Blood Mountain Scenic Ride

Michelle, whom I met on Facebook, invited me for a ride through the Chattahoochee National Forest to show me around her “neck of the woods.” We had a blast on two wheels. It  was a great weekend filled with good company, good food, good beer and beautiful roads. Michelle is a most gracious hostess and is an excellent motorcycle rider. She helped me “reset” my brain to enable me to enjoy street riding again for its own merits and with its own set of challenges. In other words, I had to retrain my attitude. Street riding has been a fairly frustrating experience for me for the past year and a half. I couldn’t enjoy the street because my brain was stuck at the track. This is a dangerous problem to develop. If you find you cannot separate and compartmentalize the differences between racing and street riding, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of pain. It’s really a little like playing Russian Roulette, but with bullets in most chambers.

The first racing school had cured me of such silliness as trying to put my knee down on public highways and practicing racing technique on curvy roads. There comes a point in a rider’s skill development where the street isn’t the proper place to learn anymore. The focus shifts from trying to “be faster” to honing your risk management skills and collision avoidance. There is a reason why a lot of racers eventually quit riding on the street. I fell into the trap without even realizing it until it was way too late.

After spending an entire day at the Kevin Schwantz School learning and practicing my racing skill set, I jumped on my S1000RR and headed the seven miles back to my hotel. I felt claustrophobic and slow, even though my average speed hadn’t changed. But after being at a racetrack where you do not have to worry about such things as Jersey Barriers or pavement conditions or opposing traffic, everything I saw around me became a possible death trap. I calmed down. At first.

Eventually, the lines between track riding and street riding blurred once more; and even though I hadn’t fully reverted back to my former level of hooliganism, I was still racing, although with less confidence. Which was a good thing. It kept me diving into blind corners tempting the fates.

If you are riding at the edge of your skill and your traction, eventually you will lose and most of the time that means a very high probability that you may not live to tell your story the next time you round a blind turn and find yourself nose-to-nose with that car violating the double-yellow line to take the “race line” through the turn. This means possible death for you, especially in the mountains where there’s a wall on one side and a ravine on the other with no real place to go. It means a whole load of paperwork for them; not to mention you’ve just ruined their day.

Something had to give. I was intellectually acutely aware of this. But I still couldn’t refrain from “redneck road racing” for the most part. The frustrations with the limitation of street riding soon became manifested in such a way that I couldn’t even enjoy riding anymore. At one point, after losing my job, I had told my husband just to sell my bike and be done with it. He became irritated. Maybe he didn’t understand what I was going through; maybe he thought I was getting down on myself because of the financial distress my unemployment caused. That was part of it. A small part of it. My problem, however, ran much deeper than just simply trying to make ends meet with less money in the bank. I was subconciously looking for a way out. I knew what I was doing would spell disaster in the long run. I knew that street riding requires a completely different skill set than track riding. I knew that practicing racing technique had no place off the racetrack. I knew. My brain knew. My soul kept flying.

I behave when I’m in a group, even if it is just with one other rider. I am courteous and attuned to other riders’ comfort levels. I make it a point not to create an environment that breeds competitiveness and the pressures of trying to keep up. It never has led to anything good for anybody involved. It’s one of those things. Nothing ever happens. Until that one time… But I have lost my “street eyes”. Where before I knew what a proper following distance looked like and managed to keep such a distance no matter what speed or how curvy the road, since I scanned ahead and made early adjustments, now I find it of no concern when someone dives into a curve behind me glued to my tail section. And I have no problem shoving my nose up someone else’s pipe either. This creates that peer-pressured environment that I seek so hard to avoid. Never mind, that I know I can stay well within my lane and not run into the person in front of me. What exactly are they thinking about me being back there? What position am I putting them in? At best, they don’t care just like I don’t; at worst they get scared, lose their concentration and do something that causes them to wipe out. Who’s fault is it? Technically the person who lost control is at fault, they call it “failure to negotiate a turn”. In my eyes, though, I am the one who put them in the situation to begin with. Hence, I am at fault. But that’s the way I think.

But when is too close too close? That is the question. If you follow someone and they crashed for one reason or another and you couldn’t help but get involved in their crash, you’re following too close. Optimally you shouldn’t be diving into a corner before the person in front of you has exited the curve in question and is well on their way into the straight part of the road. In a lot of cases you don’t even know when that is, since you can’t even see the apex (for those of you who don’t ride: the middle of the turn, where corner entry becomes corner exit, the point where slowing down turns into speeding up). Even if you could stop in time to avoid becoming involved in a crash, is the person behind you capable of doing the same? It’s a tricky proposition to brake when leaned over and it takes finesse and knowledge of motorcycle physics and how all these forces interacting with each other affect available traction and your continued success of staying on your tires rather than sliding on hard parts.

I used to get to “Point B” and people could be overheard talking about what they’ve seen; how pretty that waterfall was or how cute the fawn looked grazing in that ditch. I get there, usually ahead of the pack, saying: “What scenery?!? And where the heck are we anyway?”

I am well on my way to regain my proper (and safer) street game, but I have yet a ways to go. But Michelle showed me that yes, you can have fun on the street without breaking the sound barrier and risking going to jail. Yes, you can have fun on the street without having to haul triplets down the straight and grabbing a massive handful of front brake lever, throwing in two downshifts and stuffing 999cc into that awesomely banked constant radius right turn. However, when I’m by myself, I tend to get bored and sometimes get caught up in the dance that is negotiating those beautiful curves winding through the mountains. It starts out innocently enough, but the speed seems to steadily mount with every passing curve, as the music moves into the second movement and the dance continues.

It helps to make it a point not to brake for turns, but to adjust one’s speed in such a manner that you can just flow through without even touching the brake lever. It also helps for me to make it a point not to hang off, since remaining center on the bike really does give you that feeling of going faster than you actually are. I can still get my kicks at more reasonable speeds. The problem with riding “in the zone”: if the people behind you are relying on seeing brake lights to know what they need to do, you risk getting a nose up your tail. I don’t rely on brake lights or turn signals. It’s not a good idea anyway. It works fairly well until somebody blows a fuse… or signals one way and then changes their mind without telling you. It can also lead to target fixation. Another bad habit to avoid when riding, since the bike goes where you look.

Last weekend I’ve had the most fun I’ve had on the street in almost two years. The speeds were kept sane, I came home WITH CHICKEN STRIPS and I actually enjoyed some scenery for a change. 🙂

Thank you, Michelle, for being my tour guide.


I’m going to Helen, GA for two days…

…so my hubby spent more of my hard-earned BusaCredits and made me take two days off work (which I practically had to lie, steal and cheat for, or so it felt…. like they were doing me a favor, gawd….anyhoo…) and he took off one day (Thursday), and booked us a place up in Helen, GA, which is about 150 miles north of here. A fake German town with an amusing history. Since I’m German this is going to be an interesting adventure in German words spelled wrong in neon. LOL What I really care about is that it’s going to be twisty roads to the place and all around the place. So, I’m going to take my trusty Mac, make use of the modern technological marvel that is satellite imagery and scope out some ‘worthy’ roads for myself. This is probably going to be Kittyhog’s last road trip with me, since she might be going to a new home on Saturday, to a lady who wants to learn how to ride.

I should be getting ready instead of hanging out online, there’s so much to do, but I’m such a procrastinator. I’m looking forward to going. This is my first overnight motorcycle trip that is taking place solely for the purpose of searching out windier roads. I went to the IMS in Greenville, SC in February and we stayed overnight but we didn’t do any riding. It was pretty much a two-wheeled commute. Purposeful. This is strictly pleasure. Kind of nervous, but also excited. New roads, new challenges. Hopefully, I won’t be a sleazeball in the next two days. 🙂

I will report back on Sunday, hopefully with some piccies courtesy of Papa Razzi (my 5-pound, 2-foot, red-ring telephoto-lens carrying Canon fanboi of a husband!)

Update: May 4, 2009 at 11:11pm
My first ‘real’ motorcycle trip was pretty much pushed on me by my hubby. He says: “You better get Thursday and Friday off because we’re going for a ride.” He already had gotten it off, and I had to pull out the heavy manipulation to get my days off. It wasn’t looking good at first, but the powers that be took pity on my wretched self and gave me two off in a row. Trust me, this was a MAJOR accomplishment where I work. So, it was going to happen. I don’t plan anything, because we all know what happens to the ‘well laid plans of mice and men’. I like to shoot from the hip, go with the flow, cross bridges when I get to them and deal with stuff as it presents itself. I was never a girl scout, so I don’t believe in ‘coming prepared’. Where’s the fun in that? I figure all the preparedness I need is in the form of a PDA and the trusty ole MasterCard.

Hubby basically planned the trip, what little planning there was, since he’s a trucker and if he knows anything it’s roads. I think he has an internal database inside his head where he stores EVERY road he’s ever been on, no matter the vehicle he happened to be in. I think he has photographic memory when it comes to asphalt and concrete. I on the other hand get lost in parking lot course marked by orange cones. All the moaning about the roads not being curvy enough around here was finally catching up with me. Hanging off of my Harley Sportster and trying for new ‘personal bests’ in the few good corners we do have around here probably didn’t help much either. Getting rid of the Chicken Strips on the left side of the rear tire probably had something to do with it. It was all going to come to the point where I had to put my money where my mouth was. I was pretty nervous, not scared, but a little anxious. But I was looking forward to it, too. Definitely. I was ready, just not 100% confident in my riding skills that I had accumulated over the past few months.

The trip started out two hours behind what passes around here for a schedule. That’s normal, too. I don’t care. Vacations are for not meeting deadlines, for not making a big deal out of anything, and simply just going with the flow and enjoying oneself doing it. If I wanted to meet a deadline or stay on a planned schedule, I’d stay at work. Some people don’t seem to grasp the concept. And those are the same people that need a vacation from their vacation when they get back home. Plans are diametrically opposed to having a good time, but that’s just me. I come home relaxed and recharged. But I digress… We pack up the farm animals (the hog and the cow) and I tell hubby that I want to stop by Harley to get my hands on a tinted shield for my helmet. So, we ride on over to the dealership and I go inside to make the purchase. They didn’t have any. Bummer. I come back outside and basically have to push some old dude out of the way with the door to get out. Hubby had an audience, and guess what they were talking about? Not Harleys. They were talking about the wife’s plans for trading the hog for a Hayabusa! Gawd… you leave these bums to their own devices for FIVE short minutes and here they are, gossiping like school girls. Here I was in the middle of it, feeling like an animal at the zoo, having to listen to ALL the (MALE) opinions. How you can’t go slow on a ‘busa. How a buddy had one and traded it for a Harley Road King after barely a month. How somebody got killed on one. How that ain’t no bike for a little thing like me. Puuuuuullllleeeeze! My only response was the sweetest, most ladylike smile I could muster and calmly stating that the throttle goes both ways. Then I got on my hog, stuck my Big Ears stereo earplugs in my ears, cranked up my iPod, put my helmet and gloves on and… blasted out of there very unladylike with my cat ears flopping in the breeze, hanging off on the top of the hill and dragging knee to make the corner at speed…. No, not really. But that would HAVE been cool and showed them gruffy old Harley dudes that girls can ride anything they set their mind to. LOL

So, we’re on our way. It’s business as usual, since I’ve been exploring these roads for a few months now. The way there was pretty much straight and boring. So, I concentrated on the scenery and the smells and just going with the flow. I was called a ‘Squidly’ at the first gas stop, since I passed a logging truck that was going 50 in a 55, after being behind him what seemed like forever and a day, by going 90. Not so. I had to defend my passing technique to cruiser hubby, but told him straight out. I rather get a speeding ticket, then hang out in the opposing lane of traffic, taking my sweet time getting around a semi-truck that is causing turbulence in the air currents and the driver of which may just be making a sandwich, smoking a cigarette and yakking on his CB and swerve over in the lane and kill my sorry slow, riding-along-at-speed-limit butt. When I make the decision to pass and deem it safe to do so I hustle. Sorry kids. But every one of us has to make that sort of decision for themselves. Fast forward. It’s getting curvier when we’re getting close to Helen. But the fun is taken right out of enjoying a sequence of S-curves at slightly elevated speeds by several ‘Slow Congested Area’ and ‘Limited Sight Distance’ signs that seemed to be sprouting everywhere. I’ve learned my lesson on out-riding my sight distance and the good student I am, I dutifully slow, and do the right thing. When my GPSr tells me we’re at the hotel, it’s lying. Our brand is nowhere in sight. I’m in the lead, so I cruise along in first trying to find the place. We’re on the right street, but apparently the addresses and the actual coordinates do not mesh properly, which is a common occurrence really. At least in my experience. So, I get to the end of ‘Edelweiss Strasse’, stop at the 4-way and look at Joe, shrugging. He takes the lead. What’s the first thing he does? He hangs a left over a speed bump into a gravel strewn, potholed parking lot to assess the situation. You have got to be kidding me. I pop open my shield and ask him if he ever surveys the area he’s about to pull into? This is the suckiest place to stop in all of deserted Helen (it’s the off-season, so fortunately for me, I have no witnesses if I decide to kill him or lay my bike down, or both)! He just giggles (he knows how I’ve felt about u-turns lately and I think it’s part of his ploy to engage me in some much needed practice) and then says: “Watch This!” and proceeds to waddle-walk is bike around the tight lot and comes to a stop facing the other way. He turns, looks at me and says: “There is no shame in waddle walking.” All I can think of is what a ‘hole he can be, but he’s right. However, I can’t waddle walk anymore, I found out. After all the practice of keeping feet on pegs, I’m way too fast to waddle walk. I try to do a hybrid, but I should have just done what my muscles wanted to do, but no. There is no shame in waddle-walking. This was the most miserable turn ever. Too fast for walking, too slow for counterbalancing, not in the right frame of mind. Indecision causes scratched paint. Luckily I had it enough under control (if you can call it that) not to have a visit from my favorite Uncle. Uncle Gravity, that is. So, we head back out and finally find the hotel, which we passed, but couldn’t see since the sign was covered by a bush and the front of the building was facing parallel to the street.

We pull in next to two other motorcycles, these are sport-tourers, a Beemer and a Triumph, both of which look like they’ve seen a little more than asphalt in their time. Serious bikers. Maybe we should park with the lame cagers on the other end? Nah. We mean business, too. Well, at least I do. Don’t know about my marshmallow butt husband… speaking of which, the pillion is a lot more comfy than the front seat, what’s up with that??? More on that later. I’m all excited. Mountains means curvy roads and the place is deserted. VERY good. There are people sitting out front in rocking chairs watching us. I decide to actually back in my bike, which I do without a problem. I get all giddy, bounce up and down in my seat and cause my helmet, which I had put on the right-hand mirror, to fall off and bounce across the parking lot. Yeah. You go, girl! Go show off, see where that gets ya… Oh well. I’m too excited now to be embarrassed. We go check in, drop our stuff off and decide we’re gonna go eat, on foot, since we both wanted to have a few beers. Hubby changes, I live in my gear, so I have to wait on him… we inquire at the desk where a good place to eat is and follow his directions. First place didn’t have anything in the way of veggies on the menu, so we opt for Plan B. BiggDaddy’s. I have a portobello mushroom burger, home fries, and beer. Some local brew, or something. Started with a T then Gold. Tappani. Tephani, Tiffany.. something… Not a clue, I felt adventuresome. I got drunk on two beers (I always do, since I don’t drink very often) and have diarrhea of the mouth… the topic of discussion? Bikes, bikes, bikes…. Of course, that’s all I talk about lately. Then we wolfed down deep friend cheese cake and went back to the room by detour to the local liquor store. A six pack of Warsteiner for the road. Fast forward, because we are boring people.

Next morning, we barely make it in for the free continental breakfast around 9ish. The other bikers are gone, of course. Real bikers get up at the crack of dawn, we rolled out of bed early, proud to be up at nine. Hubby is a night-shifter, I try to stick somewhat to his schedule otherwise we would never see each other. Besides, mornings suck anyway. While drinking Warsteiner the previous evening I had found myself the bestest motorcycle road ever. Almost as curvy as the Dragon, but with a lot less traffic, I’m sure, and hopefully with a more reasonable speed limit. One problem though: The weather had changed drastically, over night, and there was a storm front moving in from the northwest. Bummer. The clouds hung ominous and black and pregnant in the mountains. We scrap our plans. ☹ Neither of us has any rain gear, I have waterproof liners for my stuff and can probably hang, but Joe was in his summer mesh and would be soaked in no time. Dang it, we need to get around to buying some rain duds. I’m bummed out…. When I leave the hotel by the side door, it’s already raining. Yay! We pack our bikes, get gas and head out. We’ve decided to head southeast, but not too far south, since that would take us out of the mountains and try to stay out of the storm’s way and maybe still get some twisties in. We do. Hubby knows how to find promising roads… I found a decent alternative in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Unfortunately, the roads were wet and there were ‘tree boogers’ everywhere! Not a good combination, nice and slick. So I had to really curb my enthusiasm, but it was good nonetheless. Good practice. After we did one loop, hubby wanted to know if I wanted to go around again. I almost said Hell, yes! But thought better of it. I don’t want to be one of those ‘holes that wear out their welcome by bothering people who are fishing and camping nearby by tooling around the same stretch of road all day. We pretty much headed home, but tried to stay in the ‘hills’ as long as we could, but the weather was playing catch up. Fast forward. The last 40 or so miles before I-20 were painful. My bum was getting sore from all the vibration, my hands and feet were no better. I finally decided that riding on the pillion was way more comfy, so I tooled down the road sitting on the back with my feet on the pegs and my arms stretched out to the handlebars. Ah, so that’s how it feels to ride on a V-Rod. Glad I didn’t get one, forward controls suck. ☺ You definitely see more back here, because you sit up higher. People in cages were giving me strange looks, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. My hubby pulls up next to me at one point, paces me, pops his shield open and we both yell at each other: “My arse hurts!’ and then we cracked up laughing. Yeah, we’re marshmallow butts, alright. The Sporty is a great commuter bike, but a tourer it is not. Hubby is looking into getting a new seat for Mr. Spock, his 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom SE (it’s blacked out like the Nightrod Special…., awesome looking bike!)

The last 20 miles were on I-20. On the on-ramp I almost became a cager sandwich, hold the mustard, plenty of pickle. What a bunch of boneheads. Hubby was way ahead of me, because I got caught waiting for traffic and a red light on the way out from our last gas and coffee stop. So, I’m accelerating down the ramp, with two vehicles in front of me: a semi-truck and a passenger car. I start slowing my approach, since the Interstate is packed around the ramps. Cars are getting over as they can, to make room, but it’s all backing up. The semi merges like a pro. The cager behind him is clearly an idiot: he slows, I catch up with him, fast. He has a hole, he won’t take it. Now traffic is going way faster than him, and it’s starting to get dangerous for me. Decision time. What to do, what to do? I see a hole, crank on some throttle to get back up to the speed of the traffic flow, merge in smooth as butter and at this precise moment Mr. Merge-I-Cannot decides that he needs my lane more than I do, since he’s started making judicious use of the rumble strip already. He comes over towards the middle third of my lane. To avoid being sideswiped, I’m now forced over the white line and now I’m lane-splitting with Mr. Merge-I-Cannot and the car to the left of me, in the passing lane. The dude to the left of me looks like he is about to freak out on me, so I do the only thing I can think of doing before he starts weaving in his lane. One erratic cager’s enough. Slowing down clearly is not an option, there’s cars everywhere. I gas it hard and extract myself out of this rolling metal and plastic booby trap. And I don’t slow down until I have the whole gaggle behind me. I wonder if somebody called in my tag for ‘(w)reckless driving’? I caught up with hubby (as I always do) and sleazeballed my exit. Yeah, I didn’t think I was as close as I actually was. I thought I had another mile to go. Passed a slow semi, then had to squeeze by a car to make it. Yeah, I had to end the trip by being Miss Squidly.

Oh, and hubby toted his entire camera gear with him and didn’t snap a single freakin’ picture! What a lamer! The only thing I got to show for are cell phone piccies I snapped of the food and beer. Ha!