A woman walks up to me in the grocery store and says, “Excuse me, are you a pilot?”

“Uh, no. I’m a motorcycle rider,” I respond with an ‘are you serious’ expression.

“Then what’s on your back,” she questions, “oxygen?”

“It’s a Camelbak. It’s water,” I informed.

“So, what do you like about motorcycle riding,” she surprisingly continued.

I took comments like this to design my Halloween costume…

… which included my multi-purpose Aerostich, modular Schuberth, a blue felt-tip and a piece of tape.

Halloween was spent in the micro-brewery land of the hippie-chic outdoorsy types of Asheville, North Carolina.

After Malcolm and I dual-sported some nice dirt routes underneath the Cherohala Skyway, we popped up to the pavement to roll into Robbinsville. Unfortunately, Malcolm’s bald tires didn’t bode well for the smooth pavement and let go on a tight right-hander. Man and machine were fine. It was the new Nelson Riggs that suffered a bit of rippage.

We rolled up the infamous US-129, aka the Tail of the Dragon and sped up to the next campground available to regroup and do a bit of taping and tightening. Coincidentally, the site happened to be adorned with this “Tree of Shame” thing and was teaming with a bazillion-bikers.

To our fortune, it was Sunday and we got to watch them all load-up and back-fire away for a quieter night of tenting … or so we thought. I popped out of my sleeping bag around 3 a.m. to the sound of sprinkles in the air. I sleep with ear-plugs, but have a camping-vet ear for rain.

We were able to fit our KLRs under the hotel overhang and pack away the rest in the tent. Despite the drudgery of wet tent packing, the sound of rain drops on a nylon tent-brella makes me smile in my sleep like a kid in a fort. The continuing rain in the morning kept the exhaust systems silenced and gave us time to wallow in our sleeping bags. We took off in a post-crash pace around the 318 wet curves and stopped at a café in Townsend. The rain caught up with us as we finished our sandwiches, so we decided to take the less twisty route to Cosby (on the northeast side of the Smokies) through Pigeon Forge.

(Came upon a crazy lizard turtle trying to play chicken. Thought I'd give him a hand)

However, since out Cosby camp plans weren’t looking so dry, we PriceLine bid for a hotel in Pigeon Forge for a cost effective way to stay out of the rain while Malcolm looked into getting his bags repaired. The magnitude of the mini-Vegas-esque-ness of the land of Dollywood was a surprise, especially being so close to the natural wonder of the Smokies. We did skip the upside-down house, Dixie Stampede and plethora of flashing buffet advertisements in the midst of the endless row of hotels.

Unfortunately an upholsterer with the capabilities of restitching ballistic nylon was untraceable, so Malcolm made a temporary fix with the super sticky animal strength of Gorilla “duck” tape and we were off the next morning to twist through the Cataloochee Valley on the eastern side of the Great Smokies. We twisted down Mt. Sterling Road and into the little likewise named town that’s remoteness once marked a spot for Civil War deserters. It was indeed a surprise to come upon a community so far removed from a place to buy butter … but maybe that’s just because I don’t have a churn in my kitchen.

The autumn colors of the valley were stunning, but the sprinkles kept us moving on after we lunched in the Cataloochee Campgrounds. We continued to the first wireless connection at a Mickey-D’s and as a hotel cost result decided to skip the Wheel Through Time phenomenon in Maggie Valley and continue to Asheville, North Carolina.

Asheville is a town that was brought to my attention as a possible future home base, complete with webs of mountain bike and running trails, micro-breweries, farmer’s markets, artsy things and space. We stayed in a downtown hostel – typically overpriced for an American hostel at $25 a head – but met a big-hearted family that made it worthwhile. They managed the hostel and also let us stay rent-free in their handmade cabin, wood-burning fireplace and all, for the two weekend nights that the hostel was booked.

(Malcolm in his Halloween "Barbara" costume and Tim, the cabin-crafter, at Craggie's micro-brewery)

We left Asheville after Mother Nature decided that it was high-time for the temperatures to fall and shivered through the wind-chill down to a South Carolina Santee State Park Campsite on Lake Marion. The lake was stunning and the Cesar salad/parmesan risotto dinner couldn’t have tasted better than in front of a flaming campfire. Malcolm’s bike and bags were finally fixed, there was no rain and a bit of my lack-of bike-maintenance-patience had subsided. I love camping.