Dave, Steve D., and Bob S. hoped the weather forecast on their smart phones was correct, though the sky said otherwise, as they headed north at 8:30. When they got past Jasper they got their first glimpse of the mountains, shrouded in dark clouds. Even closer-by Sharptop's peak was in a cloud.
Not to worry. They continued north heading over Sassafras and down to Cartecay to pick up rural Rackley Road over to Roy Road with its abrupt, ninety degree turns, that never fail to take you by surprise. Then they continued north passing the forest road heading up to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Soon they were on Aska Road and took a break at a breakfast restaurant in Blue Ridge. By this time the blue-sky patches outnumbered the clouds and rain seamed off the agenda for a while.
After passing over the dam that impounds the Toccoa River to form Lake Blue Ridge, they followed Old 76, aka Veteran's Memorial Parkway, and reached Ga 60 near Morganton. Ga 60, from Morganton to Suches, is a favorite motorcycle path, having numerous sweeps and turns interspersed with open pastoral vistas. However, this day, for the first time, forward motion was often impeded by cages that freaked out on every turn. with no recognition of the line of vehicle tailing behind them. It was the first, but not the last moving road blocks encountered.
Entering Suches they headed for TW of Suches, aka TWO, for lunch. They were not alone. Every seat on the wrap-around porch was occupied with riders and the parking lot was full of motorcycles of every description and purpose. Surprisingly the restaurant was only sparsely occupied and the line for lunch, short.
After lunch they headed east on Wolf Pen Gap Road, renowned as Georgia's Tail of the Dragon. The dragon was tame this day as once again cars, and to a lesser extent bicycles, kept passage slowed through much of the ride over to Vogel State Park. Perhaps this was a good thing, as the Georgia State Patrol was sitting off the road, out of sight, on the straight stretch along the park's lake. You've got to believe a lot of riders pour it on at that point, after coming out of the gap's twisties. LEO's were on many of the roads this Saturday, really discouraging any quick double yellow passes,
Unfortunately this road hogging repeated coming down from Blood Mountain, in spite of numerous designated "Slow Vehicle Turn Out" areas all the way down, almost to Turner's Corner.
After a pass through Dahlonega, and a break at the local Chevron, they headed down Auraria and River Roads, skirting Dawsonville, and soon arrived home.
A great ride in spite of the occasional crowding on the road. In total a little over 200 miles, with lots of clouds but not a drop of rain fell on them.
During the week we kept our eyes on the weather report for Saturday the 16th and watched it change daily from lots of thunderstorm activity to, a clear day, then back again to thunderstorms. By Friday we stopped looking and decided come-what-may we were taking off early Saturday, unless we were in the midst of a gully-washer.
As it turned out Saturday morning was clear and a little cooler than it had been. Ten of us (Garrett, Dave, Larry, Steve D., Mel, Bob K., John, Scott, Tad and Bob S.) headed north on "secret" backroads aiming for Silver City, and Ga 9. After a stop at the Chevron outside Dahlonega we headed north to Stone Pile Gap and then, rather than follow our usual route to Suches, we rode over toward Helen to pick up the Richard Russell Scenic Byway at its foot at Ga 75a.
The newish pavement on this southwest side of the RR was a delight, making the curves up to the summit fast and enjoyable. Past the summit however only one lane of the road was repaved, leaving our side, going down, littered with just enough gravel in the curves to make the going "interesting" at times.
Before reaching the end of the RR at Ga 180 three of the V-Stromers and Larry on his KLR decided to short cut over to US 129 by way of Helton Creek Falls. A short cut it wasn't, as a short way in one of the Stroms and its rider took a dunk in the creek. No significant damage but lots of water-filled boots from getting the bike upright in moving water.
About the time the "pavement" riders were about to turn onto Wolf Pen Gap Road at Vogel they realized they were one rider short, Mel. Bob K. and Scott backtracked onto the RR to see if Mel had any trouble, but came back without seeing him. We tried cellphone but had inadequate signal strength. After waiting a while we decided to go ahead through Wolf Pen Gap to Suches hoping the off-roaders and Mel, knowing we were stopping at TWO for lunch, would catch up there; they did.
At lunch Tad, who was running low on fuel, walked back a short way to the see if the station/store on the corner had gasoline. No luck, their pump handles were bagged (or missing altogether). Rather than head down Ga 60 directly to Dahlonega for the nearest gas, Tad figured he had enough fuel to take the R-Ranch-Clay Creek way down to Ga 9 with rest of us, and gas up there at the Chevron we stopped at in the morning. About 3/4 of the way there it looked as if he was going dry, so we pulled into a Baptist Church's parking lot to siphon some gas from Larry's KLR (aka the Exxon Valdez) but found Garrett had a liter fuel bottle that was used instead. That done, we continued on toward Clay Creek Falls only to discover a country store with gas pumps a short way down the road. Tad and others filled up there and we headed for the Foothills area south of Big Canoe.
After pulling into the Foothill's Chevron the clouds that had been gathering unloaded and bikes, but not riders, got a good wash down. After perhaps fifteen minutes or so the downpour slowed and we were on our way home on what soon turned into dry roads and sunshine.
For a short video (go full screen HD) https://youtu.be/pTkJ8a33xlQ
Total mileage was less than 200, probably close to the 184 the H-D Planner calculated.
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.
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!
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.