This morning I had to make the hard decision not to take the Blue Ridge Parkway, opting instead for a less scenic but more direct route to get to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While my objective for the day was the Tail of the Dragon (Route 159) in the south of the park, I wanted to see the central section as well. This would be done by entering at Cherokee, riding west in the direction of Gatlinburg, and then heading south west via Cades Cove to join the Dragon.
On the way to the park I noted several large industrial enterprises parked in the middle of nowhere, often paper mills. These businesses basically are the life blood of the town adjacent to them. Should the business close, the town is decimated. People leave, and property prices plummet and never recover. This happens.
Cherokee is a tacky, tawdry tourist trap. It purports to be owned and operated by Indians and I suppose it is. I did not stop, such was the negative impact on me of the appearance of the place. One comes around a corner and rearing skyward perhaps ten stories is a PARKING GARAGE. For the casino. And over the road is a 24/7 pawn shop. I did say tacky.
Turn right and a few miles is the entrance to the USA's most visited national park. Nine million people a year. It is very similar in appearance to the Blue Ridge Mountains NP, but that is because it is also part of the Appalachian mountain range. After the miles of agricultural lands, miles of roads and town after town -all pretty, mind you, it was a delight to see once again the verdant mountains and tumbling streams that seem to me so uniquely American. It is also biker country, and I enjoyed again the camaraderie of exchanging salutes with other riders as they passed by. Wade Abbott and Patsy stopped for a chat and were very friendly and interested in the trip and before that, in Maggie's Valley, there must have been four couples all chatting to me and giving me advice!
One benefit of going across the park from the Cherokee entrance is that you can take the side road to Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point in the park at 6,643 ft. This fourteen mile round trip is very popular. The car park was high on full, and hardly a school kid in sight. I imagine that in August it would be pandemonium up there.
Having crossed to the west of the park, I was now in Tennessee. I shot into Gatlinburg to fill up with gas and shot back into the park to take the Little River Road to Cades Cove. Very pretty, but irritating being stuck behind cars insisting on traveling 30 mph and not allowing me to pass. In Cades Cove I came across a lengthy line of cars. I rode up the side, annoying a few of the entitled, to find a black bear on the side of the road. There are many signs saying not to stop, but some folk......
At the old cable mill there is a dirt track through the forest to the Tail, called the Parson Branch Road. Road? Ha! There is a sign saying, like, do you really want to take this road? Well, I did and I went. What a blast! Raw, natural beauty. Dirt road all the way, crossing rivers, potholes, steep ascents that had to come down the other side. The bike was surefooted and my confidence built rapidly, so I had to talk to myself to take it easy. I really did not want to try out the SOS function on my satellite tracker.
At the end of the track, thoroughly pleased with myself, I turned east onto the Dragon, and took off. Wow! What beautifully cambered bends! I was carving them up very nicely and caught up some Harley riders. These machines cannot corner so I was slowed up behind them. One cannot pass on the Dragon. Eventually I pulled to the side and rested a while before completing it. Then I spoke to a chap on an 1150RT who told me I had missed more than half of it. Easily fixed. I turned around and did it in full, but from North Carolina back into Tennessee! Yep, just an awesome road. I should mention that the bikers are generally well behaved on this stretch of road. However, one or two cagers behaved like inconsiderate fools.
It was getting late and I was feeling a little weary, so I made course for Madisonville where I thought I might find a bed for the night. A slight wrong turn took me past a sign for Sweet berries B&B and so here I am. I will start early tomorrow to ensure I get a good run at the Cherohala Skyway before heading for Atlanta where I will pick up John Habgood. Hope you are packed, John. Please bring a decent bottle of red!