Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Deals Gap Weekend

For the third year in a row, the Ninja 250 Riders Club held a spring meet at Deals Gap the weekend of April 25-27, 2008, using the Treetops as our clubhouse for the weekend. This year we had 14 stay at the house, plus two more who stayed at a hotel in Robbinsville. Riders from all over attended, with representatives from Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and California.

On my ride up there on Friday I stopped at one of my favorite places, Caesar's Head on US276, just south of the SC-NC border.

We drifted in at various times throughout Friday afternoon and evening. Chuck and Brian made a grocery run in Chuck's car to get all our supplies for the weekend, and that evening Marylin cooked us up a fine batch of spaghetti and garlic bread.

Saturday morning we headed into Robbinsville for breakfast at Lynn's Place. Turns out they're not open for breakfast, but enough employees were there getting ready for the lunch crowd that they opened early to accommodate us; many thanks to them for this. From there we headed up 129 to the Crossroads of Time, where we milled around checking out bikes, the store, and the tree of shame, and, of course, we took the obligatory photo in front of the sign.

After a pass through the Dragon we stopped at the overlook for a bit. Law enforcement has been making a presence this year in an attempt to cut down on the folks out there riding just too damned hard for public roads, and I say that's a good thing. They weren't being overly zealous with the ticket-writing, citing only the folks who really deserved it.Alan from New Jersey and me.
killboy is a photographer who photographs riders out on the Tail, and here are the shots he got of me that day:

From there we continued down 129, 441, and 68 to Tellico Plains; shortly after getting on 165, right before the Cherohala begins, we detoured to visit Bald River Falls.

After a great journey across the Cherohala, we arrived back at the Treetops to the wonderful smell of burgers and hot dogs that Chuck, Marylin, and Bob had been working on while we were out playing. We enjoyed a great evening of food, beverage, camaraderie, and taking turns in the hot tub out on the deck.

Group shot of everyone in attendance for the weekend: Michael (OK), Bob (OH), Laura (CA), Adam (NY), John (NC), John (TX), Emily (MD, Laura's daughter), Brian (OH), John and Linda (OH, Adam's parents), Marylin and Chuck (VA), Sarah (TX), Daryl (OH); kneeling: Alan (NJ) and Payne (SC).

Everyone reluctantly headed homeward on Sunday morning; this photo pretty much sums up all our rides home that day.

I wore my rain suit over my riding suit and my waterproof gloves. The first couple of hours for me was steady, but only light to medium, rain. Around Asheville I had a few miles of no rain, and I thought I was in the clear, but I quickly learned otherwise as I neared the SC border, where the floodgates opened. Pretty much the rest of the way home varied between heavy and very heavy downpour, with gusty winds. Twice the rain got so heavy, I was traveling about 30mph due to hardly any visibility; the wind was gusting extremely hard; and lightning started flashing in the vicinity. Both times I sought a bit of respite under a gas station awning until things calmed down a bit.

Even with all that, I stayed 100% dry except for my hands; my gloves gave up the ghost about 3 hours into the ride. The rain suit did its job, my riding boots (Oxtar Matrix) did their job, and my trusty Action Packer (poor man's luggage) kept my goods 100% dry.

It was a rough ride home, for sure, but it was still a great ride. Any day I can ride is a good day.

The weekend as a whole was very good. Great roads, great camaraderie, great food! The Treetops really offers a peaceful and secluded environment that is a great escape from the daily grind. Saw several old friends again and made several new ones. Couldn't have asked for more! Well, maybe it could have lasted a little longer. :-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Superbike Races in Birmingham, AL

The weekend of April 18-20 I attended the AMA Superbike races at Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, AL. I tried something new this year - I volunteered to help with operations, and in turn I received quite a nice compensation package, including a weekend pass for me, another weekend pass for a friend, t-shirt, cap, fan guide, great parking, and lunch. I signed up to work Saturday morning from 7:00-12:30, a time when no racing action is going on, just qualifying, so I didn't miss too much.

I sought lodging at the last minute, so my options were either to pay a lot for something close or pay a reasonable amount for something a bit further away, and I chose the latter and stayed at the Best Western in Lincoln, about 30 miles east of the track; it turned out to be a great choice. Several other race attendees were also staying there.

I got to the track around 2:00 on Friday afternoon and checked in at the volunteer tent and got all my credentials and such and then enjoyed the afternoon watching practice action and checking out the vendors and the paddock.

I got to meet Roger Hayden and get his autograph; I was surprised to learn that he and I are pretty much the same height and build.

Jessica Zalusky was unfortunately absent due to injuries sustained while snowboarding, but Misti Hurst was there to represent the ladies.

Barber features some cool sculptures in various locations around the park:

$4/gallon gas ain't so bad:

Things wrapped up around 5:00, and I headed out to Oak Mountain State Park for a bit of hiking and to check out a waterfall out there. I got there a little before 6:00, and the park ranger said that the gates are locked at 7:00, so I had to make it a quick visit. The road leading up to the falls was steep and curvy, so it took a bit to get to the parking area, and after parking, it was about a half mile hike over rough terrain to get to the waterfall. I made it and enjoyed a quick view, then quickly made it back to the parking area to zoom back down the access road, stopping for a quick photo at an overlook. I certainly got my exercise that day!

I didn't need to stop for dinner, because I'd gotten a meal ticket when I picked up my volunteer package; I knew I'd get a meal the day I worked, but Friday's was a surprise; I enjoyed a very good and large grilled hamburger, side, and drink (worth $10) before leaving the track, so I was good for the evening. I made it to the motel around 8:00 and read for a bit and watched Numb3rs before retiring for the evening. I don't have cable or satellite at home, so you'd think I'd watch that type of programming when I have the opportunity, but I usually watch network or nothing, even when other stuff is available. Just reinforces the fact that I'm not missing much.

Saturday morning started bright and early at 5:30. I was at the track by 6:30 for volunteer check in, then off to the will-call and credentials building to start my shift. I knew that volunteering was a smart financial decision, but it turned out to be a lot of fun as well (so much so that I did another shift Sunday morning!) The two employees, Heather and Michelle, and the other volunteers were super-friendly and fun to work with, and the work itself was fun. Mr. Barber (THE Mr. Barber) stopped by to check on things; he's a very nice and down-to-earth man.

I worked until a little after noon, after which I grabbed another excellent grilled burger meal, explored the paddock some more, and caught some good racing action; there was a superbike and the formula extreme race that afternoon. Unfortunately Roger Hayden crashed pretty badly during qualifying and was unable to race; he was transported to the hospital with some broken bones. His bike tells the story pretty well:

Jason diSalvo placed second in the superbike race, his best finish ever, so that was exciting. I think the beard helped.

Mladin, diSalvo, and Tommy Hayden on the podium:

That evening I enjoyed the awesome salad bar at Jason's Deli and topped it off with coffee and ice cream. On my way back to the motel I stopped at Liberty Park off of I-459 and visited the 1/5 scale Statue of Liberty.

Back at the hotel I read a bit and watched 48 Hours Mystery on NBC (another network program, like I mentioned earlier) before calling it a night.

Sunday I was out of the hotel by around 8:00, and after stopping for breakfast made it to the track at around 9:00. The only track action was warm-up, I'd enjoyed working the will-call building, and they'd said they could use some help on Sunday morning, so I worked there until around noon. Once again, I had a great time. Plus I scored another $10 meal ticket!

I'd done quite enough of walking and exploring the paddock on Friday and Saturday, so Sunday afternoon I grabbed a spot not too far from the parking lot and will-call building and enjoyed the three Sunday races from there. It was a perfect afternoon for racing. Mladin won the superbike race, as he did on Saturday, and Tommy Hayden placed third again as he had on Saturday. Spies replaced diSalvo for the #2 spot.

By being so close to the parking lot, and by that lot being right at the entrance to the park (another volunteering perc) I was able to get out of the park and on the highway very quickly, ahead of the crowd. Made good time on the trip home and made it home around 10:30. Great weekend!