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Columbus Day Weekend – Day 2 November 2, 2008

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I awoke the next morning in my tiny euro-styled Microtel room.  Rain gear and leathers were still draped about and all dried.  Flicking through the TV stations, I found a local weather report.  I and my upcoming ride were right on the sunny edge of a rainy front.  Today would be South Carolina and Georgia. (I had seriously toyed with the idea of pressing on to Alabama – but fortunately came to my senses.)  If I could make good time heading west, before dipping south into SC, I figured I should avoid any rain, and the temperatures should be reasonable.  I repacked my saddle bags, cold gear at the bottom, rain gear on top, and got the bike packed. 

Pulling out I glanced at the nearby Waffle House thinking a waffle and coffee would be a good warm start on the chilly morning, but I still was still kind of full from last night’s rib-eye.  I headed out in the wrong direction following the bad advice of the hotel clerk who sent me 5 miles out of my way looking for the road I was already on.  After getting my bearings, I headed back, passing the hotel and turning south on NC27 through Lilliington and then west on to Charlotte, NC.   The whole route was spent riding straight for the edge of the weather.  On my left, ominous grey clouds; on my right, perfect blue skies.  The ride was pleasant enough, though generally unremarkable.  I rode though a lot more depressed areas and more cotton fields.  In Charlotte, I picked up US29 which took my to I-85.  The scenery gradually improved as I headed west, with more hills and forests. 

I rode into South Carolina on I-85, stopping briefly to get my ABCs Touring picture, and soon left the interstate for more local roads.  Near Gaffney, I got off I-85 and onto SC11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, continuing west.  Definitely well-labeled as scenic, this road was a great ride, and I had made it sufficiently far west that the weather line was no longer much of a threat.   The temperatures were up and SC doesn’t have an helmet law (over age 21), so I stowed the jacket and helmet and had a wonderful ride though the South Carolina countryside with the wind in my hair.

Monument at Cowpens Nat'l Battlefield.

Monument at Cowpens Nat'l Battlefield

I stopped at Cowpens National Battle field, a Revolutionary War site where the South Continental Army defeated the British in 1781 in a battle that (according to the visitor’s center) turned the tide of the Revolutionary War causing the British to give up on attempting to take the south.  In the gift shop I bought a “Passport to [my] National Parks” – yet another “collection” activity in which one collects date-stamps from National Parks across the country.  As if I needed a reason to ride… I now have another.  I also bought a copy of George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, 110 little maxims of advice that are generally as true today as they were in 1746, when the 14-year-old Washington wrote them down from French translations.   The battlefield had a short loop ride which looked pretty much like the rest of the countryside.  The walking tours would have burned a little too much daylight, so I circled through on the bike and kept heading west on SC11. 

About 5 miles west of Chesnee I happened upon a large orchard and farmer’s market with such extravagant signage, I thought I had actually entered outskirts of the town of Strawberry Hill.  I pulled in for some fresh local produce and was greeted by a very friendly stout woman who was quite proud of their harvest.  She had me try the Asian pears – which besides apples and pumpkins appeared to be the only thing in season.  I had never seen or had one before.  They looked more like apples than pears.  They were very firm, but juicy and sweet with a subtle pear flavor.  She had me sold on them and I bought a bag, along with a pint each of strawberry and blackberry ciders (which I am just finishing up as I type.)  I shuffled things around in my bags to make room without bruising the pears too badly, or cooking them with my exhaust pipes, and kept riding west. 

Such happy, stylin', and patriotic fruit in S. Carolina.

Such happy, stylin', and patriotic fruit in S. Carolina.

The scenery just kept getting better and better; forests rising up into mountains, beautiful rock faces overlooking shaded lush valleys.  Riding the ribbon of asphalt through the beautiful fall countryside is what biking is all about, and I started thinking about tomorrow… There was no way I would even try for Alabama and comfortably be home in time for work on Tuesday.  Fortunately I was able to replan my route without focusing at all on Tuesday, only that I would be in my own bed on Monday, and that all the time from now until then would be spent however I pleased and wherever the bike took me.  I knew I’d make it to Georgia and head straight north to pick up my Tennessee point and head home.  I also knew that route would put me right on course for the ultimate ride in the southeast — the Dragon’s Tail.  It felt good to live the ride. 

At around Devil’s Fork State Park, SC11 turned south, bringing me to US76 which I took to keep moving west toward the northeast corner of Georgia.  Near Westminster, SC I stopped for a quick break and figure out where in Georgia to spend the night.  I tried asking the clerk whether Taccoa or Clayton would be the better place for a drink and dinner, but his dull stare and shrug wasn’t particularly helpful.  I saw a couple of older gentlemen and a younger man near the cafe counter and walked back to get their opinion.   At first they were about as helpful as the clerk – the two older men thinking neither place was a particularly great stop.  The younger man just sat staring with a cold non-emotive intensity, as one may imagine a young Charles Manson looked before he put the Manson Family together.  Well, if Manson were wearing a John Deere baseball cap that is.  Then the opinions started coming together, and I was advised that Clayton would be the better choice.  

It was getting a little chillier as the sun fell lower in the sky, and Georgia has a helmet law.  So I pulled out the leathers and skid lid, and headed up US76 to Clayton.  Crossing the Chatooga River into Georgia, the bridge had no safe place to pull over for my Georgia ABCs point picture, so I pressed on to Clayton.  I arrived pretty early in the evening with a good amount of light left and immediately found the Days Inn.  Again reticent to stay in a chain, but wanting to be close to food and drink, I circled around a bit before resigning myself to the Days.  I checked in, and was given a ground floor unit in the back, near a group of motorcycles. 

As I was getting unpacked, two other bikers were getting their bikes set for the night.  They were from Macon, up to ride the local area.  Apparently, the southern half of Georgia doesn’t offer a great riding experience, but up here there is “not a bad road anywhere”.  This was apparently their normal starting point for their weekend rides.  We talked for a while as I unloaded.  They gave a thumbs-up recommendation for the Mexican restaurant there in the same building as the motel.   We talked about rides – the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway, my journey for steak and ABC points… I gave them a couple of my Asian pears, and headed out in search of a decent watering hole, figuring I may see them in the Mexican place later that night.

The bar I found was a gas station — literally.  It had been converted with minimal changes.  Most of the seating is in the repair bays.  The bar is where the counter would have been.  And the business-side of the bar is where the office and storage would have been.  The restrooms are the original station commodes, outside at the back of the building.   I ordered a beer and sat out front where an assortment of concrete benches and patio furniture populated the area where gas pumps had once been.  It was a pretty cool place — but I sensed the food would be less than “fulfilling”, and the Mexican place I heard about earlier was working its way into a craving.  The evening was just beginning to get dusky — cool but very pleasant.  I sat watching people and enjoying my beer, then headed back to the motel. 

Overexposed cell phone picture of the Station.

Upon my return, the bikers I spoke to before were just returning from a supply run at the local liquor store, and asked me if I’d like a drink.  I grabbed my emergency bottle of Jack Daniels from my saddle bags (you never know when you’ll be stuck in a dry county) and a coke from the vending machine and headed over.  There were three of them in their group.  We hung out in front of the rooms drinking and talking about bikes, rides, life, and work until the sun disappeared, then headed over to the Mexican restaurant.  I guess Georgia is not the best state for good Mexican food — but I was hungry, so it was good for me at that moment.  After filling up on two baskets of chips and salsa (which had to be doctored with their hottest hot sauce), some (way too mild) enchiladas, a couple of corona’s and a mediocre margarita – we headed back to our motel drinking positions for a few more drinks and conversations.  They offered to join me on the Dragon’s Tail the next morning, and I was happy to have guides.   We decided not to set a time, but whoever was first up would wake the others. 

Back in my room, I was so ready to go to sleep.   Stepping in I found the light was burned out, so I fumbled my way in the dark to the light near the bed.  Turning it on, I startled a cockroach on the wall who, quick as lightening, jumped onto the night stand, onto the alarm clock, and down into one of the buttons.  Hmmm…. Mental note: be wary of mediocre motels that share buildings with mediocre restaurants.  Knowing there is never just one, and realizing there was no reason to suspect any other room would be any better, I called the front desk and negotiated a discount.  Also thinking the worst thing would be for me to leave with roaches in my luggage, I took the pears out of my bag and moved them to the other end of the room.  

As I lay in bed, I wondered if my six-legged roomie was content to stay in his little clock radio house, but then my mind drifted to the ride.  I was kind of awed by trip:  that just two nights ago I was home in Maryland; that just last night I was gorging myself on steak in North Carolina; that I had roamed the countryside of South Carolina to be here in Georgia having drinks, dinner, and conversation with three new friends; and that tomorrow I would ride the infamous Dragons Tail.  Through it all my biggest concerns were the road in front of me, the weather over my head, and where I was going to rest.  Life is good on the road.

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