Inside Motorcycles contributor Jon Taverner took a motorcycle touring trip from southern Ontario down to Alabama and back through the Tail of the Dragon. He shares his six day, 4100km account.
Day 1: I started my trip with a ride down to Milton for the ZRX BBQ. I met some great folks and I even won a t-shirt from Kahuna Powersports in the draw. Without fail, as it always happens to me when I travel, the line at the border that I chose was the slowest one due to a chatty border guard. He held me up for a while, talking about his choices for an upcoming bike purchase that included the new Connie-14 and a ZRX like mine. I told him that he couldn’t go wrong with either. I continued my ride from Milton down to Michigan to stay with my brother and his family overnight.
Day 2: Today I had a really long and interesting ride to my next stop in Louisville, KY. On the way I got an up-nod from a group of young guys in a flat green, Georgia-plated pickup and rode through a wicked thunder and lightning storm. Then, I stopped for gas in Ohio and gave a homeless man at the gas station $10 for a meal. I ended up in Louisville at the end of the day and it was a balmy 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The hotel room I checked into, while reasonably cheap, was musty due to a wet carpet near the bathroom. After checking in I took a short spin on the bike to get some dinner. I noticed a bunch of riders hanging out in a nearby parking lot on Busas, Gixxers, R1s, and ZX10s, but when I got back from my seafood dinner they were gone. Later in the evening, another big storm started to roll in.
Day 3: I had a terrible sleep but was glad to wake up to reasonable weather—overcast, but not raining. After checking the bike over for tire damage etc., I noticed that the chain had some significant sag to it. At first I thought that the swingarm eccentrics had slipped but they were in exactly the same place I set them at when I began my trip. So, off I went with some trepidation. I didn’t get too far when I passed a giant Lowes store on the highway side road and took the next exit to find it. Along the way I found a garage but they wouldn’t let me use their tools. I found an AutoZone store instead, where I bought the necessary ratchet and allen sockets to resolve the situation.
Along the way as I was turning onto I-65 to head down through Tennessee, a chunk of metal dropped off a tractor trailer rig and careened across the road in front of me, spinning like a 2 ft. plate. However, most of the day was spent under threatening weather.
When I arrived at my friend Joe’s place, he was not home and I had to wait for him. After looking the bike over again, I had to readjust the chain slack one more notch but did it up too tight and it made a terrible grinding noise when I rode into town to get something to eat. I adjusted it in the restaurant parking lot and it was much better, but then I realized I also had to add some oil to the engine as there was none showing in the window. Richard, a guy I met at the Auto Parts Advanced store, ended up buying one of my ParkingPucks.
Since Joe still wasn’t home I started looking for a hotel and I checked into a ‘Quality Inn’. After unloading the bike and carrying the bags and gear to the room, in 95 degree heat again, the room key did not work. I was already exhausted and soaked in sweat. I went back to the desk and asked for my money back and left. I then plugged the ‘Comfort Inn’ into my GPS and missed my turn adding to my frustration, so I pulled into the ‘Baymont Inn’. I checked in and found that the room stunk like cat piss, but I needed to have a shower anyway to clean up. Joe finally called and I decided to just leave the room and stay at Joe’s place instead. When Joe arrived at the hotel, I rushed to pack my stuff into his car because of another impending storm. I followed him on the bike, in the heavy rain, while trying to do up my helmet strap that I had forgotten to do when we left. I must have looked pretty funny, riding with one hand on the bike, the other under my helmet at 80 mph in the rain.
When we got to Joe’s place I realized that my instrument gauge lighting had stopped working. Joe and I searched through the ZRXOA forum and believed that because I had locked my steering it may have broken a wire somewhere since all of the fuses looked good.
Today, I noticed that Tennessee does not have any rest stops on I-65 but gas is way cheaper there. Also, Tennessee and Kentucky have the nicest highways to ride on.
Day 4: I left Joe’s (Joe, thanks for the hospitality– you rock!) early in the morning and headed over to the Barber Motorsports Museum. It’s a great place to visit with some amazing machinery there, all in pristine condition. Definitely a must-see!
Then I headed north, as he suggested, to avoid going through Atlanta. I headed up 411, then 231, and believing I had gone far enough north, decided to head east along 174 or 177 (can’t remember exactly which one it was). I then realized I was lost so I had to put my trust in the GPS. And guess what? It took me right back onto the I-20 to Atlanta. On the way I saw a squashed armadillo on the side of the road and when nearing Atlanta, I saw six State Troopers and their cruisers. They had pulled over two cars (a BMW and a Lexus) and were busy cuffing the Latino girls who were driving them.
The traffic and heat in Atlanta was stifling, which added a good delay to my progress. When I finally arrived in Dahlonega, GA, I had had enough and decided to call it a day. I grabbed a room at the Super 8 motel that was clean, smelled fresh, and well-priced.
There was a young couple outside talking with an older guy and when I was taking my gear off, the young man came over to chat. “Nice ride,” he said. “I see you’re from Canada, and I don’t mean to stereotype but… do you know where we can get some weed? You Canadians grow some serious stuff up in BC.” He told me that they were hiking the Appalachian Mountains and saw tons of bikes on the roads up there.
Making reference to his previous question, he asked, “Do you burn?” and offered to get together later if he was successful in his search. I told him thanks but no and after a short chat, bid him good night. I even managed to squeeze the Rex into the hotel room to keep me company.
An early night was necessary for the long day the next morning. I had to get ready for the long and winding road of the Tail and then the journey home.
Day 5: I started my ride at 7:30 a.m. The first thing I saw were some young jailbirds in Dahlonega doing roadwork in their grey and white pinstriped suits with ‘INMATE’ emblazoned in orange letters on their backs and a State Trooper with a shotgun standing nearby. I rode up I-60/68 to the Tail. It was a great ride although it was extremely foggy at times which hindered my viewing distance. I did have a couple of sphincter-tightening moments because of it, especially the big truck coming around the blind corner across the yellow line into my lane.
When I got to the Tail, I was having a great ride until I got stuck behind some big dudes on Harleys and a couple on a Wing who were enjoying the many turns at a more sedated pace. Thankfully, they stopped at the main observation point and then I got to enjoy a spirited ride for the rest of it.
The threatening rain in Georgia turned into a torrential downpour for all of Tennessee and most of Kentucky. Finally, I stopped in Kentucky at a truck stop to get a break from the rain, get some gas, and have a hot cup of coffee. The place was full of stereotypes to the point you could film a successful sitcom there, but I must admit that they were all very hospitable (if not a bit suspicious of the soaking wet Canuck who stopped in).
As I got underway again, my GPS did not remember that I had put my destination into it so I stopped to program it again. I also remembered that one guy in a pickup told me at a previous stoplight that my brake light wasn’t working, so I got off the bike to look at it. Stupidly, I had stopped on a downgrade without thinking and the bike rolled forward and tipped over. I frantically reached for the kill switch and stopped it, stood it back up (embarrassingly) and thankfully it had no damage.
I saw a major car accident in Kentucky that closed the highway down to one lane. There was a compact car that was cut in half with all of its contents spewed all over the road. The front half of the car (the only piece on the highway) was covered in a sheet so I knew that people had died in the crash. I remembered seeing the road signs going into Kentucky on my way down saying to be careful because 247 people had died on the roads in 2010. On the way out of Kentucky the road signs now read 252 people. I wonder if some of them were in that car.
One guy in a Lincoln gave me the finger since he believed I was blocking his entrance into the middle lane of the highway but I was not – how could I?
I stopped at a rest stop with dusk approaching to change my tinted shield to a clear one, and on a hunch, checked the fuses again over my concern about not having instrument lights or a tail light. Sure enough, the fuse to the tail light had blown but my only spare was the 30A fuse so I put that in and got my gauge lights and tail light back just in time for the evening ride.
When I got to Michigan, I realized how bad roads there were. I was aching and sore and the road condition, along with the darkness of night, was not helping. I ended up missing my turn on I-94E. I had to look for a return route and some gas. At this point, in the intersection I was at, the two through lanes lights turned green but my left turn light was still red and I got stuck blocking two of the three lanes trying to get to the left hand turn lane that lead to I-94E. Just then a cop pulled up behind me flashing his driving lights, provoking me to do something. Since I wanted to turn left, but couldn’t because it was a red light, I motioned to him that I was waiting for the red light to change to green. He turned on his police lights, got out to talk to me and asked for my license. After I explained my situation he let me go. I finally got back on I-94E, got gas on 10Mile road chatting with some gangsters in a lowered Lincoln (what is it with these guys and Lincolns?) and finally made it to my brother’s place, ending the day’s ride in Macomb at 12:10 p.m. I had ridden from Dahlonega, GA, through the Tail, through Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and, most of Michigan in one day. Sixteen hours on the bike!
Day 6: I returned home from Michigan today. The crossing at the border was uneventful. The border guard didn’t even ask to see my passport. I ran into some rain and construction work that forced me to take some side roads to get off the greasy stuff.
Total mileage for the trip from start to finish: 4116.4km