Submitted by: Darrell
It was the summer of 2008 and thoughts of going to Sturgis was weighing heavy on my mind. Less than a year earlier I had used all my sick time and most of my vacation healing up from a broken sternum and ribs, as well as a broken arm and cuts and bruises to most of my body due to a head on collision. This 50 mph collision put me down for quiet a while as well as destroyed my 02 Heritage. I had bought a new bike since the accident, but I only had 1 week of vacation time to use. Treca, my wife, had said she wanted to go to N. Carolina and ride through the Smoky Mountains and up the Blue Ridge Parkway instead of going to Sturgis. I had been to Sturgis two years in a row and she didn’t get to go with me in 07, so I agreed to miss Sturgis 08 and ride to N. Carolina. I had already set my week of vacation for the first week in August just in case she had a change of heart.
I took a week to detail both bikes. They looked better than new and I thought as usual we would hit rain the first or second day of the trip. But I was hopeful for dry sunny weather. The plan was to leave Granbury, Tx on Friday before Sturgis Bike week and return the following Friday. The closer the time to leave the more excited I got. On Wednesday we decided to leave the next afternoon.
So we said our prayers and set out on a hot Thursday in August about 3:00pm. It was so hot that about 100 miles out we were wondering if this was going to be a good trip at all. We kept plugging though. As the miles added up and the sun dropped, the temperature also dropped. That night we rode till 10:30. We ended up in Monroe, Louisiana.
On Friday morning we continued east on I20. We crossed the Mississippi River in Vicksburg and stopped to watch the river flow and take some pics. The last time I had been through there it was dark and I didn’t get to enjoy it. Mississippi has a really nice rest stop right there in Vicksburg with a lot of history and information about Vicksburg and the Civil War. We left there and rode on to Jackson, Ms. were we stopped at Chunky River Harley Davidson and bought the most expensive Harley tee shirt on the trip. I doubt if I ever stop there again. Not only was their merchandise more expensive but they was rude to boot.
We left there and rode at a north /east direction on I20 into Alabama. We was riding at a pretty good clip to make time. When we got to Birmingham, Al. we cut more north on I59 through the north/west tip of Georgia into Chattanooga, Tn. It was getting late in the evening and we decided to stop for the night. Two days of pretty hard riding and we were there. Treca thought we still had a full days ride to get to the mountains, but we was about an hour away from some awesome riding spots.
The next morning we rode north on I75 to the Athens exit and headed east toward the Cherohala Skyway. It was some of the windiest roads I have been on. I have always said that Glacier Nat. Park was the prettiest place I have ever seen but this is a close second. It was different than the Rockies. The valleys were wider and there was more trees. You would just have to check it out for yourself to really see the difference. The Cherohala Skyway took us into N. Carolina and ended at the famous Hwy 129. We turned north on 129 and was headed towards The Tail of The Dragon at Deals Gap. If you don’t know what that is, it’s an eleven mile stretch on hwy 129 with 318 curves called the Tail of the Dragon. I can’t prove this but I think that they built this road just for motorcycles. Treca was a little nervous about riding the Dragon after she heard about all the crashes that happen on that stretch of road. They even have a tree of shame with parts and pieces from wrecked bikes at the bike resort there at Deals Gap. We bought the patches that said I rode the Tail of the Dragon, at the resort, so we had to do it then. I will say that is one of the wildest rides for a state hwy that you will find in the U.S. We made it without crashing and can say we rode it.
We continued on 129 back into Tennessee and headed north on the Foot Hills Parkway. It runs just west of the Smoky Mountain Nat. Park. It’s a very nice ride that will take you almost to Pigeon Forge, Tn., just north of the Smokys. We stayed the night there and had, what the restaurant owner called, the best ribs in Tennessee. The jury is still out on that one. Pigeon Forge is a huge tourist trap. There is a ton of stuff to do there. We could have easily stayed right there for a week and had fun.
The next morning we headed south on hwy 441 and entered the Smoky Mountain Park. It was a very nice ride. Not a lot of scenic pullouts but the ride was very relaxing. In the center of the park was the state line of Tennessee and N. Carolina. The view from there was awesome. There were trees as for as you can see in any direction. The south exit of the park is where the Blue Ridge Parkway starts or ends depending on which way you are riding it. The parkway goes all the way up though N. Carolina and into Virginia quiet a ways. From top to bottom it’s over 500 miles if you was to ride the whole thing. We took the Parkway to hwy19 west and rode to Maggie Valley. We stopped there at a lookout tower and took some pics of the beautiful scenery. It was almost time for lunch, so we stopped at a pizza joint there in Maggie Valley and relaxed for a minute. After that we took 19 back to the east and hopped back on the Blue Ridge. Talk about a relaxing ride. The top speed limit is only 45mph. There are a ton of scenic pullouts to take pictures and take it all in.
We ended up and stayed in Asheville, NC for the night. We were told that the parkway was closed due to a rockslide farther north, so we found a side road to take as a detour a little north of Asheville. I don’t think it is possible to find a road that isn’t enjoyable to ride in that area. We had no idea were we were or where we was going to come out. That was one of my favorite parts of the ride. To just take a road that looks interesting and follow it till you get to a town. That’s my kind of riding! I can’t remember the name of the little town that we came out in, but I do know we had to look at a map to figure out how to get back on the parkway. We took off from there and made a northeastern loop, bypassing the rock slide, and got back on the park way.
One of the things I wanted to see on this trip was Grandfather Mountain. I don’t think that Treca was really up to the ride up the mountain to the Swinging bridge. To say it was a hairy ride would be an understatement. I stayed in 1st and 2nd gear all the way up. When we got to the top the wind was blowing so hard that I was afraid that our bikes would blow over. The swinging bridge that I had mentioned wasn’t just any swinging bridge. It was called the mile high bridge just for that reason. It was a mile high. Treca didn’t want to cross it at first . I went over it and climbed some rock on the other side to a very spectacular view. I would have liked to stay there and watch the sun set. I think it would have been a beautiful site. I finally talked Treca into crossing the bridge but that’s all she would do. She wouldn’t climb the rocks to see the sites. She was content at looking at the pictures I had taken.
From there we went north on the parkway to Boone, NC and stayed the night. We had made really good time and was ahead of, what loose schedule we had. The plan had been to head back to Pigeon Forge, Tn and check out some of the stuff we missed on the way up, but with time on our side and states Treca hadn’t ridden in yet, we decided to ride on north to Lexington, Kentucky. We thought we would stop by the University of Kentucky and pick up some souvenirs for our daughter.
We left Boone and rode northwest on 421, another great ride. We rode through Bristol, Tn and then rode towards Kingsport, Tn. From there we rode north on hwy 23 through Virginia and into Kentucky. We made Pikesville in the early evening. We stopped at the Pikeville Harley dealership and stretched our legs for a while. By then it was getting time to start looking for a motel. We didn’t have much luck in Pikesville and had to go to the next town of Prestonsburg. It was all coal mining country around there and it was a little difficult to find a room with all the miners in the area.
The next morning we rode north on the Mountain Parkway. It was a nice ride with Kentucky horse farms and old barns to see all the way to I64. We rode west on I64 into Lexington and headed towards the UK to find the campus souvenir shop. After we spent way too much money there, we looked at the map and decided to ride west on the Bluegrass Parkway to Elizabethtown. From there we caught I65 South to Bowling Green, Ky. It was a beautiful evening with a coolness coming on as we rolled back into Tennessee. It was Wednesday, almost a week since we left and we hadn’t seen a drop of rain. Our bikes still looked as good as the day we left. We took loop 155 around the west side of Nashville to I40. We stayed at a motel about 40 miles west of Nashville on I40.
The next morning we headed west on I40. I had never ridden on that freeway before and hope that I never will again. I think that may be a direct line between the east and west. There was more trucks than I have ever seen on one hwy. It was a little nerve racking. You just couldn’t get away from them. Mile after mile ridding beside eighteen wheelers just waiting for a tire to blow. Luckily it never happened. I guess I should have found another road to ride but we was trying to make some time that day. We stopped at the famous Jackson, Tn., the home of Casey Jones, a well known engineer. He was known for always keeping the train he drove on schedule. It was a great place to stop and spend a little time. There was a museum as well as a huge gift shop and ice cream parlor. We spent most of the morning there. Jackson also had a Harley dealership, so we had to stop in and get a tee shirt.
We left Jackson and continued west on I40. We rolled into Memphis a little after 1 pm. We were both hungry so we stopped and got fuel and ate a sub sandwich. I couldn’t leave Memphis soon enough. At the beginning of the trip I had thought about stopping and spending a day at Memphis. I can say that I have been there and have no desire to go back. I kept my pistol on standby the whole time we were there. We left there and was going to try to make Texas before night fall. We made Little Rock, Arkansas and I started feeling confident that we would at least make it to Texarkana. We hit Texarkana around 7 pm. and found a room to stay in for the night.
The next morning we woke up to thunder and heavy rain that was just kind of hoovering over us. So much for the clean bikes. We finally decided to just hit the road, rain or not. We road about 100 miles in the rain before it let up. As Texas weather goes it was about 100 degrees before we got to Dallas. We stopped in Benbrook for our last fuel stop before we got home. A little over 2800 miles. It was a week well spent.
At first I was kind of bummed that I didn’t get to do Sturgis that year, and I only had one week of vacation, but it turned out to be a great trip that I will always remember. We want to go back there some day when we have more than just a week to spend. There is so much more to experience in and around the Smoky Mountains. I would also love to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway from bottom to top. That may have to be in my retirement years.
As it goes for now, we will ride when we can with the short time we have of vacation and enjoy every minute of it.
Ride often and far