6:00am (0600 for 24 hr people), eight riders met to begin our journey. Seven on bikes, one to encourage us on with the goal to meet us for lunch the next day. Weather forecast was sun, temps were reasonable. Tanks full, bladders empty, and five days on the bikes ahead of us.
Let me start that my bride was scheduled to join us, but due to a last minute event, she had to stay home. Our chapter director was also to join us, but due to last minute work, he had to delay his leaving until later that day with the plans to meet up with us the next day.
We started the day with a bit of higher-speed roads (US72/AL20) then on AL157. Less than an hour at 65/70 mph, we were on beautiful farm lanes. A brief slowdown through Hartselle, then back to more open farm lanes. Past the south side of Huntsville through mountain lanes. I missed a turn in New Hope and we got a bit more scenery than expected. If I hadn’t said anything, doubt that anyone else would have noticed. Eventually back onto US72 between Paint Rock and Woodville. A pit stop before Chattanooga, then some interstate that most of us did not enjoy to a dealer stop. After that, a short trip on the interstate, after we passed through Cleveland, TN, we were back on back roads. Even on divided four-lane, the views were great. A stop for lunch in Ducktown, then two- and four-lane mountain roads on toward Maggie Valley. A quick stop at the dealership in Cherokee, and we arrived at Maggie Valley Creekside Lodge.
Everyone got checked in and we walked across the street to Snappy’s Italian Restaurant. Food was good, I don’t think anyone needed a doggy bag for leftovers. We enjoyed companionship, drinks, and learning about each other. That night, it finally hit me. MaryJo wasn’t with me. We had reserved the king suite with a Jacuzzi. I sat on the back deck overlooking the creek, relaxed a bit, and did some reading. I didn’t even think about the Jacuzzi, in spite of the long ride that day.
Day two, we walked to the nearby diner for breakfast. Blue Ridge Parkway, here we come! A short backtrack toward Cherokee and we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honestly, words cannot do justice to the ride. The vistas and views were phenomenal. No traffic to push us or to slow us down. We chose our own pace. We stopped at several overlooks, taking pictures and commenting on the scenery. The comment that I heard the most was “if someone sees this, how can they say there is no God?” Several stops at overlooks kept us all fresh. We visited the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville. It was here that Audrey, Pam, and Glenda came up with the idea for a craft project for the HOG Chapter. They saw a board with the map of the Blue Ridge Parkway mounted and laminated. We didn’t think it would be right if just one person grabbed a whole stack of the brochures, so we all picked up a few.
Mark had a meeting the previous day, so he had to delay his start. He met up with us at Little Switzerland for lunch. For an “out of the way” place, it sure had a full parking lot. We rode past it and had to turn around. Mark had seen us and was scoping out parking spots for everyone. He managed to find some spots for the ladies, the guys rode into the gravel lot. As usual, I wasn’t paying full attention and ended up with the front of the bike in a little gully, facing downhill, almost against a parking curb. The waitress took our orders, but gave warning that they only had two more servings of BBQ, we would have to fight over it if more than two wanted one. It worked out fine and we enjoyed more camaraderie. I had read that the Switzerland Cafe and General Store was good, the reviews were spot on!
We got out to the bikes and to my pleasant surprise, the cars that had been parked next to where my bike stopped had left. This gave me an area where I only needed to back up a little then was able to swing out. Little things make me happy.
Our next stop for the day was Linville Falls. We all pulled into the park and most of us took off on the trail near the top of the falls. An older gentleman caught up with us and made several of us feel bad. First, because he was able to catch up with us. Second, because we were slowing him down! We joked back and forth about snakes along the trail. Audrey, Mark, and I decided to take a different trail back to the lot which would lead to the lower part of the falls. As we neared the end of that trail, another couple was at a trot coming up the trail. Seems that while enjoying the view, they realized that they were surrounded by snakes. Some coming out of the water, some coming from under the rocks. It wasn’t a difficult decision for us, Mark and I didn’t want to put Audrey at risk, so we all came back to the parking lot. (That’s our story and we are sticking to it!)
As we neared Boone, part of the group wanted to just get to the hotel while a few others wanted to go to Grandfather Mountain. Those that wanted to go to the hotel put the address into their GPS and headed into Boone. Audrey, Mark, and I took off for Grandfather Mountain. We didn’t realize that the park would be closed, though it was getting late in the day. A quick U-turn and this gave us a chance to open up the bikes a bit. The three of us caught up with the others as they were turning onto the street where the hotel was located. Everyone got checked onto the hotel and the group split to head to supper. Some of us decided to walk next door for steaks, others chose to ride to Chili’s a few blocks away.
Day three. Everyone enjoyed breakfast in the hotel then we loaded out for the day’s adventure. Morning was spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Again, another leisurely ride for the morning. We had lunch at Mabry Mill on the parkway. For those that don’t know, this is the picture that is on many of the brochures of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Lunch was great and we all enjoyed walking around the mill, taking pictures, and just relaxing. After a bit, we noticed that the skies were starting to darken.
The plan had been to take back roads through the mountains to Christiansburg for the night. I checked the weather radar and the route we had chosen wasn’t all that inviting at that particular time. North and west was a bad rain system. Of course, that was where we were headed. A quick check of options and off we went. There was a gap in the system that we might be able to get through and not get too wet. We headed west on US58 (also known as the Crooked Road, but that is another story), turned north on I77 towards Wytheville. Rain to our right, rain to our left, rain in front, and rain behind, but we stayed dry! At Wytheville, Mark decided that the hidden CB antenna was not up to his liking. He asked about an external, but they did not have one in stock. The dealer in Roanoke had one. We split into two groups, one took off to Roanoke via I-81, the other to the Christiansburg via back roads. This route was uncharted roads for all of us. All the years riding in that area, I had never been on these roads. What a shame, they were beautiful. We had lost track of our miles and we were all starting to push our comfort zone on fuel. as we pulled into the outskirts of Christiansburg, a gas station FINALLY appeared. We gassed up and hopped on the interstate for a few miles to the hotel. Though MaryJo wasn’t physically with us, she was with us in spirit. She called in a few favors and had supper prepared for us. Pam let me ride her Tri-glide to Due South to pick up BBQ pork and brisket. We had WAY more than we could eat. The staff at the hotel has always been great when MaryJo and I stayed there in the past, so we shared our supper with them. After a few made a run to Walmart and Mark got his CB antenna installed, hot-tub time at the hotel. We sat there until we noticed the skies were darkening and lightning was in the distance.
Day four, the weather for the planned routed wasn’t going to be conducive for our ride. The plan was to ride along the west side of the Appalachian Mountains, through Honaker for lunch at Farmer’s Table, maybe touch West Virginia, and come into Knoxville from the north. We checked the radar, forecasts, and various options. Deciding that staying dry and safe was the best plan, we headed south on Virginia Route 8. This has always been a nice ride in the past, today did not disappoint anyone. We got stopped in road construction for a while, then followed the construction truck through the work zone. We enjoyed mountain views, slight twisties, and pleasant temps.
As we got closer to Winston-Salem, we pulled into one of the few chain eateries of our trip, Steak-N-Shake. My humble opinion is that this is the best burger of any chain burger place. And the milkshakes are wonderful. We caught up with I-40 here and headed west. Just past Asheville, we knew we were going to get wet. We had managed to dodge it two days, but it looked like our luck had about run out. We pulled into a rest stop to get out our rain gear and see if we could just sit it out. Rains came, HARD. We stayed dry in the rest area. At least we had coke and candy machines nearby. Rains finally stopped and we checked the radar. Chance of rain the rest of the way into Knoxville, but we had dodged the major rain. Over the mountains we had a little rain, but nothing to really worry about. We pulled into the hotel in Knoxville. We were all tired. I honestly don’t remember what we did for supper that night.
Day five, riding home. We knew that rain would be on our final day. We had dodged hard rains the last few days and knew our luck was about to run out. Brent decided to leave early and take the fastest way home. He lives in Savannah, so he took I-40 through Nashville then south on I-65. The rest of us headed off using the planned route. Everything was fine through lunch. We had lunch at a little place called Brown’s Dairy Bar. A quaint little place in Gruetli-Laager. If you are ever in the area, stop for a Chocolate-Pineapple milk shake! Oh, be sure to bring cash. No debit or credit cards. They might accept checks from locals, but I wouldn’t count on it.
A few miles up the road for a gas stop and weather check. Plan was TN50 to US64, then south on TN11 (which become AL207) through Lexington, Florence, and on to Muscle Shoals. But that route was already getting hammered by hard rain. We opted to catch I24 back through Chattanooga and ride US72 back into Tuscumbia. Ride was uneventful and we stopped for a break just before getting into Huntsville. Radar check had everyone contemplating options. Pam and Tim decided to just stop for the night and ride on in the next morning. Others wanted to make a stop near Huntsville, while the rest of us just wanted to get home. We split into several groups and went our chosen way.
Glenda and John chose to ride back with me. We could see the skies darkening ahead, but they always seemed to be farther ahead than we thought. We topped off our tanks and put on our rain gear just west of Decatur. We knew we would hit the rain soon, we preferred to have our rain gear on than have to try to don it when the rain starts with us on the side of the road. As we rode, the skies kept getting darker and darker. Just before we hit Courtland on AL20, our luck at staying dry ran out. And boy did it! Rain started coming down in sheets, wind tossing the bikes while the rain was so heavy it was hard to see. We pulled into the gas station at the corner of AL20 and AL150. A nice place with a large covered area leading from the pumps to the store. Enough room for three bikes (and wet riders) while not being in the way of people coming and going. We sat there for a while, hoping the rain was ease up a bit for us to continue the last 15 to 20 miles. So close, yet so far. I was trying to get to the dealership in time to drop off the bike; my brother was waiting to give me a ride home. Jeff was already there and kept me up to date on the intensity of the rain there. Glenda, John, and I finally got the break we wanted; the rain eased up. It didn’t stop, but had eased enough that we felt we could continue home. about 20 minutes later, the dealership was in site. Glenda and John continued past the dealership to head on home. I pulled into the shop and dropped off the bike.
Pam and Tim spent the night in Huntsville. They managed to wash clothes, clean up, and make it home the next morning without any rain.
Mark came on in after Glenda, John, and myself since he had to be at work that night. Yes, he got wet.
Audrey stopped for the night, even though she had planned to get back to help at the dealership’s charity event. She made it home the next morning dry.
Brent, who left early that last morning to ride the interstate, made it back to Savannah that day while staying dry.
Overall, I made some new close friends and we all had a great time. Now, what do we plan for the chapter’s next adventure?