This weekend finds us in Florida, staying with friends, and dealing with the huge change in climate and geography. We’ve left the mountains, left the cool nights, and transitioned through the mossy parts of Georgia and into the genuine swamps and humid air of Florida. But we last left off in Asheville, NC, so let’s begin there.
First thing, Asheville is a rare city among southern states. It was a hippie-haven in the 1960’s and remains rather progressive, which also brings an interesting mix of art and music that mixes with the traditional crafts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has a unique heartbeat, with a towering downtown that still seems dwarfed by the surrounding mountains and nearby rivers. Geography shapes the city as much as city planners.
We stayed our first night just south of town with Angie, who is registered on the AdvRider “tent space” thread. Riders open up their homes to fellow travelers, and we camped out on the back porch out of the rain while planning our time in Asheville.
On her advice we hopped on the Parkway and did a short hike to a fire tower with 360° views of the changing leaves and rolling clouds that were above, below, and sometimes beside us.
We explored the roads in the surrounding mountains and I definitely felt like I was returning home. I got my first motorcycle while stationed on the North Carolina coast in the US Marines, and trips out to the Blue Ridge Mountains were my first forays into long-distance riding.
We settled in at an AirBnB for the next few days and found a nature center where we could get a decent look at a black bear without it shoving its nose against my butt through the thin layer of a tent. I much prefer the nature center’s version of a bear encounter. We also got a look at other predators: grey wolves, a mountain lion, coyotes, several owls, and a bobcat. As with any place that has them though, the river otter display stole the show; those things know how to party.
A better way to see a bear than through your tent.
The city really needs a few weeks just to get a true sense of it, and both Kate and I opined about spending 4-6 months staying in the area. There is something special about having your GPS tell you to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get from point A to B. And speaking of the Parkway, there is a Blue Ridge Mountains heritage museum on the Parkway, which was a perfect start to our “arts and culture” day.
The place is full of local artist’s work, much of it for sale. There were figurines and paintings, but also craftwork with functional purpose, such as quilts and wood furniture. The museum also called back to history of course, showing old logging and leatherworking tools used in the area over 100 years ago. We settled on stickers and postcards instead of trying to cram a $1700 handmade dresser into the sidecar.
My favorite decorative piece. Dogs understand why humans ride motorcycles.
My continuing series called “Kate looking at things.”
This quilt at the entrance to the museum was mindblowing in its detail.
After sampling the museum we went to the River Arts District, which also combines history with modern culture. The area was built mostly around the turn of the century, with brick buildings acting as both the factory and distribution center for many businesses. The area was chosen because of the proximity of active rail lines, but in 1916 flooding damaged most of the buildings, and it went into disrepair.
A local couple began to buy up the unwanted buildings and eventually found that local artists made good stewards of the buildings, and by the 1970’s many of the old factories were art studios, craft works, film houses, and the like. Graffiti adorns the outside of most buildings, but instead of it being the work of taggers or street gangs, they are murals that add a huge amount of color and life to the area.
We settled in at 12 Bones Smokehouse to get some BBQ, and I was happy to see they offered a vinegar-based sauce as one of their options. North Carolina is bitterly divided over barbecue sauce, with the western mountains choosing a more traditional sweet sauce, and the eastern part of the state preferring an thinner sauce based on vinegar, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.
Kate most definitely enjoyed the ribs, and we sampled some local beers from the insane number of local breweries (this city boasts the most breweries per capita in the world, according to locals). We also got to sample local traffic, which is much worse than it should be, mainly due to a combination of older traffic lights that run on timers and the city’s layout being restricted by the many rivers, large rail hubs, and low mountains.
We finally had to continue our journey south, so we took backroads down to Suches, Georgia, and found camping at a place called Dockery Lake. It connected to the Appalachian Trail and had serene views due to the still waters of the lake and the changing leaves.
In the morning we stopped at Two Wheels of Suches, a campground and motorcycle destination I had visited last in 1999, on my first-ever long distance motorcycle trip. The place looked exactly the same, but had also expanded to add cabins and more camping spots. The store was closed sadly, so I didn’t get a chance for stickers and postcards, so we continued south.
Despite being closed, motorcyclists stop at Two Wheels of Suches.
We had to slog our way through Atlanta’s terrible traffic, confounded by a huge amount of road construction, before stopping at the Joe Kurtz wildlife management area. This campground was in use by some deer hunters looking for a buck in the short rifle season that was open. We got to know a guy named Wes, who shared some beers and stories, opinions, and some of his background while we warmed ourselves by the fire.
In the morning we backtracked up to Senoia, GA to see the studio where they film the Walking Dead. Sadly, the studio wasn’t offering tours because they were filming season 11 after a lengthy delay due to COVID-19. We settled on checking out Senoia, which was historic but also very built up with fancy restaurants and shopping. We grabbed a sticker from Nic & Norman’s restaurant and made tracks for less posh surroundings.
At this point the rear tire was really showing its age and I started keeping a close eye on it. A new one was going to arrive in Orlando soon, but I was worried we wouldn’t get that far. We wandered to the coast and took in Savannah, GA, which was definitely set up for tourists but also boasted some amazing history. They had been a major port since well before Georgia was a state, with the old customs house still being used by the Department of Homeland Security.
We grabbed lunch at a local brewpub that seemed less crowded than the shops along the bayshore, and stayed with another Bunk-a-Biker outside of town. Jeff was a kind and interesting host, and his wife Ariel was too, even though she wasn’t there. Before leaving she had stocked up on some local sausages that Jeff grilled up for us over coals, and we spent much of the night trading travel and racing stories over a beer.
By this point the rear tire was looking haggard, but with little choice we pressed on. By the time we reached Jekyll Island the cords were beginning to show. We took in some of Jekyll Island’s history since it was settled in the 1700’s, well before it was sold to a group of millionaires who use it as a meeting place. Subject of many a conspiracy theory about the world’s elite gathering to decide the fate of us commoners, the island was mostly swampy areas and fancy restaurants, with a campground or two and plenty of empty beaches.
We took Hwy 17 South towards Jacksonville, enjoying coastal views, the increase in swampland, but I was already sick of the increasingly straight and flat roads as we neared the Florida border. I knew I’d be in for nearly 1,000 miles of Florida’s famously flat roads but it was starting before we even got there.
We passed dozens of historical markers but could only stop for a few of them, seeing cemeteries with confederate soldiers, old churches, and plenty of small towns that had shrunk decades ago when the interstate bypassed them.
At the Florida border I could feel the tire disintegrating, meaning it was surely on its last few miles. The Florida trailer parks began to multiply and the amount of cars heaped up in driveways let us know we were still in the south.
Then, only 8.5 miles from our destination, the rear tire let go. When you wear through the tread it isn’t normally a massive blowout like people fear, but simply a rapid deflation as the air makes its way out of the gaps in the tire’s cords. I could clearly hear the air escaping with a “fwap-fwap-fwap” sound as the hole went around and around.
I pulled us over and quickly determined there was no way for me to patch the failure spot. We would need a tow truck. I keep AAA on hand for just such a reason and, after a moment convincing the Florida division that I didn’t need to be transferred to the California office, we had a truck on the way.
In the meantime Kate had informed our hosts and they had no problem coming out to pick us up. I was already ordering a new tire at a local CycleGear, and we were in a warm, dry home with a whiskey in hand before I could take in all that had happened.
Paul and Meredith ended up being absolutely amazing people. They were both military veterans, with Paul spending some of his time as a helicopter mechanic like, like me. Meredith was training for a body-building competition so she was back and forth to the gym a lot, but was still around enough to be an engaging host and story-teller.
Because the two of them were leaving on a trip of their own in two days, I divided my time between talking with them and staring at the FedEx tracking for our tire. It was soon obvious it wasn’t going to make it in time, but the tire I ordered to Orlando was already there. With little option, we road tripped down to pick it up.
My good friend and former racing partner Gina met us halfway, so we hung out at the J &P Cycles and a local Harley dealer just off the interstate. We took the tire and the rear wheel to the CycleGear up in Jacksonville, where it cost about $70 to have it swapped. I’m used to paying $55 in California, which I thought was expensive already, but every state has their own way of tagging fees on.
Either way, we now had a new tire, a Dunlop Elite 4, which I hope will last a bit longer. The Avon on there did manage 8,045 miles, which isn’t a lot for a Honda Goldwing, but we are riding two-up, pulling a sidecar, and carrying a couple hundred pounds worth of gear, so I think the old tire did a fine job.
We left early in the morning for Orlando, to hang out with Gina and her boyfriend Mark, who were my roommates for may years before they relocated to Florida. That brings you up to date on our adventure so far. Next up is a run down the east coast to the Keys, then back up the west coast to swim with the manatees and our run down the panhandle into Cajun country.
Our photo gallery for this installment is actually mixed between the back of our Week 7 & 8 gallery and the Week 9 & 10 gallery. We also have been looking back at our original mission statement and have noticed we are keeping up on only half of it. While we are meeting a lot of people, we are telling less of their story and more of how our story combines with them.
Kate and I want 2hearts1horizon to be about the relationship between humans as well as our relationship to the natural world we inhabit. Due to time restrictions, this blog focuses mostly on where we went and what we saw, but we also want to tell a story of how people relate to each other. We want to talk about the feeling of loneliness so many of use feel even when we’re surrounded by people. 2hearts1horizon aims to create a community not just of travel-lovers and storytellers, but of humans who enjoy thinking about the experience of being human…which is basically all of us.
We’re going to making things align with that goal as we move forward with our adventure. We’ll try to do it through our Instagram and Facebook pages first, since this blog will still mostly deal with what we see and where we go. When the trip is over and we are settling back into a more humdrum life, there will be ample time for both me and Kate to share stories about our actual feelings and what it’s like to be a human being on planet earth.
We look forward to sharing that and more with you,