Day 3 (July 14th):
 <- PREVIOUS DAY Predicted Dist. & Time:  130 mi. / 3:30  -------------------------  Actual Dist. & Time:  148 mi. / 5:45 NEXT DAY -> 

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(That "Actual Time" figure above includes a lot of sightseeing, as will soon become apparent -- Ed.)

My day started out in fairly normal fashion – apologizing to another bellman for needing to ax him to load five bags onto his cart for a single overnight stay. I had inquired as to the whereabouts of a very nice employee named Robert who had helped me out during my last visit. As it turns out, he still works there, but was on vacation for the week; happily, bellman Frank was very friendly with him and sent a text message to relay my greetings.

I took the thirty minutes or so to properly pack everything onto the bike and into the trailer, a necessary step if I wish for the trailer lid to actually close. Afterwards I spent about half an hour cruising around downtown, looking for an ATM and some picturesque photo ops, missing almost every red light if it came at an uphill-pointing intersection (parts of town are rather steep). I found the ATM in the bank’s HQ but almost could not determine where the doorway to enter was, seriously. I also was apparently unable to get a good shot of the convention center and its gold-topped tower so you’re stuck with this.

One thirty-minute refueling and tire-filling stop later, I made my last steep uphill start (in second gear, no less) and turned onto the highway leading south. Just moments after cresting the last hill, no more than perhaps two miles away from the University of Tennessee campus, the surroundings turned scenic and wooded, with the Fort Loudoun Lake/reservoir twisting its way alongside the right of the Alcoa Highway, named after (or for) the aluminum manufacturing giant. Needing to proceed through the “town” towards my ultimate destination -- though having problems with some ambiguous and conflicting signage – I found that the area was impressive in its own non-attractive way, what with the plant (“one of the plants”?) occupying an incredibly large parcel on the left side of the road. Street names came from industrial processes and/or their discoverers, such as “Bessemer Road” and “Joule Street”. Cute! Further on down the road I eventually turned onto the Foothills Parkway to begin what would become a five-hour slice of motorcycling bliss.

The Parkway mostly rings the northwestern edge of Great Smoky Mountains Nat’l. Park, although it also dives eastward into the Park to meet up with the aforementioned Rte. 441, not terribly far from the aforementioned Gatlinburg and the aforementioned Clingman’s Dome. Heading southwest from where I picked it up, the road provides only a suggestion of the winding curves and breathtaking views that are to come.

To the west, the Parkway ends at Chilhowee Lake and begs motorcyclists to turn left onto Rte. 129 and visit the Tail of the Dragon, which informally begins after the Calderwood Dam overlook.

The Dragon’s 318 curves, in just 11 hilly miles across the NC / TN border, greatly attract sportbike enthusiasts, some of whom seek to complete the route at – take my word for this -- an utterly insane AVERAGE speed of 60 MPH, thus earning membership in the coveted “11 in 11” club. Those who try and fail, and fail badly enough, occasionally end up hanging broken motorcycle parts on the Tree of Shame at the Deal's Gap Resort (population: 8), often along with witticisms such as “Hit the turn and gave it gas, ended up upon my a$$”, or “Once bitten, never quittin’”. Sometimes, though, there are casualties on the route, which can be the price paid for hitting a tree head-on at eighty-eight feet per second.

Cruiser enthusiasts also enjoy putting their bikes’ prodigious torque curves to good use here, and occasionally wackos even haul trailers through the Dragon, as seen in the photos 272-277 here (click the "Continue" button at the bottom of the page) or in photos 63-65 here.

In fact, some trailer-hauling wackos even hastily secure a digital camera to the home-made dashboard shelf used for the radar detector (and EZ-Pass, at least in the olden days -- Ed.), solely so that you can ride along! This is a short stretch of the roadway, only about a minute's worth, and the funniest part has got to be the big "S-L-O" warnings painted onto the road surface in spots -- on a road that is crazy to begin with. The sound isn't great and it's best viewed in a small movie player window, but to see The Chief (tm)'s first self-filmed Dragon Video anyway, click here!

(If anyone would like the version with the full ride, about eleven minutes long, whipping past some road signs and a few more cars and bikes, and then into the Deal's Gap parking lot, drop me a line.)

To me it seems as if the North Carolina side was re-paved since I was here last in 2005. Meanwhile, after a pleasant hour or so chatting with the many other bikers at the Resort, I headed down towards Tapoco, NC, past the Cheoah Dam. If this dam looks familiar to some of you movie fans out there, it is likely because it was used during the filming of the Harrison Ford thriller, "The Fugitive", although that film was supposed to take place in Illinois. Past the dam and the beautiful, multi-fingered Lake Santeetlah, the eastern end of the Cherohala Skyway beckoned.

(From the “Walk Down Memory Lane” Dept.: it was upon the Skyway that the bike tipped over onto a soft pull-out three years ago, with the tires resting atop the pavement, thus preventing me from getting under the bike and lifting it up on my own. At that time, this was no trivial matter, for this is an isolated, if beautifully scenic two-lane road that is lightly traveled during the summer, let alone at that particular moment in early December. In the half-hour of riding before the otherwise minor tumble I had counted one (1) car traveling in the opposite direction, and it had to have been at least twenty miles back to the last house I had seen. If those dark clouds that I could barely make out through the fog, whipping across the peaks in the distance, had happened to come my way, it would have been one miserable seven-hour walk back to civilization to seek help. Mercifully, I saw headlights coming through the murk, and just as mercifully the driver saw me frantically signaling and, in a final merciful twist, did not run me over in attempting to stop. Bike picked up, handshakes all around, and to this day the right handlebar peg contains dirt from either NC or TN, where ever it was that I pitched over.)

The plan this time around was not to crash at all and, happily, I managed to pull it off. The scenery from the road is absolutely gorgeous and none of my words, nor pictures could possibly do it justice, but I've got a reputation for hubris I must maintain so I’ve included a photo regardless.

About six miles down a spur towards the end of the Skyway is the gently-tumbling Bald River Falls, easily visible from the nearby bridge, and then the road eases into Tellico Plains, TN.

I had greatly enjoyed my previous (brief) visit to this little town, which is why it made the cut this time, although then I had been disappointed that I couldn’t have dined at a cozy-lookin’ joint called the Skyway Café because they were closed on Sundays. This time through I checked ahead, and learned that the reason for it being closed during this visit was because of renovations being done by its new owners. One could reasonably conclude that The Chief (tm)’s game doesn’t play at either Clingman’s Dome nor the Skyway Café!

My home for the night was the KOA Campground, located right across the Tellico River and insulated from the two-lane “main” roadway. It was a beautiful property and I even managed to jump in the pool before it got too late. The camp stove was more difficult to get working this time, and I made a minor preparation error that saw my “spaghetti and mushroom” dish coming out more like pasta soup, but it was definitely still tasty and satisfying. The evening featured a beautiful sunset and excellent sleeping weather down in the mid-‘60’s. There was also, however, a nearby camper with rather loud air conditioning that made me feel like I was back in Surfside Beach, where the loudest A/C unit in the entire development happened to be located directly outside the window of the only person in said development who would have wanted to sleep with his window open ("Me” – Ed.) Still, a cloudless night fell and brought with it the all-night, non-stop sounds of loud mooing and grunting from a nearby, though unseen farm. Who knew cows liked to party like that? C’mon, bovines, get a room!

Knoxville Convention Center

Entering Foothills Parkway

Calderwood Dam from far above

Leanin' It

Tree of Shame

Cheoah Dam

Santeetlah 1

Santeetlah 2

Back Upright in 2005

View from the Cherohala

Bald River Falls

Tellico KOA Sunset