East Texas BMW Plus Motorcycle Club
East Texas BMW Plus Motorcycle Club

To the RA Rally and back

In June 2013, Steve & Rich rode round-trip from Nacogdoches, TX, northeast to the BMW Rider's Association (RA) National Rally at Asheville, NC, making a five-day road trip on our R1100RTs.  See more info below the pictures.

We left Nacogdoches on Tuesday, the 18th at 6 a.m.; it was overcast but dry when we left. We rode through some light rain around Shreveport, LA, and stopped just east of town for gas. We asked the usual question, "Should we put on our rain gear?" We agreed to take our chances and leave it packed as it was going to be hot that day. Five minutes later down I-20 we regretted that decision. We rode for about 20 miles in the rain, moving over to the left lane occasionally as we passed cars doing around 40 - 50 mph with their flashers on. We kept up a steady 60 - 65 mph. 

Then the bottom dropped out. I mean it came down hard! It had to be the hardest rain I have ever driven through, and harder than anything I had ever ridden through. There were no exits, no safe shelter, nothing to do but push through it. The SUV I had been following slowed to about 50, and we did too. I really couldn't see past the SUV's taillights. The intense rain lasted for about five miles, then we broke through the rain. We sped up to 70 and mostly dried off over the next 90 miles before we took a break. Mesh gear doesn't do much for rain protection, particularly when it's coming at you that hard. Fortunately we both had a set of fairly new Michelin Pilot Road tires on, and an R1100RT cuts through the rain like a tank. I think I recall Steve saying something about rain being in places where he never knew he had places. 

We rode I-20 to Jackson, MS and stopped for lunch. We left Jackson and took the Natchez Trace Parkway north. Our plan was to ride the parkway all afternoon (four or five hours) and stop at a camping area in northeast Mississippi. The parkway was scenic and peaceful; the only thing is, the max speed is 50 (and it is 40 for quite a ways near Jackson). We lasted for a little more than an hour when Steve pulled us over to inform me that he had grown up in the woods and he really didn't need to see anymore trees! (I put that a lot nicer than he said it that day) I plugged Tishomingo State Park into my Zumo GPS and we took off cross-country following Mississippi state highways."

 

We made a pit stop in Tupelo, MS and decided to visit the Tupelo Automobile Museum since it was located on the block behind the gas station we were at. This started a trend that lasted the entire trip; the museum closed 6 minutes before we arrived.

We made it to the state park late in the day, about thirty minutes after the office closed; we surveyed the campground and took off for the nearby town of Tishomingo for cookout supplies. After a little hunting around we found a small grocery store that had most of what we needed. We packed the hot dogs, buns, chips, & salsa away, strapped the bag of ice and the bag of charcoal to my back seat, and returned to camp. We set up and had a pretty good cookout. It was a little wet, like it had been raining, but Steve pitched his tent on the concrete pad and I found a dry spot. There was electricity and running water at the campsite which was nice. We got our phones recharged, however, the water from the faucet seemed awfully cloudy. I slept with my fly off the tent so I just had mesh over me. It was cool, but LOUD with critter noises all night long. At one point in the middle of the night I woke up with a start, looked up at the trees through the mesh and thought, "If something looks in at me I will freak the .... out." Two minutes later I was out like a light. Just one of those random thoughts that you have. It was the first night on my new pad (ultra-thin Therma Rest) and I really needed a pillow; wadding up my riding t-shirt really didn't cut it. Steve saved me the next day when he gave me one of his two camp pillows he had bought. I was able to sleep peacefully for the rest of the trip.

Tishomingo SP is a well maintained park on a lake, with excellent AIR CONDITIONED & VERY CLEAN restrooms and shower facilities. Just be sure to bring some OFF spray as it's a little buggy. If we are ever riding near northeast Mississippi at the end of the day, we will stop in at Tishomingo again. 

 

One word of caution, when you leave the park service road and go toward the campsites the road makes a steep drop to the left. It's no big deal going in, but when you leave you head up the hill and make the sharp right at the top. Don't pull in the clutch when you are near the top as you look to the left for oncoming traffic. I had the distinct feeling of tipping over and if I had the bike would have gone down into a ravine and my trip would have been over. I mashed it from second down into first and hit the gas and got my balance back real quick like. I'm sure Steve would have soldiered on and made it to the rally while I rented a U-Haul to get the pieces of my bike back home.

 
Day Two

The next morning we stopped in Tishomingo at a gas station & grill for breakfast. I never could understand what the lady behind the counter said to me, so I finally just told her to give me something with egg & ham in it. She did, and let's just say, we won't be stopping there again. I ate the whole egg, bacon, & cheese biscuit 'cause I was hungry. Steve passed on it. 
 

It was pretty slow going on the second day as we worked our way across Tennessee staying on state highways and avoiding the interstate. Almost all day was spent at 45 & 55. As we made our way towards Chattanooga, TN, we stayed on Hwy 41, and what a great decision that was. It followed the river into the city and we had a truly scenic and enjoyable ride into town. We jumped onto the interstate for 15 miles or so and about mid-day made it over to Pandora European Motorsports. Steve made a quick u-turn and guided us into a parking lot where he had seen a Pandora sign. It turned out to be their new Triumph shop - Pandora's European Motorsports Triumph, just a mile down the road from the original Pandora's European Motorsports BMW/Ducati dealership. The one guy in the shop was a terrific host, making sure we had ice cold water and talked bikes. He even gave us great directions out of town to the northeast in order to avoid leaving town on the interstate. We then eased a mile over to the BMW dealership and bought some farkles and t-shirts and looked over the bikes. The people at Pandora's are great folks and most helpful. After a nice visit we then headed out of town on some more great roads.

 

About 4:30 p.m. we finally made it to Tellico Plains, TN and the entrance to the Cherohala Skyway(near the North Carolina border). We had planned to stop in at the Skyway Visitor Center; I had heard it was worth the stop. Of course, it had just closed. Since we didn't know how long the trip over the Skyway would take and we didn't know what we would find on the other side, we hit a local bar-b-que place for dinner. The bar-b-que was decent and the price was okay. Steve struck up a conversation with a couple who were riding two-up on a Moto Guzzi. There were still hanging around the place when we hit the road.

 

The ride over the Skyway was one of the highlights of the trip. If you ever find yourself in eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina, you owe it to yourself to ride the Cherohala Skyway. It climbs to a mile above sea-level, with lots of twisties, grand vistas, and enough tight curves to make any motorcyclist happy. We had been on the road for a while when I saw a two headlights behind me instead of one. A bike passed Steve, then quickly closed on me. A couple of turns later the dude was flying past. I should say, the couple from the bar-b-que place was flying past. A mile or so down the road they were out of sight for good. They either flew down the other side of the mountain or off the side of the road. You wouldn't leave much of a trace if you made a rapid exit off the road.

I thought I had been riding pretty good up til then. Feeling like a slow-footed wuss, I pulled into a scenic overlook near the top of the Skyway. The view was stunning. It didn't give me any pride back, but it was still stunning.

 

After we descended down into North Carolina we left the Cherohala Skyway and stayed on state roads. They were some of the tightest turns I've ever made, with a fifty-foot drop-off a mere foot from the edge of the road. When we finally made it off the roads and dead-ended into US 129 in North Carolina, I felt like someone had been beating me with my bike; every muscle in my body was spent. I pulled up to a stop sign and Steve came up along side. I looked over to ask him how he liked the ride and he just dropped his head down onto his tank bag with a thud. He was as done for as I was.

We rode a dozen miles or so north up US 129 and arrived at Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort just in time to get our tents up in the last of the daylight. Of course, the restaurant had closed about an hour before. They don't stay open very late, even on the weekend. I took off to find a cell signal to check in with my better half; it was about a 25-minute ride. Camping at Deal's Gap is good, just don't be fooled by the one old toilet and shower stall near the cabins. Hoof it up the hill and you will find clean, modern facilities. Standing around the fire pit into the night telling lies with fellow motorcyclists (a few of them were BMW dudes headed to the rally) and a few bikers was pretty good, until one loudmouth Cajun started to dominate the conversation. I decided to turn in.

 

Day Three

We were up early for showers and the last nice toilet we would see for a while (more on this later). We hit the Tail of the Dragon at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday morning - the perfect time to ride. We rode to the north end with me in the lead, then turned around and Steve led south and back to camp. We met maybe three cars & pickups, and two bikes right at the end. We also stopped at a nice overlook near the north end. Steve tried his best to convince me to lay my bike down in the road, spread my mirrors and bags around and lie down. He wanted to play photographer at the scene of the wreck. I declined as I've dropped this bike enough without meaning to, there was no way I was putting the bike down deliberately. Because we rode so early we missed the photographers, but we also missed all the other Yahoos that would be crowding the road later in the day. The one car we came up behind pulled right into a pull-off area and let us around. I have to say, the Tail of the Dragon seemed pretty tame after the roads we had been on at the end of Day Two.

 

We had breakfast at Deal's Gap (+1), bought some dragon stickers and magnets (I didn't care for the t-shirts - which is strange since some of my riding buds have called me a t-shirt whore), grabbed up our camping gear, and headed south. Fifty miles later around Robbinsville, NC, we were asking for directions to Asheville as I wasn't trusting my GPS. Along about here my speedometer cable broke (I later learned it was due to my own negligence). We finally made it to Eurosport Asheville for rally check-in around 12:30. We hung around for a bit admiring bikes, looking over farkles, and buying the obligatory BMW t-shirt. We rode the mile through town over to the rally site at the Biltmore Estateabout 1:30 p.m..

We rode onto the estate through the servant's entrance and eased along the well manicured lanes a few miles until we reached the rally site. It looked like we were in a pasture. The grass was four or five inches tall, not the normal close-mowed grass of campsites. This was the afternoon of the first day of the rally and a lot of other moto-campers were already set up.

 

We rode slowly through the pasture and eventually started fish-tailing through the wet grass and what was starting to be mud. We pulled in at the end of the line of tents and stopped when Steve's bike would no longer move forward. The bike's side stands were sinking right into the grass/mud. I pulled my side stand pad out of my glove box and worked it under my stand with the toe of my boot. Steve had left his behind in Nacogdoches, so I put my MOA Anonymous book to an unintended use and placed it under his side stand. It held firm for the next 22 hours.

 

We set up camp, changed into t-shirts & shorts, and hiked most of a mile to the rally vendors and concessions. There was one long tent of vendors, numerous vendors outside, a great collection of vintage bikes (99% BMWs), and a concession/dining/beer tent. We made it over to the food area about 2:20 p.m., 20 minutes after lunch service had ended. At least we were consistent at arriving just after things were closed. The only food available was through the Biltmore Estate concession, so we could choose between chips or popcorn for $3 each, and 20 oz. sodas for $3 each. I had the popcorn and soda for $6. Dinner was at 5 p.m., with a small portion of bar-b-que pulled pork and two small sides and a drink for $15. Insect repellent was $9 and an extension cord was $30. I could deal with port-a-potties and camping in a somewhat wet field, you don't ever know what conditions you will run into at a rally (last year at the MOA rally in Sedalia, MO, we slept in the Swine Barn, which was the best choice around, and it was unbearably hot). However, the price for anything from the Biltmore concession was just through the roof. 

That evening we ran into Herb, a rider from New Jersey who was the original owner of Steve's RT. We visited with him most of the evening and talked about everything from riding & moto-camping, to the Vietnam Was (where he served as an F-4 Phantom pilot), to dumping expired beer (he owns a beer distributorship in NJ). Later on Steve let everyone have a run at his salty nuts. I have to admit that I have rarely tasted better.

There was a photographer set up at the rally who takes very high-quality photos of your bike and digitally alters them to look like old oil paintings. He had some way cool pictures.

 

The vintage bike tent was a high light of the trip. A lot of the bikes, like the World War II German BMW sidecar rig, looked like the bikes that show up at the vintage display at the MOA rally. But I hadn't seen some of these before, like the World War II Harley. 

 

There were also a TON of other sweet BMWs at the rally, from all eras - early airheads, airhead GSs, bricks, sidecar rigs, old BMWs pulling trailers, you name it and it was there.

 

Day Four

Our second day at the rally we stopped by the food concession for breakfast. For a mere $6.50 we were served a delightful sausage & egg biscuit, and for another $3 we had a juice. The only problem was the size of the biscuit was about the size of a silver dollar. It was in keeping with the night before. At 9 a.m. we caught the (free) shuttle to the Biltmore to go on the tour.

 

Just as we were getting there we heard the driver telling someone where the heads were (restrooms). We decided to stop in for a visit before starting the tour of the house. Oh my, oh my, what a joy it was to take a seat in air conditioned, sanitary, comfort again. I decided to linger for a while so Steve exited the facility. He then decided he shouldn't pass up an opportunity like this, so he hunted around the building some until he found an available facility (seemed like quite a few guys had the same idea). We ended up losing each other so we toured the house separately. It was interesting, like a late 1800s museum of how the extremely rich lived in extraordinary comfort.

 

When we returned to the camp site we decided that we had seen everything we want to and we had talked to everyone we wanted to. We broke camp, I recovered my book, and we took the driest trail we could find out of the field. We stopped for lunch in Asheville, and around noon we hit the road generally westward.

 

That first afternoon headed home we crossed over into Tennessee and worked across the southern portion of the state, then dropped down into Georgia, staying on state highways. The traveling was slow, but the scenery was beautiful. The one eventful moment was topping a hill onto a long downgrade in the Georgia mountains and finding a log truck doing 15 - 20 mph with a long line of cars behind it. The signs indicated it was about 18 miles to the next town, so it looked like it was going to take an hour to get there. Fortunately the steep grade ended, cars started passing, and the truck sped up.

We stopped for a long break in Rome, GA, then crossed over into Alabama. We jumped onto the Interstate about 60 miles north of Birmingham, and pushed it until we made it out to the west of the city. There was a lot of evening traffic around Birmingham. A pair of BMWs loaded with camping gear passed us in the traffic and took a local exit. Moving away from the city we found a decent area with a Days Inn, a Cracker Barrel, and a gas station nearby. Just after 8 p.m. we had checked in, grounded our gear, put on shorts, and were ordering dinner. I believe Steve had the fish and I had a not-too-shabby country fried steak & mashed potatoes with cream gravy & fried okra. Later when we walked into our room it was freezing inside and we got hit with a blast of cold air. After three days in tents, we were sound asleep by 9:30.

 

Day Five
On the last day we had eaten, checked out, gassed up, and were on the road by 6:40 a.m. It was a pretty boring ride, burning it down I-20 to the west all the way past Shreveport. We made a couple rest stops and had lunch in Monroe, LA, at a McAlister's Deli. I highly recommend the Pot Roast Sandwich! After that the we made it to a truck stop on I-20 just past Shreveport, then shot down US 79/SH 315/US 259 toward home. We made it back to town about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.This was generally our route.
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