Gatlinburg Tennessee 2013, Day 3-Riding the Tail of the Dragon & Cherahola Skyway

Steve Kinchen, Sr/ October 31, 2013/ BMW R1200RT, General Rants & Raves About Riding, Piaggio MP3, Touring/ 0 comments

Departure time: 10:00am
Departure temperature: 57 degrees
Miles covered: 189
Locations visited: Wears Valley, Townend, Foothills Scenic Parkway, Deals Gap, Robinsville, Cherahola Skyway.

After taking a day to recover from the drama of our day one ordeal, we were finally off to enjoy all that the fall has to offer motorcycle enthusiasts in East Tennessee. As we departed our cabin, the sun was dancing in and out of the trees still full of their leaves and displaying their fiery reds and glistening golds. The first mile or two of our descent was spent knocking the rust off of the skill set of mountain riding that we never get to refine in the flatlands of south Louisiana that we call home. Engine braking, clutch management, ride line selection, looking all the way through the turns when possible, and remember what to do when you cannot see around the corner that lies ahead were all part of the muscle memory and skill recall that we talked through for the first 20-30 minutes of our ride.

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Within ten minutes, we found ourselves on Wears Valley Road. This road serves as a primary conduit between the Pigeon Forge and Townsend areas and is an entertaining scenic ride in its own right. At the end of Wears Valley Road is East Lamar Alexander Parkway. Taking a left leads you to the little cove road and into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, a right will bring you towards Maryville and Lenoir City. We headed right towards the Foothills and the stretch of road between us as and the Foothills Scenic Parkway was no more than twenty minutes.

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Riding the foothills was an absolute delight with its gentle winding roads and countless scenic overlooks to delight our visual senses. I was more interested in enjoying the ride and scenery in motion than as a spectator at the turnouts, however a few obligatory photos were captured for our later enjoyment.

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As we exited the Foothills Parkway, we turned left onto one of the most well known stretches of motorcycling roads… HWY 129, aka “the Tail of the Dragon”. With its sharp hairpin turns, rapidly undulating roadway, and surrounding legendary folklore of bikers hurdling to their untimely demise, we proceeded with caution but at a pace that felt aggressive. At the top of the first ascent there is a magnificent scenic view that overlooks the Fontana Dam that you pass later on the same route to Robinsville.

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318 curves in 11 miles and you wind up at the Deals Gap motorcycle resort… This is the congregating place for the “dragon slayers” where tales of heroic bravado and near misses are shared. Most of these takes wind up being like fishing stories about the largest fish ever hooked that somehow got away. During the week, most of the traffic seems to be reasonable folks looking for a thrilling adventure without the contention with the daredevil riders attempting to ride the entire 11 miles on one wheel, at three times the posted speed limits, or passing other riders in blind corners. The resident photographer, Killboy, was on hand to document our fine form in the tightest corners about midway through the ride, however, our arrival at “The Gap” was met with little fanfare or celebration by anyone but us. Of course, the MP3 received all of the interest and promoted the customary questions about the unique bike.

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We have run this route many times before and honestly, if there were another route to the Cherahola Skyway from Townsend, we would have taken it. After a short visit to the gift shop, we were back on our way to Robinsville for lunch. Along the way, we passed the lower level of the Fontana Dam and enjoyed a more relaxed pace as the hard turns morphed into gentle rolling curves along the hillside and in the valley.

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Robinsville is a quaint town that seems to cater to the motorcycling community, especially this time of year. We were looking for a quick lunch, but not “fast food”. I had previously ridden through Robinsville this past May on the way to meet up with the group of riders heading to New England. Randall, one of the riders in our group mentioned a good Mexican restaurant that was right near the main entrance of the town that he had recalled as having just what we were looking for: good food, fast and inexpensive. His recommendation did not fail to satisfy our expectations and I would highly recommend the “El Pacifico” to anyone passing through Robinsville.

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Randall and I exchanged a few quick texts to confirm the restaurant and his description was that it was a “bit of a hole in the wall…” I just couldn’t resist sending this photo along to confirm his recollection.

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After lunch and a quick restroom break, which were quite clean by the way, we were back on our way to ride what is billed as one of the top ten most beautiful stretches of asphalt in the USA, the Cherahola Skyway. This has become one of my personal favorites, especially the stretch about midway that is well over 5000 feet in elevation and where the roadway literally tracks the peaks of the mountains exposing views off both sides of the roadway for what seems like miles, on a clear day. The last time I rode this way was in May of this year and the weather was not cooperative. Fog and rain persisted most of the way and above 3000 feet the visibility was about 15-20 feet. This proved to be a training ground of sorts for what was waiting for us on the blue ridge parkway that day. But today, the sky’s were clear, temperatures were in the low 60’s (we did see 49 degrees at the highest point before we started our return tract) and we were ready for the ride.

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