Friday, August 12, 2011

Rallies 2011 – wrap up


Life is getting back to normal once again. We are falling back into a routine and our cats are happy we’ve sprung them from their ‘prison’.

The trip was 24 days, we spent 21 nights in hotel rooms and 2 nights with friends. We enjoyed 3 free nights at hotels thanks to reward programs from Super 8 and Choice hotels. The GPS shows 5,724 miles traveled. The route took us through 19 states; LA, MS, AL, GA, TN, VA, WV, MD, PA, DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, ME, VT, NC.

We only had one problem with the bikes and that occurred on the final day of the trip just 120 miles from the house when a relay failed on Reagan’s auxiliary electrical system. As a result of the relay’s constant on-off cycling it appears her SkyFi3 XM radio receiver has suffered catastrophic failure and will need to be replaced.

There were only a few occasions where we were “unplugged” and they were usually temporary. Together we improved our abilities to work from the road. I tell people as long as I have an Internet connection I can work from anywhere in the world. That is usually true, of course, wanting to work is sometimes a different story. :)

We are considering a SS2000 in September so that I can check off Ohio and Michigan and complete my US map. The trip will depend on work schedules and temperatures. We’ll have to wait and see.

This has been a great summer and once again we got to enjoy parts of the US that we hadn’t been to before.

UPDATE: Sometimes taking something apart can fix the problem and not just make it worse. Honestly, that’s what I thought years ago when as a child I would take things apart. Of course, getting them back together was a whole other story. Today though it worked. I removed the back cover of the SkyFi3 and pulled out the battery. Then reinserted it and tried to turn it on, nothing. I plugged in a USB cord since it had a slot and the screen started to flash as it lit up and shut off. I then removed the usb cord and to my surprise the unit started to power on but then shut off. Thinking the battery was dead, I went outside, repaired the relay problem and plugged the SkyFi3 into it’s cradle. Presto!!! It booted up and locked onto an XM station.

So really the only bike related problem of the trip was a $5 relay. It actually took more time to remove the plastic access panel than it did to hook up the new relay. Reagan’s satellite radio is fixed. Hoooray!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 24

Today’s route was simple, I-12W to I-10W into Houston, then we would be home.

We got an early start and the bikes were rolling by 5am. Not much to say about riding across Louisiana. We made our first gas stop after only 120 miles into the ride. Reagan was not getting very good mileage out of the Shell gas from Slidell. We stopped a second time for gas just after crossing into Texas at a place called Crawdads.

The second stop took a little longer because I needed to tend to an electrical issue Reagan was experiencing. The auxiliary relay that powers the accessory fuse block I installed was failing. The quick and easy solution was to bypass the relay all together. If the trip had continued past today I would have stopped at an auto parts store and picked up a new relay and replaced it when we got to the hotel. As it was, I just unplugged the connection once we made it home.

I’m glad we got an early start because the sun did too. By the time we got into Texas it was getting warm. We rolled into the Houston area around 10am and by 10:40am I was in my driveway with the bike turned off. Reagan arrived a few minutes later since she stopped at the nearby Exxon to fill up her tank and get a final receipt.

day 24

Today’s trip was a quick 376 miles in 5 hours and 46 minutes. The average speed was 65mph, we didn’t spend much time at the gas stops, even on the 2nd one where I bypassed the relay.

I’m going to finish unpacking, put stuff away, and take care of things that need attention after our absence for 3 weeks. Tomorrow I’ll write up a summary post for the trip. The short and sweet summary, “It was a great trip!!!!!”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 23

Today is only the second day of the trip that we had to set an alarm clock. We were up at 4:25 this morning and across the street at the gas station by 5. After filling the tanks we headed south on I-75.

The whole route today was about making time and getting closer to home before the heat set in. We sailed through Chattanooga’s construction with ease and soon found ourselves on I-59S. The GPS took us on I-495 around Birmingham and then we crossed the rest of Alabama on I-20W/I-59S. In Meridian, MS. we stayed on I-59 down toward Louisiana. Then it was a quick ride on I-12W into Slidell, La. where our hotel was. We stopped at the gas station before going to the hotel. It was 11:30 when we turned off the bikes in the Comfort Inn parking lot.

Obviously we had arrived very early and the hotel was just checking out 2 bus loads of teenage boys who had stayed the night before. The staff was helpful and got us into a room by 1pm. The wait in the lobby was certainly better than the heat outside. Actually the entire ride was comfortable temperature-wise until about the last 30 minutes. Then it started getting warm. Dealing with the traffic and heat around the gas station was about the worst part of the ride today.

day 23

We travelled 480 miles in 7 1/2 hours. Because of the time change we gained an hour of travel time which helped to keep us in the cooler temps a little longer. Tomorrow is just 377 miles (2 gas stops) so we’re going to get another early start. I expect we’ll be home before noon.


SPOT Followers:  It looks like SPOT ran out of batteries this morning. I don’t feel like changing the batteries tonight so it may not  be online tomorrow.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 22

Today was our last working day on the trip, as such we worked in the room until 10:30 before packing up the bikes and departing. The Microtel Inn & Suites in Robbinsville has a decent breakfast although not the caliber of a Hampton Inn. With work complete we headed up Hwy 129 toward Deals Gap. We road the “Dragon” northbound first and the turned around to ride it southbound. There was heavy law enforcement today, likely due to the recent fatality of a sportbike vs. semi. From what I was able to gather, the sportbike was in the wrong by crossing the line, the semi truck driver is being charged and the sportbike rider is dead.

We stopped at the Deals Gap Resort for stickers, patches and a meal. Then we decided to ride HellBender (Hwy 28) around to 143 and head back into Robbinsville. There was a gas stop in Robbinsville to top off Reagan’s tank and we stayed there longer to cool off as the temperature was rising after lunch.

At this point, it was time to point the bikes toward home, but not without one last scenic detour. We left the area via the Cherohala Skyway and for a while, escaped the high temperatures. When we reached Telico Plains we turned north on 68 then west on 39. In Etowah we took another break to get out of the heat and cool off. Then it was south on 411 to 64 west which took us to Cleveland, TN. We took the Hwy 60 bypass south to I-75. Then it was a short run on the superslab down to Chattanooga. After being on back roads for so many days I actually had to push myself to get the bike up to 70mph again.

We arrived at the Comfort Inn and checked in. We were done for the day. We travelled 187 miles today.

day 22

After showers and a little break we headed across the street to the City Cafe located in the Best Western Inn. It was one of only two choices we had within walking distance. The other was Waffle House and that really wasn’t a choice. OMG!!! The City Cafe at exit 7 of I-75 is a top notch restaurant. Their food is great, their menu is extensive and the prices are fantastic. If I’m on I-75 in the future I will definitely stay at a hotel within walking distance of the City Cafe. It was one of the biggest surprises of the trip.

Tomorrow we plan to make Slidell, La. Heat is of course a concern so we are starting early and plan to keep our stops short. If all goes as planned we’ll get to the hotel between noon and 1. If they won’t let us check in early I’ll just kick back in their lobby and wait. Two hot, sweaty, smelly motorcycle rider should be motivation enough to allow us to check in early.  :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 21

This morning I was slow to get moving, I didn’t sleep very well. I think it had something to do with all the beer although I didn’t feel sick. Breakfast was ‘light’, as in a bowl of Rice Crispies. But it was a breakfast none the less. We finished our work  this morning just before 10:30, loaded the bikes and headed out.

The first order of business was to go get some gas. There was a Wal-Mart just down the hill so I decided to fill up there. Bad idea, their gas is lousy and we could tell it throughout the day. With our tanks topped off we went back by the hotel and headed down 226A a.k.a “Diamondback”. It was definitely a twisty road. It started off slow but 4 miles into it things got really technical. Maybe it’s because I started the day tired but I found myself worn out before I reached the bottom of the mountain. I originally planned to turn around and go back up it but when we got down to 226, we took that back up the mountain to the BRP.

The ride south on the BRP started out nicely with a clear road ahead. As we got closer to Ashville more and more traffic started showing up. We stopped in Ashville for some snacks and Reagan topped off her tank to get some better gas.

After the gas stop, I wanted to eat lunch at the highest elevation overlook which was at mile post 431. We were still in the 380s and it was already after 1pm. Breakfast was a distant memory. I finally stopped a few miles short of my goal at an overlook with a picnic table. The view wasn’t great but the cool breeze made it nice none the less. We cut lunch a little short when rain drops started coming down.

When we got to mile post 431 we were rain free so we pulled into the overlook and sat there for a little while just taking in the scenery. Then it was time to head down the mountain and finish the BRP. It turned out that we had more miles left than I expected.

When we rolled into Cherokee, TN. The air was significantly warmer than we were accustomed to for the past 4 days. We kept moving, got to 74, then 28, then 143 into Robbinsville. We rolled into town a little after 4pm. Checked into our hotel, received a free upgrade to a suite and unloaded our bikes. Dinner was had at a local diner up the hill from the hotel.

day 21

Today’s trip was 200 miles long and kept us on the road for 5 1/2 hours.

Tomorrow morning we’ll go ride the Dragon, get Reagan a patch and depending on how we sleep tonight we might do HellBender, then head to the Cherohala Skyway and start our ride home.

It’s been fun to play for the last 3 weeks. But as the trip is winding down I have to say I’m looking forward to my routine and diet at home. At least until we knock out a SaddleSore 2000 in September so I can tag Ohio and Michigan thus completing my map to the right and allowing me to retire my well worn AST jacket.

UPDATE: Reagan’s been keeping track of the wildlife seen on the BRP. Her totals are: 3 does, 2 fawns, 2 turkeys, 2 wood chucks, a suicidal squirrel and a field mouse. Today she made a huge dent in the butterfly population, they may now be considered an endangered species (ha ha ha).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 20

This morning we enjoyed a great breakfast and then worked for a little while. Reagan finished her work first and I decided it was time to go play so I stopped working a short while later. We left the hotel just after 10:30 and headed south on I-81 to Hwy 8 which would return us to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We stopped in Floyd, Va. for fuel and some food to eat along the way. A few miles later we reached the BRP and headed south. Traffic was very light and I joked that it wasn’t called the Blue Ridge Parkway but rather the Brian & Reagan Parkway. Travel was easy and full of twists and turns.

Around mile post 229 we reached the detour which Reagan had found out about by reading the site. The detour took us away from our route and into warmer temps. Cars unable to go the speed limit were the biggest stress factor along the detour. But with patience we made it to the end of the detour and found ourselves once again on the BRP with an open road in front of us.

We stopped for lunch at one of the overlooks and enjoyed a light meal, V-8 juice, snack mix, beef jerky. Yum! This worked well as we were able to enjoy the wilderness while eating something light.

With lunch finished we resumed the ride south with about 80 miles left for the day. The further south we rode the higher the elevation got. We were going into the mountains. We stopped at a visitor center and purchased a few of the “decreasing radius” items they had for sale. Then it was back on the road.

We exited the BRP at mile post 331 and turned onto 226A to find the Skyline Village Inn. When we pulled up I was a little concerned but once I went in and started talking to Joe I felt really good about the place. We parked the bikes around back under a special covered area exclusively for motorcycles and then carried our stuff.

day 20

Today we road 203 miles in 5.5 hours. It was a great day of riding.

Normally that’s where the blog entry would end. But after we got into the room and changed into street clothes we headed downstairs to check out the food and drink situation. Reagan found the gem store on the first floor and acquired a beautiful emerald along with lots of other things, I bought a sticker. Then we headed into the restaurant. Again, my first impression was “what have I gotten us into?” But once we got our beers and placed our order then Mike, the owner, showed up and started telling us about the history of the place. The original owner was a moonshiner and built the hotel from his earnings as a ‘shiner’. Then we found out that Wednesday night is “Beer Club” night. Around 6:30 locals showed up and we were included in their weekly meeting. Mike has a passion for bringing craft beers to his store, he’s got so many unique beers I haven’t seen before. His selection rivals Specs liquor. We enjoyed tasting some different beers and then played a trivia game with some really odd questions. The evening was a blast!!! It was the most fun we’ve had in the evening during the whole trip.

If you want a great, warm and friendly atmosphere, show up at the Skyline Village Inn on a Wednesday and stay for the night. Get down to the first floor restaurant around 6 and enjoy the evening with fun people. And leave your apprehensions behind, the hotel has a unique character with all the wood working and masonry work. Reagan and I want to come back and stay for several days to enjoy the area.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 19

Today we started our ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The higher speed limit made the turns more interesting. We stopped at the northern visitor center to get a stamp, sticker and patch. We managed to leave the center just before a large group of Harley riders pulled out.

Unlike yesterday, we didn’t stop much at the overlooks. I was wrapped up in all the twisties. We stopped for lunch at Peaks of Otter Lake. There were no Otters to be found. But we did find a regular National Parks restaurant serving normal nps food. Certainly not as enjoyable as yesterday’s lunch.

After we finished our meal and checked out the gift shop, we resumed our travels south. Once again we passed the large Harley group who had stopped at the general store across the street. Reagan wanted to stop at an overlook which had shade and a view so a few miles down the road I found an overlook that fit the bill. We stopped, took off our helmets and just sat on the curb looking out to the horizon. It was peaceful.

A short time later we resumed our ride south. The temperature was rising and our elevation seemed to be falling. The curves weren’t as fun and the scenery turned to that of local houses and farms. We pulled over to resolve a satellite radio issue and once we returned to the BRP we found ourselves behind 3 Harley riders who could barely keep the speed limit in the occasional curves but had no problem rolling on hard in the straight aways. I kept thinking they would turn off at an overlook. I had that thought all the way to mile post 159 where we exited and headed northeast to Christiansburg, Va.

After a 27 mile ride from the BRP to our hotel we were done. Tonight’s Quality Inn has juice, milk, coffee & tea 24 hours a day, breakfast from 6 to 10am and cookies from 5 to 10pm. Of course we enjoyed some milk and cookies.

day 19

Today’s route covered 193 miles which we did in 6 hours. Stopping for lunch really slowed us down. Tomorrow I’m hoping to take a lunch with us, something light. That way we can stop at a shaded overlook and enjoy the scenery for awhile. And then continue on to mile post 331 where the Skyline Village Inn is located. It promises to be an exciting stay tomorrow night. When I asked about gas, the proprietor said not to worry, they are one 1 1/2 from gas and it’s down hill so you can coast to the gas station.  I’ll make sure to top off Reagan’s tank in Floyd, Va. before we get back on the BRP.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rallies 2011 – Day 18

After 2 weeks on the road we’ve really hit our stride. Things work like a well oiled machine every morning now. Since today is a work day that meant we worked until 10:30ET this morning. This works out well and allows us to travel an extra week this summer. Next year this routine will allow us to travel even longer. And since we won’t be on the east coast we should be able to finish our work earlier (1 hour per timezone going west).

We’ve started staying at Quality Inns again on this trip just like we did last year. And again I’ve discovered that Quality Inns are really a great value. They are only a few dollars more than a Super 8 but the breakfast is Hot and nearly rivals the Hampton Inn. We’re definitely going to be staying at more Quality Inns during this trip.

With work done, we loaded up the bikes and headed to the Skyline Drive. We entered the park and stopped at the first visitor center to get the passport stamps, buy a patch for Reagan and learn a little bit about the park. Then we continued south through the park. It seemed like we had the road to ourselves. Only occasionally did we find a vehicle traveling in our direction. A brief stop at one of the lookouts usually resolved that situation.

We stopped for lunch at the Skyland center. The view from the dining room was great! The food was better than normal for national park food and the prices were extremely reasonable. As we were getting off the bikes, Reagan had a close encounter with a deer. They were within 5 feet of each other at one point and the doe wasn’t the least bit scared. NO, Reagan did not try to pet the deer…  After lunch when we returned to the bikes we found a pair of deer just a little deeper in the woods with a little fawn being the closest. The deer didn’t spook when she started her bike either. On the way out of the area we saw a turkey run across the road.

After lunch we had a little more than half the park to ride through so we picked up the pace a little bit and headed south. The ride was very pleasant and relaxing. I found myself slowing at most of the lookouts like a bonafied tourist. In many cases, seeing the lookout from back on the road before the turn off gave a greater image than pulling off to look down in the valley.

Before I knew it we were at the end of the park and turning into Waynesborro. As we road into town we found a BBQ joint next to the Sunoco. We’ll get a picture tomorrow on our way back out. It was a little too far from the hotel so we won’t be dining there tonight.

Checking into the hotel was a real treat. Saturday night Reagan was in charge of booking rooms and picked the Quality Inn rooms. This was another fantastic choice on her part. She discovered we had a free night’s stay from last year’s promotion. So she opted to use it for tonight’s room. However because we had previously booked a room for July 31st the web site thought the second room, in another town was also for the same night. When we tried to correct the mistake the site would not let us. When I tried to call in to customer service I got an unsure commitment that the reservation was changed. Yesterday I called the hotel and got the reservation changed to tonight.

When I showed up to check in though I was still unsure about whether we actually had a room. As luck would have it the lady at the front desk was the same lady I spoke to on the phone yesterday. She said she had a room for me but there was a slight problem. “Oh boy”, I thought, “here comes the fact that I lost the free room.” She said, “We have you a room but we don’t have a key to your room.” She went on to explain that their computer system was messed up as result of an update earlier in the day which had disabled their ability to create room keys. We could still get into the room via a master key which had to be used by a hotel employee only. Because of this “inconvenience” and because we are Choice Rewards members they decided to refund our points used for the room AND…. wait for it…. give us the room for FREE!!!! How cool is that! This has been a great day on so many levels.

Needless to say, we’ve already got another Quality Inn stay booked for tomorrow night. And I’ll start looking for Wednesday night’s room before I go to sleep tonight.

day 18 

Today was a fantastic day of riding. We covered a short 113 miles in 5.5 hours. It wasn’t about the quantity of miles but the quality. Tomorrow we start the Blue Ridge parkway and stay in Christiansburg.