August Getaway

MaryJo tells me that the last weekend in August she will be going to a knitting retreat. A what? She will be joining her knitting friends at a cabin on a nearby lake, some will stay there the entire time, others will just stop by. Her plan is to visit when they all meet on Friday and spend the day with them on Saturday, coming home on Friday night to sleep in her own bed.

Well, this leaves me with some free time. What to do? How about a weekend ride? So I think about a few options and settle on a ride or two in the Smoky Mountains. My plan is to ride to Knoxville on Thursday, ride the Tail of the Dragon on Friday, visit Wheels Through Time on Saturday, then ride home on Sunday. I send a note to the local HOG chapter to see if anyone is interested. A couple are, but when KSU comes, only Tim is on board.

The day before the ride, I learn that some from the chapter want to head to Gadsden for lunch. Hmm, that isn’t THAT far out of our way. A quick chat with Tim and we adjust our plans a little.

Thursday morning comes, 8 of us are ready to go. Mark leads the group to Pruett’s BBQ in Gadsden for lunch. We enjoyed some great fellowship over lunch. Since our hotels in Alcoa are close to US411, and we are having lunch on US411, Tim and I just head north on US411 as the rest of the group heads over to Noccalula Falls.

Tim and I take a rest break and gas up, then back on the road. After we pass through Cartersville, Georgia, we see a Harley-Davidson dealership sign. Hey, who can pass up a poker chip stop? Turns out to be a great photo stop too. Southern Devil Harley Davidson has a big rocking chair out front. OK, big may be an understatement, it is huge! We get a couple of pictures and our poker chips. Time to roll again.

US411 skirts the mountains, giving us great views of mountains on our right, farm lands to our left, with small town atmosphere tossed in to mix up the views a bit. We pull into our hotels just before 7pm. We started the day in Central Time, ended in Eastern Time.

We agree to meet in the lobby of my hotel at 9am on Friday morning, then head to our respective rooms. I get checked in and call a high school friend whom I haven’t seen since graduation. She will pick me up and we will have dinner up the street from my hotel.

Friday morning, 9am. Sunshine, not a cloud to be seen. Gas stop and and a quick stop at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville. Yes, we had to get a picture of the dragon out front. We turn onto US129. Before we get to the Tail of the Dragon, the soft turns through the rural area are beautiful. As US129 runs along Little Tennessee River, we make a stop at US129-Dragon Harley-Davidson for more poker chips. Shortly after leaving there, we are tackling “The Dragon.”

For those who don’t know about the Tail of the Dragon, it is 11 miles with 318 curves. Some of the curves as slow, meandering curves. Others are sharp turns that require using every bit of the road to make the curve. A stop overlooking Calderwood Lake. As we leave, Tim turns on his camera to video the rest of the ride. Since he was behind me on the ride, I enjoyed watching the video to critique my riding style.

Deal’s Gap was our next stop. The parking lot was about half full. A few cars, but most all vehicles were bikes. We shopped for t-shirts, stickers, patches, and a poker chip. We people-watched for a while, admired the “Tree of Shame” and were glad that we did not add to it, then got lunch. You eat here to say that you did it, not because the food is your reason to stop.

We leave Deals Gap to take on part of “Moonshiner’s 28.” History (or myth?) was that this twisty road was where moonshiners would try to outrun the “revenuers.” US28 isn’t as twisty as the Tail of the Dragon. On the Tail of the Dragon, the speed limit is 25 with areas of 10mph curves. US28 has a speed limit of 45.

This takes us the long way around to Robbinsville which is the start of the Cherohala Skyway. I am sure someone has checked the miles and curves to compare to the Tail of the Dragon, but the curves aren’t as drastic. This gives more time to enjoy both the curves as well as the scenery.

We pulled into Cherohala Harley-Davidson for poker chips, t-shirts, stickers, and the required potty break. It has been awhile since either of us had used a restroom where you can see the ground through the floor. Not really an outhouse since it did have running water, proper plumbing, and we didn’t have a wooden seat, but it did bring back memories.

We get back to our hotels and agree to meet for supper. Over dinner we agree to meet at Tim’s hotel on Saturday.

We leave Tim’s hotel about 8:30 Saturday morning. The ride on US321 starts with little scenery. Flat land on either side, no curves, almost boring. But ahead we can see mountains, knowing this will lead to more challenges. We ride through Townsend, where US321 turns to the left. We stay straight on E Lamar Alexander Parkway, which eventually changes name to Little River Gorge Road, then another name change to Fighting Creek Gap Rd. This is a tree-covered twisty road. Only problem is that there are bicycles EVERYWHERE. Some doing the speed limit of 35mph, others riding side by side struggling to get up to 5mph. Though a little frustrating, the view and ride help recover our patience. Once we turn onto US441, the bicycles are gone. Less slow-speed traffic. Other than a few switchbacks going up then back down the mountain, we enjoy undulating curves with great vistas.

We make the right turn onto the south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a section that we didn’t ride during our chapter ride in May, one section that I wanted to ride as there was a marker I wanted to visit. Though the marker isn’t on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was only a 5 mile side trip. The marker was the Masonic Marker, which is a stone marker with a few blocks etched or carved, but some of the artwork was made from different stones. One of those places you have to see in person to truly appreciate.

One of the most exciting parts of our ride was from the marker back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. As we were approaching a curve, cars were flashing their lights at us as we got closer to the curve. It being a curve, we naturally slowed down. We rounded the curve to meet a herd of elk. Neither Tim nor I have ever seen an elk this close before, and we were CLOSE! Mostly does were in the clearing on our left. The concern was that there was one fawn on the right side of the road. One of the does looked like she was ready to start stomping the ground. Assuming it was her fawn on my right, with her on my left, no good could come to the end. I revved the engine a bit as I got closer to the fawn. This encouraged it to head back to momma, putting doe and fawn on the same side of the road. Tim and I didn’t really want to stick around to witness the mother-child reunion, opting to back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and on to Maggie Valley.

We pulled into the Maggie Valley Restaurant within minutes of my high school friend and her sister-in-law getting there. We enjoyed an early lunch, Tim and I were still a bit spooked by the close encounter of the elk. About a quarter mile up the road is Wheels Through Time. Plenty of parking for both bikes and cars. DeDe took some pictures outside before going in.

Once in Wheels Through Time, all four of us were in awe. I have been here a couple times before, but was still fascinated with the museum.We would stop to look at a bike and someone would share the history of it. DeDe said she took over 200 pictures and still didn’t see everything. There are artwork, cars, and, or course, motorcycles everywhere. Most are in original condition, few restored to “a- new” condition. One neat feature of the museum is that most of the vehicles will start. Tim and I enjoyed a history presentation on the 1 of 1 Traub. We spent a few hours walking in the museum, Tim took enough pictures that his phone battery died, and we still know we missed items to enjoy.

Our ride back from Maggie Valley to Alcoa was via I-40. a quick ride back after walking all afternoon. We agreed that margaritas had been earned for that evening’s supper. We agreed on a restaurant where we could get to by walking. (Note: margaritas and riding a motorcycle do NOT go together!)

Sunday, our day to ride home. Tim had asked if we could get home early. I usually avoid interstate, but with it being Sunday, we didn’t expect much truck traffic. As for the mileage and time it took to ride home, I will claim the right to remain silent and not incriminate us. We did make a gas stop outside Chattanooga and a break to stretch outside Decatur. We agreed that if this had been any other day of the week, it would have taken a lot longer and we would have had a LOT more traffic around Chattanooga.

Spending four days and 1015 miles with a good friend, challenging roads, beautiful vistas, and renewing old friendships, hard to beat that. Guess I will have to come up with something to top that soon.

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