Early in 2007 I read a posting on the Yahoo SilverWing group board from Mac who wanted to get a group together and ride Deals Gap (aka The Tail of the Dragon, US-129). I have ridden with some groups and live close enough to east Tennessee and liked the idea of an all SilverWing ride so I responded and so did a few others. Before long we had 6 SilverWings and riders coordinating via e-mail and an occasional phone call. We settled on the dates (May 5 – May 7) and began to plan the ride.
We were all at this point strangers and had really not met each other except for the detached communication of internet and phones. I volunteered to set the original route and stipulated that changes to the route were fine with me as long as those changes resulted in great rides on great roads. The farthest person away from east TN was Mac who came from the Memphis area - Kim and I are in Huntsville, AL - and the other three hail from the Atlanta area.
Five of us planned to meet up in Cleveland, TN on the 4th and meet the other Atlanta rider in Tellico Plains, TN on Saturday the 5th of May. At the last minute one of the Atlanta riders was unable to make the ride so now our group was down to five total.
Our route took us from Huntsville, AL to Chattanooga, TN on US-72. From Huntsville to the TN line this is a divided two-lane highway with a speed limit of 65mph. As we live in the state that hosts the Talladega Speedway most view 65mph as a suggestion so the speed on US-72 is considerably higher. At the TN line most folks get onto I-24 to go to Chattanooga, but US-72 continues as a two-lane road that follows the TN river with plenty of gentle hills, great curves, and prime views of the river and surrounding hills. In Chattanooga we headed north on US-127 to Dayton, TN where we headed east on TN-60 to Cleveland, TN to spend the night with Mac and Donna. The day was overcast, but very warm and it was a pleasant ride through the smaller hills of east TN. The weather going forward was sketchy but the evening sky was clear.
The morning of May 5 revealed a whole new look at the weather it was cool (about 60 degrees) and very rainy. We were about to head up into the lower Appalachians and it was going to get cooler, but we were going to ride with the hope that it would clear off. Headed east out of Cleveland, TN on US-64/74, (the Waterlevel Highway), to TN-30 where we turned north. We stopped just before turning north to check on each other and make sure all were still up for the ride.
It was rainy and foggy and even though none of us had ridden together as a group we were doing pretty well given the conditions. We stayed on TN-30 to Reliance, TN where we turned onto TN-315 following it until we turned east onto TN-39 which we followed into Tellico Plains, TN to meet Mike at the Cherohala Market. They have a covered parking area for motorcycles at the Cherohala Market and shocking as it may seem – there were no other bikes. The rain seemed to keep all but the SilverWings off the roads. We went in for some warm drinks and to wait for Mike who showed up soon after we got our soggy clothes off.
The locals were surprised to see our bikes, and asked a lot of questions as well as telling us it would get worse up on the Cherohala Skyway. They were right, but we were going to ride as we planned to get to Robbinsville, NC and into Franklin, NC that night. We headed out on the Cherohala Skyway as a tight bunch riding very close so we could see the tail light in front of us. We really did not see much other than the rain with an occasional brave glance into the light fog. The Skyway was socked in and didn’t seem very scenic.
Mike had a Garmin Zumo 550 and led the way into Robbinsville, NC where we stopped for some hot cocoa. We really left a wet mess and a large tip as we knew the waitress had some work to clean up after us. As we left Robbinsville south on US-129 to NC-19 the rain had lifted and we started to see some dry patches on the roads. Great luck since we turned south on NC-28 about 27 miles outside of Robbinsville to Franklin, NC, this 20 mile stretch of NC-28 was amazing, we opened the throttles and really hit the curves hard. We had each gained a real good appreciation for the others skills up in the fog on the Skyway so we rode hard and stayed tight. That night with most of our riding gear draped over chairs and the heater blower we dried out and rested up for the next day.
Day two as a group started slightly misty with a bit of fog, but it was chilly. Most of us rode with the rain gear on to cut the wind and stay warm. Kim and I had poor cold riding gloves and so when we stopped in Brevard for lunch we bought some gloves. Our route for Sunday: US-23 north out of Franklin, NC to Dillsboro, NC (17.6 mi) then south on NC-107 to Tuckasegee, NC (14.3 mi) turning onto NC-281 to Lake Toxaway, NC (25.7 mi - gas stop) then turned east onto US-64 toward Brevard, NC (16.5 mi). Stopped for lunch and gas in Brevard before turning north onto US-276 riding to the Blue Ridge Parkway (15.0 mi).
We rode east on the BRP to US-19 (approx. 50 mi) where we turned off toward Cherokee, NC (12 mi) where we planned to stop for the night. The day was a little more than 160 miles of riding that began in the cool damp and ended in a sunny warm afternoon. This stop gave us a chance to rest and enjoy the sunshine in Cherokee, NC a tourist town with lots of little shops and places to drop some money. Kim and I turned in early and the others rode into Gatlinburg for dinner.
Day three was a real nice day with relatively warm temps and a clear sunny sky. We left Cherokee, NC riding into Gatlinburg through the Great Smoky National Park and had a big breakfast, then back into the park to ride south on TN-73 through the park toward Townsend, TN. After Townsend we took the Foothills Parkway south to the junction with US-129. We turned left onto US-129 toward Deals Gap, or the Tail of The Dragon.
It was a fun ride that was over much quicker than I realized 318 curves in 11 miles. The road includes lots of switchbacks with well banked roads. When we reached Deals Gap we ate lunch and chatted with folks who admired our SilverWings.
We fueled up, headed south on US-129 toward Robbinsville for another attempt (this time in sunshine) at the Cherohala Skyway. It was a great ride the second time since we could now see something other than taillights.
This was a great time and we’ve ridden at least one more ride with this group.