Sandy and I took the truck down to the Maggie Valley Restaurant. When we got there about 7:40, the place was almost empty. While we waited for our food, group after group of mostly riders came in so by the time we were done, it was packed. Good timing.
We went back to the motel and then I took the bike out and fueled it up in anticipation of the the ride that was heading out at 9:00 AM. It would not be good for me to run out of gas since I would be leading.
Someone asked me what time the ride was leaving. I told them I didn't know but that I was leaving at 9:00. In actual fact, we were on the road at 9:07, which was pretty good considering that organizing VROC is somewhat like herding cats.
I think there were about sixteen bikes in the group, followed by Linda and Sandy in the Buick. We rode up to Soco Gap and took the Blue Ridge Parkway south to US 441 without a single person ahead of us. Stewey had set out first and got photos of us on the BRP as we went by. Then he fell in at the rear with his GoPro video camera. I set a steady pace to keep the group, with its varying rider skill levels, together through the curves.
US 441 (aka the Smoky Mountain Parkway) can be hit or miss, traffic-wise. We headed north riding the speed limit and didn't encounter any traffic all the way to Newfound Gap and the Tennessee state line. At the Gap, we stopped for photo ops.
Just as we were leaving Newfound Gap, someone pulled in on an immaculate looking candy blue 1975 GL1000 Gold Wing. This was the inaugural year for the GL, and I would have gotten off again to get a photo and talk to the rider if I hadn't been leading the group.
We rode down the Tennessee side of 441 and again had no traffic in front of us until we got to a couple of single lane stretches near the bottom. Then we turned left at the Visitor Center and followed Old Highway 73, also known as Little River Road. Here we encountered our first traffic as a group of vehicles ahead of us stopped to look at a roadside flock of wild turkeys. When they got going, they didn't move very fast. A few of the slower ones in front pulled off at a campground, but we ended up traveling slower than even our group pace warranted along this delightful road until the slugs took the branch to Cade's Cove while we turned towards Townsend.
I had called Smokin' Joe's BBQ from Newfound Gap to let them know we had a group of 20+ with an ETA after 11:00 AM. I got voice mail and left a message. They didn't check their voice mail before we pulled in at 11:30 AM sharp but it didn't make any difference because there were lots of empty tables, and the middle room was totally free. Just after we got in, Flip arrived. He had been out roaming ahead at Warp Speed. Phillip, Jaime and Caleb arrived from Kentucky at the same time, while Red Rover from Knoxville and Mikey's wife Lida from Ringgold, Georgia were only a few minutes behind. All told, twenty-six people sat down for lunch.
I had a brisket sandwich with hushpuppies while Sandy had a small pulled pork sandwich, also with hushpuppies. The meal was excellent and group spirits were high. This continued until it was time to pay the bill. They had a brand new computerized ticket system that no one had mastered yet so it took quite a while to get and pay our bills, causing some grumbling.
Stewey headed back the way we had come to get some photos. Bass Man and Laura went with him. Linda and Sandy took the Buick back to Pigeon Forge and returned via Gatlinburg and 441, with Linda also stopping to take some pictures.
I led the rest of the group onwards out of town. Flip ranged ahead again, while I held the speed limit. We turned left on the Foothills Parkway and, again with no one ahead of us, traveled west to US 129 at the speed limit. We did pass one slow motorcycle and followed another one the last two miles to the intersection. We then proceeded towards The Tail Of The Dragon, stopping at the paved lot where it begins. Flip was waiting for us.
The Texas ladies had never been here before so I gave them the usual pointers. Ride your own ride while giving ground and waving around faster riders. We all did the next eleven miles and 318 curves at our own pace, planning to meet at the Crossroads of Time at the other end.
I waited for almost everyone else to get going. My plan was to ride through in a leisurely fashion to be sure everyone made it. Then Phillip volunteered to sweep with the sidecar outfit, so my plan changed. I headed up the hill at a somewhat brisker rate, passing a truck and a car in the first mile. Then I settled into what, for me, was a sporting pace.
I passed a few bikes and was just catching up to Debbie when we came around a hard right and saw a bike in the ditch on the left. Vickie and Kay! I pulled up on the right at the next left and put the four-way flashers on to warn oncoming traffic. By the time I got to the bike, Vickie had it up, re-fired and moved to our side of the road. Nothing was broken and no one was hurt. Vickie laughed and said "Good to go!". She will henceforth be known as Slider while we christened Kay Low Side.
The rest of the run was uneventful. Everyone gathered at the Crossroads so people could get T-shirts and stickers. Caleb wanted a dragon sticker for his helmet since it was his first time through, so Phillip got him one and stuck it on.
Continuing on, we rode down Highway 28, also known as Moonshiner 28 or (at this end) The Hellbender, to Fontana Dam. Cheap B and a few others decided to skip the dam and head straight back. The parking lot at the dam was blocked off by construction workers but the Visitor Center was accessible via the other door. After a short visit, we headed back to Maggie Valley via 28, 74, 441 and US 19. We were not held up anywhere along the way. Then again, we weren't going that fast.
In the meantime, Sandy and Linda were headed back to Maggie via Pigeon Forge. Linda, a very good photographer, stopped along the way to take some pictures.
Back at the motel, we mingled and greeted new arrivals.
Many of the folks headed to Snappy's for Italian food. Some of us weren't looking for that much so Sandy and I, the Wonka's, Lucky Al and Talon climbed in the truck and drove down to Ammons where they have burgers and stuff. It was an interesting meal and the double super hamburger (1/2 pound of real beef) was pretty good.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
It was a very VROC evening. Sandy and I slipped away about 11:00 PM and hit the sack. Best day yet.
Today's Route (178 motorcycle miles):