2012 Touring Weekend: A Participant’s Perspective

Sep 19, 2012 View Comments by

I had to go this year. Sure, I had the usual excuses not to: time, money, and distance, but like a lazy fly, I swatted each one down. After all, as my inner child reminded me, all my friends were going.

As my distance from Maggie Valley, NC was an issue (I live in Los Angeles) and so was time (I only had six days), renting a bike was the only choice. Thankfully, Greg McCoy from Sportbikes4hire.com not only had a nice Kawasaki Concours 14 for me, but he dropped the bike off at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville as well. His mobile bike rental was a godsend, saving me valuable time and effort. As soon as I saw his truck and trailer pull up, the dark clouds finally cut loose in a crescendo of thunder and poured rain. Greg kindly offered to drive the bike and me over to Robbinsville, where I hoped dryer conditions would prevail. This meant that my first time on the Tail of the Dragon, that infamously technical twister of a road, was in a Ford F-250 with a trailer. As our 46-foot rig glided expertly through the curves, I was glad to have Greg introduce me to this one-of-a-kind road.

Leaving Robbinsville with misty skies above, I arrived dry at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. The RoadRUNNER tent grabbed my attention as I rode around it to my cabin, a short 50 yards from the heart of the festivities. Sonja, the proprietor of Creekwood Village Resort, was nice enough to pity me as I slid the Concours over muddied tracks to my cabin, and graciously upgraded me to a closer (and larger) cabin—at no charge!

Wednesday afternoon, bike and lodging secured, I walked over to the tent to join the growing crowd of participants. The electricity in the air was palpable—it might have been lightning, or perhaps the anticipation of good times ahead! The welcome dinner was a blast and, after a RoadRUNNER staff introduction, the band Buncombe Turnpike rocked late into the evening as side conversations hummed along to the music on stage.

Thursday was my first riding day. I’d signed up with Stayin’ Safe to take a one day tour. Eric Trow and Pete Tamblyn happily led us around technical, two lane backroads. Mud and moss covered corners and the occasional stray dog popped out just to keep us fresh. I returned, low on gas but high on skills, ready for the riding days ahead. An Italian dinner (Ciao!) was topped off with a wonderfully entertaining talk by Eric about the hazards and harmony of group riding.

Friday dawned…raining—no shock—but after donning rain gear, I was ready to follow Christa, our intrepid leader. The southern loop was a mélange of five mile per hour decreasing radius turns and lazy sweepers. Rain or not, we all enjoyed the great scenery and roads. Bruce Hagy, from Bristol, VA became my quick compadre over the next two days. After lunch the rain slowed and the speeds increased, as we became a sport-touring serpent slithering through the Smoky Mountains in search of our prey: the perfect road.

Saturday brought—you guessed it—more rain, but the sheets of previous days now gave way to intermittent mist. The northern loop, guided by Florian, proved to be a jewel of a tour. As the same group of riders stayed together both days, by Saturday we’d all gelled as a group: competent, cautious, but craving corners. Not daunted by the rain, Florian flogged us through canopied corners, shady chicanes, and sweet sweepers. Bruce and I bit the bullet and joined our well-synchronized serpent again. The misty skies briefly parted as we summited the Blue Ridge Parkway and we were served a sumptuous sight: rolling white mist clinging like cotton to the verdant foliage of the forest. Sore and soggy, we returned to base that afternoon, 15 minutes later than the previous day’s loop—but having gone 60 miles more—you do the math! The evening’s dinner was a celebration for Christa’s late husband Christian. I sat with my friends, new and old, Eric, Pete, Bruce, and Carl, honoring the man who planted the seed we have all seen blossom into a magazine that treats us, the reader, like fellow explorers privy to the many adventures of like minded folks.

Sunday dawned…sunny! It was a great ending to a marvelous experience. As we all packed up and parted ways, I said farewell to my friends, promising to return and renew our new found friendships next year. Stopping by the nearby Wheels Through Time Museum, I was slack-jawed by the sheer number of vintage two (and some four) wheeled vehicles—all in running condition. Curator Dale Walksler was kind enough to answer my questions and give me a free return pass—true Southern hospitality!

After returning my Concours, Greg graciously offered to return me to the airport to avoid the rain. My voyage ended as it began, as Greg and I compared notes about roads, motorcycles, and future plans. Boarding my flight, I ruminated about my experiences. What was the highlight? The roads? Incredible, but no. The scenery? Breathtaking, but also no. It had to be the camaraderie and shared experiences that will live longest in my memories. Motorcycling memories are great—but they’re even better shared with other riders!

Submitted by Chris Phillips

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