It's Official!

Bryan and I both received our email notifications today!

"April 29, 2010

Dear J. Bruce McCrary:

You are receiving this e-mail because of your application for a ride certification. This note is to let you know that your ride has been approved and although your ride documents may take a few more weeks to arrive, your membership has also been approved and entered into the Iron Butt Association's member database.

Welcome to the Iron Butt Association!

Michael Kneebone
President, Iron Butt Association"

Day Trip to Meadows of Dan, Virginia and Beyond - April, 11th, 2010

While it is a given that Julie and I want to ride most every week-end, there are times when things come up or have to be done that prevent us from going.  We had talked about going riding during the week but there were some things we really needed to get done around the house over the week-end and just weren't sure if we'd be able to. 

Saturday was spent getting some of these things handled and when Sunday rolled around we weighed our options then decided that we'd go for a "short" ride up to a little country store located just off the BRP in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.  She'd seen these particular clay pots on another ride, but couldn't remember if they would be the right size for what she wanted to do. 

Hey, any excuse for a ride, right?

We waited until later in the morning so that the temperatures would rise some and headed out around 10:30 am or so.  Trying to do my best to keep her off the BRP this year I decided to go up Hwy 8 to Stewart, Virginia then take US 58 west over to the store where we'd seen them.  It was a beautiful day and as always the ride up Hwy 8 was both fun and scenic.  Julie spotted a sign that directed us to US 58 that we'd never noticed before well before we got to Stewart so we took it knowing we'd at least see some things we'd never seen before.

It was called Ayers Orchard Road and was a small country road that meandered through the farmland and countryside and seemed to be taking us more in an easterly direction than we'd normally go.  But no matter, it was something new and different.  After several miles we came to the end of this road and had to make a decision to go right or left on what was called the South Fork Loop.  The problem was there wasn't a sign directing to 58!  The only sign that we saw was directing us toward Danville, which wasn't the direction we needed to be going.  So we opted to turn left and see what happened.  In only a few miles we found ourselves at US 58 and went west.

We had only ridden a few miles when we saw a sign that told us Stewart was three miles ahead, so our detour through the country had indeed put us further east than we would have normally gone, but was well worth the detour.  As I've mentioned before, US 58 is a road we really enjoy traveling and riding on so being able to see a part we'd never been on before was a good thing.  It was an enjoyable ride and we found ourselves at the country store we were looking for a little after noon.

Julie went a checked out not only the pots but some plants and flowers that were there for sale while I fueled the bike, after which I parked and joined her.  The pots were bigger than she remembered, which was good for what she wants to do with them, and heavier than either of us remembered as well.  Since Julie was thinking that Bryan's first official trip with the trailer he is building would be to fetch some of these pots we were glad we had made this trip, they seemed like they may be a bit to heavy and fragile for something like that. 

Satisfied with what we'd found we went to a little Bar-B-Que restaurant next door for some lunch before continuing on.  For what it's worth, lunch sucked.  They touted themselves as serving "Lexington Style Bar-B-Que" but trust me, it was far from it.  After eating we wandered around a bit at some other shops close by then saddled up and rode on.

We decided to continue riding west on 58 and this section is a great ride.  It takes you across the southern part of Virginia through rolling hillsides and back country and is a flowing, easy ride with just enough turns to make it fun and exciting.  In no time at all we found ourselves in Hillsville where I asked Julie if she wanted to stay on 58 or take US 52.  I figured if she decided on 52 we'd go where Bryan and I had the week-end before, and if she wanted to stay on 58 we'd just see where we ended up.  She opted to stay on 58.

Again, 58 was what we'd come to expect of it.  A great ride.  Only this time we found ourselves on a mixture of four lane and two lane, and found that we had been on many parts of this section before.  In what seemed like no time at all we found ourselves near Mouth of Wilson and the intersection of US 16.  It was getting to be mid afternoon so we decided to take 16 south because we'd never been on this section before and we could start heading back as well.

16 is another one of our favorite roads north of where we were as it winds through the mountains toward Tazwell, but this section was more like what we'd experienced all day, winding and scenic.  We rode into and through Wilksboro, North Carolina and continued on out of town to where 16 turns off of US 421, staying on 16.  We hadn't been on that part long when we came to where 18 leaves 16 and I made a quick decision to take it instead of 16.

Again, more of the same type of road and scenery greeted us, it was turning out to be a day for lazy meandering through the hills and countryside.  Perfect.  As it was getting later in the day and as our backsides were beginning to ache a little, this part of the ride seemed to be getting a bit long.  Eventually we found ourselves in Lenoir and jumped on US 64 west to start the trip home.

We are very familiar with this part of 64, but enjoyed the ride none the less and followed it all the way back to Statesville where we picked up I-40 and did the interstate thing over to Mocksville.  There we got back on 64, riding it back home. 

It was about 6:30 pm when we pulled the bike into the shop, and we had ridden 335 miles.  Not exactly the short day we had set out to do, but what can I say?  We love to ride!


Hunting Twisties With Bryan - April 4th, 2010

Bryan had told us earlier in the week that he would be coming home over the week-end. And while Julie and I love to think that his motivation was to spend time with us we both knew his reasons were to spend some time with his sweetie Alicia and to pick up his FZ6 that due to rainy weather the week-end before he was forced to leave here at the house. But we love to have our fantasies...

He had told us before hand that he did want to go riding and we invited him to go with us on the ride we had already planned for Saturday. However, he informed us that he already had plans to meet up with some friends from high school on Friday in Charlotte and wouldn't be done with that until the wee hours of the morning. Which meant he wouldn't be making an early go time on Saturday. Let it be known here and now that I will forever point out that he decided to fore-go a day of riding in order to go partying with the boys.

He did say however that he wanted to go riding on Sunday. Which didn't earn him any bonus points with his mother because she was scheduled to fly out to Florida on business that day. On the other hand, I didn't have any plans... :)

Like me, Bryan was jonesing for some twisties. He mentioned that even though he has ridden some this year and even made a trip across US 421, aka "The Snake", October was the last time he really spent any 'quality time' in the mountains on his bike. So when I saw him briefly late Saturday night (and rubbed in what a great ride he had missed) he asked me if I felt like heading up Hwy 8 to Tuggles Gap on Sunday.

Does a bear poop in the woods?

Julie, being the good sport that she is, gave us both a kitchen pass for the day but asked that I help her print some pictures of Bryan and Alicia before we left. She was hoping to be able to stop by and visit my Dad while in Florida and wanted to have them with her just in case. So after getting that done Bryan and I began prepping for the ride.

We left the house about 9:30 am headed up Hwy 8 and to the mountains. We both had about half a tank of fuel and decided just to ride that out, stopping for fuel when we needed it on up the road. By close to 11:00 am we were in Lawsonville fueling up and grinning after having tackled the Hwy 8 twisties between Winston Salem and Danbury.

The ride up through Stewart, Virginia was a hoot. It was a beautiful spring day, there was little traffic and we were having a ball. After we went through Woolwine we stopped at an old produce stand so that I could set up the Go-Pro camera and clean the windscreen. The plan was to make the run up to Tuggles Gap and check for a place that would allow us to get safely off the road where we could play a bit and take pictures. Then turn around at the top of the mountain and go back to it. When we reached the twisty section Bryan, as usual, checked out on me, but not as bad as he used to do. The FJR deserves all the credit for that. Once at the top and stopped we gathered up and talked about having seen a spot that should work for what we wanted to do and headed back to it.

Play time! Bryan went first and was very photogenic, I really pleased with the way the pictures turned out and plan on putting some up on the wall of the McCrary Man Cave. He made several passes back and forth on the section we were in which allowed me to play with the camera while I took many of shots and even a video of him. The boy grinned from ear to ear when we got back home and he saw the photos posted here! Rightly so!

Now let me just say that neither me nor the FJR are as slim, svelte and nimble as the boy and his FZ6 are.  Plus Julie will tell you that I'm not as aggressive either, which on street bikes could be a good thing for an old man and his wife.  Still, I made a pass by Bryan and he got a few shots of me, then I went down to where we'd been turning around, as I did an Escalade came by.  Not wanting to get caught behind it I waited for several minutes before taking off.  But within just a couple of turns I had indeed caught up to it, I guess they must have stopped somewhere for some reason.  Regardless, now I was stuck behind this relative to me slow moving behemoth.  I slowed way up and tried to give myself a little room so that I could have some momentum when I passed Bryan, but it didn't work.  So those photos have the appearance of a tourer, not a sport tourer, which I guess is appropriate.

However, I turned around at the other end our photo section to come back toward Bryan and he was able to click off the photos you see here.  I'm tickled enough with them that I'm sure they too will find a home on the wall of the man cave.

At this point I was ready to quit fooling around and get back to the business of riding!  But now Bryan was hungry, so we went back to the top of the mountain, got on the BRP headed south down toward Meadows of Dan, Virginia to find a place for a late lunch.  Along the way we noticed something we'd hadn't seen prior to this trip.  It appeared to be some sort of park and visible from the parkway were a setting of some kind of bushes that were shaped in the form of a treble clef.  Checking into once we got home I discovered that what we saw was the site of "Floydfest" and that those bushes contain lights that are turned on at night during the festival.

After lunch we grabbed a map and asked one of my very favorite questions; Where to next?  It was getting later in the day but it hasn't been getting dark until after 8:00 pm recently.  Neither of us had any place to be until later on in the day Monday so naturally the "We love to ride McCrary's" decided to venture on and see what we could find.  Julie, Bryan and I love US 58 through Virginia but neither Bryan or I had been on the section between Meadows of Dan and Hillsville so that seemed like a plan.  We decided from there we would take US 52 north and then check out SR 94, which again, neither of us had ridden.  Then we'd take a look at where we were at and the available daylight left.  A plan!

58 didn't disappoint us.  It wasn't super curvy but it did wind it's way through some beautiful countryside.  We both commented about that on the radio while riding.  At Hillsville we got on US 52 as planned and headed north.  I had just been there the day before with Teddy, Tim and Julie but it's a great ride so what the heck, but Bryan said he'd never been on it before.  He was digging it!  We were both in full picture taking mode now so I mentioned to him that the "Shot Tower" state park wasn't far ahead as well a view of the I-77 bridge over the New River and that I'd like to stop and get a few pictures of both since they were close together.  As always, he was game.

We rode right past the entrance to the Shot Tower Park and were then immediately on a small bridge going over the New River so we couldn't stop or turn around.  The I-77 bridge was right there on our immediate left and Bryan was both spellbound and amazed.  Though not in the same category as the New River Gorge bridge further north on US 19, this is still an amazing structure!  Having no choice we rode on and went under the big bridge, then stopped at a wide spot to take some pictures.  The problem was the way US 52 ran we couldn't get the kind of pictures we wanted, so we came up with a plan...

I kept my camera out of the bag and put the strap around my neck, then put on my helmet and got on the bike, laying the camera on the tank bag.  I got the bike fired up and turned around, then proceeded slowly back toward the big bridge, under it, around the corner and then over the small bridge, all the while pointing the camera at what I wanted to photograph.  Since I need my right hand to operate the shutter I used the throttle lock on the bike to keep the engine just above an idle and eased along, one hand on the bars, the other holding the camera and taking pictures.  Bryan had it easy, he used his small point and shoot.  Still, all in all the pictures turned out amazingly well I think.

As I said, this is one big bridge.  I find myself in awe of structures like these wondering how man can build something so massive.  Bryan said it was due to engineers...  But when I asked him if he could do it he told me that was the job of civil engineers, not mechanical.  Good answer...

We rolled slowly into the entrance into the Shot Tower park only to find that the gates and the park were closed.  We parked the bikes, got off and decided to at least take photos of what we could see.  But soon the 'J.B. McCrary' came out in both of us so we ducked under the gates and walked up to the tower anyway.  I'm glad we did.  It's an interesting piece of history and gave Bryan a chance to continue with the 'civil' vs 'mechanical' engineer thing.

I had no idea what the Shot Tower was.  Honestly, looking at it as we rode by on previous trips I figured it might had been a snipers nest during the civil was or something along that lines.  Boy, was I wrong.  It was designed (by mechanical engineers...) and built to manufacture the lead balls used in the muzzle loader rifles during the 1800's.  How it all works is on the information board I took a picture of and is posted below.  Also notice where it says "National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark".  Bryan did, and made sure to point that out to me.  I still think it would be harder to build that bridge...

Still, it was interesting, and another piece of the history of the south during the war.  And yes Bryan, I'm sure it took some doing to figure out how to make it work.  At the same time it sounds just like something a bunch of college kids would come up with.  "Hey lets dig a hole and put a bucket of water in it, then build a tower over the hole and drop things into the bucket!" 

We left the Tower park and continued up US 52 to just south of the I-77 intersection, turning onto SR 94 and soon discovered we'd made a find!  Riding through the town of Ivanhoe and into the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area we were greeted with fantastic scenery, sweeping curves, tight turns, elevation changes and road surfaces like you might find on a race track.  It was great!  There was some traffic that slowed our pace some, but not much and for the most part we were flowing with the road and just having a good time.  Before long we came to the town of Fries, Virginia (pronounced "Freeze") where the wife of one of Bryan's friends is originally from.  Bryan thought it would be fun to stop and take a few pictures to show them that we had actually been there, so we pulled into town and down by the New River.

Bryan's friends had told him how there was a freezer that had a sign in it that read "Welcome to Fries, Virginia which is really what he wanted to get a picture of.  We rode all over town trying to find it and never did, then decided just to go down to the river to check it out and get a few photos.  From the road we saw a railroad caboose that was in a park located next to the river and rode down to check it out.

Bryan was busy taking 'beauty shots' of the bikes next to the river while I looked around the park to see what I might find.  Amazing as it sounds, I found a dam!  Not a big one, which explains why we missed it when we pulled in, but a dam none the less.  All in all it was a neat little place and worth stopping for a few minutes to see.

Leaving Fries we continued on 94 for several miles until we arrived at SR 274 where we headed west following the New River.  It didn't take long to realize we had made another find as not only was the road itself great, so was the ride.  Once again we found sweeping turns and gorgeous scenery as the road ran close to the river and then out into the Virginia woodlands.  It was decided that we really needed to get back up to the area and do some more exploring, but by now the shadows were getting long as the sun began to get low in the horizon.

We rode 274 out to US 221 and took it over to Independence where we picked up US 21 south riding straight through to Sparta, North Carolina.  Bryan was getting hungry and the pot roast that Julie left in the crock pot for us was calling us.  We began discussing how much fuel we had and how far out we were from the house, deciding that one more stop was going to needed to make it in.  One of our usual stops wasn't far ahead at that point and we decided that we'd fuel up there and then ride straight in to the house.

A fun ride off the mountain on 21 followed until we caught up with some traffic, but that allowed us to chat a little on the radio and take in the sights.  Our chatting ended when someone on a base station with a lot and I mean a lot of power took over the channel and started doing the CB base station thing.  At first it was entertaining, then it became annoying as no one could talk over him and all he was doing was B.S.'ing and stirring up the airways.  The problem was he had so much power we had to endure this guy for miles.

About half way between Elkin and Harmony I spotted some purple and yellow flowers right off the road,  Knowing that Julie is looking for flowers that color to make prints of and hang on the wall of the woman cave I asked Bryan if there would be enough light to get any decent pictures.  He felt sure there was so we found a place to turn around and headed back to see what we could do.

Bryan took a few as did I, hoping that something might come out that Julie would like and be able to use.  We also found some blue something or others that are probably nothing more than weeds because they were covering the ground, but they were pretty and we were thinking of 'momma'.

The amazing thing is they were all growing wild right off the side of the road beside an old abandoned building.  Several cars drove by while we were taking these shots and I'm the sight of two motorcyclists parked on the shoulder of the road taking pictures of flowers had to be an entertaining.

It was dark when we left, and close to 9:00 pm when we got home.  Julie had left a message on the phone concerned that we were out so late, and we should have called her right away, but didn't.  We were stuffing our faces with pot roast when she called back and though a little upset I think she understood.

We found some new roads, saw some beautiful country side, took some great photos, had a ball and got in a almost 320 miles.  A great day by anyone's standard.  For me it was the second day in the row that I had not only gotten to ride, but had great rides with my family and dear friends.  What more could I ask for?


Taking Teddy & Tim to Burke's Garden and West Virginia - April 3rd, 2010

The first overnight ride that Julie and I took the FJR on last year was up to Burke's Garden, Virginia and as usual we had a ball. The ride itself was great as there are many great roads in the surrounding area, but Burke's Garden itself made an impression on us and we added it to our list of places we'd like to go back to.

Recently Teddy and Tim have appointed me 'tour guide' of our group, or at the very least the route master. I say this because it seems like each time we have ridden together this year they always say "We're following you!" when it comes time to decide which way to go. Earlier in the week Tim and I had both seen the weather forecast for the week-end and made plans to ride, I used the time I had before the week-end to come up with what I hoped would be a good one.

They had heard of Burke's Garden but had never been there, I also found out that even as much as Tim has ridden and explored the southeast on a motorcycle he'd never been on Hwy 16 in Virginia and West Virginia. Using my computer mapping software I put together what I thought would be a fun ride that involved mostly back roads that would take us through Burke's Garden and then down 16. Julie and I had only been on 16 south of Welch, WV one time back in September of 2007 so I figured it was about time we got back up there as well as introduce Teddy and Tim to some West Virginia coal country riding.

The intersection of the BRP and US 52 in Fancy Gap, Virginia

We left the house about 8:00 am on Saturday morning and rode in the cool early morning air up US 52 to Mount Airy, North Carolina and into Cana,Virginia where we climbed the mountain up to Fancy Gap, Virginia and made our first fuel stop.  Julie and I had decided that with the warming temperatures we are experiencing it was time to pack up our heavier Kilimanjaro jackets and get out our lighter weight Tecnic vented ones.  For the first part of the trip we were afraid that might have been a mistake because it was a might chilly on top of the mountain!  While we were stopped Julie decided to get a cup of coffee to sip on and warm up a little bit.

We continued up US 52 through the Virginia countryside up to Fort Chiswell where we got on I-77 north.  This would be our only time on an interstate highway the whole trip.  It was a short ride of only a little more than 20 miles to where we would get on Virginia route 614 which would take us over to the Burke's Garden area. 

614 was a find and is now on our list of must do again roads.  A winding road with slight elevation changes that meanders through farmland, it was a joy to ride.  I don't remember even meeting another vehicle for the entire time we were on it.  It intersected with Virginia route 61 and we followed that west for a while until we came to Burke's Garden road and turned onto it so that we could take Teddy and Tim to what has been called "God's Thumbprint".

There is a beauty and aura to Burke's Garden that can only be appreciated by visiting it.  There isn't really anything there to speak of, which is one reason I find it so appealing.  Primarily a farming community, it is also a bedroom community for neighboring Tazewell and Bluefield and I'm sure that the residents must find very agreeable.

Teddy and Tim seemed to be as taken with it as Julie and I are because we spent close to an hour there taking photos, looking at the countryside and hanging out at the country store.  As always the lady that works at the store was extremely friendly and helpful and a good bit of our time was spent there, sitting on the porch sipping on cold drinks and munching on snacks.  She told us that the local farmers were calling for one more snowfall this year and that she can't remember a single time that they were wrong.  Impressive when you consider that she told us once before she grew up there.

With a lot more miles to cover and the prospect of some amazing riding ahead, we saddled up and headed out.  I'm sorry to say that although I did play with the Go-Pro camera and got some good video footage, I didn't take the still shot camera out the rest of the day.  I've tried to post some of the videos but have run into to some problems getting them to post.  Hopefully the folks at Blogger will respond to an email I sent that will help me get them on here at a later date.

After getting out of the mountain top valley we headed toward Tazewell on 61, then took US 19 into Bluefield.  A 35 mile ride up US 52 to Welch, West Virginia was next, and as I thought it might be, a real experience for Teddy and Tim.

Billy Ray Cirus narrated a film on the area called "Hillbilly: The Real Story" that I recently saw on the History Channel.  It's an amazing film that taught me a lot about the area and that I highly recommend to anyone, it's worth seeing.  After watching it I found a whole new appreciation for not just the area but the people who lived there as well as those who still do.  Coal was and really, still is King in this part of the country even though the boom days have long since passed.  The beauty to be found as you ride up US 52 isn't the typical touristy type like what is found at the ski slopes relatively close by.  You have to be looking for it, while understanding the pride the people that live there have in their rich family history.  To the casual observer it is an economically depressed area with what appears to be a poor standard of living.  The coal mining and supporting industries that are still in operation have a dramatic effect on not just what you see as you travel through, but the environment as well as the life styles of those who live there.  For the most part the buildings and homes are old and in many cases run down.  It can appear to be dirty as the dust from mining and transporting coal can settle on the roads and surrounding area.  It can be noisy too as the sounds of lumbering coal trucks and the mile long trains, known as "coal pulls" echo through the trees and mountains.  But even so there is a beauty to this mountain area that can't be found anywhere else, and one worth seeing for yourself.

Just outside of Welch we turned onto state road 16 and began our long trek over and through two different mountains.  16 is definitely one of our favorite roads because it's not only full of the twisties that we love to ride, but because the scenery is spectacular.  It rises, falls, twists and turns with the mountains and must have been a bear to build and to maintain.  Which was event, for most of the ride on 16 we encountered numerous places where gravel and sand were strewn over the surface of the road due in part to the severe winter the area experienced.  Riding a motorcycle on roads such as this is a real thrill and we like to ride at a somewhat spirited pace when conditions allow it.  Because a motorcycle can usually out accelerate, turn and brake most other vehicles it isn't hard to find yourself running at twice the speed of the cars and trucks you might encounter.  Even so for the most part we seldom find ourselves going much faster than 40 to 50 mph, such is the nature and make up of these roads.  But when conditions like the ones we found are present care has to be taken in order to maintain a high level of safety.  Finding gravel or sand on the road at the exact moment and spot that you are asking a lot out of your tires and really need all the traction they can give you can be a recipe for disaster.  So while we were able to really get the bikes leaned over in many of the turns, in others we had to slow way down in order stay up.  Which worked out for Julie and Teddy as they had more time to take in the sights, but kept Tim and I on our toes.

We made our way down 16 and went through the town of Coalwood made famous by the movie "October Sky" and Homer Hickam who grew up in the mining community but dreamed of working in the then fledgling space industry.  Then on to the town of War where Julie and I had a unique experience a couple of years ago where we stopped again on this trip for fuel.  From there we continued on through Tazewell once more and past the Hungry Mother State Park, even though the scenery was beautiful and we were having a great time, we were all getting hungry and stopped in Marion for a bite to eat.

The sun was getting low and the temperature was beginning to drop by the time we were done eating so before we left we all started putting layers on and I put our clear face shields on for the ride home.  We continued down 16 riding through the Jefferson National Forest and past the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area where we picked up US 58 and then SR 93 into Sparta, North Carolina. 

Leaving Sparta we got on US 21 and had a fun ride off the mountain (that I have some great video of...) and into the town of Elkin.  From there we rode into the darkness and the town of Harmony where we got on SR 901 for a bit, then US 64 which took us back home.

In all we were gone for a little more than 12 hours and rode just under 450 miles and had a grand time.  Teddy paid me a real compliment when she sent me a text message the next day thanking me and complimenting me on the routes I had selected.  :)

Your welcome Teddy.  We had a ball too!