Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Too Long Rides West

And I'm back in Texas. In a bar in Lubbock. And here's where I'm going to sleep tonight:

The last two days were pretty rough. 470 miles yesterday and 370 today. And it was pretty hot and we went fast. 70-80 miles and hour most of the time. Without that many breaks.

And today, the scenery started to look more open and deserty again. And I did sweat way less then I had over the last several weeks. Even though it was equally hot.

And while yesterday felt alright even though I was beyond tired and slept like dead for 10 hours, today I felt that I would have needed a longer break. Or a shorter leg. My left shoulder and back hurt and my ass, too. Towards the end, my knees joined but I only had a few more miles to go. 

Two miles away from my Airbnb, I had to stop at a traffic light. When it turned green and I pulled on the throttle, nothing happened. As if the bike was like "No, I can't go one more inch. I am tired and hot and need a break." So I managed to get her into a nearby parking lot and tried to ride back and forth. But there was no pull at all. Like an exhausted marathon runner who breaks down right before the finish line but can't get up anymore. Poor thing.

So I called a cab and left he bike in the parking lot. It was pretty late in the day and the only repair shop I was able to reach told me that they didn't feel comfortable to repair a Ducati. So I decided to wait till the next day. Give the bike a night rest in the cooler Texan air, give her some more good gas and try to start her tomorrow. And just in case I looked up car and trailer rentals so I could drive her up to Boulder where I do have an appointment in a Ducati shop on Tuesday. They will certainly be able to help me.

Then I went to get a drink and something to eat. And started talking to Will, the bar tender. And he recommended a few shops in town. So I'm going to try them tomorrow and see if anyone feels up to the challenge to fix a senior Ducati (in case it actually needs a mechanic and not just a break).

Stay tuned and cross your fingers. I certainly feel sore and tight and tired and could use a massage and some TLC. So I'm sure it's the same for her.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Nashville To Memphis And The Weather

It's my second night in Mempgis, Tennessee. Yes, the Elvis Memphis. Elvis, who I had a crush on when I was ten years old. Like most girls. That hair. That voice. And those moves... So pretty.

Overall I was not incredibly excited about Nashville and Memphis. This might be due to the fact that I'm a little tired of being away from home in general but also because I'm not a huge music enthusiast. But I did go to Graceland today. I was told that it is a must. Due to quite a bit of rain today I extended my stay in Memphis so I had time to do it. 

I didn't visit any famous places in Nashville but I went down Broadway and past all the crazy bars. I went into a boot and hat shop and would have loved to buy one of each of only I had enough room to carry them. Or the money to spend. After a couple of beers in a bar and a walk around downtown I went to bed. 

Before I made my way from Nashville to Memphis, yesterday, I spent a few hours at a coffe shop and listened to the live broadcast of the Euro Cup, Germany vs. Slovakia. It was so nice to finally hear a German broadcast even though people would look at me funny when I jumped up and down for each of the three goals. I didn't care. Germany moved on to the quarter finals and I will get to watch another match next Saturday in Santa Fe. Or listen to it.

     'Germany just won' smile

The ride to Memphis was short but pretty hot so I was glad when I finally made it to the heavily air-conditioned Airbnb. I had already booked a second night in Memphis because it looked like it would be raining all day on Monday. Which it didn't but better safe than sorry. This morning I decided that I should get my chain replaced before the long ride to Oklahoma City tomorrow. The shop was about 6 miles away and the work should be done by late afternoon. 

Plenty of time to get to Graceland and watching Iceland kick England out of the Euro Cup. 

Elvis could have used someone to challenge his interior design skills. But you could tell that people must have had quite a good time at this place. And the long walls of golden and platinum records were just impressive. But half an hour was really enough to see everything.

As for managing to avoid the rain. That didn't quite work out as intended. When my bike was ready for pick up, a thunderstorm had just started and it looked like it would last a couple of hours at least. So I just bit the bullet and started riding home. Riding in the rain during rush hour in a city is not fun. I saw a few flooded areas and had to ride through a couple. And when I heard thunder and saw lightning I decided to leave the interstate and find some shelter until the worst was over. That took long enough for my clothes and shoes to get soaked through. But it looked like it was a wise decision. Even though it was still raining, albeit less heavily, when I continued fifteen minutes later, I had missed two accidents. It's tough enough to keep the bike under control, not slide on the wet road and break safely, let alone see properly. But getting involved in someone else's car accident would suck really big. But I made it safely but soaked to the hotel. Leaving in damp clothes tomorrow by expected temperatures during he day from mid 90ies (35ish Celsius) doesn't sound too awful. Not as awful like losing to Iceland must have been for England. Especially given that it could have been their last Euro Cup ;-).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dragon, Bear, And Country Capital

     Riding the Tail Of The Dragon

And I am back in the humid heat. And sweating accordingly. Yesterday morning I packed up and stopped by Eurosport Asheville, a motorcycle dealer (BMWs all over the place. I was almost surprised they didn't speak German) and repair shop to get some air and my chain adjusted before the ride. We had tried this the day before but the nut was impossible to get lose. It took those guys just a few minutes and they wouldn't even let me pay for it. I love North Carolina's motorcycle mechanics almost as much as I love mine at home. And yes, why don't I do these easy things myself? Exactly because I've had so many pleasant experiences with bike shops on my trip. And if I were a mechanic and someone as nice as me would walk into my shop and ask me for a tiny thing to do on my bike. It would be a great pleasure and probably one of the best things that happened to me during that day ;-). I know, if I wasn't so humble I would be too good to be true...

It was the big day where I was finally going to ride the 'Tail of the Dragon' (there are plenty of related scary YouTube videos you can watch if you're interested), or Deals Gap, a stretch of 11 miles through the south of the Smoky Mountains with 318 curves. I read about it in one of the motorcycle journal books I read and couldn't wait to go there. The road to there was beautiful already. Windy highways, some nail pin curves and a lot of scenic views of Fontana Lake. I was a little nervous, given that my curvy ride down to Asheville the day before hadn't been the most confident and elegant. And I had heard and read a lot about the road. So, when I had stopped and purchased my obligatory tank top I let the chicken inside of me take power and I left the parking lot following a group of Harley riders, two of them hadn't been on the Tail before. 

Stupid mistake. Even a less savvy rider with a sports bike would be able to do the ride faster than most Harley riders. And I've ridden similar roads before and the road didn't turn out to be impossible or scary. No alpine switchbacks. Just a few beautiful hair pins. So I stopped three times to let the Harleys go and ride a little faster until I had caught up with them again. Boy, that was so much fun! There was a slight descend which explained that more people we're riding it coming from the other side but not enough to be scary (for me). Little traffic, no gravel or other stuff on the road and perfect weather helped to make my first Dragon ride one of the most fun experiences of the trip. 

But the best part happened after I had done the 11 miles. I was about to turn onto a different highway and not going very fast when I saw something move in the bushes on the left side of the road. And then a black bear cub jumped on the road right in front of me and tried to cross it. I couldn't believe my eyes. And luckily, I was able to break and sverve to avoid the little guy who hesitated for a second, jumping back and forth on his front paws that were still too big for him and made him look like an oversized pup, before he ran into the woods on the other side of the road. Where his mom must have been.

I had to stop at the diner a few yards down the road to process what had just happened. And be happy about all the things that didn't. I had seen my first wild bear. And it was the cutest little cub. And I had almost hit it which would have had the most serious consequences for all of us. Killing an animal, crashing my bike and most likely hurting myself would be bad enough. But an attack by an, understandably, angry bear mom on top of that. Once again I was happy about my defensive-attentive driving style. And so much happier to have slayed the Dragon and seen but not slayed a bear within half an hour! Hence the slightly exhausted but immensely happy face:

The rest of the ride was easy but again incredibly hot. I spent the night at a very quiet resort style hotel at a lake, seeing more fireflies and spectacular thunderstorms. The perfect retreat before a weekend in Nashville where I am right now. In a British Pub, drinking my pain away about the fact that the stupid people seem to have finally managed to outnumber the smart ones in this world. 51.9% to 48.1%...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Homesick In Asheville

"Rather than curing my itch, this most excellent adventure only made it worse, and as soon as I returned home I dug out my map of the world and started dreaming about the Next Trip..."

This is a quote from "Red Tape And White Knuckles" a book by Lois Pryce about her solo motorcycle trip from London to Cape Town. Which makes me feel like a little sissy. And it makes me painfully aware that the travel bug can never be cured by traveling. 

I already love this book and I'm only a few pages in. It's rare enough that I find someone who can put my thoughts in words even better than I can. And it does help me on a day like this. I've been home sick for a while. Not necessarily for my place and San Francisco. But I miss being in the same place for a while. Surrounded by people who know me and who I know and love. And cats. And a washer and more clothes than I carry with me. And then you arrive at a place that feels like home. You immediately like the people you stay with and the place. You get to enjoy quiet nights of sleep. Genuine care, attention, interest, and freshly washed, air dried laundry. Priceless views, inspiring conversation and home made food. And you fall in love with all of it. The imminent departure hanging over you. The need to ride on, to feel that you're getting closer to home. But at the same time, the growing affection. This clandestine operation, initiated by your heart, that starts growing roots where you are. Because it just feels so right and you feel so welcome and at home. And then, you leave and you can feel the physical pain of tearing out those green baby roots. That haven't grown big and strong enough to keep you from leaving, yet. But they already make you hurt so much. And you don't really know why. While the tiny green baby roots, still bleeding, hang on to you while looking back, crying over having to leave yet another place that could have been home.

Mimi and Bernard. Thank you for making me start growing roots. I'll be back, I promise. And I'll certainly never forget your hospitality or any minute I spent in the paradise that you can call home.

The ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway and down to Asheville was beautiful but also a little scary. I rode on a lot of easy roads so far. Hence, downhill curves and switchbacks, especially with some gravel and rocks on the road came as a challenge. But it was a good refresher for tomorrow when I'm going to ride on the Tail of the Dragon. 

Asheville is a cute little town. I didn't do a lot of sightseeing but I took a few photos.

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And my homesickness got a little better when I met this little guy who was a little shy at first but then purred when he let me pet him. On his terms. Like Chewy... And there's the homesickness again...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Welcome To Paradise

"Welcome to Paradise" is what the guy who let me park my bike in his carport while I'm here said today. And he's so right. If where I am at right now is not paradise, I don't know what is. I'm north of the Smoky Mountains. Between the Cherokee National Forest and the Linville Gorge Wilderness. A few houses and a road that sees a few cars a day. It was so quiet last night that I heard the quiet ringing in my ear that I get after a long day of riding.

Yesterday was a perfect day for riding. Blue sky and temperatures in the 70ies (20ies in Celsius). I even had to zip my vents and add one liner to my jacket. I rode west from Clarksville, back into North Carolina. On beautiful roads. It is so incredibly green out here. I know this comes with rain, like the gushes I got when I rode to Virginia and it comes with bugs, too. But fireflies are bugs and I wouldn't want to live without them. But it also comes with fresh and clean air. And an abundance of green that soothes the eye and doesn't give you constant wild fire scares. 

I had to ride on a few interstates and highways with more traffic than I had recently. That is more stressful but at the same time it keeps me alert and awake. Like a video game where everyone is out to kill you and you have to survive. But you don't have spare lives which makes it extra fun.

Eventually, I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway. Less cars and such a beautiful road. Like Skyline Boulevard in California but longer and with even more stunning views.

I followed it for about an hour until I reached the road that would take me to my home for my vacation from my vacation. I had been warned that there was going to be a dirt road and told that I could park my bike at a place by the paved road. But when I got to the dirt road it didn't look so bad. So I went uphill. But after a few quite steep hills and turns I wasn't able to see the house. And so I turned around. Well, going downhill on a gravel road on a motorcycle with heavy luggage is not quite as easy as going uphill. And you can't just stop and get off it to I strap your bags, either. So I went downhill really slowly. Trying to use my clutch more than my brake to slow down. With the unwanted result that my engine started at one point. Good to now that it's that easy to push start my bike... 

I parked it halfway down the hill and went to find the house. I did find it eventually and I felt so bad that my friend's mother's first impression of me was that of a sweaty, smelly person with helmet hair... But Mimi was sweet and practical and drove downhill to help me get my bag and stayed closed when I maneuvered my bike all the way back down the hill on the slippery gravel slope and into a carport by the paved road. 

And then we went back to the place I would be able to call home for the next few days. And its incredible views over the Cerokee National Forest. It looks like a rain forest but is so much more quit and it is so much cooler here.

I know that I will certainly have a particularly hard time to leave this time. This is paradise. Truly. And of course, I should be out on my bike every day, riding this beautiful roads. But then, I'm just so content to sit on the deck and enjoy the view and the quiet.

But no rest for the wicked. Today I went rock climbing. For the first time in my life. With all the gear and ropes and shit. And a very experience instructor. An electrical engineer like my father. So I knew I was in good and safe hands. 

It was a bit of a drive and then a hike to get to the climbing spot. Which was, surprisingly for a perfect Sunday, empty. So we set up and I went on my first climb. So much fun. And once you get over the psychological barrier of hanging on a vertical wall of rock, not that hard. 

One of these things where you think you can't do it and sometimes on the wall you think you can't go further. But then you can and you do. Though the shoes are pretty uncomfortable and almost stop you blood flow. But it's exhilarating and I've always wanted to be a window cleaner in Manhatten or Shanghai. So I didn't have any issues with vertigo.

And the he view was absolutely worth it.

I wish I could have camped there. But I swore to myself then that would come back and backpack and hike in this beautiful spot. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Heading West

After over one month of traveling I left the Outer Banks today and turned around to go back westward. It will make it easier to ride in the morning, without the sun in my eyes. Well, not that I am much of a morning person. Given that I haven't encountered temperatures way over 100 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), yet, I'd rather ride I. The heat than get up so early. And while its kind of sad that my trip is half over, I am also glad that from now on, every ride will take me closer to home. I do miss home. My friends, my bed, living a normal live with more things than fit on my bike. But then, I wonder if I will ever be able to live a "normal" life again. How will it feel to be in the same place every day? Wake up in the same bed, see the same people, ride on the same roads. Will I be happy that way? How long will it last until I feel the need to leave again? There are still so many roads and so many places in this country I haven't seen. What kind of person will I be when I get back? Will I still be able to talk to my friends, will we still have enough in common? Will their lives have moved on in a different direction than mine has? I hope that nothing will have changed but I've been in similar situations before and I don't have the best feeling about this.

But well, I'm still on the other side of the country and I have a month and a half left to figure everything out. 

I do need a break again, that's for sure. Riding over 200 miles four days in a row, in this weather, does take a toll. And I will have a break staring tomorrow. In the Smoky Mountains. With, as far as I can tell so far, another couple of lovely people who will make me feel like home and make it hard for me to leave. And I can't wait.

I'm glad that I have left the humid heat behind. Today it was almost chilly when I had lunch. Fresh air, finally. Even though I got rained on a bit. And the ride today and yesterday was so beautiful. Mostly back roads. Through green and lush forests and tiny villages. Trees and green grass as well as pretty wooden houses with porches. But also poorer areas with trailers and lots of car wrecks. And an abundance of churches. There can't be more than ten people per church. And they have funny things written on their billboards outside. And the weirdest billboard, not next to a church, just a normal advertising billboard was the one that read "Dirty Dicks Crab House". My eyes are pretty good but I could not find an apostrophe, no matter how hard I looked. So, that place sounds like a brothel you really shouldn't go to.