by Drew T. Newcomer
It has been over 11 years since I viewed the mountains and rode the twisties in Tennessee and North Carolina. So, several months ago I decided it might be nice to take a fall ride to this part of the country. It is not really all that far and I always try and take a ride when the weather starts to cooperate to some place different.
On the morning of October 2 I headed east on I-20 before the sun came up. North of Jackson I turned onto the Natchez Trace Parkway as daylight began to filter through the trees. Now, the “Trace” has a 50 mph speed limit but there is no commercial traffic and I was on the cruiser and wasn’t in a hurry. I enjoyed the scenic ride, with very little traffic in either direction. After a pleasant ride for 100 miles or so, I turned east on MS 41 to Amory, MS where I refueled (no gasoline on the Trace!) and continued east on US 278 to Cullman, AL. A few miles east of Cullman, I found AL 69, which is a nice country road, to my stopping point at Guntersville. I had ridden 450 miles and was ready to stop - the temperature had warmed considerably by that time. I found a Best Western that had a restaurant and bar so figured I couldn’t do much better than that. I checked in my room and watched LSU play Tennessee. I was very upset when LSU couldn’t manage the clock and when the snap went right by the quarterback and LSU lost, I disgustedly turned off the tv and went to the bar. Surprise, surprise!!! By the time I got to the bar LSU had somehow won the game. I walked in and saw the fans in the stadium cheering like crazy and had to ask the guy at the end of the bar, “just what the hell happened?” He filled me in on the “too many defensive players on the field” phenomena and we watched the replay about a dozen times. I had a nice meal of tuna with a good Riesling and rested very well.
I left Guntersville on Sunday morning heading northeast on highway 79 which parallels Guntersville Lake. I continued northeast on US 72 north of Scottsboro and on into Tennessee. The plan was to avoid Chattanooga and I certainly did that. I got lost somehow (and this is with map and GPS!!!) and DID avoid Chattanooga. Somehow I ended up on TN 28 to Powell’s Crossroads where I headed north on 283 till I turned east on 111 that took me to US 27 which is where I was supposed to be anyway. 27 runs from southwest to northeast and I was headed in the right direction. All was not lost. My little detour proved to be quite scenic with plenty of twists and turns and ups and downs.
I headed east on TN 68 a few miles south of Ten Mile, TN. 68 took me to US 411 and Madisonville, TN. Clouds were starting to gather at this point and I was concerned that I might encounter some rain, which was not supposed to be part of this vacation. I continued north on 411 through Maryville and on into Sevierville. In Sevierville, I turned south on US 441 and headed to Pigeon Forge, where my rental cabin awaited. Problem was the rain started to come down and I had been given the wrong directions for my cabin. After riding into the mountains in the rain and finally getting someone on the phone I learned (my friend Nancy was in a rental car, having flown into Knoxville) that we were in the wrong place!! So, after extracting the proper location we were able to find where we were actually going to spend the next six nights. I was glad to stop. It had not been that long of a day, mileage wise, but riding into a high traffic area in the rain and trying to find something that was not there had tried my patience. We did manage to reach our destination safely, so I suppose I had nothing to complain or whine about.
We woke up to continued rain on Monday so Nancy and I utilized her rental car to explore the area. Same thing happened on Tuesday. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg is a very “touristy” area and traffic can be a nightmare. And, October is the most popular month.
While the area is nice, souvenir shops and go cart tracks were not what brought us here.
Sun dawned brilliantly on Wednesday morning. After breakfast and letting things warm up a little, it was time to ride. 321 took us south to Townsend, TN and Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove is a historic area and we enjoyed the 11 mile loop that meanders through this historic place. From Cades Cove, TN 73 (very nice road for bikes!) took us back to 441 and Gatlinburg and on to Pigeon Forge.
Thursday woke up like Tuesday and it was time to head to another area of the park. 441 heads southeast to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. We had dressed warmly and it was a good thing. Temperatures were very brisk at this elevation, but the ride and scenery did not disappoint.
After stopping several times and climbing to the observation tower (it is a half mile walk up a steep grade which warmed us up considerably!!) we continued southeast to Cherokee, NC. I had visited Cherokee over 40 years ago, but can’t say I remembered much about it. We visited the Cherokee Indian Museum and walked through town and noticed the economy was suffering as several “going out of business” signs were evident. We headed back over the mountain and enjoyed the view from a different perspective.
Friday, the sun was out and calling. The plan was to “do the Dragon.” We rode south to Townsend again and the Foothills Parkway. Fog did slow us down and hold us up. Foothills is like the Trace in that there is no commercial traffic and no services. It is a beautiful ride, though, and well worth the effort. When we arrived at the intersection on 129, time had escaped us and we turned north instead of south. We would have to slay the Dragon another time. North on 129 was most enjoyable. I had not been this route on my previous Smoky Mountain visit. It leisurely finds its way to Maryville where it turned back east to Townsend and 321 which took us back to our cabin.
Saturday it was time to head home and Nancy had to be at the Knoxville airport for an 8am flight. I waited for the sun to come up and rode back to Townsend and Maryville where 411 now headed in a southwest direction back to Madisonville and 68 which now would take me to I-75. In an effort to knock down some miles, it would be an interstate trip home from here. I rode 75 to Chattanooga then I-24 through town to I-59 to Birmingham. As much as I enjoy riding motorcycles I absolutely HATE riding them on the interstate through large metropolitan areas and I was very glad to get Chattanooga and Birmingham behind me. After about 430 miles I stopped in Meridian for the night and enjoyed watching LSU defeat Florida in Gainesville.
For those who have never visited and rode the Smoky Mountains I highly recommend it. However, be forewarned that the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area is very busy at times and if your visit is to enjoy the great motorcycling in this area you may want to consider lodging in Townsend, or Tallassee TN, or even Cherokee, NC.