Kingsport, Tennessee Shamrock Tour®: Riding the Mountain Empire

Kingsport, Tennessee Shamrock Tour®: Riding the Mountain Empire
Spanning from northeastern Tennessee to southwestern Virginia, there’s great touring country known as the Mountain Empire. And hidden within this region is the gem known as Kingsport, TN. This town serves as the starting point of what is now known as the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail.

In March of 1775, just days before Patrick Henry gave his rallying “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA, another chapter in the fight for independence was unfolding in Tennessee. The Cherokee Indians and Transylvania Land Company were negotiating the details of the purchase of land now known as Kentucky, and the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone was waiting in Kingsport for word that the purchase had been secured. He wanted to mark a trail for others to follow on the newly purchased land. The path he forged, now known as the Wilderness Trail, became the route for hundreds of thousands of settlers of the western frontier. And it all started here.

SR 160 passes over Black Mountain at the Kentucky and Virginia border and supplies plenty of long views.

“Give me sunshine, serve me curves …” is my rallying cry when exploring a new area. While I live only three hours east of Kingsport, more than half of the roads on this Shamrock Tour® are new to me. I’m riding my KTM 1190 Adventure. Christa, my mom, is astride her Ducati Scrambler. Our friend Zane pilots his brand spanking new Yamaha FJR1300. And fellow editor James T. Parks rides his pristine Honda CB1100. It’s early May and the world is awash with the color of all things blooming. Mornings are still a bit chilly providing that extra tingle the first hour or so.

Motorcycles & Gear

2014 KTM 1190 Adventure
2015 Ducati Scrambler
2013 Honda CB1100
2016 Yamaha FJR1300

Helmets: Shoei Neotec, Kabuto Ibuki
Jackets: Klim Badlands, Firtgear TPG Monarch, Vanson, Klim

The Snake

The MeadowView Resort is home for the next few days, and we take advantage of their scrumptious breakfast before heading east on Highway 11W. This divided highway is scattered with chain restaurants, hotels, and various businesses that eventually give way to rolling farmland. We pick up SR 394, a connector passing through Blountville to south of Bristol, and avoid the major traffic and the monotony of the divided highway. Inching closer to Bristol, we pass by the famous Bristol Motor Speedway, home of the fastest half mile. Currently, though, with no races on the docket, the area is rather deserted. Highway 421 appears soon after, and we hang a right. My favorite traffic signs start to appear—the ones that warn truckers of curves and switchbacks ahead and recommend an alternative route.

While some areas provide little more than green landscape, Kingsport is surrounded by horse farms – especially important on long, warm afternoons when the concentration starts to fade.

I remember the first time I rode north on The Snake. It was one of my early tours for RoadRUNNER when I accompanied Chris Myers for our Bardstown, KY, Shamrock Tour (January/February 2007). Highway 421 was the most direct route to get there. Chris rode a Honda 599, with me on the ’97 Triumph Tiger. As a fairly green rider, following Chris through the curves was challenging, but so much fun. I think of this now when we cross the bridge over South Holston Lake, and I get loosened up in anticipation of what’s ahead. The asphalt has seen a few facelifts over the years, and it’s in almost perfect condition. The rhythmic sweepers northwest of Shady Valley are a good interlude. This time we bypass the obligatory stop at the country store there. The southeast portion is freshly repaved and serves up tight corners and switchbacks in mindboggling fashion. The toe dragging continues all the way to Mountain City.

Close to the Church Circle in Kingsport, historical markers tell the town's story. You just have to stop and take the time to read them.

Just a short distance farther, Boone is always an option to find good food and coffee, but be warned: it’s always swarming with tourists. The small town can’t really handle the crowds, so a traffic jam is inevitable. Fortunately for us, 421 turns right onto Highway 321 just before Boone to the west. This highway doesn’t have the tight and rhythmic curves that we just left, but it offers scenic views along the Watauga River and later, Watauga Lake. Fast sweepers lead us all the way to the Captain’s Table, a neat restaurant overlooking the lake.

The curves and beauty continue after lunch, and I’m struck by the magnificence of the riding. We’re so fortunate to live in such a superb region for riding motorcycles. So many roads to choose from and almost no traffic.