Thursday, July 4, 2013


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on top of the world

I really needed to get up to Pennsylvania to visit with my 85 year old cousin who had the stroke a couple months ago.  She was and is in good hands so there was no immediate urgency to go insane over getting there.  The weather has kept me from visiting earlier, however.  I've never seen anything like the storms we have been having here in East Tennessee.  My girls, dogs, were delivered to the baby sitter and I jumped on the bike immediately upon return and headed out on Saturday morning.  I returned from Pennsylvania this morning around 3 AM and it was storming even then and it's pouring rain as this is being written and rain is scheduled for the entire week.  Amazing.
The plan was to leave on Saturday morning and drive up the interstate to Boone, North Carolina and enter onto the Blue Ridge Parkway there, which I did.  My bestest friend was driving down the Parkway to meet me at a place we usually stay called Freebornes - a motorcycle hotel just off the parkway North of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.  The day was spectacular and the sky was filled with enormous billowy, white clouds.  I knew this wouldn't last, but I was on the road and I sure wasn't going to worry about it.
It seemed to take forever to get up Interstate 81 to Johnson City where I would pick up Route 321 toward Wataga Lake and beyond to the parkway.  It turned out to be almost a six hour drive to Freebornes Hotel on the Blue-ridge.  

The air was cool, about 78 degrees, on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was the kind of weather where a heavy, long sleeve shirt was called for.  The little bike was running perfectly and I let the engine settle in at 50 miles per hour and just sat back and took it all in.
50 miles per hour is good thinking speed.  Things aren't flashing by at blinding speed and potential problems and issues related to safety can "usually" be seen coming and avoidance measures can be instituted before crises intervention is required.  Some of those issues could be deer (one or more), rocks on the road, snapping turtles crossing the road, 2X4 that has fallen out of a pick up truck, off camber corners and gravel come to mind.  So far the ride was spectacular.  I scanned the sky for dark clouds and they were there, but not where I was or where I was going.  I smiled and thought about seeing Craig later in the day.

 Good heavens!  I can see forever.  I love the rivers and forests below, but this is a delightful change, and a needed change.  The air smells fresh with just the hint of rain and the green goes forever.  I wonder what the first woodsman thought when he viewed this for the first time.  I wonder if he had a particular direction in mind or was aimlessly meandering about in the wilderness just for the shear freedom of being able to.  Of course, I already know the answer to that.  Woodsmen didn't just wander around in strange country.  A direction was selected and a destination was always the goal, except for Lewis and Clark and their North West passage exploratory expedition.  Even they had a direction though.  West!

It doesn't matter which direction you gaze off into - it will be green with blue, endless appearing mountains.  I've ridden on this road for over 40 years and I never tire of it.

The terrain you are looking at is located over half way across North Carolina on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is in no way the same topography that can be found on the bottom end of the parkway.  From Fancy Gap and South on the Blue-ridge, the road is surrounded with enormous, vertical cliffs and mountains that punch through the clouds.  The road is twisty and curvy and the weather unpredictable.  It is known as the "A" section of the parkway to the old timer bike riders and is by far the most splendid part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I haven't ridden that section for a number of years due to the location of my residence.  I would have to travel West, the wrong way, in order to get on the Southern most entrance located in Cherokee, North Carolina.  That would take a day.  Now, I could ride North on the interstate and hit the parkway and go South to Cherokee and then ride East toward home and make a great ride of it. Seems I'm always going North to meet up with someone travelling South though.  Oh well - that's OK too.

Bengi Gap was just ahead.   The old Park Vista motel/restaurant was nestled in the trees just off the road.  I have stayed here many, many times over the years.  This place was always a favored breakfast stop in the very early mornings.  Something was different now.  I drove past and turned around to return to the top of the restaurant driveway.   Oh no - it's closed.

This place has been on the destination list for many, many trips down the parkway over the years.  It's been here since before the parkway was built.  Even Bill Watson's general store was done.  I have bought many hand made quilts here for family members over the course of my lifetime.  What's going on these days?  It seems there's some invisible plan to eradicate everything from the past that represents everything American.  It's all disappearing.
The loss of Bill Watson's store is tragic.  What a great, old, early time, country store!
Freebornes would be coming up within the next 50 miles.  I had been riding almost six hours.  If those miles were put on the interstate aimed north - I could be almost in Pennsylvania.  Instead, I'm still in North Carolina.  The Blue Ridge Parkway isn't the fastest way to get anywhere, but it's the best way.
The Freborn's motorcycle hotel was just around the corner.
A left at Laurel Springs would put me in front of the old, original motorcycle hotel named Station's Inn.  It was Station's Inn that all the travelling motorcyclists used to stop at.  The owners of that Inn bought an old hotel down the street and moved the operation there.  The newer place is much better.  Great food and great rooms one minute off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It doesn't get better than that.  Below is the original Station's Inn.

A glance down the street and Freeborne's can be seen with all the customers enjoying music, food and drink at outside tables as well as inside in the restaurant and bar area.

I jumped off the bike in front of the office and walked in.  "What!"  They were all full.  There weren't any rooms available.  Great!  I walked all over the grounds and made sure Craig wasn't there yet.  Now what?  There are no more places to stay in the area or on the Parkway until Tuggle's Gap located far, far up the road.  I walked down to the antique filled building next door.  There was a camp ground behind the place with tiny trailers located all over the grounds.  I wondered if they rented them.  There was a blond haired lady sitting there talking to four senior citizens.  Seemed everyone there was a senior citizen.  Did I belong with this bunch?

"Excuse me Ma'am - do you rent those trailers out back there?"

She replied, "yes we do.  Carl here will take you down to look at them if you care to."

I shook Carl's hand and we were off to the trailers.

Carl said, as we walked, that there wasn't anything very fancy about the trailers.  I asked him how come there wasn't anyone occupying any of them.  He just shrugged his shoulders and said that the hotel gets all the customers these days.

He said, "now, this here's the Woody Woodpecker.  It's a small trailer and sleeps two fairly comfortably."

The fairly comfortably part was sort of interesting.

He then said, "now, over there is the hunting lodge.  It sleeps one more and has a refrigerator in it."  I later found out that it didn't matter what it had in it cause there was no electric hooked up.
 No, that's not a dead dear.  It's an archery target laying down.  I guess it's their idea of designating this trailer as the hunting lodge trailer.

"Now, over there is the Titanic if ya want a larger trailer.  It runs $55.00," he said.

I told him that I'd like to see the inside of the Woody Woodpecker, and we went over.

Carl stepped inside and started to open the windows.  It was hot in there.  I asked him where the light switch was.  He said it's right there by the door.  I flicked it on.  Nothing happened.

"Carl - there's somethin wrong with the lights here."

He replied, "no there's not.  Ain't any electric.  Already told ya."

"Well, how bout a fan?"

"Already told ya - no electric."

"How do ya operate the toilet and sink then?"

He said, "ya don't.  It's just less ya gotta worry about."

"I see, I see.  Good thinkin Carl."

Carl pointed to the porta pottie a half acre away.

He said, "there's another one of them over that way," and pointed to the right.
I told him that I'd have to go back up to Freeborne's to see if Craig arrived yet so he could see the new digs I found an to see what he thought.  I hate making decisions for someone else.  I did a walk through and he wasn't there.  What the heck - I was going to go sew up this deal before someone else jumped on the old Woody Woodpecker trailer.  I paid Carl and the two of us started to walk back to the trailer for some last minute explanations about some of the idiosyncrasies involved with the operational complexities of our little home away from home.  It was then that I saw something that concerned me.  
The sign said showers and had a phone number to call.  This was odd, but I was sure Carl had an explanation for it?

"Carl - what's the phone number under the Showers sign for?"

He said, "we shut off the water when we close up the store."

"So, how do we take a shower then?"

Carl said, "what time do ya want to take a shower?"

I said, "probably when we go to bed."

Carl replied, "just call that number and I'll run over and turn on the valve, as long as it ain't too late."

I said, "Carl - that aint-a gonna work.  How the heck do I know when we are going to bed.  We might stay up reminiscing for hours past dark."

Carl said, "don't take a shower till morning then.  Just don't make it before 7:30 AM."

I can't believe this.  Craig isn't going to like this.  It's either the Woody Woodpecker or ride on miles up the parkway to a real hotel.  It was late.  The deal was done. 

Craig and I walked down toward the trailer and I explained how there weren't too many options and that I figured I better grab this great buy before we lost it.  We stood in front of the door and looked in.  He flicked the light switch and I clicked on my flashlight.  I told him not to worry as we wouldn't be needing any light cause we'd be sleeping anyway.  The beds looked comfy enough.
Ah man - it don't get better than this.  We even had room for one more person on the floor between the beds, or bunks, or whatever ya call em.  Craig was really delighted cause he smiled as he looked at the beds and even started laughing out loud.  Boy, that's a relief as I figured he'd be upset.  I got Carl to trust me with the key to the water valve so we wouldn't have to call him to start our showers.  Then, Craig said, "we don't have towels.  How do we dry off?"

He had a point.  "Hey Carl, got any towels?"


So goes the showers.  Just one more thing we didn't have to worry about.

Time to get the bikes back beside the trailer.  I drove right past the turn in and decided to cut across the grass.  I saw what looked like a narrow, shallow ditch that I could easily roll right on over.  The front wheel never felt it, but the back wheel rolled right into an stuck right on the ditch.  The bike settled down almost until the frame rested on the ground..  The wheel spun an I sat there looking at what appeared to be a very amused Craig.  

I said, "that little ditch is a darned trench.  Look at this!  Get over here and push me out of here!"
The shots of the trench were taken next morning, after the storm that came in the night.  Look at that thing.  That's a heck of a thing to leave open where people can trip over!
Yep - that's the marks made by my wheel.  The two indents in the trench are where the rear wheel spun out.  Oh boy!  I saw that Craig had positioned his bike and was unloading it.  I put the side stand down and it instantly sunk into the soft soil and fell over on top of me.  I yelled to grab the darned thing and hold it till I could crawl out from under it.  We were parked on a sink hole or something.  Even my plastic side stand pad pushed into the soft dirt.  I finally found a hunk of metal junk to slide under the side stand and support the bike.  What a time!  Craig was really pleased with the Woody Woodpecker cause he was laughing hard the whole time all this was happening.  My buddy!
You can see the piece of junk under the side stand to keep it from sinking into the mud.
We went back up to Freeborne's for food and to see if we knew anyone.  
I met the little girl below years ago when she worked as a server.  She was not of age then to work behind the bar.  Now, she's married and works here steady.  Time flies.  Her name is Ginny.  Polite, sweet and good nature d - just like most Southerners are.
She would't give us a price break on anything.  That means she's a good employee too.

It rained hard all night complete with lightning and thunder.  Who needs lights?
We noticed an enormous pile of cut wood.  Closer inspection showed that a group could get in the center of this wooden fort in the worse weather and remain comfortable.  They even have a stove for heat in the center.  Amazing!

We had to get out of there.  To tell the truth about it - I was more than ready.  We grabbed breakfast at Freeborne's and promptly were on our way up the parkway North.

Felt great to feel the wind again - fresh and cool on the face and to smell the sweet fragrance of the trees.

I love old wooden fences.  These are the real deal.  No Wallmart or Lowes here.

I'm sure glad Craig could ride down to meet me.  It's great to ride with someone who you know can handle anything on the road.  He's always just there.
We were getting close to Mabry Mill.  That old grist mill is the most photographed spot on the entire parkway.  We pulled into the parking lot for a picture.  I have hundreds of shots of it over a lifetime, but there's always room for one more.  There were no people down at the mill wheel and I'd have a clear picture.

The big water wheel was operational too.
Needless to say, the rest of the trip home was uneventful - and absolutely gorgeous!  Couldn't ask for more perfect weather.  My thoughts were beginning to once again return to the real reason for this long, long ride.  My cousin of 85 years of age had that damn stroke two months ago and I was on my way to see her.  I was getting anxious.

Craig has a great place and it's neat as a pin, unlike my house.  I have dogs to contend with.  Craig has a gorgeous daughter that keeps the entire place manicured for him.  He doesn't have to lift a finger.  Lauren (Peanut) does it all.  If Peanut misses something - a terrific girl named Deborah catches it.  Yep - the boy got it made.

Those are two of my favorite pictures of all time.  A dad shows total pride in his beautiful daughter, and a beautiful daughter shows love and pride in her dad.  Lets see - I got Shade.  Check out this bike.  It's a 1976 R90S BMW.  I think it's a 76 model.  It belongs to Craig.  Motorcycles aren't made like this anymore.  

 My little bike has 20,000 miles on it and it's a 2009.  This one is 37 years old and has 18,000 on it.

 I took off to see my cousin.  She is living with friends of the family.  There are no more original family left except her and me.  The folks she moved in with are angels and Stella, my cousin, is happier than she has been in years.  I needed to meet these people and allay any apprehensive thoughts I had about her well being.  I'm totally happy for her.  She was even smiling.  Her recovery from the stroke is amazing as she walks without a limp and speaks clearly.  I'm elated!

Look at that smile.  She's happy.  Stella is the daughter of Josephine Loucks, the lady I spoke of a couple years ago in the nursing home.  Josephine passed shortly after I visited with her.  Stella is all that's left of that half of the family.  I am all there is on my dad's side.  No, it's not sad.  It's just how it is.  The end of a great, great family.  All things must end.  It will end happily.
These folks keeping Stella have a few dogs that are sweet as sugar and they amuse Stella constantly.  Look below:

Stella is safe and in the hands of capable, good friends.  I'm breathing a lot easier. 
Craig had about 25 people over to his house the second night for a get together.  These are guys I haven't seen in over 20 years and I hardly knew anyone by sight.  There were two that haven't changed a bit though.  What a great, great night.  The boy pulled out the stops with food and drink and everyone was pleasant, polite and motorcycle knowledgeable.  Many of these guys were old customers of mine when I was involved with BMW motorcycles in the old days.  What a really nice get together we had!  I was so into it that I didn't take even one photograph.  I can't believe that.

Time went quickly, just like it does in life, and finally I had to leave.  I was antsy, to say the least.  I simply threw my few cloths on to the bike and bid my farewells to Craig and Peanut.  There is another lady of the house who is, for some reason, always at work.   Odd.  Craig's always home messing with bikes and Deborah is always working - going to bed early and leaving before anyone's up in the morning.  I wonder about that.  LOL....  Down the road I went only to run into one horrendous storm South of Morgantown, WVA that would last all the way home.  It took me 14 hours of constant riding to negotiate the interstates in that torrential downpour, fog, wind and trailer trucks to get back to the barn.  And, I missed my dogs badly.  Homer heard the bike pull into the drive and I could hear him crying out constantly.  I opened the door and he was all over me and wouldn't shut up at all.  He got to sleep beside the pillow last night.  I drove over for the dogs early this morning.

Happy was the first to see me and she gave out the most miserable, continued cry I ever heard and jumped up high against my chest.  I just caught her in my arms.  Shade walked to me as if a lioness would walk - head low and eyes on my face and walked between my legs and sat down, almost upsetting me.  Chestnut bounced on her front feet voicing a continued hound howl.  What a reception.  I opened the truck door and we were off for home.  They were fine here.  This is where we all lived for about 8 years.  They had a huge fenced yard and a dog door on the warehouse.

And, that was my trip back to Pennsylvania.  It was quite a journey, especially the return ride.  I don't want to do that ride again soon.