Sunday, May 11, 2008

Smokey Mountain High

It's 4:30am when my alarm clock went off today. I've got a great day planned. The conference was over yesterday afternoon but bad weather was rolling across the area so I decided to stay in Memphis for the night. Besides I really enjoy the beds in a Marriot, I wake up so refreshed.

I had packed the night before and just needed to put away a few things like the lap top and toiletries. It was going to take two trips to get everything lugged down to the bike. Once that was done a call to the front desk and I was checked out of the hotel. It was nice to start the bike again and hear the purr of the boxer. Inside the parking garage the exhaust rumbled around making the bike sound huge.

Once I got out of the garage I decided to take the southern loop around Memphis since I had traveled on the northern side earlier. It's not like I was on a serious time crunch. I only had 700 miles to go and I was leaving early enough to easily reach my hotel in Robbinsville, North Carolina before dark.

As I road through Nashville there was an interview on XM12 about an artist who struggled to get their songs recorded. I wondered about the road I was riding on and just how many of the famous and not so famous country artists had traveled on that same stretch of highway. Heck I might have been traveling down the same lane that Gretchen Wilson traveled in (I was riding in the fast lane). I looked around like a silly tourist to see if there were any famous people in cars around me. Nope! But then at 8 o'clock in the morning on mothers day I wasn't expecting much.

Around 9am I stopped for fuel near Gordonsville, TN. The stop was quick and then I was back out on the road. By now, I had a rhythm to my stops. Without any other riders it really was up to my whims as to how long I stopped. After getting gas I saw a Huddle House so I pulled in for a good breakfast. No oatmeal on the menu so I had a biscuit, egg and bacon sandwich with a side of hash browns and coffee. Yum!!! Although the food might not be the healthiest I like these places because you can get in and out pretty quick. Total time spent for fuel and food was 20 minutes and I wasn't even hurrying.

With the recommendation of a friend I had decided to take the long way to my room for the night and ride 50 miles or so of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I didn't do it today, I wouldn't do it on this trip as I wasn't going to get this far east any more. By 1pm I was getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Ashville, NC and west of I-26. Although I wasn't really in need of fuel I started to look around for some but kept going when I didn't find a name brand station I liked.

The Blue Ridge was definitely worth the ride. The scenery is gorgeous. There are look outs around every corner and it just seems so peaceful. As I continued along I noticed I was getting higher and higher. 3000 feet... 4000 feet.... 5000 feet. At around 5,500 feet I pulled over at a stop to look around, it was beautiful up there. Then I kept going. Now above 5000 feet I was routine riding through clouds as they would rush up the side of the mountain. I stopped at 6062 feet and tried to call my mom to wish her a happy mother's day. I had reception but she wasn't there. Then I called Reagan to let her know where I was (as if she couldn't tell with the SPOT). I made sure to take a picture in front of the sign marking the highest point along the Blue Ridge. Then it was back on the bike.

With the slower speeds my gas mileage really did well and I didn't stop until I reached Cherokee, NC. where I found an Exxon. I had to go in for a bottle of water and my receipt when the young guy behind the counter told me I'd better find a place soon because bad weather was coming. I said I had a room in Robbinsville and he urged me to get on down the road, so that's what I did.

Even the large highways in this part of the country are wonderful. I didn't know it at the time but I missed out on a fun road known as Hellbender or US28 on the map. But that's not to say I didn't ride on wonderful roads getting to Robbinsville.

By 4pm I was rolling into town. The sky was getting a little dark but the rain hadn't started. I wanted to get checked in at the Two Wheel Inn and then find a place to eat. As I was riding through town I noticed a place called Sweetwater BBQ. Hmmm, that looked like a good choice.

The Inn was about 2 miles south of town on US 129 and well marked with signs. I checked in and was shown my room. Everything looked good. I asked about good BBQ in the area and Sweetwater was recommended so that sealed the deal. I unpacked the biked and thought maybe I might run up 129 to the Dragon after dinner depending on the weather.

Dinner at Sweetwater was OK. They served pulled brisket which I found odd. And the waitress charged me an extra $1 for white meat chicken which is something I settled for as they were out of ribs and pork loin. I tried to reason with her and finally just said, it was going to be part of her tip so she could straighten it out if she wanted to. No where on the menu did it mention an upcharge for white meat chicken. I did get to go back in the kitchen and check out their smoker though. Will, the owner, was proud to show me his kitchen. I inquired about the pulled brisket and he said it was a Sweetwater BBQ thing as he didn't originally do 'Q but started cooking it after he couldn't find any he liked in the area. I could understand that.

As I was leaving the parking lot I almost dropped the bike twice. It was on a steep hill, I was rolling backwards and had turned the handlebars to navigate away. Through shear determination I kept the bike up, I wasn't about to let the locals see this bright green city slicker drop his fancy motorcycle.

Once on the road, I figured I'd just run up and see how far it was to the Dragon. A few miles into the journey I realized I probably should have brought my Gerbing liner as the temperature was dropping and was currently at 53. I turned on the heated grips and kept going. Maybe that heated seat option would have been a nice benefit.

As I passed the Deals Gap resort I knew I had reached the famed Dragon. For the first pass I wanted to take things slow. As I got into the rhythm it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any other motorists on the road. It was as if I had the road to myself. Left, right, left another left.... the road kept twisting and turning with rises and falls along the way. I was having a blast. I passed the scenic lookout at the top and kept going until I reached the river crossing and the obvious gravel turn around area. I was grinning from ear to ear as I turned around.

Back through it I road. This time stopping at the scenic lookout for a few minutes to take in the view. It neat to see how they had created a lake by damming up one end of valley. The road called and I answered with a clunk of the shifter and a twist of the rest. During this pass I encountered a few cars and motorcycles but still I was mostly alone. It was great.

When I passed the Deals Gap resort I kept on going because I was getting a little cold and wanted to get home before the rain started. I figured I had pushed my luck enough. Sure enough, about 5 miles from town I encountered a light sprinkle, nothing to even wet my windshield.

Since I hadn't scoped out the ice machine situation at the Inn I decided to stop and get a bag of ice so I could enjoy some Crown Royal back at the room. Once in the room I pulled out the laptop and started planning the next day's ride. Hmm, definitely gotta go ride the dragon 1, 2, 3 times at least!

Sweet dreams... of a dragon

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