Every year since I have started riding street motorcycles I have made a trip up to Robbinsville, NC for an extended weekend of riding in that beautiful area that has come to be known as motorcycle heaven. Last year, Labor Day weekend, Josh Beasley, Jon Mock and I headed out there to camp at the Iron Horse Lodge with the MTF as part of their Summer Mountain Ride of 2010. That trip turned out to be eventful and eye opening. After the 2010 SMMR, Don Norwood decided to hold another event there in 2011 and the MTF board of directors decided to make that weekend the Founders Feast as well.
The Founders Feast is a pretty big deal for the MTF crew and with that a lot of riders from all over the country usually attend this dinner which is in a different location every year. So with this, the cabins at the Iron Horse Lodge were booked within a week of the location announcement. Mike Brown kept hammering me about attending this ride, however with my current situation of switching jobs and the moving expenses, I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be able to attend.
A couple weeks before the event, Rob Wilenski contacted me and informed me that he had booked a room at the neighboring hotel and was not going to use it as he was able to get a spot at the lodge at the last minute. Instead of canceling the room and paying the charge, he offered me the room for the night he had booked; all I had to cover was the second night, which was $48.00 a night thanks to the MTF staff. Once I got news of this, I asked off for Friday the 23rd and began working on the registration for the ride. Unfortunately the registration had closed for the event; thank goodness I am good friends with the queen bee of the MTF, Barb Smith! After a few emails, I was registered for the event and had paid the event dues for the dinners. J
Friday, September 23rd.
My alarm went off at 3:30am, the bike was loaded up except the last minute items before heading west on I-40 for Asheville. After my breakfast, I suit up, set the iPod, hit the SPOT and open the doors to roll the bike out. It was raining. Kinda figured that might happen. So I pulled the electrical tape out of tank bag, tape over the vents on my boots, grab an extra pair of gloves and head out. It was 4:30am.
By time I made it to I-40 in Mocksville, the rain had let up to a minor sprinkle that was just enough to cover the shield but not heavy enough to really collect and roll off. The air was cool but pleasant and the traffic was light as you can imagine. Since I was basically by myself on 40 I decided to make up some time and picked up the pace a little.
Somewhere on the other side of Statesville I met the next band of showers which were a bit strong. Thankfully I decided to wear my Kilimanjaro and the water proof gloves so I was nice and dry while hoofing it down the highway. Note: If you want to get strange looks from people try riding in the rain at 5:30am and passing cars running 80mph or so…
The dry feeling didn’t last long. Close to Valdese, my pants began collecting water and the vents were letting the rain through to my legs which then ran down into my boots. My tape had apparently not sealed the best and water was coming in the vents as well. My water proof gloves were soaked and saturated. BUT, my upper body was dry. Oh well, “no worries,” I was only a couple hours from the lodge anyway. I just kept on rolling.
Ever wondered what it would be like to be Helen Keller in a room where the furniture had been rearranged? Try riding up Black Mountain in the rain and in the dark, you’ll get a good idea. I have been up Black Mountain countless times on the bike and I look forward to it each and every time. 3-4 lanes of winding highway up the side of a mountain with 65mph posted speed limit. Normally I find it easy to move up that mountain a bit quicker than that, however with the rain I decided to cut it back to around the post speed limit. This was fine up until the third corner when I encountered what I later realized was a tar snake. The bike was doing fine and holding great in the corners despite the moisture until the front end just slipped, followed quickly by the rear. Oh shit… I got the bike back under control and set up for the next corner. I picked my line, set in, and focused on the exit but before I could get the bike planted she slipped again. I stood the bike up and tip-toed around the corner. As I approached a car I noticed a glint on the asphalt and saw the tar snakes. Never noticed those on my previous passes and my headlights weren’t bringing out the reflections with the water on top. No since in smoking it on this road on the way to the ride, so I cut back the speed to about 45 and eased my way to the top. Didn’t seem to help much cause the bike would still slide and jerk every 100 feet of so as I crossed the snakes that I couldn’t see. Talk about nerve racking.
Just before the 74 turn off outside of Asheville, the rain began to taper off as the sun rose over the hills behind me to expose what is to me, one of the most beautiful sights. Watching the morning clouds lift off The Smokie’s always amazes me. With the sun up and the rain gone I picked up my pace again to get to Iron Horse Lodge, ASAP.
I pulled into the lodge around 8 am; I was a bit cold due to the ponds that I contained within my boots. I said hello to the members I knew, made it a point to speak with Mike Brown, his wife Joanne and of course Grizz. Once I got out of my wet socks and into some dry ones and ditched my coat I immediately began to warm up. After my second breakfast for the day, I got back up on the bike and headed out for the day with Mike Brown/Joanne and John Power who had recently purchased a Yamaha Super Tenere. (I drooled over it all day)
We headed over to Wheelers, a small bike repair shop on the side of 129. Mike was about due for a new front tire on his Wing so we headed over there to get that taken care of. Wheeler did a fantastic job last year when Mike cut a rear tire at this event, so to show his thanks he figured he’d continue to support him where he could. We spent a couple hours there gossiping and kicking the tires while that was taken care of and then headed back to the Skyway and made our way to Tellico Plains.
Once we descended out of the clouds the visibility increased and we picked the pace up again until we reached Tellico where we stopped for lunch at the Tellico Grains Bakery. I had been reading the forum chatter about this place and apparently Mike was willing to give it a try. I am rather glad we did.
All the bread was baked in house the night before. They served mostly sandwiches but also served some amazing looking deserts. The staff was super friendly and was more than happy to put up with Mike’s “antics.” One of the girls there had recently graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in something involving wild life preservation. She had just started work not too long back in the area with the forestry service and was working at the bakery part time as well. The food was delicious as I had a roast beef sandwich which was loaded with meat and fresh Swiss cheese.
After lunch we walked over to The Outfitters store to check things out over there. His prices were great and he carried a great selection of Olympia gear. Parked out front were two BMW GS Adventures that were loaded down with every option in the book. Their owners were mighty proud of their toys, as every article of clothing they had on had the GS logo on it somewhere. As “Drag Racer Bob” so politely put it later in the evening, “The bought the catalog.” However, I was eyeing their Schuberth helmets. (No GS logo there)
When we finished up at the store, Jon decided to head on back to Robbinsville via the skyway so he could get checked into his hotel and get back to the lodge for dinner. Mike, Joanne and I decided to ride 68 south down to 249 and over to 19. This was the loop that we were doing that afternoon when Jon has his get off last year. When made it to “Jon’s corner,” I noticed that they had put a big yellow arrow indicating the corner. LOL
A few miles later we made a left on 249; Mike came over the radio and wanted to take point so he could show me something. This is it…
It is called the Field of Wood. It’s the 10 commandments on the side of this massive hill. For scale, there are two people standing on the stairs between commandments 6 and 7. I joked about running up the stairs and counting them, but then I decided against it. From there we made our way to 19 and over to 28 and back to the lodge. Just in time for a little tire kicking before dinner.
Dinner at the lodge was delicious as always. I had some pork cut that was very tender with some potato casserole and baked beans. Bob Fisher sat down with me and we caught up a bit since our last visit during a RTE in Asheville a couple years ago. After I finished my meal I explained that I was going to be heading out shortly so I could make a pass up Deals Gap and catch the sunset at the over look (If there was going to be one) and after that I would head back down in the dark to make my annual night mare run. Bob seemed interested in this and asked if he could join me. Never being the type to turn down some riding company I was happy to agree.
The sunset at the top was amazing; however I wasn’t able to get a good shot of it due to its position at the overlook. I had failed to think about the suns position this time of year. Oops. So Bob and I continued some casual conversation while the sun dropped.
Before we headed back down for the nightmare run, I informed Bob that I was not going to be setting a quick pace and my goal was just to get down it safely. I asked if he would be comfortable riding close with his high beams on so that we can light the road up better. When he flipped the high beams on his Gold Wing as well as his aux driving lights, it was like have a small patch of day light in front of me! I really could have just turned my lights off; they were useless compared to his.
It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to get from the top of The Dragon to the Lodge on 28. We took our time on roads, 129 and 28, and stayed close as to make the most use of the available light. During our ride we saw several fox wandering along the highway, which I thought was strange. Some got very close to us before darting back into the trees.
I didn’t stay long at the lodge, just enough time to send out a few texts and say goodnight to a few of the members. I got back on the bike and headed to my motel to get checked in and settle in for the night. I walked in the door just before 10pm which was rather lucky as the office closed at 10. (I wasn’t aware of that at the time) I paid for the extra night, picked up some snacks and filled up the bike with fuel. (It was one of those kinds of motels) The little old couple that ran the store was extremely nice and very thoughtful, though it did concern me that the lady had only one eye and the other was covered by a tinted eye glass lens. I know that sounds wrong of me, but trust me it will make since as I go further with this story.
As I walk in the room, my first thought is, “Wonder how many porno’s have been shot here and/or how many people have been killed here.” (In that order) Then, as I took out my phone to take a picture of the room, I notice that I had absolutely no service. The motel was later nick named the Bates Hotel by other riders that were staying in the rooms next to mine. (1960 horror film, Psycho)
The bed was clean as was the rest of the room. I really couldn’t complain for the price it was offered at. I unpacked my bags, set out the damp clothing to dry and placed my pistol on the end table next to the bed. Just in case. I killed the lights and settled in for bed with intentions to wake up early and go ride before meeting Mike/Joanne for breakfast at 9am. Just as I closed my eyes, a cricket began to chirp somewhere in the room. Never found him.
Saturday, September 24th.
I’m wide awake at 5am, damn work schedule. I lay in bed till my phone alarm went off at 6. After a quick shower, I packed up my bags, load up the bike and headed north on 28 to make another pass across Deals Gap and to try and get some sun rise shots. The morning clouds had yet to lift as I made my way up 28 towards 129 which made it difficult to see at times. A few miles into the ride I pulled off at over look and took a few pictures of the fog across the Fontana Lake.
All the cruisers and such that were at the hotel were still under their covers, though a few of the guests were having a cup of coffee and polishing their chrome as I rode by. A quick blow of 139db of ear piercing goodness to let them know that day light was burning, and I was on my way into corner #1. 317 to go… :)
The road was empty aside from the occasional wild boar on the shoulder. Not a car or bike to be found for the entire stretch of road. I set into a rhythm as I went from corner to corner. I left the bike in third gear for most of the ride and practiced my lines and staying smooth, never riding over what I felt comfortable with. It was quite a surprise when I glanced down at one point to see the speed I was actually running coming out of a fairly tight left hander. At the top I took a few shots at the top of the Dragon again, two cars passed by while I was doing this. They were the only cars I saw the entire morning. After a few moments of playing shutter bug I got back on the bike and headed south to meet Mike and Joanne for breakfast at the lodge.
On my way down 129 I met 3 bikes heading north, that was it and as I approached the store at the end of the run I noticed that there was still little activity at the hotel and no one was at the store. A quick flick of the bars and I crossed over to 28 and headed south.
Back on the FZ I left the lodge with Mike/Joanne, another Mike and Joanne, David and Valerie Gillespie, Darryl Halbert, John Power and a guy on a C14. (Cant remember your name, sorry) We headed south on 28 and made our way over to Bridal Veil Falls for a few photos. Highway 28, south of 19 is a fantastic motorcycle road and while we meandered our way down it, Mike Brown, David, Valerie and I had some fun conversations across the CB involving suicidal squirrels, horrible Florida drivers and a variety of Harley Davidson jokes. (Wish I could have recorded that one)
Once the group was together we headed back the way we came so we could meet up with some other members of the MTF for lunch at the Jarrett House. Mom and Dad had decided to join us for lunch so they were going to be riding in from Lexington to join us. We told the MTF group that we would be at the Jarrett House by 12:30 for lunch, however, due to our BMW break we rolled in around 1:00. When we got there, Grizz, his wife, Cindy (momma bear), Barb, a few other riders as well as my parents had already been seated and were about to be served. So, for the second year in a row, I had invited a group of people, including Grizz, to eat lunch at the Jarrett House and I have sat at a different table. No, I will never live this down.
Lunch was fantastic as always and afterward the group all went their separate ways. While most when back to the lodge to get ready for Founders Feast that evening, others headed to check out some more sights. Mom, Dad and I decided to go out for a little ride before they headed back to Lexington. Our original plans were to head over the skyway, make a pass across it and head back to the lodge. However, time was a bit short so we opted to go up the Dragon instead to test the breathability of Mom’s new riding pants.
Start: Deals Gap Rant
Keep in mind, 8 hours ago I had just been up that way and only saw two cars, three bikes and the store was empty. As we rounded the corner on 28 just before the 129 intersection, I could see the crowd of bikes at the roads edge. The parking lot was slammed and the only clear path way was to the gas pumps and a small opening at the exit to 129. There was a constant stream of bikes coming off and pulling on to 129 and it appeared as though waiting for traffic to clear out was not an option.
When we pulled onto the 129 I had a clear shot up to the first corner, knowing traffic was heavy and many of the motorcycles on that road had owners aboard that had limited experience, I was in no way looking to ride the road like I had just a few hours earlier. I made it around the first corner and as I exited I noticed a 1500 GW making its way around the next corner in an upright fashion. This was going to be a long 11 mile ride.
The GW was all decked out in every chrome option available including the chrome backed mud flap. The man behind the handlebars was wearing jeans, boat shoes and a t-shirt and his passenger was wearing something similar. By the entrance to the third corner I was caught up to them and quickly realized I was stuck since there was steady flow of traffic coming the other direction and traffic had already backed up behind me. To add to the fun, the guy was completely oblivious to the numerous paved pull offs on his right side. To make the best of the situation I put the bike in second gear, put my left foot up on the frame slider and dropped my left hand in my lap. I rode the entire 11 mile stretch like this.
While we made our way down the Deals Gap parade, several squids on sport bikes made their way through the conga line by passing at horrible spots to get around this GW owner. There was no since in us pulling over to wait for traffic to clear out because at this point the road was a solid stream of bikes for miles in two different directions. The owner of this bike was going so slow through the corners that at times I almost came to a stop in the apex waiting on him to exit. It seemed that every time his chrome mud flap scrapped in the corner he would get spooked and stand it up. This was quite the change from when I was up earlier. Finally, a mile shy of the overlook the GW owner decided to use one of the many of pull offs, but he used the one on his left. Yes, his left. After that I enjoyed clear road, for a mile.
The overlook was packed, bikes on both sides of the road, hardly any room to stop. People were walking across the street without a care in the world. One guy actually walked right in front of me, so close that when I stuck out my hand in question I damn near caught his shoulder as I passed by at a good 10 mph. With this I decided to go down to the bottom of 129 and turn around in hopes that the congestion would be less.
It was, so we pulled over there along side of the THP and waited for traffic to clear in order to head back. Just before we pulled out, we saw that 1500 making it’s down the rest of the Dragon towards the lake. So not only did he cross traffic to pull off, he had to cross it again to pull out… (there were numerous pull off on his right side)
Before we reached the over look we got hung up behind a larger couple on a small Yamaha Vstar. The poor bike was doing all it could it seemed to truck them up the hill and around the corners. Fortunately they found a way to pull over at the over look at let us continue. I politely waved, tip toed out of the over look traffic and continued on south. After the over look is a fairly straight section of road, even though I had no traffic in front of me I made no attempt to pick up the pace because I knew it would only be a matter of time until I caught up to the next bit of traffic. Three corners later I was stuck behind a couple guys on new R1’s. After about a half mile I realized that these guys really knew what they were doing in the straight sections… Start the beginning of the 11 mile parade heading south.
In order to amuse myself on this pass I spent a good bit of time standing up, practicing my parade/pageant wave to members of the parade heading north. I even went by Darryl (Killboy) standing and rubbing my butt as I rounded the corner. After what seemed and was actually over an hour later we were back to the Iron Horse Lodge. Yes, if you remember back to the evening before I did make the trip from the overlook to the lodge quicker at night.
So with that said, if any of you reading this are considering making a trip to this beautiful area and you want to enjoy this road, no matter what pace you ride, plan to ride it in the morning or just before sunset if your there on a weekend. Keep that in mind unless you really feel the need to get your picture taken 800 times in the parade to prove to your friends, family and coworkers that you “tamed The Dragon.”
End: Deals Gap Rant
Back at the lodge the group was starting to gather for the Founders Feast photo. After walking around the entire lodge we finally got situated for the photo along the creek bank. This event could have been compared to herding cats.
The after dinner banquet deal was very nice. Prizes were given out; dates for next year’s rides were announced and many people were recognized for all their hard work within the MTF to make it enjoyable. After the reception was over I went out to the fire pit and joined Mike and Joanne with a few others to chat for a while before heading back to my hotel around 10pm.
Sunday, September 25th.
Alarm went off at 6am again, after a quick shower I repacked the bags, loaded up and headed out towards Robbinsville to ride across the skyway as the sun came up. The fog wasn’t as bad that morning so getting to the skyway was much easier. After topping off for fuel in Robbinsville I continued on to 143 to ride as far as I could till 8am then I would turn around and head back to the lodge to eat breakfast and head home following Mike and Joanne. The road leading up to the skyway is a lot of fun and during my trip in 2009, I was staying at a house just off this road so I had become very familiar with it. At one point the road runs along the side of the river/lake and as I passed I noticed the fog lifting off the water. I made a quick U turn in the road and headed back to a small pier that was over the water. Fortunately for me there was a nice handicapped ramp that was set up to get to the pier and seeing as how there was no one there, I used that as a bike access ramp.
The sun was beginning to break through the clouds which made for some spectacular views. At one point the view was so breathtaking I had to pull over and try to get a shot of it.
While I continued my accent to the peak of the skyway I was surprised to see that I had company, in the air. A small plane was flying about that morning and was flying pretty close to the tree tops at 5000ft. Not sure what they were up to, but as I made my way around the mountain I would see the plane dip down and fly across. At 8am I had made it to one of the peak pull offs. I snapped a quick picture and headed back down. Only problem with my sunrise riding idea was that now I was riding into the sun on this curvy road. Oops.
Around 10:30, Mike/Joanne, Grizz and I headed out of the lodge to make our way back home. I always hate leaving this place. Following them home meant going to Charlotte first which is the long way home, but I didn’t really have plans and since when have I ever taken the shortest or easiest route somewhere?
On the way home we stopped at an apple store just outside of Asheville. We decided to go ahead and have lunch there so I had a fresh, personal sized apple pie and BBQ sandwich. J
Just outside of Rutherfordton, Mother Nature decided that our bikes were a bit too dirty, so she offered us a free bike wash. It was a short one this time, but once we made it into Charlotte she decided to make up for it. YouTube the storms during the Panthers game on 9/25/2011, we were riding though that.