Thursday, June 05, 2008


Back in my youth, blue-collar Brits queued at the chippy most Saturday nights for fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Thick soggy batter encased a stale chunk of greying cod; chips oozed grease. Today's preference is for equally vile fast-food sweet-and-sour with fried rice, chicken tika, donar kebab or a Savaloy sausage.
So I muse as I shelter at a corner table in a gerry-built road-side diner in the Appalachian foothills on the border of West Virginia.
Lunch hour and the diner is packed with locals. These are country folk and polite. They don't stare at the fat old man off a Mexican mini-bike. A friendly waitress serves coffee and takes my order for catfish and fries. A woman at the next table interjects that we are suffering a cold front.
Yes, indeed...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


The Blue Ridge Parkway relates the history of white occupation. Here camped explorers, traders and military expeditions. Historic cabins and camp sites mark their progress. A century or two of rain and stormy weather has washed away the blood of conquest. Cafes and a hotel cater for tourists. Campsites have hot and cold water and power points for recreational vehicles (camper trucks). Ancient trading posts (1850s) sell tourist tat. Log-cabin is the architectural style and signposts are varnished slices of tree trunk. Very tasteful...
What makes me cynical?
The pretty-pretties of a Colonial Power that boasts that it is rooted in freedom and democracy?
Or merely that the intense cold makes joy impossible?
Cafes are shut. So is the Minerals museum and the urinals. I pass two cars in 100 miles. I hunt with numb fingers within layers of clothing and pee with my back to the log wall of a Trading Post. I leap and caper in the deserted parking lot and thrash circulation back into frozen hands. A few mile further and the cold is victor. I take a left down off the parkway. A diner advertises fried fish heaven...


Zoning laws are foreign to North Carolina. Property rights are sacrosanct. Citizens have the right to do what they wish on their own land. Guard it with guns. Turn it into a shooting range. Or a bombing range. Build a cottage, tower block, incinerator.
Blowing Rock is a pretty village for affluent summer residents. Early April is out of season. Shops and restaurants remain shuttered. Blowing Rock is dead. So are my fingers. I beat my hands on my thighs a while, then take a right up through pine forest gouged for summer mansions and reach the Parkway. The cloud has lifted. The mountains are blue with cold. So am I. I work hard at admiring the view. I work hard at imagining trees in leaf, rhododendrons and azaleas in flower, the tiniest smidgeon of Spring blossom. Beautiful? Yes. And enjoyable if wearing two pairs of thermal socks and driving an RV graced by a fully functioning heater. This is bad weather for a biker - even a biker wearing heated leathers. Cold is cold is cold...


I am so close to the end of the ride - yet so far with news on TV of heavy rains tomorrow. Today promises clear skies and a cold front.
I intend rejoining the Blue Ridge Parkway. I load the bike under an overcast sky and take Route 321 out of Lenoir into the Appalachians. The cold grows bitter on the climb. Add wind chill and my fingers freeze. Paulo in Ushuaia fitted protective cuffs to the Honda's handlebars. The cuffs were torn off in the accident.
The road is being widened. Giant dozers and hydraulic diggers munch chunks out of the mountain. Patches of wet slippery clay transform tar into a bobsleigh run. Massive dumper trucks pant on my tail. Frightened? Scared shitless...
I pull in at a gas-station cafe and wrap frozen fingers round a steaming mug of black coffee. Breakfast is two eggs sunny-side up, bacon, hashed potatoes. I share a table with two locals,lank haired and noses they wipe on their shirt sleeves. Conversation is unintelligible. Yellow hard-hats occupy the other tables. Two women work a stainless-steel hot plate. The smaller is younger and pregnant. Her nose drips. Heat and grease fumes rouge her cheeks. Or does she have a fever? I am a little anxious as she breaks my eggs onto the hot plate. What makes the eggs splutter?


I have backtracked to Ashville, taken Highway 40 to Morganton, then north to Lenoir on Route 64. Crazy to retreat into this vast semi-circle? Probably. However what remains of my mind refused to grapple with the map and Highway 40 required a minimum of navigation. True, trucks are vast; slipstreams buffet a small bike. Buffeting does nothing for my bladder control - such are the minor handicaps of old age.
Now I am in Lenoir at the Comfort Inn and tapping the keyboard while sprawled on a king-size bed. I arrived at dusk and too tired to search for a less costly or better presented hotel. Better presented? Carpets are being renewed which may explain the hotel's unpleasant odor.
The TV weather channel warns of a cold front moving down from the north followed by heavy rains and flooding on the East coast. The screen fills with snow shots from Michigan. At least tomorrow will be fine. I set the alarm for 6 am.