The 2013 United Sidecar Club's (USCA) national rally was held in Mountain View, Arkansas. Our friends Charlie and Peggy, who have an identical rig to ours, joined us for the trip. Charlie has spent a considerable time developing an itenarary for the trip and it proved to be our bible for the journey.
The following is a sketchy description of our travels to this rally.
Sunday 06/16/2013 – Home to Harrisonburg, VA – 500 miles
Charlie and Peggy spent the night with us and we were up bright and early this morning with plenty of energy to face the longest leg of our journey.
The day was pretty uneventful. Charlie’s eyes aren’t what they used to be and “Geza, you have the GPS.” got me the lead in this short caravan. I think Charlie and I make a damned good team. He is a helluva follower and I lead pretty well, if I may blow my own horn.
There is a restaurant on Route 81 which we call the “Pie Place” because they sell many pies and also wonderful breads. I wanted to stop there for lunch to introduce Charlie and Peggy to our favorite meal stop. There was a line out the door when we got there. It downed on me: It’s Father’s Day today. A few hundred feet down there was another restaurant, apparently less popular because there were many parking places available. While pondering the reason for this disparity in popularity and hoping it wasn’t the quality of the food, a bunch of guys came over from the back of the building, trying to gawk at the rigs. It turned out that they were getting ready for a barbecue in the little park behind the restaurant. The more questions we answered the more guys materialized but finally even Mary got tired of answering, so in we went. The food was fine and before too long we were on the road gastronomically satisfied.
Since I am already on the soapbox, let me say a few words about the prevalent driving style in the 21st century. Most drivers are selfish to a fault and could care less about others on the road. They act as though the left lane were built exclusively for them and will not relinquish it easily. When someone is in the left lane, not wanting to move, the statement they make (in my opinion) is that they don’t want anyone behind them going faster. That mentality upsets me immensely. I am somewhat patient while they are passing cars, ever so slowly but once the opportunity to move over presents itself and they still don’t move over, feelings I am not really proud of, rush over me. I will pass them on the right and leave them behind. Charlie follows me as though we were tied together by a string. I know some of you may not agree with me but read the signs: “Keep right except to pass”.
Traffic on Route 81 always contains a lot of tractor trailers and they push on awful lot of air at 75 miles an hour. Tankers and logging trucks seem to be the worst offenders, creating an annoying amount of buffeting as well. When I encounter these I can’t go fast enough to get by them. Most truckers are cognizant of us as we pass them and they will move over as far as they can to give us maximum space. I try to always give them a thankful wave.
Hazleton and Harrisburg are the worst for traffic and I always give several sighs of relief when leaving those areas behind. After crossing the Virginia border we stopped at the Welcome Center to stretch legs and use the facilities. As I am taking my helmet off an elderly man comes over to me and tells me that I ought to wait a little bit longer before coming back into the right lane after passing someone. “It’s just a suggestion.” he says and walks away before I get a chance to digest the information. It wasn’t until Charlie passed me a couple of days later on the Blue Ridge Parkway, cutting it pretty close, that it downed on me that the elderly man mistook me for Charlie.
The Comfort Inn in Harrisonburg, VA was very nice.
Monday 06/17/2013 – Harrisonburg, VA to Galax, VA - 287 miles
Charlie is an early riser, so we were under way by seven and after a short search, we found the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). It was bright and sunny and the ride was magical. The road was lined on both sides with flowering mountain laurel, giving off just a hint of sweetness in the air. We encountered more wildlife than people in the morning, as traffic was very sparse. There were some devastating tornadoes that went through this area recently and there were many trees ripped in half lining both sides of the road. There are no gas stations on the parkway, so we ended up in Roanoke for a gas stop. This particular one sold gas with no ethanol!
I got us lost repeatedly before we found the entrance to the parkway, only to find that it was closed, leaving us to find an alternate route. The GPS suggested a very curvy and narrow two-lane road. Here was even more pronounced evidence of the tornado damage but no houses and no bars on the phone. After a long eight-mile ride we found civilization again and thanked the GPS for finding us yet another adventure.
We had lunch at a DQ and pressed on. Before too long it began to rain, so I pulled into the parking lot of a business to don our rain gear. A man on a garden tractor came around and kept looking at me. I nervously said hello. It is difficult to hear while wearing a helmet but I think he wanted us to follow him to the back of a building, so we could be out of the rain. He turned out to be a very nice person and as we changed our clothes he entertained us with some stories of his life. He told us that he, too used to ride a Harley but after someone pulled out in front of him he suffered a compound fracture of his leg, ending his riding days. All the while the rain was coming down in buckets, so we couldn't thank him enough for his kindness.
We rode in the rain for an hour or so. The sun came out and now we were too hot, but kept pressing. The communication system wasn't working too well between Mary and me. I had to give her the GPS, as it isn't waterproof, so she tried to give me hand signals. We were both frustrated and relieved by the time we got to the hotel.
It is overcast this morning but, hopefully the rain will hold off. We will have some really curvy roads, so it would be nicer to enjoy them in the dry.
We spent the night in Galax, Virginia in a nice Hampton Inn, whose front desk lady suggested we park under the awning by the front entrance. It's looking like it could rain any minute, so it'll be nice to pack the rigs under cover.
Charlie and Peggy are holding up just fine but I am really sore this morning.
Tuesday 06/18/2013 – Galax, VA to the Pisgah Inn on the BRP
The day started and ended with lots of sunshine. Unfortunately the entire middle was very, very wet.
“The Snake” is Route 421 in North Carolina. It is 33 miles long with 489 curves, 3 mountains, and a valley. Charlie had heard about this road from someone in the BMWMOV and it came with high recommendations, so it was put on the itinerary and today was the day we were going to experience it. We found it with some difficulty in the rain but we did thoroughly enjoy it. It is a destination I would like to visit again, under better riding conditions. It is a fantastic road! It is longer, has more curves with hardly any traffic (at least today). Of course that also means that there are no photographers lining the road taking your pictures but that’s something I can live without.
About halfway there is a store called Shady Valley Country Store. We stopped and did some souvenir shopping. We got some stickers and took a bunch of pictures of the store and the surroundings.
So far we only had two minor problems with the bikes: Charlie's key fobs needed new batteries and my brake light stayed on again because the adjuster was backing out again. Am I missing a locking nut? I had this problem before and was able to fix it myself. The solution, of course, had long been forgotten, so I had to start from scratch. I carry a huge bag on the bottom of the sidecar which is loaded with some heavy things. This bag has all the tools but it also serves as ballast for when Mary isn’t with me. Since the bag is at the bottom, everything on top of it was in the way and had to be unloaded to get to the tools. I found a large parking lot of a restaurant to pull into for the repairs and of course diners, both coming and going, tried to engage us in some form of rhetoric. Mary assigned this task to herself (thanks, Mary!) while I attended to the problem at hand. Sweat was dripping off many parts of my body before the problem was fixed. I won’t tell you that no tools were needed for the fix, just a finger and a thumb from my right hand. I must remember this for the next time.
We are holding up pretty well and ready to face the next day's challenges.
Wednesday 06/19/2013 – Pisgah Inn, NC to Murfreesboro, TN We had a great and free breakfast at the Pisgah Inn, after enjoying the sunrise from our balcony. We enjoyed answering the many questions our fellow guests had about the rigs. One couple asked if they could have a picture taken with the guy sitting on the bike. They wanted to show the picture to their son, whose response they knew would be "Dad, you finally became a real man!". I wasn't quite sure what all that meant, so I just let it slide.
We all know by now that Charlie loves maps. A map or two always appears right after the gas tank is filled and we talk about the next leg of our journey. The route numbers are repeated ad nauseum as we head out, with me repeating those important numbers in my head. As soon as we encounter the next luscious curve, those numbers, at first, change and jumble, only to, shortly afterwards, completely disappear from my head. What's worse is that I don't care because I am having a good time. Another premature stop results in some parking lot big enough for us to turn around in. This process repeated yesterday more often than usual. I will try to do better today.
The ride to the end of the BRP was absolutely enchanting. The blooming azaleas in multiple colors (my favorite was orange), mountain laurel and rhododendron framed with many differently colored wildflowers lined both sides of the road. The fragrance filled your nostrils with yet another pleasure. The road, of course, was another pleasure. After each lovely curve there followed another within sight, wanting to be taken on the edge of your cornering abilities. All this pleasure was only interrupted by the sudden sound of Mary beating on the side of sidecar and we all know what that means! For the most part she reserved these interruptions to the most serious offenses. I think she is the braver of the two of us; I could never ride in the sidecar for any length of time.
In less than a hundred miles we were back on the BRP again, heading for the end: Cherokee, NC, an Indian reservation. It's gotten a lot bigger since the last time we came through here. After gassing up we parked across the street to Harrah's and let Peggy and Mary gamble. Charlie and I found some free coffee and wondered around. It's a very nice casino, offering a very interesting series of videos displayed on a wall of the main lobby. We went upstairs and watched it for a while, then it was ready to find the women. They both won, adding to the pleasures of the day.
Our next destination was Deals Gap, the location of the Dragon's Tail. This is a motorcyclist's Mecca. They come from all over the country to "slay the dragon". It is a public road and sometimes even tractor trailers try to maneuver the 318 curves in the 11 miles of North Carolina Route 219. There are professional photographers positioned along the way. They take pictures of every vehicle that come along. The pictures are posted on the internet and copies can be ordered as proof of your conquest. None of us can figure out why this road was chosen out of many, many, many more in the area offering the same thrills.
We came to a gas station with many motorcycles and their owners hanging around, so we stopped. The road ahead we were scheduled to take had a big “Closed” sign on it but someone said that it was open. This was the road I have been on a few times before, the last time with Mary, the times before that with my friend Steve. It is the road the Fontana Inn is located, where Mary and I sought refuge from a rainstorm, as we were heading to the Concours Owners Group’s rally a few years back. We ended up spending the night. Charlie told me to not wait for him, so I didn’t. There were hardly any vehicles, so I had a lot of fun taking the many curves as fast as I wanted. Mary did not object.
The gas station, the motel and the “Tree of Shame” were surrounded by vehicles, mostly cruisers but there was an occasional sport bike being piloted by someone wearing full leathers. There was also a good-looking blue Corvette with a mean-sounding engine. The “Tree of Shame”, by the way, is a rather large living tree in front of the small hotel. People nailed parts of motorcycles retrieved after crashes on the road. If you Google “tail of dragon”, you will get many hits, including many in YouTube.
We got something to eat, bought our stickers (you can’t by them on the internet) and proceeded to slay the Dragon. I lucked out, as there wasn’t anyone in front of me for the first half of the ride but then I caught up to a pickup truck, whose driver was doing pretty well but not quite fast enough for me. Mary posed for all the photographers as we whizzed by them and then we were at the end. I pulled over and waited for Charlie. It was HOT!
It was truly a glorious day and we found lodging at a Sleep Inn in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I didn't feel like going to dinner, so Charlie drove his rig with Mary in the sidecar and Peggy sitting behind him.
Thursday 06/20/2013 - Murfreesboro, TN to Mountain View, AR
Since I didn't go out to dinner last night it was earlier than usual to bed. Using the CPAP machine two nights in a row did me good and my sleep was uninterrupted until around 5. I wrote the update for the 19th and before I knew it was time to pack up and head down for breakfast.
We agreed the night before to try and get an earlier start, so that we wouldn't be driving until 7, as we did the night before. The weather was gorgeous but humid and temperatures close to the nineties were promised.
The first half of the day was one I did not look forward to, as we were to travel over interstates. We had to go around Nashville first, then Memphis. I waved to Elvis as we drove by his town. Traffic heading toward Nashville was horrible, with all four lanes pretty well packed with people trying to get somewhere before someone else beat them to it. People were cutting in and out, jockeying for position, trying to get an edge on their fellow commuter. All of a sudden all four lanes filled up with brake lights, darting left or right from the center lanes. it was as if they were trying to imitate Moses parting the Red Sea. Then we saw the reason for the panic: two lanes over from us laid about half of a tractor trailer tire, shredded by a blowout. A pickup truck couldn't avoid it in time and he hit it dead-center. He kept going but I saw that he damaged something underneath. Pulled over to the side was a passenger car that met the same fate. Had we hit it we would certainly have had a bad accident. I said a quick prayer and continued, albeit a little bit slower.
A few miles later, after we passed Nashville, traffic did thin out and I began relaxing my death-grip on the handlebar. Somewhere after that we saw two goats walking briskly against traffic next to the guard rail. I have to say that that is a first. I have not seen that before, nor do I care to see it again!
Eventually we entered Arkansas. The rural areas that greeted us looked quite depressed and depressing. Nobody seemed to have a garage, only one of those free-standing aluminum carports. There was stuff all over the front and backyards. Eventually the scenery changed into large fields of rice. The fields had raised tracks in them, as though made by giant woodchucks. Every once in a while water was gushing out of the ground filling up both sides of these tracks, thus irrigating the fields.
Every body of water, be it standing or flowing, we encountered looked terribly dirty, so I think the name Arkansas in native Indian language means "Land of Brown Water". Every once in a while we were briefly held up by a single farm machinery crawling along or a pickup towing some farm equipment followed by two or three other farm-related who-knows-what, only to be passed in short order. A long piece of straight road lay ahead of us and I couldn't resist the urge that takes over my weak psyche once in a while. I downshifted into fourth and accelerated briskly at a pace that most car drivers will never experience and before too long we were doing a "ton", as the English say or to us Yanks, a hundred miles an hour. It is the fastest I had the rig and despite the occasional side gusts of wind and many irregularities in the road surface, the rig felt amazingly stable. History was made: a seven-foot brick weighing well over a thousand pounds, including our living masses traveled for a few seconds at a hundred miles an hour. The beast living inside me rests once again.
The mountains of northeast Arkansas followed along with some twisties. Nice but they don't compare to the ones we experienced on this trip in North Carolina and Tennessee. Finally we caught sight of a sign declaring Mountain View to be 27 miles away. We pressed on with new-found energy and before too long we found our home for the next three nights (yay!!!!). Surprisingly it is in the middle of town (I expected it to be in the middle of nowhere). It's called Pine Woods Cabins and it is very quaint. It is set up like a timeshare, as it has a kitchen, eating area, separate bedroom with two double beds and two rocking chairs outside our door. Our unit is called the Beauty Parlor and it contains many old items from an old beauty shop. Our friend, Betty came to mind, as that was her profession.
A very cold air-conditioned home welcomed us and we quickly moved and nested. A quick trip to the rally site to register was next. The rally is at the county fairgrounds just out of town less than three miles from our home. There were quite a few rigs and their owners there already. They took our picture and told us about where to have dinner. It was a wonderful place, one that we will visit again, I am sure.
The program for the night was to go to the drive-in movie to see the latest Superman movie. We took the other choice, which was to walk a couple blocks and listen to some local musicians. There are little round gazebos placed strategically around the downtown square area, three blocks from our home, where musicians meet in an impromptu setting and play music. After a song a discussion is held, as to what to play next, in what key, who is going to play solo, etc. There is no money involved whatsoever, they do it because they like the music. Spectators come with their chair and sit and listen reverently. There are plenty of benches to sit on and if you don't like the song they're playing, walk to the next gathering of musicians. They play gospel, old-time fold songs, mostly. A little girl named Mary showed up with her father in the middle of a song and joined the circle of musicians and started playing her fiddle. Mary is seven and a half and she's been doing this for two and a half years. She is an excellent singer, she can clog and play the fiddle at the same time but she doesn't have a perfect sense of rhythm. As she was playing and was not in time, her father tapped his foot forcefully for her to hear it. After finishing one song she put her fiddle down and went and played Patti cakes with her girlfriend. As the next song was being played her father asked her to clog, so she and her friend joined the circle and clogged, Mary in her bare feet. I hope she is there tonight because I want to make a video of her playing. I was completely taken in by this setting and after the musicians called it a night, I stayed around and asked questions from a couple, who are regulars. He plays four of five instruments and she is learning the guitar.
It was a perfect ending for a wonderful day. It felt great to be walking around and I can't wait to do it again. There will be many more musicians coming from out of town. Mary reminisced about her years of living in the Midwest, saying that last night brought back some nice memories.
Friday 06/21/2013 - Mountain View, AR
I fell in love with Mountain View, Arkansas. A sign entering the town declares it the Folk Music Capital of the USA. The people are very friendly, typical of the Midwest and it's like listening Bob Gilbert, a relative of Mary’s from West Virginia, every time you talk with one. We had breakfast at the Rainbow Cafe just off the town square. There was a shelf all the way around the dining area a couple of feet from the ceiling and it was hock full of cookie jars of every shape and form, all for twenty bucks a pop.
We walked around the town square a little and went inside a real old-fashioned hardware store, filled with neat "guy" stuff. The owner greeted us and Charlie was talking with him while I looked around. We were ready to say our goodbyes when he matter-of-factly stated that his brother died this morning. He's been battling leukemia for a while and he finally succumbed to it. I found it interesting that he talked about it with no emotion, treating it like it was part of life. And isn't it?
Mary saw a sign in town asking people to deposit their American flag there, so they can be properly disposed of. I wonder how many young people even know what that is?
Charlie likes his alcohol and since we were in a dry county, we had to go to the next one to get beer; hence he wanted to make a "beer run". I offered to go with him, so I sat in the sidecar and off we went. There is no helmet law in Arkansas, so I just wore my straw hat.
Charlie got wrong directions, so we went the wrong way. After backtracking and going through town in the other direction we discovered that there are more churches in these parts than stores. We finally came upon one and further directions were sought and received. Coming out of the store Charlie said "I'm sitting in the sidecar!", so I drove. I had to take off the straw hat and rode helmetless, so my forehead got burned pretty badly. I learned that his rig is a little tighter (good), but there is no play in the throttle at all (bad) and there is definitely a lot less driveline lash (very good). I enjoyed my brief stint in the sidecar and still wonder how the women do it for the duration of the trip. Charlie also enjoyed himself. We eventually found the store and bought the beer and headed back home. When we got back, Mary and Peggy had left us and I couldn't get in our room. Got some ice from Charlie and poured the beer in a glass with the ice and drank it in short order. The weather was still very hot and muggy, so the dark beer went down quickly and smoothly. I waited around for the women to get back but when they didn't I went to the front office and got a duplicate key, went inside, took one of my pills and laid down for a nap. God, I am a cheap date!
We had bought tickets to a show at the Arts and Craft Center just outside of town. There was a restaurant close-by, so we opted to have dinner. The show was excellent, consisting of five different musical groups, singing folk music, bluegrass with banjo and nasal voices, all the things I like. The last number was "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" sung by three women who were excellent at imitating animal noises. They finished the show by saying "See y'all on the square!" And before too long we saw several of them joining in with the groups already there, performing for free.
On the way home I got to try out my HID headlights, recently acquired at Americade. They are wonderfully bright, so I made a wise investment. Wearing my Peggy's Cove baseball cap we made our way home when a gust of wind caught my brim and blew the cap off my head. I hate to lose anything but that cap was special, as we got it quite a while ago in Nova Scotia. Mary and I went back this morning and found it!
After breakfast we set out for Murray, Kentucky to visit the spawning ground for our respective rigs, Hannigan Motorsports. We got rooms at the Holiday Inn Express in town and enjoyed some well-deserved rest.
Saturday 06/23 - Mountain View, AR
We were asked to have our rigs lined up on one side of the town square for viewing by the general public. Each rig was to have an envelope taped to it into which people who liked that rig would put a dollar bill in it. Unfortunately this information was never passed on to the public, so it plain did not work.
Concurrent to our display of our rigs there was a car show being presented on the other side of the square. One of the cars was a Cobra replica in which I got to sit. It was tough to get into but comfy once there.
We went back to the gazebos to listen to more music that night and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves again.
Sunday 06/23 – Mountain View, AR to Murray, KY to home
Both our rigs have a sidecar manufactured by Hannigan Motorsports. Dave Hannigan is the owner and both Charlie and I like him very much, so we wanted to stop by and catch up.
Charlie got me a different latch for the top of the sidecar and I wanted some rubber gasket for the sidecar door. The parts were ready in no time and after talking with Dave Hannigan, who just got back from a rally that morning, we were on our way home.
The rest of the trip was really uneventful and we enjoyed our own beds two days later. Charlie and Peggy are wonderful traveling companions and I hope we’ll enjoy their company for many years to come.