Tuesday 1st May 2018: Mars Hill NC to Andrews NC
197 miles (all new TAT)
So having comprehensively availed myself of the facilities at the Comfort Inn in Mars Hill (I note this primarily for anyone else wishing to ride the NC TAT sections, as it's really the only place in town - not cheap, but clean and comfortable, with a laundry plus the requisite waffle machine for breakfast too - of which I am a firm advocate of course), I hit the road again a little after 9am...
Something had been bugging me since my first [600 mile] service - I'd taken what the dealer said with regard to the oil capacity [1.9L] as read, rather than actually read the manual - and was concerned my sight-glass was full to the top. Sure enough, the actual capacity for this engine is only 1.65L - so basically I had a whole can of Redbull extra oil in there, not ideal - as it could potentially start to damage the oil seals under pressure.
photo. yet another abandoned house in this part of the country...
So I took the opportunity once I hit the first dirt section after Mars Hill (which I have to say is around 40 miles into the day's route, after some utterly epic Supermoto style paved back roads - a luverly way to warm up for the day ahead!), and effected a ghetto oil-tapping, in true 'Mondo Enduro' style:
photo. I used a trash bag (always carry a roll of them in my back-pack for cleanliness around camp and/or as a emergency rain-cover, or simply an impromptu trail-side clean-up if I'm feeling particularly socially minded...), plus a stack of leaves to soak up the extra oil I was about to drain.
With my trailside 'workshop' set-up, I brewed a quick cup of coffee in my Jetboil, in an attempt to allow the now hot engine oil to cool a little at least... unfortunately, it wasn't quite cool enough, and while I was able to restrict the initial flow of oil reasonably carefully, the hot oil glugged over my hand causing me to flinch and drop the drain plug from the end of my socket wrench - so the only option was to lean the bike away from me to stop too much oil pouring out... Of course the bike was parked pointing ever so slightly downhill at this point, and I'd [stupidly] forgotten to put the bike in gear - so the result was the bike now rolled forward a few inches, enough to give me no option but to lay it right down on it's far side to stop an otherwise environmental disaster* from befalling rural North Carolina that morning...
*If I'm honest, it was more to stop any more/too much oil from draining out, having none with me to top up again - and let's face it, there is enough trash and general junk road and trailside in this part of the country that a splash of two of used engine oil isn't exactly going to cause any major concern to anyone, sadly. In fact I'd actually be doing my bit to return the processed dinosaurs back to whence they came ;o)
With the mess cleaned up and contained in the trash bag and leaf/dirt combo, I packed up and continued on to where I could refuel and dispose of the waste safely.
Again, for those particularly interested in these new sections of the Trans-America Trail, it's worth noting that with regard to the [numerous] paved sections here in Virginia and North Carolina, that there simply isn't clearly isn't an obvious and direct 'dirt' route though these states, so instead Sam has chosen to incorporate some of the finest and most remote/lightly-traffic'd paved roads as part of his odyssey west.
Now this ought to be considered nothing new of course - the whole purpose of the TAT was never to simply to offer a [direct] dirt route from one side of the country to the other, but more the opportunity to see some corners of the USA that you might otherwise never have reason to ride/drive - and that fundamentally, if you're on the right bike - ie. a genuine dual-sport or 'Adventure' bike, rather than think you're going to need a dedicated 'dirt bike' for those few technical off-road sections that you might/will come across - then and from a personal perspective, then mix of back roads and dirt roads/trails is wholly welcomed - "It's all good" as the saying goes.
However, I would counter that with the suggestion that if you're ultimately going to be limited by a time constraint (as most people tend to be of course), then you may need to take some time before you start the TAT and consider where you might streamline your own personal attempt - fortunately there a good number of opportunities to bypass certain sections if needs must, although I'd ultimately end by suggesting it would be a huge shame if you did, as you're more often than not going to miss a visual and/or visceral treat if you do end up cutting the route simply because of time... the moral of this story being that if you intend to ride the current TAT in it's entirety, then you really need to allow an extra week (ie. a good 5 weeks in total) to really do it justice.
Certainly, although I was aware of personal commitments right across the country this coming weekend, I was not planning on forfeiting any of the current new route on my way to join the previous start point in Andrews NC.
Back on the dirt, I came to 4-way track junction high in a forest, and noticed on my GPS that Sam had included an alternative 'hard' route to the main gravel forestry road. As I considered the option, I heard a pair of trail bikes climbing up the hill from below, and they emerged from what would be the hard route down hill via Hurricane Creek Rd. That was all the incentive I needed to take it myself of course!
I chatted with the two riders for a while (one was from the UK!) - who actually work at the Wheels Through Time
motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley NC (located a few miles south of where I currently was), which, as it turns out, is also on Sam's new TAT route of course!
I have to say Hurricane Creek is really the first really 'technical' trail section you encounter on this new TAT route - in that it is a dedicated 'jeep road' with numerous creek crossings (some of the muddy) and some rocky terrain to navigate - nothing impossible, but on a larger Adventure bike especially laden with luggage, you might start to sweat. As it was, since it was in the 80°s already, I freely admit to perspiring myself even on a smaller and lighter machine!
A couple of notes I made with regard to the bike at this point: the first is the stock pegs are truly atrocious to try and stand on for any length of time - certainly in the boots I was wearing - not only were they painfully thin, but also so short that my feet were hanging uncomfortably over the ends too.
The second thing I noticed was that the tank side covers (the grey plastic parts on the 310GS) actually splay your knees rather wide and awkwardly when standing up - certainly more so that the comparatively narrow [and yet significantly more capacious] tank on my CB500X for example. This wouldn't be so bad if BMW had actually chosen to fill those voids with actual fuel tank, rather than only looking like it has a 5 gallon capacity!
photo. I recall I crossed this bridge (in the opposite direction) many years ago on my XT660Z when I was exploring this part of the country en route to the Tail of the Dragon and the original start of the TAT in Tennessee!
The trail sections came thick and fast now on my way south through the eastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains NP, and I bopped out in Maggie Valley, albeit with not enough time (or admittedly inclination) to visit the museum after all; instead I was eager to try and complete the rest of the North Carolina TAT to Andrews by nightfall...
After an entertaining climb past the North Carolina Ski resort of Cataloochee, the TAT ultimately rejoins the Blue Ridge Parkway for another particularly entertaining and scenic section (it's all pretty entertaining and scenic of course!), although once again, it turned out that a side spur that forms [a loop] part of the new TAT was currently closed with a seasonal gate:
Still, the main BRP is more than enough compensation, and I was able to rejoin the TAT route at an underpass a few miles further south west, where again I recognised the junction (and trail number, which I'd previously logged in my GPS as a waypoint) from when I rode though here with some ADVrider inmates as part of the Trans-Am 500
ride in 2015 - as with the Old Cataloochee Turnpike through the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains NP that I'd ridden both previously and earlier in the day, it turns out this particular trail is now part of the official new TAT route too!
As the TAT finally left the Blue Ridge Parkway behind and headed further south (and west) towards Andrews NC, it encompassed a particularly entertaining climb up a huge powerline cutting, and crossed over the Appalachian Trail:
...and followed this surreal pipeline for a good few miles on fast and easy gravel roads before finally giving way to tarmac again for the final stretch into Andrews:
photo. I always like riding in the late afternoon/early evening (although you do have to watch for deer of course!) - and this final stretch of the new TAT was a delight to encounter at this time of day.
photo. Piglet emerged to make sure we had actually joined up with the previous TAT start point on Locust St. Andrews NC.
It was now getting dark, and having grabbed a burger at a local stand (I subsequently heard via the internet that there is a great bar/restaurant at the other end of town - the Hoppy Trout), I considered my accommodation options...
Having only Sam's GPS tracks, not his full maps and roll-charts that offer a wealth of additional information, I did not realise there was a proper hotel in town [I previously had elected to stay a further 15 miles away in Murphy] - turns out the Comfort Inn (yes, another one) has been there for 25 years, right on the edge of main highway, where Locust St/ crosses over to begin the TAT. I felt like such a fool for not making a note of this the last time I was here!
I booked in and bedded down. There was a Dragon that needed slaying in the morning before I could start to finally head resolutely west.