My alarm sounded early: 5:30am. I hadn’t gotten many hours of sleep that night, but I had bike repairs to do and not much time to do them. I had a tour booked at the Biltmore Estate for 10am and I was still two hours from my destination.
I had parked my bike under the overhang of the hotel’s entrance. Another biker had done the same and no one seemed to mind. For me, my first priority was the foot peg. Despite the fall the day before, I still had a working brake, but without a foot peg there was no way I could ride over 9,000 miles. Fortunately, Triumph was smart and the rear peg was almost a direct replacement for the front. Within moments, I had a place to rest my foot for the remainder of the trip.
The brake was a bigger challenge. While bleeding the system, I ran out of fluid and at that hour of the day there a store open where I could buy more. I pieced the bike back together, planning to fix it in Asheville.
I knew from the moment I turned on the GPS that I wouldn’t make my tour on time. Loading the bike had taken longer than I wanted, and I still needed to get fuel, leaving me an hour and 45 minutes to make the two hour drive.
The rain had stopped, but the mountains still had fog. I cruised through the curves, ever mindful of my handicapped bike. Occasionally, I’d catch glimpses of the fog covered valley and I would wish I could stop to take a photo or that I hadn’t been so careless as to somehow burn my helmet cam’s charging cable on my exhaust the previous day, leaving me down two cameras now.
Moments after 10, I pulled into the parking lot of the Biltmore’s ticket office. Still in full gear, I hurried inside where I was forced to wait in line for a ticket window to open. Luckily for me, the line moved fast and even luckier was the fact that I was able to reschedule my tour for 11.
As I made my way down the estate’s 3 mile driveway, more raindrops began to fall. I dismounted the bike as the shuttle appeared, ready to take me to the mansion’s front entrance. Not wanting to keep the shuttle waiting, I grabbed my camera and climbed on board, still in my all-weather riding gear.
The Biltmore Estate has a certain appeal to me, probably more so now that I’m older and have a better appreciation for 19th century history than when I visited as a child with my parents. Now, as an adult, I found myself fascinated by the intricate carvings on each column, and how the designs differed from one column to the next. As I wondered in amazement, the tour guide approached, handed out badges, and started the tour.
We walked up the Grand Staircase (a cantilever design inspired by French chateaus) and into an architect’s study. Occupying the center of the room was the same small model of the house I had seen on the tours as a kid. Surrounding me were a pair of original blueprint drawings, and several lithographs of various French castles and I could see how the elements had been incorporated into the house. We wandered around the upper floors, occasionally stepping out onto the rooftops where heavy rains were propelled sideways by even heavier winds.
Soon the tour ended, and I was left feeling a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen more of the house. But this tour was always meant to be a side dish, not the main entrée. After a quick look through the gift shop, where I was tempted to buy several things that I wouldn’t have been able to fit onto the bike, I made my way back to the shuttle and returned to the bike.
Since I never un-geared, getting set back up to hit the road was quick and easy, and soon I was on the scenic drive through the Estate’s grounds. One Canadian goose thought I was unwelcome, and ran out in front of me in attempt to get me to leave.
Without further incident, I left the grounds and rode into Biltmore Village, where I stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. As I listened to the sounds of the grand piano play cover versions of pop songs in what had to be the fanciest McDonalds in the US, I decided that instead of continuing on to Tellico Plains, I’d spend the night in town using the rest of the day to fix the bike and get myself a new phone.
I checked into a nearby Hampton Inn and promptly unloaded the Bike. Without taking a moment to rest, I headed to the AT&T store I had passed along the way. Although it took longer than I thought it should have, I walked away with a new and working cell phone. With one task down, I made my way to Autozone to pick up some brake fluid.
Shopping done, I hurried back to the hotel as the first snowflakes began to blow in. Again using the hotel’s overhang for shelter, I broke open my toolkit and set to work removing the caliper and bleeding the system. It didn’t take long, fortunate since the temps continued to drop and the winds blew snow onto me. With my hands starting to shake from the cold, I quickly reassembled the bike and rushed inside to warm up.
An hour or so later, after I was warm and after the snow had passed, I took the bike for a short test ride to find a place to eat, and stumbled on a McAlester’s Deli, a place I ate at regularly growing up in nearby Charlotte. I parked on the sidewalk and went inside to order.
Fed and satisfied with the bike, I returned to the hotel where I soon went to sleep. I had a long day ahead in attempt to make up lost time.