We planned for Friday to be the “fun” day. It definitely delivered! We covered 213 miles and 9 million curves, give or take. The Dragon’s Tail (US-129) is 318 curves in 11 miles. The math checks out, right? :)
We got a little bit of a late start. John did see a night-time visitor to the campsite. In his words, it was “bigger than a cat, smaller than a dog.” My vote is raccoon. Or really small bear… If you know anything about our past rides, you know my feelings about raccoons…
The hammocks did well for the night. It was a little bit cool. My phone showed the overnight low at 49F. We eventually broke down camp and got on the road. The plan was to head to Tellico Plains, get breakfast at the world-famous Hardee’s, hit the Cherohala Skyway, the Dragon’s tail, and see what else we could find.
It was pretty cool in the morning, but things warmed up fairly quickly. We retraced some of our steps from the previous night to make our ride a little nicer. We took TN-30 to TN-315 to Tellico.
The Skyway is always quite a bit cooler than the surrounding area. I wasn’t quite riding at my best in the morning, but John seemed to be nailing it. He dragged the pegs on the Vulcan at least twice on the Skyway. If you know the Vulcan, you know that’s pretty impressive.
We made good time and speed across the Skyway. It’s hard not to have a little bit of fun, although occasionally you start staring off into the overlooks and scare yourself. Oops! North Carolina had a couple of State Troopers out on the Skyway. One had a sport bike pulled over. When we passed him, he just waved with a, “He got me, so he didn’t get you. You can thank me later!” sort of look.
Next stop was the Dragon’s Tail at Deal’s Gap (US-129). We decided to do a down-and back. John’s favorite road is the Skyway. Mine is the Dragon. If I had more time and money than I had sense, I’d book a hotel at the end of the dragon and ride it back and forth all week. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the week, I’d either be dead or the best rider around. It’s just fun. Friday afternoon was a good time to hit the Dragon. Traffic was pretty light. No troopers at all! (Because everyone knows that the posted limit of 30mph is a joke!)
Have I mentioned that I like this road?
Forgive me, John, but I do have to do this… On the way in, John got a little bit happy with the rear brake. No damage, no injuries, but it did require a trip to the Tree of Shame.
The pavement was mixed quality here; lots of patch jobs and tar snakes, but it was good, pretty road. I think it’s part of the Moonshiner’s trail section of motorcycle roads in the area. It takes you by Fontana Dam, the lake, and several different creeks and mini-waterfalls. It was great riding.
Once you hit Franklin, NC-28 joins up with US-64. This highway quickly becomes less of a highway and more of fun two-laner. There are about four roadside waterfalls you can see. The road is narrow, with the rock face so close to you that you get tempted to reach out and touch it with your hands while you ride. (I had to keep reminding myself that I had wide saddlebags on during this stretch!)
The waterfalls in this section of western North Carolina are worth the price of admission alone. If you’ve never been here, you absolutely need to. The only point of confusion–the names of the waterfalls on the maps doesn’t match what locals call them. I asked people in a gas station where Quarry Falls was. They didn’t know what it was until I showed them my map. They told me I was looking for “Bust Your Butt” falls. Oops!
This place is really good. You could probably spend all day in this 10 mile stretch of road just taking it all in. If you can only hit two, Dry Falls and Bridal Veil were the neatest. Anytime you get to go underneath a water fall, you get a front-row seat to one of the coolest things in creation.
From here, we continued to Highlands. This town sort of reminded me of Estes Park or a little ski town with lots of little upscale shops. Unfortunately it was also the sort of town where the sidewalks close at 9. We found The Pizza Place (elevation 4,118 feet) and stopped in for calzones. We hadn’t quite planned on the altitude and the temperature difference, so during dinner, we started looking over options.
We thought we found some campgrounds past Cashiers, so we got on the roads. Unfortunately most of the campgrounds we saw on google were either RV/trailer parks or closed or had no facilities. We got pretty cold, and it was getting dark, so we ended up bailing to the Mount Toxaway Inn.
I think my Facebook post described it pretty well…
We passed the hotel and turned around to come back to it. When we got there (about 9pm), the lights were off and there was a sign on the office door that said “If we’re gone, call…”
John grabbed his cell phone (he had better service than I), and dialed the number. We got a little bit worried that we were stuck when we could hear the phone ringing in the office. Eventually someone answered and said he’d be down in a few minutes. While we waited, it was really incredible–total silence. I couldn’t hear an air conditioner, car, or anything. It was totally dark in that way that you only get in the mountains.
Eventually the manager came out and let us in. We got one of the 8 rooms and were grateful for it. The hotel was actually fairly nice. It was perfectly clean, just a little bit dated. (For example, the microwave and the TV were roughly the same size.) The checkout procedure was awesome: leave by 10, and leave your key on the dresser.
It was a good day. We were both definitely tired and looking forward to a soft bed and hot showers for the long trip home. We ended the day a little bit further east and south than I had planned. (I think we were less than 10 miles from the South Carolina border.) I have to admit, we talked about calling in sick for Sunday to go to the beach, since were close, but I figured since had already posted to Facebook about where we were… :)
When you look at the map, you know it’s going to be a good day when you almost never leave “green” areas. We were in national forests or parks almost all day. I can’t argue with that!
Saturday’s report is coming soon! :)