Well this is my first ride report. I have been reading other's reports for a couple years now and finally have something of my own to contribute. First a little background on myself. I took up riding at the tender age of 40. It was part of my midlife crisis. I told my wife I wanted a girlfriend or a bike and she said either one could get me killed. So I settled on the bike as I wanted to keep the wife. That was almost 3 years ago now. I started with a Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and moved to a Honda VTX 1300 a little over a year ago. Biking has not really helped with the mid-life crisis though. In fact it has probably made it worse as now I all I think about is seeing the country on the back of a bike. So hopefully this will be the first of many reports to come. But enough about me, on with the story.
The ride started out as 4 coworkers planning to hit the Dragon and the Snake. We had as many as 7 thinking about going at one point but it ended up just being 3 of us. The plan was to take a Friday off, head to Gatlinburg, TN from our homes in Roanoke, VA. It seemed the day would never get here but it finally did. Now it is all over and post trip depression has set in. I am glad to be home but missing the road already.
Let me introduce you to my ride. She is an American born Japanese girl. This is Lola waiting to go. I know what you are thinking; where are the knobbies? What kind of adventure can you have on a cruiser? Well that is what I wanted to find out.
Here I am, ready to roll. I have a $15 dry bag from Wal-Mart and two saddlebags to haul my stuff. I used an $8 net from Lowes to hold it to the luggage rack. I used a Garmin Nuvi 755T for navigation. Everything worked well and thankfully I didn't have to test the dry bag.
I met my 2 coworkers at a Burger King off the interstate. Kickstands up at 7:30 am. We make it about 2 hours down I-81 before stopping for gas. Here are the bikes. One Honda VTX 1300, one VStar 950 and one HD full bagger.
Just North of Wytheville we were passed by what must have been 40 or 50 cruisers. It was an amazing site to see that many bikes running together. They were a Harley Owners Group (HOG) from somewhere in New Jersey. I think we saw some of them again at the Dragon or it may have been a different group.
We made it to Sevierville and hit the Bass Pro shop and Smokey Mountain Knife Works on the way into town. We got there by early afternoon and avoided the worst of the traffic. There was still some traffic though and with temps in the 90s and a lot of humidity it was tough. I shed my gear at the knife store for the final run over to Gatlinburg. This would not be the last time I ditched the gear.
We checked into the hotel, made a beer run and relaxed before dinner. The only rain for the weekend started about 4:00 pm and lasted over an hour. It rained hard as you can see in the pics.
Of course the Harley had to hide undercover.
We hit the Smoky Mountain Brewery for dinner and beers.
Final miles for the day was a new high for me, 285 miles. My previous best as 225 for just a day ride near home.
Day 2 - Saturday June 26
Saturday started out beautifully. It was nice and cool. After a mediocre continental breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road about 7:30 am. Since the northern route to the Dragon was closed due to the slide, we headed over the mountains to Cherokee to come around the southern end. There were lots of places to stop, but we were to busy riding. Here is the one stop we made going to Cherokee.
The next stop was Fontana dam. We stopped at an overlook to Fontana lake to try to find the dam. There were a couple guys, one on a BMW
1200 GS so we asked them were the dam was. They didn't know either but we ran into them at the dam a few minutes later. The dam is the highest dam East of the Rockies at 480 feet high. Even more interesting is the Appalachian Trail crosses the dam. So Lola has hiked part of the AT! When I told her about that, she got excited and mentioned we could do a through hike next year. Unfortunately we would need knobbies and more ground clearance for that.
We left the dam after checking it and the visitors center out. There were several other bikers there as well. At this point, we were close to the Dragon. We decided if we found gas before getting to the Dragon we would roll right on once there, otherwise we would stop at the Deals Gap store. As luck would have it, we found a gas station a few miles out. We rolled over to a shelter area after fueling up for a safety briefing. Myself and one other coworker have only been riding for 3 years with me logging more miles. The Harley rider has been riding for 20+ years and has been to the Dragon several times as well as all over the country on a bike. We reminded each other to ride our own ride.
So kickstands up, hit the starter and off we roll. The excitement was definitely building for me. Here I am about the do battle with the Dragon. In a few miles the intersection for 129 came into view on my GPS. I now had the Dragon on radar! In a few more miles we round a turn and see the Deals Gap store. Since we were fueled up, we rolled on by. I could just hear Dale Waltrip yelling "Boogity, boogity, boogity, let's go racing boys!". I was in the lead, my other less experienced coworker 2nd and the experienced rider bringing up the rear. I know what you are thinking, why is he letting us slow him down? Well he had a video camera mounted to his handlebars and filmed our complete run to the northern end. We got extremely lucky and made the run almost completely unimpeded. One guy on a cruiser going 2-up was in front of me for just a minute but pulled over to let us go. After what seemed like a long time to go 11 miles we made it to the barricade.
The road is now open.
We pulled into the pulloff and dismounted to discuss the run. There was a couple from FLorida going 2-up that were pretty irritated. They did not know about the closure and were planning to go on through on their way up North.
For the run South, the Harley rider took the lead and I ran 2nd. We didn't get far before I could no longer see the Harley rider. It is amazing what an experienced rider can do with machine that large. Once again we ran unimpeded back to the Deals Gap store. I did swing through one pull off to let a crotch rocket get by. It was all good as he had a cute little thing in shorts and a tank top on back.
Of course she was soon gone too and it was back to the task at hand. Soon enough the ride was over and we were back at the Deals Gap store for the obligatory photoshoot.
Here are the steeds taking a well deserved break.
Here is the rest of the lot; there were hundreds of bikers running in and out of here while we were there. Along with some Corvettes, Mustangs and a BMW M3.
Of course we had to check out the tree of shame and the wall of shame. They have a display in the store with pics of bike crashes and other things.
I had the cheeseburger and fries at the Deals Gap store. It was very good and it was interesting watching the bikers of all types stroll through.
I can't really say I slayed the Dragon, but I think I made it really, really mad.
We only stopped once after leaving the Dragon before hitting the Skyway. I don't know what lake this is. It really struck me that the whole time we were in the area we were following some stream, river or lake nearly the whole time.
Who said Horseshoe Bend was in Utah?
Once we were done at the Dragon, we fired up the bikes and headed for the Cherhola Skyway. Before leaving though, I ditched my gear for the second time this trip. Normally I ride ATGATT 99% of the time. But this weekend it was in the mid-90s and humid. I had all I could take. Since the rest of the ride today would be less strenous than the Dragon I decided to take my chances.
If you are ever in the area, definitely hit the Skyway. It is 40 miles or so long through the middle of nowhere. At one point we topped 5400 feet. It looked like rain any minute and got really cool but we made it through without getting wet.
After getting off the Skyway, we stopped for gas and a drink. My arms were burning from the sun though I had put sun block on so I dawned my jacket again. I learned that at speed, you are about as hot with or without the jacket and mesh pants. At low speed though, the jacket is too much. A mesh jacket is on my wish list now.
After fueling up, we headed back to Gatlinburg by the way of Townsend. We stopped in Townsend for BBQ. The trip from Townsend to Gatlinburg followed a winding river. The main danger on this stretch of road is the bikinis. There were lots of them in the river and they can be distracting.
We ended the day around 10 hours and 260 miles later. That was my longest day in the saddle so far.
Day 3 - Sunday June 27
On Sunday, the last day of our ride, we awoke to another mediocre continental breakfast. We hit the road about 7:30 and made it to the interstate with no traffic. We stopped for gas and hit the road. Once again it was hot and humid but this time I kept the gear on. I noticed I was getting some air flow up my right sleeve but not my left. So I loosened the velcro on the left sleeve. I thought about the possibility of taking a bee up the sleeve. But the risk of being hot was 100% and the risk of a bee strike was minimal so I took my chances.
We had decided to hit hwy 421 through Shady Valley, otherwise known as the Snake, on the return trip. About 2 hours later we jump off at Bristol, TN and head to 421. We stopped for fuel just outside of Bristol before hitting the Snake. We made the first leg of the Snake after passing South Holston lake and stopped at the store in Shady Valley. Once again we had to stop for a photoshoot and stickers.
I asked the other two if they wanted to head straight to Damascus and then the interstate or if they wanted to head to Mountain City and then to Damascus. They asked which route was better and I said the one to Mountain City so that is where they wanted to go. Now I group up in the area and had ridden the Snake a couple times and at this point just wanted to get home. But they had never ridden it so off we went. I am glad we did as I had never ridden it in that direction, I usually go to Mountain City and head down to Shady Valley.
After surviving the Snake we set our sights North and headed home. After 312 miles, my longest trip today, I arrived. I was hot, tired and sore. But as glad as I was to be home, I was a little depressed to as it meant the adventure was over. I can only imagine how guys who stay out for weeks or months must feel when returning home. It has to be good and bad at the same time.
I now have two more badges of honor to go with my Hokie bird.
We spent a good chunk of the trip on the interstate. But I actually don't mind the interstate too much, especially if you have to make time to get where the real riding is. It is a bit like walking the treadmill though. You constantly watch the clock just waiting for the time to get off. But riding the back roads is a different story. While doing that, the scenery and road constantly changes. Time goes by and you barely notice.
The other thing I learned from the trip is depsite the weather, soreness, etc, the bike is the best way to see the country. Sitting in a climate controlled car is like watching the world on a big screen TV. It's beautiful and all that, but you aren't really involved. You don't notice the weather changes, the cool or hot pockets of air and your view is largely obstructed. On the bike you are an active participant with your surroundings.
This trip wasn't epic by this forums standards, but it was by mine. It has raised the bar for the next trip though. All bikes and riders survived the Dragon, the Snake, heat and 850 miles in 3 days to ride again.
Now, where do we go from here?