Redneck Cornering School

Helen, GA M/C Trip (September 11-13, 2009)

FRIDAY: The Day Squids Are Made

I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I was getting bored with the roads around here and I felt that in order to take my skills to the next level I had to either find some more challenging public roads or go to the track. I don’t have the money for track days. I could barely afford signing up for the Ed Bargy Racing School. But regular track days? I’m dreading the day I’ll have to put new tires on The Fat Lady. That may be one part of the explanation why I find myself riding more aggressively lately, and netting two pull-overs for speeding (79/45 and 78/55) in the span of two weeks, the latter of which resulted in a High Performance Award from the Georgia State Patrol. Thanks Officer F., I’ll see you in court (well, I hope I don’t, a no-show on your part would be sweet.) Really, that’s one date I would love to get stood up for. Anyway, I told my husband that he’ll need to take Sunday off, I wanted to go to Helen. He arranged it with his work, and ended up taking Friday and Sunday off. I was on my 7-day leave after Hell Week, so I was ready to get out of town. All the gear I had ordered for the upcoming day at Road Atlanta was in, with the exception of my gloves. I also had The Fat Lady’s frame sliders installed when they did her 7,500-mile service. And I’m glad ‘Busa Dude in the shop at Street & Trail is a perfectionist like me. He also rides a Hayabusa. Those fairing cutouts are perfect. I mean… I haven’t seen a cleaner frame slider install on another ‘Busa yet. $75 well spent, because I would have surely messed that one up horrendously had I done it myself (as Plan A had it). With gear in possession and sliders finally installed, I was ready to hang my butt into the breeze, lean it over and drag some knee. There are no really good esses around here, so ‘stringing together’ curves was only familiar to me in theory. I was ready to apply some of that textbook knowledge to some curvy asphalt snaking its way through the north Georgia mountains.
Friday morning, after hubby comes home from work, we’re getting ready to head in a northerly direction on two wheels. While he’s packing our stuff into his hard bags, I’m outside cleaning and lubing The Fat Lady’s chain, and making her look all pretty with a quick application of ‘Bike Spirits’ spray polish (this stuff is awesome, by the way.) Girls have to make this shit look good, and we do. Since his Shafty Ninja looks absolutely filthy, I implore hubby to treat Sammy to a round of bike-wash-in-a-can, by leaving said can and a clean microfiber cloth sitting accusingly on his top rack. It still had showroom dust on it from when it sat all neglected and almost forgotten by the front door of Street & Trail. They did wipe her down when he bought her, but they definitely missed the spaces in between. Heck, the poor baby’s price tag even had ‘Set Me Free’ written on it, she’d been there so long. Sammy was supposed to end up being my bike. Hell, Goose (a biker buddy) exclaimed with pride that ‘he had sat on that’, and even Larry (Manx’s best friend) had parked his butt on it at one time or another. Ultimately Manx is the one who did and he’s glad for it.
Time to hit the road. I’m all dressed up in my new gear: two-piece leather suit, boots, my Harley all-weather leather gloves and my favorite lid, the butterfly Shoei. I have my iPod in its waterproof box strapped to my right thigh and my digicam is mounted to the RAM fork stem mount that usually is home to the GPSr, which in turn is stuffed into the cell phone pocket of my tank bag, since we know where we’re going on this trip. My newly acquired raingear is stuffed into one of Manx’s bags, I haven’t had my coffee yet and am hungry as hell: The Fat Lady and I are ready to tear up some roads. And typing that, I realize that in addition to being a total gear whore, I’m also a huge gadget freak. I should do reviews for a living. Seriously. Manx opted to leave his Papa Razzi camera junk at home due to space constraints, he hasn’t scored himself a top case yet. We’ll just have to make do with my tough-as-nails point-and-shoot. So there will be no awesome shots of me emulating Mr. Rossi on some Georgia back road on this trip. Dang!
We finally head out, and as per usual hubby has to wait for me to finish gearing up. He’s probably already soaked in sweat before my kickstand even leaves the ground.  Same old story there, too. He should be used to that by now and time himself better. 😉 The sky looks like it wants to get rid of some excess water, so we postpone breakfast until we are clear of the pregnant clouds. Breakfast finally does happen in Washington, GA. I have this uncontrollable craving for some greasy-spoon style hash browns. But not before I stall The Fat Lady twice and she in turn almost dumps me into the road. WTF?  The ‘Busa’s got ‘tude lately. Damn! We come up to a traffic light and get into the left turn lane, on our way to BK for a veggie burger. But as I pull up next to him, I spot a Huddle House and said urges for cheesy hash browns emerge. Of course, I inform him of the change of plans, so he decides to go straight from the left turn lane as soon as the light changes green for through traffic. As I try to follow I stall out. I crank her back up and stall yet again. I start her a second time and this time I’m successful in achieving forward momentum. What a dumbass I am! I haven’t stalled a bike in, good gawd, forever, not since I took the safety course. And I NEVER have stalled the ‘Busa. EVER! Luckily the audience was light, but I still felt the need to get the hell out of there. How embarrassing. I must have looked like a total douche in my racing leathers sporting knee pucks, dumping the clutch twice and stalling out. Could have been worse, I suppose. Let’s just say I’m glad she just stalled. Hubby tells me later that he watched the whole affair via his rearview mirrors. He was still laughing when I caught up with him in the diner’s parking lot. He said it was pretty comical and tried to describe the whole ordeal to me in animated detail. Apparently it looked to him that Foxy and The Fat Lady did a little dance, made a little love, and almost got down tonight. Ugh! What a ‘hole! I didn’t think it was all that funny. And then he has the nerve to make me do a u-turn to get into the joint. But at least I pulled that off, looking like I knew what I was doing. I was so worried that the people in the Huddle House witnessed the whole thing, that I almost dumped her again while putting the kickstand down. Good gawd, girl! And you want to go play in the mountains? Go home before you hurt yourself! Sometimes I really curse my geeky, shy, afraid-of-embarrassment self. But I can’t help it, my body just goes kind of numb and it leaves me clumsy. Funny thing is, nobody would have known, unless they were riders themselves, and even then it’s still an iffy proposition with some of the stuff that I feel is so blaringly obvious, but is so subtle outwardly… Freakazoid without a clue. The remainder of the ride to Helen, GA is uneventful.
We arrive at the Ramada Limited (save your moolah, go to the Econolodge next door) in Alpine Helen and as we pull in, I notice four Harleys lined up on the left side under the canopy. I pull in to the right and park myself there and wait for Manx to check us into our prepaid room and get us some key cards. While I sit there, I have time to admire the chromed out V-Twins, appreciating their beauty, but still not getting the concept behind forward controls and floorboards. Never have. That sort of thing belongs in a car. The Sporty 1200L has mid-controls, foot pegs and a standard riding position, which only felt laid back, forward and distinctly unsporty after getting used to the Hayabusa. As a matter of fact, when I rode Kittyhog to circulate her fluids and recharge the battery, I usually put my feet on the passenger pegs after I got up to top gear. Awkward. And I dragged pegs on almost every turn, probably redlined that mother a few times, too. Almost killed myself once, because I was expecting ‘Busa brakes, but got something else entirely. As with the Harley’s throttle, nothing really happens for quite some time when you get on the brakes. Not my speed. Not anymore. The things you learn about yourself while putting miles on the clock:
  1. You can’t know your biker personality until you’ve ridden a few thousand miles, and what you find out might astonish, or even scare, you.
  2. Type-A personalities seem to prefer a better weight-to-power ratio.
  3. There’s a squid dying to get out inside of all of us. Some of us just put up a better fight.
  4. Fear (and the associated reactions) can kill you.
  5. I still don’t get forward controls.
  6. If you and your motorcycle aren’t joined at the hip, you’re doing it wrong. 😉
  7. I’m a one-bike-at-a-time person.

I used to be one of them, I muse, while still admiring the Hogs. Classy, but unrefined. Nostalgia. I look down at The Fat Lady. Modern, purpose-built. Better suited to a geek. I then get off my perch and walk around to her front. She has a slight avian look to her when viewed from a certain angle. Yeah. She’s ALL THAT. And she’s mine. She makes me feel all giddy inside. Sexy, too. I grin to myself and hand the returning key card-toting hubby my cam. “Here, snap some pics of us.”

We change into street clothes and squid it two miles into town. Yeah, another personal rule broken. Here I am, wearing naught but a pair of jeans, sneakers, a baby doll and the only protection: my lid and summer short gloves. The posted speed limit is 35 and I’m taking the first half of the stretched out s-curve leading into town at about 45, so I can get my lean on. It feels awkward dressed like this. I also feel naked and vulnerable. No fun. But I knew it would make me feel this way, I’ve done this once before. I blogged about it in “I smell of gasoline!” By the time I reach the Bottle Häus, our liquor store away from home, my shirt has crept halfway up my backside, to the delight of my husband who’s right behind me. I’m advertising for Suzuki (showing off my kanji tattoo), but luckily not for split rolls (not showing ass crack). I reach up with my left hand and yank the front of it down, which is dangerously close to working its way up past the girlfriends.  Soooo… this is how it happens. I see dudes on sport bikes all the time with their shirts wrapped around their necks. Hmmmmm…. And here I am… geez… I pull my shirt down and lean forward more to keep it anchored between my chest and The Fat Lady’s tank. Once we reach the town center, I have no more worries of wardrobe malfunctions, since we’re now stuck in the traffic jam that is common to all tourist trap towns like this, and we’re creeping along in first gear, dragging rear brake and riding the friction zone. Because we all know, putting a foot down is way too much trouble, and letting them hang and drag looks, well… ummm… let’s just say it doesn’t help portray the image of a skilled rider; neither does the current dress code, but one has to draw the line somewhere. J After practicing the slow race for about a quarter mile, we turn right and hit the Chattahoochee Biker Gear store, since Manx wants some more helmet liners in the form of skullcaps. They offer to let us keep the bikes parked in their lot for as long as we like, and we appreciate the offer, since parking anywhere in this town costs $2.00 and up. We head on to the Troll Tavern. We elect to sit outside, by the bridge next to the river. I like the atmosphere. The food is good, too. At least the deep fried breaded cheese ravioli I had. The cheesecake was delicious, too, but a little smallish. I’m glad somebody’s watching out for our waistlines, but damn, don’t charge us the price for a whole chunky slice. We also break another rule and have a bottle of Warsteiner each. I insist we walk around for at least one hour, before I say hello to The Fat Lady again. It is agreed. Manx sticks his Blackberry into my face and says with a big fat grin: “Check out this road! Would that please you?” I take his phone and check out the yellow line that squirms and squiggles all over the Blackberry’s screen at exciting angles. DAMN! I look at the legend on the bottom to determine scale. HOT DAMN! “You sure this is paved?” – “Dunno. Looks like it on satellite. I think it is. It should be.” Yes, it should! We leave and kill about 90 minutes by checking out the gift shops that line the street on both sides. On the way back to the room we make a quick stop at the Bottle Häus to pick up a six-pack of Warsteiner. I manage to park my front tire in a hole and Manx has to give me a push out. Oooooh…. how embarrassing. But I’m getting used to it. I should just start sticking an arm up, snapping my fingers, yelling: “Pit crew! Stat!” the next time this happens. It is righteous.  Upon our return, we go swimming in the indoor pool, hang out in the Jacuzzi, and guzzle a six-pack of Germany’s finest. At one point during the evening, Manx asks: “When do you wanna get up? The crack of dawn?” I bust out laughing. That is funny. No, it’s hilarious. The crack of dawn. The crack… of… dawn… I clutch at my tummy; I’m on the verge of tears. I might pee myself, I’m laughing so hard. We don’t ever get up at the crack of anything. If we’re out of bed and ready before 10 it’s a stinkin’ miracle. But that extremely squiggly yellow line is beckoning.

SATURDAY: You Wanna Ride Your Bicycle… I Wanna Ride My Bike.

We actually get our dead asses in gear around 0900hrs, just in time to catch the tail end of the continental breakfast served downstairs in the lobby. We make a bet as to whether or not the Harleys are still parked. Manx bets on them being out riding already. I tell him to get real, that Harley dudes party too hard to be gone this early. The only thing you can count on being gone at the crack of dawn are the Beemers and the sport-tourers (yours excluded, dear husband). The crotch rockets and the Hogs will leave the parking lot later, and in the order mentioned. As we round the corner, we see the bikes in question still parked in the same order they were in the night before. It is comforting to know that there remains a certain order to things before one even catches scent of the first cup o’ java. We head on down the stairs and I almost trip over my undone Sidi boots. Crap! Walking in these things can be a challenge… I grab a bagel, a packet of Philly, a blueberry muffin, and a cup of Folgers (from the smell of it and the telltale label on the pump.) Ah, beggars can’t be picky, or some such thing. However, for what we spent on this room, I would have appreciated something a little more upscale than Folgers. Folgers is what we get at work. It’s free. I drink it. Folgers is also what reigns supreme at the family’s vacations. It’s free. I drink it. I’m a coffee snob, I think. Maxwell House doesn’t float my boat either. I like my Senseo. But if I ever get around to buying that full-auto espresso machine… ah, for the price of a Dainese Yu Lady one-piece suit one can buy admittance into coffee heaven. I’m a gear whore; I’ll probably remain in Folgers purgatory until such time when I win an AMA championship. I will be drinking Folgers until the day I die. As I’m sitting there munching on my bagel, I look down and notice that I’m not wearing a shirt. Holy Mary, mother of God! I’m sitting around in public in my compression-fit base layer (read: biker underwear). Good gawd! And Manx is grinning like an ass and remarks that it was ‘cold in here a little while ago’. What a ‘tard! He could have said something before we left the room! Oh well, at least I’m not wearing the white set. THAT would have not been kosher at all.
We head out, hubby in the lead. We are in hot pursuit of one extremely squiggly yellow line. Out of town, hang a left, then an immediate right. It’s a blacktop road winding its way along a stream; it is barely the width of a highway lane. I don’t think this is going to lead to anything close to the sort of riding I brought my knee sliders for. My reverie is interrupted by brake lights and a little swerve to the left. WTF? I catch movement to my right; I can’t help but focus on it. It’s a huge effin’ spider making a beeline towards the edge of the road. It jumps off the edge, and then disappears into the grass. Whoa! Later hubby tells me the story from his perspective: some mention of it heading straight for his front tire, crouching down in ‘that creepy way they do’ looking like it’s going to attack, then thinking better of it, turning and running back to the edge of the road. He also volunteers that he’d appreciate a ‘spider crossing’ sign if they insist of keeping arachnids of that particular size around. Now it all makes sense.  We continue on down the road for maybe another mile or so, when we come to two of my favorite road signs. They’re right on top of my A-List, right on top! ‘Pavement Ends 500ft’ and ‘Rough Road Ahead’. Yay! I knew it. This particular squiggly line was way too good/curvy to be true/paved. Didn’t I ask him? “Is it paved?” I asked. Didn’t I? The asphalt researcher has totally bombed one and now I’m stuck making a three-point turn on my long ass ‘Busa. Arrrgh. While I’m power walking The Fat Lady around, hubby keeps on heading down the road. This is so familiar, albeit in reverse. Last time I was the one who kept on going and also laid my Sporty down. Later I wondered why I decided to do the newbie thing and not just make a swift little counterbalanced full-lock u-turn. Oh yeah. There were no witnesses, at least not until I had almost reached the second point of the turn. Then I had some dude in a white pickup keeping me company. Arrrgh! I should’ve just u-turned it. But I WAS alone, there were no witnesses. No shame in waddle walking. There is no shame in waddle walking. Yes, there is. I feel like an idiot doing it, so it must be the most shameful act ever in all of motorcycling. At least it was just a dude in a truck. It could have been way worse, like — let’s say — a bunch of dudes on ‘Busas. =D

After documenting the occasion visually, we head back the way we came. At the stop sign, Manx remarks that he’s seen a sign for a scenic byway to the right. As I ponder if the term ‘scenic byway’ would suggest mean curves of the potential knee-dragging variety, a crotch rocket speeds past us on the main road, the way Manx had indicated. I nod, and answer that following some dude on a sport bike in full leather gear probably won’t disappoint. We turn right. A few miles later we find one of the ‘Scenic Byways of America’: GA-348. The sign tells us so. We turn right. As I look through the turn and up the road I am greeted with a serious left turn. Promising. Camber is good, too. Say, is that banked? Yes it is. I follow hubby up the road. Yes, I think we may have found Miss BusaButt’s Holy Grail: road curvature in abundance. Oh goody, I get to string them together. Left, right, left… I’m in second gear, should stay there for now. Don’t be a squid; check the lay of the land first. After a few curves hubby is waving me on, he apparently wants me to pass him. Not a problem. Get outta my way! Make a hole and make it wide, Fat Lady coming through. Oh yeah. It’s like being let off the leash. I dial in some throttle on the short straight and prepare for the upcoming left. I feel myself settle into my zone, my groove, the place my mind goes when I’m about to get serious. My feet slide into their tip-toe position, with the toes pointed out at an angle; my thighs and calves hug the sides of the Fat Lady’s frame, my butt slides back further in the seat, my knees squeeze the tank a bit harder, my upper body leans further forward. My arms are almost parallel to the ground, my hands neutral. I’m trying to remember all of the things I’ve learned (in theory) by reading Lee Parks and Keith Code and am getting ready to apply this knowledge to the best of my ability. The first left is approaching. I have snippets of info racing through my brain: throttle control, 40/60 weight distro, entry speed, turn-in point, fix it… assume the position… my butt slides off the seat to the left, I’m hanging off The Fat Lady like I practiced a hundred times before on corners that didn’t call for it. I feel comfy here. Why is closer to the road (in proper gear) confidence inspiring? My knee is out, unlike previous times when I’d slide around the tank and just tuck it against the fairing to keep it out of harm’s way. Whoa! My anchor point isn’t strong enough for knee out. Apparently I must have gotten used to the inside knee against the fairing and used it for leverage. My right heel digs into the heel guard, my thigh tightens its grip on the tank (those Stomp Grip traction pads seem to help) and I manage to put the weight that is now on my outside handgrip back where it belongs… down below. Much better. I’m settled in, and give the left grip a swift little nudge, The Fat Lady does as she’s told and leans in, hold steady… apex, I dial in some gas and out we go. Weeeeee! Ohoh. Right coming up. I haul my ass up by my outside leg and drop into position on my favorite side. The right. Cloverleaf ramps are nothing but right turns. This side is well practiced, as the flaking paint and heavy scuffing on my left heel guard attest. Which is good, I’m going faster now. Fix the line, decisive push on the right grip, hold it, more gas. Wooooohooooo! And on it goes… left…right…left… some are closer together, so I get to experience what it feels like to actually string them together. I have no problems with unintentional steering inputs, all that practice — looking like an ass hanging off in straights, in sweepers you could take the car line through going 90, and while turning at intersections — must have finally paid off. I’m having a blast. It feels like dancing. My thighs are starting to ache. I finally realize what people mean when they say the ‘Busa isn’t flickable. Well, no and yes. It requires a lot of strength to quick-steer that monster through esses. It feels like doing the Vienna Waltz with an extremely obese partner who doesn’t want to lead: it takes a lot of oomph to make them change direction, but eventually they do. A word comes to mind: Manhandling. Not a problem, I used to ride a Harley. I’m used to power-pushing to counter-steer. The longer-than-most wheelbase makes it a little hard, too. But so what? You just have to get on it a little sooner. To me my baby is the perfect compromise, the only bike that does it all: Faster than a cheetah on steroids in the straights, comfy enough to tour on, the perfect commuter (all that over-the-top power is not wasted in the onslaught that is commuter traffic), and is fun as hell in the twisty bits. I don’t think I’ll ever own a different bike. I’m hooked on ‘Busa and I’m learning to ride… I hope they don’t quit making them any time soon… Where was I? Oh yeah, manhandling a Fat Lady around a few corners: Eventually, I find that a push-pull combination works best, and is quicker than just pushing on the inside grip. I pull into the second lookout point I come to. I’m too excited. I have to share with hubby. And my thighs could use a quick break. I’m a geek; I’m not supposed to be in shape. Where the hell is hubby? I pull in, hit the kill switch, put the kickstand down and dismount. By the time I have my gloves off I see Sammy hauling Manx into the parking lot. We have one of our after-action reviews, snap some pics, enjoy the scenery for the first time and off we go again.

A little further up the road is another overlook, bigger, with an actual parking lot and complete with elevation sign. Don’t ask I was going too fast to read it. ;P This spot is bustling with people. There is a sign posted at the edge of the tree line. There must be trails crossing here. Up ahead I see a ‘Steep Grade Trucks Use Lower Gear’ sign. Now, it’s time to go downhill. Hmmm… downhill. Downhill always seems more difficult than uphill, for some reason, and if I thought about it… yeah, there’s a reason. Gravity. So far, I tell myself, I haven’t been too squidly. Which is actually a good thing, since even though car traffic is light on this road, it is infested with bicyclists, which is way better than cars, but only because you can pass these folks without going across the double-yellow line. But they tend to weave when they’re peddling themselves torturously uphill. I noticed a lot of nice legs and bums on my way up. At least I get to look at some hot sweaty bodies wrapped in spandex, the kind that I actually want to look at. Sharing the road… it has its redeeming values. I should become a fan of bicycle shorts on Facebook. I remind myself to stay in second gear and take it easy; although if the first ten miles are any indication, this road is well maintained, clean, favorably cambered with a fair amount of banked turns thrown in, and not a cop in sight. Of course not, where would they park to point their annoying speed detecting devices at you? The overlooks, that’s the only place they could be hanging out for an ambush. Note to self: Look slow going past these, especially the one I’m at right now, we don’t want to cause any of the cell phone toting disgruntled cagers calling in a sighting. That would so put a crimp in my style. Assume the position, first downhill right coming up… I pick my way down the mountain and only sleazeball one corner. I think I’m going in too fast, even though I know intellectually that I’m not. For some reason this left has got me spooked. I fight the impulse to chop the throttle and to grab a handful of front brake, I feel The Fat Lady wobbling a little, but she settles right back down as I arrest the movement and roll the grip back where it had been before the survival reaction kicked in, then force myself to hold it steady. I’m going wide, I realize, which is to be expected in this situation, I counter with pushing my left grip harder and turning my head further left looking more through the turn. That’s better. As I roll on a little more gas she stabilizes, straightens and the corner is behind me. Damn, girl! What the hell was that? Oh well, no time to really ponder the mess at this point. A right is coming up. I regroup and start thinking every action through. Not just doing, but actually thinking about it. ‘Left. Look through. Evaluate. Set Speed. Assume the position. Let it settle. Turn in. Quick. No lazy steering. Apex. Look. Drive. Look. Evaluate….’ By my second loop around, I’m actually talking out loud to myself, about what to do and when to do it, about my surroundings and how they relate to my safe passage, as well as keeping a running commentary on the things I noticed that I could do better. There were only a few corner sequences that were absolutely perfect. And yes, you can feel it when it’s perfect. When you nail it, when you and your machine function as one, it feels downright sexy. It’s a natural high. It’s intense. It is smooth, calm, and full of purpose. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s the reason I ride (one of them anyway.) In that brief moment you are a rock star. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that all this self-talk is helping to keep me focused and I am getting progressively faster. As I near the bottom of the mountain I catch up with a car, I pass him on a straight, and rip it. When I happen to glance at the dash and catch the needle hanging out at around 130 (I’m in third) I admonish myself and slow my silly ass back down. Speeding in the straights is NOT advisable. That’s where they getchya. At least the posted limit is back up to 55, like that would really matter if I got nabbed engaging in triple-digit sightseeing. The road becomes suspiciously relaxed and I pull into a church parking lot and wait on hubby to catch up. It takes him about a minute to put in an appearance. After he pulls in next to me, I tell him, the road is starting to suck and I want to go back up and do it again. He wonders why I would want to do that. I tell him that this is what we came here for. We did the recon, now it’s time to really have some fun. He asks if I want to find another road. I tell him only after I tire of this one. We’re not here to enjoy the scenery or tour the mountains. I slap my visor down and peel out making my way back up the mountain: We’re here because we are students of the Redneck Cornering School and I intend to graduate.
Making my way back up the mountain, I notice that my technique must be starting to improve. I shift up to third. The movements come more fluently now and hence I’m quicker. I add braking to the ‘set up for entry speed’ process, just to add a little difficulty and much needed practice to the mix. I think about adding shifting, but dismiss the idea. A few things at a time, chica. No sense in getting overconfident and blowing it on a technicality and punching through the skill envelope. Careful prodding: yes. Squidly punching: no. It’s hard not to get caught up in the rush, but I manage to stay within the limits I have set for myself. I get up to the top, slow to speed limit and sit up straight: looking slow, looking slow, only to crouch down and twist it open again on the downhill side to resume my studies. I stay in third gear. I keep reminding myself to look through the turns as far as I can and to be mindful of the bicyclists I’m sharing this stretch of heavenly asphalt with. I don’t encounter any going this direction. They must be practicing for an upcoming race, since they are all heading up the mountain in one direction only. I see other bikers parked in the middle lookout. Cruisers. Ah hell, must make this look good now, I have an audience.  I dismiss the impulse, since it’s just my fear of embarrassment talking. What do I care what they think. I’m here to do my thing, and learn to do it well. Further down, I manage to screw up another left: Same reason as before. I perceive my entry speed as too fast for the corner. I’m already in position, hanging off the left side and end up trail braking way too hard for what the occasion calls for and way too deep into the turn. Nothing dramatic happens. Intellectually, I was not expecting anything dramatic at this speed, but physiologically and emotionally it was a different story. I was well within the traction circle (definitely) and my skill level (most likely). I could feel the bike’s reaction to my mistake: and what The Fat Lady was telling me is that she doesn’t like it when I do that, it interferes with her doing her thing. I suppose that is the reason why we shouldn’t ride at the extreme edge. If you’re at maximum, there is no room for errors. No safety margin that’ll keep it plastic side up in case you screw something up. I get back down to the end of GA-348 and park myself at the edge of the road. A short while later, Manx shows up on Sammy. We have a little photo session and another one of our after-action reviews.

We decide to head up US-17 on my insistence, since I need to take The Fat Lady up the ‘Hayesville Road’ for some baseline comparisons. I want to know how much my riding has improved since I took delivery of my ‘Bouncy Baby ‘Busa’ on May 12th, a short four months ago. I’m in the lead. This road is busy with cager traffic, but it has two lanes on the uphill side of things for the most part, so passing these rolling speed bumps in the corners is no problem, and a ton of fun. I’m getting my lean on now. For some reason having two lanes to play with makes me ride harder, even though I’m making it a point to stay between the lines of my own lane. There’s one right-hand S-curve, about three quarters of the way up the mountain, which is the most awesome thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to put a motorcycle through. It has a crest leading up to the apex, then dips down into a smooth shallow hole that takes up most of the left-hand lane; coming out of the shallow, it then banks sharply to the left and into an immediate right with positive camber. This thing is a blast to go through. It’s like a roller coaster ride on two wheels. I can’t figure out why this is such a freaking awesome little curve. Maybe it’s because the cresting the peak in the first third unloads the suspension and makes the bike light while dipping down into the hole, but then the banking counteracts what surely could result in a slide-out and saves your butt by compressing the suspension again and putting the weight back where it belongs, so you can just power through without too much worry… Ah, fun with applied physics. This may not be entirely accurate, but that’s just my impression of what it feels like when you’re blasting through there. It’s like freakin’ flying. It makes your stomach do that thing it does when gravitational forces suddenly increase: ties itself in a knot and almost makes you want to toss your cookies. WooooHoooo. Later on, hubby excitedly commented on the spot, himself. After the road unfurls itself into lame sweepers and boring straights, I pull off to the side and wait on hubby to catch up. We turn around and do it again the other way.
We decide to grab some lunch at Hahn’s, a great little biker joint on the edge of Helen, which is packed and there’s only inside seating available. They have a live one-man-plus-laptop band entertaining us with Classic Rock and a little Country and the food is great. They serve what I would refer to as ‘German Fusion’, not quite authentic, but the best food we’ve had in Helen so far. After lunch we head back up the mountain on US-17. We spot another one of those scenic byway signs where 17 straightens back out, make a u-turn and follow GA-180 to wherever it may lead us. This road is in worse repair than 348, seemingly narrower, but it is still decent enough, albeit a little rougher. It is also less travelled and has longer connecting straights than either US-17 or GA-348. The perfect opportunity to give the right wrist a bit of the twist. Yeah! Although no slouch in the corners, The Fat Lady was made for this. She likes going fast in a straight line and why not give her what she wants every once in a while? Ah, there’s a squid born every minute. J We happen upon a dude struggling with his stalled vehicle in one of the curves and Manx decides to pull over to lend a hand. It looked like he was trying to make a u-turn and the vehicle stalled on him halfway through. There also seems to be a Hippie convention in progress somewhere, because a little further down the road we see more 1960s VW beetles and buses – in various states of restoration — parked in a field. Some even sport the spray-painted flower child look. Peace, brethren (and sisters). We turn right and get on down the road. We end up following an old pickup truck for a mile or two, and he’s kind enough to pull off to the side, first chance he gets, to let us pass.  Dude! Thanks, man. It is more appreciated than you’ll ever know… or maybe you do know? I round a corner and see a red brick church on the right. Nah, couldn’t be. This looks awfully familiar. Yup. There’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: GA-348. We have discovered a loop. Life is good, I think to myself as I scream on up the road, leaving hubby sniffing my exhaust. I’m into this now. I think I’ve finally found the groove, the place where all’s well and all’s as it should be. I am now talking out loud to myself, and it helps my concentration and I know I’m doing better still. I come up behind a car and the driver keeps waving me on. Sorry, dude. I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s not like you can see a hell of a lot more than I can. Think man! He keeps waving. I keep ignoring him. When I finally see a safe opportunity to pass, I take it and get on it hard, since the straights here are really short. This leads to the highest corner entry speed yet (with braking and a down-shift) and I’m nailing it, followed by an immediate right. It takes muscle to throw the Fat Lady from one side to the other this quickly, but I handle my business and it feels sexy as hell. Perfect execution. Yeah… still no knee down, but oh well. Not really here to force that, it would be nice if it did happen, though. I know I came extremely close a few times and I’m still hoping… By the time I’m almost to the bottom of the mountain, I catch up with four bikes: three cruisers with a Gold Wing bringing up the rear. I’m mesmerized. Dude on the Wing earns my immediate respect. He’s running that thing through the corners like there’s nothing to it. He’s almost scraping pipes and floorboards, but he never touches down any hard parts. I have a rough time checking my following distance; I’m so entranced by his riding style. I keep catching up in the corners then have to slow way down to back off. I decide to hang behind and watch Mr. Wing pilot his monster through the curves. Not that I really want to be a selfish ‘hole, turn into Miss SquidlyPants, and blow past these peeps without regard. I would hate it if somebody did that to me! They have a right to their unmolested enjoyment of this road, same as I, and just because I ride differently than these folks, who are obviously into the sensory aspects of the ride, doesn’t mean I have to be a jackass. There’s always the next round. I notice something during my reverie: at this speed I don’t have to concentrate anymore, it just happens naturally. I stopped talking to myself at some point, but can’t remember doing so. Whoa! Another sign of improvement. I freed up some brainpower for other stuff. Cool. I reach the bottom, pull over to the side and wait for Mr. Slow.
We cruise around for a while trying to find ‘this road’ that hubby spotted on his GPS-enabled Blackberry, but without luck. We also try to hit the National Forest again, but this time they want money to get in. The cheapskates that we are, we flip a u-ey and do 348 again.  By the time I reach the main overlook on top, I’m exhausted and hot, and my arms and legs are killing me. I pull in, park The Fat Lady, take my gloves and helmet off, practically let myself slide off the seat, unzip my leather jacket on the way down and stretch myself out on the ground in the bike’s shade. That aerodynamic hump on the back of my jacket is in the wrong spot for comfortably lounging around on pavement, so I shrug it off, not even bothering to unzip it from my pants, the back protector’s gotta go, too. We hang out for a while since I don’t feel like moving. Two bicyclists also decide to take a break at the now deserted outlook and I take the opportunity to ask them about bike-to-bicycle etiquette. Something has been bothering me and I want to know if I’d been an unintentional jackass. It seems that they are alright with us passing them in their lane, without crossing the double-yellow line and that they prefer it, since there’s no sense in risking getting creamed on the wrong side of the road. They rather share the road with us bikers than cagers, who don’t even bother to give them their space most of the time. I told them about running up behind a bicyclist on the downhill side of the mountain, right before the switchback corner and not wanting to be an asshat, I slowed down and fell in behind him. I wasn’t about to pass him in this location, not enough sight distance, too close to the upcoming 180°, and he was all over his lane. He kept looking back at me and finally decided to peel off into the paved area off of the switchback corner. He gave me ‘the look’ as I went around the corner and sped back up. So much for trying to be freakin’ courteous. I wasn’t even riding his ass, I could have understood his reaction if I had been crowding him. It would definitely freak me out if I was riding my bicycle, minding my own business, listening to my iPod and feeling groovy when all of a sudden I look behind me and see some fat ass ‘Busa on my six. Eh. Screw ya, buddy! Both bicyclists told me not to worry about it, he was probably new, or didn’t hear me approaching over his music and got freaked when he finally did see me. They told me, it was all good, as far as they were concerned. And my initial assessment was right; they were practicing for an upcoming race. We watched a group of hikers get ready to hit the trail for an overnight adventure. A little later, after a strip search of hubby’s rear tire for evidence of chicken, we geared up to head back to the hotel. I am happy to report, that although I didn’t drag knee, there is no chicken left on my back rubber. What was once already skinny chicken strips had now turned into a weird formation of what can only be described as rubber boogers. WTH? My back tire looks tortured. Hubby did comment on something that made him wonder. Apparently I almost dragged tail pipe on several occasions, however my knees never touched the ground. I’ve come to believe that this is due to my legs being way too short and not sticking far enough past the bazookas. J And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Once I made my way back down the mountain, a little less aggressive this time, I saw that there were a bunch of sport bikes parked in our usual meet-up spot and since I’m way too shy to just pull in to park ‘n mingle, I decided to keep on going. I also decided to get fuel, even though we had agreed to get gas in the morning. I can’t stand the light being on, I have to take care of it ASAP. When I get back to the hotel, I see hubby backing in his Connie. I guess I am fast, even when I’m slow. I giggle into my helmet.
Something that Manx had told me while we talked about our experiences of the day over bottles of Warsteiner and massive amounts of bar food: “You make this stuff look so simple. You look like you know what you’re doing and that scares me.” I take that statement to read as a compliment, because I don’t know how else to take it. That and: “Damn, baby, you are fast. I gave up trying to keep up with you. This isn’t for me. I’m a cruiser. I’m just going to take it easy.” He makes me smile (and blush). He’ll make me wait.
Yes, I have graduated with honors from the Redneck Cornering School, even though my knee pucks are still virgins.

SUNDAY: Hanging Off While Hanging Over And You’ll Be Dragging Ass
We partied our asses off. I don’t remember parts of the night. I remember holding court in the women’s restroom at Paul’s, since I happened to be the only chica riding her own and for some reason (Hayabusa?) became instant royalty in the throne room. Ah, my 15 minutes of drunken fame. Drunk chicks are weird. Yes, we are. I remember telling them that they need to get off the back and behind the bars… I hope they do. I remember hubby giving some bum a cab ride home, which set us back another $25. I remember complimenting some chica on her outfit, telling her that she reminded me of a roller derby girl. I remember hubby getting worried that Rollergirl might put the moves on me and body check me right there in the parking lot. That’ll teach me to tell some girl how hot she looks in knee-highs and a matching pleated mini skirt. Shit! I had a blast. I partied like I rode it. Fast and hard. I drank way too much beer way too quickly and paid for it the next day. I passed out and woke up dizzy as hell, still feeling drunk, with a major headache and a queasy tummy. Strap me to my horse; we must ride for it is checkout time. I was glad I got gas the previous evening. While Manx was fuelling, he made me down a bottle of water while I was slumped over the Fat Lady mumbling something along the lines of a promise to never drink again. I think people stared at me. Some dude who drove by in a pickup truck stared at me. I was ready to crack his skull, since he gave me the stink eye. I insisted that I wasn’t parked in the middle of the isle and that both bikes are barely the width of a car. Hubby told me to shut up and drink my water. “The dude was admiring your bike, you twerp.” I felt like I looked drunk. I’m grumpy when I’m feeling sick. I moan. I groan. Also, the realization set in that I had screwed myself out of the video run through the loop. But damn, it was worth it. I hadn’t partied like this in ages! So, no curvy roads for me, the only thing I’d be dragging today was ass. I told hubby I couldn’t possibly manage to eat breakfast. Additionally, I wasn’t all that sure I could go slow and manage myself in a parking lot at some busy food joint. I had a distinct feeling of everything wanting to fall over. We headed out of town. Once we got on the open highway, I wrestled the rear pegs down, battling a wave of vertigo, then put my feet on them and laid my sorry hung-over ass on the tank. I’m glad The Fat Lady knows the way home. It took me over sixty miles to get the courage up to eat. After lunch I felt almost human again. The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I didn’t puke on myself nor did I wreck my ‘Busa or fall over in a parking lot somewhere. I think I’m a real biker now… I think.

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