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My brother and I do a weeklong trip each year. (Helps to have more vacation time than my wife!) In the past few years, we've gone to Texas and back, gone around the Great Lakes, gone all over Quebec/New Brunswick/PEI, and out to Newfoundland.

This year, we went down to the Smokies. I usually send messages to a group of family and friends as we ride, just keeping them up to date, and letting them know that we're alive. I figured I'd post them here this year, a few days after the fact, just because they might lead to some conversation or might help someone planning on heading there in the coming weeks or months.

Some background on these trips, and this one in particular:
* We ride the whole way. No trailering.
* We're both in our 40s.
* I come from NY, up by Albany, and ride a 2015 BMW R1200GS.
* My brother comes from NJ, down by Philly, and rides a 2017 KTM SuperDuke GT.

On with the show...sorry about the pictures as links. Since the demise of Photobucket, I haven't figured out the best way to drop them in here.
 

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Day 2: Saturday June 2

Done for today. About 260 miles.

About 80 miles from Tom’s place to Front Royal VA, then onto Skyline Drive. First 10-20 miles of Skyline were good, then we got to the top of the mountains, and there it got pretty messy. Combination of fog and mist, and then rain. And my GPS kept telling us about flash flood watches and more upcoming storms. So after some hairy stretches, we finished the roughly 105 miles of Skyline, took a break for lunch, and then discretion was the better part of valor and we took highway to Roanoke, where we’re bedding down for the night.

Last place we really wanted to be was on twisty roads in fog and rain, with no real way to escape. Was also a bit worried about washouts if the rain was really bad, which it was predicted to be.

We’re staying just a mile or so from a Blue Ridge Parkway access point, so we’ll pick that up tomorrow. It will be all new terrain for us—we’d done Skyline and the VA portion of BRP in the past, so today was all repeat anyway.

One last bit on Skyline: Last time we rode it, it was a $5 toll to enter Shenandoah National Park and ride the road. Today, it was $25. Price went up on Jan 1.

And thank heavens for good gear. Though our gloves are going to make a visit to the hotel dryer after dinner and before bed.

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Day 3: Sunday June 3

Probably did over 400 miles today. Got on the road at about 8:30 and jumped right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it was extremely pleasant, with it being early enough for there to be practically no traffic. Speed limit for the BRP is 45, and while we’ve seen a million warnings to not go 1 mph over that, we cruised at about 50-55 for the majority of the ride.

Broke off the BRP for lunch at about 12:30, had some good BBQ, and back on the road. Then things got a little strange.

At one point we saw a little tiny sign that said “road closed, 11 miles,” and asked ourselves if it was the real thing. It was such a tiny sign, and there were big electronic signs that had nothing on them. Well sure enough, 11 miles down the road we hit a barrier. (We learned later that it there was a sinkhole.) There was a road right nearby into Mount Mitchell State Park, so we took that, thinking that was a potential escape. No such luck, but we did go to the top of the mountain, and they told us that it was the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. Apparently it IS taller than Mt. Washington, though it doesn't feel like it.

But then it was 11 miles back, and then onto another road, Rte 80. Well, there was a sign there that said “road closed” too, but it was askew, so we decided to go around it. After several miles of winding roads going down the mountain, we came to the blockage. Landslide that they were cleaning up. But there was a flagman there, and they let us through, between some dump trucks and front end loaders.

Got to Asheville via mostly highway, and then back on the BRP. By then, weather was coming in. It seemed like it had passed just in front of us in most of the final 50 or so miles of the BRP, though we got wet at points. (We’re glad it was in front of us—by looks of the debris and puddles, it was a wicked short storm.) What the storm did do, however, was leave the Smokies really pretty and crystal clear. Some fog and clouds had moved into the valleys below us, and it led to some really great photo opportunities. So we took a bit of advantage, which is rare for us—we never take as many pictures as we plan to.

Got into our home base, Maggie Valley NC, at about 7:50, with both of us running on fumes in our gas tanks. And then we had to rush to find some food before places closed.

Think we may sleep until we wake up tomorrow, and then see what the day brings us. Have a bunch of loops we can take from here. We’re here for 3 days/4 nights. Looks like good weather for the next several days.

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Day 4: Monday June 4

Short but fun day today. Started a bit leisurely, sleeping until we waked up, then wandering across the street to Joey’s Pancacke House. (Good stuff.)

Decided to do a roughly 200-mile loop today because yesterday was pretty darn long. Left, finished the Blue Ridge Parkway (at least the part that wasn’t blocked off) and took off across the Great Smokies towards Gatlinburg TN. Came across a flock of Miatas at a ranger station—must’ve been a club—and shortly after that, things ground to a halt.

The road was packed with traffic, and if you’re familiar with the Adirondacks at all, it’s a bit like that—trailheads off to the left and right, all of which were choked with cars parked alongside the road. Coupled with that was some roadwork that made the road one lane for a stretch. And then there was the traffic jam that we realized was a long line of cars taking pictures out their side windows of a bear that was foraging in the woods.

And then we got to Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg is not our thing. It’s a very touristy town just on the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park. Picture the Jersey Shore or Lake George or whatever on steroids. We crept through there, and then took off when the roads opened up.

Eventually landed at a nice lunch spot in Hot Springs NC that was recommended, and then the afternoon was really quite pleasant. We rode this road they call “the Rattler.” From their website:

“Traveling thru the Pisgah National forest and over the Great Smokey Mountains is Hwy 209 "The Rattler", some of the most attention demanding but beautiful riding you will ever experience. Once you've successfully ridden "The Rattler", you will understand why all the other's were merely preperation rides.
There are over 234 twists, turns and curves from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs and another 30 from Hot Springs down to the Bobarosa Saloon. We think the "Rattler" is better then the Drangons Tail, Hellbender, The Snake or The Devils Triangle for scenic beauty and for testing your riding skills.”

And shortly after that, we pulled back into Maggie Valley and went to the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum. Talked to the guy who runs it and a few other folks, and saw lots of cool stuff. (All of today’s pictures are from there.)

Back to hotel, Jim sat in the Jonathan Creek behind us, and I threw a fly in to see if anything would bite my hook.

On our way to dinner, we saw a bike at a garage that used a whiskey barrel as a sidecar. We decided to walk up and take a picture. Guy came out of the garage, and he's the maker of the bike. Turns out he's a real Hatfield from the Hatfields and McCoys feud. He's trying to get into the moonshine business (not approved to sell yet) and is working on cars, trucks, and bikes. He showed off his shop to us.

All in all, a very nice “recovery day.”

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Day 5: Tuesday June 5

Put in about 350 miles today, so another long day. Was in the saddle from about 9:15 to about 5:15. No stop for lunch, so was on the bike for the vast majority of that time.

We’ve been using some ride maps from the RoadRunner motorcycle touring magazine, and they’ve been good. Today, we did one that was a combination of bits and pieces of loops that they created.

We started by heading for Cherohala Skyway, which is about 75-90 minutes from Maggie Valley. (We’ll be repeating that stretch tomorrow to get to the Tail of the Dragon.) We were greeted by the signs pictured at the beginning of the Cherohala, but it was a great ride—a million times better than the start of our ride yesterday because there was so little traffic. The quality of the road—meaning the road surface—was really great, and it made for a great ride. Didn’t take many pictures, since a lot of the views out into the mountains are similar to what we’d seen already. I sort of likened it to the Grand Canyon—every view looks different, yet sort of the same.

After we finished the Cherohala, we headed south, and made our way into Georgia, and a few more roads through National Parks/Forests. In general, good roads with some highway stretches that were necessary to join them together.

We decided that we would plow on through, aiming for a BBQ joint in Cashiers NC that was highly recommended. But we got there at about 4:15 and it was closed for renovation. So back to Maggie Valley we came, eating at a local BBQ place here at about 5:30.

Then it was back to the hotel, and dipping toes and butts into the creek. Feels good after a long day.

Tomorrow the plan is to head up to the Dragon, probably do that backwards and forwards, then do another loop. Not expecting a super-long day, but we’ll see. I’m hoping it’s not anti-climactic. The dragon is one of those roads that is talked about often in motorcycle circles. (Something like 300+ turns in 11 miles.) But if it’s crowded, it won’t be a ton of fun, and we’ve been on a LOT of great roads already.

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Day 6: Tuesday June 6

So today we did “the Dragon.” I was worried it wouldn’t live up to its reputation, but it did. I was worried it would be too crowded, but it wasn’t. Our first ride had no issues at all, and our second one had some traffic, but they got out of our way. (Even though we weren’t riding like maniacs.) At one point, Jim said to me through our helmet headsets, “this is like a roller coaster ride for motorcycles!” And that’s exactly right.

The Dragon brings out a lot of interesting groups. We came across a big group of people who were riding them on Groms, which are these little tiny Honda motorbikes. (See picture.) We came across people who get there as early as possible, and ride the Dragon as many times as they can throughout the day, trying to get faster each time. We came across people who were clearly terrified to ride it.

The “Tree of Shame” is also interesting—its a tree that is littered with motorcycle parts from crashes on the Dragon.

The ride back was one where we took more backroads—in general, every road around here is great for riding—but we got stuck behind slow-moving vehicles at every turn. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

One thing I noticed today was kudzu. Kudzu is an invasive weed/vine. It is EVERYWHERE down here, and has completely covered trees, woods, etc. Not really sure what can be done to control it.

Tonight we stopped by a local sports bar for dinner, and talked to the owner. Turns out in a previous life he was the general manager at a car dealership in Burnt Hills NY, just a few towns over from me. His wife is from Niskayuna, my town’s biggest high school rival. Small world.

Tomorrow we leave the Smokies, headed north via backroads (or whatever roads we want), with a goal of getting to Covington VA to end the day. We’ve got no hotel booked, so it may or may not be where we sleep.

If any of you ever get down here, I think we’d both highly recommend Maggie Valley as a home base, and the place we’re staying, Jonathan Creek Inn and Villas, is really quite nice. Our room is one of many that has a screened-in porch overlooking the creek itself.

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Day 7: Thursday June 7

Another long day, probably 400+ miles. Am now in a hotel in Harrisonburg, VA.

Day started without breakfast—the pancake place across the street from the hotel is closed on Thursdays—and we figured we’d find something along the way. 5 hours later, we didn’t really find anything other than a general store, where we got some caffeine and jerky. Breakfast of champions!

Those 5 hours were all twisty back roads, and were a lot of fun. After the past several days, we were in good practice, and zipping through them. But at about 3pm, we decided to jump on the highway to make up some time. We decided to push it a bit, and made it to Harrisonburg rather than our original planned destination of Covington.

We also decided that tomorrow we’ll head our separate ways, in Front Royal VA, to head home and be able to spend full weekends at home to recuperate and get some stuff done before the work week beckons. For me, it’ll probably be 500 miles, and for Jim about 250.

No pictures today!
 

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Day 9: Saturday June 9

Today I’m walking around a bit like a zombie. Feeling exhausted, though the allergies may have something to do with that too.

Got home yesterday at a few minutes before 6pm after riding 503 miles from Harrisonburg VA. Was all highway with a few quick stops for gas or lunch. Had some quick dinner, and then mowed and bagged the lawn. Also likely contributing to the tiredness today.

Grand total, door to door, I did 2726 miles from Friday the 1st to Friday the 8th. Jim did just over 2200. Not bad at all. Jim and I talked about all our trips over the past week. I think the longest ones we’ve done were the ride back and forth to Texas, or the one around all the Great Lakes. Both of those were about 3500-3700 miles if I remember right. But this one had the most twisty roads, so you get a lot of saddle time, but it doesn’t mean a lot of miles.

A few thoughts from our time in Maggie Valley that I neglected to mention earlier—

This is cruiser heaven. I would say probably 95% of the bikes we’ve seen here have been cruisers—Harleys, Indians, and/or Japanese cruisers. We’ve seen very few sport bikes/crotch rockets, and that’s a bit surprising given how nice these roads are, and how much fun and challenging they can be on a bike that can go pretty fast.

Sort of wonder if it has to do with the age bracket (and disposable income bracket) of those who seem to come down here to do vacation riding.

I was also really surprised at the lack of obvious motorcycle repair shops, or even dealerships. We came across 2-3 Harley dealerships, but those were pretty much t-shirt shops. Not a bike inside, nor a service bay. There are a TON of bikers down there, and I wonder how many would need tires or something while down there.

So that’s the end for this year. We didn’t really talk too much about where to go next year. Going back to that area is an option. Looking at assorted route maps that we picked up along the way, there are plenty of places that we could still go in the eastern TN area. If you’ve got suggestions, let me know.

This is the second time we’ve done one of these “shamrock” trips, where we ride to a spot, have a home base, and then do loops from there. There are a lot of plusses to doing this, as opposed to one big loop where you have to pack and move on each day. The latter feels like more of an adventure, but the former gives the convenience of being able to really unpack and relax a bit.

And we might even take a break for a year. Both my wife and I turn 50, and it’s our 25th wedding anniversary, so there may be a rare 2-week vacation for my wife and I in 2019. We’ll see.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.
 

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welcome home and glad to read you both made it back safe. Good write up..haven't had a chance to view the pics yet...filters here at work...looking forward to viewing them when I get home. Have had that area on my riding bucket list for years now and something always seems to find a way to put it off...maybe a fall riding getaway this year?...thanx for the trip journal.
 

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Those rides have to be even more spectacular when the leaves are changing colors.
 

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thanks for the great write-up. another ride for me upon retirement. I like the Shamrock idea , saw it in Roadrunner mag.
 

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Blue Ridge Parkway Trip - but not on my bike :(

Well, now I see why this road should be on everyone's bucket list.

I took my son on our Trail Life scouting trip to South Carolina last week. We just got back Saturday night. It was a blast.

We stopped in the Cumberland Gap for one night of camping and hiking up to the Pinnacle Overlook and then to three points where Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky meet. The campgrounds in the National Park there is amazing.

We then went into South Carolina at the HQ for Trail Life. The staff and the grounds are exceptional.

We took a day trip to NC and toured Charlotte Motor Speedway. That is one tour that you should take even if you are not into Nascar. We then headed to the Nascar HOF which is a really cool place as well.

On Thursday, we Ziplined for close to 3 hours. Never done that before, but now my son is hooked on it.

On the way back, we headed to the Smokies and visited Clingman's Dome which is quite a hike up to about 6600 feet. We stayed at Elkmont campground in the National Park system. Didn't get to use my bear repellent, which I suppose is a good thing. We also hiked a little on the Appalachian Trail and then took the 1.7 mile hike up to Grotto Falls which is a pretty rough hike, but well worth it. We rode through Gatlinburg and into the Island at Pigeon Falls. Very touristy, but my kid wants to go back, so I think we just might plan a fall trip.

I saw hundreds of bikers and now I know why the BRP is such a great ride. I'll have to make a plan to get back there on my bike someday. It was pretty fantastic even from a cage, I can only imagine the ride on my bike.
 
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