This was a really full day. Mike and I were in charge of the trip routing from Myrtle Beach home, so we had spent a lot of time looking around for the best roads – like, a LOT of time. And if you know Mike and I, we can make a 15 minute trip to the grocery store into a three hour tour (a LOVELY one, but a long one).
We knew we wanted to start in Helen and end up in Whittier, because we’d found a cheap motor lodge that seemed charming and oh did I mention cheap? that is, AFFORDABLE. The group wanted to spend some time riding the dragon, and as we did more research it turned out that there were about a ZILLION other roads that were just as lovely in the area. It made for some exciting mapping sessions.
We got up pretty early, and headed out to find our way around the smokies. Bright and shiny and eager to go:
Before we started we had a motorcycle kick-off talk – I don’t normally do this with our group, because we all ride well together – but we were going to be on some very technical roads, and we didn’t have a map to distribute to the whole group, and I didn’t want anyone to get in over their heads. We let everyone know that the twisties would be fast and frequent, and that some people would like to go faster than others through the route – if you want to go faster, signal to pass up to the front and wait for the group at major intersections. If you want to go slower, hang back, take your time, enjoy yourself and of most importance RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE, and trust that we will wait for you at major intersections.
I don’t know about everyone else, but laying it out like that made ME feel more confident that people would take care and ride at their own pace, and I was able to enjoy my ride much more for it.
Our first route was going to take us up Rt 348, but we found out that it was closed!
oh, that’s ok – quick iPhone re-routing to take GA129 up into NC/TN…. and OH MY GRACIOUS it was so lovely.
[[Disclaimer: some motorcyclists are great at taking photos while they ride. Some motorcyclists are great at stopping frequently and taking photos of where they ride. I am good at NEITHER of these. I am good at riding and riding and riding and having a darn good time and going back later and making google maps of where I’ve been.]]
This is my favorite road of the day – GA 129, up and over Blood Mountain.
Here’s a video I found on youtube that will give you the flavor of the road – basically, you’re going up a steep hill and there are turns! back and forth! not so deep that you had to slow down, but still challenging! you could see ahead of you on the road and all you saw were gorgeous corners ahead!
It was really FUN!
And this day, Day 8, is when it all clicked for me and I started to really understand why light bikes are so fun and how to use the brake to flick back and forth on twisties. SO GREAT. I also started to really appreciate how much work my friends on larger bikes had to put in to get their bikes to lean back and forth. Mike and I were on sportier bikes (He was on the SV650, I was on my DRZ supermoto) so we took the lead. It was phenomenal. Plus, I grew up in Eastern TN running around the smokies, and call me sentimental, but the smells and plants and flowers and terrain felt so familiar and welcoming to me. What a lovely place to ride motorcycles.
We took a break at Tellaco Plains in TN for some ice cream (I had a Mayfair Brown Cow ice cream bar – these were such a treat when I was a kid, I couldn’t resist!) and sodas, and cool water in great quantities. The temperature was fluctuating wildly between the cool of the shadowy mountains and the hot flats and coves in between the peaks – I was really happy to have the gear on that I did, it was very comfortable at a range of temperatures.
After Tellaco we headed out onto the Cherahala Skyway into NC – which would take us up over this ridge:
It was just gorgeous. We stopped at an overlook to get a good view of the smokies:
I think this is the road we came up on!
After that, it was on to Deal’s Gap! We stopped at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort for “lunch” – it had been a long day already, and we were stopping at 4 or so in the afternoon. I had a smoked trout sandwich, which was supposedly caught and smoked by a local guy. it was delicious.
To prepare ourselves, we walked out back and checked out the tree of shame:
here are a couple of my favorites:
“VFR vs Deer. Deer Loses, Rider Walks. ATGATT.”
The Dragon was closed for much of Spring 2010 because of a rock slide which not only covered a portion of the road at the bottom, but also created a dangerous overhang over the road, but it was opened for drivers and riders to go down and come back up again. Despite it’s cult status, Rt 139 is still used as a major cross-over between NC and TN. Check out these amazing old photos of the heyday when the speed limit was 55 MPH.
After that, we suited up and headed down the road. The Dragon’s Tail is really physically challenging. you really can’t go much faster than 30 mph (well, *I* can’t, anyway) and it’s a series of serious switchbacks – not even twisties. there is oncoming traffic and you have to stay in your lane. that said, it was so fun, and so challenging. I’m glad we had a chance to run it.
We stopped near the bottom – there was an outlook (we love scenery!) and there was a pace car ahead of us so we wanted to let it get out of our way before the final push down and back up.
I believe this is the Cheola Dam:
I LOVE this photo – doesn’t it look like we’re having an amazing time? (hint: the photos doesn’t lie!)
Hey, we made it to the bottom!
Killboy was there taking photos, and we ordered a whole bunch from them. They are super quality – I’m glad we got there in time to catch his regular shift, as it was pretty late in the day.
By the time we regrouped at the resort, it was getting late and we were definately tired. We still had one more stretch of road ahead of us before our hotel for the evening, which turned out to be my second favorite road of the day.
Rt 28 is charmingly called Moonshiner 28, and is definately a must-ride. After the athleticism of the Dragon’s Tail, Moonshiner was a nice mix of still pretty challenging but not so rough that you can’t enjoy the scenery. After the twisties rt 28 opens up into a 4 lane rural highway, and soon we were at our final destination – the Gear Head Inn.
our hosts were so accommodating! They’ve just opened, and they’re redoing each of the rooms in the style of an old car or motorcycle mfgr, with posters and other paraphernalia.
We had the AMC room. the rooms are GIANT and the bathrooms are vintage and adorable.
The proprietors are really super and they were so accommodating. We ordered pizza delivery and ate by the pool, and they offered to run out and grab us beers if we wanted. so kind! They have lots of parking and plenty of spaces right in front of the rooms for cars and motorcycles, and a lot across the road for trailer parking. It was a great place to stay.
The pool is classic motor lodge – i.e., in the center of the parking lot, and we spent some time chatting with some of the other guests there. I had a funny conversation with one of them, he was a MSF instructor and I said something like: “you know how you start motorcycling and you’re just crazy about it for a couple of years?” he responded: “yeah, about *30* years?” So true.
After our pizza we all just about fell over from the sleepy. It was a long couple of days, and we had more long rides ahead of us to get home!
[[check out the summary post with lessons learned, and a full index to this ride report post.]]