Monday, April 23, 2007

AMA Superbike Races in Birmingham, AL

This past weekend I attended the AMA Superbike races at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL. On my way there on Friday I stopped by Kennesaw Mountain National Military Park, site of a Civil War battle, just northwest of Atlanta. There isn't much historical to see, but there are around 16 miles of trails; I hiked the one-mile trail to the top of the mountain; it was a pretty strenuous hike, at about a 10-20 degree incline most of the way. The view from the top was pretty incredible; you can see Atlanta to the right in the first photo:

While gearing up to leave I had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman from Cleveland who is retired from the Air Force and rides a Goldwing and a V-Strom 650. From Kennesaw I took back roads and meandered toward Ft. Payne, AL, where I visited Little River Canyon and Falls.

Highway 176 heading south from the falls is a scenic drive; it is very windy and offers several overlooks of the canyon. Along the way is this interesting rock formation:

Upon arriving in Birmingham I headed to my friend Bo's house, where I stayed while I was there; he's a fellow Ninja 250 rider. We had dinner at La Hacienda, a great Mexican restaurant in Pinson.

Saturday morning I headed to the track; unfortunately, Bo had guard duty that weekend and was unable to attend the races, so I was on my own, but I still had a great time. I wandered around the vendor exhibits and the paddock, checking out the race bikes. I met Earl Hayden, father of Nicky (current Moto GP champ), Tommy, and Roger Lee. I saw him in Roger's pit area, and the next thing I know, the fellow next to me yells out, "Hey Earl!" Earl came walking over, and it turns out they were buddies, so they got to talking; I just stood there and listened to them talk; I think Earl thought I was with that fellow; I got all sorts of inside scoop about Nicky and Moto GP! Before wandering off I shook his hand and introduced myself. Cool!

I watched qualifying and the races throughout the day, and then headed back home to Bo's house. We drove into downtown Birmingham and met up with Phillip, a friend and coworker of Bo's. We had an awesome dinner at Jim and Nick's Barbecue and then proceeded walk around downtown, hitting a couple of cool bars along the way. It was a really fun evening, and I really enjoyed exploring downtown.

Sunday morning I headed back to the track. Since there wasn't much going on before lunch, I rode down Highway 25, which is a really fun twisty road. Last year Bo, Tom, and I rode as far as 29 Dreams, where we had breakfast, but this time I rode it all the way down to Vincent, where it meets US231; the whole of the road is twisty and fun. I rode it back up to Leeds and to the track.

While wandering around the paddock I was able to meet Tommy Hayden and got him to sign my hat.

The Leeds police department did a highly commendable job of directing traffic out of the track; following the last race, I was on I-20 within just a few minutes and on my way home. I arrived home around 10pm. What a great weekend! The weather was absolutely perfect, the racing was great, visiting with Bo and Phillip was a lot of fun, and I ate some great food! Couldn't have been finer!

All the photos I took can be found here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Savannah, GA

Donna and I travelled to Savannah, GA primarily to see Nickel Creek in concert, but we made it a three day adventure in which we took in quite a bit. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and first headed to Ft. Pulaski, a park in the National Park Service. It was built in the 1830's, designed in part by Robert E. Lee, and was considered indestructible, but that was proven wrong during the Civil War, when the Union forces first tried their experimental rifled cannon. After 30 hours of bombardment the fort was in pretty bad shape, and the Confederate forces surrendered. After capturing it the Union repaired the damage and used it themselves, so today, it is in good structural shape, but it still has lots of evidence of the damage. It's a very cool place to visit; the fort itself is awesome and a great deal of fun to explore, plus there are several trails to explore. We even saw a couple of wild aligators around the grounds!

The fort closes at 5:00, and we had only about an hour to explore, so we did so quickly and then went out and parked at the gate and enjoyed some time out on the river watching gulls and pelicans fly around and dive for food.

We then headed out to Tybee Island for a bit of exploration, including the Tybee Island Lighthouse.

Cool shot Donna snapped of me

Thursday morning we headed into downtown and visited the Telfair Museum of Art, which is comprised of three buildings: the Telfair Academy, which houses old paintings; the Jepson Center, which houses contemporary art, and the Owens-Thomas house, which was built in 1816. All three were quite cool, but my favorite was the O-T house; it is in immaculate condition, and the architecture is amazing. Seeing 30-foot-long floor joists is a treat!

We had a couple of hours before the concert and were pretty hungry, so we went off in search of Wall's Barbecue, which I had discovered via He warned that it was off the beaten path and difficult to find, and boy, was he right! We had to wander around for a while and finally go down an alley to find it, but that made it all the better. It was a real low-key hole-in-the-wall, which is usually a sign of great food, and this was no exception. We had pulled pork dinners with cole slaw, fries, and black-eyed peas. Yum!

The concert was great, as usual. This was about my eighth and Donna's tenth times to see them, and they always put on quite a show. The opening act, a woman from Raleigh named Tift Merritt was also quite good. We sat next to a couple that Donna sat next to back in January at another of their concerts; how weird!

Friday morning following a hearty Cracker Barrell breakfast we headed back out to Ft. Pulaski since our visit was cut short on Wednesday. We spent more time exploring the fort, and we then headed out on a 1-mile trail that leads out close to the Cockspur Island Lighthouse.

We then headed over to Bonaventure Cemetery, listed as a national historic site. It's a beautiful cemetery, situated right on the Savannah River. There are many beautiful headstones and sculptures and some famous people buried there, including Johnny Mercer. This is where the "Bird Girl" statue, made famous on the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" originally stood; it has now been moved to the Telfair Museum, as too many people were going to see it and not respecting the grounds as a place of rest.

After leaving the fort we weren't quite ready to head back home, so we drove into downtown, grabbed a bite to eat and then an ice cream cone for Donna and a cup of coffee for me; we enjoyed those as we strolled around and headed down to the river, where we walked up and down the riverwalk checking out the various stores and market. We finally headed home around 8:00, sufficiently worn out from a great trip!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Waterfalls, A Covered Bridge, and a Gorge

Over the weekend I decided that Monday would be an ideal day for a day-long ride, and pretty much at the last minute I decided to throw my camping gear on my bike and make it an overnighter. I rode I26 up to Greenville and then got on US276 heading toward Caesar's Head; looking at my map, I realized that South Carolina's lone remaining old covered bridge, Campbell Bridge, is not too far east of 276, so I detoured on 414 to go visit it. A couple from Greer on a Harley were stopped at the bridge, and I had a pleasant conversation with them.

I then resumed my ride toward Caesar's Head, and I found a waterfall that I have not seen before, Wildcat Branch Falls, even though I've passed right by it at least a dozen times. It's right before 276 and 11 split, on the right.

I continued on 276 over Caesar's Head to Brevard, where I got on US64W to 281S, which leads to Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi at just over 400 feet.

A scenic view on the walk to Whitewater Falls:

I continued down 130 to 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, and then down to Walhalla; then up 28 to Oconee State Park, where I camped for the night. I arrived as dusk was approaching, so I quickly pitched my tent while I still had some daylight, and I then sat down to a wonderful hot dinner of chicken, rice, and salsa thanks to my handy-dandy MRE (Meal Ready to Eat); these were distributed to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and a buddy of mine ended up with some extras that he passed on to me. They're actually quite tasty and definitely filling, and are perfect for eating at camp.

I lay on the ground for a while gazing up at the sky and saw several shooting stars; it was very quiet and peaceful. I then read for a bit before turning in for the night. I slept well and was on the road by 9:00 the following morning.

On my way to Walhalla for breakfast I stopped to visit Isaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel; the tunnel was started before the Civil War as a railway conduit; progress was slow, and construction came to a halt when the war broke out; following the war, the town of miners had pretty much disappeared, and the state was in no situation to continue its development, so it stands unfinished today as it did in 1861; you can walk into it, which is pretty cool...literally. Like natural tunnels and caves, it maintains a constant temperature of around 50 degrees and a humidity of 85%; Clemson University used to age blue cheese in it.

After breakfast in Walhalla, I proceeded up Highway 28, which is one of my favorite roads to ride; it is nice and curvy and scenic. In Highlands, NC I got on 106S; the following shot was taken somewhere along 106.

In Clayton, GA I got on US23S which takes you to Tallulah Gorge and Falls. I unfortunately wasn't able to stop for too long, as I had to be back in Columbia by 5:00 for a brass quintet rehearsal, but I did stop along the side of the road and get a bit of a view of the gorge.

I meandered my way back to I26E in Clinton via various roads; the following shot was taken from the south side of Hartwell Lake near the dam.

I covered about 300 miles each of the two days. What a fantastic trip!