around some more, we finally managed to get Paul on the phone (it should be noted that much of the Carolina's seems to have no cellular coverage whatsoever). He told us that he'd actually gone in the interstate and that he didn't need his clear shield. Good for him, but we were still miles away and it was now actually dark. We're making a habit of this night riding thing, aren't we?
Screw the sceninc route. There's nothing for us on the parkway at night aside from suicidal squirrels and sheer drops prevented only by the lowest of stone walls. We ask the genie in the gps which is the quickest route. Well, we asked the gas station attendant first and he'd no clue. The GPS did, however and we obediently followed it. Little stretch on the parkway? Fine. Off down some back country lanes? Ok. Now onto some really back country lane. Errr... Which turns into a gravel track? A rutted gravel track that I might enjoy on my KTM? WTF? Remember, I am riding a fully loaded Triumph Tiger while Marina, who has never ridden off road before is on a loaded Street Triple. And did I mention it is DARK? We did about 5km down that road, probably the five hardest dual sport night time kilometres I've ever done (and the only ones I ever will). Still, we made it and while the roads were still narrrow after that, they are least were tarmac-covered. Eventually they gave way to roads with lines on and we finally made it.
But, as they say, the show is not yet over. As we arrived at the motel, I rode on ahead to start unpacking while Marina did who knows what. In a classic over-confidence manouver, I rode around the lot to move into the optimal parking spot. Except, too much lock, not enough speed and the front end goes. I catch it with my leg, but the bike is now over-balanced. I can't shout, the intercomms are out of power and Marina appears to be star-gazing. I rev the bike loud enough for her to hear but she still doesn't start moving. Nothing for it as I lay the bike on her side. I too tired too lift it myself, and Marina still isn't moving. Finally, she is.
She comes over, finally, and instead of doing the one constructive thing (helping me lift it) starts to effectively flap. Firstly, she takes her time parking her bike. Then spends an eternity removing gloves, helmet and starting to unpack. When she does notice the tiger in a prone state, she offers to go get paul.
Paul, who arrived an hour earlier as he wasn't waiting for paul at a gas station, comes out at this point see's the bike and goes back in, we assume to put footwear on and come help. He doens't emerge again. After almost giving myself a hernia, Marina deigns to help. We finally get the old girl back on her wheels and parked up. Emptying the bike, we go upstairs to find Paul watching TV.
And to finally top things off, there's no food. Nothing in Floyd, VA is open at this time (10pm) so all we have for dinner is beef jerky and soda.
As I roll into bed, I can only think how lucky I am that the day is finally over. And I only rode 780km.
I've omitted the detours, but if you future historians need to recover the actual route, please drop me a line...