The East Coast Trip – August 5 – 13, 2006


It is Sunday August 13, 2006 and I am just back from my big trip to the East coast.  First the big news: My NPT is DONE! (pending certification).  Doing 3495 miles in 9 days (actually 8 days of riding) was great fun.  Here are some highlights and what I learned in the past week.  The number one thing is that a GPS is great. (I realize that this is no surprise to everyone who already has one.) I installed it on the bike two days before I left.  I needed to pick up 10 states and at least 24 stamps. Without the GPS I think I would have gone map crazy.



I headed out from the Chicago area on Saturday August 5 with the goal of getting two stamps in Ohio, and spending the night somewhere around Buffalo, NY.  Great weather, about 80 degrees, low humidity, and sunny.  GPS got me to Cuyahoga NP near Cleveland just fine.  I had plenty of time to make it to the Garfield NHS before 5 PM.  But, somehow that waypoint got screwed up and I ended up going a way in the wrong direction before I realized something was amiss.  In the end I got to the site right at closing time. The parking lot gate was still open so I drove in.  The visitor center looked dark but I tried the door, and set off the burglar alarm.  Apparently this place has a very sensitive alarm.  The manager of the site came out of a nearby building to check on the commotion and told me not to worry about it.  Here is where I pushed my luck.  I figured since she had to go into the visitor center to reset the alarm maybe I could get a stamp after all.  If looks could kill, I would be dead now from the glare I got at the suggestion. But I was just too close to give up.  I could see the stamp through the door about 10 feet away.  She practically threw the stamp at me while she was calling police to tell them to cancel the alarm.   I thanked her very politely and quickly drove away.   I made my first night a bit east of Buffalo.


The objective for Sunday evening was Providence RI, with three stops in NY and one in MA along the way.  All in all an uneventful day. Again perfect riding weather.  I had never been through up-state NY before and enjoyed the scenery.


Monday was supposed to be stamps in RI, CT and NJ.  I got the RI stamp in Providence at 9 AM wen the site opened and while chatting with the park service person there found out that all the sites in CT were closed on Monday and Tuesday.  My original plan for this trip would have had me in CT on Wednesday when the sites were open, but then I moved my timeline earlier and obviously neglected to recheck dates and times.  Given that my plan for states and stamps for the rest of the week covered all the states to the south and I had no leeway to get to 25, my only choice was to go back north and replace CT with either New Hampshire or Vermont. This meant backtracking all the way north to half-way up NH/VT.  Fortunately the CT stamp and the VT stamp are about 12 miles apart across the state line, so getting both was not a problem.   If there were an award for most inefficient routing, I would qualify for it.  I ended up going right past Springfield, MA where I got a stamp the day before.  Had I gone north on Sunday to pick up NH and VT I would have saved almost 300 miles.  Isn’t hindsight wonderful.  The GPS really saved me on this, as I was not planning on going to these states I had no paper maps along and had not looked at these states at all in my planning.  In the end I am glad I took the detour.  NH and VT are beautiful states, and I am looking forward to going back there with my wife sometime to look around.

This is the Quechee River gorge in Vermont, and the studio at the Saint-Gaudens home in New Hampshire.


Tuesday was spent catching up with an old friend from grad school who lives near Trenton NJ. After the long ride from Providence, up to NH, and then down to Trenton, I was ready for a day off.


Wednesday was the big day for stamps and states: PA, WV, MD, DC.  Here is a soldier’s hut at Valley Forge and the Cemetery at Gettysburg.



All went well until DC, where apparently the NPS has a staffing shortage and so some of the visitor centers are not open for their usual posted hours.   I arrived at the Mall around 5 PM, and was making my way around the memorials.  I was getting worried as some of the NPS kiosks were closed. I got to the Survey Lodge ranger station around 6 PM and could see the stamps just inside the locked door. It too should have been open, but was not. I was about to give up and was planning what it would do to me schedule to go back to downtown DC the following morning when I saw some NPS employees sitting at a picnic table nearby.  It turns out that one the rangers was a “stamp collecting  nut” (his words, not mine) so he understood my mission.  He opened up the station for me so I could get my stamps.   This put me one state (VA) and one stamp away from completion.  The soldiers are part of the Korean War Memorial, and the other photo is obvious.




I went to the Manassas Civil War battlefield on Thursday morning for one last stamp. NPT was done.


Now that the need for stamps and states and timing visitor center hours was done, I was set for the second part of the trip: A scenic ride down Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Smoky Mountains, Deal’s Gap and the Cherohala Skyway. All places I have never been before.


This is where the good weather ran out. There was a front moving south, and I managed to keep pace with it (or it with me) for the next three days on my entire run south.  The operative words are rain, clouds, and fog. Here is my view of the great sweeping scenery of Skyline Drive.



There were many times when visibility was less than 50 feet. From the moment I started down Skyline drive it was raining.  Sometimes light rain, sometimes torrential downpours.  Not a very fun ride.

By Thursday afternoon the clouds lifted a bit, and I could see something, but nowhere near the grand vistas seen on the postcards.   It did nothing to help my mood that the Ranger at the Visitor Center told me that before that day it had been sunny and dry for the past 5 or 6 weeks, and they were glad to get the rain! 


Thursday night saw me at MM 120 on the BRP at Roanoke.    That night Roanoke got over a half inch of rain and it was pouring when I left the hotel on Friday morning.  Given the situation, I hopped on the superslab and skipped 80 miles of the BRP, getting back on at the North Carolina border. Another cloudy day, with periods of heavy rain.  At least it stayed dry most of time, but when it rained, boy did it rain.  I stopped at Linville Falls for a short hike to see the falls, but it is no fun hiking on muddy trails.  I was going to go up to Mount Mitchell for the great view, but it was completely in the clouds, so I just kept on going.  



My best stop on the BRP was at Waterrock Knob overlook near the southern end.  The sun was low in the west and looking to the east the ridges could be seen through the haze going off to the horizon shrouded with the most sublime shades of blue and green.  An absolutely amazing sight. I have no picture to show, because it just would not come out anything like the real thing. 


Friday night was spent in Cherokee, NC at the southern exit of the BRP.  Of course when I arrived there it was raining.


Saturday morning dawned dark and rainy. The photo above is from my hotel room window.  Note the clouds in the tree tops. I waited around the hotel for a while as I did not want to leave in a downpour, but eventually realized that unless I wanted to wait around all day, I just had to get going in the pouring rain.  I went over to the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center, but pretty much everything was in the clouds so there was no point in driving up into the park, and with the pouring rain, not really good for hiking around either.   I headed towards Deal’s Gap in the heaviest rain yet on the trip, hoping that the rain would stop long enough for me to ride the gap. By the time I got to Hwy 28 the rain had paused.  Highway 28 past Fontana is a really nice road and a good warm up for the main attraction. Here is a picture of my bike parked with all the sportbikes at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort.


If you want to see Deal’s Gap in the rural state it is today, get there soon.  Take a look at this sign just across the street from the Motorcycle Resort. 


Yes, you read it right 783 acres for sale. You could build a small city on that.  Basically it is all the land that borders the Deal’s Gap section of route 129.  There are also about another 150 acres for sale around the other sides of the Motorcycle Resort. I suspect that the area is about to undergo explosive development and growth. I also wonder how much those who will likely spend big bucks on retirement homes and resort cottages will enjoy hearing screaming sport bikes and roaring cruisers go by every 20 seconds.   OK, enough of the commentary.


The rain did hold off long enough for me to go up and back on Deal’s Gap with some sections of pavement actually being dry.  A very fun ride.  After I got back to the resort I was thinking that those who just go up Deal’s Gap one way and say “Done that” miss most of the fun. After I knew what to expect the second run was much more fun that the first. Yes, I got the obligatory T-shirt and patch.  There are now three photo companies that are lined up along the run, and at least one guy who will follow you down the road on a yellow wing that is equipped with multiple cameras and a DVD recorder so you can buy a video of your trip.


One funny story. While I was in the Resort shop, a guy next to me at one of the t-shirt racks was seeing only children’s sizes, and asked out loud to no one in particular, “Do they only have children’s sizes around here?” I answered him that at this store there should only be children’s sizes because us adults are only there because we are acting like children and playing with our toys.  He got a good laugh out of that, and I heard him repeating it to his buddys shortly thereafter.


I then headed south on 129 toward the Cherohala Skyway.  I can highly recommend that section of 129, a nice curvy road following the river.  Not nearly as technical as Deal’s Gap, but a nice pleasant ride even considering that the pouring rain showed up again.


I am sure that the Cherohala Skyway is gorgeous, but for me it was mostly clouds, dense fog and heavy downpours of rain.  See the picture of fog from Skyline drive for a general idea of the view.  I will have to get back there someday when I can actually see something. Near the end of it by Tellico it stopped raining long enough for me to stop by the river and get a nice picture.



After all this rain, I was ready to turn for home.  Quite frankly, after three days of twisting roads, I was actually looking forward to spending time on the superslab.  (I guess I am a distance touring rider at heart.)


In summary, 9 days, 3495 miles, an NPT completed, and a whole new area of the country explored. 


So, what can I say I learned on this trip:

  1. Burglar alarms can be very sensitive.
  2. I need a better rain suit.  After three days in pouring rain, I know exactly where the leaks are on my current riding suit.
  3. The West (Rockies, Glacier Park, Yellowstone, etc.) has a big and bold beauty. The East (Appalachians, the Blue Ridge, and the Smokys) is equally beautiful but in a subtle and sublime way.
  4. A GPS is a great tool, but it does not replace the need for a brain.  It does not necessarily take you on the easiest route, just the shortest.
  5. Deal’s Gap is a great road to challenge yourself, but the other roads in the area are great for enjoying yourself.
  6. The NPT has taken me to many NPS sites that I would never have gone to otherwise, and I come away with a much deeper appreciation of our country’s history.