Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dragon the footpegs

I’ve always wanted to discover America. The traditional way of doing this is on a road trip, and in the past, Beloved Wife and I have discovered West Virginia, New England, and FloridaThis time, the opportunity presented itself to spend more time and to travel further afield.

I had an offer to visit a friend in New Jersey, and possibly even the chance to borrow a motorbike, but the latter never came to fruition because of logistical problems involving bike gear, insurance, registration, and Beloved Wife’s extreme reluctance in the Department of Pillion. Not that a Ducati has a realistic passenger seat. Motorcycling in the USA will have to wait for some future occasion, when I'm old[er] and [even] grey[er].

We borrowed my parents-in-law’s dad car, in a repeat of last winter’s arrangement. This would work out rather cheaper than renting a vehicle, and was certainly going to be a lot more comfortable when travelling long distances with luggage for a month. Many thanks to the owners of the vehicle; we promised to get it serviced every 5000 miles.

I’d heard so much about the US-129 in Tennessee; the so-called “Tail of the Dragon” at Deal's Gap that I insisted that we go there first from North Carolina on our way to Washington DC. A somewhat circuitous route, but through some spectacular scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains. Road signs advertising 50 miles of hilly and bendy roads, unsuitable for long or heavy vehicles were extremely promising. We saw a few motorcycles and even a couple of nutters on pedal cycles. Certainly this area seems a great place to visit on a motorbike and to grind your footpegs to swarf. There were numerous places advertising motorbikes for rent. Excellent scenery and many miles of fun, bendy roads virtually devoid of traffic seem to make the region a popular holiday destination.

Great Smoky Mountains
Having stopped for sandwiches, sightseeing and to stretch our legs, we were soon joined by a biker gang who were, inevitably, off to ride the Dragon. We chatted, and then as they set off I followed in the car and ended up at a dead end at the Fontana Dam. 

Stopped for pictures
The bikers stuck plastic covers over their shiny steeds and disappeared into the visitors' centre, and we headed west. We’d only just arrived at Deal's Gap and bought the T-shirt when the heavens opened. The place consisted of bike parking, a couple of souvenir shops, and rather a lot of very damp motorcycles. 

Tail of the Dragon
Gassing up the tourers. In the rain
After a bit of sightseeing and a couple of photos, and after the rain had eased off, we set off up Wheelie Hill and over the border from North Carolina into Tennessee and the next eleven miles and 318 curves, for which a ponderous limousine is not best suited. However, of the few vehicles we encountered, I was able to keep up until I stopped to take photos, and I didn’t develop a tail of irate thrashers desperate to pass. 

Full PPE. At least it'll dry quickly
Taking it easy
There are a few folk who seem to make a living taking photos of everyone who drives or rides along this section of the US-129. I have no idea how long the thumbnails remain on their websites, but here are the links to a couple of them:

On a dry day, and speeding up the video, the whole route looks something like this:

Eventually the rain stopped, but there were only a few bikes about. Overhanging trees keep the pavement from drying, and wet roads are not much fun on a bike.

Dry at last
By the time the afternoon sun had dried the roads, we were off the twisties and on our way to Knoxville and then, eventually, Virginia and Washington DC over 700 miles from where we'd started that morning.

A few days in Virginia and the Capitol later, and Beloved Wife had assembled almost all of the stamped and sealed documentation necessary to prove to UAE authorities that she and I are in fact legally married. We left the paperwork at the UAE embassy in Washington (they needed five days to rubber-stamp the package), and set off south west towards Nashville and Memphis.

I had the brilliant idea of taking the Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on the trail of the Lonesome Pine. Good luck with that: there ain’t no such thing as a lonesome pine in Virginia.

Skyline view from Skyline Drive
It costs $15 to get the car into the Skyline Drive National Park. Motorcycles cost $10. The place is a nature reserve, so we were on the lookout for wildlife as well as amazing views. And the roads were interestingly twisty. But there’s no real incentive to go fast, notwithstanding the blanket 35mph speed limit. 

Roadside deer
In the Skyline sky
The Drive is about 100 miles long once the bends are taken into account (it only scales 70 miles or so on the map) and includes numerous scenic overlooks where Clarissa the GPS insisted on directing us. I was mildly surprised at that small number of motorbikes. If I lived in the area I’d have a season ticket.

Having made frequent stops for photos, food and comfort, we didn’t make much headway that day, stopping the night in the el cheapo Red Roof Inn at Roanoke, a motel whose facilities included an indoor pool (bonus!) and breakfast.

The following day we made up for lost time by hitting the interstate and heading for Memphis.    


Friday, August 24, 2012

Joy of backup

There is going to be a delay in getting the Road Trip written up. I have to re-create, from memory, around a year of data held on my newer computer, and that's going to take priority.

Having bought the thing a year ago, I made a full backup and transferred the working files to the new machine. Then I went off to Qatar. I got back in July and almost immediately shot off to the United States for a month. My round tuit didn't arrive, and anyway there was barely time to turn and spit before jetting off. The GPS mapping software is only held on the older laptop, so this is the machine that got to travel all over America.

Naturally, when I got back I wanted to catch up on the household accounts and so forth. This has so far proved completely impossible because my new computer, an entire year of data (and absolutely nothing else in the Crumbling Villa including the mains adapter for the machine) have vanished without trace. In the total and absolute absence of evidence, the combined efforts of Lord Peter Wimsey, Sherlock Holmes, and Miss Marple would be of no use.

Beloved Wife and I have turned the Villa inside out and upside down in the futile quest to find something that apparently does not exist. I remain hopeful that someone has simply squirrelled the device away in a cupboard somewhere, and it'll eventually be unearthed. If you happen to see an electric-green laptop with a goat logo in white on the lid, do please let me know.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Photo story

Here, in roughly chronological order, are the edited highlights of the Great American Road Trip.

Deals Gap in the rain
Ran out of talent on the Tail of the Dragon
Deer on the Skyline Drive
...and bears. Oh my!
Birthplace of the Blues
Crossing the Mississippi
Top quality accommodation
Cozy Cone from Cars? It exists
The very old Route 66
Santa Fe
Do you have anything spicy?
Painted desert
Route 66
Petrified Forest
Grand Canyon
Rainstorm in the canyon 
Named after Hoover, but this certainly does not suck
Bandits in Las Vegas
Elephant seals in the Pacific
Pacific coastline drive
Sun and fog on Big Sur
Hills and cable cars
Named after the pelican
Some of these trees are older than the New Testament
Tacoma Narrows
Ferry to Seattle
Utilikilts shop in Seattle
Exactly the same shape as Bambi's arse
Little Big Horn
Custer's Last Stand
Knutter's Knoll
Devil's Tower, Wyoming
Sturgis 2012: 72nd annual bike rally
Mount Rushmore from the cheap seats
Badlands buffalo
Badlands prairie dog
The Badlands
Apparently the world's largest Bakewell Tart
Badlands bighorn sheep
It rains in Illinois
The Chicago Bean
Sunset over Chicago
Early evening in Chicago
Frank Lloyd Wright: master of the rectangle
Prairie style in the suburbs
Inside the Robie House
27 states and 8888 miles

I promise to write some actual words soon.


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