New Orleans to Canada: Day 14 Waynesboro, Virginia to Johnson City, Tennessee

Steve Kinchen, Sr/ May 30, 2013/ BMW R1200RT, General Rants & Raves About Riding, New Orleans to Canada 2013, Touring/ 0 comments

Date: May 30th, 2013

Departure TIme: 8:12am

Departure Temperature 59 degrees

Arrival Time: 7:35pm

States Covered: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee

Miles Covered: 390

Sunrise was before 6am this morning and we were blessed with clear skies the entire day. We prayed for safe riding today, and the good Lord knows we needed it with the maniacal drivers that reside in this area.

We first hopped onto the interstate 81 in order to make up the miles we lost yesterday and get us to just past Roanoke so that we could catch the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once we were on the Blue Ridge, we enjoyed some leisurely paced riding and stopped for a few (very few with the agenda we had planned for the day) photos. It seemed like everyone was feeling natures call at the first stop, and judging by the yellowed grass just off the road side, this is not an infrequent occurrence. There was some construction going on and about half of a mile of the parkway was completely ripped up to the gravel base. This was not something that any of us was excited about, I can assure you. The gravel was a mix of loosely packed to tightly packed which provided the bare minimum of traction for our bikes to cross with our street tires… It is times like these that you really appreciate the flexibility of the BMW GS series of bikes that are equally at home on the road as they are on the trails.

We rode the parkway for about 50-60 miles and then exited just outside of Draper for fuel and a quick bite to eat at the Loves Truckstop. I was most relieved when I discovered that there was a Subway shop within the building that provided marginally edible provisions for the afternoon ahead. From this point, one of the Florida gang broke off from us and went on his own towards Knoxville on personal business. After our fare-the-wells, we were back on the interstate to get us to our next stretch of twisties called the Back of the Dragon.

I have ridden “The Tail of the Dragon” many times, on all three of my bikes, but this was a first. This was a stretch of Virginia State Road #16 that has many challenging turns and climbs similar to the Tail of the Dragon, but without the crazy crotch-rocket death-wish suicidal maniacs.

Here’s the description:

“Running from Tazewell to Marion VA, Virginia’s State Road # 16 is 32 miles of switchbacks and sweepers climbing and descending multiple mountains. Promoted by the locals as “The Back of the Dragon,” it lives up to it’s billing. If you like the more famous “Tail of the Dragon” at Deal’s Gap in NC/TN, you owe it to yourself to come experience this world class motorcycle road.”

There is also a great youtube video: Back of the Dragon

I managed to fall behind the rest of the group during the first twenty minutes of the ride. I was keeping up pretty well with the group until we hit a few really challenging switchbacks and I could see(and feel) the group slipping away. This was just before 16 splits with VSR 60. I even reviewed my video and there is a distinct variance to the condition of the roadway that we were on and the continuance of said roadway as compared to the split with VSR 60. We had also previously discussed that our end point for the day would most likely be Johnson City, TN, which I had keyed into my GPS. With no one in our riding party in sight, I based my choice on the following criteria: The road surface seemed to continue in the direction to the left, and my GPS was also instructing me to stay to the left. I hesitated, and then peeled away heading left on the roadway that seemed to be the same one I had already travelled 15 miles on. This was the first of several erroneous turns that plagued my afternoon. I felt like someone from our party should be waiting at that spot, but perhaps they didn’t notice I wasn’t hanging in the rear anymore…. certainly they would at the next junction…

After another 6.5 miles, I arrived at yet another junction where I had to choose to turn right or left. My GPS at this point was not being overly helpful as it was suggesting that I was riding in the middle of a field or something. I flipped a coin in my head and turned right. After another eight miles I ended up on a dirt road in the middle of absolute nowhere. There was what appeared to be a corn crib out in a field, and a series of aparently  abandoned out buildings on seemed to be an otherwise abandoned farm.  I saw two “mountain people” start to make their way towards me and I felt as though their soulless expressions on their faces were coming to bring me into their “children of the corn” nightmare. I flamingo walked my RT (what it has been dubbed because I am on my tiptoes when I am scooting the bike around in difficult places rather than duck walking… ducks walk flat footed!)

I made the choice to back track the 14-15 miles to the point where I must have gone wrong. There was no cell coverage whatsoever along this path, and I did not regain service until I reached a small town called Saltwater, or Saltlick, or salty something or another, just a few blocks off of I-81.  Matt claims to have retraced the route looking for me, but I never saw anyone.  I must have made several other bad turns to have completely screwed the pooch like I did this afternoon.

Randall sent me a text message, which I received as I was fueling up and catching my breath from trying to outrun the children of the corn. I had already set my GPS for home and had fully planned on just hopping on the interstate and making a run for the sanity of Louisiana.  I also received a call from Matt as they were further north than I ended up, but we were both fairly close to I-81… We wound up reconnecting at exit 17 in drinkwater, or bathwater, boiled water, or some other “water town” and continued on towards the Snake.

They were not going to drop me this time… I hung very close with the group throughout the 40 or so miles of “The Snake” and was determined to keep with the pack.  With its’ 33 miles, 489 curves, 3 mountains and 1 valley to be conquered, it proved to be the most challenging route of our day.  We stopped in for a quick visit to the Country General Store in the valley that separates the two mountains for a souvenir T-Shirt and then we were quickly back on our way.

Once we conquered the snake, we rode a very pleasant country road (#421 to #91 to #67… Whatever happened to names for roads?) on into out final stop for the day, Johnson City, TN.

Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to our fellow travelers from Florida as we start to make our separate ways back home. It seems like forever since I have been home, but we have covered so much ground, it is somewhat sad to see it come to its inevitable end. Maybe another adventure awaits…?












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