How can I summarize 3 days riding the best roads and trails the Smoky Mountains have to offer? In a word, perfect! Beautiful weather (clear, humidity-free days!), gorgeous scenery at every turn, and great fun and camaraderie riding and camping in God's Wonderland.
Thursday morning seven left Ball Ground for our Big Adventure - five on mounts suitable for road and trail (dual sporters, or "DS'rs", Dave - VStrom 650; Mel and Steve D - VStrom 1000's; Larry - KLR 650; Steve G - KTM 990) and two "roadies" (Paul - HD Lowrider his friend Bob - Honda Shadow). We enjoyed a crisp, cool ride across N Ga stopping first at Woody Gap near Suches, then enjoying Wolf Pen Gap on our way to Hiawassee, then Franklin NC for lunch. All were surprised how enjoyable NC 64 is to Franklin - fast, but straight, allowing you to take in the scenic views. After a nice lunch on the river, we headed up Wayah Road.
The DS'rs peeled off for a Forest Service (FS) ride up to the Wayah Bald overlook while the roadies finished Wayah road and headed down the Nantahala River Gorge to our meetup at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for relaxation in Adirondack chairs sipping iced tea and watching the kayakers. The DS'rs soaked in the spectacular view atop Wayah Bald, then continued on Wayah Road and up Winding Stairs to Queens Lake high above the gorge (about 3000'), then taking FS down to the gorge floor. Nice views were available, but eyes were focused on the steep, switchback decent before we could enjoy our well earned break at the NOC.
From there it was on to Cherokee for last minute provisions before taking the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) to our night's destination - Mile High Campground on Cherokee Indian land. While primitive (no electricity on property), we enjoyed the quiet and beautiful mountain views. Dinner was backpacking style (dehydrated/dry goods meals made with boiling water from backpack stoves). Mel put his scout skills to use by striking up a roaring campfire which felt great as the temps dropped quickly in the dry, mile-high air.
After breaking camp Friday morning, our two groups began separate morning treks. The roadies returned to the BRP for a beautiful "out and back" until our late morning meetup in Cherokee. The DS'rs pushed farther into the Balsam Mtn area and made a long descent (about 3500') down to Cherokee via a one-way FS called Heintooga Round Bottom Road (you can't make that up) which gets my vote as the prettiest FS ever!
After an early lunch at our meetup, we determined Mel's battery wasn't holding charge. After unsuccessfully trying to address that in Cherokee, he and Steve D split off for repairs in Waynesville. All others continued on 411 thru the middle of the Smoky Mtn Natl Park (as pretty a "thru way" as you'll ever find), then on toward Cades Cove. As we neared Townsend, the roadies split off to continue N, then around the W side of the park down Foothills Parkway (similar to the BRP with no cross traffic or services - just continual gorgeous vistas).
The DS'rs entered Cades cove with plans to exit S on a one-way FS down to the Dragon. Nope. Road closed due to excessive pine beetle infestation and dead tree risks. Plan B was just as good - exit N on a one-way FS road toward Townsend, then travel around the W side of the park, same as the roadies. More miles, more fun. The SW edge of the park is the infamous "Tail of the Dragon" - curviest road in the land.
After that fun, we traveled down TN 28 (original "Thunder Road") to our camp for the night - Iron Horse Motor Lodge. With its restaurant, cabins, and patio overlooking the babbling brook, it seemed like five stars to us. We set up camp on a grassy lawn near the brook (and away from the night's festivities on the patio) and took in hot showers and cold drinks before dinner. Much fun was had "people watching" the Raleigh Durham HOG club, who likely had much fun people watching the odd group riding funny bikes and tent camping - us! Actually, we met many riders from all over the East and thoroughly enjoyed their trips and stories.
Saturday morning we rose early, packed up (getting better with practice), and downed Iron Horses' hot breakfast (beats freeze-dried eggs!) All headed to Robbinsville and the eastern end of the Cherohala Skyway, a scenic road similar to the BRP, but higher in altitude with faster-flowing turns and much more wide-open vistas - another "top 5" road nationally. Toward the end of the Skyway, the roadies headed to Tellico Plains for lunch, then home, while the DS'rs entered the forest in the Bald River Falls area.
The DS'rs enjoyed "chicken on a stick" at the bait shop serving the Green Cove lake and campground - surprisingly good. Then they headed W on some of our trips more challenging FS (rougher and with encroaching foliage due to little maintenance or traffic). But that was a good warmup for our technical ride UP Waucheesi Mtn. (1000' climb).
From there it was on to Buck Bald (much more accessible and beautiful 360 views), then TN 68 S to Blue Ridge and the fast lane home.
Here's a link to a video of the trip:
A great time was had by all and I'm sure we'll have more moto-camping opportunities in the future. Join us!
The four of us (John, Dave, Richard and Bob S.) took off from our favorite Chevron at exit 27 of I-575 at 8:30 am, heading north on old highway 5 to Tate and Jasper, then up Johnson Mountain and Yukon Road to Ellijay.
After a very brief stop at Ellijay's Burger King we picked up SR 52 and started the scenic climb up to Fort Mountain. We stopped at the Cohutta Overlook and hiked up to what was once a 360 degree viewpoint, that is until the trees on to the south grew to block that view. Never-the-less the 200 degree plus view to the north was well worth the effort.
Back on SR 52 we climbed the rest of the way to Fort Mountain State Park then after a stop at a south-facing view point headed down the s-curves to Chatsworth. We passed through Chatsworth and in short time turned into the Vann House Historic Site. The Rangers were glad to see us (business was slow) and gave us a guided tour of the Cherokee chieftain's formidable estate.
Soon hunger called and we headed south a short way on US 411 to Edna's for lunch. The parking lot was jammed with cars, motorcycles and pickups and we anticipated a wait. Not so. We were soon seated at a table for four and our meals were on their way.
After lunch we turned off of Us 411 and got on Old 411, a much more pleasant ride south. From Old 411 we went on SR 136 to Jerusalem Church Road and a trip over Henderson Mountain. Unfortunately video of the Henderson Mountain leg disappeared in processing but the remainder of the ride back to Ball Ground remained and is part of the video.
The weather forecast for this Saturday was all over the place during the week before we were to take off to the west. By Saturday it called for rain starting around 3 pm. As a result we moved the start time up an hour to 8:30 and were able to keep dry out and back.
Nine of us (both Steves, Dan, Dennis and his neighbor Mark, Tad, Garret, Larry and yours truly) gathered at Hardees in Canton. Once everyone arrived we got on SR 140 headed west toward Armuchee. Just short of Armuchee we turned on to what starts out as Floyd Springs Road, heading north, on the east side of Johns Mountain. This is an interesting road with many tight sections bordered by Johns Creek. The creek was flowing briskly and there were signs of recent flooding. This was very evident when we turned into the "Pocket". We often stop here to stretch our legs on the short trails and bridges in the vicinity. Not this time; the "Pocket" was zipped shut--closed. A peek through the woods showed a lot of debris scattered around and sandy mud deposits throughout. It will be a while before it can return to its pre-flood self.
From the Pocket area he again headed north and picked up SR 136 heading into Villanow, a Civil War era cross-road town, that boasts the longest continually operating General Store in the state. It was closed; go figure.
We arrived soon in LaFayette for an early lunch at Queen City Bistro, a newish restaurant that occupies what was once a Ford dealership, circa Model A days. After lunch and a visit with the Bistro's owners we headed out of town on SR 193 and picked up SR 136 to take us over to the west side of Pigeon Mountain. Once up and down the pass we turned south on SR 157 headed for the Menlo-Summerville area. For the most part this road was empty except for a few bicyclists, a barking dog and a game- playing SUV. Whomever surveyed the roadbed preferred straight lines paving over whatever ups and downs that fell in the path. The only inhibitor to reckless speeding was the wind that seemed to always be from one side or the other blowing bikes and riders around a bit.
The ride from Menlo to Summerville to Adairsville saw a pick up in traffic but nothing like the abundance of cars nearer home.
Here's a Video of the ride https://youtu.be/Ly6hB4TZi74
All in all a great ride of about 200 miles and good fellowship.
As the seven of us (Garrett, Bobs K and S.,Larry, Mel, Steve D and Dave.) arrived at the Chevron, to start our ride to the Cherohala Skyway, we wondered if the gusty easterly winds in Georgia would be a problem in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. They weren't.
Our route to the Skyway was the reverse of the usual, in that we rode east on US 74 and US 129 to Robbinsville and got on the Cherohala at its eastern end. The sun was bright, the sky deep blue and almost cloudless with no hint of growing thunderheads off in the distance. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
After climbing above the 4500 foot level we stopped at Hooper Bald to check out the restrooms (closed) and remember a prior visit and the search for the legendary Spanish inscriptions. From Hooper Bald we could see the road running into Santeetlah summit, our next stop. The elevation at Santeetlah is 5377 feet and is purported to be the high point on the Skyway. We took the obligatory photos and headed down to the paved Forest Road out to Bald River Falls.The falls were brilliant in the sunlight, with the water crystal clear. Kayaks were on the river and the rocks mid-stream carried a lot of fisherman, trout fishing I presume.
By this time it was well past noon and everyone was ready for lunch. We headed for Tellico Plains and Kats on the river. We occupied a table outside which was a delight with the possible exception of the window rattling "life savers" that past occasionally.
After lunch and refueling at the local Exxon we got on TN 68 headed for Georgia. This is normally an enjoyable motorcycle road with little traffic. This day too, but it also presented a "teachable moment" about traveling too close (our rule of thumb is to leave at least 2 seconds space). Luckily, the car in front of our lead motorcycle had left about that much space behind another vehicle trailering a boat. Without much warning the boat and motor flew off the trailer and covered the southbound lane. We all had time to stop and figure out a safe way around. However it didn't take much imagination to picture what could have happened if we had been following too closely.
Once in Georgia we headed down 515, stopping only in a designated road side "view point" (no view) to say adios, as we soon would take different ways home.
Here are some highlights https://youtu.be/p6Ad1SzFrkw
All agreed a great ride. Chevron to Chevron about 270 miles and eight hours, all stops included.
Nine of us (Larry, both Steves, Dennis, Richard, Mel, Dave, and Bob S.) met at Timothy for a short meeting prior to riding up into the foothills on this unusually warm day (70's) in December.
At the meeting we decided to set the January ride for January 16th. Weather permitting the route will be north over Sassafras Mountain to Dial then over on SR 60 to Suches or Dahlonega for lunch, followed be a meander east to pick up some good backroads back home.
Also discussed was the possibility of a multi day camping trip in east Tennessee and western North Carolina in the May time frame.The route between campsites would mostly be dirt/gravel roads that are considered doable on most of the bikes our members ride. Larry will be laying out the details for discussion at a later meeting.
At 10 am the nine took of for points north. The first stop was at a model plane "airport" on Old Federal Highway just north of SR 369. All were amazed at the size of the WW1 biplane models that flew and simulated dog-fighting to their delight. Though it didn't fly while they were there (brake problems) they had a chance to look over a jet powered model that the owner (pilot?) said is capable of 200 mph.
On leaving the airport the nine headed up Mount Tabor road for a ride on scenic Kelly Bridge road. After a short hop on Yellow Creek they took Conn's Creek road over to SR 372 then SR 369 to the lunch stop at Amos' BBQ. After lunch the group split to take their preferred ways home.
On all accounts a great ride on a beautiful day.
Here's a somewhat shaky video of some of the highlights.