Jim and I survived our encounter with the Dragon! A very curvy road, no doubt, but maybe a bit over-hyped? Doesn’t matter, it was fun, and thinking about it, maybe not too hyped, it’s very different, many curves, no intersecting roads, and certainly there is NO room for mistakes, or you are going down in a bad way. Kind of reminds me of flying airplanes, not very forgiving of ‘mistakes’.
For the 2 days, an awesome ride, we left about 6:00am from the Service Plaza on the Florida Turnpike. I’m on my Yamaha FJR1300, Jim on a BMW 1100RT. Both bikes are simply incredible, made for just this type of high mileage, any speed from 25 mph curves to 80+ mph Interstate. We covered 1764 miles and 5 states(Jim a bit more), and loved it.
We started in Orlando, but before we were even to Crystal River, we were in heavy rain. We were out of it in just a mile or two, just scattered storms. Soon we were heading up Hwy 19, to Tuscaloosa before heading West on I-10. A little confusion between us at the turn for Dothan, he thought we were taking it, and indeed, I had it mapped on the GPS that we were taking it, BUT I took us another 40 miles West before heading North to Dreamland BBQ, 560 miles, and we were sitting down to a rack of ribs, white bread and BBQ sauce. Yummy. For two guys who’ve run many, many running races over the years, and know how to eat properly, we didn’t exactly eat like your typical ‘healthy’ runner. I know some of our running friends would have been appalled.
After a little chatting with some local Alabamians, and we headed East to Chattanooga. More scattered rain showers as we got close th TN, gassed up, and headed back West to Nashville. I played with the camera on this section, getting some pretty good photos as the sun dropped in the sky, and the rains came and went.
More confusion between us as we got to Nashville, he was ready to make the turn to head back to Knoxville, I showed 20 more miles to go. I think I scared Jim to death with my ‘Buick’ sounding horns as he started to exit and I honked. I’ve done a little upgrade to the bike in that area, and I believe he thought an old lady in a Cadilac was about to run him over! Actually, he was more correct than I on the exit, we took the next exit, headed North, then East to Knoxville. A stop along the way for a drink, and gas, and we got to our hotel in Knoxville just after midnight. 1032 miles according to the GPS.
Next morning, 70 degrees, clear sky’s, and the Dragons Tail was calling. We hit the Foothills Parkway, Dragons Tail, Cherohala Skyway, and into Tellico Plains. Wow! I’ve ridden roads in this area long ago, and if I lived there, well, honestly, I’d probably crash a lot. My safety net was that I had to really be careful and controlled since I was far from home, didn’t know the roads, did not want to drop my big FJR and have to deal with consequences of getting home and putting my buddy through that, and I was already on thin ice with a wife not caring for this long distance motorcycle thing while she’s traveling to Louisiana with the kids.
Funny thing while leaving one of the overlooks on the Cherohala Skyway, this guy pulled out in front of us, like he didn’t want us ahead of him. I couldn’t tell what he was on at the time, just some old rat bike that was going to be in our way, I thought. But when he started riding harder, I kept thinking is sounded JUST like my old KZ1000, that I had in High School and College, a 1979 Kawasaki KZ1000. The guy was riding very smoothly and we’ll say ‘brisk’, I could see he knew the Cherohala Skyway well and was very comfortable at a good pace. He was riding faster than I had previously been comfortable riding that road, because I have NO idea what is around the next curve so I really was being careful. This guy obviously knew the roads from the way he was riding, so I was using him as a guide to take me around the curves. I’m not crowding him, but staying close enough to see what he’s doing, he’s picking the pace up more and more, and finally pulls into another overlook/parking area. I know it’s because he’s got to be near the handling limits of what I’m sure is an old 70-80’s Japanese inline-4 with touring gear, and so is going to bow out and let us pass. As I passed, I saw that it WAS a KZ, and surprised him when I braked hard and pulled in behind him. Jim scooted past us. I talked to him for WAY too long considering Jim and I were trying to knock off the last 500 miles, but it was neat to see that bike.
A lot more similarities that you might think between my fancy,dancy 1300cc Feejar, and the 30 year old 1000cc KZ. We had a nice talk about both having gone through owning twins, triples, different engine configurations, but were both back to being impressed with the big Inline-4 layout. Funny thing, the last time I rode in this area, around the Smoky Mountains, was 25+ or so years ago on a bike almost EXACLTY like this one, mine was red, not black, but same year model, same factory luggage and factory Vetter made fairing. The guy lived local, has multiple bikes, but picked this up for $700 out of someone’s barn, and had completely restored it.
Jim and I rolled into Tellico Plains, our point to get gas, turn South and run for home. But I rolled to the intersection and turned left for home, figuring there’d be gas right there. NOT. After a mile, I realized we needed to go back, so pulled off and waited for Jim. Here he came, right by me, not missing a beat. Uhhhh, Jim?? He didn’t see me, and was on his way South. Sometime’s it’s nice to have a 150hp motorcycle. I caught up to him, we went back to our proper gas stop.
I thought from that point, we would be just cruising South and making good time, on our way home and to our 1500 miles in 36 hours. Well, what I DIDN’T think about, is we were there at NOON… on SUNDAY… on already slow moving two lane country mountain roads. A lot of people go to CHURCH on Sunday, and they usually aren’t in a big hurry, even less of a hurry on Sunday after Church. ARG!!!! We aren’t going to make it at 35mph!!!! Serenity Now Dave! Serenity Now!
I just waited, kept the speed reasonable, was patient and we clicked off the miles, until FINALLY we hit 4 divided lanes were we could really get up to a decent speed. Basically, from just North of Atlanta to Valdsota, GA, we maintained at least 80mph, with a stop for gas. If the left lane was slow and bogging down, I had to find a path on the right. Jim followed, and we just clicked off the miles. As we neared Valdosta, I had an exit picked that I wanted to stop at, but I could see we were also running into a storm. Well, as we got to Valdosta, the lightning started, and the ‘bottom fell out’ as they say. As bad a storm as I’ve ever ridden in. Still, I wanted to get to my exit about 20 miles down the road before stopping and declaring our 1,500 miles complete. (we turn in time stamped gas station reciept to certify the time). Thing is, it was raining so hard, I couldn’t really see, and cars were all turning on their flashers, and slowing to a crawl.
With only 20 or so minutes left in our 36 hours, I couldn’t risk an Interstate stop or big slowdown, or accident, so had to take what we had and stop at the next exit. 1551 miles. We gassed up, parked and went inside to eat a meal.
As we were sitting there, a BIG guy comes up to our table and asks if he had seen us in Atlanta a while ago? We BOTH thought the same thing, did we do something to make this guy mad? Naw, he just liked bikes, had noticed us, and wanted to talk.
We sat there, with about 200 miles left to get home, and started talking about doing another ride. Afterwards, Jim took the lead and we cruised back to our starting point from yesterday, 1700 miles ago. It’s hard for me to fathom riding that many miles, in just a couple days, and enjoying it as much as I did.
I think that’s pretty much due to the Yamaha FJR, and the level of sophistication, power, handling, comfort and features it has available. It was just awesome to ride for that long, in heat(temp gauge showed 102 at times), rain, mountains, interstate, SLOW curvy roads, traffic, two lane roads, and NOT ONE TIME, think ‘ I wish this bike had…’. It had it all, power, handling, comfort, it was perfect.
I put together a slide show with narration on youtube… Check it out…