This year's event had a significance that cannot be adequately described in words. Ducks Fly South has been around for 13 years, but last year I thought it might be my last. I am very happy to report that I not only attended but rode to and from the rally on a bike, rather than in my wife's Mini Cooper like last year. My son Tony, Bob Lattanzi, and Bob's girlfriend Marissa accompanied me. It was great to have good company not only to make the trip more interesting but as backup. This was my first long bike trip in over two years, so anything was possible. On top of that there was a gasoline shortage in the mountains courtesy of Hurricane Ike. My bike has a very small tank, so Bob's bike was my personal tanker. :)
We left about nine Friday morning so we could be behind the rush-hour traffic. David Grogan was supposed to meet Tony and me along the way, but a court case that could not be handled without his expertise kept him away. [I left Charlotte after four in the afternoon and had a miserable final leg of my ride through twisty, deer-infested roads after dark with a tinted faceshield and with the temperature in the 40s, followed by a terrific day on Saturday-DG] We met Bob and Marissa in South Carolina about an hour and a half after Tony and I started, and we all arrived about five minutes apart. Considering it involved four people departing from two different locations, we scored a home run.
The first part of the trip was mostly straight roads, and the Monster and I got along famously. I was a little concerned about the lack of a real fairing on the higher-speed roads, but it was never a problem. Big tractor trailers did make it move around some, but we all had that problem. The seat was OK, but if I get in the habit of using this bike for longer trips, I will need an aftermarket seat for sure. Once we left SC Highway 11, it was literally all uphill. My lack of riding on mountain roads for the last two years really started to show. Tony kept wondering why I was slowing down so much for corners. He and I ride a lot together locally on roads, so I know he has gotten used to a certain pace. Not that day! He thought I was sleeping. Oh well, such is the price for old age. :)
We stopped for one Kodak moment and still got to the hotel early so I could get the event set up and started. We have stayed at the Ramada Inn in Hiawassee for the last four years, and they continue to do a great job to assure our return. Attendance was down this year by about 25%, which was consistent with other rallies we have run this year. There is no getting away from it: we are in a recession and even Ducatisti are not immune.
We were catered by Angelo's pizza this year, and it was much better than the chain pizza place we used last year. We ordered so many pizzas that the delivery lady had to make two trips to bring them all. That worked out pretty well, because it allowed those who came a little later or those who wanted seconds to eat hot pizza. Much of the food was eaten on the fly as everyone wanted to go outside and see what bikes were at the rally. There are always some unusual bikes there, and this year was no exception. Bob Hancock was there on his Paul Smart Limited Edition, just to show that old men can ride extreme sports bikes. He was one tired and sore puppy by the end of the weekend, but he did smile a lot. :) Including Tony and me, we had three father and son teams present. Gerhard and Kevin Alf and Eric and Will Kinard were also in attendance. It is gratifying to see a family tradition passed down from father to son or daughter. Unfortunately, most of the sons have the same complaint about fathers: they are too slow! What is this world coming to? :)
After a good night's sleep, we left the hotel around 9 a.m. and headed for the mountain roads. We used the same route we have used the last four years. It has worked well and, with the new lunch destination, flows better. The weather was perfect for wearing leathers, the roads were clean, and the traffic was fairly light. We stopped for a few Kodak moments on our way to the Motor Company Grill for lunch. Lunch was speedy since I remembered to call them a week ahead of time, and they had enough wait staff to serve us without delay. Score one for planning. :)
Our afternoon ride started out fine, but as we headed for Wayah Road, we found the road blocked by a Harley rider, who proceeded to let out about 100 more Harleys in front of us. They then headed down the road at ten miles per hour under the speed limit! I was not too concerned, because our turn was about two miles up the road and we would be done with them. Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. They headed up Wayah road in front of us. This is a long, technical road, and there are few places to pass. So discretion being the better part of valor, I pulled off at the power station and decided to wait about fifteen minutes for them to make their way without us. Soon, we had about thirty Ducatis waiting for the same thing.
Back at the hotel, we were very tired and glad to be back. The gasoline shortage had never reared its head. Not only did most stations have gas, but my bike averaged almost 60 mpg, so the small tank did not turn out to be much of a problem. Our traditional Italian feast was great as usual, and the company was even better. We continue to have dealers, shops, and individuals donate door prizes, so no one goes home empty handed. NPR Ducati, Atlanta Triumph Ducati, The DucShop, Cycle Gear Atlanta, BellissiMoto, Jay Moser, Chris Anderson, and Bubba Edwards all rose to the occasion and donated items for our attendees. If you frequent any of these shops, be sure to say thank you for us. If you do not, then try to stop by.
After dinner, the parking lot was busy all night long for the obligatory bench racing and other lies to be told. It was good to see so many familiar faces and get to ride and tell lies together. I hated to go to bed, but I was tired and had a 250-mile ride home in the morning.
Sunday started out a little cool, but we shortly had to stop and remove layers to keep from overheating. It is amazing how much heat the body will build up on tight mountain roads. The ride home was more direct than the trip up because we all needed to be home before dark. It is the time of year deer move around a lot, and dusk riding takes on a new threat. We stopped in Gastonia for a nice lunch and goodbye to all who had ridden with us. Tony and I headed home to end a special trip for us. It was great to visit with all my friends, but it was extra special because this was the first long trip Tony and I have made together. It felt good to see how comfortable he has become with his 900 SS/SP. Now all I have to do is learn to ride faster so he will not be so bored. :) I am sure my wife slept more soundly when we were both safely home.
Read the recap and look at a few pics from Ducks Along the Blue Ridge 2008!
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