Summer has been the smothering, liquid heat I’ve always associated with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - hold the sexy and sultry, extra side of suffering and complaining. But this weekend, I felt the first cool, dry breath of fall - a winter version of Indian summer. (Eskimo winter? Why do the Indians get blamed for a summer preview anyway?) With thunderstorms in the forecast, the odds of staying dry on a motorcycle were vanishingly small but the weather was too nice in comparison and the weekend too long to do anything other than ride.
In part I go out riding to discover secrets - secret scenes, secret routes, maybe even inner secrets … or not. (That’s cool right? OK Just kidding about the inner stuff) With this hope, my friend and I decided to forgo the killer but over-traveled Dahlonega/Helen/Suches roads in favor of exploration around Highlands. Oops. Apparently we're not the first folks to go riding in Highlands. OK, OK, I get it. The golf courses should have been a dead give-away. Frankly the presence of roads should have been a dead give-away.
I guess I knew there was no real chance of “discovering” anything before we left. Whatever. I was still unprepared for how ridiculously “already discovered” this area is. It's absolutely beautiful, even staggeringly beautiful, but for large stretches the traffic had us locked in place like rail cars on a trip through NatureLand (tm). When we could break out of the traffic, we had to contend with combination strip mine, McMansion construction sites, rolling backhoe roadblocks, dump trucks spitting gravel they're officially not responsible for (you’ve read the warnings on the back, right?) and cranky small-time sheriffs. We actually got stopped for going 38 in a 35. 3 miles over the limit. 3 miles. That sentence deserves to be written in an extra big, triple bold, super all-caps font. 3 miles. What's the margin of error for a speedometer anyway? Yeah, yeah, we didn't get tickets - just warnings but it's the principle of the thing dag-nabbit. Who am I? Bo Duke?
If that’s all there was to it, this would be end-of-post, nothing to see here, tip your waitress, we’re here all week. But, like a Monty Python plague victim, it got better. Much better. Despite all my complaints, the parts of the ride that were great were so great that I'm unwilling to give up on this area. We ended up on one particularly long stretch that has forced me to revise my "never ride on a US highway" rule. It is absolutely killer. There were waterfalls all along one side and mountain cliffs along the other. There were twists, turns, unlimited forest canopy and no one else in sight. For the short attention span among you, skip down toward the bottom of the play-by-play and look for US 64 South through Highlands. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me break it down.
Up I-85 from Atlanta to just SC 187, on Lake Hartwell, just northeast of Fair Play.
Everyone that rides from Atlanta knows there is no good way to get to the mountains. You can wind endlessly though suburbia or you can break your backside on an eight lane, live action diorama of incredibly bad driving at high speed. Take your pick. We picked the slab.
SC 187/US 75 through Clemson, connecting to US 76 and eventually picking up SC 130, just west of Seneca.
I actually had hopes for this part of the ride. Silly me. Instead of going through Clemson, which I thought might be fun, the route actually took us north of Clemson, through historic Calhoun. Calhoun must be historic because it says so right on their sign. I thought historic meant quaint and scenic. Apparently, historic means suckiness unrelieved by the passage of time. Net, net, the ride really still hadn't started.
SC 130 over Lake Keowee, through Salem.
Again, I thought this portion was going to be pretty. The road looked small and it crossed a lake several times. As it turns out, you don't really get much of a lake view, the terrain is too flat, the road too straight and Salem is where we got stopped for 3 miles over. I'm shuddering now just typing it. I've got typing tourettes. I have to keep writing 3 miles over and over until the pain goes away. New rule - no roads that go through towns that show up on the Google maps, mid-way zoom level ... or maybe just no roads going through towns that used to have witches, or witch trials or share a name with a town that had witch trials or WHATEVER. I'm never going through Salem again. But you absolutely should. You see, if none of us do, that cop is getting exactly what he wants. Tag, your turn next.
SC 130 / NC 281 north of Salem.
I think I liked this road. It's really hard to remember. I was still reeling from being pulled over - did I mention I was pulled over? Yeah. 3 miles over the limit. Who would have thought. (never gets old does it.) Anyway, this stretch would never make "Best Rides Ever Weekly" but would certainly be worth the miles, especially if it wasn't wedged between Salem and US 64 - which it is, so never mind.
US 64 West through Cashiers picking up NC 107 through Tuskasegee.
The forest canopy and curving road was so tranquil that it made me want to leap from my bike and push the construction workers digging steaming holes for monster houses into the never ending crush of dump trucks and family caravans. In short, the problem with this otherwise exceptional stretch is all the people using it. Except me. OK and you. And the dude that built the original road.
NC 107 through Cullowhee, Webster and Sylva connecting to US 23W / US 441 S.
This entire stretch completely bit. Bad, bad, bad. The scenery was late American strip mall except for the parts that were early American mining town. The traffic was bumper to bumper. God only knows where all these people were going to or coming from but they sure weren't getting there in a hurry. The entire time I was riding behind an enormous diesel, Dodge, dually, doofis-mobile with a sign on the back that said, "Yeah it really is that big." It had an exhaust pipe as big around as a manhole cover and belched black smoke every time the gas pedal was pressed - which was every other second because of the stop and go traffic. Thankfully my riding suit is already black.
US 23/US 441 south to Franklin.
I've already given my opinion about riding on US highways and this stretch did nothing to change it, except for the fact that I was no longer attached to the end of a rolling smoke stack. In retrospect, since there was little traffic and we could actually open it up a bit, this stretch wasn't all that bad. Nevertheless, it's a matter of perspective. Unless you're riding out of hell - which we were - the ride through purgatory isn't worth the trip.
US 64 South through Highlands continuing on NC 28 / SC 28 through Pine Mountain, Mountain Rest and ending in Walhalla.
This part here was the ride. Wow, wow, wow, wow. US 64 is Waterfall after waterfall along one side and exposed rock cliffs on the other. In some places, the road is so narrow it's hard to imagine cars passing. Highlands itself is a cool little town and makes for a great break after the occasionally challenging mountain riding. NC 28 / SC 28 was just curvy enough for the next to last leg of a long loop ride and was absolutely empty of other vehicles. It was pure heaven. Ride this road. This is the bit that makes all of my carping seem like sour grapes. Walhalla is another interesting little town, much less Self-Aware Ski Chalet than Highlands and just a little lost in the Civil War.
SC 11 South to I-85. I-85 South to Atlanta.
Basically, this is just heading home, the same slabness that got us to the ride in the first place. Oh, yeah, except that it started raining. Hard. It was on this stretch though that I started noticing my Sargent saddle. This is really, really great news. Up until the absolutely last leg, I didn't notice what I was sitting on at all. For those of you with bikes whose stock seats aren't Yogi nail beds, the feeling of not feeling your seat is probably what you're used to. For BMW riders thought, it's nothing short of a miracle and the Sargent did the trick up to the very last leg. All in all, I like the Sargent much better than the Corbin I rode on last trip. Both eventually created backside hot spots. The ones created by the Corbin seemed to dissipate a little more quickly. However on the Corbin made me feel like I was sliding on to the gas tank the entire ride and created an annoying back ache. The Sargent did not create either of these sensations - so I guess I'm happy with the trade.
One last note... Now that I've safely written more words than anyone has patience to read, I have a confession to make. I'm actually having someone proof my blog entries before I post them. Yeah, I'm sure in Blogtopia, all posts are spontaneous literary genius or maybe the writers don't feel the need to "make it perfect". I can't help it. I can't stop futzing with it. I know. I have a problem. Nevertheless, thanks Jenn and Mark for the copy edits but especially Jenn because apart from being smart and a great writer, well I’m married to her and love her and stuff.