Wednesday, June 19, 2019
So a friend a longtime riding buddy was retiring and wanted to do a very cool “retirement ride.” He considered a few rides in the US, Mexico and Canada and ended up deciding on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
I came up with a very rough plan of the ride, invited a couple other friends and the ride was set. Then, a week before the ride started, he had to cancel for personal reasons.
So my options were to scrub the ride or continue on with three riders instead of four. A quick call to the other guys and I knew we would be riding! The 2-week ride was scheduled to be 2,500 miles...but we wanted to play it by ear and see where the ride would take us.
The Two Dave’s:
So, the two other riders are both named Dave. I’ve known Dave 1 for 20 years and have ridden a million miles with him all over the US. We’ve mostly tent camped on our rides, but have also stayed at shabby hotels. Almost all of the good habits I’ve picked up from motorcycle touring have come from Dave 1.
I wrote a post called, “Less than ideal conditions” about my friend Dave: https://ineverfinishanyth.blogspot.com/2013/01/less-than-ideal-conditions.html
I met Dave 2 just a couple of years ago when he moved to San Diego from LA. He joined a local motorcycle site I belonged to and asked if anyone else wanted to ride. Though he’s mostly an off-road rider, I set up an on-road ride that many of my friends joined. That post is here: https://ineverfinishanyth.blogspot.com/2017/08/hot-hot-hot-san-diego-asphalt-ride.html
Since that time, Dave and I have become closer friends and he’s a guy you want to know if you have any mechanical issues. But I’m getting ahead of myself...
It’s gonna rain!
With weather forecasts calling for thunderstorms the entire time, I packed my rain gear on my big, fat Triumph Rocket III motorbike and departed Tampa on June 6.
The first order of business was to visit with a cousin on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, whom I’d never met. The ride up was uneventful—400 easy miles. I spent 2 days getting to know my cousin Jim and his wife Darlene. It was a great time and I wish I could’ve spent a week there.
On June 8, I headed up to Virginia to meet with Dave 1. I stayed two days with him and his wife Gloria and it was just a fantastic visit. One highlight was being able to meet his friends from the local Blue Knights chapter at a picnic.
On June 10, Dave 1 and I departed for a 2-hour ride to Waynesboro, VA, where we met up with Dave 2. Now Dave 2 had departed San Diego two days prior in a truck with his new Africa Twin in the back. He’d driven over 2,200 miles to get to Kentucky, and when he arrived to his sister’s place, he unloaded his bike and rode the remaining 400 miles to meet with us. He described his ride through the deluge as very “Noah’s Ark-like.”
Over dinner, the three of us planned the route and discussed possible places we’d like to see. Dave 1 suggested we start with Skyline Drive, so that’s the first thing we did the next day.
Some epic riding
The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive is a mountaintop highway that traverses Shenandoah National Park from north-south along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.The mountain top highway winds its way north-south along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Along with the 75 scenic overlooks (we stopped at several) that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east, we spotted several deer, some wild turkeys, a bobcat and a small black bear. The end of Skyline Drive is the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we just kept rolling. We’d reserved hotel rooms in Floyd, Virginia, at about the 160 mile marker, making our first day of the ride a 350-mile day. Very enjoyable.
The weather continued to cooperate as we enjoyed stunning views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’m guessing that the Blue Ridge mountains were named for the color that the ranges become after you see mountain in front of mountain in front of mountain. They seem to go on forever, and there’s even a place in Southern Tennessee/North Georgia where a visitor can see 7 states from the top of one mountain.
We met up with my wife’s uncle Rex at a biker hangout at mile marker 250 and he showed us a map of about 50 rides in the area. Rex selected a ride called the “Back of the Dragon” and off we went. He’d claimed he was “an old guy who liked to ride slow,” but that wasn’t the case as we had a tough time keeping up its him on his Indian Roadmaster!
A glitch in our plans
At about 75 miles into that ride, my bike started having shifting issues...it would drop out of gear, exhibit “false neutral,” and was tough to get into gear. We headed back to Rex’s place where we made use of his workshop. Rex had every tool known to man and we made quick work of locating the issue—a broken detention spring. A friend in Tampa overnighted me the parts and Dave 2 had my big girl up and running in no time.
While no one wants a trip slowed down by mechanical problems, it ended up being a hidden blessing as we were able to spend some quality time with Rex and his wife Audrey. They were consummate hosts who epitomized Southern Hospitality and I truly valued the time I was able to spend with them.
Because Rex and Audrey are a 2-Indian family, we were all able to ride some of the beautiful countryside with them...Audrey on her very cool Scout. And I reiterate for the record that it is NOT a “chick bike.”
We said goodbye to our hosts on June 15 and headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Maggie Valley and a hotel Audrey recommended—a motorcycle friendly place right on a small river. After dinner, we sat outside by the water and talked bikes while fireflies put on a show around the campfire the owner made.
The next day, Dave 1 headed back home as Dave 2 and I continued along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was at this point that a 40-mile ride to Cherokee, North Carolina became a 120-mile ride to Little Switzerland. Yep, two grown men with functioning GPS units were taken in by the truly spectacular scenery and rode NORTH instead of SOUTH. Both of us laughed when we realized our error, and neither of us had any regrets. That part of the Parkway was just stunning—especially the highest point at 6,300 feet—and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.
We then headed for the infamous Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, NC. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s nestled deep in the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and is known mainly for its 318 curves in 11 miles. I’d wanted to ride the Dragon for quite some time, so after a cold drink, off we went. Dave led on his Honda dual sport and I tried to keep up on my fat cruiser. Though the posted speed limit is 30 MPH, we did the route in less than 19 minutes. I then understood the many, many signs stating it was a High Accident Area.
From there we headed to the Cherohala Skyway in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. The mile-high Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina...hence its name. The 2-lane, 50-mile motorway has elevations that range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. I know I’ve used the term spectacular a lot, but it was incredibly scenic and definitely something to see if you find yourself in that part of the country.
Our time was running short so we scrutinized the riding map that Rex had given us. We came up with a long route that went south from Maryville, TN through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We rode some twisty, turny roads as we alternated between North Carolina and Tennessee, ending the evening in Gatlinburg, TN. Highways 28 and 441 stuck out as favorites, but there were no bad roads in that area. And, of course, the scenery was overwhelming. Mountains and trees surrounded us wherever we rode. We rolled into Gatlinburg at about 5pm and it was hot, humid and threatening to rain. Sure enough, it started to sprinkle on our way back from dinner.
The next morning, June 18, we both packed up and rolled out of town; Dave north to his sister’s place and me south to Tampa. I had a long, uneventful ride home with only a few brief rain showers that were actually cooling and welcome. I missed any construction, accident or rush hour traffic and arrived home by 7pm, 800 miles, 12 hours and 3 fuel stops after I left.
This was a really fun ride through some of the prettiest country in America. Both Dave’s are excellent riding companions who love seeing beautiful places like I do. And other than a slight mechanical setback that was addressed quickly and properly by ace bike mechanic Dave 2, the ride went smoothly. We dodged inclement weather and hordes of tourists. As a matter of fact, at times, we didn’t see many others on the some of those scenic rides.
I’ll end this ride report with a comment that my friend Dave made along the way. While looking at a map and deciding where to ride, Dave 2 simply stated, “Let’s just head south and see where we end up. Play it by ear.” We did exactly that with some excellent results, and I highly recommend it.