Plans for a midwinter escape backfire big time.
Motorcyclists share many similarities to bears. Wait! Before you turn the page, hear me out. Yes, some of us are quite hairy and are easily aggravated when personal space is invaded, but I don’t mean it in that sense. We share a similar seasonal hibernation: we awake in the springtime hungry for rides, steadily trying to settle that appetite throughout the warm months and attempt to get our fill of twists and turns in the autumn to satisfy that hunger to do it again as we suffer through the subsequent grueling months of winter.
This year, I tried to break routine. I had just finished attending the western leg of the motorcycle shows and decided it was time to treat myself to a southern excursion in Georgia and the Carolinas to ride some epic roads and revive my love for life and the outdoors … without snow.
I walked out of the airport in Atlanta, drinking in every ounce of warm 20 C and dense southern air. I had arranged to ride a Triumph Scrambler 1200XC, and that night I dreamed of all the roads I would be riding in the next few days – from dirt trails in Georgia to the famous twists in North Carolina’s Tail of the Dragon and surrounding roads.
I was lucky enough to persuade Triumph into lending me a bike for a few days to fulfill those dreams. The Scrambler 1200XC is a bike that is known by many – not just because of its appealing styling and shape, but also because of its capabilities on- and off-road. Aside from the exhilarating moment when I saw the bike and knowing I’d be its rider for the next few hundred kilometres, I was more than ecstatic to push the keyless ignition button and see the programmed “Good Morning Emily” appear on the TFT display. I rolled away from the Triumph North America office and, in notorious “Emily” fashion, I got lost within five minutes as I tried to get on the highway. After three U-turns and an average amount of swearing, I found an acceptable on-ramp in the right direction … north. The Dragon was calling.
Finally Out of the City
I made my way through stop-and-go traffic on the six-lane highway leading out of Atlanta. The traffic soon dispersed and the lanes disappeared, leaving me in my own mental oasis as I rode north. The temperature was about 5 C, but I wasn’t complaining. I was on a bike; how could I complain? Although, it was chilly and the heated grips provide only so much comfort.
At a small Arby’s in Buford, Ga., I met José, another motorcycle rider who had spotted me pulling in. José and I sat and spoke about our lives and passion for bikes, as most of us do. After I regained the feeling in my hands, I figured it was time to ride again. Before hitting the road, I took the time to scroll through the comprehensive menu on the Scrambler’s TFT display and found five ride modes: Road, Rain, Sport, Off-road and a Custom mode that I could adjust to my favourite settings. I could’ve sat there all day playing with menu button for the slim TFT display, which allowed me to adjust everything from the ABS to trip settings, from cruise control to traction control.
The temperature was slowly dropping and white flakes began appearing on my visor. “No, this can’t be happening.” I had waited so long to be far away from the snow and I’d be damned if I was going to let it ruin this trip. The snow was on and off, but luckily it didn’t stick around too long.
Slurping Boiled Peanuts
Just before the town of Clayton, Ga., I spotted an eclectic antique store called Black Bear Creek Antiques. I pulled in to let my brain take in every wildly different item that was sitting out front.
I slowly eased the gloves off my hands and inspected my fingers to make sure they were still functional even though there wasn’t any feeling left in them. I walked into the store to warm up and regain the motor skills in my digits. The storekeeper came out from the back, startled, I’m guessing, by the sight of a person in the store or perhaps a motorcyclist during the flurries. After a few minutes, I asked him about boiled peanuts. I had seen many signs for them along the way; each time, my gag reflex reminded me it was unlikely I would enjoy them.
The storekeeper assured me they were the best in the area. And although I didn’t do a taste-testing tour of all the boiled peanut stands in the area, I believed him. He opened a big pot of water, strained a few peanuts (in their shells) and gave them to me to try. As I cracked open a soggy shell to reveal a couple of mushy dark brown nuts, I began to ponder why I insist on asking these questions about mysterious food? He showed me how to slurp the peanuts out of the shell, so I tried them. Warm mushed-up salty peanuts had a particular taste that, oddly, I enjoyed: like warm peanut butter without the aggravating aftermath of attempting to manoeuvre your tongue to get the remnants off the roof of your mouth.
Beautiful Invasive Vine
I continued on to Salem, S.C., my base for the next two nights. I was in awe as I passed tall trees swallowed by kudzu, a tenacious invasive vine that has invaded much of the southeastern states. Quietly, it creeps up old-growth trees, suffocating them from the sun and crushing their branches with its weight. Kudzu was first introduced into the U.S. from Japan in 1876 as an ornamental plant, but it didn’t quite catch on until the 1930s, when soil erosion became an issue. Farmers were then paid to plant kudzu and more than over one million acres was planted with it; by the 1950s, it was recognized as a noxious weed.
Since then, kudzu has continued to grow across fields and up every established tree, working its way inch by inch overland. The way in which kudzu has blanketed the south truly is beautiful to see, yet thinking about the strength of this determined plant and its lack of regard for what it swallows is daunting.
I passed some tempting dirt trails, each time thinking of how capable the bike I had actually was. I mean, if Ernie Vigil was able to place fifth in the Baja 1000 on an (almost) stock Scrambler 1200XE, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to ride a bit of dirt and mud. However, the dimming sun reminded me that I would have little time and my voice of reason told me not to go into the woods by myself, no matter how tempting it seemed. The silver lining was that I don’t think there would’ve been a road, trail or mud crossing I wouldn’t enjoy on this bike.
Calm Before the Storm
In Salem, I woke the next morning and watched the forecast warning of the likelihood of snow as the day progressed. I thought I would be able to narrowly escape exactly what I had come here to avoid … snow. Of course, we can’t always be that lucky; about 20 minutes from the house where I’d spent the night, the snow began.
At first, the snow disappeared immediately and wasn’t an issue, although the snowfall soon became my worst nightmare. I had stopped at a viewpoint to take some photos, but the view soon became obscured and I realized that in a span of 10 minutes, a couple centimetres of snow had accumulated on the seat of the bike – and this time, it wasn’t dissipating. I realized I had made the mistake of underestimating the South’s weather, and the South wasn’t showing me an ounce of kindness.
I began slowly making my way back to the house where I’d spent the previous night, cautious of every twist and hill that these roads traversed. I began passing snowplows going in the opposite direction and wishing they were in front of me to clear the way. My nerves were getting the best of me. I stopped again and was offered a ride by a local, but my confidence still overpowered my fear. I declined the offer as I thought about the possible scrapes and scratches that could mar the paint on the new Scrambler as it was carried in the back of the truck without being tied down. I was only about 10 minutes from the house when this situation I had gotten myself into got real … and quickly.
Complete Loss of Traction
I was pulling out from a stop sign when the rear wheel swung right up beside me, causing the pristine bike to slide along the snow- and slush-covered road. Almost in tears, I picked the bike up. I then realized I should’ve taken that stranger’s help; then at least I’d have been safe. Instead, I now found myself on a remote road, with conditions worsening by the minute. I had no option other than to attempt to continue.
Then it happened again – this time, worse. I was riding downhill and into a corner; I could feel the back end coming out, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. The bike dropped and I with it, with the bike doing 360s down the road on its side. Thankfully, there was a truck following me with enough distance to stop safely.
The driver’s name was Jim Sullivan, and he was my saviour for the day. I decided at this point that there was no way I could make it back. Jim helped me pick up the bike and we hid it on a small trail off the road. As Jim drove me back to the house, we passed cars that had slid off the road or were just stuck on the road because the surface was so slick. “Biting off more than I could chew” was an understatement.
Even with all of my dirt-riding experience I was upset because I had dropped the bike. I feel that’s something that should never happen. I was naive enough to go out on the bike while underestimating the idea of snow in South Carolina.
As I sat back at the house, I thought about my humbling experience … all for a ride.
Too Dangerous for AAA
I called AAA to get the bike towed back to the house, but they had said that the roads weren’t safe and had since been closed to all travel. Something I found so bizarre, however, no one runs snow tires in the South – why would they? They experience a storm like this only once a year.
Sobering thoughts ran through my head about the safety of the bike. Yes, I had locked the steering and attached a rotor lock, but that didn’t make me feel any better about ditching the beautiful Scrambler 1200XC with 300 miles on it somewhere in the woods of South Carolina.
Of course, in typical southern fashion, the snow didn’t stick around for long. Within five hours, the sun peeked out from the clouds, roads had begun to clear and I was able to get a ride back to the bike and ride it back to the house. I rode slowly and nervously. The roads still had some snow on them, but I wanted to get the bike back so I could inspect it for damage.
As it turned out, the Scrambler fared pretty well, considering, with only a bent clutch lever, a broken menu switch and perhaps a very slightly twisted handlebar. I was actually quite impressed about how the bars were designed to protect the fenders and tank from scratches in case of a fall.
Do I Have to Take It Back?
The next day, I attempted to settle my nerves arising from my intimate interactions with the tarmac the day before. Time to take the bike back to Triumph. Rivers of thoughts ran through my brain, and most of them filled me with stress and dread. What would my contact at Triumph think? My bruises were on the inside this time, and they hurt so much more.
The day was sunny and, although there was still snow on the shoulders of the road, the pavement was drying nicely. I decided that rushing back to Atlanta to return the bike and explain my situation wouldn’t make any difference to taking my time, so I planned a route I could be content with – keeping in mind going north was no longer an option.
I set out on Whitewater Falls Road, the same road on which I had dropped the Scrambler the day before. Like apparitions, my memories haunted me as I approached the same corner. Yet, nothing happened; I just kept riding. I guess that’s just what happens. There were no exterior forces against me this time. Just myself and my doubt.
I traversed the 107 until I reached Highway 28, which would lead me to Warwoman Road. José had said taking it would be worthwhile – and he wasn’t wrong. Tight corners wound through old-growth trees with some sections only wide enough for one lane. The sun’s rays danced between the trees as I weaved around them on each corner. This gave me comfort, while the handling and high-torque engine of the Scrambler built my confidence.
Once again in Clayton, I adjusted course to Tiger, Ga. To be truthful, I only went there for the name. When I was about 13, I fell in love with the Triumph Tiger Cub that was on display at L’Épopée de la moto, a motorcycle museum in Quebec. Although I still don’t own a Tiger, I’m lucky to ride my father’s Tiger XC when he lets me. Turns out I missed the town; I think it consisted of three houses I’d roared past.
I had one more town that I wanted to see before I made my way into the stressful urban environment of Atlanta. A stranger in a Starbucks had said I should go to Helen, Ga., an eclectic Bavarian-style town. After searching up a few photos of it, I thought the side trip was worthwhile. I rode through town, amazed at the bustling downtown filled with tourists popping in and out of the small German-style buildings.
I was expecting to see men in lederhosen and women in dirndls yodelling throughout the town. I figured I’d make a quick stop for a photo opportunity that was mediocre at best – until I sat there for a minute and realized I had taken a photo in front of a store named Helen Cellar. I had a good chuckle as I sat with the Scrambler, taking in the sun that had finally begun to warm me up.
I continued south to Atlanta, following the warming sun. I yearned to keep the Scrambler for a few more days; it had done everything perfectly. Everything about the Scrambler was desirable; the 1,200 cc engine was so smooth and offered so much torque whenever my wrist requested it. Not to mention that most of Georgia and South Carolina offer the perfect backdrop for the Scrambler’s classic Adventure styling.
When I reached a hotel for the night, I pondered my experience: I had come here to awaken from a long winter hibernation; instead, I found myself fighting to escape winter. However, my experience down here wasn’t for nothing: I learned a lot – more than I do on most of my trips. I learned to never underestimate the weather, always wear all the gear and sometimes routines aren’t meant to be broken. Most important, I learned that I would love to own a Triumph Scrambler 1200XC.