By: Kristi Emmons
After a thrilling weekend of riding on two wheels to watch America’s best of the best on two wheels, it was finally time to head home. I stayed two nights in Danville, Virginia for the races, and departed for my journey back to Chicago, on Monday morning.
This again would require an overnight stay along my route, and I was planning as I was going. However, on the way back, I decided to switch my route up. I decided to head over the border into North Carolina, towards the land of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, I would be crossing into Tennessee and into the Great Smoky Mountains. I was in for a real treat of amazing riding, on some great roads!
Departing from Danville, instead of heading northeast, in the direction of Chicago, I headed south towards Greensborough, North Carolina. Once approaching Greensborough, I started coming across more lanes on the highway and taller buildings. Finally, I was in an actual city again. I decided to stop here for gas and a little pit stop. This was yet another pretty hot day. There was a case of cold beverages in the gas station, and boy, did the Jarritos drinks look ever so refreshing.
After leaving Greensborough, I would be pointed straight west, towards Tennessee. I had spent some time in Tennessee near the border of North Carolina and Virginia when I was a kid. I was always really impressed with the twisty roads there, and dreamed of some day coming back on a motorcycle. Now was my opportunity.
Riding through North Carolina was just as charming as I expected. I was on a long stretch of riding, and close to the border of Tennessee was an interesting area with many sights and beauty. Finally my path took me straight through the main street of a most charming town; Boone, North Carolina. Just riding through this town was enough to make me want to come back and visit one day (maybe it’ll be my next road trip aboard the moto). As I passed down the main street of the town, there were some bikers, mainly on supermotos. How cool was it to see these types of bikes out here. The riders gave me a friendly acknowledgement, I back to them, and the border of Tennessee neared closer and closer and I continued through.
After crossing the border into Tennessee, being that I normally have an excellent long term photographic memory, things began to look familiar. It was a cool feeling, indeed, to ride past sites I remembered, while I was once too young to operate a vehicle on my own when I had visited them last. I really wanted to tear through these parts a little bit faster, but my discomfort with my luggage was keeping me in check.
As far as the bike I was on, it was doing great! Living in a country where people can be a little displacement obsessed (U.S.A., home of the bigger the better!), the Kawasaki Ninja 250 doesn’t get a lot of the respect that it deserves. The power was more than enough to handle me and my luggage. The bike performed beautifully through the turns, just as it was designed to, and I had no problem reaching triple digits (MPH) if I wanted to, on straight stretches of highway.
I barely made it through this tiny portion of Tennessee that I was familiar with, when I finally made it to a gas station. After that, I was headed through Johnson City, and then on back up towards Kentucky. However, after departing this gas station, I didn’t make it far up the street before I would have to stop for an interruption in the normal traffic flow.
First I heard them coming, and then I saw it. It was a giant group ride making its way through the intersection, and on down the road. These were all sportbikes, and I was mightily impressed not only by enthusiasts of this type of motorcycle riding in the area, but at how well organized this group was. If I even saw correctly, they had an actual SUV with lights, sweeping at the very end of the group ride. This whole trip was about motorcycles, so this was very special to see, having been in that spot, at that moment, when they passed by.
From here, the roads were a little bit larger, with more than one lane in each direction, but the sites were still lovely. There were long, sweeping turns, and I even came across a rest stop where I could sit at a picnic table and have some lunch. Part of this route was nice, as it reminded me a lot of when I drove through the mountains in 2018, from Valencia to Toledo, Spain. The only downfall along this route was that there were yet more gas stations that were still out of anything higher than 87 octane fuel.
The rest of the way heading north for the day, I was looking for accommodation as I went along, since I had not chosen anything yet. I was hoping to find a cute little Kentucky town, and would check my phone for available lodging as I made stops, but at the end of the day, I forged on and ended up back in none other than Lexington, Kentucky.
Once I arrived in Lexington and checked into the hotel that I had chosen, it was getting late, so I left to get food right away. I splurged and treated myself to some good old Wendy’s. I was in Bourbon Country, and what kind of burger did they have on their menu? You guessed it. It was a bourbon bacon cheeseburger. After all the energy I had expended for the day, this Wendy’s meal was beyond satisfying.
The next morning, I slept in a little and woke up around 10a.m. I packed up all of my gear- I was ready for my final stretch of Ride to the Races, and would finally be home. I started warming up my bike as normal, when I noticed something funny in the bushes in front of the hotel…were the wood chips on the ground smoking? I gave it a closer look, and yes they were. Now, I know this would have been a huge hazard in dry places like California, so it was strange to see this happening here in Kentucky. I tried putting out the smoke with my moto boots, but the wood chips continued to smoke, increasing with the wind.
The smoke was spreading, and at this point, I was wondering when I’d start to see the chips set ablaze. I couldn’t just leave while the landscaping in front of this hotel went up in flames, so I went to the front desk and advised that the fire department should be called.
Just a few minutes later, the Lexington, Kentucky fire department had arrived. You think the embers would have been put out once the experts came, but even they, the firefighters, had trouble getting the burning to go completely out. It just kept spreading. I can only assume the burning was started by someone carelessly tossing a cigarette butt, so as a public service announcement, I must mention, please dispose of all of your cigarettes properly (even in Eastern states, like Kentucky).
I watched with curiosity for a little while longer, and the firefighters were doing their thing. Alas it was time for me to hit the road. Back through the bourbon trail I went, past Louisville, and I was back in Indiana (with all of its hand sanitizers at gas stations), once again. During one particular stop, I made sure to take a picture of a sign at the gas of $2.72 per gallon, which was around $2 cheaper than where I live. One thing about going out of state is that I was able to enjoy cheap gas along the whole route.
By 3:20p.m., I had already made it to Indianapolis, and I was ready to enjoy another late lunch with my friend B.T. B.T. and I headed over to BJ’s Brewery for some bites. While I wasn’t able to enjoy any of the beers (“leaning juice”, and not in a good way) at this brewery, the food was delicious! After lunch, I headed back to B.T.’s house to hang with him, his roommate and dog, and then headed back out again for the home stretch.
Everything was fine during this familiar stretch of interstate back to Chicago, until the skies began to get really dark. I was headed straight into a big storm. Rain drops started to come down and I pulled off an exit, and into a gas station. As soon as I pulled into the gas station, it was “the great deluge”! Luckily, I had rain gear and plastic to cover my luggage and bag from getting wet. I rain-protected everything, and was back out for a long, stormy stretch until I reached Illinois. The rain was a little bit hairy riding through at times, but nothing I hadn’t experienced before, and my tires were certainly better than my Dunlop Q2’s I used to run on my old bike in California.
My last and final portion before I arrived home took a little while, as I hit some of that great Chicago traffic, getting back into the city. Finally, I made it home after not only getting to spectate at a thrilling race event, but I was able to enjoy the round of MotoAmerica while it involved being on a motorcycle myself. This is only my second time touring on a motorcycle. While I love riding at the track and going fast, or commuting in the city aboard the moto even, I really enjoyed the touring, and can’t wait to challenge myself to pack just my little hydration backpack and rear seat/cowl luggage piece next time. Even better, with the next round of MotoAmerica being in my backyard (just around two hours away in Wisconsin), the best way to get there would be on the bike. Until next time…