Twenty Years Of Riding With Old Friends And New Friends

October 6, 2021
  This year marks the twentieth year I have hosted the Blue Ridge Gathering in the North Carolina mountains. Since both of my shoulders need to be replaced (bone on bone and the left socket is worn out), I leave the Holler on Frost with a bit of concern for my 'physical' functioning. This gathering is the oldest continuously held ST get-together in the world to my knowledge since the Pan Clan, WeSToc and the Australians did not gather in 2020 due to the covid strangeness.
  As usual, Andy, my long time riding buddy, and I meet at the Cracker Barrel on his side of town since it is sort of on the way to the campground. It's a little wet but if a feller minds the weather much, he'll never pull his motorcycle out of the garage.
  After consuming 'proper' amounts of hen fruit, pig meat, biscuits and jelly, we are now fueled and ready for the business at hand.
  Riding the back roads that I have charted for us today brings things sometimes unexpected. I guess these wild turkeys are seeking asylum before their 'special' day arrives next month.
  As we make our way around McMinnville to Highway 30 and our first gas stop, the bottom just falls out.
  We take a little break, hoping that it will pass and it does a little bit. Soon we are on the twisty bits of Highway 30 that I really enjoy.
  It's a good run though we take extra caution because when it's wet, it can be very, very slick.
  I'm taking us a little different way around Athens this time than years before just to see how it works out. Our next connection is Highway 39 and this route should help us skip Athens altogether and pop out right there - and it does.
  Next fuel stop is in Tellico Plains as I have them figured to work with the tank capacity of Andy's Ducati Scrambler.
  From here we are on the Cherohala Skyway - or as it is known - the Cherry Cola Highway because it is such a delight to ride. It's Highway 165 on the Tennessee side and Highway 143 on the North Carolina side.
  From the end of it in Robbinsville, it's a short hop over to Fontana then to the Moonshine Creek Campground.
  Though it rained for most of the morning, it's stopped a bit now. So we get to the campground in reasonably dry condition and get checked into our cabin and unloaded.  
  Supper is an easy decision as Clyde's, one of my favorite eating places here, is open for supper. A few of us head that way and avail ourselves of their mighty fine grub. And what would a good meal be without a bit of sweetening at the end?  
October 7, 2021
  Thursday has always been 'exploration' day at the BRG where we could end up on gravel roads, dead ends and other 'tight spots' as I explore possible roads and routes to add for the coming years. But today, we are 'exploring' new campgrounds for next year. The Moonshine Creek Campground decided (which made perfectly good sense to me) to convert the group camping area to more RV sites. They are always packed and we were about the only users of the group camp site once a year. Jim and Dana have been wonderful hosts to us for over ten years and they let me know early this year what they were planning. We do have quite a few folks that prefer to camp so we are out and about today looking for other campgrounds that might accommodate both campers, cabiners and RVers.
  But I did promise those that come along that we would not go by the most 'direct' route. So we head for Blue Ridge Parkway which is pretty well fogged in.  
  We are headed to a campground east of Cherokee so we ride to the west terminus of the Parkway. As we make our way through Cherokee proper, I notice that a lot of businesses are closed permanently, I assume due to the Covid plaque. When your existence depends on tourists and they don't come, it's not a pretty picture.  
  We arrive at our first stop, Ela Campground, and talk to the folks and walk around the facilities. It will definitely work but it's a little too far west from our normal riding area.  
  As we head back to our next stop, the signs of the major floods this area has suffered are apparent.  
  It's getting about lunch time and there are no restaurants anywhere near us. But I know there is a little country store close by and they might just have what we need.  

As it turns out, they have all the 'fixin's' for a picnic, so we pass the hat. With fresh bread, chips, mayo, sandwich meat and a big rock for a table, what more could a feller want?

  We visit two other campgrounds but they just will not work out for us. On the way back, Andy and I stop by the local Walmart to pick up some grub since our cabin has full cooking facilities.  
  We get back to the campground and put our beasts to bed. It's pretty damp, so we skip the campfire tonight and just sort of chill out over at the shelter that I reserved for the next few nights.  
October 8, 2021

Today is one of the 'official' rides that I host at the BRG. A feller needs the proper amount of pig meat and hen fruit to do what needs to be done so I cook up a batch for Andy and me.

  I have shown up at events that either had no one leading rides or the 'riders' did not want anyone outside of their 'group' to ride with them. So I decided a long time ago that I would lead a ride for those that wanted to come along. It seems to me when people take their precious vacation time to come to an event and don't know the 'local' roads, a little 'leadership' would be a good thing. I always use the 'Drop and Sweep' method which removes a lot of the frustrating dynamics of group riding. I've led rides up here with close to forty riders along and it works really well.  
  I figured due to the weather outlook it would be a small group. But looks like we will have twenty or so coming along this morning.  
  Every year I try to incorporate different roads along with ones that are favorites among the attendees. This year I went back and pulled two of the well liked routes from over the years and will be using them since this is the twentieth anniversary of the BRG. It's a bit damp and foggy, but the scenery is excellent.  
  We are headed right through Cruso on Highway 276 where the Pigeon River wrecked much havoc when it flooded the area. The devastation is almost beyond belief as we carefully work our way around it. There is one spot that starts on the top of the mountain and cleaves a ravine that looks like the work of an angry giant.  
  Debris is piled everywhere and you know that many people in Cruso lost all that they had when the flood came through.  
  When we get up to the Parkway, we take a short break before we take Highway 151 down the mountain which is a real riding challenge.  
  Since it is wet, we take our time as we descend off the mountain because painted highway lines can be really slick when they are wet. And roads that are this technical in nature are not to be trifled with.  
  I had originally planned a much longer ride and a different lunch stop, but given the weather I fall back on another old favorite - the Smoky Mountain Diner. I know they can handle a sizable group, their food is excellent, and their service is great.  
  We get our STeeds properly set and make our way inside.  
  I think my cholesterol may be getting low, so I order the chicken fried steak, mashed taters and fried squash. I think that will probably do the trick quite well.  
  After lunch, it's a quick run down Highway 209 and over to ..  
  Crabtree Mountain Road which provides spectacular views of the area and is always a favorite because of the technical nature of the road.  
  The skies do not look promising, but we are able to make it back to the campground without too much liquid sunshine falling.  

I am pretty well whipped at this point as both of my shoulders are reminding me why I need to have them replaced. The campground approached me to see if they could 'borrow' the shelter I had reserved for tonight. They had planned on a special event for their workers and had no place to hold it. I told them we could just gather under the smaller shelter at the bath house since it was too wet for a fire anyway. So we have a good time enjoying the rocking chairs sitting there. But soon my tired old body reminds me that I've got work to do tomorrow so I'd better get some rest. Our cabin is just twenty feet away so at least I don't have a long way to walk to get to bed.

October 9, 2021
We used to gather at Clyde's Restaurant in years past as they offered breakfast and it was really good. But ever since covid hit, they no longer do breakfast so I moved our 'starting' point over to the Walmart parking lot across the street. Again, the weather does not look too good, but it is what it is and the scenery is awesome.  
Once again, more folks show up than I expected but with Drop and Sweep the size of the crowd does not matter.  
We are headed back by the campground today and run some roads that I have not been on in a while.  
There is some 'reconstruction' due to the recent flooding, but it does not take us long to get past it.  
My GPS directs me onto a road that gives me pause. I don't remember this one on my route, but then I am tired and it could be a 'sometimers' problem - 'sometimers I remember and sometimers I don't'. I am about to be 'GPiSsed' - when the GPS takes you places that you don't want to go and you should not go.  
As I make my way up the mountain with folks behind, I see the road turns to impassable. I radio back down the mountain to tell them to stop where they are. I motion for those behind me to stop also before the pavement ends. From where I am there is no place to turn around so I decide I will try to tough it out as there appears to be a place that will work up the hill. The ruts are so bad that Frost buries up to her rear axle and I am stuck. I can't go forward and I can't go backward and it is all I can do to hold her upright. Due to recent vascular surgery I don't have the leg strength to force her out of the hole and the poor condition of my shoulders is not helping. Fortunately, the riders behind me stopped before they got into trouble and some come up to effect my rescue. It's some pretty scary business to get Frost out of the rut and not down the mountain side. At one point, as the dirt pushes away and her front wheel starts to slide, I am certain that I am going to have to let her go crashing down the mountain side. We finally get it sorted and Frost and I get back down the mountain with minor damage to both of us. But I am a whipped puppy at this point and know I'm about done for the day.  
Fortunately, another one of my favorite eatin' places is near by, so we head for Hawg Wild BBQ for lunch.  
They take us to the back of the place so we won't disturb their 'good' customers. The server that handles us does an excellent job and I tell the manager that she sure is a 'keeper'.  
I get a pulled pork plate and it is excellent in both taste and quantity.  
From here, everybody pretty much knows the way back to the campground, so I end the ride here. I know I've got to be careful going back given the recent physical 'challenge' on the hill. I also have to stop at Walmart to pickup some hot dogs and stuff for the group supper tonight. So I gingerly make my way back, tend to business and then get to the campground. Pat and Annette have graciously provided scrumptious chili and all the fixins' to go with the hot dogs.  
And Ashley has whipped my favorite 'camp fire' cobbler - cherry and chocolate. Did I ever say that I really, really like chocolate? As the skin over my belly expands it pulls the skin down over my eyes, so I'm ready for bed pretty quick. We get the shelter straightened up, I wish all that came safe travels with a hug and then I head back to our cabin.  
October 9, 2021
I used to try to leave early on Sunday morning or the night before so I could be back at my church on Sunday. But after several incidents of falling asleep on the way back, I decided that I would just sleep in. Sometimes we have to use the brain that the Good Lord gave us to keep from coming to harm though our intentions may be honorable. Andy and I clean up the cabin as required, drop off the keys and hit the slab back to Nashville.  
We know that we will get separated by the crazy traffic along the way but we hang together as long as it is possible. And sure enough, the traffic gets crazier and crazier and it gets impossible to stay together.  
Soon I am back in my beloved Holler, thankful that we had another great BRG in the books. Good friends, good riding, good food - there are not many things in this old world better than that - and we had an abundance of all three again this year.  



***NOTE - On November 8th, 2021 I underwent a complete left shoulder replacement and will have the right one replaced as soon as the left one is back in working order.