Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Finally starting to earn that ADV badge

I was itching to make miles after leaving the Bonnaroo site; being in the same location for a couple of weeks never sits too well with me.  I'd spent too long too close to civilization; I couldn't wait to get out of the USA, and into the desolation of northern Canada.  Many, many miles stood between me and the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail, so after leaving Manchester I slabbed it for half a day and started looking for someplace to camp just outside of Knoxville.

I was REALLY tempted to try and make this work; it looked like a service/access road for the power lines that had been very freshly cut. I might have been able to wiggle my way around the cable blocking access, or even used my channel locks to take the cable off if I'd been desperate, but getting over the initial ditch would have been difficult.  I decided to keep looking for other opportunities, as much as I wanted the challenge of that fresh path.

Another mile down the road gave something that looked much more practical, even though it was quite steep.  A service road for a cell tower headed up to the top of the hill.

Getting up was tricky, the gravel was loose and liked to try and fall apart under me, but plenty of throttle got me up there.  Set up and went to sleep with quite a view.

And hopefully not cancer

I took half of the next day off in Knoxville to run some errands and do some work on the bike; I'd not changed the oil since leaving Chicago two months and 8,000 miles ago. 

Annoyingly, this bash plate doesn't have a drain hole it it, so you have to drop it off to change the oil.
I think autozone parking lot oil changes are one of my favorite things about adventure-motorcycle touring.  The look on the cashier's faces as you walk back in and hand them a plastic bag full of used oil is always good for a laugh, and I enjoy the plain give-no-shits attitude of working on your bike wherever you feel like it.

Five bags nestled into each other give plenty of leak protection.
With fresh oil and a new filter, I headed off, pushing north on the slab for a couple of hours to get away from Knoxville.  Somewhere an hour or two south of Roanoke I decided I'd had enough of the interstate for a while, and went off to poke around in the farm country and mountains for a while.

Pavement is stupid

Some of these roads I found were twisty to the point of hilarity; I'd wager some were more gnarled than the famous "Tail of the Dragon", although they weren't in as good of shape.

Many of the switchbacks were so sharp on the inside of the corner that it was almost a wall.  There were plenty of scrapes and gouges on them from various vehicles bottoming out.

Camping this night wasn't hard; even from a fairly major road, I spotted this trail off in the distance that looked promising.

The instinct to find someplace good to camp for the night never really goes away; even when I'm not on my bike, or in the middle of the day when I'm still hundreds of miles from where I want to spend the night, I find myself glancing down little side paths, wondering where they go and if I could spend a night there without being bothered.

Hooray for a mud puddle!  I think the ADV logo looks much better dirty, anyway.

I'm not sure what the point of this little path was; it lead about half a mile into the forest before ending unceremoniously in a little clearing.  But it was the perfect place to spend the night, although at some point someone on a DR650 rode by and looked at me oddly before puttering off.

The next day dawned cool, and humid.  The clouds seemed stuck in the treetops, maintaining a solid line about 20 feet above the ground.

I headed back out to the slabs, but soon turned off them again to continue exploring the side roads.

The whole area was covered in low-lying clouds, and the sun hadn't yet gotten a chance to burn them away.  It was cool, and beautiful.

Motorcycle touring; if you have to ask "Why?", you're not going to understand the answer.

I kept pushing deeper into the hills; the pavement ran out very quickly, leaving me on decently-graded hard packed dirt.

But even this was still too civilized for my tastes; I wanted something more challenging, something rougher.  A few wrong turns later and I found what I was looking for; some un-named little path that was barely on the map.

And again, the bike was brilliant.  Either I'm getting better as a rider, or spending a couple thousand dollars on your heavy bike's suspension really does make a world of difference.  The rear was so communicative and predictable that I found myself starting to gas it through corners a little more than I needed to, just to feel the back end start to wiggle and slide. 

My bike was still quite muddy from some puddles yesterday, and all the mud from the Bonnaroo site, and there hadn't yet been a nice rain storm to clean it off.  But I found that there's another acceptable way to wash your adventure bike; water crossings!

Bridges?  We don't need no stinkin' bridges!
Some of these were large and deep enough that they did make me pause and re-consider this path; dropping it and drawing water into the engine isn't something I felt like doing.  But I walked all of the deeper/longer crossings a few times, found the shallower areas with good solid grip under them, and went for it.  Plenty of gas got me thought them without too many problems; when in doubt, throttle out.  90% of the times that I've seen people drop their bike (or dropped my own bike) in sketchy situations is because people let off the gas; the throttle is your friend, and speed is good.

Besides, if I chickened out at something like this, I'd have to take the ADV sticker off my bike just out of shame.
Weeeeeeeeee! *splash splash splash*

After 6-7 of these sorts of things, the bike was looking much cleaner!

I spent the rest of the day alternating between more dirt/gravel, and some paved twisties.  There's good roads everywhere in George Washington National Forest; plenty of twists and no traffic or cop to speak of.

And I still stuck to my duty of moving silly turtles off the road.

Little d00d, if you keep hanging out here you're going to get mushed!

See, now isn't that much better?

And today . . . today was when I dropped the bike for the very first time on this trip.  And it wasn't even in some sort of big, bad-ass, gravel road water crossing!  Nope; I was pulling a U-turn and ran a little wide, and thought there would be more grip on the shoulder than there was.  The rear tire slid off into the ditch, and the saddlebag dug into the mud to bring me to a gentle, if pretty abrupt stop.

Getting it out . . . didn't go exactly as planned.  The rear tire wouldn't get grip on the wet muddy grass, and after sliding along for a few feet . . . I derped.

In retrospect, perhaps the road name should have given me some warning.  I always know I'm going to fall off this damn road at least a few times.

It's a Mario Kart/video game joke.  Don't worry if you don't get why this is funny.
At some point I did have to stop into a Wal-Mart to get some supplies, and they had this up by the checkouts.  How could I POSSIBLY resist?

All the gear, all the time!
I headed back into the forest to camp for the night, making my way down some nearly-overgrown double track pretty late in the evening.

You know you're doin' it right when you have to clean branches and leaves out of your fairing after you make it through.

Quite a view on the way up there.

The next day found me heading into an environment that was COMPLETELY ill suited to the sort of riding I like doing; a city.  And not just any city; I spent the night in New York City, with an old friend from the internet.

Riding in dense urban areas is both something that I'm awesome at, and something that I'm completely terrible at.  I'm terrible at it because so much time on the bike has made me stop paying attention to most traffic laws; I'm awesome at it because I can fit this bulky, heaving bike through all sorts of little slots and cut through all but the worst of traffic jams.  What the GPS said would take me two hours (due to congestion) took me about 40 minutes; and I . . . might have skipped out on paying a few tolls along the way.  Maybe.  Hey, if they didn't want me going around the gates, they should have made the arms longer.

After getting through the traffic and into the city, I dropped off my bike at my friends place, parking it next to some good company.

Ever since the financial crisis and recession demolished sport-bike sales (600cc and 1000cc crotch-rocket sales tanked over 70% in 2009), most manufactures have re-focused their efforts to producing inexpensive, practical motorcycles for every day use, and this is one of the best examples.  The Honda NC700X is designed to be light, cheap, easy to ride and infinitely useful for every day commuting.  It's engine is literally half of the 1.4L I-4 engine from a Honda Fit, and even at 700cc it still returns nearly 70mpg in real-world use.  It's one of the best beginner adventure bikes on the market, and it's really cool to see one in the wild for the first time.

Anyway.  I linked up with my friend at his friends house; they were having a party that evening, which I tagged along to.  In addition to the usual festivities, someone had brought an entire pig. 

And it was!
I made use of their shower and couch for the night, and the next day headed out again, north of the city and into Massachusetts and Vermont.

Much nicer, cities don't really suit me.  Not enough green things around.
I spent that night in some little service pull-off for some kind of antenna tower.  It wasn't far from the road, but it was a pretty low-traffic area I was hidden enough that I wasn't worried about getting bothered.

I headed up to a little town north of Brattleboro, where I linked up with a friend of mine from the ice.  In addition to letting me use his spare bedroom for the night, he gave me a hand doing some more extensive work on the bike.

One of the dirty secrets about motorcycles is that they're quite a lot higher maintenance than cars; in addition to having many more consumables that have to be replace more frequently (tires, chains, sprockets, etc), they also usually need the engine valve clearances checked more frequently.  Car engines don't have to worry about this, as they can be much larger and heavier with more complicated valve systems that don't need adjustments.  But on bikes, size and weight are critical, so on most engines you have to check the clearances every 15,000 miles.  Some bikes need them checked as frequently as 6,000 miles.

Some bikes are easy to adjust, but on this particular engine you have to take out the camshafts and swap out shims of different thicknesses to compensate for wear on the valve seats. Thankfully, everything was within spec, and it took us just a few hours to get both cylinders checked out, and button it all back up.

I also swapped out my riding gear; when I was in the south, I'd been wearing some heavily ventilated gear to deal with the heat.  But now I'm heading up into the Northeast; I'm going to want something more waterproof, and warmer.

And yellower!
So that's where I'm at now; typing this from my friend's place in Vermont, getting ready to head up into Maine and after that, Canada.  I'll have much less connectivity there; my cell plan doesn't offer data coverage so I'll be limited to whatever wi-fi I can find.

Trans-Lab highway, here I come!

1 comment:

  1. Glad the valve check went OK. The Strom is pretty damned rock solid, for sure.

    I agree with you about Virginia roads and the Dragon - some of the stuff I rode up there near Tazewell was absolutely insane.

    I loved every minute of it, naturally :D