Several months back some of the riders with the Chicago-Milwaukee HSTA suggested a early spring trip to the deals gap area. The number of those who could commit went up and down, with the final number going was four and one more planned on meeting us in Tennessee. With a planned route for the way down and the way back, we would decide where to ride in the Deals Gap area after arriving.
Our ability to make this trip was pure luck. We got off the Third Coast in between snow events that could easily have kept us home if the timing had been any different. I am still amazed that Mother Nature let us have our fun.
I will use the same word that came out of my mouth several times on this whirlwind trip to Deal's Gap - EPIC. It seems like every aspect of the ride was a new adventure but boy was it a treat to get out for this kind of ride at the tail end of March. My PMS has officially been banished!
Wed, March 26
I left the greater Milwaukee area with Curt at around 11:15 so we could make it to the Hinsdale Oasis on I-294 by 1:30 to meet Bill and David. The weather was cool but dry and it would only get better as we headed south. The ride was uneventful, with stops for fuel and stretching every 100 miles or so. It was a sort of trial by fire experience to get our butts acclimated to the saddle after the winter season but no one suffered too badly.
We rolled into the Super 8 on the east side of Lexington just after dark and caught a late meal at the local Cracker Barrel. We capped off the night with a balmy but rainy walk back to the hotel, hopeful that the weather would improve by morning.
Discussing our planned route for the next morning.
Thurs, March 27
We sat down to the complimentary continental breakfast looking out at wet bikes and a foggy mist. At least the temps were mild so we could pack up the "real" cold weather gear for the time being. We loaded up under the hotel canopy and got underway on the interstate staying ahead of the menacing clouds as we continued our travel south.
We got off the interstate at Richmond, KY so we could start enjoying the local culture. HWY-421 delivered in spades as it treated us to nearly endless twisties and lunch at the local sandwich shop in Harlan.
Chapter one (6 1/2 minutes)I had a goal to emulate Elton Brown and try and eat at mom and pop places which we where able to do a lot of the time. Lunch in Harlan was just that, te only thing we found from the main road was a Huddle House, so we ventured into the one-way streets in town. Each time stopped and asked a local citizen they started by recommending the Huddle House, but when asked for something local we got a new suggestion. Jays Sandwich Shop
Chapter two (2 1/2 minutes)
We crossed the Cumberland Gap and after after a quick detour past Norris Dam, we were back on the interstate under mostly sunny skies and 70 degree temps for the ride through Knoxville and on to Townsend, TN.
The last leg of the ride was about as perfect as it gets. Once past Knoxville, we took HWY-129 through Alcoa and Maryville and then HWY-321 leading to Townsend and the Smokey Mountains. For the final run into town, we turned off 321 onto "Old Walland Highway" for a narrow, twisty route along the river complete with fishing shacks and vacation homes situated in the shadow of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
Chapter 3 (11 miinutes)
We pulled into the Econo Lodge in Townsend only to find that David had lost his wallet. At least he still had cash and a credit card, not that it makes losing your wallet any easier but at least the complications were minimal. A call to the last gas station was made but no one had turned in a wallet. We are hopeful that someone will still turn it in.
Early evening was spent in the balmy temps outside by the bikes for benchracing, chain lubing and a couple beers. Eventually we made our way across the street for some fine Italian dining and discussion about the plans for Friday's ride.
Friday, March 28
I don't think anyone was prepared for the epic ahead when we packed up the bikes that morning. It was a beautiful 64 degrees but rain was in the forecast so the wet gear came along for the ride. The cold weather gear stayed back in the hotel room - possibly the first error of the day.
Chapter 4 (6 1/4 minutes)
Our route started out west, over the Foothills Parkway, down HWY-129 (Tail of the Dragon). We literally had The Dragon all to ourselves that morning which was a real treat since most people complain about the crowds and the LEO presence. Killboy was out taking pictures so we will be sure to check those out when he gets them posted.
Chapter 5 (12 minute)
At Deal's Gap, we stopped for pictures and shirts before continuing. Many bikes and trailers in the area but overall pretty quiet.
We left the Gap heading southeast on HWY-129 and continued east on Wayah Rd. to Franklin, where we stopped in at the local VFW for some lunch.
Chapter 6 (3 minutes)
From there we decided that we needed to head into Georgia to ride Warwoman Road and also put the tires into South Carolina so we could all add that state to our travel list.
The weather cooperated nicely, always looking a little threatening but never giving way to more than a little mist or a few sprinkles. We decided since things were going well, we would extend our loop and take in the Cherohala Skyway. David's vote was to cut the ride short and head back to home base but he was convinced by the collective that we needed to ride more - possible error number two. It was getting close to dinner time by now but we were waiting to eat back in Townsend where Alex was going to catch up with us on a V-Strom that he had flown out to New York to pick up and ride home to the Chicago area.
For those of you who have not ridden the area, the Cherohala is much like the Blue Ridge Parkway with it's beautiful mountain views and sweeping curves but it is much more remote and there are really no exits (or fuel) on this 36 mile route that goes up and over the 6,000 foot high mountains between Tellico Plains and Robbinsville.
Well as I said, up to this point the weather was cooperative but things were about to change for us very quickly. The ride on the Cherohala became a death march with speeds as low as 15 mph as we rode through a cloud bank pushed up against the mountain, creating near zero visibility as we climbed over 4,000 feet. In addition, the temps began dropping as we climbed higher eventually bottoming out at 39 degrees. With rain gear on to preserve as much warmth as possible and shields open to see what little we could ahead, we motored on with little other choice as darkness was going to be our enemy soon.
We got through the Skyway and back to lower elevations, riding out of the fog and into warmer temps again. We missed our shortcut to Deal's Gap because everyone but Curt was having GPS issues. Curt tried to get our attention and let us know that we had missed our turn but by this time the miles, the stress and the hours in the saddle were starting to take their toll. As we stopped to regroup north of Robbinsville, Bill informed the group that he was badly in need of gas. Deal's Gap was 14 miles away and the only gas between where we were and Townsend so we took off hoping for the best.
We arrived at Deal's Gap with dusk setting in, only to find that the store was already closed. Luckily there was still someone around who was sympathetic with Bill's predicament and let him buy a tank of gas. As Bill was filling his tank a local stepped up and asked if we were headed up The Dragon. Other than riding all the way around the Smoky Mountains and adding over 70 miles to our ride, HWY-129 is the only route to get back to Townsend so we didn't have much choice. The man informed us that there was a semi truck stuck around mile 3 and that we might not be able to get around. We thanked him for the information but we had to take our chances.
We started up 129 and sure enough, around mile 3 traffic was stopped. I got off and went around the corner to see a semi hanging off the edge of the road and blocking both lanes of traffic. Just past the truck was the driver and a police officer having a relatively terse discussion. There was just enough room in front of the truck to squeeze by on a motorcycle so we cut around the growing line of cars to get through the tight twisties before dark.
The last bits of light were fading as Bill and I got through The Dragon, passing a wrecker along the way obviously dispatched to aid in removing the truck. From the looks of things, that wrecker was sent in vain because they really needed to have someone on the east side where the front of the truck was. I'll be curious if tailofthedragon.com will have a report on the incident.
Found this posted on the Deal's Gap site:
Friday night there was an 18 wheeler that came through early in the evening. I saw him as I got to the north end of the Gap, but I was going home. Turns out he got stuck in Gravity Cavity and couldnt get out. He hung his trailer off the side of the mountain, and the wrecker didnt show up til late. They got it all cleaned up by midnight and spent a couple of hours at the state line doing paperwork. I have not heard of all the details yet, but I sure do hope that THP wrote a book of tickets on this... ready for this... 18 year old CDL driver that had his license for just a few short weeks. WTF people ???
Neither Bill nor I had clear shields with us so we headed up and over the Foothills Parkway in the dark with shields up. The view from the top of the ridge on the Parkway was amazing as we sped along, the leafless trees giving us a clear view of the lights from Maryville on the left and the lights from Townsend on the right. Curt was just a little way behind as we pulled into the parking lot of the Econo Lodge after a 12 and a half hour day of riding. Alex was there to greet us with his "new to him" V-Strom ready to exchange the stories of the day.
Little did we know at the time but as we were parking the bikes and doing introductions with Alex, David was literally coasting his way down the parkway afraid he might not have enough gas to make it back to the hotel. Luckily we didn't have to do a rescue mission, he made it to the gas station north of Townsend to fill up and rode into the parking lot around 8:45. A few beers in the parking lot and a couple pizzas helped us put the day's ride into perspective.
Sat, March 30
The plan was to ride to Louisville on the back roads, spend the night and finish the ride home on Sunday. We woke up to a steady rain and much cooler temps with the Weather Channel informing us of possible local rainfall of 1-3" in Kentucky and Indiana on Saturday and Sunday. We decided that given the weather, the interstate was the safest place to be and Bill offered the idea that we should try doing a straight shot home in one day in order to avoid riding in the "wetter" weather on Sunday.
So we packed up and headed for I-40 around 8:30am. The rain let up as we travelled north but was replaced by even cooler temps and then by fog and drizzle as we went over the mountains and the Cumberland Gap. In the back of everyone's mind were the horror stories of vehicle pileups in weather like we were experiencing. Luckily we had no issues and other than a few congested sections and some very impatient drivers who were quite put off by 5 motorcycles trying to stay together.
The weather was chilly but overall dry as we hammered our way north. I found out the hard way that my V-Strom 650 has less weather protection than I thought as I left the hotel that morning without my electric gear. By the time we stopped for gas after 150 miles I was struggling a bit. The other V-Strom riders, David and Alex were wise enough to have themselves plugged in early so they didn't suffer the same as I did - lesson learned.
The cold zapped my energy early and the rest of the day I was just hanging on. Weighing the option of having others to ride with or finishing the ride alone on Sunday, I held on to make the longest one day run of my motorcycling career. We officially parted ways at the Hinsdale Oasis outside Chicago and with a few parting words and some handshakes we were off to our own destinations. I made one final stop in Kenosha, WI as light ran out to get gas and warm up for the last 35 mile stretch home. After struggling the whole day, the last stretch was peaceful as the wind died down and traffic became lighter.
I opened my garage door at 8:30pm, relieved to be home. It was an epic experience, almost 13 hours and 670 miles for the day and nearly 1850 miles total on the clock. It was a challenge at times with enough adventure and surprises to keep everyone on their toes - I'd do it again in a heartbeat! Thanks to Alex, Bill, Curt and David for such a great experience!I agree this was an epic 3 1/2 days. I rode more miles in one day than I have ever done before. I spent more time in the saddle 41 hours total and checking two more states off the list. Re-affirmed that with the choice between riding and stopping for pictures riding wins out. But that what makes it Sport-Touring and not just touring. My thanks to the other guys for there part in the good times. Also to the many ST.N members who provided me with a ton of information the really added to the trip.
My part in this trip report is the movie clips
The black copy are the words of Bandman (Scott) who gave me permission to copy and paste from his blog http://cmmhsta.blogspot.com/
My notes are in orange.