The temps were headed for the 70s on this early March day and I decided I needed to take a ride. Where to go? I considered chasing down my Appalachian Tag which is currently at a mine in West Virginia but decided I didn’t want that much of a ride this early in riding season for me.
It’s been quite a while since I rode through the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountain National Park) or drove through for that matter. I decided to risk going through on my street bike for the first time. I used to run through there regularly on my old GSA but that’s built for the rough conditions. It’s a beautiful route through but all gravel and dirt. I knew with the trees bare some of the views would be better than usual.
It was supposed to be colder. We dressed for colder. We were surprised when temps climbed to 70 on November 10, 2013. Unfortunately that wasn’t entirely a good thing since we were dressed for cold.
When the ROK group rides there are some rules we follow to make the ride safe and fun for riders of various speeds. The most important rule is ride your own pace. Some folks aren’t really good enough to go fast, some folks just want to go slow. We always have folks ready to push for speed and the group filters with faster riders at the front and more laid back riders in the rear. To keep our group together each rider is responsible for the rider behind him or her. If the group makes a turn each rider looks for the bike behind before continuing. If the rider behind isn’t in view then you wait. Someone in our group couldn’t grasp this simple concept and the group got separated. Nat and I were riding at the end of the line because I wanted a laid back tour this day.
Unfortunately this same rider managed to get our group divided into three parts. It figures; this was the first time I’d gone on a ride and didn’t download the route. Never had a problem before. When one rider went astray because of the bad apple the last of our group stopped to discuss and then I was sent along the route while someone riding solo with the route went after the astray rider and sweep sat waiting. Since bad apple was now the bike I was depending on to find the next turn we got separated too. Nat and I stopped to look at what information I had that I could use and began doubling back to find the proper route. I also changed some of my hot clothes out as I was now getting overheated.
Presently I got a text message from the ride leader suggesting the gas station to get back together and I set my GPS to go there.
The spot chosen to regroup was an excellent one and I lightened my clothes load some more.
Once everybody was gathered back up, bladders emptied, clothes adjusted, fluids consumed, and mounted back up ready to ride we continued. Some of the roads Francois had chosen for this ride were spectacular. Some were just great. None were bad. We even managed to get in and out of Pigeon Forge for lunch. Sadly I wasn’t thinking pictures so above is all I got.
After lunch temps continued to climb and I was getting uncomfortable again with nothing much to remove safely. About that time Nat started complaining of not feeling well. After a while we decided to just head for home. We did let the group know we were going our own way. I know the rest of the ride was also good. Next time.
I had an errand to run so I chose to use the bike. After that was done I took the long way home and paused at Panther Creek state park.
A recent cold snap had really kicked the fall colors into gear and roads everywhere look like this only maybe not this shady and empty.
I stood on the overlook listening to jazz playing from my bike and watching the water. I noticed a series of ripples dancing in a criss-cross manner across the surface left behind by a boat that had long since passed. The ripples were reflecting off of the various islands and shores. Presently another boat created a fresh set and I felt compelled to watch those progress for a while. Very peaceful.
As I headed out to the exit I spotted this tree and had to stop for a picture or two. Such amazing color as it embraced the tree next to it with its limbs.
Nat and I took a drive out to the Frist Center in Nashville. They had a fabulous show called Sensuous Steel that is a collection of Art Deco cars. It was explained to us that this was going to be a once in a lifetime show. These cars were pulled together from a number of private collections and owners of one of a kind cars. The show ended September 15th. I wish I had been more organized in photographing these. Nat and I showed up mid-week on a rainy day so we nearly had the place to ourselves.
I really should have gone back through the show and taken pictures of the placards for each of the cars.
Tom from Brooklyn took advantage of my posting on the ADV Tentspace Thread. Tom messaged me that he’d like to come down and ride around the Smokies. I said okay and the adventure was on. Tom came down mid-week and caught some rain coming in. We ate some dinner then talked some about what he had in mind. What he described was going to be a lot of riding. I tried to give him a route but honestly I’m not sure about all of it. That night I wasn’t really feeling like I wanted to spend the next day riding. We went to bed not too late and the next morning seemed like a pretty nice day for riding. I decided I’d at least get him started then I could let him go his own way later.
As we were setting off for the day’s ride Tom grabbed a picture or two of our view of the lake and mountains. I don’t think there’s anything in Brooklyn, NY that looks like this.
Every motorcycle ride in the world seems to be aware of the “Dragon” which is a tortuously twisted road that folks like to test. It eats unaware drivers and riders. It’s famous for that. Tom wanted to do the dragon too so we headed that way first. I took a warm up route down highway 92 from Dandridge across the lake. I wanted to get out to route 411 which heads towards the mountains. Along the way we passed Blowing Cave road and I knew of an old mill out there I wanted to check in on. We detoured.
After we left the cave we continued on route 411 until we got to Veterans Blvd which would take us out to Pigeon Forge. I thought it would be fun for Tom to see the tourist mecca that that place is. Parkway in Pigeon Forge didn’t disappoint. After some gawking along Parkway we turned up Wears Valley road. Tom waved me into an auto parts store to get himself some chain lube. Wears Valley road runs close to a friend’s house. It’s through him I knew of some of the nice roads I was going to take so we stopped in to see him. He hasn’t been able to ride for a while as he fought cancer. He’s got it beat now but hasn’t quite gotten back on his bike.
Kurt took a little needling well and kept his smile. Off again we wanted to cut through part of the GSMNP. We continued out Wears Valley and turned onto Lyon Springs road. That took us in a little used entrance. We eventually emerged after some very scenic riding in Townsend. We were back on Wears Valley Rd. Riding a little farther we came to Foothills Parkway. That makes a nice connection to route 129 which becomes the Dragon.
We checked out some of the overlooks as we rode.
I have lots of pictures of the overlooks somewhere so I didn’t bother taking many shots. Tom got lots of pictures.
Before long we dropped out onto Tellico Lake on route 129. Tom had talked about wanting to take several runs at the Dragon so my plan was to go with him up into NC and wait at the store at the top. We got caught mostly behind the parade of much slower bikes aka Harleys. I rode much of it with my left hand resting in my lap as we rarely even got up to the speed limit. Once at the top we opted to grab a burger before Tom took more runs at it. Pretty soon he admitted his knees were still quaking and he would take more runs another time. We continued on. I prefer to bear left on route 28 along Cheoah Lake and down around the power plant at Fontana Dam. It’s a nice road with sweepers instead of hairpin turns and you can get into a rhythm if you know what you’re doing.
As we rode down I noticed a mist clinging to the top of the lake.
Shortly after we crossed the lake on rte 28 the immense humidity began condensing into rain. I thought we might escape it soon so I delayed putting on rain gear. Alas it continued to rain and I didn’t dare press on at my limits leading a young rider so we stopped under some trees to dress for the rain. We followed my GPS towards Robbinsville which is the NC terminus of the Cherohala Skyway. When we got to the bustle of Robbinsville I was dreaming of a frosty treat at McDonalds. Of course there was one and I got my Mocha Frappe. mmm. I thought I’d never get Tom out of the dry air conditioned comfort there. We took our time as I finished my treat and both got dried out.
We spoke with another rider who had just come off the Skyway. He told us it was raining hard at the highest section. Hm. Not good news but I decided I’d risk riding without rain gear. If it started raining on us I could just put it on again. In the meantime I’d be a lot more comfortable.
Soon enough we were greeted by a park sign welcoming us to the Skyway.
The skyway is full of good overlooks.
As we neared Tellico Plains I remembered I wanted to see the Bald River Falls once before but misinterpreted a sign. I followed it correctly this time around.
It was starting to be a long day for both of us. Tom especially had ridden down from New York the day before all this. He wanted to go into Knoxville for some evening adventures and to launch from the next day. I led him down that way and just as we were getting into Knoxville we got separated. Tom followed some distance behind me regularly and I decided he wanted to take a different route but didn’t have a way to signal me. I continued on home and soon enough had a text from Tom indicating he was fine.
At the end of the day I had done 300 miles. I enjoyed the whole ride and was glad Tom had given me the incentive to get out and ride. Since this was August 8th it was also the anniversary of my father passing and made for a nice celebration of his life in my mind.