Day 3 was eventful. And long. And kind of funny now – but not so much at the time!
It started, happily, with breakfast and coffee at 6am, then we packed and got on the road pretty efficiently. Our first bonus was in Columbia, South Carolina: our second-last stadium and a great place for second-breakfast. It all went fine – we found the bonus, took our photo, then found the local Starbucks where I entertained the staff with my Australian accent and the short answer to ‘so why are you in Columbia’?!?
When we got back to the bike we had a parking ticket. Dang it!!!!! We didn’t feed the meter! In Australia this would be somewhere between an $85 and $175 fine, depending on the city. Happily, in Columbia, SC, it was $8. I pay more for parking every day at work when I park legally! So we had a bit of a giggle and got on our way.
Heading north, we bagged a statue of Nina Simone, I got to go shopping for things ‘White Squirrel related’ and we headed towards ‘Cold Mountain’, made famous by the book of the same name.
Then we headed for our last stadium bonus in Knoxville, TN, passing right on by Maggie Valley on our way.
At this point I was starting to feel really tired, and I was having difficulty getting on and off the bike, which was not helping Kiwi. We didn’t have our shared mojo going and it was taking its toll on both of us. We stopped for another Starbucks break to regroup, had some iced tea and a snack, and figured out our plans.
It seemed a shame to head straight back to Maggie Valley. There were a few bonuses we could get on some very cool roads and it would only add about an hour and a half to the day. I was keen to do it – it would be a bit of a challenge but not too crazy and we had plenty of time until the checkpoint closed. Even with the extra bonuses, we’d still land in Maggie Valley at about 9pm. So we went for it.
The first section was down the interstate (boooooring), but we turned off towards the Cherohala Skyway and the road got more interesting and more pretty. About 6.15pm was when things started to get even more ‘interesting’ and the discussion went something along these lines:
K: Turn right here?
P: No, Google says straight ahead
K: Well both GPSs say turn right.
P: Google says there’s no road here…
K: There is a road here! (turns right)
P: Not according to Google. This is making me nervous.
K: It’s fine – there are people coming the other way, they look fine.
P: It doesn’t look right!
K: It’s a paved road, there won’t be any gravel – don’t worry.
P (thinking): Well I wasn’t worried about gravel… But now I am! And this doesn’t look like a $100m road which is what the bonus book says we’re looking for.
K (thinking): What could possibly go wrong??
At this point I kept my mouth shut. I was fatigued and it didn’t seem right to me, but Kiwi appeared confident, and the GPS said the bonus was only another 40kms away which was about the right distance. In the meantime we were on a paved road beside a pretty river… I did have a nagging feeling that this wasn’t the right road, but it was all going fine and he was right, there were other motorcycles on the road coming the other way and they looked fine.
Not long afterwards we passed 6 or 7 Harley Davidsons with pillions and left them in our dust… before the road turned to gravel…
So now I’m swearing in my head, and trying reallllly hard not to say ‘I told you so’ – because we’re meant to be having fun, and saying ‘I told you so’ is not what we do and it’s not going to help. The GPS was saying only 17kms to the bonus point, and it couldn’t all be gravel could it?
Turns out it could! I sat very still, stayed quiet (by now my intercom had run out of battery) and did my best not to upset the bike. In the meantime the gravel turned from relatively small, well packed stuff, to larger rocks that required first gear and full concentration. I trust the Kiwi implicitly when he’s riding. He has lots of experience. But this was not the place we were supposed to be. No $100m road has this much gravel. It shouldn’t have any gravel at all! And now it was really hard to turn around – there was no place to do so! Thankfully, we made it the full 17kms without incident. Then we reached the ridge. And the Cherohala Skyway was the bridge over the road.
At that point I was swearing out loud. There was going to be a big tantrum and very soon. It was 7pm and I did NOT come up here all that way on gravel only to have to go back down again. Thankfully for our relationship, the gravel road met the parkway another 100 metres up the road after a right hand turn and we stopped to get off and to take a breath.
I was not impressed, but Kiwi seemed exhilarated – it had been a challenge and he’d done it! For me, it was a lesson in how hard it is to process information when you’re tired. We’d read the rally book multiple times, we had the benefit of additional input from Google saying there is no road there (well, there is if you zoom in enough, but I didn’t have mobile phone coverage by then) and yet we still followed the GPS directions. We’d been on the road since 7am and even with two nights of a reasonable amount of sleep, clearly our ability to make good decisions was suffering.
For reference, we were supposed to be on road 165 – the yellow line – instead we were on the River Road – the blue line – which was unpaved from Bald River falls and equivalent to those little white lines you can see.
Anyway, we got the bonus, one last bonus after that, and headed on in to the checkpoint.
I was really nervous about scoring – I was sure I was going to ‘get in trouble’ for not following the rules! But, we checked into our room, got some food and after checking our score sheet again, we scored, left no points at the table, and finished Leg 1 with 8440 points – ready for bed at midnight.
It was a long day, but we learnt a lot, had plenty of laughs along the way and some stories to tell on our return. It took me a while to get to sleep after a very big day but it came eventually!