Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ride to the Smokies.

Ouch! What the hell was that?! Something hit my left hand… Hard! I pulled it back from the handlebar to see if I was bleeding. I wasn’t but the dragonfly that flew into our path was pretty much vaporized. Man, there are a lot of big bugs around here!
Beth, Bryce and I were riding our motorcycles through rural Georgia on our way to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. This was a quick four-day trip with a day for travel each way and a couple of days for riding around and exploring the mountains.
We met up with Bryce just over the Dames Point Bridge and headed north. It took us about ten hours from Jax to our cabin just outside of Sylva, NC. We stopped for breakfast in Waycross (Shoney’s, what else?) and took US-1 and 441 all the way up.
We traveled through the small towns of Alma, Hazelhurst, Dublin, Milledgeville, Commerce and Clayton, GA. Most were your average small towns with a few strip malls and a selection of fine dining establishments like Stuckeys, Dairy Queen, Waffle House, Huddle House and Denny’s. I pass through towns like that and have to wonder what it’s like to live there your entire life and never leave. Marathon indeed!Somewhere around Eatonton we saw a big black cloud ahead and it started to sprinkle. We quickly pulled over and donned our rain suits. Another Harley rider pulled up next to us and put on a light windbreaker and put a bandana around his face. He took off before we finished, but I had to wonder if he’d drown himself with a soaking wet bandana covering his face!
The storm was pretty intense and the rain was really heavy for a bit. My face shield was fogging up and water was running down the back of my neck giving me chills even though the temperature was quite warm. I wasn’t worried about riding in the rain. I was (as always) concerned about other drivers being even less aware of us than usual. Fortunately we rode through the heaviest part of the storm pretty quickly. The rest of the ride was just wet. We had to be alert as we crossed the border and climbed into the hills. Slick roads and motorcycles don’t often mix well!
We arrived at Mountain Brook Cottages (www.mountainbrook.com) sooner than we expected, and got settled in our cabin. Since we skipped lunch, we needed a good dinner. We passed a Mexican restaurant on our way in, and the innkeeper said it was a good choice. We enjoyed a hot meal and stopped by a grocery store to get coffee and a few other supplies (beer) for our stay.
Sunday dawned hazy, but the sun was beginning to warm the tops of the tall oak and Maple trees and soon it was a beautiful June morning. We warmed up the bikes and hit the road.We struck out with no particular destination (Well, breakfast first). One of the housekeeping staff recommended a place just as you get into “Deelsburra” which I quickly interpreted as Dillsboro. She couldn’t remember the name, but she likes the food. It was a Huddle House. We bypassed the Huddle House in search of a little more “local” flavor and found a great café serving a Sunday brunch buffet for about $7. Sold!
After breakfast, we walked around the main drag of Dillsboro and checked out the “Smoky Mountain Railroad” attraction. We decided to skip the $45 train ride and hop on the bikes.
There were some cool old signs on a few of the buildings... I wonder how old this is? The destination of the day was to be the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On the way, we passed through the town of Cherokee which seemed to be one big Indian-themed tourist trap. Glad we didn’t stay there!
Once we got to the park, we pulled into the visitor center and immediately saw a large Honda Gold Wing touring bike laying on its side with helmets spread out on the ground. Not good! It turns out that the bike was hit by a motorist backing out of an adjacent spot The car took off and the bike owner was left with a damaged bike and a ruined trip. It’s times like this I hope that karma exists and that driver will get their payback soon!
The highest peak in the park is called “Clingmans Dome” and was a nice ride up the mountain. Beth took some nice shots over my shoulder on the way up. The parking area at the top was a beautiful vista looking over the many peaks of the Smokies. We took some photos and then followed the trail to the observation platform at the top. It was a good uphill hike and with the thin air, a lot of people struggled to walk all the way without a break.The view was worth the walk. The observation deck was a circular structure with a winding ramp to the top. Just over 6600 feet above Jacksonville Beach!The clouds came UP to us!On the way down we met a nice couple (Charles and Ginger) and their dog Johannes, who was decked out with his own portable shade tree!After the hike, we rode back down the winding mountain road and stopped at another scenic overlook. We saw an interesting vehicle pull in and we walked over to check it out. It was an enclosed trike made by Thoroughbred Motorsports. It has a 4 cyl. Ford Ranger engine and also heat and AC! It was intriguing, but for over $30 grand, no thanks!After a long day of riding we got back to the cabin and decided to cook out on the grill. We went to the store to get steaks and sides. I also bought some gel inserts for my boots. I haven't done much hiking in them and they definitely needed a bit of cushion! As I put the gels in the boots, I noticed the great detail in the branding.Bryce and I talked earlier about wanting a little “sippin” whiskey for after dinner on the porch. Unfortunately, there were no liquor stores open on Sunday. Our hostess Maqelle came through big time with a bit of homemade “recipe”. Wow, that stuff had the kick of a mule! We talked Maqelle into staying for dinner since we had plenty of food. We got a great history of the area and made a new friend.
Monday was a bit foggy in the morning… Not the weather, our heads! Ok, not really, but we were a bit slow getting out the door.
Today’s destination was Deal’s Gap and the “Dragons Tail”.
We really enjoyed the ride over to Deal's Gap as it was just as mountainous and much less crowded. We stopped for a few photos and Beth found a new bathing suit!The Dragon is a stretch of road that contains 318 turns in 11 miles! It straddles NC and TN and hosts visitors from all over the world. People bring all kinds of motorcycles, cars, trucks and anything else on wheels. It gets pretty crowded and the mix of sportbikes and slower vehicles makes for some nerve-wracking riding. There were several photographers who set up along the road and photograph everyone as they ride through. Here are a couple of pics from www.killboy.com. A group of riders take a break at one end of the Dragon before heading back up.Bryce watches the action on the road.
We spent the whole day on the road, and were ready for some dinner and a good night’s sleep before heading home the next morning. Maqelle was sweet enough to cook dinner for us and we had a great evening sitting on the porch of her old house on the Mountain Brook property. The moon was beautiful as it rose into the evening sky. We also met her cat "Sissy" who had a "different" haircut... Cute!We hit the road early on Tuesday and stopped for breakfast at the City Café in Franklin. After breakfast we strapped on our helmets and aimed our bikes for home. The ride was uneventful but by the time we got to Athens, GA the heat was stifling. No rain and hot sun the whole way home. We stopped for gas and to cool off and Beth spied a Dairy Queen across the street. A cold milkshake was just what we needed!
Back on the road and into the oven. We poured water all over us to help keep cool and we got home just before a huge thunderstorm hit Jax Beach.
It was a great trip and we definitely plan to visit again. There are a lot more mountain roads to explore!
Just under 1200 miles in four days.