2016 Cabin Fever Ride - January 30, 2016
Ride Report by Ron Donahue
BMWROK Ride Coordinator
My hat’s off to the weatherman who made an accurate prediction of the weather more than a week in advance….. well, almost. He correctly predicted the sunshine and the high temp of the day, but missed it regarding our morning low. When I rolled out of the garage that morning expecting the balmy 39 degrees predicted, I was surprised to see my bike instrumentation
plunge to the mid twenties and indicate that dreaded little snowflake icon. Oh well, at least I was riding instead of shoveling snow or checking off items on a honey do list. I arrived at our start point at the Hardin Valley Dunkin Donuts a little early this time. When I arrived there were already 6 bikes in the parking lot. As I hee hawed, shook hands, and brushed toasted coconut crumbs off my lap, the group kept growing. By the time I held my riders’ briefing, the head count was 20! Pete Rainwater brought along visitor Kevin Gross, Rick Breeden brought along visitor Doug Kiser, Todd Sutton brought along visitor Jim Zahn, and
visitor Randy Human came alone having learned of our ride from the website. Tim Skeen, past ROK member, also joined our group. After my briefing, which covered basic group rules, route, destination, and road hazards, the group quickly mounted up to start our ride toward Middlesboro, Kentucky. I have never seen a group this large gear up so quickly. I think it had something to do with me saying the last one dressed and ready to go had to buy lunch for the group. We had a long train as we rolled out onto Hardin Valley Road and began my very indirect route to Middlesboro. In tow, I had 14 other club members and 5 visitors along for our journey. Our group consisted mostly of BMWs, but we were joined by a pair of V-Stroms, an older Kawasaki Concourse, a Triumph Tiger, a Yamaha Super Tenere, a Harley Davidson ( yes, you read that right ), and some sort of dirt bike that our latest MOTY winner, Will Pugh, showed up on since his Honda was in the shop. We wound our way thru Solway, Claxton, Clinton, Rocky Top, Caryville, and Jacksboro. When I got to LaFollette, I pulled our group over at a large gas station so some of the bikes with less fuel capacity could top off their tanks, and also because Jim Wishart taught me that not all bladders were created equal. It was here that one of our visitors, Randy Human from LaFollette, approached me about taking a short “20 minute” side route around what he called “the Little Dragon”. At my riders’ briefing earlier that morning, he had cautioned the group that LaFollette tends to use small gravel on their roadways to help with traction from snow accumulation. That was a good thing to know since a heavy snowfall had blanketed this area less than a week earlier, and it was still very evident off the sides of shaded highways and roads.
With some reluctance due to time constraints, I agreed to follow Randy and his V-Strom with our two wheeled convoy on the loop he had suggested. It was not very long into our little side tour when I began to ask myself, “What have I done?” I think the other 18 behind me were also wondering about my sanity and said some choice words inside their helmets aimed at me. The gravel that was thrown on top of the asphalt really made for some interesting riding, particularly for those of us riding on big street bikes. A few of the roads were so covered I wondered at first if they were asphalt or gravel. After 40 minutes of riding on our 20 minute tour, we were back to the main highway to continue onward to Middlesboro. I must admit the scenery on the loop was nice and the roads could be fun if they weren’t covered in gravel. I suggest traveling them on a dual sport or waiting till summer when they are clear. I think Randy was even surprised at how much gravel was on some of these roads. At least from this point on we didn’t have to concern ourselves with keeping our bikes clean.
We put LaFollette in our mirrors and headed out on Hwy 25W thru Habersham and on towards Morley. At Morley we headed east towards Middlesboro on Hwy 90 which becomes Hwy 74 at the Kentucky state line. This is a great road with switchbacks, twisties, and very little traffic. The downside is the possibility of unfavorable road conditions. As I briefed and cautioned the riders at the beginning of the ride, portions of Hwy 74 are traveled by coal trucks during the week. Combining the smooth, newly paved surface, with a fine layer of invisible coal dust can create a very slick situation for motorcyclists negotiating the curves on this stretch of road. More on the coal dust later.
Though Google says it is less than an hour and a half from Knoxville to Middlesboro, our route plus the “20 minute side tour” landed us at the Cracker Barrel in Middlesboro 3 hours and 20 minutes after we finished our donuts and coffee in Hardin Valley. They knew we were coming for lunch but could not reserve us a place for 20. After about a 10 minute wait they put us all together at 2 long tables and did a great job getting us fed and out the door. Will Pugh never took off his helmet and opted out of lunch. He decided to take a quick spin up to Canada and back while the sun was still shining. Therefore, our new head count dropped to 19 at lunch.
As I geared up in the parking lot after lunch my phone vibrated with a text message. It was Sue Heinz. She was asking if we were still in Middlesboro. I said yes, and she and two other visitors, Russell Bowlin and Charlie Hill , added another BMW and 2 more V-Stroms to our group as we were leaving Cracker Barrel. We pull out of Middlesboro with 22 riders. We take the first exit out of Middlesboro onto Pinnacle View Road which winds and twists its way up the mountain over the top of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. Less than a mile up the road, we encounter a locked gate across the roadway. The Pinnacle was closed. I assume they didn’t want to clear the road and it still had ice and snow. So we all made a big u-turn and headed back to the highway.
We went thru the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. This engineering marvel stretches 4600 feet underneath the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. It took over 5 years to complete at a cost of $280 million. Harrogate, TN greeted us when we came out the other side. In Harrogate we made our final gas stop of the day. Craig Rice waved goodbye after the fuel stop, but the rest of us mounted up and formed our slinky out of Harrogate.
From there we wound our way back home taking numerous back roads, some of which I had only navigated with my mouse on Google Earth. They turned out to be great roads and kept us away from traffic on the more frequently used highways. As usual, some riders peeled off as we got near their homes and waved farewell. Near the end, we lost a few riders due to a failure to wait at turns violation, but the ride was nearing completion.
We started our day at 9:30 and 27 degrees and ended the ride at 4:30 and 62 degrees. It was a beautiful and rare day for late January. Our ride officially ended with 10 riders only 200 feet from where we started 7 hours earlier having traveled over 200 miles with only 1 mile of common road used for our loop. All of the bikes looked like they had been on a dual sport ride by the end of the day. They had been thru gravel, dirt, dust, coal dust, and water. There wasn’t a clean spot on any of them. One of our riders was Michael Fowler’s son, Justin. This was his first group ride and I’m delighted he chose this ride as his first. They left Lisa at home in bed under the blankets.
Now back to the coal dust story. As a ride leader, it is difficult to know what is happening a mile behind you with such a large group. After waiting 15 minutes for the back half to arrive at the outskirts of Middlesboro, I knew something was wrong. This is yet another reason to preach the “KEEP THE RIDER BEHIND YOU IN YOUR MIRROR” rule. After turning back to find the source of the problem, I was waved on and given the thumbs up as I encountered the rest of the group coming back down the mountain just a mile back up the road. Once we reached our lunch destination, I learned that Alex Cuningham, though traveling at a low rate of speed, had experienced a low side crash on his LT on a curve apparently slickened by coal dust. The bike actually absorbed the impact better than Alex. Couldn’t tell the bike had any noticeable damage. Alex completed the ride while occasionally complaining of left ankle pain. It was later revealed that he had fractured a bone in his lower leg. It looks like he will be in a cast for about a month. He gets the trouper of the day award for completing the entire route. Glad it wasn’t more serious and wish him a speedy recovery.
I appreciate everyone coming out and braving the chilly weather to join me on this ride. I enjoyed meeting the visitors, welcome them to future rides and meetings, and hope they are future ROK members.
ROK member participants – Ron Donahue, James Holt, Pete Rainwater, Craig Rice, Rick Breeden, Alex Cuningham, Todd Sutton, Jamie Heiskell, Michael Fowler, Justin Fowler, Will “MOTY” Pugh, Bill Clevenger, Tom Gilmore, Mike Coffey, Rick Komor, and Sue Heinz.
I would also like to take a moment to wish Alan “Ox” Anderson a speedy recovery from back surgery. Otherwise, I’m sure he would have been with us on this one for sure.
Until we meet again, keep it between the ditches and in your lane.