An impromptu gossip fest with coffee shop locals, an apparition in a cemetery and fantastic winding roads make for a great few days in Georgia.
Story and Photos by Jeff Davison
The first indication that I was entering the Deep South was the road sign designating Virginia SR 20 the “Constitution Route.” The second was the tangy smell of barbecue wafting from what looked like a horizontal oil drum on someone’s front porch. And the third was dropping the kickstand in the parking lot of Appomattox Courthouse, the National Historic Site in Virginia where generals Lee and Grant brought an end to the U.S. Civil War.
I had arrived here to attend the annual Horizons Unlimited Travellers Meeting, and as a part of our weekend, we toured the courthouse grounds. We heard the tales of Lee’s surrender and how Lincoln – in an effort to heal rather than conquer – granted freedom to the entire Confederate Army, bidding them to return home to re-establish their farms and their families. Nearby, however, I was surprised to discover a tiny cemetery for 19 soldiers resting beneath an epitaph recently placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy: “Dedicated to the memory of those who served in the defense of the Confederate States of America.” Perhaps, I thought, not all southern ghosts are at rest.
A Ghost Named Suzi
After a weekend of travel tips, inspiration and meeting new friends, I rode south into North Carolina, stopping in Dupont State Forest to enjoy its many beautiful waterfalls, then followed Hwy 64, an amazingly serpentine road that gave both me and my 2006 Suzuki V-Strom a good workout. Rain threatened as I pushed on into Georgia and into darkness. I followed 441 and 115 leading to Dick’s Creek Road, where I gave up finding my intended campsite and finally lay down in a quiet cemetery. At 3:30 a.m., however, I awoke with a start. There in the blackness of the night (and my own bleariness), I saw a woman in a riding jacket standing over me with hand on hip as if waiting impatiently for this trespasser to awaken. I jumped and said, “Hello?” And it was only when she didn’t answer that I realized the woman was named Suzi and the hand on her hip was in fact one of the bike’s hand guards. Clearly, I needed more sleep, but it took a while to shake off my brush with an apparition in a cemetery.
Hanging with the Locals
Around 6:00, the first drops of rain woke me and I headed for Cleveland, Georgia, to find a café where I could eat, write and wait out the storm. I left my gear at a round table and ducked into the washroom. When I came back out, three retired Georgians were sitting at my table. Waving me forward, they called, “Come si’down, son. Welcome to Geawgia. Where y’ from?” These three seemed to know everyone who came in the doors, and soon several more joined us. When the first three finally left, more again filled their seats. I sat through three full shifts of locals, catching up on the town gossip and poking fun at each other. As one of them explained, “All you need to know is, it isn’t a lie until someone believes it.” They were slightly taken aback to learn I did not have a weapon with me on my travels, and at least two of them didn’t understand why I would include Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in my itinerary. (But this gets dangerously close to discussing politics – something that didn’t bother any of my new friends in the least, as they went on to debate their president’s latest moves. I was glad to claim non-citizen status and just listen – especially as I was the only one not carrying!) Nonetheless, they were more than helpful in providing directions to MLK’s home, and offering suggestions of other sights in the area.
“If you’re still around, c’mon back tomorrow,” they said as we finally all broke for the day. “We’ll be here.”
The ride into Atlanta was a soaker with powerful winds, but I arrived intact and, to my pleasant surprise, dry. My new Klim gear had lived up to its promise. In the Georgia warmth, however, I experienced the conundrum that all manufacturers face in striking a balance between water resistance and adequate ventilation. I was more than eager to peel off some layers to tour the Atlanta sights. These included both MLK’s childhood home and church, as well as iconic Swan House and the futuristic Marriott Marquis that served as sets for The Hunger Games movies.
Back at Dick’s Creek that evening, I followed a twisting road to the campsite I had found on freecampsites.net. I lay down in the quiet woods and looked up among the long pines that stretched toward the stars above. The quiet was almost sacred. The next morning, I rode Hwy 60, a fun 56 km of tight turns and switchbacks with a few short straightaways just for variety. Lightly travelled, the road was in perfect condition and generally well cambered. If every hilled region wants to claim its own “Dragon,” this is Georgia’s, complete with two roadside grills welcoming bikers. As I rode, I noticed that, where it showed, the dirt was rust red. For the most part, though, if something could grow here, it did. From grass to shrub to tree to vine, Georgia was swelling with green, often crowding the roads with its fullness.
I then shot over to Blairsville on number 15 to catch Hwy 348, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. While 60 had been like…