Story: Natural Bridge, VA July 10-13, 2008

Oct 06, 2008 View Comments by

Christian Neuhauser Memorial Touring Weekend

I had low expectations when I signed-up for the Road Runner Touring weekend. I’ve had a subscription to this excellent magazine for and about touring by motorcycle for a few years but this hectic life doesn’t always allow me to read it.

As I live only 200 miles away from the destination and knew that there was great riding there, I paid my paltry $75 and piloted my Suzuki V-Strom on down. To say I was happily surprised by what I found is like saying Angelina Jolie is ‘kinda cute’.

This weekend was ‘The Perfect Storm’. It was an unexpected confluence of radiant weather, boundless serpentine pavements, stunning natural beauty, and 50 or so seasoned riders who look and behave a lot like me. Who could have guessed this adventure would be so magical?

I got in too late Thursday night and so missed the communal Welcome Dinner. I awoke early the next morning for my scheduled Stayin’Safe mini session from the late Larry Grodsky’s riding school. I had taught myself how to ride with my first bike in 1969, a Honda CB 450. I periodically take advanced riding instruction in the hopes of picking up that one extra tidbit that will save me from a bad accident. As I learned in my first MSF course in 1998, everything I’d taught myself about riding was completely wrong. Unlearning three decades of improper technique is difficult, but I’m getting close. My four hour morning ride through the Blue Ridge mountains was an eye-opener. I was followed by a competent Stayin’ Safe instructor who filled my helmet speakers with instant feedback. He soon had me in a rhythmic groove carving gorgeous curves by hitting the late apex, rolling on the throttle and dipping into the next beauty at a satisfying clip. This was the precise tune-up I needed for what lay ahead in the next day’s adventures.

Road Runner had most of their magazine’s writers, editors and senior staff assist in the numerous daily guided tours (maps were also provided if you wanted to ride unguided). Everyone could pick from the daily ride options offered. Once you decided which guided tour you wanted to join you were asked if you wanted to be in the ‘frisky’ group or the ‘relaxed’ group. I chose the relaxed group for the 220 mile mountainous ‘East-West’ loop. Our collection of bikes included the leader’s touring Honda, the sweeper on his low riding Yamaha V-Star with a photographer riding pillion, my Suzuki, a Blackbird, two Triumphs, a Goldwing, and other miscellaneous bikes tricked out for touring. The bikers themselves were universally amiable people that love two wheeled locomotion. I identified two retired ladies riding BMWs, a lawyer, a couple of engineers, a part-time fluffer, and an investment banker. I counted only 11 collective tattoos on the 14 people of our group, and 12 of those were on the same lady. Everyone appeared to have their own teeth and an unusually positive mindset.

We started at 9am and didn’t stop for two and a half hours, preferring instead to ride the longest, smoothest roller coaster any of us had ever been seen. The only plausible reason I can think of for these roads to wind and twist so unpredictably over and around these mountains is that they must have originally been the paths used by moonshiners to elude Revenue Agents in the 1930’s. Now paved over, they are the motorcyclist’s Promised Land.

We pulled into a Country store to top-off our gas tanks and empty our bladders of morning coffee.

When we arrived in the parking lot we found 12 local guys on big Harleys, some carrying passengers. Snake and Dirt-Bag’s license plates identified which Harleys were theirs. Confirming my long held belief that all bikers have a preponderance of good attributes, Snake and Dirt-Bag and I mingled and talked as we admired each others rides and we got famously. They were as interested in what we were all about as we were with their story. When we were ready to leave we discovered that Dirt Bag, Snake and the boys were going to a chili cook-off that was 30 miles down the same road we were taking. When asked them to join us. As we left the eight big Harleys fell in line behind me. I was riding third behind our group’s leader (an ex-competitive racer) and a middle aged guy on a Blackbird with dozens of track days under his belt. Our group was warmed-up now and I knew these behemoths couldn’t possibly keep up at the more-than-jaunty pace we set. The mountain turns and switchbacks got tighter and tighter the further we went. When I first checked my mirrors I was dumbfounded to see all of the huge Harleys, with their giant light bar arrays shining brightly, dead on my tail. They stayed that way for every one of those 30 challenging miles. It dawned on me later that growing up in these mountains those guys probably started riding dirt bikes when they were eight and road bikes at sixteen. As a testament to pure Darwinian natural selection those mountain riders that are still able to ride to a chili cook-off had to be superbly skilled riders, it’s in their genes. My hat’s off to them all!

Road Runner’s staff had scouted these routes months earlier, mapped them into their sophisticated GPS system and made the routes available to all of us either electronically or as tank bag maps. Personally I chose neither. My joy was compounded precisely because I had no idea where I was going, or when I would get there. I only knew that my gas tank was full, the sun shining down; I’d nowhere to be and all day to get there. If I simply kept up with the leader’s brisk pace I’d arrive at our destination. With no responsibility other than to smoothly hit the late apex, accelerate, and repeat, it was one of those rare opportunities to be completely ‘in the moment’. Only the pure joy of my speed, the wind’s caress and the balanced risk were reality. No thoughts of past or future intruded. The velocity to enter the next turn, my gear selection, and traction calculations, all done subconsciously in some dark cerebral fold, were all that there was.

Though we were exhausted when we stopped for lunch everyone was anxious to get back on the road lest the magical confluence of this Perfect Storm would somehow become unbalanced and lost. We continued on for four more glorious hours of free falling down green mountains and climbing back up again.

We finished our most excellent loop with just enough time to shower and change before cocktails and dinner. As an avid motorcycle adventurer since the early 70’s I thought my stories of Canadian wilderness romps, Alaskan motorcycling misadventures or fleeing Mexican bandits would be highly regarded at the cocktail bar. Instead they were trumped by dozens of others with their own fascinating stories including the trio of long riders describing the night they rode their cycles over a high Sierra mountain pass in a howling snowstorm. When I asked why they didn’t seek shelter and wait it out, they shot me looks so emasculating that I began to doubt my own manhood. All three were females with thousands of road miles under their belts.

At dinner I was fortunate enough to sit between Christa Neuhauser, Road Runner’s Publisher, and her oldest son Manuel the magazine’s IT Specialist. I had been misinformed the day before when I was told they were from Australia. When I began talking to them it became evident that they were from Austria originally, not Australia mate.

Two more knowledgeable motorcyclists would be hard to find, but these two were not one dimensional. Our dinner conversation ranged from current GPS technologies and what to expect next (Manuel just earned his Masters in Computer Engineering), to early 19th Century Brazilian history, the benefits of bilingualism, and how higher gas prices and urban congestion are making motorcycles the intelligent choice for more commuters around the world.

This annual ride is in memory of Christian Neuhauser whose love of adventure, coupled with a passion for motorcycling inspired him to start Road Runner magazine and get it started before his untimely death in 2005. To their great credit Christian’s charming and intelligent widow, children, gifted contributors and staff continue to improve and grow this great magazine for all of the world’s motorcycle adventurers. Cheers! Can I book my place for next year now?

Author: Jim Jones

Tags: Categories: Events and Rallies