WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Finishers Wander 7 - Spartanburg, South Carolina
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2004 19:52:19 -0700

    Enter The Dragon.
    Today would give me the first of the 4 states missing from the right to call my K75 a "49 state model". And what better way to enter North Carolina than through Deals Gap at the top of Route 129, known throughout the motorcycle kingdom as The Dragon. 318 curves in 11 miles (as opposed to Kansas, where as Voni likes to say: 11 curves in 318 miles :). Want to ride The Dragon with no traffic, no squids? Do it at 9 am on a cool Thursday morning. The road was MINE ALL MINE! And a fine road it is. The pavement is baby butt smooth, at least until you cross to North Carolina where it looks like it was recently combed with a claw grader. But you know, I've ridden better. I would rather ride Route 26 into West Point CA, or Forest Route 25 out of Randle WA. Both have their curves, but they also have scenery. US129 is one of those places where the road IS the scenery - you can look at nothing else. 318 curves are nice, but half of them are 15 mph 2nd gear switchbacks. Having to gear down that much breaks the flow of the road. I like to moderate both my speed and lean to keep a nearly constant smooth pace. This road requires screech and zoom, braking and acceleration. Not my style, but then ... I am not a squid.
    The pantheon of motorcycle roads is supposed to be (in no particular order) the Lolo Trail in Idaho, Sedona / Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona, Durango Silverton Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, Route 1 in California (not "PCH", it is called the Pacific Coast Highway only in the L.A. area), and of course, The Dragon in Tennessee. Now, another 'todo' has been completed on this finishers wander.
    Actually, the roads in North Carolina offer just as much challenge and more scenery than crossing the gap. I chose Wayah Bald Road to come down to to Franklin, and it was faster and more fun than US129. By the way, Carolinians ... what is the difference between a "bald" and a "knob"? (Raunchy jokes not necessary.) "bald" seems obvious - rocky top, no trees. But I passed some "knobs" like that too ... so what do the locals think?
    The town of Highlands looks like a summer get-away for moneyed folk from the hot flatlands. It would have been nice to stay and look around, but even though this was going to be a short day miles wise, it was taking a long time to get anywhere. Speed limits on the twistiest parts of the hills drop to 35 mph, and for many drivers that's waaaaay too fast. Highlands also represents its name. It surprised me to be over 4000 feet elevation according to the GPS. I didn't expect to see that in the east.
    At the border with South Carolina is a sign for the "eastern continental divide". Um, I don' thin' so, Pancho. Even if you allow as how one side goes to the Atlantic and one side goes to the Gulf of Mexico, technically, the latter is part of the former. So no wash. And we won't even guess about the sign I saw but didn't report a few days ago: The Arkansas Divide.
    When I started out the day, I thought the 250 miles to my destination would be easy in 6 hours. Didn't count on the switchbacks, and didn't figure in granny doing 20 in a no passing 50 zone. So when I finally got to the Foothills Parkway, I was beating feet to get to the BMW Zentrum in Spartanburg for the 3:15 pm (last) tour. The first 150 miles of the day took 4 hours 30 minutes. The last 100 took ... well, let's just say I checked in at 10 minutes before 3, giving plenty of time to see the museum before the tour.
    Of course they only make cars in Spartanburg, specifically, only the Z4 and the X5, but at least they acknowledge the existence of motorcycles in the museum. There on display is Ed Culberson's R80G/S Amigo, the only bike ever to have traversed the gap in the Pan American highway. Partly by canoe, since there is no road of any kind. Ed wrote a fantastic chronicle of his several tries and ultimate success in Obsessions Die Hard. I chatted with him as he autographed my copy at the MOA rally (in Flagstaff, I think), and told him - in admiration - he was one crazy fool. He responded that sanity is overrated. Rest in peace, Ed.
    Note: Later I was informed by an email responent that Ed may not have been the first, but I personally have not seen documented proof.
    The BMW factory tour is quite fascinating for how much of production is hands-off automated. About the only tasks left to humans are the aesthetic decision points, like tig welding to close arpetures of variable depth. It is a long walking tour, especially in riding boots, but we got to see the whole thing from parts priming soup to torquing lug nuts, after which each unit is dyno road tested to 145 mph ... on only the second startup of the new engine. Break in? Wazzat?
    Incidentally, when I called for the tour reservation (required), I was told there is a discount for BMW Car Club of America members. I said "what about BMW Motorcycles Owners of America?" Sure, nuff, even though it's not official, they took that for asking.
    Alas, though the tour guides mention "the history" of the company (and even still give the erroneous explanation that the BMW Rondel is an airplane propeller), they never once mentioned motorcycles. Later I commented privately to the guides that BMW made motorcycles before they made cars and they could at least mention them ... 20 minutes later *I* was done giving *them* a history of how the bikes saved the corporation at least twice.

    You learn some culinary rules when traveling. Never order lamb rare in a Greek restaurant, probably not good to order Italian food on the menu in a Chinese restaurant, and don't order barbecue in Carolina. They call this Q? Well, ok, the meat ain't half bad, but that sorry excuse for a sauce is no more than vinegar with red pepper - Tabasco would be better! Yech.

261 miles
Athens TN39 US411 TN72 US129 US19 Wayah Bald (NC1442)
US64 US276 SC11 US25 SC290 SC101 I85 Spartanburg
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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