It wasn't raining at the moment, so we decided Melika needed to get in her first Smoky Mountain ride with her hands on the bars. Sure enough, as soon as we left the Lodge a fine mist started falling. I took them to Whittier and around the Cherokee Bypass Southern Draw had shown me. Rejoining US 19 east of Cherokee, we rode on up to Soco Gap on some pretty wet pavement but we didn't go on down to Maggie Valley. Instead, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway back to Cherokee. As we wound down the mountain, the rain eased and we ended up with patches of dry road. With the threat of severe storms in the offing, we hightailed it back to the lodge just as the rain began again.
Reconciling ourselves to a wet day, Paul unhooked his Dodge Ram Eco-diesel truck from the trailer and we went to town. For the second morning in a row, we visited the Everett Street Diner and had another breakfast that couldn't be beat. The owner stopped and talked to us, telling us he was a rider and offering to share the best area roads with us. Sandy and I explained we have been coming here for over 15 years and have already found most of them. He was a nice guy and we expect to be back here many more times over the years if fate smiles on us.
After breakfast, we wandered around town a bit looking in some of the souvenir shops. The staff were very friendly and eager to make it easy for us to buy. Fortunately, Sandy and I couldn't think of anything that we wanted or needed. The last stop was at the Chocolate Shoppe next to the diner. We were just about to leave town when Melika noticed the shop opened at 11:00 AM and it was now 11:05. The proprietor and his wife emigrated here from Chicago in the 1990's and bought the business, where they make their own quality confectioneries. His enthusiasm for the business was almost contagious enough to make me buy some diabetic unfriendly items. They had sugar free, but that has bad effects on my digestive track. Like yesterday, I just watched the others.
It wasn't raining when we left Bryson City and we could not get data on our phones, but we saw what was ahead of us when we turned north on NC 28. When this storm hit, we were glad we had a roof and windshield wipers. The rain was heavy enough to bring down branches and obscure visibility, worse even than yesterday. We found out later that this storm spawned tornadoes on the flatlands, although the mountains are usually immune to the funnel clouds. It was a good day to not be riding.
The road into the Fontana Dam, just loose chips last week, had been tarred and was now in decent shape. We stopped at the Visitor Centre and paid our respects to the Butlers from Alabama, the volunteer couple of the week.
The expedition to the Tail Of The Dragon was partially successful. Partially because we were there and not totally because we were in a pickup truck. Very few bikes were in evidence as the rain continued to fall, and none of them were sport bikes. I talked to two guys from Florida who had taken 441 from Cherokee to Sugarlands, 73 to Townsend and the Foothills Parkway to US 129. They were dry until. they hit The Dragon.
Leaving the Deals Gap Resort, we headed through a very wet Dragon. This was my first time through here not on a motorcycle. Paul wheeled that full size pickup truck through there like a pro. I was impressed that there was no sense of it being a diesel as we drove along. The rain let up as we reached the Overlook and we got a few good photos that explained why these are called the Smoky Mountains.
We continued along US 129 for a ways and then turned onto SR 72 up to Vonore, Tennessee, It was clear when we got there but had been under a tornado watch a short time before. Next, we followed SR 360 as it wound us down to Tellico Plains. Paul had been telling me he was looking for some good southern BBQ, so I had him drive over to KramBonz, a place Blain had showed us on a prior trip. Much to our disappointment, a sign in the window apologized and said that they were closed today due to a family emergency. With tears in our eyes and hunger in our bellies, we pointed ourselves east and started up the Cherohala Skyway back to North Carolina.
While still on the Tennessee side, we stopped at the Turkey Creek Overlook where the Freedom Riders stopped for a break and group pictures back in 2014.
One thing I noted coming across was the speed limit. In the past, the NC side of the Skyway was 45 MPH while the Tennessee side was 40. Now, while the NC side was still 45, the Tennessee side had been lowered to 30. That was a severe reduction given the nature of the road, which is similar to the BRP with its 45 MPH limit. There was a nice new motorcycle information pullout right after crossing the NC state line.
At the end of the Cherohala, we followed NC 143 into Robbinsville over that excellent winding stretch of road they repaved a few years ago. I took a photo of the spot where Rick snagged the ditch and went down in '14.
On the way back to Two Rivers, we stopped at the IGA to pick up some disposable cutlery and plates so we could enjoy the leftovers from our meal yesterday at Pasqualino's. One of the staff told us that the BBQ Barn next door would be reopening tomorrow when the owner returned from a medical checkup in Texas. We got the plates and utensils, a few snacks and Sandy and I picked up a bottle of Sangria.
There was cloud at Two Rivers but the radar forecast showed no rain anticipated. Paul and Melika jumped on his bike and headed out to ride up to Soco Gap and follow the Parkway to the highest spot. Sandy and I reheated our second hand meal in the microwave and enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time around. It also seems we both like Sangria. A lot.
After supper, we watched the rain that had not been forecast fall heavily from the sky. P & M encountered it coming off the BRP at Balsam Gap and rode through a wall of water for eighteen miles. They rolled back in around 8:00 PM.
With more rain forecast for tomorrow, we were running out of time. I spent the evening working on blog photos and captions and transcribing notes, but the stories were getting seriously behind. I need more diligence or possibly a ghost writer, but Sandy is always asleep while I am struggling to keep up. I better improve before the next trip.
Today's First Route (39 motorcycle miles):
Today's Second Route (189 truck miles):