Start: near Tallassee TN (33739)
End: Antioch TN (34265)
Today, the Dragon.
The bunch of us staying at Roxanne's place wake and start moving around fairly early. It's a beautiful sunny morning. We get fresh eyeballs on CherryLady's bike, figuring what needs to be replaced to make it roadworthy (and non-ticketable.) It's rideable, no problems, just needs some of the lighting fixed. Roxanne calls around to find a repair shop that will be open on a Monday. It's located down on the North Carolina side of the Dragon, which is where we are heading.
When we saddle up and get going, I am a bundle of nerves heading down the driveway that did me in last night. Man, that is one steep puppy. And, I hate steep downgrades (I think everyone does) because it always feels like the bike is going to tip over or go off the edge. I make my wobbly way to the bottom with my heart hammering, and breathe a sigh of relief when I finally get down to the highway after what seems like half an hour. Left turning onto the highway, I just about drop it again when the engine coughs and stutters, I don't have the choke set right & the beast isn't warm yet. Sheesh. It's got to get better than this.
It does, but slowly. We only go a short ways, maybe a mile or two, before the road narrows, enters a heavily wooded area, and begins to seriously twist. Welcome to the Dragon. We stop at the first overlook - a popular spot to take photos - and commemorate our incipient Dragonslayer status. From here we'll ride the eleven or so miles and have lunch at Deal's Gap on the North Carolina side. The group agrees that everyone should ride at her own pace, and arrange ourselves by speed. Again I'll be at the far back of the pack - only Bud will ride behind me. Della and Rox to the front. We start out, and I actually go slow for a little while, to completely lose the rabbits in front of me. I don't want to see them, and be tempted to go just a little faster than I am willing in order to keep up with them. It doesn't take long before they are out of sight. Then, I open up a little bit, and start to feel the flow of the road.
The Tail of the Dragon is a lovely, lovely road. It is packed on weekends, which is why we've chosen to ride it on a Monday, and I can see why it would be crowded with Sunday heroes. Everyone wants to claim she's a Dragonslayer, even me. The twists are numerous and tight, a sportbiker's paradise, heaven for those who like to flick over and grind and drag knees and push the envelope as far as possible and then push just a little bit farther. I am not that kind of rider, especially with the jitters I've had of late. I enjoy the road, but at first I feel like I am working rather than flying. Dragon lore is filled with horror stories of double-line-crossing cagers and even loaded semis who attempt to cross the mountains here, seeing the line on the map and thinking it a fine shortcut without knowing what the heck they are getting into. Thankfully, there is none of that today. The road is empty and I cruise through the cool shade, winding through turn after turn after turn. It's mostly second-gear speeds, and I even drop it to first now and again (admittedly, my first gear is taller than most riders' on a 4-speed.) I relax. I remember to lean, and to lean farther that I think I can, and feel the bite and swoop of my tires carving properly through entry and apex and exit, and THAT'S what I've been looking for. The Dragon redeems me. Now, I've left Bud behind, trusting her to follow at the pace she wants, and let my wheels flow and dance, and before I know it, it's over. Resort on the left, intersection in front of me. End of the road.
Well, that was a bit of a letdown. Eleven miles of even the twistiest road is ... not that far. Here I was just getting warmed up. I guess I am spoiled by California highways and canyons, I can choose between ACH and AFH, Ortega, Lockwood Valley Rd, Boquet, Francisquito, Topanga, Mulholland, and PCH ... or numerous others ... and none of those run out in under half an hour. Many people claim this is one of the most outstanding motorcycle roads in the East. All I can say to those folks, come to California.
(Nonetheless, I get a patch.)
A requisite visit to the Tree of Shame, lunch, more gabbing, and final goodbyes with this group. Jo, Bud, and Scorch are heading for Virginia. (Ask them about the pee pee dance sometime, if you get a chance.) Della is on her quest to fill in DA MAP and is southbound, looking for Florida. Rox and CherryLady are heading down to Robbinsville. And I am turning back west, going back to Nashville & hook up with my friend Nancy one last time while I'm here. She'll put me up for the night.
So, I'm on my own again, and boy howdy, I am ready for it by now. Have I mentioned I like riding by myself? I take the Cherehola Skyway westbound, another road of great repute in this part of the world, and completely LOVE it. This is the type of road I prefer - big wide sweepers that fly through rolling mountains, the scenery beautiful, the pavement good, the traffic sparse. Hot and humid. It'll be another day of many breaks. I'll take those opportunities to frequently haul out the map and ride backroads on my way back to the greater Nashville area. No superslabs for me today.
Coming off the Cherehola and stopping for gas at Tellico Plains, I am rather dismayed to see just how dark and thunderous the clouds in front of me are. Well, not much to be done about it now. Lightning flickers distantly.
I've found a good highway, TN-68, and it's taking me westbound through rural Tennessee, and I am having a grand time. I really don't know how to describe the pleasures of back-road riding, except that it's all interesting to my eye, and I enjoy every little thing I see, whether it's the carefully tended flowerbed set off the roadway by a picket fence & a six-foot-wide ditch, or the names of the towns on the signs I pass, places I'll never visit but am now wondering look like, or the people who hear my engine & raise their heads like dogs perking their ears at the sound of freedom. Oh, it's simply grand to travel this way. Well, grand except for the weather which is growing darker. I'm gonna get rained on soon.
And yes indeedy, I get rained on. It goes from "starting to rain" to "and the heavens opened" in about thirty seconds. Wow! Now THIS is a deluge. Water rolls off the pavement in sheets. Ditches fill and tumble with water. My boots fill, too. My right boot in particular is whatever the opposite of "waterproof" is, and I can feel it sloshing around my toes. Yuck. My visor fogs, and I have to ride with it cracked, plus I have to keep wiping the drops away with my sodden gloves about every three seconds, and still I can barely see. Not good. I am desperately looking for a place to pull off and there is nothing, nothing, nothing. I can't believe how dark it's gotten. And then, BAM!!!, a huge crash and flash WAY too close to me, I am in the middle of the lighting storm and I am REALLY desperate now, that was everything but singed hair & smell of ozone and I need to get out of this NOW and there is still NOWHERE to turn off. With little other choice, I keep going down the road in the fury of crackling lightning around me, for about another five miles. Oh, it is loud, loud when it booms. I pray for cover, and safety.
And thank the Goddess, she delivers me to a Shell station at the intersection of TN-68 and TN-58, if you'd like to look it up on a map. I gleefully pull under the canopy where three other motorcycles have already taken refuge. I strip off my sodden outergear, buy a Coke and settle in for rain-delay chatting with the other riders: there are a couple of fellows from Georgia, and a husband and wife from Alabama. It takes about half an hour for the thunderstorm to pass. The rain, which had been beating on the pavement so hard that drops were leaping back toward the sky, tapers off to a steady light patter, then fades away entirely. About five minutes later, the sun comes out. About another minute, and steam is rising off the road, ghostly wisps wafting a foot or two off the ground (for some reason this fascinates me, we don't have rainstorms like this in California) and the humidity hits like a hammer. The Georgia boys take off. I wait a few more minutes, and seeing that most of the water has drained from the roadway, continue my journey west.
I guess I could have waited a little longer, because it's not too far at all before I hit another little raincell, and any amount that my jacket had dried out, forget it, we're starting over with that process now. But this rain, while still hard, is not quite as much of a downpour, and it's not as dark, and there's no lightning in these clouds, apparently. I do stop briefly, to clear my visor which is badly fogged again, then continue on my way. It's not so bad, and this bit of rain starts tapering off as well after a short time. I am coming up on the Tennessee River, and seeing a major waterway is always a little thrill for me. Hmm. I am passing by the Watts Bar nuclear power plant ... I see the structure brooding on the riverbank to my left, towers looking vaguely malevolent, but no steam rising from them today. Once past the river, the highway bears little signs marking this as a "Watts-Bar emergency evacuation route." If you live near a nuclear facility, it behooves you to know how to get the hell out of Dodge FAST.
Rain ends, humidity rises, and I keep making my back-highway way toward Nashville, without major event. I get lost in small towns looking for gas stations, and generally have a good day. When I try to call my friend Nancy to get final directions to her place, I realize my phone's battery is dead; it got drained crossing the mountains, searching for a signal when it was out of range. D'oh. A very nice lady at a tiny general story in a tiny town lets me plug it in for a little while, and I get enough battery and signal to get me through the rest of the day. (The name of the town is Pleasant Hill TN, and it is tiny enough that the fellow I chatted with at the gas pump was surprised they were on my map. "That must be a new map," he remarked when I showed him. Heh.)
Nancy gives me bad directions, telling me to go north on the main interstate in Nashville, when she should have said south. Worse, I have to get off on something that says "Old Hickory something-or-other" and that's like saying to get off on "Peachtree" in Atlanta ... they are ALL named that. ("Old Hickory," by the way, is Andrew Jackson, native to this area, one of Tennessee's most famous sons, yadda yadda. The big loop highway around Nashville is named the Old Hickory Road. That's why there are so many exits bearing that name.) Long story short, I am halfway to Springfield before I figure that this CAN'T be right, and worse yet, it's raining again and lightning is licking these hills. Oh dear. I pull off, call Nancy (and get voicemail), and have a lively conversation with the attendant at the BP where I am parked. She can't sell me any gas because they were struck by lightning about five minutes previous, and their computers are all down & will take half an hour to bring back up. I ask her where she is from, because her accent is not Tennessee, she speaks in flat could-be-from-anywhere tones. Turns out she moved from Anaheim CA about six months ago. Heh.
I finally get Nancy on the line, get improved directions, and fight my way through Nashville traffic as darkness falls and the rain tapers off again. I had been WAY off course, but now I'm on track. I finally land in Antioch, the suburb for which I was searching, find Nancy, and I'm able to clean up & put on fresh clothes before she and I head out to a late dinner at the local Cracker Barrel (yeah, I can do with some comfort food at this point.) It is kind of a strange visit. I don't know if she was expecting to go clubbing or partying, or if we'd stay up all night talking, or what ... but I am really too exhausted to do much besides tell stories of being on the road for a week and half, and then my eyelids are drooping badly, and I have GOT to get some sleep. She sets me up with a foldout futon on the living room floor, and even Isaac the Jack Russell terrier doesn't bother me enough to stay awake. I'm thinking I'd like to make it to my sister's tomorrow, in time for my nephew's birthday, but that will be a long haul, and I will need to start early.
Next: Day Ten