Road to the Smokies – Day 7

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

My breakfast at Krispy Kreme.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and today is my last day in the Smokies. First, though, let me rewind to last night. I was bored around 10PM so I suited up and went for a ride. It was amazing. Why did nobody tell me that night riding here is so great? It isn’t as treacherous as some people would have you believe, and it is without a doubt one of the best rides I’ve been on in my life. Apart from the ride itself, I also noticed that there is a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in Pigeon Forge and decided that it would be my first stop for today’s adventure.

After scarfing down two doughnuts and some cappuccino I set out for the back roads behind Pigeon Forge to see if I could get lost. Unfortunately I didn’t get lost but I did find some nice peaceful roads to relax on. I spent about an hour roaming around before making my way back into Gatlinburg. At this point I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to ride too far and be worn out for the ride home on Saturday and Sunday, but I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing either. I remembered that I never checked out Look Rock up on Foothills Parkway and decided I’d go in that direction.

The ramp leading up to the lookout tower on Look Rock.

I made my way through the national park and then Townsend before finally reaching the parkway. I made my way up to the overlook where the trail for Look Rock starts and set off on a hiking mini-adventure. Halfway up the trail I couldn’t help but laugh at myself because I was hiking a half mile up the side of a mountain in a riding suit and boots; I had to look comical. The effort was definitely worth it, though. There is a lookout tower on Look Rock that gives you a breathtaking 360-degree view of the area and makes for some spectacular photography. After breathing in the fresh air for a few minutes I headed back down and got on my bike.

I continued down the parkway until I made it to the other end and turned around. I thought it might be fun to see how fast I could make it back to the other end so I waited for the clock on my bike to tick over to the next minute and took off. As I approached the other end of the parkway it had been 11 minutes, and that was even after I got stuck behind two SUVs for a good 30-seconds. 16.5 miles, 11 minutes, you do the math.

By this time it was about 2:30 so I decided to stop for lunch at a BBQ place in Townsend. They had seating out back in a big screened porch on the river, and the food was fantastic. I had a sweet and spicy BBQ pork sandwich with homemade fries and a big mason jar full of sweet tea. When I had finished lunch I just sat and watched the river for a while and soaked up what was left of my last day in the Smokies.

For the route back to Gatlinburg I took 321 to Pigeon Forge and then 441 into Gatlinburg instead of going through the park and dealing with slowpokes. Now I’m back at the motel packing up my things and sorting through photos, wishing that this whole adventure could last just a little bit longer. One thing I’m absolutely sure of is that I’ll be back next year. You can bet on it.

A panorama of the view from the lookout tower at Look Rock.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Day 6

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

After drinking a Fat Tire with dinner last night, I took a nap. Well, that was a mistake. I woke up a few hours later and couldn’t fall back asleep until 3AM. This forced me to get off to a late start this morning and put me leaving the motel at 10AM. The real problem this morning wasn’t lack of sleep so much as deciding where the heck I was going. After deliberating for a few minutes I decided that I would hit up The Dragon again and spend some quality time riding the road back and forth.

The ride through Great Smoky Mountains National Park this morning was aggravating. As usual, I got stuck behind some sightseers who don’t know how to let people pass and went 20MPH the entire way from Gatlinburg to Townsend. After a quick stop to rest my legs and fill up on gas I headed for Foothills Parkway and then The Dragon. I was a little nervous on my first run through because the roads were still quite wet, but my Pilot Power 2CTs performed flawlessly. The only time I had trouble with slippage was when I took a bad line into a turn and ended up touching the yellow line halfway through. That paint is not the least bit forgiving.

Lucy the Moto-dog!

I got some lunch at Deal’s Gap Resort and ran back down The Dragon, feeling more confident with each run through. I stopped at the overlook to rest and turn around and ran into a trio of sports cars: a Porsche Carrera 4S, Mazda RX-7 and Honda S-2000. The guy in the Porsche just reeked of douche and the guys in the other cars weren’t too different. After they took off, I suited up and headed back to Deal’s Gap resort. By this time the road was pretty dry in most spots and I started powering through the turns harder than ever before. When I was resting in the parking lot I noticed a dog sitting in a basket in the back of a trike. The guy sitting next to me on the bench was actually parked next to the trike I was looking at and they were all riding as a group. He told me that the dog’s name is Lucy and she’s logged over 100,000 miles on motorcycles and trikes. Insane.

The "Tree of Shame" at Deal's Gap. This is where your crashed gear goes on display, haha.

After resting this time I headed back down The Dragon and absolutely tore it up. Not that it particularly matters, but my chicken strips are down to half a centimeter on the rear, hooray! :P I can’t wait to see the shots that some of the photographers snapped today. I stopped at the overlook on the way back and talked to a couple of guys who were down from Ohio. They’ve been coming down here for over 10 years and said that it’s more fun each and every time. I can confidently say that I will be making this a tradition also.

I took Foothills Parkway and then 73 all the way back to Gatlinburg and called it a day. Nothing new, really, but I’m definitely improving my riding style on the twisties. I’m picking up on the little things and learning how to pick better lines, etc. It’s good stuff.

I think tomorrow will involve more Dragon runs. I’m afraid to ride too far away because I don’t want to be completely sore for my ride home on Saturday. I’ll try and dig up some interesting scenes to photograph tomorrow.

A stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Day 5

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

I woke up bright and early today and hit the road at 8:30. Today’s destination: Cherohala Skyway, which runs from Tellico Plains, TN all the way to Robbinsville, NC. I took the same route that I did yesterday, but instead of turning onto US129 south and heading toward The Dragon, I went north and rode up to US-411. After taking US-411 down to Vonore, I hopped on TN-360 and went straight south until I ran into the Skyway, which is TN-165/NC-143.

The Bald River from inside Cherokee National Forest.

The Cherohala Skyway is a lot more tame than The Dragon, but can be just as much fun. It runs through the Cherokee National Forest which is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. It was quite deserted today, and I’m not sure if that’s normal, but it made for some quiet, relaxing pit-stops along the way. I had to use the restroom and didn’t feel like being caught by the THP while peeing on a tree, so I took a detour into the Indian Boundary campgrounds and found a bathroom at one of the campground circles. I’m glad I had to pee, too, because that campground was awesome. When I stopped and turned my bike off, it was dead silent except for a distant breeze running through the trees. I had to stop and breathe it in, because I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard silence like that. It was nice. Anyway, enough about the pee-detour.

Me and my ride.

I got back on the Skyway and headed east, stopping occasionally to snap some pictures. A nice group of Harley riders parked at an overlook saw me taking a picture of my bike and offered to snap a shot of me standing with it. It didn’t turn out to be the best picture but it’s the only one I have thus far of the both of us, so it’ll have to do. Once I left that overlook I only stopped one more time before finishing the Skyway. I think I averaged 70MPH from the halfway point onward; some of those corners are just too good to roll through at 35, especially when it’s as abandoned as it was today.

A stream inside Great Smoky Mountains National park. I snapped this on my way back to the motel.

After stopping to rest once outside of Robbinsville, I headed up to the Deal’s Gap resort again just before The Dragon. I totally spaced yesterday and forgot to buy any souvenirs. That, and I just can’t leave The Dragon alone, it’s too much fun! Just after I had parked my bike, this gorgeous woman in white leathers was jumping onto her Ducati (I’m pretty sure it was a Monster). I couldn’t help but gawk a little bit as #1) it was a cute girl on a bike, #2) it was a hella nice looking Ducati. I overheard her talking and picked up a French accent, which was icing on the cake. French women are sexy. French women on Ducati’s are just full of win. I wanted to snap a pic with her but she zoomed off before I had the chance to get off my bike; oh well.

After snagging a few souvenirs inside I suited up again and got ready to tackle The Dragon for the third time. Once I got rolling, I really got into it, and it was ten times more awesome than yesterday when I was still holding back a bit. I was able to lean the bike further than I ever have before and it still felt rock solid. I can’t wait to see some of the pictures from Killboy, US129Photos, and Zeefoto.

After finishing up that run on The Dragon, I headed for Foothills Parkway and took the usual route home. I rolled into the motel parking lot right at 5:00PM. It was a long but absolutely incredible day. I’m excited to see what’s in store for tomorrow!

Panorama of the view from an overlook on the Cherohala Skyway.
Panorama of the view from an overlook on the Cherohala Skyway.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Days 3 and 4

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

Ohhhh, Monday. I did absolutely nothing on Monday. Well, I did go to Walgreens for paper plates and beer, but aside from that: nothing. That’s why I didn’t post anything; sorry for the lag in entries there!

A mountain stream just outside Gatlinburg.

Anywho, on to Tuesday! Today has been nothing short of amazing. I woke up at 7:00AM before the sun was even up and started planning out what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to hit The Dragon and possibly Cherohala Skyway so I figured out the best route to take down there. Around 8 I went and filled the bike up with gas and bought a couple of maps to throw in my tank bag. I came back to the room and lounged around for another couple of hours and finally suited up and left at 10:30.

I set out down Route 73 (Little River Rd.) toward Townsend which ended up being a gorgeous route to take. It winds down through Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a long time and has some nice mountain stream stop-offs. The only bad part is tourist traffic. The only time I seem to get fatigued while riding is when I get stuck behind people who are going a sight-seeing pace, and there are only two or three spots where passing is legal on 73. That’s not to say you can’t go around in other places if you’re quick enough.

Route 73 eventually opens up into a picturesque mountain valley town called Townsend. There isn’t much on the main strip in Townsend other than some restaurants and a few gas stations, which makes it a nice quiet place most of the time. If you’re looking to get away from the bustling tourist-infested places like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, this route is for you.

Parked at an overlook on Foothills Parkway.

After filling up in Townsend I continued down 73 for about 8 more miles until I came to Foothills Parkway. This road connects US-321 and US-129 by traversing Chilhowee Mountain. There are many great overlook stops on this road, and the road itself is just a blast to ride. There are a lot of sweeping corners and a few tight turns here and there, but the best part is definitely the view. I had to stop at almost every overlook the first time I rode through just to take in the amazing scenery.

Once you make your way down Foothills Parkway you’ll run right into US-129. If you take a right you’ll ride along Chilhowee lake for a bit and eventually come to a town called Vonore, but if you take a left, you head to The Dragon. This is where things start to get awesome.

The Tail of the Dragon, aka Deal’s Gap, is said to be one of the best motorcycle roads in the world. With its claimed “318 curves in 11 miles” it certainly makes for a challenging length of roadway if you feel like putting your skills to the test. Here is a link to a poster of all the curve names: http://www.tailofthedragon.com/maps/poster2007.pdf

My first time through I took it quite slow and ended up getting stuck behind a pack of cruisers. This allowed me to get a handle on the corners and make a mental note of the sketchy parts of the run. After a nice 25-minute cruise I had made it to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. This place is exactly what you need after riding all day. They have a nice big store, bathrooms, plenty of bike parking, good food, and best of all some pretty awesome people.

I got a nice BBQ pork sandwich from the snack bar and took a seat at a table to relax for a bit. After a few minutes a gentleman came up and asked if he could join me, and I was glad to have the company as I hate eating alone. We had a good conversation about life in general, and he left me with a few tips on where to find some more good roads in the area.

After lunch I threw all of the gear back on and got ready to tackle The Dragon in the other direction. This time was a lot more fun as I didn’t get stuck behind cruisers, and I had a much better idea of how crazy some of the turns are. There is no way to describe just how amazing this ride can be when you’re able to really get into it. This time I stopped at the overlook halfway through to take some pictures and got some nice shots of Chilhowee lake.

The view from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

I finished up my second run on The Dragon and headed back over Foothills Parkway toward Townsend. My second run on the parkway was a lot more fun as well, as I knew where I could really open the bike up and have some fun. I caught myself doing 95 in some spots and had to force myself to slow down lest I get busted by the THP. My favorite thing about the parkway is that there doesn’t seem to be much traffic on it, and what little traffic you run into can easily be passed in most spots.

After that run on the parkway I headed back home on 73. Nothing much exciting there… until I ran into a couple in an Infiniti G36 Coupe. They got stuck behind some traffic in the park and you could tell they were bored with it. (I can’t blame them; being stuck behind slow traffic on those roads really bites.) The two of us finally found a decent passing spot and took off around all of the traffic. We both raced our way through the rest of the park at a healthy pace and ended up parting ways just after getting into Gatlinburg. Running through tight turns and two-lane roads at that pace is so much fun, especially when there aren’t any side roads where you have to worry about traffic pulling into your lane.

All in all, today was amazing. Breathtaking views, challenging roads, good weather, great people. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

A panorama of the view from an overlook on Foothills Parkway.
A panorama of the view of Chilhowee Lake from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

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Road to the Smokies – Day 2

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

The first thing in my mind when I woke up this morning: holy crap every joint in my body is sore. It was an unpleasant way to start the day, for sure, but after showering and moving around a bit everything was just fine.

I packed up all of my junk, suited up and headed down to the check out at about 10 this morning. On the way, I ran into an old man in the hallway who told me how absolutely envious he was that I was riding a motorcycle. He went into a spiel about how he’s got his class M but hasn’t ridden in years because of all the health problems that plague him now, and made me promise to enjoy the trip enough for the both of us.

The view in Berea, KY. Starting to get some hills, but not quite mountains.

After loading everything onto the bike again I set out on the interstate headed towards Lexington. After I made it to Lexington I hopped on I-75 south towards Knoxville. I ended up cruising for a while behind a BMW Z4 M, that was a fun time. Eventually I had to stop for gas though and pulled over in Berea. After filling up I pulled over to an empty spot in the parking lot and started putting on my rain gear. An older couple pulling a trailer pulled up and parked near me. After they came out of the store I asked them where they were coming from/going to because I wanted to get some insight on how the weather was. I found out they were heading south also, and were actually hauling a Road King in the trailer. The guy and I (never thought to get his name) talked shop for about 15 minutes and finally parted ways.

I eventually made it to Knoxville and took US 441 straight through. I was about 15 miles from Gatlinburg when I took a wrong turn onto US 411. I’m sure I’m not the first person to mix up 441 and 411 while quickly glancing at road signs… haha. Anywho, 411 ended up being a pretty neat ride with a few twisties here and there. I went about 15 miles before realizing I was on the wrong road so I turned around and headed back. Once I found my way onto 441 again it only took about 25 minutes to make it to the motel in Gatlinburg.

The view out the window of my room in Gatlinburg.

I checked in and got everything hauled into my room. After getting out of my suit I unpacked all my junk into the drawers and collapsed on the bed for a bit. I didn’t feel like going anywhere tonight because I’m so exhausted, so I had Papa John’s deliver a pizza and now I’m well-fed and really tired. I know I said I’d take more pictures today but it was rainy and crappy for the most part so I only snapped a few. I’m not sure what’s on the agenda for tomorrow, but I promise — for real this time — to take more pictures.

Lessons Learned Today

  • Pro-tip: Speeding is a breeze on I-75 between Lexington and Knoxville. There is a barrier between northbound and southbound 90% of the way and pretty much nowhere for cops to hide!
  • Rain suit + sheepskin buttpad on the seat = slipping all over the place and super uncomfortable.
  • A man can accomplish a great deal of thinking while riding on the highway with ear plugs in, as you can hear the things in your head much better. And when I say “thinking,” I mean beat-boxing, humming and singing.
A quick panorama I made of my motel room. I'm too lazy to actually do a 360-degree one.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Day 1

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

I suppose I’ll start this off with why I’m taking this trip in the first place.

Since I was a kid, our family has visited Gatlinburg, TN for vacations. When I say family, I mean the entire family. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, pets, etc. It was always a blast and I have so many memories of staying in the mountains that will always hold a special place in my heart. The best of good times. That is why when I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine, a solo road trip, Gatlinburg was easily my first choice. What made it an even better choice was the fact that the Smoky Mountains have some of the best motorcycle roads in the world. I didn’t need anymore reasons. So about a month ago I started buying everything I would need to make this happen. I bought bags for the motorcycle, full riding gear, made the hotel reservations, and lined everything else up.

Fast forward to today, Sept. 25th, 2010.

I woke up this morning at 8:30, showered, and finished packing my bags. After getting it all mounted on the motorcycle I suited up, said goodbye and took off down the road right at 10.

Today I was shooting for Louisville, KY which is just about the halfway point between Pekin and Gatlinburg. I started out on I-74 out of Morton and headed towards Bloomington. By about noon I had made it to the Indiana border and was still very comfortable on the bike and only had to fill up on gas once.

All ready to go!

I met a really nice old lady at the gas station in Vedersburg. I asked if there was a Walgreens or CVS anywhere near because I needed to pick up some Aleve just in case my knees started bothering me. She quickly adopted a great concern for my well-being and told me I should stop every 30 minutes to rest and be sure to drink plenty of water lest I get dehydrated. It was too funny. She did eventually tell me that I’d find a Walgreens in Crawfordsville just down the road.

After stopping in Crawfordsville to snag some Aleve, I hopped back on I-74 and headed towards Indianapolis. Instead of going through Indy I was going to take I-465 around it, and then hop on I-65 and go straight to Louisville. When I got to I-465 I ran into absolute gridlock, and it sucked. I don’t know how many of you have had to roll a motorcycle at 3MPH constantly for about 45 minutes, but I can tell you it’s freaking terrible. By the time I made it out of the construction and onto I-65 both of my hands were completely numb. Google-fail for not warning me about construction, mmhmm.

About 30 minutes down the road I stopped in Franklin to fill up on gas and eat at one of my favorite places in the world: Waffle House. If you haven’t ever eaten at a Waffle House while on the road, you haven’t been on a road trip. The moment someone mentions Waffle House all I can think of is the summer trips that my brother David and I used to go on with our grandpa (Paco). Convincing him to finally stop at a Waffle House was pretty much akin to trying to control the weather, but the hassle was always worth it.

After an awesome ham and cheese omelette, I hopped back on I-65 and headed towards Louisville. I was quite surprised by how beautiful the southern part of Indiana is, and being able to breathe it all in the entire time made it even more awesome.

Before I knew it, Louisville was popping up along the horizon in front of me and I started to wrack my brain trying to remember what exits to take. I couldn’t quite remember every exit number but somehow managed to make it to my hotel without any problems. I checked in, got my key, lugged everything up to the room, and here I am writing this blog. Tomorrow, I head from Louisville to Gatlinburg and officially start breathing mountain air.

Sorry about the lack of pictures today. I was just focused on getting comfortable in my riding suit and getting to Louisville in one piece. I promise I’ll have more tomorrow and the days to come!

Lessons Learned Today

  • Southern Indiana is unexpectedly beautiful.
  • People like to stare at you when you’re dressed like RoboCop. It’s really entertaining.
  • Hotel maids who write “Have a blessed day :)” on the back of the ‘welcome to your room’ card are awesome.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb