Tail of The Dragon
The Hellbender 28
NC highway 19 to Cherokee
Highway 441 across Newfound Gap into Gatlinburg
On another thread
here in the Southeast forum, Mark Edward Marchiafava
asked if anyone wanted to get together for a ride yesterday. Since this weekend looked like great riding weather, I threw my hand up and said "I'll ride!". Earlier in the week, the weather forecast called for low 60s as the highs for the area where we decided we'd ride, but morning temperatures were still forecast to be in the 40s and low 50s. So, we planned to start out a little later in the morning and ended up meeting in Alcoa, TN around 11:30am at the Waffle House near the airport.
The original route that we planned was to take off from Alcoa and head south on highway 321 to Walland, top off the fuel tanks and then cross the Foothills Parkway toward US 129. We'd then tame the "Dragon" and head into Robbinsville for a quick pit stop and then head West on the Cherohalla to Tellico Plains.
We could have done this route and still had some daylight left, but after some thinking, that would put us both quite a distance from "home", meaning we'd end up riding a lot of back roads on our treks back to the house in the dark. So, Mark suggested a change to the second half of the original route. Instead of hitting the Cherohalla, why not take The Hellbender (NC Hwy 28) from the Deals Gap resort and head toward Cherokee and from there, ride across the Smokies on 441, since it was open, and come into Gatlinburg. I told Mark that I didn't care where we rode, just as long as we rode. So that's the way we went.
The Foothills Parkway is a great scenic road that will get you from Walland, TN to where the "Dragon" begins on its North end on US 129. There are several pull-off areas along this short, 18 mile stretch of ridgetop asphalt that offers some great views of the Tennessee Valley on one side and equally impressive views of some of the most notable peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains on the other. With the temperatures down a bit and due to some recent wet weather, the views were magnificent and not as hazy as usual. We stopped once and spent a short while pointing out some of the nearby landmarks, such as the radio towers at the end of Clinton Highway in North Knoxville, Bull Run Steam Plant near Oak Ridge, Kingston Steam Plant near Kingston and the McGhee-Tyson airport in Alcoa.
After that, we went ahead and finished the Foothills Parkway and took a left on 129 to go tame the "Dragon". With this being my first time riding this stretch of road, I wasn't sure what to expect. But, all said and done, I was very pleased with the experience and we luckily didn't see any accidents or get into any ourselves and contribute to the "Tree of Shame". Traffic mostly consisted of sports cars. There were several car clubs in the area this weekend, apparently. I've never seen so many Mazda RX-7s in my entire life.
We stopped at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort to stretch our legs and look at some of the bikes in the parking lot (I was checking out some of the women, too.
) and then inside the store to check out some of the memorabilia.
From the Resort, we headed East on North Carolina highway 28, which from what I've heard, is called The Hellbender 28. This stretch of road is great and very scenic. From the Resort, 28 follows what Google Maps is calling Cheoah Lake for several miles until it nears the dam at Fontana Lake, where it then crosses over a bridge and carries on for several more miles toward highway 19, which we took toward Bryson City. We took a short break at the Hot Spot before leaving town and heading up to Cherokee.
There was some sort of festival or something going on in Cherokee, or maybe that's just how it always looks. This was my first visit to the town, so I don't know which it is. We didn't stop, anyway. From Cherokee, we took 441 North toward Newfound Gap and Gatlinburg. This was the most beautiful part of the entire ride and my most enjoyable. I will definitely be back on a warmer weekend when I have more time to stop at all the viewing areas. Even while just riding through, the views you see on this stretch of road are breathtaking. It was cold as ice crossing those mountains, though. Thankfully, we were dressed appropriately. We saw folks in short sleeves and shorts, but of course those people had heaters in their cars to get back into. I don't envy them, though.
Once we made it to Gatlinburg, we pulled over and talked for a short spell and then parted to go our separate ways. Mark was heading North on 321 back toward Johnson City and I said I was going to head South on 321 with the plan to cut across Wears Valley Road back toward Townsend and up through Maryville and Alcoa and then back home. Heading South on 321 was a huge mistake. Pigeon Forge was hosting a Rod Run Saturday so traffic coming into the town in both directions was backed up for miles. Sitting on a bike in traffic that's flowing less than half a mile and hour is just plain sucky. I'm surprised I didn't have a heat stroke.
By the time I finally made the five and a half mile trip from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge, several hours had passed and I knew that I didn't have a lot of time before sunset to make it back home. So I decided to skip Wears Valley and take the I-40 back to Knoxville and head home that way. Wears Valley Road is on my bucket list, though.
At the end of the day, I was able to look back and say that I had an extremely fun and enjoyable time out on the bike. Rode a few roads I have never been on before and even tamed the "Dragon". Mark and his wife are great riding company and thanks to them for coming out and accepting me as a riding buddy for the day. Before the day was done, Mark was already drawing up ideas for our next ride, so we will ride again.
Tree Of Shame at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. We didn't contribute anything to it.