Andy Page Memorial Ride to Little Switzerland
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 8:36PM
Michael A. Uhl

(May 11, 2016) Last weekend, three friends and I rode to Little Switzerland, North Carolina and stayed at the Little Switzerland Inn (LSI), which sits right off route NC 226A (“Diamondback”) and about 100 yards from an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).  Two years ago, a bunch of us rode there, among them Mr. Andy Page. Andy died a year ago and we dedicated this ride as our “Andy Page Memorial Ride.” Only four of us could make it this time, but we had a really good time and plan to make this a regular trip on our ride schedules.

Photo above right: That's me lighting up a fine cigar and enjoying a little Jack Daniels Honey. I cropped the photo to protect the identity of my compatriot. (Cutter took the photo.)

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

When we woke up on Friday morning around 0600, a steady rain was coming down and we all immediately questioned whether we wanted to do this. I organized this ride and had what was by then a non-refundable deposit down on a room and my bros were not going to leave me hanging.

One of the guys, Cutter, texted us all and asked if we could meet at the gas station at 0900 rather than 0800, as we originally planned. There was unanimous agreement; nine it was. By the time we assembled at the Citgo gas station on US 64 near Little Bar in Cary, the rain had stopped. The skies still looked threatening and the temperature was only in the 50s, but the forecast called for clearing skies, so we left without hesitation.

Photo above left: That's me about roll out of the Citgo gas station to start our weekend. I was an optimist and went with leathers rather than rain gear. (Cutter took the photo.)

Woodlands Barbeque in Blowing Rock

Since Cutter and Gerry Z. wanted to get back on Saturday—Mitch and I planned to stay in Little Switzerland two nights—we rode to Boone, NC rather than straight to Little Switzerland as we might otherwise have done. The idea was to get to some of the scenic riding sooner rather than later as Cutter and Z planned to hit the road early on Saturday morning.

I led us on US 64 west to US 421 north to Boone. Z wanted to eat lunch in Blowing Rock, NC. I saw a billboard for a barbecue joint called Woodlands Barbeque in Blowing Rock. When we stopped for gas, Mitch encouraged me to ask a gas station employee for a lunch recommendation and when he said "Woodlands” we took that as our own sign. So we headed south on US 221. After a quick stop at an ABC Store (state run liquor store), we proceeded another half mile down the road and found Woodlands.

Photo above right: That's me about to head into Woodlands. The owners of the bikes, left to right, are mine, Cutter, Z, and Mitch. Mitch changes bikes about every other year and expects to have this BMW only for a few more months. (Cutter took the photo.)

Photo above left: That's Gerry "Z" Zoucha, Jeff "Cutter" Northcutt, and Clayton "Mitch" Mitchell, going from left to right, in Woodlands Barbeque--Blowing Rock, NC. (I took the photo with my iPhone.)

Mount Mitchell

After lunch, we got on the BRP at Blowing Rock. It was chilly up there on the Parkway with the temperatures only in the upper 50s. I was quite comfortable, however, with heated grips, a new heated Corbin saddle, and a great Tour Master heated jacket liner. :-)

After we checked in at the Inn and unpacked the bikes, the other three guys headed to the bar while I did a solo ride to Mount Mitchell. I correctly suspected that I would not have another opportunity to have my mountain-top experience up there on this trip. A bunch of us made this ride when Andy was still with us--though Andy himself passed on the ride to Mount Mitchell.

I arrived at the summit around 6:30 p.m. It was sunny, but only 37°F at the top with a very stiff wind--as usual. The wind chill factor was thus in the 20s, easily. Fortunately, I was in leathers, which blocked the wind very well and I removed my helmet only for a short time.

The good news was that there was almost no traffic; the bad news was that there was a reason so few people were up there: besides being cold and windy, there was ice on the road. It had snowed up there the night before, and while the snow on the asphalt had melted, the wind was blowing snow out of the trees onto the road. A few times I was riding in a snowfall. There was even slush on the road. It made for an extra wary descent.

I was motivated to ride in the cold to the top of Mount Mitchell because something about being on the highest point in the eastern part of the country appeals to me. Maybe it's pure ego, but nonetheless, I braved the cold and icy road to be up where the clouds are and it felt great.

Learning to Take Selfies

These Mount Mitchell photos and the ones of me at the Green Knob Overlook on the BRP are my first "selfies" using my iPhone camera mounted on a selfie stick. When I returned home and processed the images I learned two lessons immediately: (1) the resolution of the camera that faces the camera holder is significantly less than the camera that faces away; and (2) the angle of the sun or other light sources is even more important than I thought.

This experience is good motivation for me to learn to use my new GoPro camera, which I can also mount on a selfie stick. I plan to get going on that this weekend after I purchse a new helmet, on which I shall mount the GoPro Hero 4 Silver camera.   

By the way, one of the benefits of riding solo is that I feel much freer to stop and take photos whenever I so desire. If one of my fellow riders had been with me on the Mount Mitchell trek, I almost certainly would not have stopped for a series of selfies at Green Knob Overlook.

In fact, this ride once more demonstrated how I too often let self-induced reluctance to delay others compel me to pass up sometimes great photo opportunities. I must learn to change that behavior, for my sake and that of my fellow riders. They almost always appreciate having the photos after the ride. (I am grateful that Cutter tends to take a lot of pictures and is careful to stage them well.)

The Fun of Getting Lost

Friday evening before we went to sleep, Mitch and I talked over our ride plan for Saturday. He asked me how far West Jefferson was from our location and if we could ride there. I was happy to tell him yes we could; that I had visited there when I did the 100 Counties Ride, and that I had a fun route in mind.

After Cutter and Z headed home, Mitch and I headed north on the BRP to Boone. At Boone, I had us get on NC 194 north, whichwe then took to West Jefferson. Mitch had read anout the Ashe County Cheese Factory in an issue of Southern Living magazine. We parked our bikes across the street and he purchased some of their products in the company store.

After cigars and great conversation we stopped at a cigar shop in West Jefferson. We asked for directions to Lansing, NC, which we wanted to visit because we have a mutual friend whose family is from there. We received erroneous directions or we simply misunderstood what we were told. Mitch led and we rode north on Old NC 16. After about 20 minutes, the road surface turned to gravel, and soon we found ourselves in Virginia.

We found our way over to NC 16 and then we stopped, laughed, and I consulted my map of Western North Carolina. I wanted to get us to NC 194 into Lansing and saw that Old Creek Field Road would do that for us. I made one comment as I closed up my map: "I hope it's not dirt."

Not only was the road dirt, but when we finally got to a paved road, Landmark Church Road, it included a ridicuously steep climb and we encountered a closed road and had to take a detour. We did finally manage to make our way to Lansing, but we were grateful to have full tanks of gas and good weather. It was good practice for our planned ride to Alaska.

Valle Crucis, NC

I told Mitch when we planned our Saturday ride that after West Jefferson and Lansing, I wanted to ride back through Boone to Vilas, NC and then south on NC 194 to Valle Crucis and take a photo of him on his bike under an old sign. As you can see, I got the photo I wanted.

While we were there, a female biker ran across the road and asked me to assist her friend whose clutch had failed. Mitch and I moved our bikes across the road to a gravel parking lot where these lady bikers were parked. I arrived first and investigated the situation. The rider whose clutch failed told me she thought she had a broken clutch cable. However, I quickly determined that she had a hydraulic-actuated clutch and told her I suspected she was low on hydraulic fluid. Her friend lookd at the master cylinder and said it looked full, as she looked through the small window in the side of the reservoir. "Don't trust that." I was surprised to find that none of the six thought they had tools with them--one did find a tool kit as we were leaving--and I got a screwdriver and removed the cap. Sure enough, no fluid. Mitch lifted a gasket and we could see it was as empty as far as we could see. 

Fortunately, the general store had some brake fluid they could use and Mitch and I were soon on our way. Mitch gave them one of his Phillips head screw drivers to use.

Two Nights is the Way to Go

Mitch is right, on a ride like this, it's a great idea to do two nights. It was much warmer on Saturday evening and Mitch and I enjoyed a very tasty dinner in the Inn's dining room, what they call their "chalet." After dinner, we enjoyed drinks and cigars on the deck overlooking the mountains. It was a great ending to a fun day.

Photo left: That's Mitch, Gerry Z., Cutter, and Yours Truly taking a selfie outside the Inn.

Keep the shiny side up and make the most of every day! -The Long Rider

Article originally appeared on The Long Rider (http://www.mikeuhl.com/).
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