Our group got underway according to schedule. VROC compatriot Southern Draw of Bryson City joined us for the ride and took the sweep position. We proceeded to Cherokee and turned north on US 441, the Great Smoky Mountain Parkway. After a stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, we rode on up through the park. This road runs between Cherokee and Gatlinburg, Tennessee and traffic can be quite heavy, but we did OK today getting up to Newfound Gap and the Tennessee line. There was a bit of construction near the top but nothing really slowed us down.
We started down the Tennessee side. Last year when TBone and I were here, this side had much poorer pavement. The descent started with a series of 20 MPH curves and one left hander had a small road going off to the right. Perhaps the jeep driver going uphill was thinking of exploring it. Regardless, he was looking that way as the jeep came over the centre line at us. He looked back at the last second with surprise on his face as he steered back into his own lane. Freedom Riders do not like people who cross centre lines.
The first part of the way down was old pavement and a few tunnels. Then it was construction all the way down. There were three spots where flagmen were set to stop traffic. We got to the first two as they were letting our side through. At the last one, we had to wait for a couple of minutes.
We finally reached the park Visitor Center at the north end. The road ahead led to Gatlinburg, a place no one should ever want to go to in the summertime. We turned left and followed the Little River Road, also known as Old Highway 73. This was a very scenic ride with a 30 MPH speed limit. We were doing about 30 when we caught up to three vehicles. The lead car was a Buick crossover that was doing 25 MPH and slowing to less than 20 in the corners. This was too slow to ride and I kept wishing they would pull over at one of the many paved pullouts. But I guess it was all about him (or her). Finally, they continued on to Cade's Cove (another crowded place where no one should want to go) while we turned north towards Townsend. Still, I would recommend this road for an enjoyable ride.
In Townsend, some topped up the fuel tanks and then we looked around for a place to eat. Smokin' Joe's Bar-B-Que had an empty lot and an Open sign so we gave it a try. They were empty because they had just opened and quickly set up a table for us. The server was typical southern hospitality, calling people "Honey" or "Sweetie" as she quickly got our orders taken and brought drinks.
A man was unloading the smoker out front while we waited. The food was worth the wait. I had a small brisket sandwich with hushpuppies and coleslaw. Southern Draw confirmed that it was really good BBQ. By the time we left, patrons were lining up at the door to be seated. Once again, luck was in our favour.
Leaving Townsend, we headed for the Foothills Parkway. The curves through here are very mellow with no unexpected surprises. The ride across here brought us back to US 129. I thought I was north of the Highway 72 split where we had lunch yesterday so I was waiting for that intersection when I led past the place where Ray boosted Gary on our last trip. A Sheriff's car was giving a mini-Cooper a ticket there. I almost didn't get stopped in time to turn into the parking lot at the tip of The Dragon, but we made it.
The Dragon was again an individual run. Don headed out first, followed by Terry A. Then the others left, with Sandy and I leaving last. A few corners in, we were starting into a blind right hand curve when we met a very long bus conversion diesel pusher RV towing a car. The centre of the unit was taking up three quarters of our lane as he came around and I had to take the right edge of the pavement to get by. That was a close one.
I had promised Sandy an easy ride. What I found was that it is easier to ride hard and harder to ride easy. We passed a few of our group who had stopped at the Scenic Overlook. Then we rolled along until we caught a Harley rider with a Go-Pro camera on his helmet recording a girl on a cruiser ahead of him. I just settled in behind them and relaxed for the rest of the ride. The Wing temperature gauge was at the top as we hit the Gap and the North Carolina state line.
We all stopped at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. The parking lot wasn't very busy. Danielle and Terry E were the last in because they stopped to assist a bike that had missed a corner going the other way. For some, it was the second time here in two days. Don pointed out where he had hung Rick's mirror on the Tree of Shame from the get-off yesterday. A few riders coming in from the east were wet, so the showers were out there.
We left the Resort down US 129, a stretch some call the Mini-Tail. It isn't vary far down until it makes a hard left across a bridge. From here, the Cheoah Dam, aka the Fugitive Dam is visible.
The road was wet as we started into the broad sweeping curves leading by the river towards Robbinsville. There was a motorhome ahead of us but he pulled over before long and let us by. That didn't do much because we came around a curve and found the road blocked. At first, I though it was a wreck but it was actually a large tree that had fallen. It couldn't have happened very long ago because there was only one car waiting on our side. There was a NC road crew on site but they were line painters and didn't have the required equipment.
Not able to continue, with tears in our eyes we turned around and rode back up to the Us 129/NC 28 intersection where we started back down the Hellbender. This is now known as the upper end of Moonshiner 28. We didn't stop anywhere until we got to Wolf Creek, where the highway turns to four lanes. The only reason I did stop was to offer the riders a chance to put on rain suits. No one did so we continued on, getting a few drops for about a mile. We arrived back at the Lodge at 4:15.
People went their own ways for supper. Sandy and I ate what we had in our room. Everyone was pretty tired and would be heading home on Friday so we decided to cancel tomorrow's organized ride and have a free day. We were concerned about Rob's pokey group but they finally arrived after 9:00 PM. They went to both Cade's Cove and Gatlinburg in their travels. There were S'mores at the fire in the pavilion. I was one of the last to turn in at 10:45.
Today's Route (151 motorcycle miles):