Over the Cherohala Skyway & Through The Dragon: Labor Day Road Trip

Part I of III:  Part IPart II  & Part III

Screen shot 2013-09-01 at 6.33.23 AMWith great anticipation, Saturday we joined up with our friends David & Deb for a motorcycle road trip up to Maryville, Tennessee via the Cherohala Skyway and US129, which included a northbound pass through the infamous Tail of the Dragon.

The weather forecast was pretty much typical for our summer in Georgia thus far: 40% – 50% chance of scattered thunder showers. However, we were undaunted and simply packed our rain gear so we’d be prepared for all but the most torrential storms.

David & I cooked up the trip at Uncle Peppers Pizza Kitchen in Ballground, Georgia while sitting around and enjoying a Pretty Twisted gig.  As originally envisioned, we would be headed up to the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC before riding over to Maryville, TN via US129 and the Dragon.  However, at 270 miles David thought it might be a bit too ambitious for his Deb given she had very little saddle time over the past few months.  I should probably note, one of the goals of this trip was to figure out if David’s Deb would be able to make the 330 mile / 6 hour ride to and from Panama City Beach in October.  Note: For folks who don’t ride motorcycles or bicycles, you do indeed need to break-in your butt for long-hours in the saddle.  Our many years of cycling and motorcycling have made it a non-issue for us, something we’re both thankful and try to remain mindful of when headed out on trips with friends who may not be as “hard-assed” as we are.

The alternate plan would be a 120-mile ride up to Kats Deli in Tellico Plains, at which point we’d decided if we’d press ahead with the additional 3 hours and 107 mile trip to Maryville via the Skyway and US129, or take the more direct, 41-mile, 50 minute trip up 411.

We met David & Deb at 9:45am in Kennesaw, GA, on what was a mild but humid morning with overcast skies and slowly made our way through the gauntlet of stoplights along Highway 41 out to Highway 411 in Cartersville, GA.  After that, it was smooth sailing for the next 2 hours or so up to Tellico Plains.

Photos Below: We stopped for lunch at the Tellico Kats Deli overlooking the Tellico River, a place we visited on a previous tandem cycling weekend after peddling up to the Bald River Falls.  It is simply the best place to eat if you want a great sandwich, salad or soup at the Tellico end of the Cherohala Skyway.

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After lunch we decided the ride across the Skyway which — despite being 3x as much saddle time — would definitely be the more scenic route and offer a lot more shade, as 411 would be 100% in the sun without any shade.  In hindsight, we probably over-reached as David’s Deb was already a bit saddle weary.  As a hedge against the addition saddle time we made sure we’d stop every 30 or 45-minutes so Deb could get off the bike, including a couple pauses at the scenic overlooks along the Skyway.

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To be honest, I don’t recall where Debbie took these two photos, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what the scenery we enjoyed over the last 100 miles of our trip looked like.  There’s just nothing to compare to cycling or motorcycling through the wooded mountains of North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina!

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VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W As for the 40% of scattered thunder showers, we really lucked-out.  We could clearly see some dark clouds over the Skyway when we headed up on the Tennessee side and with a 20° drop in the air temperature as we gained about 4,000 feet of elevation headed to the top and the North Carolina state line, I knew someone was getting or had gotten rain.  Sure enough, about 1/2 down the Skyway into North Carolina we found the telltale signs of a recent shower.  Better to find wet roads than be there when the rain is falling!

Our next waypoint was Deal’s Gap at the North Carolina end of what has become known as “The Tale of the Dragon” along US129.  After stopping for the ubiquitous “photo” that proves you’ve pass through the Dragon, we saddled-up and headed on our way through the “318 curves in 11 mile” route: it truly is a joy to ride, but there aren’t 318 curves: that’s just folklore and marketing!

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dragon_31aug09We’ve ridden this section of US129 a couple of times in the past, but most recent visits have been aboard our tandem bicycles, not a motorcycle!  During the last visit KillBoy or US129 Photos guy caught up carving our way around the Dirt Pile corner on the Calfee one quite Thursday morning back in August 2009.  I think we peddled over 100 miles that day: an out and back from Cycology Cycles in Maryville, across the Foothill Parkway to Deals Gap and back.  Let’s just say that while the bicycle ride provided a wonderful sense of accomplishment, riding two-up on the Road King was sublime!

Photos Below:  Debbie grabbed a few photos as we made our way through the Dragon. We were spoiled rotten for the first 5 – 6 miles or so as we had no traffic in front of us and  were able to fully enjoy a great tempo ride through the twisties: the Road King was truly right at home on these roads!

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She was able to catch a few photos over and behind her head of Deb and David making their way through the Dragon as well.

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Our “E-Ticket Ride” came to an end when we finally came upon two couples who were up holding the reputation that Harley’s can’t do twisties and otherwise just enjoying a leisurely ride through the Dragon and then moments later found ourselves in a parade behind 15 other motorcycles that were backed-up by three cars.  Hey, it’s Labor Day weekend; we were thankful for those first 6 miles!

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Coming off the Dragon we passed Chilhowee Lake and then enjoyed a few more nice roads as we made our way into Maryville along US129 before hopping back on 411.  Being back on 411 I knew we made the right call on taking the Skyway!

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We found our way to the Hampton Inn across from the Knoxville airport, got settled in our rooms, cleaned-up and then walked across the parking lot to Applebee’s for a cocktail and some college football.

maryville-2For dinner, there was only one place that would do: Sullivan’s Downtown, in Maryville!  Our dear friends Tim & Sharon Patterson introduced us to Sullivan’s during the 10-year run of the Tennessee Tandem Rally: it was the host location for our Saturday banquets. As good as those meals were, nothing beats eating off the menu and, in particular, their Shrimp Charleston, aka, Shrimp & cheese grits.  It was spectacular! Signature salads, Shrimp Charleston, Salmon Florentine, etc.

We had thought about going over to “The Shed” at Smokey Mountain Harley Davidson for the Kentucky Headhunter concert. But, at $20 a pop and no place to sit unless you bring your own chair… meh. Instead we visited the Smokey Mountain Brewery for a little more football and to hear how their live entertainment sounded.  It was good, but the safe bet for cocktails was back at Applebee’s, a few steps from the Hampton.

SDC11297It was a great day, to be sure.  As for the Road King… AMAZING!  Other than the heat that comes off the engine, it’s darn near perfect!  A great machine that’s a pleasure ride for both me and Debbie.  Touring bike, yeah…. now we get it!  And, yes… Debbie also likes the way the bike sounds with the minor adjustment / addition of some extra sound batting around the cores!

Part I of III:  Part II can be Found Here

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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