Archive for August, 2013

Summer Road Trip

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

I can’t believe it. For the second time today I’m running low on gas, with no idea where exactly I am or when I might find more. Not lost exactly – I’ve got a road atlas in my saddlebag and could easily spend a few minutes figuring that out. No, dead reckoning, and the sheer remoteness of this little county road I’m on tells me everything I need to know.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I could blame the close call this morning on a deliberate roll of the dice. After a beautiful ride down eastern Kentucky’s rt. 23 – a lovely road which numerous signs informed me was the Country Music Highway – my decision to exit westward on rt. 119 towards Harlan and Pineville was borne out of simple curiosity. A curiosity that began to be edged with something else as the second mountain rolled out behind me and still no gas.

No worries. Pineville arrived soon enough.

Curiosity fulfilled, rt. 25E brought me back south through Cumberland Gap. And it was around there, having on a hunch punched the address in the Zumo, that I decided Maggie Valley was doable.

At Newport I had pulled into the gas station just in time to hear the irritated woman at the next island over, having just returned to her car from inside the store, grousing to her companion. “Now I’ll have to go all the way to… whatever the name was.”

Two minutes later, as I squinted at the opaque LCD screen on the pump display, looking in vain for any signs of life from my inserted credit card, I understood why.

A couple of blocks later the little town petered out, with no more options for gas. Right about the place that the turnoff for I40 greeted me – a summons I ignored. And also right about the place that the flashing sign on the side of the road said something about 25E being closed somewhere up ahead. A sign which I also ignored.

I remember thinking rt. 25E is a reasonably major route. They couldn’t just shut it. How bad could a detour be?

Now, with half the hundred miles I had left in the tank gone and this itty bitty county road as my sole companion, I’m finding out.

The Zumo, unaware that rt. 25E is closed, of course, is nattering at me to turn around. I amuse myself by cycling between the decreasing miles of fuel left on the Harley display and the increasing time of arrival displayed on the GPS, a couple of data points that confirm I’m still heading in the wrong direction. It’s a bit of affirmation I don’t really need. The descending sun, aft of my left shoulder, says enough.

Rt. 25E Detour

It’s somewhere in there, mixed with the edginess of being out in the middle of nowhere and not knowing how long this detour will last and wondering whether I’ll find gas before the tank runs dry, that I remember.

Why I’m here. Why I do this.

Riding alone is a very different experience from the trips we make with friends. Most people don’t like it. Most people don’t like that edginess that the circumstances of being solo often brings. Most people, if they’re honest, are actually a little bit afraid of it. Hell, even Captain America had Billy.

What you do get, if you can abide it, is a sense of quiet satisfaction. A deeply-felt joy at profound wonders. And a reflective, introspective conversation with yourself about what is important in this world.

Maybe running out of gas is a small price to pay for that.

Jeff at Deals Gap1

Jeff at Deals Gap2

Deals Gap Overlook

Days later, after having experienced hundreds of miles of terrific roads in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the Midland Trail, diagonally bisecting West Virginia, a section of road I was last on thirty-six years ago, struggling up the mountains in an old six-cylinder, three-speed-on-the-column, Dodge telephone truck; Deals Gap, where I almost got a ticket, and the Cherohala; good food, cold beer, and excellent whiskey; a good book; sun and rain, including a drenching sans rain suit coming back over the mountain into Maggie’s Valley – a bet that I lost; good people, everywhere; and yet again almost running out of gas – one last bit of serendipity remained.

Studying the map looking for a route back north, I wanted to avoid the touristy mess to the west that was the Smoky Mountains National Park. At the same time I wanted to stay clear of the rush hour mess just to the east in Asheville. A little north-south squiggle marked “209” seemed to split the difference.

Thirty minutes later, on a perfect, softly overcast morning, two signs within a half-mile of each other greeted me: one warning truckers of the road ahead; and one advising that the road ahead was named The Rattler.

Rt. 209 – The Rattler – is fabulous! Tight and more technical than Deals Gap, it was utterly devoid of traffic. What a wonderful road! On the far end, as if coming down from a high, its spirals slowly lengthened into longer coils. I passed through Luck. And then Trust. And, finally, Hurricane.

Good bye, North Carolina. Hello, again, Tennessee.

At Big Stone Gap the dining room of the hotel was named Trail of the Lonesome Pine. It seems the author of the novel by that name was from there, a long time ago. It was a bestseller in 1908. The night before I headed for home I made a visit to Amazon and downloaded it to my iPad. I’ll read it before my next trip back, next summer.

I already told the girl at the front desk I’ll be back.

The Rattler


A Road Trip