Life is an Open Road
R2S: Road to Somewhere

Tail of the Dragon – Day 3

Tail of the Dragon - Day 3

Instead of heading to Eastern Kentucky per the original route that I had planned out on RoadTrippers.com, the group decided to head towards another motorcycle road, the Devils Triangle, that we had heard about from another motorcyclist in the area.

The Devils Triangle is just north of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The most notable portion of “The Triangle” is the stretch of Tennessee Route 116 which runs between Petros and Lake City, Tennessee. So instead of following our original route to the East side of I 75 and then South, we decided to take a direct route Southeastward down into that general area where we could find accommodations for the evening. This ended up being a great call.

We departed Bardstown heading eastward on US 150 towards the town of Springfield. When we arrived in Springfield, we searched for a place to grab a quick breakfast. A ride down their main street was unsuccessful in locating a suitable dining establishment, so we decided to forgo a lengthier breakfast and just hit McDonald’s. The thinking was that fast food would give us less stationary time and get us on the road quicker. Although it is not always my preferred way of dining, eating at fast food establishments can immediately save you 20% off your meal expense because of the simple fact that there is no one to tip! Eating out for most every meal adds up when you’re on a shoestring budget over the course of nine straight days. A lot of people are intent on putting their money towards comfy accommodations and great meals. But as an adventure rider, I’d rather put that money less towards creature comforts towards things I actually enjoy.

Well, it turns out McDonald’s wasn’t all that fast this particular morning. They had a new, younger attendant behind the counter who stopped serving breakfast before the McDonald’s chain actually stopped serving breakfast. She was a bit confused, and it took us about 20 minutes for us all to get our food. So much for saving time.

Happy Father’s Day to me!

Happy Father's Day to Me!

Happy Father’s Day to Me!

Before we departed Dave asked for my camera and then gave me a wrapped gift neatly tied in a ribbon. It turns out, my wife Rachel had stopped by Dave’s house earlier in the week before we departed and asked if he could pack it in his luggage and give it to me as a surprise gift on Father’s Day. What an awesome wife! It was a very stylish Triumph Motorcycle t-shirt. You can never own too much Triumph gear in my humble opinion.

I specifically asked Rachel and my three girls to not buy me anything for Father’s Day since I viewed this trip as somewhat of a Father’s Day present in itself. Instead, I asked Rachel if she could have each of girls write me a personal handwritten letter that I could pack and read on Father’s Day. It could be serious, funny, or somewhere in between. I didn’t care because I would much rather have a handwritten letter than a card from Hallmark. Letters are free, more intimate and become an instant keepsake. Ironically, Rachel had already thought of the same idea and she was blown away that I was requesting the very thing she intended to surprise me with. I don’t do it on purpose, but I do tend to be a bit of a spoiler when it comes to guessing gifts.

We departed McDonald’s in Springfield, Kentucky and headed South on Kentucky Route 55. This route would take us South around the Western side of Lake Cumberland, over the Wolf Creek Dam and the Cumberland River, over the Kentucky-Tennessee border and then to the Devil’s Triangle. I found the Kentucky countryside to be really quite beautiful.

Lake Cumberland

Lake Cumberland is a massive reservoir and a popular destination for boaters and water sports. Lake Cumberland shoreline measures 1,255 miles covering a total of 65,530 acres. The reservoir ranks 9th in the U.S. in size. The depth of the reservoir varies throughout the year, but the average depth of lake at “summer pool” is 723 feet.

It’s also common to see a lot of houseboats out on Lake Cumberland, which is something that I’ve always wanted to try as a family vacation. Lake Cumberland was impounded from the Cumberland River by the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of the Wolf Creek Dam in 1952. Wolf Creek Dam is the 25th largest dam in the United States. The dam provides flood control and is a source of hydroelectric power production for the area.

As we came upon the lake, we turned into the first-pull off that we saw to gawk at the scenery, snap a few photos and stretch our legs. There is an interesting sign posted there by the US Army Corps of Engineers that listed drowning statistics for Lake Cumberland. It says 305 people have drowned in Lake Cumberland, of those people 304 were not wearing their life jacket. I couldn’t help but wonder about the poor soul that drowned with his/her life jacket on. How’d that happen? Just another one of those things that make you go “hmmm.”

Rant #1

My views are more libertarian in nature these days. I think there are too many laws that dictate what we can do, but the premise of these laws is inconsistently applied in my view. For example, why are you forced to wear a seatbelt in a car, yet not all states enforce helmets for motorcycle riding? Or, what about the laws that state you must have life preservers in the boat, but you are not required to wear them? If the premise of these laws is to save lives, then they should be applied consistently. I believe that with every new law that is passed, we become less free. You always hear of new laws, but seldom do they repeal laws that are no longer relevant….especially if there is a revenue stream associated with fines for those laws.

Regardless, these drowning statistics make a pretty compelling argument for wearing a life-preserver. But, shouldn’t it ultimately be an individual’s choice whether they want to risk their life or not. I have no problem with laws that protect children, but adults are adults. It’s time we suck it up and take accountability for our own actions. Personally, I don’t want or need my government telling me how to live my life. Ok, done with rant #1.

State #4 – Tennessee!

Dan rode ahead on his motorcycle across the Wolf Creek dam so that he could snap some pictures of the group coming across that dam. We continued South on Kentucky route 127 towards the Tennessee border. Along the route, some of the guys saw a couple of huge turkeys on the side of the road. I didn’t see them personally, but later wondered if they were just referring to Dave and I.

Tennessee was our fourth state of the trip. Tennessee became a state in 1796. I never realized it, but Tennessee is an extremely wide state that borders a total of eight other states. The name Tennessee comes from a Cherokee village in the region called “Tanasie.”

We could tell we are heading South because the temperature was more on the warmer side. We continued down Route 127 South but ended up going a little too far. I was leading the group on this stretch of road. I was primarily navigating by memory because there weren’t many turns that we needed to make along the route.

We passed Interstate 40 into Crossville, Tennessee where we decided to grab some lunch. We drove around a bit until we finally located something that would suit everyone’s taste. Sitting in an air-conditioned space with a tall glass of lemon ice water can be a beautiful thing on a hot summer day in Tennessee. After checking our route and realizing we missed a turn, we simply mapped out a new one. No one seemed upset by the fact that we missed our turn because everyone realizes it’s just part of the adventure.

Larry Tinch

Larry Tinch

Dave used the GPS on his smart phone to guide us from Crossville to Petros, Tennessee, which was roughly one hour east of where we were. We used the opportunity to search for some cabins, but were unsuccessful. So we headed out with no accommodations booked for the night quite yet. Dave navigated through some pretty cool roads on the way there, and we happened to connect at a stop light with another motorcyclist who happened to be a local to the area. His name was Larry Tinch, a Vietnam Veteran.

We pulled off into a gas station to converse with Larry about the Devil’s Triangle. He offered his thoughts and recommendations, and then began to show us these route decals that he had made of various motorcycle roads in the area including Route 116 – the Devils Triangle, Route 28 – Moonshiners Run, US 64 – the Cherohala Skyway and Route 129 – the Tail of the Dragon. They were all reflective decals which I was glad to see. He gave us a half-dozen of a few of the routes to take home. That was nice of him.

Rant #2

Unlike a lot of Harley riders dressed in their non-reflective black garb, I prefer to be seen by other motorists who can kill me. I never understood the opposition to reflective gear because, in the daylight, it isn’t reflective. Wearing non-reflective black garb at night doesn’t really make a fashion statement. And besides, nobody cares how cool you think you look anyway. Why not maximize your chances for survival of a traffic incident? To me, it just makes sense.

Larry was a talker that’s for sure. He let us down the road for some gasoline. Before we had Route 116 – the Devils Triangle. He told us that James Earl Ray saw time at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. On June 10, 1977. James Earl Ray and six other convicts escaped from the Brushy Mountain State penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. It was his second prison escape. His first escape was from the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1967 when he hid in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery.

The Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was right along the route that we would be taking towards the Devil’s Triangle. Larry insisted that James Earl Ray was innocent and didn’t do anything, but they just needed someone to convict for the assassination of Martin Luther King. When I hear conspiracy theorists like this, I tend to nod my head in agreement and just smile. It simply isn’t worth the energy with some of these people. I’m not going to change their minds and they sure as hell won’t change mine.

Devil’s Triangle – TN Route 116

The Devils Triangle is just outside of Oliver Springs, Tennessee in the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau. The road contains an endless array of insane twisty switchbacks and rolling hills. It was crazy fun.

Earlier in the day, Rob had been reading about the Devils triangle and was a bit concerned about riding it. Some of the literature we read described the Devils Triangle road as varying from gentle country road sweepers to gnarly steep switchbacks; from serene “straights” to Dragon-like “twisties” with guard rails of death; from gentle pull-offs to three-foot deep rock strewn gullies just inches from the pavement; from peaceful farmsteads to sections of rutted roadway right out of a horror movie. That sounds intimidating for sure.

He read on one of the websites that the road was full of potholes and loose gravel and therefore it is recommended you follow the road clockwise. I guess the idea somehow is that you would experience fewer potholes and loose gravel going clockwise versus following the route in a counterclockwise direction. Who knows?

Rob’s primary concern was his ability to effectively maneuver around the various switchbacks and potholes. The front rake on Rob’s Harley is longer than most of the other bikes within the group. I understood his concern, but I didn’t think it would be so technical that he couldn’t handle it. I suggested he join us and wait on making the call until after he had seen the road. If he needed to turn around, we would pick a meeting destination and then help him on his way. One thing we will never do is force someone to ride above their comfort level. That’s just a bad idea that can lead no place good. No one has anything to prove to anyone. Thankfully, Rob took the advice.

Woo Hoo! Holy Crap!

So we headed up into Route 116 and immediately the road was a roller coaster ride. The road was so far from disappointing and was – without a doubt – the highlight of the trip to this point. It’s amazing when you ride roads like this how you get your “groove on” so quickly. It’s like you get into a riding zone. It is as if you don’t even think about how your riding skills, he just let your body mechanics take over in controlling the bike subconsciously.

We came to an area called Ligias Fork where there was a bridge that crossed the New River. We all jumped off our bikes hooting and hollering about how thrilling that road was. Rob had noted how he was glad that he didn’t turn around and skip this road. We use the opportunity to do a group photo using the timer mode on my camera. Everyone was in high spirits and glad to be part of a collective group of motorcycle enthusiasts.

 

Mr. Grumpy Pants

After a short break, we pressed onward and headed towards Lake City, Tennessee. Since we couldn’t find cabins in the area, we decided to check out the local hotels. We ended up booking at the Day’s Inn in Lake City, who happened to have the grumpiest attendant I’ve ever met at the front desk. This guy had the personality of a gnat. It was ridiculous. He obviously didn’t like his job. So we just got her keys, headed to our rooms, unpacked and headed towards the pool.

A Hard Days Night

A Hard Days Night

The pool clearly marked that there was no glass or alcohol allowed, however, we were coming off of a long day and were insistent on hanging out at the pool. We didn’t care about Mr. Grumpy Pants. Besides, there was no one in the pool area anyway. We were respectful in the sense that we kept our beer outside of the pool gate, and we poured our beverages into plastic cups. I guess you could say we were almost taunting Mr. Grumpy Pants to come out and make an issue of it. He didn’t.

Everyone cooled down in the pool. We then sat around the pool, reflected on the day, planned the route for Day 4, yucked it up a bit, and then headed towards the room to get some much-needed rest. Tomorrow was yet another big day. Our destination was Robbinsville, North Carolina, which is near the top of the Tail of the Dragon.

States Covered:

  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee

Key Attractions:

  • Bardstown
  • Cumberland Gap
  • Devil’s Triangle

Mileage:

  • Miles Covered: 272
  • Odometer: 7,805 through 8,077

Road to Somewhere

Road to Somewhere motorcycle blog is the personal journal of Christopher J. Vezeau. I am a writer and a rider.