It took John and I the better part of the day to locate the bearings and fabricate what we needed to bring Doc together again. By the time we waved goodbye, I only had a couple hours to ride across the border into Tennessee. My route? The Cherohal Skyway – a twisty, sometimes steep scenic route that rides the crest of the Great Smokey Mountains through state and national forests until dropping down into Tennessee and flanking the Tellico River.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” the couple looking for some Tail of the Dragon Memorabilia as they browsed the selection at Mountain Motors, “though you won’t want to.” With nearl 60,000 miles under my belt including 35 countries and some 50 border crossings, nothing phases me much these days. “They had to heli-vac a motorcyclist out of their last month,” the woman dressed in jeans and a curve fitting leather jacket complete with frills. “If you take your eye off the road you’ll miss a turn, ” she grabbed my arm with her long blood red fingernails nearly piecing my riding jacket, “and it’s a long way down.”
Winding my way into the skyway – The Charohala Skyway the straddles the Tennessee – North Carolina Border.
Buzzing through these perfectly banked, cambered and smooth roads is quite the contrast from the roads of Syria or Sudan.
Even better, these roads actually are well marked, if not excessive in the warnings and alerts.
The Cherohala highway jumps to nearly a mile in elevation. Along the way the road passes through the Nantahala forest near the high-point with views of those Smokies. While I chose to bypass the park, I was filled with this late afternoon feeling of energy was I let the rhythm of the rode, bike and twists and turns of the Charohala highway guide move me in a way only a motorcycle ride through scenery and a well designed mountain road can.
Again, my inclination is to stop at virtually every pull-off to gaze at the vistas, inhale the mountain air or watch the birds in their effortless glide sail across the blue sky. At one stop I noticed a middle-aged gentlem dressed in overalls and sporting a ragged beard and baseball cap. In one hand he held awhat looked like a the old antenna we had sprouting from the room of my house when I was bout 8 years old. In the other an odd looking low-tech device with a few knobs and meters. It didn’t offer the appearance of high-tech, computer age techno gadgetry. But it was odd. Almost makeshift. On his head, large headphones. Though the sound of my pipe is way beyond my comfort level and I’m looking for an opportunity to take the time to repack, the man didn’t hear me pull up.
Barely friendly and if not slightly bothered by my inquiry, he explained that he lets his dogs loose in the forested notch below and then tracks them audibly from the overlooks on the Charohala. It seemed a probably answer, but I wondered why. As he chatted he exhibited an almost nervous tick by constantly looking over his shoulder. First to the right. Then the left. He had a clean pick-up with a collection of lock boxes and diamond plate dog-houses in the bed. “Can’t seem to find them,” he explained nervously while tossing a canvas around the back of the pickup. Not sure what he was really up to, but maybe this is a Tennessee/North Carolina hobby I’ve yet to hear about.
I love how the skyway climbs and twists and turns.
In California we’ve got strick dog-on-a-leash laws. But here in the backwoods of Tennessee anything goes. An odd hobby and odder looking gear. I hoped my not-so-friendly local finds his dogs.
At the next stop a group of Harley Riders from Georgia peppered me with questions before riding on. I rode to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, dedicated to the woman that wrote the poem “Trees” with the line “I Think That I Shall Never See A Poem Lovely As A Tree.” And trees abound. Here high in the mountains old growth forest dot the land, but I wonder what it was like for those soldiers tramping through these lands during the civil war, where afterwords some of the surrounding lands were cleared after northern investors took claim.
Never losing sight of my goal to traverse the USA on secondary roads, byways and two lane highways, I knew that today would be a short day. I set my sites for Sweetwater, Tennesse, hoping to arrive before sunset and find some good southern BBQ.
By the time I got to Sweetwater it was getting dark. A soulless town of strip malls, fast food and a few local places, I resorted to staying at an Econo Lodge. Not really a bad deal as they had free internet and allowed me to get caught up on this blog. And after many months of being behind – well – that’s a good thing!
As the sun began its set, I watched travelers heading up the skyway as I rode toward the flatlands of the Tennessee Valley.
The Telico River as the late afternoon dappled light played tricks as the sun shone through the wind shaking trees.