I have long thought that meteorology makes alchemy and astrology look like hard sciences, but I wanted to believe the weather forecast for Sunday. Kathi was in northern Virginia for the weekend, baking Christmas cookies with two of our daughters. She had left me with the obligatory honey-do list, but it was short and doable (although not quite done) when I went on this mid-December ride. I decided to repeat a day-trip that Kathi and I have made two-up several times from our home in Inman Park (downtown Atlanta) to eastern Alabama, and which I have also done in a more spirited way with other wildguzzi board (www.wildguzzi.com) regulars. In fact, I had just done almost the identical run on the weekend before with the Gaggle, an impromptu gathering of southeastern Guzzisti from as far as Beaumont (Phil Grundy), to Chattanooga (David Doc Nivers), to Jacksonville (Gary Rubbert), and in-between (various suspects, e.g., Alabamians Sanford Hardy and Nelson Thatcher, and Tennessean Pat Cowden) who gathered at the 29 Dreams motorcycle resort in Vandiver, a hamlet in Birmingham, Alabama's outest-of-skirts http://www.29dreams.com. The Gaggle is at the far left end of the rally spectrum: it is poorly organized, if at all, and has no prizes, or tees. In fact, if it weren't for bad planning, there'd be none at all. The Gaggle does offer, however, a fine ride or two in the daytime, and a bonfire, beer, and visiting with friends (especially the last) in the evenings. Some claim to have seen liquid corn in the privacy of the cabins, but I know my Fifth Amendment rights.
Frank Smith, of Munroe, Louisiana, one of those Gaggle friends, says I am greedy about the route. He's right. As lucky as I am to live near the riding joys of north Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and I regularly run those roads, mellow east central Alabama always beckons me. The Grail is Cheaha Mountain (americasroof.com/al.shtml). So, though back from the Gaggle less than a week, I posted a notice on the wildguzzi and MGCL discussion board web sites, and sent an email call for riders to some local Guzzisti. Only one or two tentative, or at least hopeful, reading riders responded, so I was set for a solo jaunt if no one else showed.
Even better than the forecast, it promised to be a spectacular day to ride in the southeast. The morning was frosty, but was to warm later to a cloudless, mid-50's, perfect day, and a gift for the time of year. I needed my warming Widder electric jacket and gloves at the outset, but turned those off by mid-ride, and could have done it sooner.
The designated pre-ride rally point was a gas station at I-20 and Riverside Parkway, near the Six Flags torture park just outside Atlanta's I-285 perimeter. Some might (and later did) point out that I gave the wrong exit number in my email posts, but despite that glitch, Roy Watkins arrived a few minutes later on his black Jackal. Roy professes never to clean his Guzzi, yet it always sparkles. We both topped off. It's a good thing we weren't running empty, because these were maddeningly slow pumps, trickling out fuel at about a drop per second. The ATM didn't work either, so Roy began what would be an all-day process, i.e., doling out money to me so I could have a cup of coffee, etc.
Well, we waited and waited. Showing up at 9:00, we watched 9:15 come and go, and now 9:30 was almost here. We could see across the interstate, a Waffle House, i.e., Georgia highway shelter and survival center, and, I thought, even smell bacon and other breakfast delights wafting across the overpass. Imagination or not, I had somehow missed that one on the Waffle House website, or I would have used it as the meeting place instead of this third-rate gas place. [By the way, if you ever get bored surfing, try the Waffle House website, especially http://www.wafflehouse.com/rajukebox.htm.] Roy and I considered, but rejected, going there for breakfast while we waited for Wayne Orwig, who had said he would show.
All who know or know of Wayne understand that having him along on a ride is like having a factory tech in the group, so we were happy to wait. And, just as I had decided that Wayne was a no-show, we heard, punctually at 9:30, that unmistakable honk of a Cali. There was Wayne on his black and yellow '97, with friend Bob Brewer on a Goldwing. Wayne and Bob were Ohio buds who have recently reconnected in the South. Smarter than we were, they had been waiting at the Waffle House. Roy and I had service-station stale coffee for breakfast; Wayne and Bob got their all-week cholesterol fix, and were annoyingly pleased about it. They said they didn't think anybody would be silly enough to wait at a gas station when a Waffle House beckoned across the slab. I noted and filed that.
After intros, we got on the road and, as I had suggested and knew the route, I led. Riverside Parkway and SR 166 twist, rock, and roll for about 70 miles west toward the Alabama line. We went at a pretty sedate pace until we got to Alabama SR 281 just on the other side of border-town Heflin. My throttle-position sensor (TPS) had been an irritant for a number of weeks (part's in the mail; note to self: always have a Harley spare.) and continued to be an intermittent pain. Most of the time, my sweet hot dog & mustard `98 EV would run well - as it always has - but it would surprise me now and then with a no-warning, disconcerting lurching. The day was so fine that the occasional tank-kissing episode didn't matter much.
[Ed Note: Harley Davidson sells the same part for about 20% what it sells for from Moto Guzzi. Harley #27271-95. Or just use some electrical cleaner on your Guzzi's Throttle Position Sensor. I found out this works as Chuck Oborny (always curious) took the old (original) Throttle Position Sensor from me after I installed the Harley one on my '98 EV. After he used about a can of this stuff, spraying/squirting the liquid inside the sensor through the manufactured (tight) seam - until the liquid ran clean - it now works great. It was very dirty inside there and wasn't making contact. Now I have the original as a spare. On the 2002 V11 LeMans they mounted the very same sensor at 180 degrees so (I assume) dirt and water won't so easily get inside there. In other words the LeMans' sensor is upside down compared to the '98 EV. Pay attention here - this could save you over $200! -FW]
The first thing one notices when turning off of U.S. 78 onto SR 281 is the series of Italian tricolors painted on the pavement. Suppose that was Ducatisti work, but it's an inspiring start for Mandello motos, too. We admired the graffiti, then took stock of options. Based on the ride so far, I thought we ought not travel as a group because I thought I would go faster than the others apparently wanted to ride. So, I suggested that we go individually for the next twisting 20 miles that snake along the ridgeline to the top of the mountain at Cheaha State Park. This is a road I now have ridden solo and two-up quite a number of times. On occasional weekends, I'll get up at 0'dark-thirty and race west on I-20, suffering the slab to get to SR 281 ultra-early. That way, I have it totally to myself, or at least have no wheeled competition. Startled wild turkeys try to maintain their dignity as they strut off the road, and deer give me a chance to see how alert I am and unpredictable they are. One moment they stare at you from the side of the road like a small herd of cattle chewing cud; a second later it's deer pandemonium. But, I want to carve curves, not venison just now. Yet, after satisfying that hunger, I can, because of the time-zone change at the state line, get to Cheaha for the park's first biscuits and gravy of the morning. It pleases me to see the best cook's little red Neon parked at the kitchen door. My sense is that one would not wish to watch him at work back behind those swinging doors, but he has that special touch for making white gravy that somehow eludes many fancier places.
I can babble on about biscuits, but better get back to the road. SR 281 is also the road that (Baton Rouge) Joe Martin and I did several Red Baron v. Sopwith Camel dogfights at the first two Gaggles. We got so tight in the turns, alternately drafting each other like furiously pedaling bicycle racers, that it felt more like the Giro d'Italia than motorcycling. And, most recently, after the second arctic Gaggle in early December, Phil Grundy had let me ride his '02 LeMans from the state-park lodge at Cheaha up SR 281 to Heflin. I'm still grinning. My belabored point is that I know and love this 20+ mile skyway.
On this outing, I took off at a brisk pace from Wayne, Bob, and Roy, reckoning I'd have a fine, fast ride, where my only concerns would be the occasional deer hunter's pickup emerging from the wood line or, worse, flushed deer doing the same. I now know what it must have felt like to fly a Messerschmidt defending the Fatherland and have a P-47 Thunderbolt's prop chew off your tail. I looked over my shoulder and almost saw Normandy Invasion stripes and winking gun ports on Wayne's wings! His Cali was kissing my rear fender and threatening to pass. I upped the tempo and ran hard for a turn or two, but let up at about the third hilltop, thinking the game was over. Hardly. In his blue AeroStich flight suit and on his black and yellow craft, well-liveried, Wayne blew by me as if I were parked. And, this was his first time on this road.
Okay; I can do that; or so I thought. Varoom. I roared after him to answer his thrown-down gauntlet, and chased and chased. By redlining and hot shifts - which sounded wonderful - I could just catch up on the straights. But, I couldn't focus on aural delights of induction, exhaust, and other notes when alarm klaxons were sounding in all my other senses. Wayne would, by combining line, lean, roll out, and ballet, beat me at every turn. I'm serious about ballet; the guy was so darn graceful, his riding was art, and it annoyed me no end! Wish I could use my TPS as an excuse, and suppose that is somewhat true. It is also true that Wayne would have kicked my gluteus maximus if my EV were at the peak of tune. He might as well have filled my cockpit with 50 caliper and done a victory roll when he first passed me! I have to sign up for a track day soon, but too late for that today.
We quickly reached the summit at Cheaha, and Bob and Roy hove into view not much later. Wayne was nice enough not to comment on my poor flying, for which I was grateful. We had missed breakfast and were too early for lunch, but the view was fine. Again, there was no ATM, so Roy bought me more coffee and a muffin at the park store while I sulked and mused about what might have been. We all then did a slower, but fine, ride down twisty and narrow Pigtail Road, and took a photo-op and stand-in-the-sun-and-tell-lies break by the lake about 10 miles out. Wayne and I recognized the vertigo-inducing problem of parking a hotdog and mustard EV next to a black and yellow Cali. We were just as concerned about the pixel challenges to our little digital cameras, so we parked them apart, flanking Roy's Jackal and Bob's Goldwing. We Guzzisti admired our mutual good taste in motorcycles, and indulged Bob in his polite cracks about Guzzis. He may have been especially courteous because his `Wing was precariously perched on the lake bank, and we outnumbered him.
After several minutes of banter, we could hear other motorcycles in the distance, coming over the last hill before the lake from the Talladega end of Pigtail. Then they emerged from the woods and appeared in the sunshine, one at time, strung out on the levee road like moving beads. All were handsome German appliances that looked good hurtling by, but sounded as if they were muzzled, emasculated ducks. The lone Suzuki-something riding in the #2 slot of the bunch of Beemers had the only charming induction and exhaust note of the bunch. My German blood makes me wonder why we can't match that fine speed and handling with a grunting, guttural, distinctively Germanic sound signature.
We waved, let them pass, then started, with regret, on our return leg. We had left Atlanta early enough to have the sun at our backs on the way out, and now the same was true for our return. That made the already-fine visibility even better. It was one of those on a clear day, you can see forever kind of afternoons. We first reversed our course up Pigtail Road to the top of the mountain on that paved pretzel cow path. It was along here last year, when Frank Smith, whom I mentioned earlier, proved during a Gaggle ride on the Pigtail that a California Special might not be a Quota, but it could be agile off-road, too. Carving a curve a bit too sharply, Frank slipped off the pavement onto the non-existent shoulder and then dropped into sphincter-fusing ditch-here-I-come territory. But, through consummate riding skill, unflappable presence of mind, or stark terror (or some combination of those), Frank rode his pearl-colored Special down, around, and back up to the road from that wooded gully as nimbly as if he were commanding a tracked vehicle in a military operation. I was behind him - on the road - and watched awestruck. Wish I had a videotape; I could retire on the royalties! Joe and Sally have done the Pigtail two-up at a record-setting pace, but I am wary of smoking on its almost classic bad news off camber, decreasing radius, frost heaved, pot-holed, gravel-strewn, blind curves without guardrails at sheer drops. Other than that, it's a hoot.
After cresting Cheaha Mountain at the state park again, it was back up SR 281 a few miles to SR 49, then south to Lineville. I do like twisties and sweepers, and this road has them. Yet, if I were forced to pick only one sort of road for touring, it would be a little pocket valley road like SR 49. It snakes for many miles through a narrow creek-made valley, bounded by two modest ridgelines that rise and dip and open and close to reveal farms, clearings, woods, fields, and all those things that make up my memories and imaginings of an earlier rural America that is still there. The road had just been repaved, and was glassy smooth and ready for a rollerblade rally. The only (and almost literal) downer was the car-thrown gravel at many of the curves. Several times, we would lean just right, and then feel that unsettling momentary letting go of the rear end until it grabbed again. Never any real danger, however.
After Lineville, it was east on SR 48 until it crosses the Georgia line and becomes SR 5. We filled up (TPS woes also mean miserable mileage), grabbed a snack, and, to Roy's relief, found an ATM. Nothing spectacular in scenery now, but this mellow road offered pleasant riding, and we just loafed along, not wanting to get back too soon, which was anytime, period. Bob Brewer peeled off at Whitesburg and headed home to Newnan. Goldwingsters and their mounts mystify me. They ride very well, are modest about it, and it doesn't look as if those wheeled pachyderms should twist and turn as they do.
Now, it was just three geese for the last 40 or so miles. Wayne led and poured it on a bit. Having three virtually identical motorcycles riding on almost-deserted roads is a joy. I liked being in the back where I could watch Wayne and Roy lean as in some sort of choreographed routine. Kathi and I saw the musical "42nd Street" in Manhattan last month. If Wayne and Roy had better legs - and various other attributes - they would have done fine in the kaleidoscope routine. It was motorized precision.
I also liked it in the back because I was worried Wayne would get frisky and I'd bite, only to have him spank me and send me home feeling even more sorry for myself! Wayne later told me that the Waffle House coffee was the real difference in our performance, but that if I ever figure out how to get close to his California, he'll just bring out his Centauro. Maybe. One board contributor said that my post about this encounter was a nice job of putting Wayne at ease and setting him up for the next ride. I wish. But, beyond more study of Kevin Code, twisting my wrists smarter, and some track time, the best option for me may be to remember Belgian Guzzisto Frans Vandaele's advice: Never, ever sprint away from a bunch of guys that seem to ride motorcycles for a living.
This great day ride ended in the late afternoon just outside Atlanta. Roy left us at the original start point, and Wayne and I surged and merged into the I-20 traffic. Just after we entered the I-285 perimeter, two squids on sports bikes tore past us at mach-point-something. Clad in shorts, little else, and with less common sense, they will likely never get to be as old as Wayne and I are, or, if they do, will explain for decades why they limp and have scar tissue all over their bodies. Ah, youth. Wiser Wayne and I dualed without dueling through the increasing traffic until I split off downtown at Freedom Parkway, and waving Wayne rode on as the Lone Goose.
Well, I never guess ride length correctly, invariably thinking that they will be shorter than they ever are. Kathi just smiles now, when, before one of our eventually all-day rides, I say, Oh, we'll be back in about three hours, Hon. I am sincere and earnest; I am also never right. Here, I did a bit better, but still underbid. I had predicted four to five hours, less meals, if any (there weren't). The relatively short but challenging circuit took us more than six hours. And I wish we could do it all again, right now. That night in bed, Kathi thought I was listening to her stories of baking Christmas cookies, sipping wine, and giggling with our girls in D.C. over the weekend. I was...sort of. I was also re-riding SR 281, figuring out how I can do better and stick a bit closer to Wayne next time!
P.S. The girls' cookies were great.
Bill Hagan, MGNOC #18321, lives with his (indulgent) wife Kathi in Atlanta's quirky historic neighborhood, Inman Park, from where he rides his EV to all points while waiting impatiently for grandbabies and, maybe, just maybe, another Guzzi, too.