Deep, hanging clouds at 7 a.m. and the heavy raindrops tell us we have to wait. Some four hours later, the wait is over and it's time to call Garry, and start our tour of the Nantahala National Forest.
We meet at my home in Clemmons - Garry on his brand-new 750 Ducati Monster and I on my old reliable Triumph Tiger. The first sunrays are blinking through the clouds, the asphalt is drying, and the gloom is lifting along with our spirits. We take I-40 to Hickory and then follow the back roads toward Dillsboro to our first overnight stop. On the back roads we find a few curves and warm up for the next day when our shamrock tours begin. Late that evening, Michelle McMahon is waiting for us at the Mountain Brook Inn and shows us to our cabin. I know this place from my two previous trips in this gorgeous area and it is always a pleasure to return. You do not feel like a guest at all here; this family treats you like a member of the clan.
The First Curves
Hello, the sun is up and beckoning through the curtains. Not really awake yet, I look at my watch. What? We should already be on the road. I jump out of my bed and knock at the door of Garry's room. 'Hurry up my friend, it's already 9 o'clock.' Shower, brush teeth, brew coffee, jump into the motorcycle gear, drink coffee, push the button, the bike is running and we're off, all in 25 minutes. Is it a new world record? Who knows? But it's definitely a beautiful day and we start carving the first curves behind the town of Franklin on Wahay Road. Riding down from this little gap, we slow and stop for pictures in appreciation of the Nantahala Lake and its sparkling waves.
The following road to Robbinsville is like a racetrack with wide curves and long straight sections that invite us to open the throttle more than normally allowed. Have they closed the Cherohala Skyway to everyone but us? There is no traffic on an absolutely gorgeous day and that doesn't happen very often. An engineering marvel, this 36-mile road took 34 years to build at a price tag of $ 100,000,000 and the surface snakes very smoothly to the highest point (over 5,200 feet) before it swoops down to Tellico Plains, Tennessee. In this marvelous environment it's almost sinful to ride too fast. I only want to ride and stretch the enjoyment for as long as possible.
After this swerving, hilly intermezzo, we encounter a totally different picture. On Hwy 360, the wide-open landscape and expanses of water bewitch us. Here, the Little Tennessee River feeds the Tellico and Loudoun lakes. Crossing the Tellico Lake on Hwy 411, we turn right on Hwy 72, which brings us to Hwy 129. In any experienced biker's brain, the bells are ringing now because The Dragon is waiting and lays down its tail in 311 curves. It's always an adventure to ride the Dragon and I wave to Garry - bye-bye, my friend - open wide my throttle and sweep through the curves. It is the most enjoyable ride I've had since Hwy 16 in Virginia. As always, we meet other bikers at Deals Gap where I salute this successful ride with a cup of coffee before hunting down Hwy 28. We've put approximately 180 miles under our butts by the time we roll through the entrance of the Mountain Brook Inn.
When Garry pulled his helmet off, his smile extended from ear to ear. 'What a great tour!' he said before confessing how bone-tired he was.
'Well, my friend,' I answered, 'if you are tired from only 180 miles, then I have a new nickname for Garry Green. How about Garry 'Greenhorn?'
The Blue Ridge Parkway
When the first sunrays traverse my face and wake me, I know we can expect another wonderful day. Over breakfast, Mr. Greenhorn and I decide to venture onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After a few nice warm-up miles, we enter Brevard, NC. This charming town in the middle of Transylvania County invites us to take a break. Although the community is well known for its summer music festival, music training center, and the liberal arts school, Brevard College, today I'm more interested in its downtown ambience and the chance to kick back at one of its sidewalk cafés. It only takes a few cups of coffee for me, and tea for my friend, to put us in the mood to roll out again and hit Hwy 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.