I was wrapping up another season of selling pumpkins and staring down the barrel of an open calendar when the Yamaha Ténéré 700 began to take on a life of its own from the bits and pieces I was adding to it for the trip. October is the month to experience the autumn leaves and final days of warmer weather on two wheels in western North Carolina. But for me, the first week of November has been better over the years because I’ve sold pumpkins throughout my life across the 31 glorious days of October. Living in an open field surrounded by a sea of pumpkins, gourds, and corn creations has a way of putting you in another world—but it’s good to have a way to detach from it when it’s all over.
The best way I can describe it is like the way Kevin Costner’s character John J. Dunbar in Dances with Wolves creates a home in the middle of the Wild West, detached from his unit. But, unlike Dunbar, the pumpkin farm I created had me connecting with the public in a festive way, providing a product while pouring my heart into it. After all, maintaining a pumpkin patch, if done with heart, is an emotionally draining endeavor. As tiresome as it was, though, I always look forward to doing it again next year. But now, on to our Shamrock Tour® story.
Day 1: Max Patch and The Fire Towers
Harper from Stranger Things said, “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation.” So, I started there. The original motivation for this year’s motorcycle adventure was contemplation, but that changed when I climbed a fire tower on the first day of this tour. The view from up high reminded me that if you can’t see the forest for the trees, you need to rise above them.
Motorcycle & Gear
Hot Springs, NC, is located 40 miles northwest from Asheville at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the French Broad River in a valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Pisgah National Forest. The town has been a resort destination for almost two centuries and has long been renowned for its healing hot mineral springs, scenic mountain setting, and abundance of natural resources. We hung our hats at the Creek Water Inn, a Western-like abode beside Spring Creek with ample private parking. The hotel is nestled squarely in the center of the town, within a walking distance of everything. We enjoyed wood-fired pizza, live music, craft beer, and the welcoming Vaste Riviere Provisions just across the street serving up a healthy selection of freshly prepared food and beverages.
Awaking from a peaceful night’s sleep in our creekside cowboy cottage, we prepped our horses and walked 100 yards like gunslingers for a hearty country breakfast at Smoky Mountain Diner. Smoky’s down-home Southern diner has satisfied a variety of adventure seekers for many years—from long-time locals to hungry hikers coming off the Appalachian Trail.
Lodging: Creek Water Inn
The newly remodeled Creek Water Inn was the perfect place to call home during this tour. It offers reserved parking just outside the rooms, cozy beds, mini refrigerators, a courtyard patio with a fire pit, and a charcoal grill. The sound of Spring Creek ensured a good night’s sleep amidst Western-like charm. There’s no front desk, each room has it’s own lockbox, and you are able to arrive on your own time. While short on amenities, this rustic inn is full of charm. Find it at 159 Bridge St, Hot Springs, NC, (828) 206-5212.
Saddling up and opening the throttle on the T7 was a glorious affair. Immediately upon crossing the French Broad River, we were welcomed by wide open sweepers where the Bridgestone Battlax AT41 tires gripped with confidence under my fully packed adventure bike. The sound of the MT-07-inspired engine singing through the Yoshimura exhaust lit me up inside and out. What felt like a proper amount of time on fifth and sixth-gear sweepers eventually morphed into smaller roads that turned to gravel for the majority of the time, then back to pavement. The turns were nonstop, as were the elevation changes. That combination, mixed with just the right amount of long straights, made this a special adventure while also requiring our full attention.
The highlights from the day’s exploration included Max Patch and the Meadow Creek and Rich Mountain fire towers. The towers, erected in the 1920s and ‘30s, once stood as sentinels over Southern Appalachian forests. Today, they remain monuments to the value of our public lands and natural resources. Rich Mountain Fire Tower is a must-see for dual sport adventurers. You can ride your bike all the way up to the base of the tower and climb the steps to the top for your own personal perspective reset.
If the fire towers spark your interest, you’ll surely want to park your bike and take the short hike up to Max Patch. The 350-acre tract of open land on a high grassy knob with 360-degree views is one of the most spectacular settings you’ll experience in the Blue Ridge. It was easy to imagine the stages of life cultivated over the centuries on this vast mountain 4,000 feet above the sea.