Three days, three states, a Triumph Thunderbird Sport and Moto Guzzi Café Sport sound like a recipe for adventure to me. So, when the phone call came through to ask if I wanted to come along, it certainly didn't take much more than a split second to sign up for this one, especially as the start of the tour is less than three hours from my North Carolina home.
"Temperature's dropping fast," mumbles the gas station attendant as I pay for my tank of gas. Glancing across the road, I see an electronic bank sign announcing a brisk 44 degrees and hurry out. Moments later I am crouched behind the fly screen of the big Guzzi, heading towards the recently departed sun. The road is empty and the mountains that frame the multi-colored sky fade to black in the early evening twilight. Inside my helmet I am grinning ear to ear. It is late in the year, but Christian and I are meeting in Chattanooga for our last shamrock tour, and he has a great one planned. The Weather Channel is optimistic and, like the squirrels that have been so busy these past few weeks, I feel charged to get one more story tucked away before the long, cold winter sets in, and we have to park the bikes for a while.
Sprawling around the Tennessee River, Chattanooga is delightfully described as, "The Gateway to the Deep South." With Hernando Desoto becoming the first tourist in 1540, Chattanooga, population 156,000, now boasts more than four million visitors a year. Taking its name from the Creek Indian word for "rock coming to a point," Chattanooga's proximity to the Tennessee River has long made it a geographically significant location, a fact that wasn't lost on the Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War. Here in 1863, the two armies fought the bloodiest battle of the war, resulting in some 37,000 casualties. Fast-forward to the 1940s and bandleader Glen Miller put the burgeoning city on the map with his famous gold record, "Chattanooga Choo Choo," written about the Terminal Station. Built in 1908, it is still standing and well worth a visit. With its own Symphony Orchestra, numerous museums and theatres, modern Chattanooga lists as one of the nation's top ten overlooked tourist destinations.
Tempting as all of this sounds, Christian and I are here to ride, and leaving the La Quinta Inn after a hearty breakfast, we head into a gray, overcast 40-degree day. We are bound for Georgia and will save our city visit for another day. The first miles are south on I-75 over the state line before we turn east along US 41. We stop after 25 miles for some photos at Prater's Mill, where a sign announces that we must "Save the planet, it's the only one with corn bread." It works for me, and a few minutes spent meandering around the mill creek and checking out the cotton gin is time well spent. Slipping along through the small town of Ringold, I catch the day's only glimpse of blue sky that appears as a tear in the solid, gray cloudbank. The two-lane roads are lightly trafficked, and traveling these small rural thoroughfares evokes a feeling of riding through people's personal lives, as houses and businesses open to the road. From the amount of friendly waves we receive, we are not unwelcome and rolling by we wave back as needed.
Up front, Christian is sitting comfortably on a Triumph Thunderbird Sport and during a quick break, confesses his desire to buy one. This means I won't be getting much T-bird seat time, but there are no complaints, as beneath me a Moto Guzzi Café Sport is effortlessly devouring the miles in comfort and style. There are still leaves on the trees this far south, giving additional color to the sweet-smelling pines that line the road.
Stopping to gas up in Ellijay, a large bearded gentleman, Jerry, informs us we are in Ducati country. On seeing we are both riding European bikes, he jokingly allows us to continue as he draws a map of his favorite back roads. Unfortunately, we are not going to enjoy them for a few hours, as a massive nail has found its way into Christian's rear tire. Thankfully, it is a slow leak and we make it to a local motorcycle shop owned and operated by Stacy and Alan Patterson. Alan goes to work as we wander next door to the Apple Barrel restaurant. An old converted apple house, we enjoy a pleasant lunch and some great moonshine stories from days gone by. Back at the shop, the tire is fixed, and we hurriedly get back on the road.