Monday, May 12, 2008

So many curves

At 6:40AM my alarm started going off. This morning was the latest I've slept on the entire trip. Today was my day to ride around the area, check out the roads and eventually head toward. I'd only get one morning in the Smokey Mountains and this was it.

The plan was simple, another pass on the Dragon and then I was going to take the Foothills Parkway over to Townsend, then 73 over to 441 and ride through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, then back around onto 28 (Hellbender) and arrive at the Deals Gap Resort to buy some souvenirs. The route was planned and loaded into the GPS.

I packed up pretty quickly and checked out of the Inn. I was getting on the road before Sweetwater BBQ started serving breakfast so I thought I'd find something up the road. Preferably a small cafe with a friendly waitress and good food.

By 8:15am my bike is dipping into the first turn of the Dragon. The road was a little damp with the morning dew and last night's weather. I take it easy just in case there's debris in the road. There's not another soul on the road, again it's my road to enjoy. Of course I remind myself that if things get out of hand no one will know either so I take it easy. But now the corners are developing a sort of natural feel to them, a rhythm. By looking far ahead things seem really slow but when I glance down at the speedometer I notice I'm going over the speed limit, oooops!. Now it's getting fun...

By the time I reached the end of the Dragon I hadn't seen a single motorcycle and only a few cars. Unlucky folks going to work I guessed. The GPS tells me my next turn is in a few miles. It's the Foothills Parkway which is supposed to be a great way to weave through the area. As I make the turn onto the parkway I see a gate across the road. It seems the road is closed. There's a sign warning of penalties for ignoring road closures. I get back on US 129 and head north.

When I get to 411 I head toward Maryville. By now I'm on 4 lane roads with lots of people and traffic for the region. I stop for gas only to see a sign mentioning 10% ethanol. NO THANK YOU!!!! So I continue on until I reach 321 toward Townsend. I had passed a little cafe just before Maryville and hadn't seen anything since when I see a sign for a cafe, gift shop and more. The name escapes me now but it was probably the meca for scrap booking types and old folks riding around in their RVs. Of course no customers were there when I pulled in but a sign said they served breakfast and I new I was getting close to the park roads.

The staff was friendly but it was definitely not the type of place I was looking for. It sort of reminded me of those Oakridge Farms stores you find in the mall around the holidays. I will say they fried my eggs just like I like them HARD...

So with food in my stomach it was was time to get back on the road. I continue on 321 toward Gatlinburg. When I pass through Townsend the GPS decides it wants me to take 337 into the park, the only problem with that idea is that the road was closed for work. So I turned around and resumed my travels on 321 toward Gatlinburg.

Finally when I get to Lyon Springs I see a road to the right that I figure will get me into the Park. After riding through some residential area sure enough I'm in the park. I meet up with Cades Cove which was closed at this end as well. I discovered the reason for the closure was so they could mow. That's right, they close the roads to mow. I was now on Little River Road and riding through a very beautiful park. I reach 441 and head south. There wasn't much change in the size or speed on 441 compared to Little River road. But I wasn't trying to make time, I was just having fun riding through a beautiful area.

Much like riding on the Blue Ridge parkway, 441 has some pretty good elevation changes. When I got up over 5000 this time the temperature fell to 35 degrees. I passed a couple who apparently decided they were cold because they looked like they were putting on everything they had on the bike. Thank goodness for heated grips and a gerbing liner...

Once out of the park I stopped in Cherokee for more gas. This was the same place I filled up the day before. That's one of the benefits of the larger tank. After a fill up and a chat with a Harley rider I was back on 441.

A few miles down the road I met up with 19 and took that west to Robbinsville again. This part was familiar from the day before. It's a nice 4 lane highway so speeds were normal but some of the curves were still fun.

Just like the day before, as I come up to 28, "Barney Fife" is there shooting radar at those on 19. It's an easy place to let the speed creep up. Fortunately for me, you need to slow down to make the right hand curve onto 28.

This stretch was also familiar. That is until I got to where 143 intersects. Yesterday that's where I turned off but not today. I stay on 28 and the road gets twisty in a hurry. Not quite like the Dragon twisty but very fun none the less. Later I find out this little stretch of heaven is known as Hell Bender. That seems like an appropriate name. Heading west most of the curves were uphill so I was really able to carve the corners as it seems easier to control speed going uphill.

Hwy 28 comes out at the Deals Gap resort so I pulled in there to get some shirts and a drink before I made one more pass on the Dragon. As I'm getting off my bike I see two fellow instructors from the conference, Mitch and Regina. I had tried to get them to ride over with me but they didn't want to take the long way from Memphis. We talked for a while when a few more instructors from the conference showed up. After some shopping and more talking Mitch, Regina and I headed out onto the Dragon. Since I had been on it several times already I took the lead. Mitch was with me into the first corner and then he seemed to drop back slowly. That Ultra Classic is a comfy bike but it can't corner like the GS.

When I got to the observation point I stopped to let them catchup. We hung out there for a while and then continued down the other side of the Dragon. I turned around at the gravel lot and waited for them. As they got close I headed back on to the Dragon and waived goodbye. That last pass had been my best, I even left a little bit of my engine guard on one of the corners. This pass though started out with me meeting 2 gravel trucks. I took that as an omen and kept my speed low and left plenty of space between me and the center. I could also tell I was getting tired.

When I got to the Dragon Resort I stopped again to straighten out an exchange for a friend and to rest a little bit. I couldn't believe it, but all those curves had worn me out. After getting the right size shirt and a little rest I mounted up and headed toward the Cherohala Skyway. Since I still felt a little tired I took it easy and enjoyed the scenery of the skyway. It was nice but not as nice as the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When I finally got to 411 it was refreshing to see a straight road. As I traveled farther down the road it was clear that I was getting away from mountains and onto flat land again. The temperature was also rising as well. I stopped along the roadside to shed the liner then it was back on the road. I managed to stay on back roads through Tennessee and Georgia finally ending up in Bremen, Ga next to I-20. The GPS said I was less than 800 miles from home so I figured this was a great place to stay for the night.

After checking into the motel I talked to a few other riders and then walked over to Arbys for dinner. Afterwards I went back to the room and found the ice machine so I could polish off the remainder of the Crown Royal. It was a great day on the road, all those curves wore me out. Tomorrow would be filled with boring interstates.

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