A late spring tour in the southern mountains often brings rainstorms along for the ride. On the way to Bristol, the dark and ominous clouds chase us wherever we go. Then, finally, in Jefferson, the rain gets a hold of us and doesn’t let go until we get back to Bristol.
This late May trip combines many objectives. Spend time with my mum, Christa, and my girlfriend, Sarah, scout the area for the 2010 Touring Weekend, celebrate my birthday, and test out Midland Radio’s BT2 communication system. Will all this prove to be too much for a first journalism assignment? Perhaps, but I’m more worried about riding in thunderstorms and using a communication system with Sarah for the entire trip. All three of us were supposed to be connected, but I put my foot down arguing that one woman in my helmet was more than enough! Christa is riding the 2009 Honda VFR800, and Sarah and I are on the 2010 Triumph Tiger — great motorcycles for this part of the country.
Day 1 – North Carolina/Tennessee Loop
We start out with a hearty breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn before mounting our steeds to head out on the first loop. The first day is always filled with anticipation. You can’t wait for the trip to start, but also you don’t want it to end, even though you haven’t left the parking lot yet.
We ride along the border of the Cherokee National Forest to Bluff City and Elizabethton, before we dive right into the fun on US Hwy 321. The road snakes its way around the south side of Lake Watauga on smooth asphalt. The trees stand very close to each other making it seem almost impossible to walk through. As this is so close to our home, we travel these roads quite frequently, and this part of the state is always on top of the weekend getaway list. To avoid the “hustle and bustle” of Boone, we make a big 180 towards Banner Elk. On the way, we encounter a real gem: Road 194 is an extremely tight and technical road that requires serious concentration and smoothness on the rider’s part. On top of that, the road surface is in bad shape from rough winters and DOT neglect, but no problem for the Tiger or the VFR. The road climbs the side of a mountain, circling some homes in steep uphill turns, and sometimes even offers a breathtaking view of a farm or an untouched valley, through the trees.
Motorcycles & Gear
2010 Triumph Tiger
2009 Honda VFR Interceptor
The rain catches us in Banner Elk as we get off for a lunch stop at Dunn’s Deli. The owner tells us of the Highland Games, which take place every July. Here you’ll find all things Scottish, including competitions ranging from wrestling to sheep herding. During that weekend, Grandfather Mountain gets overrun by countless tourists. On a motorcycle you can avoid parking issues and stopped traffic.
We get our food just in time before the new graduates from Lees-McRae College rush in to escape the downpour and pick up party-sized sandwich platters. Since we track the movement of the rain clouds on the MyRadar app, we can leave at the perfect moment to ride between the storms. On the way down to Spruce Pine and Plumtree, NC, our thoughts are interrupted by the noise of fire engines. A house has caught on fire, but the rain alone is not enough to extinguish it. Hwy 19E leads us right by the Toe River Lodge, which is also a superb restaurant and campground. The friendly people and great location makes our decision easy. And we discover the perfect lunch stop for the 2010 Touring Weekend!
The road across Roan Mountain, right before we cross into Tennessee is nothing short of amazing. Smooth asphalt and dizzying curves make this a true rollercoaster. I try everything to lose my mum, but I always see her headlight in my mirrors. We don’t even know what state we’re in, but a sudden change of road surface hints the crossing of a state line. After a quick refreshment stop with Gatorade and a banana, we finish our loop back into Bristol on mellow farmland roads. It’s nice to ride on less challenging roads in the afternoon, when concentration is not at its peak anymore. At least we can always see the mountains in the background.
Day 2 – Mountains and Valleys
Our second day starts with another uncertain weather forecast. Just to be sure, we monitor the clouds on MyRadar. We head out with a recharged communication system, full tanks of gas, loaded GPS files, and lots of expectations. Road 700 serves as our warm-up session, which meanders through Rich Valley. We have to curb our enthusiasm, as much farm equipment uses this road as well. The warm-up session is short-lived, as the curvy roads of the Appalachians begin. Road 80 puts a smile on my face that lasts for the rest of the day. No traffic, good asphalt, rhythmic curves, and lots of shade make this road a must for riders visiting this area. The Tiger swings Sarah and me through turn-after-turn, scraping footpeg-after- footpeg. I watch my line, as these turns demand rider precision. I also want to leave enough room on the outside. Motor-less bikes also use this road, but at a far lesser speed.