For the last 20+ years the Memorial Day Weekend has been set aside by myself and others for a trip to the Tri-Corners of North Carolina, Virgina, and Tennessee to attend a small regional rally MSTA known as TRIStar. I usually leave on Thursday and spend that day riding down through Eastern Kentucky and far Southwestern Virginia to Sparta, North Carolina, and pull into the Appalachia Inn sometime around dinnertime. Backroads, twisty roads, and small towns are all part of the route and part of the fun down, and while at the rally. Like all of our MSTA rallies, this rally is centered on the idea of riding, and what riding there is! For my money there is simply no finer riding to be found anywhere than in that area of the country. The Crooked Road, the Back of the Dragon, the Snake, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hundreds of other roads that are just as good and almost totally unknown to most people, are all found within a short ride of Sparta, NC.
I’ve attended this rally over 20 times now, and I’m still finding great roads that I have never been on before. So, I keep going back year after year.
This year the weather forecast for the Thursday before Memorial Day called for an almost 100% chance of rain along the whole route that we were planning to take from Cincinnati to Sparta. When I say we, I am talking about my friends, Luis Santiago, Mark Webb, and Mike Funcheon. We had all planned to ride down and back together as we had many times before. However, because of other commitments and some medical problems, it ended up being just Mark and I going down, and instead of going Thursday-Sunday, we decided to go Friday-Monday to try and avoid the rain as much as we could.
When I got up on Friday morning around 6am the rain was coming down quite hard in my neighborhood, and the forecast was somewhat gloomy, but the radar showed that the front had passed mostly to the east. A few hours later, when I met Mark at our rendezvous spot the rain had stopped, the roads were drying out, and I could actually see some blue sky. A promising start! We took off heading straight south for the 1st 80-90 miles, heading to the Mountain Parkway which would take us in our desired southeastern direction. The further south we got, the more blue sky we saw and the dryer the roads. Since it was still a cool morning, I had left my rain gear on to cut the chill. A short time later, I was very happy that I had made that decision. Mark had his rain gear on also. This would soon turn out to a wise choice for both of us. After we turned on the Parkway we almost immediately went through a very hard and intense rain for about 2 minutes. I said to Mark (we use Sena communicators) that if that little bit of rain was all we saw then we would be in great shape and this was going to be a fun ride. The sky was pretty clear at this point and there was plenty of reason for optimism. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. By the time we got to Campton, KY the clouds had moved back in and the rain started up again. Not heave, but certainly steady. For the next 3 hours we rode in rain. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we adjusted our planned route and stuck to main roads during that period. By the time we reached Norton, VA the rain had stopped and the sun had actually begun to reappear. it was around 1:30 in the afternoon at this point and we grabbed a quick sandwich at a McDonalds. When we came out of there the temps had risen, the sun was shinning, and we put away the happily put away the rain gear. It was clear sailing over damp roads the rest of the way and we pulled into the hotel in Sparta right about 4. We were met right away by several other members that had either gotten there the day before or arrived earlier in the afternoon. My old friend, Howard Roth, who had come over from Nashville, pulling in right after we got there. He said that he hadn’t seen rain the whole day until he was on NC93, a road that Mark and I had ridden dryly across just a few minutes ahead of him! Weather sure is strange in the mountains.
After a few hours of getting unpacked, getting cleaned up, and getting some refreshments, Geoffrey Greene graciously offered to take whoever was interested to a steak restaurant on the other end of the small town. About 10 of us said let’s go and Geoffery loaded up his truck and took us there. It was only a few miles away and even though it took 2 trips, we were all soon seated and ordering food and drinks. The rallies are always great opportunities to revisit old friendships and to make new ones, and TRIStar is certainly no exception to that rule. We may come for the roads and the riding, but it’s the laughter and fellowship that keeps us coming back year after year. After dinner we, and others that had chosen to eat elsewhere or had arrived while we were eating, did what comes naturally to all of us. We sat out in the chairs on the porch or walked around the parking lot and told stories, looked at bikes, and generally did what we call “tire kicking”. No tires were harmed in this processes, but it may have resulted in a few headaches in the morning.
The next day dawned cool and cloudy. Some of us were up early hitting the coffee machine and waiting until the restaurant next door opened for breakfast. The rally website has several routes listed that can be printed out or downloaded into ones GPS unit. It only a matter of choosing what direction you want to go in, how far you want to go, and how technical a route you want to ride. Or you can make up your own route, which is exactly what Mark and I did. Mark had expressed a desire to ride The Snake through its complete length, so I set up a route using routes 221 and 88 that took us over to 421 south of Mountain City, TN. From there we did 421 going north all the way to just below Bristol, TN. A few roads that I know cut us over to Route 58, which is known as The Crooked Road. But before you get to the real good part of it, you run through Damascus, VA. We stopped there for lunch at The Wicked Chicken, and old favorite of both of ours. After lunch we set out to run the length of 58 over to Mouth of Wilson and then back to the Inn. This is one of my favorite roads anywhere in the country. It is curve after curve after curve for about 40 miles and runs up around Grayson Highlands Park and Mt. Rogers. 5 Hours and 175 miles after we left, we returned to the hotel. By then the sky had cleared up and it was obviously going to be a beautiful and cool evening. We never saw temps about 62 the whole day and hadn’t seen even a sprinkle all day. A perfect day for riding. That night we hit a local BBQ place for dinner, Yum! Mark had to leave the next day because of a family commitment, so after hanging out in the parking lot until around 10:30 we all hit the sack.
Sunday morning, we woke up to clear blue skies and cool but not cold temps.
The parking lot restaurant is not open there on Sunday so it was decided that we would ride to Mt. Airy for breakfast. Jon Campbell, Bill Rusk, Tim Mullin, Howard Roth, Bob, and I took off on route 88 heading east towards Mt. Airy in search of breakfast. When we got to the Mt. Airy downtown, we found it basically closed, which is fairly typical for a small southern town on a Sunday morning. Finding nothing open we decided to backtrack toward the highway as we had seen a few likely places on the way over. Soon we were all seated at a local restaurant for breakfast. After consuming a goodly portion of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, etc. Tim punched one of the routes into his GPS and off we went….right back to Sparta. Upon getting back to the hotel and discovering that the route he had chosen picked up on the way back, and not the way out, a backup plan was decided upon. We headed out much the same route that Mark and I had taken the day before. At a gas/rest break in Mountain City we were joined in the parking lot with a group of riders from Pennsylvania, who had just ridden 421 down from Shady Valley. They informed us that it was a zoo at the store there that day and that the road was filled with squids of every size and shape. Not wanting to play in that mess, we headed up route 91 to Damascus. Once we got there, we turned east on 58 and did the Crooked Road back to Mouth of Wilson and then took 93 back to Sparta, getting back to the hotel right around 4pm. Dinner that evening was a local Mexican restaurant that has been a traditional Sunday evening dinner spot for TRIStar attendees for many years.
The evening was capped off with more stories, laughs, and adult beverages on the porch.
Monday morning and it was time to ride back home for all of us. I was up early with the intention of leaving as close to 6am as I could. The weather forecast was for sunny skies all the way home and temperatures reaching the upper 80’s sometime in the late afternoon. I was wanting to take a different way back home this time that would be a little longer, but also be more enjoyable than just riding 4-lanes all the way. I was also wanting to avoid as much of the afternoon heat as I could, so I hit the road at 6:20. It was decidedly cool that morning, so I started out with all my gear on, including my rain jacket over top of my mesh jacket. I stayed bundled up that way until around 10:30, when I stopped for gas in Jackson, Ky. I was about 1/2 way home at this point and was having a fantastic time. Traffic had been almost nonexistent and the roads and weather had been perfect. As I got further north, and closer to home, the temperatures picked up a little, but it wasn’t bad. I had taken off the rain jacket in Jackson, and I later stopped in the middle of the Red River Gorge road and took off my long-sleeved shirt under my jacket. I had bypassed the main roads and decided to try going through the gorge using KY-715 and KY-77. Happily, I found almost no traffic on either road as both of them are terrific little twisty and scenic roads. After reaching Mt. Sterling, Ky (site of the Red River Gorge Rally coming in August) I stopped one last time to decide how to finish off the last 100 miles of my ride home. By now it was just about noon, the temps were reaching into the 80’s, and I just wanted to get home and relax. A quick run over 537 to Paris, a fast ride up 27 through Cynthiana and Falmouth, and I was pulling into my garage at 2:15, almost exactly 8 hours after I had left Sparta. All in all a little over 1200 miles for the weekend and a great time. Can’t wait until the next one!