Smoky Mountains – Day One

Last week I decided that since I had some comp time I wanted to take a quick camping trip to the mountains..My plan was to hit the Tail Of The Dragon during the week in hopes it wouldn’t be that bus. For the uninitiated TOTD is an 11 mile stretch of road in the Smoky Mountains with 318 curves. You read that correctly, 318 curves in 11 miles. Simply crazy..More on that later.

I have a problem when I travel. I don’t “stop and smell the roses”. I have a bad habit of just riding until I get where I’m going without seeing any sights. I also tend to get up early and get going. I did get up early and since I had everything packed I decided to hit The Waffle House and grab some breakfast. There’s something so satisfying about watching other people in a rush to get to work and knowing that you don’t have to do that for a few days. I finish up and fill up and put the address to the camp site in my GPS and get going.

About 40 miles from the house I look over to the right and see 3 bikes waiting to turn the same direction I’m going. From the quick glance I saw that at least one of them had a Harley. I sigh to myself and get ready for the hassle that usually comes with pack riders. The blow past me after the light and I wave as I do for other riders and only one waved back…They peel off and turn at the next right and I see the GPS has me going right at the light. I’m pretty sure at this point I’m going to be behind these guys as some point.

Sure enough I turn at the light and I see 3 bikes pull out farther down the road. So fast forward to the next small town we get to and the trailing rider waves for me to pull up beside him. He’s on a Goldwing and I’ve had really good experiences with Gold Wing riders so I pull up to find out what’s up. He asks me where I’m headed and I find out they are all heading up to the TOTD as well. They pull over at a gas station and I pull over as well. We do the introductions and they ask if I want to ride with them.

A quick aside here: I don’t ride in groups. It’s not something I really enjoy and the only guy I ride with is in MS.

I had a bit of a Seinfeld moment. My normal reaction would be to decline and keep going my own way. I decide that I’m going to do the opposite and accept their offer. Plus they’re going a different route than I had planned and it looked to have some pretty nice roads to it. The only condition I have is that I ride at the back of the pack. This still gives me the sense that I’m riding by myself but still keep up with the group if need be.  At the gas station I found out that the guys are from really close to where I live. One is from Dunn, Fayetteville, and Benson NC.

Off we go..I notice at stop lights and when we get gas that 2 of the guys like for the attention to be on them..Blipping their throttle, burning out at stop lights, etc. Not really my bag so I just ride my own ride and let them do their thing. During this I notice my bike is handling strange, or at least I think it’s the bike…I check it at every stop and I can’t see anything out of the ordinary so I begin to think it’s the way I have my gear loaded or just the way I’m riding in general. I have a ton of gear. Probably too much for just tent camping

Loaded down
Loaded down

So I keep at the back of the pack and focus on keeping clean lines through the curves which are getting quite frequent.

Originally I had planned for the trip out to be ~5 hours but most of that was going to be on the interstate.
View Larger Map

The route these guys had planned looked a lot more fun even though it would add an additional 4 hours to the trip.
View Larger Map

There were some really good roads but when we hit the Pisgah Forrest the roads just went ridiculously curvy. Just before getting to Brevard we stopped at Looking Glass Falls. I’ve always liked waterfalls and I didn’t realize that NC had so many.

Yours truely in front of the falls
Your's truely in front of the falls

By this point I’m getting pretty tired and I feel like I’m really having to muscle the bike in and out of turns more than usual. I tried moving things around and I still just couldn’t make it feel right and just chastise myself for bringing so much crap.

One thing I forgot about mountains, especially these mountains is it rains a lot..So the temp starts dropping as we go up and then I start feeling rain drops..Awesome I think to myself. I have a bike that’s handling weird because I packed too much, it’s raining on extremely curvy mountain roads that I’ve never been on. I slow my roll down quite a bit to make sure I don’t blow a curve and end up a greasy spot on the rocks below since there are no guard rails along most of the BRP. On the positive side I think to myself at least it’s not raining hard…5 miles down the road the rain gets heavier.

Shit…Well, no problem we pull over at an outlook and everyone pulls their rain gear out and puts it on. I’m thinking to myself no problem..I got this..It can’t get much worse right? Yea..Over the next ridge comes the fog..Fog so thick that when the bike in front of me goes in it literally vanishes from sight. So for those keeping tally…Rain + unfamiliar mountain roads + a bike that’s not handling well + cold + fog. That my friends is a recipe for suck. I start focusing on how much this is sucking that I suddenly find myself heading into, what looks to be an extremely tight downhill curve waaaaay to fast. My mind races as to what to do..Brakes? Down shift and brakes? Trail brake through the curve and hope for the best? I decide that I’m going to do my best to get the bike slowed down while she’s straight up and down and just lean the hell out of it and hope my tires stick. My left foot jams down twice on the gear shift and I use my right foot to press the rear brakes. I know that general teaching tells you to avoid using the rear brake but my brakes are linked. So when I engage the rear brakes one piston on the front brakes also engages. I know that if I touch the front brake I’ll probably lock up the front wheel and down I go. So I re-engage the clutch and feel/hear the engine bitching and moaning..The entire time my right foot is pressing fairly hard on the brakes. I’m extremely surprised that the rear wheel didn’t lock up. But I see the curve starting so I let go of the brake and roll off the throttle and I dig in for the lean. I know this one is going to be close and I hear the floor board start scraping pavement. I grit my teeth and see there is a bit more to the curve and I push the bike further into the lean. So far in fact that my floor board moves up so I have to lift my foot off so it can finish its travel. Much to my relief I see the curve finishing up and I bring the bike back up. Moral of that little story is to always focus on what’s going on..And an 800lb+ bike carries a lot more speed than you thinking into a down hile curve.

So after that curve I’m ready to stop and get off the bike for a minute and gather myself. We pull off at the next overlook and I see a sign saying we are at the highest point of the BRP.

Highest point on the BRP
Highest point on the BRP

By this point I’m wicked tired and judging from the map I still have a good 2-3 hours before I get to camp. It was getting close to dark so probably around 6:30-7pm and I’m really hoping I can get to the camp site tonight but setting up in the dark sucks. I break off from the guys after we get off the BRP and I head towards Robbinsville. It was raining pretty steady by now and I was cold, wet, tired and hungry but I really wanted to make it to camp tonight. But after another 15 miles I hit Bryson City NC and decide that I’m too tired to continue on and I got a hotel for the night. It was money I wasn’t ready to spend but the 50-60 mile stretch on the BRP really wore me out and I knew it wasn’t safe to continue…

To be continued….:-)

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