10 years ago last month, Ian and I took a fateful motorcycle trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most beautiful compelling roads in the entire country. We visited Tom in Ashville. Ian had heard about some water falls in the area he wanted to see. Ian likes pretty waterfalls. Over drinks, Tom happened to mention that a place called "Deal's Gap" was not that far away. My mind instantly reached back into the dark distant past to an era before Starbucks. In this godless age, my only access to the 'Net was through 1200 baud dialup sessions to a timeshare machine, located in Virginia, called Grebyn which ran the DEC Ultrix flavor of Unix. There I could reach other minds in the ether through a global store and forward messaging system called Usenet news. This was where one could find alt.rec.motorcycles.dod, the home of the only motorcycle anti-club I have ever belonged to, the Denizens of Doom. I am member #326 although I haven't actually looked at it in many years.

It was here that I had first heard tell of a legendary road that they called "The Dragon". The superlatives used to describe this road and the areas surrounding had to be myth. Nothing could be that good. Convinced my cynicism was warranted, I dismissed these accounts as being akin to tall tales of BigFoot, Yeti and the Staypuff Marshmellow Man. As decades passed and Starbucks slowly arose from the West to spread civilization to the poor undercaffeinated souls of the East, the tall tales of this road faded into obscurity. "Let sleeping Dragons lie." they say.

"Deal's Gap you say?" I asked inquisitively. Tom patiently described how to get there. It was only 120 miles away. "It can't be that good. Ian wants to see water falls. Pretty pretty water falls. But I think I'd like to risk it. Some unknown force compells me ..." I thought. I do not hold on to my wants tightly and will almost always defer to the wants of others. But this was different, so much so that even all these years later I remember the moment clearly.Completely out of character, I suggested to Ian, "I think we should check out this road. It is legend." Ian objected firmly. He really likes his waterfalls. But, again even more out of character, as some one possessed, I said, "Dude, I know it's weird but I'd really like to go check it out." He thought it was going to be a tourist trap. I didn't know what I thought, just that I really wanted to go. Ian relented probably confused by my sudden change of character. There was something in the deep dark wood that was calling me.

The next morning we rode like the wind along the Smoky Mountain Expressway. I became more and more nervous about my insistance because as we approached the area where this road was supposed to be, the conditions became worse. Gravel, potholes, police, oncoming traffic. It sucked. I was just about to sheepishly suggest we turn around and admit defeat when we passed a weird looking cinderblock motel with a gas station attached. There were dozens of bikes in the parking lot. Could this be it? We rode passed it up the hill and came upon some truly sharp corners. The first few were pitted with loose gravel. There were maybe a dozen more on better pavement after that and then the road straightened out and I could see the double yellow line fade in the distance. "Is that it?!?" I remember thinking. Disappointed and a bit embarrassed at having been suckered into believing the tall tales, I punched it. What I failed to notice was that the double yellow lines disappeared into the tops of trees. I realized the error of my ways almost too late. I hit the brakes like crazy and leaned the bike over into a descending decreasing radius right hander and had the road drop out from under me as it wound it's way down the side of a cliff at impossible angles. I was already screaming in my helmet at the top of my lungs like some maniac. A relentless onslaught of the most difficult corners I have ever experienced assaulted every sense. A few minutes later I was already screaming, "MAKE IT STOP!!!!" By the time we had made it to the end of the 318 corners, I was sweating buckets and nearly out of breath. Ian rolled up next to me and said, "Now we've seen it all. We don't need to go anyplace else."

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Photos from that road have been the background for my desktop machine for ages now. The next year we went back specifically to ride that road. We stayed at the motel, called the Deals Gap Resort. It's called a "resort" because it's located in a dry, i.e. alcohol free, county and the only way they are allowed to serve any alcohol is to be called a "resort" which means they have to have tennis courts, which they do, up a hill in the woods. We had a blast.

Unfortunately, Ian eventually moved out of the country to go live in amongst the civilized tribes up north, i.e. Canada. As he left he said, "I'll ship my bike out. We'll still do the trip." But as is often the case with the best laid plans of mice and men, it did not come to pass. The road remained unvisited for these few years. Eventually, frustrated by the thought that I might not get to go back to those incredible roads with my friend, I secured myself "Ian's bike" a.k.a. the guest bike to guilt him into flying out and joining me on a trip.

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Unfortunately, it was a disaster. The bike had been wrecked and I didn't notice too caught up in the bigger plans I had surrounding the machine. I spent the early part of 2005 largely rebuilding the machine up to the day before we had to leave. It was a ridiculous amount of work and this was in the middle of my Nightmare back then. The distraction at the time did me good and having something to look forward to during all that darkness, in part, kept me going.

But from the jaws of defeat success was pulled. Ian flew out and joined me for the trip. The bike performed admirably. Again, we had a blast. For the next or several years, Ian would fly out, take the guest bike and we would ride to this legendary road known as "The Dragon".

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Over the years, I attempted to explain what we had found. I used increasingly superlative language to try to describe to Bruce and Duncan just how incredible this area and road were. Unconvinced, they seemed to think they were listening to the ramblings of a mad-man. It came to pass one year a few years ago that life got in the way and Ian could not go. With some heavy marketing, coersion, and deceit, I convinced Bruce and Duncan to go. This was in 2010, a trial run before the Big Trip. Bruce rode the guest bike and Duncan rode is K1300S.

After only 50 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway they began to get it. "I might have to do this again in 5 years." Bruce said early on. We got down to the Gap. "Hmmm. Maybe I'll do it again in 3." He mused. We spent a couple of days there. And they got it. "No amount of description. No quantity of superlatives can relate the nature of this experience. You just have to come out here and ride this road."

A similar story played out with Josh in the fall of 2010.

By the time the first Deal's Gap Trip was done with Bruce and Duncan, they were already planning the next one. It's now a foregone conclusion that these trips will continue to happen. Last year, we set the date for our 2012 trip to be the week after Mother's Day in deference to all the married types with children. Josh had invited his friend Rob to go. "He keeps saying he might not even ride the Dragon much. He doesn't get it." Josh would say knowingly.

Riding many miles by motorcycle is a big deal. It's difficult. Style and attitude matters. As a general rule, I don't like to travel far with anyone that I haven't done a lot of miles with already. I was a little more than a little apprehensive about adding a new rider to the mix. A bad trip can be a really bad experience. Duncan, Bruce and I have been riding together for decades. We click like nobody's business. Honestly, it sets the bar unreasonably high for anyone else. No one has friends like I do. I've done a couple of trips with Josh and know that we travel well together. The four of us had a good time last year down at the Gap. I had been pleased to see that everyone got along. I've not been one to mix worlds being far too risk averse, but it worked out. Maybe this would work out. It's just that Rob was an unknown to me and I didn't really know what to expect, so being me I feared the worst. I was concerned for Bruce and Duncan. It's a huge deal for those guys to take a trip like this. It's not just them. Their wives are heavily involved in making this happen as well. They take care of the kids and homestead while their husbands are away on some fool adventure. Without them, this trip couldn't happen and I am eternally grateful to them. I don't get to see my friends very often at all anymore. But what would happen if we didn't get along? If our riding styles didn't match? The trip could suck and maybe Bruce and Duncan would be less motivated to go in the future, which would be a personal disaster for me. I so look forward to this time with them. Too many questions. Travelling by motorcycle far is a big deal and I was a bit concerned about it.

I made reservations at the Deal's Gap Resort many months in advance. They have two "apartment suites" that can house 6 guys. I got one of these for the first four days but the room had already been booked for the last two days we were to be down there. So I reserved a normal room for those days.

Last summer, I taught Yun to ride. He has a way of finding things in excellent condition at unbelievably good prices. So it was with the absolutely pristine R1100S he bought. The seller even drove the thing down here from Conneticut I think it was.

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This just further made the point that I had been had with the purchase of the guest bike. Even after all the work and money I had put into it, it wasn't nearly as good as this bike. What further distressed me was the fact that this bike had an Ohlins suspension on it which made it handle so much more confidently than my guest bike. As a matter of fact, it didn't handle like any R1100S I had ever ridden. Crazy! I hemmed and hawwed for months about what to do. I didn't really want to spend $2100 just to get a set of Ohlins shocks for the bike when entire bikes already equipped with an upgraded suspension could be had for around $6K.. I asked Yun to keep an eye out for a good R1100S with Ohlins. I thought it might make sense just to replace the guest bike with a newer better model.

Eventually, Yun did find a nice example of an R1100S for only $5000. It had Ohlins on it. It had a good expensive seat. It was cared for. I just couldn't get past the color. So, somewhat half-jokingly since Josh had enjoyed riding Yun's bike so much, I forwarded the ad to Josh.

To my surprise, some weeks later Josh picked up the bike.

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In retrospect, I probably should have gotten it. It has ABS and is just all around a much nicer example. After that find, we didn't see any other R1100S's for sale for a while. Josh went on to get a tire changer and introduced me to how sticky and awesome the Michelin Pilot Power 2CT tires were. That put me over the top.

I ended up getting the tire changer, balancer, a set of tires and I even went for broke and ordered a set of Ohlins. Too much money for improvements to such an old bike but by the time I was done with it, the R1100S guest bike was as good as I could make it. It was now a cornering beast. I was really excited by the idea of Bruce riding this thing down at the Gap. Josh even loaned me one of the spare seats he got with his bike. Bruce was going to have a blast and I was looking forward to taking the guest bike through a few times myself, although I would be spending the majority of time on my heavy Beloved Blue Bike. As is usually the case, of the group, I would have the most underpowered and heaviest bike there.

As the months dragged on, increasingly excited posts found their way to the Miles By Motorcycle Forum as the date of departure neared.

Josh was putting in more work on his R1100S. The brake rotors on his 'S had warped a bit and he wanted to replace them. He bought a set of EBC rotors and bolted them on. I went down there a few days before our trip to help him adjust the valves. The next day I got a text from him saying that a brake line had failed after he put the bike back together.

"If Rob weren't going I'd bail on the trip." he said. I felt really bad for Josh. He had been looking forward to riding his 'S down there so much and his disappointment was palapable. 'Listen, you can ride the guest bike. Bruce can ride the Blue Bike and I'll be willing to ride the Angry Chicken down." I told him knowing full well that if I rode Chicken I'd pretty much be sacrificing my participation in the trip. I knew Bruce wouldn't mind the Blue Bike. The Chicken down there would be laughable. I would have done it though. Like I said, I don't hold on to my wants very tightly at all and tend to be willing to sacrifice just about anything. I guess I always do things like that, maybe a bit too much. His FJR 1300 is a great bike. In retrospect I should have offered to ride his FJR. That would have made more sense. He was just wicked bummed but I guess the thought of me riding the Angry Chicken snapped him out of it enough to realize he could ride his FJR and have a good time. After all, the the Yamaha FJR is a much more capable bike than my Beloved Blue Bike is. But everything on Earth, even your basic tricycle, is more capable than the Chicken.

It was a viable backup plan. He still wanted to try to get the 'S fixed but there wasn't enough time to get a new line and install it. He took it to a local dealer, one that I don't have a high opinion of, who said they'd be able to get a set of lines installed for him. It sounded like he might be able to ride his 'S after all.

The day finally arrived and I drove up through just unbelievable traffic to BWI to pick up Bruce. I was over half an hour late which I hate but all roads north had been at a standstill. As luck would have it, we didn't need to give his mother a lift home after all, so we had enough time to start packing and get everything in order for the morning departure.

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Each time we do this, it goes a bit more smoothly. Last year, I was the cause of the late start because I hadn't been able to sleep for several nights before. Luckily this time around, I was able to sleep more or less ok and managed to get up on time. We grabbed breakfast at the IHop and then made our way over to collect Duncan. We had been working on him to get packed and ready in advance but we were still anticipating delays. It is Duncan after all. To his credit, Duncan was sort of kind of close to ready.

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After some last minute futzing with a new special anti-fog faceshield he had bought in addition to a huge jumble of extra electronics so he could listen to music and take phone calls on the bike, we finally got underway. "Phone calls? Talking? In my helmet? Hell no!" I said shuddering at the thought that the peace I experience on the bike might be interrupted by the outside world. There's just something offensive about it. But Duncan was happy and was really looking forward to trying out his new gadgets. He would eventually be able to take calls from Yun, who had also gotten similar helmet set up. So Yun was able to vicariously live through Duncan on this trip a bit.

We were originally supposed to meet Josh and Rob at the Shoney's in Stuanton. Unfortunately, when Josh got the 'S back from the dealer they returned it to him without working brakes. Incredibly bummed Josh texted me, "Do you want a parts bike?" Poor guy.

So Josh still had a bunch of work left to do to get his sport touring Yamaha FJR 1300 ready. It would take him at least another hour. So instead of heading to Staunton we headed to Woodbridge in part to see if maybe we could lend a hand.

As we arrived, Patty, Joshs' wife, greeted us. "Yermo, do you want some coffee?" she asked. "Coffee!? Why yes, I would love some coffee!" I replied. Poor woman. Little does she realize she has now been imprinted on my brain as a source of coffee. Poor poor woman. I guess I now exist for Patty. For the longest time I didn't think that I did. It's strange. I meet new people and generally I don't exist to them for some period of time then all of a sudden one day I do. They acknowledge my presence and everything.

Owing to my terrible memory, as many know I now seem to suffer from a terminal case of Can't Remember Shit, I had actually met Rob before a couple of times but completely forgot. He and Josh had come down to the boat one day while I was working on it. Maybe I thought it was a different Rob that Josh had been talking about. I just didn't put it together. Re-introduced to Rob I started feeling a bit more comfortable about it.

We all hung out around the kitchen while Josh got ready. Duncan and Rob hit it off immediately and were discussing some technical issue or another. As the unofficial ride planner, I wanted to get a feel for what kind of rider Rob was since I had never ridden with him. "Hey Rob, since we haven't ridden together before, I'd like to touch base and get a feel for what kind of rider you are." I asked.

Riding styles matter. Expectations matter. Some guys are all about miles and anything less than iron-butt distances filled with unending misery cause them to get angry and impatient. Other guys like to go really fast. Others have an every man for himself attitude. Others are team player and work well in groups.

"We like to go about 90 miles and then stop. We ride in a staggered formation. The leader picks the route and is responsible for those behind him. The leader makes sure there's enough room to pass. If someone in the group gets cut off at a light we all stop and wait. We don't like to go too much over the speed limit. We try to watch out for each other. We're all rusty so I like to take the extra time which is why I like to do the first 500 miles in two days instead of all at once. It gives us a margin for error." He nodded in agreement with the clear demeanor that this was all familiar territory. He clarified that he was, indeed, one of us. In a moment of sheer brilliance, he made me completely comfortable and I knew we would get along fabulously when he said,"Don't worry. I too am a Starbucks Stopper." It turns out he had read this blog from beginning to end. I was humbled once again.

'nuff said. Instant buddy, just add Starbucks. Robb and I would go on to hit it off better than I have with any "new person" in as long as I can remember. Apprehension changed into "Ok, this is going to be extremely cool." He's one of us. They are very rare. Everyone agreed, good guy and a great addition to the trip. I felt a little self conscious about having doubted Josh about the addition. Sorry, Dude.

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Rob rode a Ninja 1000. It's a deceptively fast and agile bike that is, contrary to what I would have thought, quite good at touring.

I posted on Facebook, "Delays are proportional to the square of the people involved." Each person you add to a trip just makes things go slower especially on the first day. It's just the way things work out. There's no point in getting stressed out about it. We'll get there when we get there. This is why, early in a trip, I like to give us extra time. This is also why I don't like to add in any extra stops along the way. Things always take so much longer in the beginning of a trip than one thinks. After quite some time longer than even the longer time I expected, we were finally lined up and ready to go. Target departure time 9AM. Actual departure time, 1PM or so. Sounds about right.

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I confess I don't like the Woodbridge area very much. It just takes too long to get anywhere. Josh led us out of town and towards route 64 where we could make our way to Staunton and 81 South. Unfortunately, we came upon a ridiculous number of progress halting obstacles. A town with a major thoroughfare had decided to close itself down for some silly festival. This required us to try to find a way around said town. "Sorry, you can't get there from here." This eventually lead us to a long wait at a one lane bridge. Apparently, every one else trying to get out of Dodge had the same idea while everyone else was trying to get into the silly little town with it's silly little traffic inducing festival.

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One car would go across. Then we would have to wait for like 10 cars to come in this direction. So we waited.

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And we waited. And we cooked in the heat of our engines. And we waited some more. Then finally we were able to make it across said one lane wooden rickety little bridge. We would go on to encounter mail trucks blocking traffic. There was the traffic jam at the left hand turn that took forever to get through. We simply couldn't make forward progress to save our lives.

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Having made no progress, we stopped for a late lunch. Josh guided us to this bar and grill he knew, I forget the name. They were between lunch and dinner shifts so there wasn't much on the menu available. But we were happy to be sitting inside in air conditioning away from the heat.

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As we looked over the menu and got glasses of water, the other four in our little fellowship found themselves in an extended conversation about how awesome their wives are. I am certainly very grateful to all the wives in question for making this trip possible. I know it's a big deal and I think it's awesome. But I had little, actually nothing, to contribute. I sat quietly occassionally attempting to interject something to turn the conversation to more motorcycling related topics to no avail. I was vastly out numbered.

At this point, I have forgotten all the various ways in which these super-wives are awesome. There were many. I think Rob said his wife could dead-lift 300 lbs while sipping a latte. Then the conversation turned away from how awesome their wives were. I looked up from my phone, naively. "Can we talk about motorcycling now?" I almost said aloud but my hopes were dashed against the cold rocks of nuclear family bliss. The conversations moved to stories of how awesome all of their kids were.

There are more kids than wives. As a result, the telling of the awesome kid tales took longer than the telling of the awesome wives tales. I continued to sit quietly while re-evaluating how I elect to spend my free time.

Lunch arrived after some time and the conversation finally turned the roads we had just been on, the closed down town and that ridiculous little bridge. "It was hotter 'n hell out there cooking in that traffic." I think I said as I reflected on the Beloved Blue Bike's fatal flaw, an excessively hot radiator that, when the fan kicks on, bathes the rider in truly hot air. It's not usual to see my little thermometer go over 120 degF when the radiator kicks on while sitting in traffic. "They don't like the world 'hell' down here." Duncan said knowingly. Really? "They're not going to like me at all." I thought as I looked around. The message was clear. We were in gods country. People down here are easily offended and if there's one thing we don't want to do is offend the god fearing with our godless free-thinking ways.

I don't like to offend people. I tend to be courteous and polite almost to a fault. Then again, some would say well beyond the level of a fault.

I thought about the various god fearing folk I had met on previous trips down here. There are even Christian biker gangs down here. The conversations alway start out the same way, as a disingenuous pretext of being friendly. They approach you. They start a friendly conversation. Then after a while, they spring their little trap by handing you a bible, an advertisement for some church or some get out of hell free card. You end up feeling used.

That offends me.

I'm always polite and say, "No thank you." Maybe I should tell them I have no use for their imaginary super friend.

"Why should my offense be worth any less than theirs?" I asked not even considering what I was saying.

"I can't believe you just said that so openly." Rob said visibly surprised.

"Did I tell you these were the right guys or what?" Josh said.

"I might get a just little weepy now." Rob joked.

As we left, I asked a guy standing outside to take a group photo of us. He wanted his truck in the photo. "Sure, no problem." I said.

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We rolled on through increasingly traffic laden but larger roads and eventually, finally, found our way onto route 64. I took over the lead and we started our 90 mile sprints. Of course, we are Starbucks Stoppers and after some hours it was time for another Starbucks stop. We were all pretty tired. The GPS, that lying bitch that she is, told me there was a Starbucks not too far away. A 6 mile rather lively detour later we found ourselves in a parking lot at some mall no Starbucks to be seen. Josh pointed out a Panerra bread and said they have good coffee. "But, but, but it's not Starbucks." I thought but didn't say anything. Then Rob pointed to the Barnes and Noble.

"THERE ARE STARBUCKS IN BARNES AND NOBLE!"

We waved to Josh and soon we found ourselves sitting contently in a bookstore coffee in hand.

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I was pretty tired and staring into the blackness of my coffee lost in thought of the trip ahead when Rob and Josh commented on how out of place some of the clientele seemed. I looked up. Scattered throughout the bookstore were quite a few young women seemingly too well dressed for the occasion as if they were competing in some unspoken, yet oddly tasteful, fashion show. You couldn't point to any one thing. It's not that they were wearing extravagant dresses. Quite the contrary. "I imagine it takes a lot of prep-work to put yourself together like that." I thought looking around. I wondered who they were doing it for. Certainly not some bug guts covering motorcyclist. "Each other, maybe?" I thought. I guess it's some cultural thing in gods country. Appearance seemed to really matter to them. Do they not feel right if they don't go through some OCD ritual of excess preparation before heading out into the world? Maybe it's a matter of identity and self-perception much the way I don't feel right if I don't have my ring and my watch on. Regardless of what it is, I enjoy seeing people who are good at what they do. I could certainly appreciate the work these women put into presenting themselves so well but I couldn't help but think that it seemed like a huge waste of effort, time and expense that could be put to much better use in some other activity. I guess the same could be said for motorcycling.

The last time we had come down this way there was some kind of graduation event going on and we had some trouble securing a hotel. Rob jumped into action. Wythesville was just the right range away and before we knew it Rob had, through his smartphone, secured us two hotel rooms.

We gathered up our gear and dragged our sorry carcasses back out into the heat away from the air conditioning and Hollywood-esque clientele. A quick 90 mile or so sprint down 81 and we found ourselves in Wythesville. It seems that all roads lead to Wythesville. We checked into the hotel. A tallish angry looking readheaded woman was working at the counter. Some comment was made, but I now forget what, something about gods country or church or somesuch to which she replied, "Tell hell with that, I used to be a Baptist but now I'm an athiest.."

The sunset outside was beautiful.

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We stowed our gear in the rooms and then headed over the Applebees where they sat us in the back corner. A waittress clearly suffering from withdrawal for lack of polysyllabic conversation monopolized Rob for a little while. I ordered a Cabernet. Rob followed suit.

Towards the end of dinner the waittress asked, "Would you like another glass of Cabernet?" "Why sure." I replied as I glanced over at Rob. "I'll have another as well." Rob said. Thus it began.

We headed back to the hotel over gravel which I hardly noticed. Bruce produced the largest bottle of Tequila anyone had ever seen.

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I had decided that on this trip I would go to sleep early. The best laid plans of mice and men go to hell when faced with the worlds largest bottle of tequila.

We stayed up very late talking about an endless array of topics. Rob had read the blog so knew vastly more about me than I do about him. "It's amazing you've turned out how you have given what you've been through." he said.

As the evening progressed conversations degraded a bit. Being the only single guy in the group, the married contingent had much "constructive" advice to give and this would be a recurring theme for the rest of the trip.

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The next morning, I did say morning, I asked everyone how they were doing. Duncan seemed to be doing ok. Bruce was his normal rock-like self. Josh and I seemed a bit worse for wear. Rob said he was fine and that it was a good morning although the world seemed so much brighter and louder than he remembered it. Later he would say, "I'm grateful that my helmet kept my head from exploding."

Later Rob would say it was that second Cabernet that was responsible for starting his down fall.

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I had chosen a spot in the shade to load up my bike. There was clearly wisdom in this. It was getting hot.

We had done a pretty good amount of mileage the day before so we were in no rush to get the Gap. Because we were all a bit worse for wear from the previous night, we took it fairly slowly and, when the opportunity arose, stopped at Starbucks, of course.

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We stayed at this Starbucks longer than normal. There was shaded seating outside. I drank a lot of water and had a bunch of coffee. I was pretty tired and it was just too hot outside. We were now on our 90 miles forced schedule. We got back on the bikes and did another 90 miles or so. I had us stop at a rest stop for water and a break. I didn't want to push it. We found another spot in the shade to park and everyone got water. Bruce, as is always the case when an old school muscle car rolls up, had to talk to the owner. The others eventually walked over and a long conversation ensued. I don't know what kind of car it was but I'm sure Bruce could tell you in exacting detail every specification of said machine.

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The driver was kindly willing to take a photo of all of us with our machines.

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We were getting close now but the heat was just oppressive. My Transit Suit would have been simpliy too hot to wear in this weather.

Prior to this trip based on Yun's experience with a new suit he got, I picked up a Rev'It Ignition 2 jacket and matching pants. These are a light weight leather textile mesh combination that flow a great deal of air. I was much less happy with this purchase than I had wanted to be. Rev'It is a stylish brand that I have not had much respect for but it seemed with their latest revisions that they were upping their game. I really wanted some kind of hot weather mesh gear and I thought this was going to be an suitable answer but unfortunately the fit, finish and craftmanship of the suit just isn't anywhere close to on-par with what I'm used to. Buyers remorse, given how bloody expensive this thing was, was a recurring theme for me.

But at least I wasn't as hot as I would have been in the Transit Suit.

We decided to try to make Maryville, TN which is just about 40 miles from the Gap, for dinner which we made with ease. On our approach to Knoxville on the highway, I failed to notice the 55mph sign and continued on at speed. Feeling that the mountains were near, I guess I enthusiastically took the off ramp a little faster than usual. I'm not a fast rider. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

After dinner Josh and Rob wanted to stop at Target for some last minute supplies. Duncan followed them for some bit of electronics I think. Bruce and I hung out outside in the waning heat.

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Josh and Rob seemed to be in a contest to see who could do the best minivan impersonation with their motorcycles. Soccer moms everywhere would be proud.

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I guess I should have mentioned to them that the well water up at the Gap was entirely drinkable. After some time and a little "here's how to pack" consulting advice from yours truly, we were riding on the final leg of our journey towards the promised land.

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The road goes from 6 lanes down to two opposing and starts winding it's way around a large reservoir and up into the mountains. "Rob has no idea what he's in for." I thought as we drove into the dark green forest that marks the beginning of the Gap as the sun set over the horizon. My mood always improves as I cross that threshold from the outside brightness to the muted greens that surround the Road as it ascends the mountain. Add to to that a waning light and you're bathed in a surreal effect. You're transported to a different place with different rules. I truly love this road like no other.

And I could, even after this long day on this fully loaded bike, tell a huge difference. I had not returned to this magical place since I took the Keith Code school which had changed everything. I had been looking forward to practicing what I had learned here and even on this first run through I could tell that nothing was the same. I didn't notice how far I had pulled ahead of the others. The rule up here is if someone pulls away don't try to chase them. Never ride beyond your ability.

I rolled into the parking lot, pulled off my helmet and got the key to the room. It was dark now. The others arrived. We pulled the gear off our bikes and made our way to the fire pit where we had to struggle for quite some time to get a fire going, but through a sense of teamwork Rob and I were able to get one going.

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We had arrived. Life was good.

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