The road called to me Sunday morning at 6:10 AM. “Hellooooo Rider! Rider! Get up it’s time to go!” Now the road KNOWS I don’t get up BEFORE 6:15, and my alarm had not gone off just yet. So I turned over hoping for a few minutes peace, not this morning. Again the call, “Rider! get up! Donner is waiting! Let’s go!” As you may have guessed, I’m “Rider” and if you ever want to sleep in on a Sunday morning, never, never, ever take “the road” as a mistress! Seconds later the alarm went off, and I HAD to get up, the alarm is all the way across the room and set to a very annoying radio station, it was either that or figure a way to deliver an electric shock as incentive. So I sit up, and again, I feel like I have been beat with a stick, do my job on a Saturday, work late into the night, and on Sunday morning, you’ll hurt too. But this morning I’m “Rider” and I must answer the road, time for breakfast.
Breakfast is over, I’m making a PB&J for my lunch stop and talking to my Mom at the same time, after all, a good son calls his Mom on a regular basis. “Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be careful, I love you, bye” I say, you don’t know what the future will bring you, so I always tell her that just in case. Ok, into the garage, and there’s my travel companion “Donner”, if you’re wondering Donner means thunder in German, and it’s also the German name for Thor the Viking thunder god. Once you hear Donner’s engine running, you totally understand. Donner is a Victory motorcycle, made in America by Polaris, a company founded on the same day I was born. I open the garage door and the light spills in illuminating Donner and the messy garage I can’t seem to find the time to clean. I roll Donner out and fire the engine, while he idles I walk around, I do love looking at this bike! Sometimes I’ll just go out to the garage with a Guinness, sit on a milk crate look at it, true art in mechanical form. Donner is a classic motorcycle, for the most part all black with chrome and polished metal bits. This is a big beast, mostly engine with only the parts necessary to do the job of going down the road. The motorcycle fits me, handlebars fall easily to hand, floorboards where they need to be, saddle comfortable, I literally click into place. When I ride become part of the machine, as it should be, it steers easily, the engine responsive to the throttle, a perfect mount. The engine is now warm and ready to go, I’m on and we move out of the neighborhood, as we make our way I become “Rider.”
By now you are probably wondering what’s up with the whole “Rider” thing, to put it as simply as possible, I am what I do. My sole purpose when I am riding is to ride, my thoughts and actions are the ride and road, nothing else. Saturday I was “Photographer” all of my skill, experience, thought, body and soul invested in creating art as “Photographer.” Today, I am “Writer” (possibly) tomorrow, something else, all of these things, rider, photographer, writer, and so on add up to “me.” But I like to take things one at a time, so today, “Writer”, Sunday “Rider”, back to the ride.
We moved quickly through Atlanta and up I-85 headed for the North Georgia mountains. At seventy miles an hour the engine is turning 3,000 RPM, a good cruising speed for the bike, the exhaust note is like a cross between a purr and a growl. If I twist the throttle, the note becomes a roar and eighty to one hundred miles per hour becomes a possibility, granted, quite illegal, but possible. Getting a ticket is not on the agenda today, so I resist the urge and keep it reasonable. Besides, I’m coming up on exit ramp for highway 141, and there’s always a Doraville cop sitting on I-285 running a radar trap. So I slow down under sixty, wave to the cop, and exit off to 141. I like 141, sure there are some traffic lights, but compared to the boring drone up GA 400, not bad, and if luck holds, the stoplights stay green and it’s a smooth ride to where 141 intersects with GA 400. Just a short hop past Dawsonville is the end of 400 and the beginning of my beloved mountain roads.
In fifteen minutes I am on Highway 60 headed toward a little wide spot in the road called Suches which also happens to hold my next turn at the intersection of 60 and Highway 180. As I work my way up the mountain the growl from the exhaust has been replaced with a roar as the RPMs climb and fall from shifting gears. This is tight going, the road on one side is mostly rocks where it was carved out of the mountainside, if you glance to your right the speed makes it all a green/grey blur. To the left, a mountain vista, very little shoulder, few guardrails, and certain death should you run off the road. That’s not on my mind at the time, I am truly “in the moment” as I wind my way to the top. It’s funny but when I ride my breathing becomes deep and slow, I feel relaxed, I’ll bet if I had a portable “vitals” monitor hooked to me during a ride you would see some interesting readings! The Appalachian Trail crosses 60 at the top of the mountain, I slow down when I crest the top, hikers walk across the road without looking all the time, not good to hit one. Over the top and down, curve, curve, curve, bike leaning taking each in turn, down into the Suches Valley, it’s all green with a small lake to my right, beautiful, the locals call Suches “The Valley Above The Clouds” at 3,000 feet, I guess that’s so. All too soon, my next turn comes up on the right and it’s back to business.
Highway 180 starts out in Suches Valley then begins a winding climb past Lake Winfield Scott toward Wolf Pen Gap and connects with Highway 19 near Vogel State Park. I followed a sport touring bike up the hill, it was a great run, just quick enough to keep focus on the business at hand, no time for distractions. It’s a good idea to keep your head in the game on 180, the road claims a life or two every year, sometimes more. Usually it’s a sport bike rider in over his head, other times it’s an inexperienced rider not used to the mountains, tragic? yes, inevitable? yup. We made it to 19 without incident, I scraped the floorboards a few times as normal for that road. The only glitch was passing a Harley rider at one point who seem to brake and slow for every corner, backfiring each time he came off the gas. He didn’t even seem to notice us before we passed, I guess he wasn’t checking his mirrors for faster traffic. I’m sure he noticed when we did pass, first the grey whooshing streak, then that big, booming black blur! 🙂 He wobbled a bit when we passed, I hope we didn’t startle him! But, then again, we had followed for a few miles before we could pass, it’s not like we were invisible!
My next turn took me to my favorite road, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. The RR as I like to call it stretches like a giant grey anaconda over the green shoulders of the mountains, it winds it’s way toward Helen, twisting and turning to follow the contours of the mountain. At the crest of the mountain another hiking trail crosses the RR, I’m not sure if it’s the same trail as the Appalachian, but the rules still apply, slow down! Just past the trail there is a scenic overlook I like to stop at for lunch, from this place you can see for miles! Because I am a creature of habit, I stop, it’s a little early for lunch, but I stop anyway. I am totally alone, I take off my helmet and look out, I am overwhelmed, I feel great, so in the moment I raise my arms and shout out in gratitude “thank you! thank you for my life!” Then I hear this voice, so faintly, “you’re welcome!” No, it wasn’t God speaking, just some wise ass hiker on the trail below me! I just had to laugh, I think I heard them laughing as well. I leaned on the bike, enjoyed the view and ate my PB&J in silence hoping to avoid any further exchanges. After lunch I headed “down the hill” toward Helen and my next turn. Just before Helen you can turn left on to Highway 356 and go past Unicoi State Park, 356 leads to Batesville and Highway 197, both are beautiful roads with lots of turns, farms with horses and fat cows grazing in meadows.
Highway 197 connects with Highway 75 which will take you across to Hiawassee, Young Harris and Blairsville, that’s the route I took, it’s a bit of a snooze, but it did reconnect me with Highway 19 and the way home. Nineteen crosses over Blood Mountain, aptly named, it claims a few bikers every year for the same reasons 180 does. It’s not a tight road like 180, the curves are long and sweeping, maybe it takes folks off guard, I don’t know. But I didn’t have any trouble, an nice run down, then right at Turner’s Corner to stay with 19, and a left at Porter Springs Road. It’s a nice little road, goes past wineries and is not heavily traveled. It connects with Cavender Creek Road, 🙂 that links to Copper Mines/ Long Branch Road, right back to GA 400 and a run to home.
There is not much to say about GA 400 on a late Summer afternoon, except HOT! HOT! HOT! It’s a bit like riding in an oven, wave after wave of heat! My only way to go is soak my shirt with water at the gas stop for evaporative cooling, (lasts 30 minutes max) and blast the slab South for home. It’s a drudge on the slab with only a few bright spots, notably the tunnel under Peachtree on 400, and the ones on the Grady curve, I LOVE the echo of my pipes in those places! But it’s a quick ride home, I’m in one piece, the A/C is cool, and I’ve lived a full day.
So what’s love got to do with it? Everything! You should be in love with your life! You should love the joy your life brings! I LOVED every moment of Sunday! A little over 300 miles and about eight hours of being here and now, at one with life!