Since the year 2000, I have been taking Exit 17 off I-81 at Abingdon, Virginia and following Va 75 to Tennessee 44 to US 421. This was first to get to Bristol Motor Speedway and, later, to get to I-26 on our way to the Smoky Mountains. Every time we got to US 421 at the now defunct Darter's Store, I would look left and see a sign warning the truckers that the road ahead had sharp curves and switchbacks, so they should find another route. Signs like this, ominous to truckers, are what bikers look for.
This piece of road, 22 miles in all, was known as The Snake. Although not as well known as The Tail Of The Dragon and other roads further south, it did have a reputation. For nineteen years, I had been trying to explore it, only to be prevented by time constraints, weather, vehicle problems, etc. This past May, Sandy's back was giving her trouble so we deep-sixed a plan to ride it on the way home from SEVROC.
I was determined that we would ride it this trip. We left Sudbury early so that we could spend two nights in Abingdon, Virginia and take a whole day to explore the countryside. If the weather was bad, we would drive it in the car. One way or another, we would see what it was all about before today was out. The plan was to ride out on The Snake and back on US 58, The Jeb Stuart Highway. (I'm surprised this hasn't been renamed yet.)
The weather was the key. Last night, the forecast said showers after 3:00 PM. No problem, we could be done before that. This morning, the forecast changed. There was now no rain forecast for at least two days. Feeling no pressure, we started the day in a leisurely fashion.
It was getting hotter as I unloaded the bike and Sandy broke out the riding gear. I got a phone call from Krysia, a friend of Danielle's from back home. She and her SO came down a week ago with ride suggestions I provided, and based themselves at Two Rivers Lodge for a few days. They spent last night in Johnson City, about 40 miles away. We had talked about riding The Snake together and their timing was impeccable, but she said she was burnt out from days of riding the twisties. We wished them a safe ride home and set out on our adventure.
After fueling up, we rode down our usual route. Virginia 75 to Tennessee 44 to US 421. I always liked the pretty countryside as we approached the Holston Valley. This time, just over the state line, the lid on my Butler coffee mug (attached to the handlebars) popped off and gave the bike and I a spattering of lukewarm java. Most of it was still in the mug when I stopped to press the lid on more tightly.
At 421, we did something we had never done before. We turned left.
The road was excellent. The pavement was top notch and the curves had a rhythm most of the time. Not as tight as The Dragon but much like Moonshiner 28 down to Franklin, NC.
There was a couple with a Harley from Hickory, NC who we talked to at the store in Shady Valley.
The second verse was same as the first. Eleven miles of great pavement and fun curves. Zeke, I enjoyed them all (he knows what this means).
We arrived in Mountain City and consulted the GPS and my notes. This was the end of my detailed planning. I was pretty sure the next waypoint was Warrensville, NC, so I told the GPS to take us there.
Originally, I had planned (with Google Maps) to take something called Virginia 167 aka Forge Creek Road. The GPS missed this and so did I, so we went south on 421 to a place called Trade and turned left on Va 67. Very soon after, this became NC 88 when we crossed the second state line of the day. The pavement was brand new for the first county and pretty good after that. The road wandered through a scenic valley and all we had to watch out for was bicycles. I waved, they waved back. We did not regret missing the originally planned turn.
As we approached Warrensburg, we were passed by the only other motorcycle that we saw all day going the same direction. I was fiddling with the GPS trying to figure our next move when he caught us. There were some very nice homes on the way into town, so I expected a lot. What we got was a Dollar General and a closed restaurant at a crossroads.
The next stop on the way was the "City" of Lansing. Another crossroads with a two block main street. Again, the first restaurant was closed. The second was full of post worship folks in their summer Sunday best. And so we set the GPS for Damascus and moved on.
We followed NC 194 to a place called Sturgills that does not exist in Garminland. My original plan had been to follow 194 and NC 743 up to US 58 and follow that back to Abingdon via Damascus. In Lansing, I just put Damascus into the GPS and it took us on a short-cut to 58 via County 1370 and, across the third state line of the day, VA 751. North Carolina cared enough about the county road to put a centre line on it. Not so, Virginia. We reached 58, called both the Highlands Parkway and the Jeb Stuart Highway at this point, and turned left.
We caught up to a pickup truck towing a good sized RV trailer, followed by a lady in a white Honda car. US 58 was a curvy road but a little short of being twisty. The truck driver was doing a pretty good job keeping all his wheels on the proper side of the yellow line but it was getting old. Lucky for us, there was one straight stretch with a dotted line and no oncoming traffic so I passed both of them. The rest of the way to Damascus was a hoot.
There were bicycles everywhere when we reached Damascus. We found out later that Damascus is called Trail Town because seven nationally known trails meet within the town limits. The bicycle trail from White Top is 17 miles, almost all downhill. But we didn't see an eating establishment that we liked.
It was only ten more miles to the Cracker Barrel Country Store in Abingdon so we headed on. The construction disruption on I-81 spilled over to US 58, but we were able to get through without spending too long in the baking sun. Actually, most of the ride was comfortable as long as we didn't stay in one place for very long.
We got to the Cracker Barrel just before 2:00 PM and parked the bike in the shade of a big tree in their lot. The place was hopping and it took about twenty minutes to get seated. Sandy spent the time browsing in the air conditioned store while I sat outside in one of the rocking chairs.
Once seated, we both had glasses of water while I also had black coffee and Sandy had her favourite, Stewart's Root Beer. We both ordered salads. Hers was a chicken Caesar and mine was a monstrous chef with extra Ranch dressing. I had missed breakfast and lunch was late so it was appreciated.
After lunch, I didn't want to go back through town so we went south and took Watauga Road from US 58 to Va 75, then north to the motel. It was a longer route but much more enjoyable.
Arriving at the Super 8 at 3:30, we packed our riding gear and loaded the bike in the trailer. Then we took the car for a drive around the huge mall parking lot listening for any strange noises. None heard, we parked it again and repaired to the air conditioned room where Sandy caught up on her phone and I worked on the story of the day.
It was a great day, everything I had hoped for. We will need to do this again sometime soon. I would recommend the whole loop to anyone looking for an enjoyable ride.
Check-in time at Fontana tomorrow is 4:00 PM and it is about 3 1/2 hours from here. Check-out time here is 11:00 AM. Put that all together and we will have a leisurely day. We are looking forward to seeing some of our VROC family soon.
Today's Route (123 motorcycle miles):