Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Great River Ride – Day 13 – Cherohala Dragons


The plan today was to ride some great roads from our base camp in Sweetwater, TN. Please click on the link above and zoom in a bit to see twists and turns in the route. It turned out to be filled with great roads including the Cherohala Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon. We only put in 151 miles, but it took all day to do it!

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We started out by heading east on 68 until we got to Tellico Plains, and then turned on TN-125 to follow the Cherohala Skyway. The Skyway is a road connecting Tellico Plains, TN with Robbinsville, NC. It passed through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name Cherohala from the two parks. The skyway is only about forty miles long, but supposedly has great views. I say supposedly because about one mile into the road it started to rain. It rained hard.

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We took refuge under a picnic shelter that had a sign: “Motorcycles Welcome” We were quickly joined by a Silverhawk 500 Scooter and a Triumph 1050 Tiger. We all took the opportunity to relax and have a snack. One by one we grew impatient and left. We put on our rain gear and decided to head out. The Triumph was the last to leave.

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It rained all the way up the mountain until we got the high point around 5400 feet. From 3000 feet up the mountain was covered in very dense fog. We could hardly see the road in front of us much less the view. We stopped at every scenic overlook and took pictures anyways.

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We’re not going to let a little rain ruin our fun! At one point, we nearly turned back. Both of us were cold and we were getting wet. I decided (to my wife’s disappointment) to press on anyways. We came down the other side and by Robbinsville, NC it was barely raining. Not much fog either!


We followed 129 west towards  Deals Gap and the Dragon’s Tail.

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The Dragon’s Tail is a famously twisty road that has 300+ turns in 11 miles. The speed limit is 30mph and none of the turns are rated at higher than 15mph.

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I spent most of the time going between second and third gear. We had a fun time, but the road demands 100% attention. One mistake and you’re off into the trees, or worse, down a cliff.

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Lucky for us the rain clouds were still hanging around, so we didn’t have any problems with bright lights in the eyes.

Tail of the Dragon

We were having a blast riding along, until we got stuck behind a car from Minnesota going 10mph. Ugh. So lame. We pulled over and waited a while. Then we started again. We caught up to him at the scenic overlook in the middle. We snapped a couple quick photos and got back on the road.

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Before we did, a couple guys on Harley’s warned us of the impending speed trap ahead. No worries, we weren’t speeding. I was still glad they warned me, the cops were sitting in a sneaky spot that straightens out right after the dragon ends. Here they are pulling a car over:

Tail of the Dragon

The speed should go up, but it doesn’t until much later when it goes to 40mph. Be careful if you go there. Our arms were sore from waving at all the bikes going by. Most were cruisers, but there were a couple of sport bikes too. It stopped raining sometime on or before the dragon. We weren’t paying attention at that point. Too much fun! I am glad I spent some time at riding schools (ZARS) earlier this year. They really helped with all the turns today.

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Further down the road we picked up 72 and ditched the rain gear. Then 411 which took us back to 72 again. More cops on the road. From 72 we picked up TN-322 back to Sweetwater.


By the end of the day, my wife was very happy I decided to continue. The views and roads were very, very fun. We even ended the day with beautiful blue skies.

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Full Flickr Album here (100+ photos)

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  1. Even tho it's late (for me) I couldn't wait til the morning to check out the day!! Wow what a great time, and I love the pictures of Vicky looking so forlorn...I can tell even with her helmet on! Love the ride and the pictures are great! Going to look more tomorrow!

  2. Chris: Sounds like you had a fun day. Just enough aggravation to make the best parts stand out even more clearly.

    Eve: I too enjoyed the pictures of Vicky looking forlorn. I think the helmet actually adds to that sense.


  3. Great pictures! I like the panorama and the roads look incredible. One more place to add to the list. (It's starting to get long)

    Thank you for posting.

  4. You have given me a nice feel for the Cherohala Skyway, which I didn't make it to when I was out there. You said you waved to a lot of bikes, but was the Dragon crowded? It didn't appear to be from your pics. Someone told me the best time to ride it is weekdays rather than any weekend.

    Your fun is coming through loud and clear! BTW, I don't think we're connectd with latitude?! I'll re-check but we weren't the last time I checked.

  5. Eve: It is late for us too. Thankfully, we've been able to sleep in each day. No alarm clocks is sure nice!

    Keith: She is getting quite sick of the rain. I have to agree the helmet helps with the forlorn look.

    Richard: Thanks Richard. The roads were great, even in the rain. I think it helped with the fog/rain because then I couldn't get distracted by the great scenery too and could just focus on the roads!

    Sharon: I had also heard the weekday was the time to go, and I would agree. Tuesday was a good day. It wasn't crowded at all, but there were a lot of bikes all day to wave at. We saw at least five bikes for every car. A nice ratio if you ask me. :)

  6. Chris:

    I also love that forlorn Vicky look with the matching stance. I'm not sure what I would have done but weather is not controllable. What to do, what to do . . .

    a few years ago we were coming back from Montana and decided to drive the Highway to the Sun over Logan Pass (Glacier NP) . It was raining at the bottom, sort of misty rain. At the top there was over 2 ft of snow with the pathways all shovelled out. We were still in shorts having come Whitefish that morning. All the scenic viewpoints were fogged in, but it is what it is.

    what a thrill to be riding upon roads we have only heard about.

    ride safe
    Wet Coast Scootin

  7. Bob: Mountains and weather are both unpredictable. I had similar luck when I visited Colorado last year. Rain on one side and sun on the other. Snow on the tops. I was constantly changing gear to stay comfortable. You just have to adapt. Having good gear helps. I can't imagine riding a mountain in just shorts! I had shorts on under my mesh today, and I was cold until I changed. No snow either!

    Riding the famous roads was fun. When are you going to make your USA tour??