It’s another 100-plus-degree day in “Middle-earth” of North Carolina. The office air conditioner is struggling to keep up as the warmth radiates from the large windows. We haven’t ridden in a few weeks due to the heat and humidity. Fortunately for us, the Great Smoky Mountains are just two hours away. I dial the boss’ extension and pitch her a tour she can’t refuse. “How about we connect some of our favorite North Carolina hotels with the best-of-the-best motorcycling roads for a three-day escape?”
And as quick as that we were off the next day. We picked two Suzuki V-Stroms. At first, I piloted the 650XT, while my mom was on the slightly more comfortable 1000XT. It was a true triple-digit escape along the interstate. We had to make a beeline to get to Little Switzerland to gain in elevation. Riding up NC 226A, The Diamondback, we at least got to scrape off some rubber on the sides of the tires.
Little Switzerland to Bryson City
One of our favorite hotels is the Switzerland Inn. It’s right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and it has a million-dollar view. (There’s also Skyline Inn right down the road.) From the hotel and the added buildings, a large grassy field flows downhill to an unmatched view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. We had to tear ourselves away from the hearty breakfast and the view from the dining room, because 180 miles of twisties in this part of the world is a long day. First up, we rode down 226A again, tested lean angles and scraped footpegs. There was zero traffic this early midweek. The Diamondback is a 12-mile curve-slinging fest through dense woods, featuring several hairpin turns, on a recently repaved surface.
I told my mom this was going to be a tour connecting as many curvy stretches as possible, but with some relaxing straight stretches sprinkled in. And so we spent five whole minutes on a wide highway before taking a right on Route 80, another disorienting trek. Already warmed up, we increase our speeds a little. The willing and able Suzukis are the perfect machines: nimble, smooth, and predictable. We brought along our Cardo Scala Rider PackTalk communicators to make the photo stops easier, but sharing random thoughts of the road was fun, too. Almost back up at the Parkway I heard, her laughing: “these many curves make me dizzy.”
We decided to try out a road we had not previously explored, Route 117. It led us on a southwesterly trajectory. Here we realized that this tour was different than what we expected. Usually, this part of the country has very dense foliage, with most curvy roads in the thicket. Yet 117 South toward Pensacola served us with gorgeous views of the mountains. Just as I was daydreaming about this, a black bear cub came scuttling down the side of the mountain, and in the cutest way you can image ran across the road. Then out of nowhere a series of six perfectly spaced, wide switchbacks changed the scenery dramatically. The stand of timber between seemed to be carefully manicured, because we could see all the way through the whole series. This was also the time when fellow motorcyclists screamed up the mountain on KTM Super Dukes, a GS, and a 1600 GT. Those middle-aged hooligans! (Coming from the 30-year-old.) We met them minutes later at the top of the mountain. To everyone’s surprise, the pavement ended. The wide, well graded gravel and dirt road didn’t look challenging at all, and on our bright yellow adventure bikes we took the plunge. It was a short five miles down the hill, and the whole section was totally worth it.