Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Highway 80, North Carolina

A visit to the Appalachian mountains is a useful reminder that not everyone lives in the flatlands of the eternal summer where I earn a living. Variety we are told is the spice of life and I do enjoy periodic visits to relatives in the mountain fastness of Western North Carolina. However not every resident is glad to see me as I wear a Florida license plate on my car and that is as a red flag, proverbially, to a bull. Floridians are unwanted incomers, buyers of homes, wreckers of communities, geriatric nuisances in the purity of the mountains, their air, and their roads.
North Carolina Highway 80 is a case in point. To approach my sister-in-law's home in Celo near Burnsville you have to drive Highway 80 either from the Blue Ridge Parkway or from Federal Highway 19E and both these roads present no challenges whatsoever to a driver from the Flatlands. The parkway as winding and lovely as it is has a speed limit of a mere 45 mph, not always achieved by slow moving sightseers, and Highway 19E is now a four lane extension of I-26 from Asheville toward Burnsville.
Highway 80 is something else. Perfectly paved and striped, with guardrails and lots of twists and curves it could actually be a delightful drive.
It is however, a holy terror. The speed limit on this ribbon of asphalt is 55 mph.  And for once in my life I have found an official speed limit that does not hold me back. On the contrary I think 55 is wildly, insanely over achieving for this road. On this very mountain road you will find me hunted down and killed by junked pick up trucks driven by mountain stereotypes impatiently following my Florida tag until I find a likely driveway and pull off the road in a flurry of gravel and clouds of dust and leaves.
I was reminded of my driving deficiencies most recently when I left Celo before dawn two weeks ago and soon found myself navigating perilous hairpins and switchbacks on the descent to Marion in the relative flatlands of North Carolina. I like to make progress on the road be it by motorcycle or by car. My philosophy is when you drive you drive with no distractions. My goal when I leave on a trip of any length is to cause others not to brake or swerve when they come across me on the road.  I like to make progress, as the British Motorcycle Police Instructors like to say, speed limits be damned. I stick close to the speed limit but consistently try to stay over as much as I can. I don't do a hundred miles an hour for sixty seconds and then dawdle while I send texts. When I drive I drive and usually five or ten or even fifteen over the limit when I feel I can get away with it. Not here, never:
Because here I find myself unable to keep up. Even the slower speeds posted for the worst canyon stretches  seemed a mockery for me as commuters pulled out into the blacked out highway and roared off around me, ahead of me, into the predawn darkness.
It was with some unaccustomed relief I got back to the flatlands and aimed at South Carolina on Highway 221, a very civilized stretch of road:
Highway 80 and its locals have my respect. I try not to be a Floridian lane hog when I drive it.