MSTA TriSTAR (5/23-30/2012)

Attending MSTA TriSTAR in Sparta, NC
Memorial Weekend 2012
By Don Moe

On Wednesday, May 23rd, I mounted my trusty 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14, now with nearly 50K miles in the sixteen months of my owning it, and headed north on I-95 on the first leg of my trip to attend the 2012 TriSTAR rally. I’d been looking forward to visiting that area again. [Ed: This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Florida MSTA Grapevine.]

In general I try to avoid the super-slab highways, even if it takes much longer than on US, state or county highways. But I was eager to get into Georgia as soon as possible, where there is a greater selection of good secondary roads north, which often have much less traffic and pass through some nice small towns. In planning such trips, I use Garmin MapSource to route around the larger towns and cities as much as possible and transfer the route to my Zumo 665.

Upon reaching the I-295 Bypass just south of Jacksonville, I followed it west around to exit 28 where I continued north on US-1 and various state roads. Eventually I reached my first overnight stop at the EconoLodge motel near I-20 in Thomson, GA. The first day’s ride was thus 527 miles in 9½ hours, including stops for lunch and refueling. Upon arriving the motel owner recognized me, since I had stayed at his motel during my return trip from Sparta in 2011, and gave me a nice welcome. At the nearby Chinese buffet restaurant, I sampled from a good selection of various dishes.

Departing the next morning from Thomson and staying to the west of the Savannah River, I continued north until I crossed into South Carolina at the south end of Hartwell Lake. (Refer to the adjacent map.) Needing to refuel, I stopped at a station at the intersection of SC-24 and SC-187 to discover that they offered ethanol-free fuel, including premium, at a competitive price, presumably due to boaters enjoying the nearby Hartwell Lake. It seems that my fuel economy improved slightly (~10%) with the pure gasoline.

Now that I was getting closer to the Appalachians, the roads were finally getting interesting with more curves and scenery. Since my plan included riding the Blue Ridge Parkway again, I followed US-178 from Liberty, SC to US-64 in Rosman, NC, where I switched to the very twisty Parkway Road.

Shortly I after turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, I stopped briefly at the overlook called Devil’s Courthouse to take several photos, including these two.

View from the Devil’s Courthouse overlook of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 5,462 ft elevation.

View of the bare rock profile named Devil’s Courthouse

About 30 minutes further along the Parkway, I also stopped at the Pounding Mill overlook to take several additional photos.

Panoramic view east from the Pounding Mill overlook

View north towards Frying Pan Mountain from the Pounding Mill overlook.The Parkway snakes around the hills.

Close-up view of Looking Glass Rock

Although I could easily have made it all the way to Sparta on this second day of my trip, I had decided to stop early at the Switzerland Inn along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland, NC. I was curious about the lodge and wanted to ride on some of the nearby twisties, such as the section called Diamondback, NC-226A, which has 190 curves in 12 miles.

After 252 miles in 6½ hours, I arrived at the Inn around 2 PM and unloaded the bike for riding the local twisties. After taking a break, I headed out on a loop tour that included NC-226A, US-221, NC-80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. (See adjacent map.) As I returned to Little Switzerland, I decided it would be wise to refuel before stopping for the night. The closest stations were in nearby Spruce Pine and I found that the Exxon station there also offered ethanol-free premium.

Upon returning to the Inn, I found several other motorcycles parked there, including Ducati and Aprilia dual-sports, belonging to Ian and Kelly, two MSTA members from Michigan, whom I met after Ian spotted my MSTA sticker and introduced himself. Later on, we had some nice conversation over a couple beers on the Inn’s patio followed by dinner in the restaurant. Since they hadn’t known about TriSTAR, they had not planned on attending it. Our MSTA events could doubtless benefit from additional promotion.

Here are three photos I took at the Switzerland Inn:

Valley-side view of the Inn

View of the valley from the Inn

Several of the motorcycles on the highway-side of the Inn. Mine is the 5th in line.

The next morning, May 25th, I departed the Switzerland Inn around 10 AM and continued north along the Blue Ridge Parkway for 113 miles to Sparta, arriving at the Alleghany Inn at 12:20 PM, which was hosting the TriSTAR rally. (See the adjacent map.)  The ride was uneventful except for several construction zones that restricted traffic to a single lane. The scenery was as beautiful as usual under sunny, mostly clear skies.

Upon arriving in Sparta, I found Beth Hobbs, our hostess at TriSTAR, together with John Kilmartin, the motel manager, and two workers all busily setting up the tents and tables for our rally. They already had hung numerous pendants and banners from the upper floor railing. It was already looking rather festive, as shown in this photo. After setting up the tent sections, they anchored everything with the white paint buckets filled with water in case of high winds. Other riders, who had arrived early, were mostly out riding when I arrived.

Beth Hobbs (in yellow) and John Kilmartin (in white) set up the tents with two helpers.

At the evening cookout with hotdogs and hamburgers with the fixings, I heard that around 70 participants attended the event this year. The gallery section of the MSTA website has numerous additional photos from TriSTAR 2012.

On Saturday morning, it became obvious that my rear tire did not last as long as I had anticipated and that I must replace it before riding the local twisties, and especially before returning home. Gary Christopher assisted me in finding a shop nearby that had a suitable tire and could put it on that morning. He, Ken from Michigan and I rode the 38 miles from Sparta to the Mt. Airy Yamaha dealer in just under an hour and their mechanic quickly mounted the new tire. Afterward local MSTA member “Iguana” Joe joined us for lunch at the nearby Ruby Tuesday.

Following lunch, Gary led Ken and me on a spirited 140-mile ride through southern Virginia. (See adjacent map.) Living in the flatland of Michigan, Ken is not yet very confident in the corners due lack of practice. On this outing he got plenty of practice, while remaining within his comfort zone.

We returned to Sparta about 6:30 and just in time for the catered dinner party under the tents. Baked chicken and pulled pork with the fixings were on the menu. We were certainly ready for that along with a couple beers after the day’s riding.

In addition to the food, the highlight of the evening was doubtless the raffle drawing of the numerous items provided by various vendors, including a $200 leather jacket, size large. After the first two or three winners turned it down for being too small, the next winner took it, even though it was probably two sizes too large for her.

Beth Hobbs introduces the raffle session (Photo by Roger Willis)

On Sunday morning I heard the news that Beth’s husband, Tony, had collided with a dog or coyote while riding his motorcycle on Saturday night and had broken his right leg. Fortunately he’s now on the mend and undergoing rehabilitation. Since Beth had gone with him to the hospital, those of us still at the motel pitched in to help pack up her things and to load their two motorcycles onto their trailer.

Following a leisurely breakfast at the adjacent café, Ken and I embarked on a final ride together at this event. Although quite lengthy at 250 miles, we rode at a more relaxed pace than on Saturday and returned to Sparta 7½ hours later. The route included sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Roan Mountain State Park. (See the adjacent map.) Ken had not previously ridden along the Parkway and was happy for the opportunity.

I had first met Ken and wife Vicky at TriSTAR the previous year, when I noticed his red Kawasaki Concours 14 (2009). After seeing them again at STAR2011 in Johnson City, I visited their home in Mason, MI during my cross-country tour in July, 2011. They plan to attend STAR2012 in Avon too. It’s nice to develop good relationships at these events.

Although I had considered heading home to Florida on Monday, May 29th, Tropical Storm Beryl was causing some serious and badly needed rain across northern Florida and southern Georgia. The prospect of riding through tropical storm conditions certainly didn’t appeal to me.

Not being in any hurry, I decided to remain in sunny, dry, northwestern North Carolina and to enjoy a final day of fun riding. The route I selected took me to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Shady Valley, along US-421 (a.k.a. The Snake), along the south shore of Watauga Lake, past Roan Mountain and back to Sparta. (See adjacent map.) It took me nearly six hours to cover the 227 miles, including a lunch stop at the Shady Valley Country Store, where I took this panoramic photo to show the numerous other motorcycles there.

The Shady Valley Country Store is a favorite stop for food and fuelbefore riding The Snake, US-421, towards Mountain City, TN.

Although the storm had weakened overnight and moved further east, the ride south on Tuesday was not as dry as I had hoped. Thus I had to put on my rain gear for a while when I was near Blowing Rock and passed under a feeder band of the storm. Thankfully the rain was mostly light to moderate. After clearing that area, I was able to take off the rain gear again.

My route south from Sparta was initially along NC-18 and portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway. (See adjacent map.) At Old Fort, located about 20 miles east of Asheville along I-40, I followed Bat Cave Road south towards Hendersonville. There’s lots of tight twisties along that road. Once I reached Rosman, NC, I followed nearly the same route to Thomson as I did on my way north.

I returned to the same EconoLodge in Thomson, GA. The price was reasonable at around $50 with taxes and I was looking forward to dinner at the nearby Chinese buffet.

On Wednesday, the 30th, the final leg of my return trip was almost the same as the first heading north. After nearly 11 hours and 523 miles, including stops for lunch, fuel and rain gear once again, I arrived back in Jupiter safe and sound.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this report of my trip to North Carolina. Perhaps next year several more MSTA members from Florida will attend TriSTAR and enjoy riding the nice roads in that area. It’s certainly worth the effort!

Additional photos from my trip can been seen on this other page.