Life is an Open Road
R2S: Road to Somewhere

Tail of the Dragon – Day 6

Tail of the Dragon - Day 6

We departed Robbinsville that morning and heading south on US-129. We high-tailed it eastward on US-74 and worked our way towards Bryson City. Located along the Nantahala River, roughly 10 miles or so from Bryson City, are a handful of rafting and zip-lining outfits. This part of US-74 is very enjoyable as you ride parallel to the river. You get a real sense of the outdoors in this area because there are all kinds of people kayaking, canoeing, hiking and zip-lining. It just seems like people that live or visit this area genuinely love being outdoors and that is a great thing to see. It is one of the main reasons I love North Carolina. You’ve got a coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, great beaches everywhere, the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and more to explore. Not many states offer the mountains and the ocean within a day’s drive.

Once we reached Bryson City, we continued on to Cherokee where we would make yet another stop at the Cherokee Harley Davidson store. The Harley boys in the group were intent on buying more of that black and orange branded gear that helps them look like every other frickin’ Harley rider out there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

We headed out of Cherokee on US-19 for about 10 miles until we picked up the Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in North America. We can credit the creation of this beautiful route with the vision of our fearless leaders at the time. Back in 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was visiting the area in Virginia near the newly constructed Skyline Drive. U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia suggested to the president that the Skyline Drive be extended to connect the Shenandoah National Park to the recently established Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Apparently, Roosevelt was so impressed with the Skyline Drive that he was intrigued by the idea.

Two routes were proposed for the new drive: a Virginia-North Carolina-Tennessee route and a Virginia-North Carolina route. After a few formal hearings, the Virginia-North Carolina was ultimately selected. Today that 469-mile stretch of road provides scenic access to crests and ridges of five major ranges within the central and southern Appalachian Mountains through twenty-nine Virginia and North Carolina counties, mostly along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The southern terminus is the boundary between Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina (where we were located). Land on either side of the road is owned and maintained by the National Park Service and, in many places, parkway land butts up against United States Forest Service property. It is the protected land along the Parkway that makes it so special. This area will be a place to enjoy for generations to come.

Construction on the Parkway began on September 11, 1935. The last section of the parkway was dedicated on September 11, 1987. Visitation to the Blue Ridge Parkway is more than twice the combined visitation of three other National Parks: Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. The annual operating budget of the Blue Ridge Parkway is approximately only half of each.

Like the Tail of the Dragon, the Blue Ridge Parkway is also a great cruising road for motorcyclists because there are very few intersections (mainly on/off ramps) and the speed limit never exceeds 45 mph. A small section of the parkway near Ashville, North Carolina has its speed limit reduced to 35 mph due to the number of bikers, runners and vehicles utilizing the parkway in that area. And, although I knew the parkway would be a more leisurely ride for our group, I was confident it would be one of the most scenic and memorable routes that we would cover on this trip. We headed up the on-ramp and continued along the Parkway towards the Pisgah National Forest.

Initially, the weather was fair, but the sky became progressively ominous as we headed up the road. The elevation slowly increased as we passed by numerous scenic overlooks. One of the challenges of riding roads like the Parkway is that you have a tendency to take in the views as you’re riding, thus taking your eyes off the road. Being so scenic, the Blue Ridge Parkway is somewhat problematic with respect to this type of gawking. You really can’t help it because it just so beautiful in that area. At one point along the route, I had a brief Come-to-Jesus moment as I was snapping a picture using the Nikon AWS-100 camera that was tethered around my neck. A side note: I don’t recommend this for the inexperienced rider, but tethering a camera around your neck allows you to capture some beautiful moments along your rides.

I looked out in the distance, snapped a picture of the beauty, looked down and quickly noticed that I was about 6 inches from the edge of the road. The edge of the road dropped off about 3 inches and about 10 yards to the right of that was about a 1,000 foot drop off. Luckily, I did not panic. Instead, I calmly leaned towards the center line of the road, focused on the road ahead and got my bearings. Incidents like that tend to make you think about worst case what-if scenarios.

I would later find out that I wasn’t the only who had a gawking incident in the group. Dave had one that could have been real bad had he not handled it calmly like he did. Dave was riding towards the back of the group and had unknowingly drifted off the road onto the grassy shoulder. From what I understand, he was about 10 feet from the edge of the road. He reacted the same way I did which was to decelerate, slowly apply the brakes and calmly lean back towards the road. The two lessons here are: 1) be cognizant of your gawking, and 2) don’t panic when you find yourself in a difficult situation. I guess that applies to more than just motorcycling though, doesn’t it?

We stopped for a photo op at the Richland Balsam Overlook, which happens to be the highest peak on the Parkway at 6,410 feet above sea-level. Since the clouds were looking darker and thicker, and since riders coming from the east were wet, we decided to break-out the rain gear.

Pisgah National Forest

We continued along the Parkway until we reach the exit for the Pisgah National Forest at Wagon Road Gap on U.S. 276, the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. We exited the Parkway and headed down into the Pisgah National Forest where the roads were soaked from the passing rain storm. We never really hit the rain directly, but we were all glad to have the gear on regardless as the spray from the road wouldn’t drench our blue jeans.

The forest was established in 1916 and covers over 500,000 acres of mountainous terrain in the southern Appalachian Mountains. It is completely contained within the State of North Carolina. American forestry has roots in the Pisgah National Forest. Cradle of Forestry was opened and operated by George Washington Vanderbilt II, the same successful Capitalist who huge fortune through steamboats, railroads, and various business enterprises at the turn of the 21st century. Vanderbilt is probably best known today for the guy who built the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. If you’ve never been there, it is worth the visit.

One of the reasons that I wanted to come this area was the attraction of Sliding Rock. My brother, Roger, had brought me and my family through the area a few years back and I was blown away by it. Again, North Carolina is an outdoor playground for people of all ages. Sliding Rock is a 50 foot natural water slide that ends in a 7-8 foot deep pool of ice-cold water. During the summer months, there are crowds of thrill-seekers and spectators. An observation platform at the end of the rock formation allows spectators to watch their loved ones slide down the rock. People sliding down the rock are laughing all the way down until that brief moment when they are submerged in the ice-bath at the end of the slide. They usually come up gasping for air but are unable to talk or scream. The cold is simply indescribable, but if I had to guess it was a chill 33 degrees. In reality, it was probably warmer than that, but let’s just say “my boys” retreated when they hit the water. I think you know what I mean.

When we finally pulled up, it was apparent that the natural attraction wasn’t opened. Due to the amount of rain that had just fallen, the water levels quickly became too high and they weren’t allowing any swimmers. They wanted to charge us for admission just to check out the natural rock slide, but we declined, did a U-turn in the parking lot and then continued on down the road to Looking Glass Falls.

Looking Glass Falls is 85-foot waterfall that is easily accessible right off of US- 276. The name of the falls comes from the effect the sun has on the waterfall when the water freezes and glistens on the surrounding rocks much like a mirror or looking glass. We parked our bikes, got out of our rain gear and walked down to the landing at the bottom of the falls. A number of children were swimming in the water even though it was murky and turbulent from the recent rainfall. I thought to myself, “it’s too bad more kids don’t get outdoors like this instead of playing video games or with their faces glued to their mobile phones.” Get out. Take a risk. Enjoy life a little bit. I can’t imagine anyone on their death bed wishing they would have spent more time surfing the internet or posting to Facebook. These days, it seems that adults are almost as guilty as kids. This is yet another reason I love riding a motorcycle and exploring new places.

As we were getting ready to head out, Pete – knowing that we’d be harassing him again for being pokey – rushed to get on his motorcycle first. He pulled out and noticed a car searching for a place to park. He rode back up the road to where we were getting ready to embark and shouted out that we need to move it along so the cars could park. Our basic reaction was….phfpfhffphh. Meanwhile, Pete attempts to make a U-turn, but loses his balance and dumps his bike on its side. Score! Enter Clown of the Day #3. Pete Repeated!

Clown of the Day - Day 6

Clown of the Day – Day 6

We all were sitting on our bikes when Pete dumped his bike. It was evident that he wasn’t hurt and Dave immediately started calling for the camera as we began laughing out loud. A bystander rushed out to help Pete lift his bike while his friends – us – sat there snapping photos and giggling. Some friends we are. I guess that’ll teach Pete to accommodate the 4-wheeled beasts that are always attempting to kill us. No mercy.

Back to Nantahala

I don’t know how, but I have this uncanny ability to recall things from places where I have previously traveled. I didn’t know the name of it, or exactly how far it was, but I remembered a barbecue place at the entrance to the Pisgah National Forest. Sure enough, we headed down that way and walla! Barbecue!

After lunch, we headed west on US 64 through Brevard to Route 231 North just east of Lake Toxaway. We wound our way up until we reached Route 107 where we grabbed some dinosaur juice and then proceeded northward. We eventually worked our way back up to US 74 and headed west towards Robbinsville. As we approached Bryson City again, the thought crossed the minds of at least a few of us, “why not stop for a few growlers of beer from the Nantahala Brewing Company?” We couldn’t think of a reason not to, so we did.

The rain began to fall as we headed back into Robbinsville towards our cabins. By the time we got back to the cabin, it had become a pretty steady rainfall. Later that evening, the rain stopped and we all lounged on the wooden deck around a nice campfire. With cigars lit and a setting sun on the horizon, it was the perfect way to end a long day of riding. We covered 229 miles that day it was good to sit down, relax and reflect.

Just after the sun set down, a BMW and a scooter entered the Simple Life Campground. The guy on the BMW pulled under the sheltered parking, turn off his bike and did a face-plant into his handlebars from mere exhaustion. The rider on the scooter, a girl, got off and started laughing. Later that evening, the “scooter girl” came over an introduced herself. Her name was Stephanie Yue and she was a freelance artist and adventurer. Stephanie’s parents were from China and she was born and raised in the US. They have since, but she remains here. The girl seemed to be a bit of free-spirit and was very articulate and funny.

Scooter Girl

Campfire with Scooter Girl and Italian Dude

It turns out that she is a scooter-nut. She has ridden her 50cc scooter all across the nation visiting friends and families and attending numerous scooter rallies. She enlightened us about the whole lifestyle of a scooter nut. I have to say, the rallies sure sound like fun, maybe a bit Woodstock-ish in nature. One thing is for certain, the people at these rallies enjoy a good time and making new friendships. It turns out that here and her male companion – an interesting Italian dude – just came from a rally in the New Orleans area. They rode non-stop and ended up riding up the Tail of the Dragon in the dark and in the rain….on a scooter nonetheless.

Prior to that, Stephanie had ridden down to the Florida Keys on her scooter by herself. It turns out that her job allows for it due the flexible schedule. She even has a personal blog she writes about her adventures. I have to hand it to her, she knows how to seek adventure.

We continued to visit and talk for a while until they left. Randy had already headed into the cabin to wind down for the evening and the rest of us weren’t too far behind. Day 6 was coming to a close, but there was much more adventure to come.

States Covered:

  • North Carolina

Key Attractions:

  • Cherokee, North Carolina
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Pisgah National Forest
    • Sliding Rock
    • Looking Glass Falls
  • Nantahala Brewing Company

Mileage:

  • Miles Covered: 229
  • Odometer: 8,529 through 8,758

Road to Somewhere

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