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Just back from my annual motocamping trip with Ernie and Al, and one of the roads we wanted to ride this year was NC 226A, also known as “The Diamondback”, which runs from Marion, NC to the Little Switzerland Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Last year when we had dinner at Little Switzerland late in the day, we noticed that they are trying to merchandise this road and capitalize on the motorcycle traffic that visits that area of North Carolina to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Dragon’s Tail. We never seem to have enough time on these trips to make it down to the Dragon (part of that is the leisurely pace and frequent breaks that mark rides led by Al) so we made a mental note to ride “The Diamondback” when we returned to the region this year. From what we read of it at Little Switzerland, it sounded like a reasonable alternative to the Dragon, boasting 190 curves in 12 miles, compared to the Dragon’s 318 curves in 11 miles.
Let me make this clear. Save yourself the trouble. There are a lot of reasons to go to Little Switzerland – the prime rib, which is one of the finest I’ve tasted, is one. The Blue Ridge Parkway itself is another. The breathtaking views and local charm of the mountain town, still others. But NC 226A is not worth the trip. In fact, I would avoid it, period.
The problem is that for every one of those 190 curves, there are dozens of tar snakes which wreak havoc with your selection of a path through the curve. If you hit the tar snakes the wrong way, it sends your front wheel skittering sideways, with the potential to take you and your bike off the road.
Three minutes into my ride on The Diamondback, I had a “time to change the shorts” kind of moment when I leaned into a turn and in the split second before I hit the gas to accelerate through, hit a tar snake that made my front wheel go haywire. I skidded to a near stop just before leaving the road, and proceeded to the nearest parking space where we had a consult that went something like this:
Me: “This road sucks.”
Al: “Yeah, there are tar snakes everywhere.”
Me: “This is bullshit. I’m out of here. I have zero desire to ride this road.”
Al and Ernie: “Yep. Let’s go.”
With that we carefully U-turned and made our way back up the road, and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
That little exchange spawned a catchphrase that will probably ride with us for the balance of our days: “I have zero desire to ride this road.” We laughed together and repeated that phrase a number of times throughout our trip. So the brief descent down 226A wasn’t a total loss because we’ll be telling stories about that crappy road for years to come.
We were able to laugh but I was legit pissed off. The good people of Little Switzerland, NC have every right to capitalize on the attributes of the local roads to lure riders to their establishments and sell tee shirts and hats. But should they given the fact that the road is unsafe? I vote no. Al summed it up best later that night at dinner:”Call me back when you repave the road.” Ernie added, “Some of those areas it looked like the road crew was dropping acid.”
Had I skidded off the road, it would have likely ended my vacation and led to a world of hassle. In the middle of the mountains, far from a Triumph dealer with the parts to fix the bike, and a deadline to be home within a few days. At best! At worst, dealing with injuries, maybe even life threatening ones. To me, NC 226A is a road that you don’t merchandise to capitalize on tourist trade. Let the bikers enjoy their stay in your village while they continue down the Blue Ridge Parkway. But don’t tempt them to get sidetracked on an unsafe and poorly maintained road. To tout the merits of your road is, at best, false advertising and at worst, downright negligent.
It’s a trend that seems to be taking on, this business of naming motorcycle roads. In fact Backroads Magazine did a brief article about the trend in the May issue. But after riding “The Diamondback” it reminded me a bit of the trend to name holes on golf courses, which started with Augusta and its colorfully-named holes like “Firethorn” and “Redbud”. But I knew the trend had gone too far when a dogpatch muni near my hometown named it’s holes. That’s what riding The Diamondback was like. Don’t waste your time, until, as Al said, they repave the road.
Don’t take my word for it though. Here’s a video I created documenting the aborted trip down The Diamondback.
With a big assist from my 15 year old daughter, who gave me the basics on how to use Windows Movie Maker, I’ve created my first real video from all of the GoPro footage I took on my recent trip to Colorado and Utah. Enjoy!
NOTE: The music is “Thing of Beauty” by Hothouse Flowers. I don’t own the copyright. Fellas, if you stumble on this video or blog post and you’re pissed I used your music, let me know. I assure you I’m making no coin off of it, just spreading the word about your great tunes. I hope you like the video!
I blogged about this fantastic trip earlier this month. Here are the rest of my pictures – well, at least some of the best. Between setting up the GoPro to take stills every 30 seconds and stopping around every bend to take a photo of another jaw-dropping view with my still camera, I had over 600 pictures.
This past Memorial Day weekend I had nothing to do, no plans, didn’t have my kids. I decided to take an impromptu trip out West and do some riding and camping. I’m not one to do things spur of the moment but something gripped me and told me it was right. So I told my co-workers I was taking Friday off, hopped online, booked a cheap flight to Denver ($300 roundtrip on Southwest), found a motorcycle rental place and reserved the cheapest bike they had (BMW F650GS at $135 a day) and decided to do something I’ve never done before. Just take off.
I’m so freaking glad I did it. Colorado and Utah are stunningly gorgeous. There is no such thing as a bad motorcycle road out there. The people are just fantastic. Even though it was just four days, it was the experience of a lifetime. I love being on a motorcycle.
The low points (there were a few):
- Work. My plan was to get the bike early in the AM and get started early-early Friday morning, but I had a client crisis blow up and had to work for a good chunk of the morning from my hotel room at the Denver Airport. I didn’t get on the bike until later than I wanted.
- I got a speeding ticket. There was exactly one rural stretch of Route 50 where the speed limit dropped to 55. The rest of it is 65. Guess where there were about 5 cops all up and down the road? What really galls me – I was doing 70 in a 55. Anywhere else on the planet, the cop wouldn’t look up from his donuts. Not this two-bit backwater deputy sheriff, no sireee. So there was a tax of $169.50 on my trip. Officer Turner of the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department: you should be ashamed of yourself for your part in this fraud perpetrated against unsuspecting Colorado tourists.
- Windstorms cut my day short on Saturday. My plan was to make it to Moab by Saturday but the wind as I got closer to Grand Junction was ridiculous. When I stopped for gas someone told me that this was due to a big windstorm and there would be 75-90 mph gusts. I decided against traveling any further that day, as I was having a hard enough time keeping my light 650 upright on certain stretches of open highway. I checked into a hotel and chillaxed.
The high points (too many to list but here are a few):
Pike’s Peak. Climbing Pike’s Peak on the 650 was a major accomplishment. At the top I met a fellow inmate from the Advrider forum who chatted me up for a bit and gave me some great tips for future trips.
- Gunnison, CO. What a cool town. An oasis in the middle of nowhere. Some of the nicest and friendliest girls on the planet, too. 🙂
- Arches National Park. Every American should see this in their lifetime. Jaw dropping.
- Moab, Utah. Sedona, but on a much grander scale. I told my daughter (who loves Sedona) to imagine Sedona, but 100 times larger.
- Reddit. I met up with a friend from the Reddit motorcycle forum in Grand Junction. He spent an hour with me giving me lots of helpful tips. The cameraderie of motorcyclists is pervasive!
Things I learned:
Offroading is way harder than it looks. Sand is evil.
- Acclimatize. Don’t go from sea level to 14,000 feet in the span of 24 hours. I was really struggling at the top of Pike’s Peak.
- The Lost Cajun. What a great little restaurant in Frisco, CO. Only 5 minutes off interstate 70. By all means, stop there and enjoy the company of the owner, Raymond Griffin. The food is wonderful but Raymond’s life wisdom and company was worth the trip all by itself.
I’ll be doing more impromtu ( and promptu ) trips like this. I’m already scheming about when I can do something like this in Ireland. Stay tuned.
I’ll post more pictures and video in the coming days.
One of my goals for this year was to get some experience offroading. I haven’t had a two-wheeled motorized vehicle offroad since my Rupp Scrambler circa 1975. At Saturday’s Kawasaki demo day I asked one of the guides who had offroad experience about how to get training, to which he replied, “I dunno. I’m one of those crazy guys who will just go and do it.” Mind you, this is a guy who claims he rode his KLR-650 to the Arctic circle last year. So I was inspired.
Yesterday I found some dirt roads to demo my V-strom on. Here’s some video of my first offroad experiences.
Somewhere on the mountain near Bear Creek Ski Resort:
Then when I got back to my hometown I had a realization. Lansdale is an old town with old-school back alleys behind the homes. These back alleys are all gravel. So I decided to take a few laps around town. “Urban Offroading” I called it. The trip ends with a lap around my yard. And you’ve gotta love the drunk stumbling down the back alley with a big jug of wine in his hand at the 34 second mark of the video. It was about 3:40 in the afternoon too, and he was weaving back and forth pretty good. Lansdale is also one of those towns where drunks stumble down the back alleys:
On a completely unrelated note, riding motorcycles on strange roads lets you see some strange things. Here’s a house I saw in my travels that is made to look like Noah’s arc. As a friend mentioned, Noah didn’t need a dove…he had a satellite dish.
I bought a GoPro HD Hero last fall for a motorcycle trip through West Virginia and North Carolina, and I’ve got to say I’m one of the few who’s not in love with it. The small form factor, rugged construction, and multitude of mounting devices are main selling points. But I have a few pretty big complaints about it:
- Battery life is limited. I’m only getting about an hour of life from the battery.
- Navigating the settings is a challenge. If I ever lose the users manual to this camera, I’m screwed. The settings are in a decision tree embedded within the camera and proffered up on a miniscule display in arcane codes. Every time I want to change settings I have to bust out the manual, which means I have to carry it with me on every ride.
- You can’t change modes on the fly. There’s no way to switch from video to still photography (or vice versa) on the fly, something I used to do with my old Flip video camera. (See below.)
- It’s hard to turn it off and on while riding. You have to firmly press the power button and hold it down for 7 seconds for the unit to power up. And there is no way from the rider’s seat to know if it has powered up successfully or not. If your finger wavers on the power button even for a moment it won’t turn on. There have been times I thought I was recording awesome footage, but I wasn’t.
- It’s hard to engage the shutter button while riding. Pressing the shutter button requires a firm press to engage, and there’s no way for the rider to know if the camera is actually recording. The red blinking LED that’s on the front, confirming operation, should be mounted on the back. Likewise, because of the tricky shutter button, there have been times I thought I was recording awesome footage, but I wasn’t.
I think the latter two complaints are because the GoPro is intended as a “set it and forget it” video recording device. The editing is supposed to be done when you’re done your ride and back at home. But I’m pretty limited when it comes to video editing, and prefer to record brief memorable segments of my ride, upload ’em and ditch the whole editing process.
Last weekend I shot some video of my ride on the Jersey shore and found one more limitation: because you can’t see what’s being recorded, there’s no way to know if there’s a bug on the viewfinder! Here are a few segments of my ride down the shore on NJ Route 47:
Nice clean view across the display. Pretty day, pretty ride:
Pretty day, pretty ride, ugly blotch of dead bug in the top right quadrant of the screen, at about 2:00:
As I noted above, on previous trips I jerryrigged a FlipVideo camera to my handlebars with a mini-tripod and electrical tape. The shots from these earlier trips look like their from the paleolithic era compared to the video footage from the GoPro, but I actually found that setup to be much more user friendly than the GoPro:
I’m going to keep experimenting with the GoPro and hopefully I’ll become a true believer like just about everyone else who has tested and reviewed this camera, but for now the jury is still out.