Normally I’d say that the trip down and trip back to the Dragon Raid are distinct events, however this year’s commute to and from the Raid was one of the most challenging motorcycle trips I’ve taken. Obviously this was no excursion to Alaska or the Mohave Desert; however it seems reasonable to say that I encountered several of the top “what if’s” that folks should plan for on a motorcycle vacation. Obviously I’ve made this trip before, however this time it was on a bike I was less familiar with, and with a different group of riders. The Scrambler in its current form offered a bit less long distance comfort than its Speedmaster brethren; also, unbeknownst to me, the obviously small headlight of the Scrambler was impressively less effective than that of the Speedmaster, as I discovered at (nearly) the worst time.
Aside from having a freshly melted hole in my Firstgear pants (damn those high pipes… but I still love them), I was dressed for the weather, and despite the colder morning air, we were making good time down to the river for the first stop. US-68 doesn’t possess a significant amount of curves until the last few miles toward Ripley (OH), so I admit I was actually getting chilly and a bit bored on the first leg. Fortunately, once across the river, and after a beverage, we were finally getting into the hills of Kentucky where the landscape better suits my taste. Headed down KY-36 (just like last year), not three miles south of I-64 one of the gentlemen who was tagging along, unintentionally left the roadway. Fortunately, he was uninjured, however his entire clutch lever snapped clean off the bars during the ordeal. There we were, on the roadside in rural Kentucky, with no spare parts, waiting on a tow truck… for three hours…
While I do pride myself on having a decent tool kit, this lesson certainly taught me a few things:
- Always remember that most (Non-Harley) motorcycle shops are closed on Sunday.
- I need to add a good set of needle-nose vice grips to the tool kit (even though they wouldn’t have helped in this case).
- Having a contingency for a truck and/or trailer less than 150 miles from home is priceless.
- I packed a surprisingly small amount of food and water for this day trip.
- Maybe a spare clutch lever isn’t out of the question?
- Eating Subway with good friends on the roadside of rural America is actually really awesome.
Back on the road, only two hours behind after eating (literally) on the roadside (that saved an hour), we finally got into the fun stuff as we approached Red River Gorge. Having been there the week prior, I was glad I knew the general road conditions considering very recent events. That said, once inside the gorge it was actually “yours truly” that was on deck for a mishap. Crossing the bridge over the Red River on KY-77 we began passing a string of cars headed the other direction. As I approached a blind, low speed, left hander, I was suddenly confronted with an out of control car that was barreling around the corner and literally screeching into my lane. Practicing some emergency braking maneuvers I narrowly escaped a collision; one of my riding mates said that had there been saddle bags involved, it would have been a different story.
We stopped for gas just through the gorge, and after my blood pressure descended to a reasonable level, we were finally on to what I expected to be the quietest leg of the journey. Naturally just as I assumed we were going to make up time in the rural southern sections of KY-11, we inadvertently found ourselves stuck behind a parade of motorcycles being held up by a trike. This occurrence actually foreshadowed similar events later in the week.
From KY-11 is was onto US-25E where things picked up some as the roadway opened to four lanes. From 25E we were on to I-40 through the gorge, and then on to the Appalachian Highway (US-74) just as the sun was setting. As I mentioned, the headlight on the Speedmaster was a little lacking, the Scrambler’s lamp is absolutely helpless. After 50 minutes of searching to find the lanes in the dark through the hills of North Carolina, we finally arrived unscathed at the Iron Horse.
While the return trip was not nearly as eventful as the trip down, we received a healthy dowsing from Mother Nature for good measure. On an overcast morning we started back north on the same route, only to be met with rain showers near Tazewell (TN) on US-25E. For about four hours we pushed through the deluge until just south of Red River Gorge where the roadway finally began to dry out. After making up time on dry roadways, there were a few more pop up showers waiting for us between the river and Dayton. Finally, just as I reached the south Dayton suburbs, the last bit of light faded in the sky and I finished the last twenty miles or so in the dark.
Despite having treated my Firstgear kit with Nikwax prior to the trip, enough “frog stranglers” wrestled their way through gaps to the point where I was sufficiently wetter than I expected. I’m not sure if it was the seating position change on the Scrambler, or if I’ve finally started to wear out the waterproof properties of the gear, needless to say as I’m writing this now, I’m looking into getting this corrected.
In the end, it was still a fantastic trip, but the long commutes were definitely a good lesson in proper planning, the right gear, a healthy tool kit, and it always pays off to get an early start.