Day 16 - Tuesday, June 19
Warm, Still, Sunny
Awoke with the dawn and one owl hooting. On the road before 7. The cruise down the creek and out of the Park was very pleasant. Morning light filtered through the leaves. It was warm. I'm in the South now. Over breakfast I met three fellows, a father, son, and friend, from Indiana. They were curious and kind about my choice of ride. We were all heading to the same place, Deal's Gap, North Carolina.
For the motorcycle neophytes among you, Deal's Gap is a motorcycle Mecca. It sits at the top of the Dragon. The Dragon is 11 miles of twisting mountain highway, containing 318 turns, compressed in a straight line distance of about 5 miles. Everyone rides the Dragon.
We drove in from the North. That means we attacked the Dragon going uphill. The use of "we" is unnecessary. My breakfast friends were miles ahead of me. I came up to the Dragon and paused at the Dam Overlook. There were about a dozen cycles already there when I pulled in. Most were Harleys, but there were also V-Twin Yamahas, and two BMWs. All drivers were male except one, several had passengers.
They exploded out of the overlook leaving me alone. That was fine by me. I was hoping for as much distance between me and other traffic as possible. I have watched videos of people doing the Dragon on YouTube. I have seen the horrific crash photos too. I knew I had to take this seriously and stay focused. Safety is everything.
I did stay focused and had a blast. Moto Fabini stuck to the road at some extreme angles. It accelerated smoothly through and out of turns each time I asked it too. I did not speed, but the experience left me feeling as if I were a Formula I racer. I pulled into Deal's Gap with the other 200 cyclists there and blended into the high testosterone setting. I proclaimed myself the Scooter Champion to anyone who would listen.
From there I drove South down out of this part of the Smokies to drive a road that is also considered a "must ride." It is the Cherohala Skyway, "connecting Western North Carolina to Eastern Tennessee." It is 51 miles long with no commercial traffic. I pulled into the last gas station before the wilderness. They had many snapshots of unique riders and bikes on their walls. I said they need to add me and Moto. The owner agreed and took a picture of me for his wall.
The ride was lovely. Above 4,000 feet it became cold and gray. I suited up. As enjoyable as the ride was, I have to say this, I became bored. My plan was to ride the Skyway back and then take a different route back up to Deal's Gap, so I could then do the Dragon downhill. I changed my mind. I decided to get into eastern Tennessee and start to leave the Appalachians behind.
I found a wifi connection, but wasn't satisfied with my electronic planning. I bought a map. A real paper map of Tennessee. Rather than select County roads which tend to run north-south through large valleys, I picked Route 30 to McMinville. I made it as far as Falls Church Falls State Park, about 30 miles east of there. My goal is to make it to the beginning of the Natchez Trace Parkway tomorrow. This campgrounds has a restaurant. It's 3 miles from the actual campground, so I drove. It turned out to be more than a restaurant. It's a complete conference center with hotel. If you ever wanted to host a conference in an out of the way place, look this one up. Seriously, it seemed very nice and modern in a complete woodland environment.
I wished my tent site were more woodland. I was on a hillside, exposed, with two yahoos blaring country music well into the night. A family below me packed up and left because of the noise. Oh well, I did get to sleep under the stars. When they made their appearance, the Big Dipper was right in my line of site.