Spring brings April showers, May flowers and, like clockwork, a call from my buddy Bob, suggesting we take a “little” motorcycle trip, something in the neighborhood of five or six days, two or three thousand miles, with plenty of twisty two-lane blacktops and few interstates. Since my wife and I had to be in Ohio for a high school graduation, I decided to trailer my bike to Bob’s house. Deb and I would attend the graduation on Friday, visit some relatives on Saturday, and Bob and I would be on the road by Sunday morning.
One of the reasons Bob and I enjoy traveling together is our differences. Bob is a planner. He maps the routes, packs like a Boy Scout and always makes sure his finances are in order while he is on a trip. I, on the other hand, have been known to hit the road for three or four days with one pair of clean jeans, twenty dollars in my pocket and a route no more specific than “heading south.”
Bob and I rolled out of Gahanna, Ohio, on a Sunday morning under gray skies and light rain. Our destination was Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and U.S. Route 23 would take us almost all of the way there. Passing through Kentucky and small towns like Prestonsburg and Paintsville, I though about the old locals’ variation on the three “R’s”–Readin’, Ritin’ and Route 23. The allure of Route 23 was the escape it offered from a life working in the coalmines that are so abundant in eastern Kentucky. Since my father didn’t want to work in the mines, after he married my mother they headed north on Route 23 and settled in Ohio. Knowing the hardscrabble history of the area, it was a sad sight to roll past the empty store fronts and trailers with broken-down cars and trucks sitting on blocks out front.
The rain finally stopped in southern Kentucky and several hours later we reached our destination in Cherokee, North Carolina, an Indian reservation town that traps tourists like flypaper traps flies. On Monday morning, our first stop was the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, which houses a stunning collection of vintage motorcycles maintained in good running condition. We were wandering around snapping pictures of some of the rarest motorcycles in the world when Dale Walksler, the museum’s owner, walked up and started telling us about one of the bikes. Dale is the perfect guy to have a motorcycle museum. He is animated, constantly walking from bike to bike, checking the throttle or rocking the bike back and forth to listen for fuel sloshing around in the tank, never letting the conversation veer far from his love of motorcycles.
After we left the museum, being as close as we were to Deals Gap, I felt obligated to make the trip to the Tennessee border to christen my new Honda Interstate on those infamous 318 curves in 11 miles. The big Honda worked through the curves on U.S. Route 129 just fine for my taste. Certainly not a sportbike, but sporty enough for me. We explored some unfamiliar as we worked our way back to Maggie Valley and our hotel in Cherokee.
On Tuesday morning we continued south towards Helen, Georgia, an Alpine village tucked into the Appalachian Mountains. The weather was perfect, not too hot, no rain and the lack of traffic made it that much better. Bob couldn’t have done a better job of picking the roads we were traveling on. Easily intertwining through the north Georgia countryside on tree-lined lanes of asphalt with the smell of magnolia wafting through the air. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done to deserve such a day. We arrived in Helen, and although it is a nice looking little town, it seemed a bit too touristy for our tastes. We headed further south to Cornelia, where my wife had booked us a room for the night. We topped off a perfect day with a perfect meal: barbeque, fresh corn on the cob and apple cobbler. After nearly ten hours in the saddle and a meal like that, we crashed hard.
On Wednesday morning we started making our way north again, and Bob plotted a new route that avoided backtracking. We arrived in Corbin, Kentucky, that night to find the hotel’s parking lot full of motorcycles. There was Harley Owners Group rally that weekend, so the conversation in the hotel lobby and elevators centered on motorcycles and good roads in the area.
The next morning we struck up a conversation with two guys in the parking lot. They were curious how a motorcycle with North Carolina tags (mine) was traveling with one with Ohio tags (Bob’s). After we explained how Bob and came to travel together, introductions were made and we were surprised to find our new acquaintances were from Ohio. Jim, the owner of Jim’s Cycles, and his friend talked to us for nearly an hour as we packed our bikes for the last day on our ride. Jim was telling me about a chopper he had been working on in his shop and the conversation veered to old bicycles we had growing up. It seems that we both used to take conduit and extend the forks on our bicycles to get that chopper look. We laughed about our youthful customizing skills and how easily those hand-made forks split or fell off every time the front wheel left the ground.
Back in Ohio, we stopped for gas one last time before Bob headed towards his house in Gahanna, and I headed for Johnstown. We shook hands and thanked each other, knowing that we’d get together about this time next year for another “little” trip. As I pulled into the driveway at my in-laws’ house, I checked the tripmeter. One-thousand and seven hundred miles on great roads in the company of one of my best friends. Lucky me.