Big Adventure '16--June 9-11, 2016

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!