Now back to the events that led me to Asheville, Strick's Cycle, to the home of Claude and Joanne Stanley and eventually to Massachusetts. High on the Blue Ridge, at approximately 5,600 feet, with an approaching rainstorm, I pondered my options. On all my trips, I've camped nearly exclusively and for free when possible (National Forests and Grasslands, BLM Land, and sometimes private property). In addition, I visit grocery stores every 3 to 5 days to resupply my food cache. I also carry water, a pump to purify just about any water source (Florida swamps included), pot set, and stove etc. All together, these things allow me to camp anywhere I can get the motorcycle (boulder strewn roads in Big Bend not exempted) and for several days without needing to visit a town. As a result, I could have easily camped, option #1, on the mountain that night (it may have been a good test for my two-man 4-season Moss Tent; perhaps the best piece of gear I own). I felt any option that included leaving the bike and/or gear behind for many hours was a bad one. This left only camping or somehow hauling the bike to the nearest town with a bike shop.
After about 20 minutes of pondering and cleaning battery terminals (fuses all removed at this point, i.e., no lights or horn), I decided to attempt another pop start. This time it worked (battery recharged slightly in 20 minutes) and I immediately took off towards Asheville. As you hindsighters might expect, I didn't get far. In fact, I ended up exactly where I started after turning and coasting back down the hill I partially climbed.
Just behind me a white pickup waited patiently for me to turn, without lights or turn signals (only hand signals), into the scenic pullout. As this fellow pulled in and started for the exit, I leapt off the bike and started waving both arms. Fortunately, the driver of the truck noticed, but not before pulling almost completely out of the parking area.
Serendipity came through and big time when Chad came along. Chad is built like a pro-football lineman and happens to drive a small pickup! Later, Chad would inform me that he intended on turning around and returning home at the pullout a few miles north (nearer to Asheville). However, for reasons I don't recall, he decided to drive onto the next pullout. The latter is where I was stranded. Chad agreed without hesitation to do whatever necessary to get the motorcycle and myself to the outskirts of Asheville.
In moderately heavy showers, Chad and I lifted the front tire assembly onto the pickup's tailgate. In order to get the remainder of the motorcycle in the bed, someone had to hold the bike vertical while the other lifted. Unfortunately, with the bike doing a "wheelie" on the tailgate, this meant nearly all of the motorcycle's mass had to be lifted to get the full motorcycle in the bed. Following a few quick-deep breaths, Chad lifted, I steadied, and together we pushed the bike safely onto the truck. Next ensued some good knots that failed rather quickly, once we got rolling, to hold the bike vertical. The problem was I only had narrow-gauge climbing style rope (purchased to hang food in bear country) which stretches significantly under a load. We solved the problem quickly by almost laying the bike on its side and refitting the rope.
In persistent rain, poor visibility, and on convoluted mountain road, Chad and I covered 40 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway from where he found me to the outskirts of Asheville. For the most part, I felt good over this stretch. Chad and I talked constantly and we agreed that so far I had been quite fortunate. Folks often wonder what they'll find on the periphery or further from the places they know well. If they're lucky, they'll meet Chad or other individuals with whom I've crossed paths. However, it is more likely they'll meet their own series of interesting and generous strangers.
Holly litter, North Carolina
Chad was returning home to Hendersonville, NC, which he planned to access by returning to Asheville and then heading south on I-26. Within a few spits from I-26 were several hotels including the Hampton Inn at Biltmore Square. It was close to 7:30PM when we exited the parkway and spotted the first cluster of hotels. Based on what I knew about the cost of various hotels (almost nothing), I suggested he drop me at the Hampton Inn. Due to a pile-up of automobiles in front of the Hotel, Chad and I had to say so long and shake hands quickly. Fortunately, I did not forget to write down his phone number...otherwise he would have forever been "Chad" from Hendersonville!
Visa to the rescue and 100 dollars later, my dirty self and bags, assisted by a cart, strolled onto the elevator. Whenever I find myself in the need of a comfortable "tourist" option it generally results in a big hit to my budget. These experiences have made it clear to me why so many good people work long hours, 5 or 6 days each week and spend a fortune on their two weeks (!) of vacation time. Now, if they were getting something worthy of all their dollars, like a ride on the space shuttle, then I would be envious and likely find myself a similar full-life job. But this does not seem to be the case. Consider folks coming to Asheville to visit the sites, including the Biltmore Estates. What is it about a recycled hotel room, expensive restaurants, concrete and pavement and play-back tour guides that provide satisfaction enough to justify spending most of a short life working? Personally, I have been impressed at the efficiency of these experiences to distract the living from the places they visit. In short, all of my travels give me a strong impression that folks taking the "tourist" road miss everything and go broke doing it. Why not go cheap and get dirty with the places you've either stumbled into by chance or desired to experience all your life? Taking this route, for example, I found myself dining on caribou sausage and tur (local name for Common Murre; a seabird) served out of a canning jar with ample finger licking sauce alongside a local Newfoundlander; we ate with our fingers of course, washed the meat down with moderately-priced scotch, talked and enjoyed the relatively bug-free air flowing over Deer Lake. I may have to eat my words, but I doubt such a thing can occur inside the fabricated confines of a $100/night hotel room. If clean/dry sheets are what a traveler desires, then carry them. I've found they fit in a tent just as well as a concrete, wood, and steel box. It took me all that to say "DAMN, that's a lot of money for a place to sleep"!
Text & photos © André Breton