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Thread: Bucket List trip for the Firebolt - Dragon/Cherohala/etc.

  1. #1
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    Bucket List trip for the Firebolt - Dragon/Cherohala/etc.

    Hey all,

    It's been three weeks since this occurred, but I wanted to sit down and write about it when I wasn't in a rush. My apologies if it gets long winded, but I thought I'd share some highlights of my recent trip to Swain County, NC. I'll follow this with some pictures...hopefully the site will let me post them up.

    I wasn't sure that the trip would even happen. Work has been much more hectic this summer than it should be at a university NROTC program, even if that program is one of the largest in the Navy. There was no chance to take a family vacation all year, and as the summer marched on, it seemed that I would have to 'create something' out of thin air just to get a bit of a break. Additionally, the Firebolt has had a difficult year all around. Last October/November, the bike developed a popping lights c/b issue that resulted in a very long thread and lots of back and forth troubleshooting to no avail. It then spend some time down south with Kevin Drum (with the thought of having some larger parts swapped out). Turned out, to the surprise of everyone on the board here as well as Kevin and myself, that the problem was simply the clutch sensor switch near the left grip. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the bike wasn't available for us to go get until late April, resulting in its exposure to the elements for probably the worst time of year (it was covered but not 'indoors'). Once back home, I have spent many hours doing material condition upkeep as well as troubleshooting some other small'ish problems - most of which have included rectifying fastener issues caused by either the factory or previous owners. John (aka lunaticfringe) was invaluable during the process of returning the bike to good nick (both functionally and aesthetically). He can also attest to the incredible stupidity in the way some of the fastener issues played out (I will go postal every time I talk about incorrectly pitched 4-40 screws cross-threaded into switch gear housings - I'll never get those 6 hours of my life back).

    Long story longer, the bike is probably now in its best shape ever - save one niggling speedometer issue that seems entirely unique to anything I can find on the net as yet experienced by an XB owner. That issue I've decided to live with at this point, as I can mitigate it fairly easily (in a way that showcases its oddity). After the rehab process, which included some extensive grounding cleaning/re-wiring, tire changes, neutral switch fixing, front fender fasteners drilled out and fixed, lots of anti-corrosion preventative and corrective work, etc., I have ridden the bike about 1.8K miles this summer so far - attempting to put it through its paces just in case some other issues fell out, etc. The bike now also has Dave's (Buelltooth) baro sensor installed and the O2 sensor locked out. It's never run better or more smoothly - especially given that rides around here vary fairly significantly as to the elevations incurred during pass crossings and the geography of the region (we live in the Blue Ridge Mountains).

    Which brings us to three weekends ago. I believe it was on Wednesday that I made the decision to book two nights at the "Two Wheel Inn" in Robbinsville - telling my boss that I would be out of the area until Saturday evening. While Robbinsville is not close - it's also not far...almost 5 hours exactly by car, and I have been more than frustrated that I hadn't yet carved out the time to visit the area in our four years in S.W. VA. I still had to do some job-related stuff on Thursday morning, but by 10:15 I was on the road with the bike on the trailer. I pulled into the motel at 3:15 after a beautiful drive through VA/TN/NC - marred only by a bit of interesting traffic in Asheville. It took almost exactly one hour to check in, get the bike unloaded, the trailer situated where the proprietors wanted it to be parked, the car unpacked, riding gear on, and out the door. I knew that hanging a right on 129 right out of the parking lot would get me (eventually) to the Dragon, and given my limited time for the trip, I wanted to get through the 'first pass' on the road right away.

    I can tell you that I had a *lot* going through my mind on the 23-24 mile ride from the motel to the Dragon. I believe I must have told myself at least 100 times to "ride your own ride" - "don't try to prove anything" - "take your time" - "have fun and enjoy the entire process". I mean, like most, I had watched numerous youtube and other videos of the road, to include all the 'advice' I could find. I'm a naval aviator, so I'm accustomed to "chair flying" anything of this nature. I am not, however, ashamed to say that I had serious butterflies going to town in my gut all the way to where the road starts. Of note, the Dragon really starts just past the Tapoco Lodge. This was something I had not picked up in all my reading, etc. I didn't stop at the Deal's Gap Resort, because I wanted to just "do it".

    So I have to say that the road does a great job of actually taming butterflies. There was no time to pay attention to them. Literally I was immediately thrown into that mental and physical rhythm of picking entry, apex, and exit points in constant juxtaposition with body/head/eye position, bike energy state, and all the small details that I made both conscious and intentional given the situation. And of course, this is what I think makes the Dragon such a kick-ass ride. For me at least, there is no therapy like any type of effort that forces all extraneous 'stuff' from conscious consideration. It's much like flying around the carrier - doing it correctly takes every bit of concentration and focus one can muster. I did note the police truck alongside one of the photo booths on that first trip up, but those (and other) facts just washed through my brain as a kind of environmental variable. It was, in no small way, almost a complete surprise to emerge at the overlook parking/observation area at the top. I should also note that I had the entire run to myself (with regard to my lane). Not a single other vehicle inhabited the space - what an amazing way to ride the Dragon for the first time.

    At the top, I stopped - and then the sweat started. In buckets. It was hot, yes, something like 90 degrees, but the sweat didn't start until I stopped at the top. I met a great guy riding the Concours-engined Kawasaki (I don't know their model designations), and we talked a bit. He offered to lead me on the return run, so that was a treat. Again, other than following Dennis, there were no other vehicles in our lane during the entire run. He had been riding there for about 10 years running, so he was moving. I didn't try to ride his ride, but he didn't get that far ahead in any case. I was just happy to be safely negotiating this *very fun* stretch of road. At the resort, Dennis surprised me by buying me a "I rode my own" Dragon pin and then took off for home. I love the motorcycling community - as a whole, it's an amazing group of generous and self-less individuals.

    This has gone on a long time already, so I'll tell one more story and wrap up the narrative for now. After riding the Dragon twice more on Thursday evening, I got up relatively early on Friday and rode the Cherohala Skyway. What an awesome ribbon of tarmac. In some ways, I enjoyed it even more than the Dragon (taken as a whole). The story I'll tell is about the last 10 miles or so heading westbound (towards Tellico). I had (again) been blessed with an almost empty road for the entire trip. In fact, overall, my entire experience for the 2-3 days was relatively traffic-free. Anyway, about 10 miles from Tellico, I had stopped at a lookout point to take a picture. When I got back on the road, I pulled out just as I noticed a bike coming around the turn about 1/8 mile behind me. He was moving. The Skyway isn't as technical as the Dragon, so I led him for about five miles (again - we were not playing around). At a given point, some hashed line sections showed up, and I waved him around (thinking that he looked as if he actually knew the road - where I was just experiencing it for the first time). I then followed him at his pace for the five miles until that first gas station on the left heading into Tellico Plains. I wanted to get gas anyway, and he turned in - so we wound up talking for over a half an hour. He told me that he was happy at my original pace - he just didn't like doing the Skyway slowly (and yes, he had been riding there for years). What a great conversation with a great guy - and a great short ride together to boot.

    After the Skyway (both ways), I did the Dragon again twice, then the entire Moonshiner 28 and Wayah Road Loop back to Robbinsville (that was a freakin' LONG day). I stopped at Fontana Dam as well during the day for pictures. I finished the trip on Sat. morning by getting up at 6:00 and doing the Dragon up and down as the sun rose. The misty air was awesome (if challenging for visibility at times), and it was a great way to finish up what was, for me, a bucket list trip. I got the obligatory T-shirts for the family from the resort gift shop, filled up with gas, and headed back to the motel to load up and check out. I don't mind saying that I was absolutely exhausted by the time I finished the drive home - but it was the best kind of exhausted.
    Last edited by vicenzajay; 08-19-2018 at 02:13 AM.

  2. #2
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    A couple of thoughts/reflections. There was only twice during the entire trip when I fought traffic - the first was the return on the Skyway as the last 10 miles were slowed by a train of very slow cars (and motorcycles). The second was the trip 'down' the Dragon on Friday. This was expected, but what was notable is that it was the ONLY time I dealt with traffic during my 8 trips through it. On another note, I was very pleased with my own approach to every road I tackled. I constantly reminded myself to ride within my limits, and I practiced what I was (self) preaching. I was especially happy that I was never, on the Dragon or elsewhere, 'pushed' by another vehicle (car or bike). I was certainly happy to pull over should it have been needed, but it never was. I think many of us, watching videos or reading comments, think that our riding skills will never match up (or that we'll be embarrassed by accomplished riders to the point of feeling sub-standard) - especially on roads like the Tail. I felt very good about the way my 52 year old body and mind performed - even given my nerves and uncertainty (and the fact that I was doing this trip all by myself without any experienced companions).

    Overall, I started riding at 4:30 on Thursday, and finished at 8:30 (a.m.) on Saturday. In 40 hours total, I rode 462 miles (of 'that kind of road'), 8x through the Dragon, 2x on the Skyway, a large portion of the 28 and Wayah loop, as well as the Fontana spur and various trips for food/gas. My low beam headlight gave out at some point during the very first afternoon - so I did get pulled over by the police heading back into Robbinsville. No ticket - but that resulted in a good deal of high beam use for the next two days (light is fixed now, of course). Loads of new acquaintances made, and an unbelievable amount of attention for the bike. It was impossible to stop without drawing a small crowd. I literallly (three times) had people ask permission to stand by the bike and listen to it as I drove away. A waitress from the Mexican restaurant met me at my bike when I left the first night, wanting to talk about the bike, fawn over it, and ask to stand and listen as I departed. During the evenings, the motel patrons would gather around as I wiped the bike down just to talk, drink beer, give me sh*t for cleaning it each evening, and go on and on about how nice the bike looked, how innovative Erik Buell was, etc. It was a blast.

    I'll stop yapping - next posts will have pictures.

  3. #3
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    Overall pictures of the trip

    These are certainly not all the pictures I took - but they represent the 'flavor' of the trip:
    Attached Images Attached Images

  4. #4
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    More pictures...

    Here's a few more....
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  5. #5
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    Obligatory Dragon photos

    Of course - I wanted to support the local economy:
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    some more....

    And some more....
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  7. #7
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    Lastly

    The last few....
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  8. #8
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    Thanks for sharing. I rode the dragon back in 2010, on my XB9. Good times.

  9. #9
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    The Skyway is Awesome. Your speedo issue is probably a bad ground.

  10. #10
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    I'm sure it's a ground issue. I've spent loads of hours cleaning and preserving them to no avail thus far. I've followed John's advice for each step of the process and taken the instrument cluster off and meticulously cleaned everything. I opened the cluster up, and the PCB and connections (and LEDs) are absolutely pristine inside.

    As long as I cycle the run switch, I can get the speedo to work 100% of the time. I.E. if it isn't working when I take off, I can shut down the engine with the run switch, cycle it, and *every time the speedo comes to life after that process. No codes are ever thrown. There are also no stored codes. As briefly mentioned above, I haven't read anywhere (here, badweb, BRO, etc.) of *anyone* having identical symptoms (and fix) with their XB, so it seems fairly unique unless I hear otherwise in the future.

    At this point, unless someone gives me a 'oh yeah, I know what that is' specific fix, I'm just going to cycle the switch and ride it. I run more of a risk of messing something else up the more I tear into the bike trying "maybe this will do the trick" stuff - I speak from experience on that score.

    Anyway - the point of the thread was to share the Swain County trip. It was awesome, and it was something I really needed (on a personal level) to do. The bonus was the almost traffic-free and beautiful riding conditions - I really was more fortunate than I thought I'd be with that.

    And yes - the Skyway IS awesome....



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