From October 7 thru October 11 I went to Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, NC. It is located in prime motorcycle riding country with 3 famous and major routes; Cherohala Skyway, Moonshine Run and Tail of the Dragon. This is a trip I have had planed for over 9 months, and one I have had the hardest time waiting to arrive. The trip down was going to be along US60, 127, 27, 95, 129 and 28. 129 is the Tail of the Dragon and 28 is Moonshine Run. So my route down, before the weekend even starts, includes the Tail of the Dragon and Moonshine Run. Two of the three off the bucket list already. Lets just say, hitting these roads fully loaded, was not exactly what I wanted to do, but hey, may as well go all the way.
I think some background on what Horizons Unlimited is required for those who have no idea. HU is an organization of riders and adventurers from all over the world. It was started by a couple who wanted to share their adventures riding around the globe and to help others of like minded intent get the information required to do the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you are going around the world, across your own country or just across your state, they want to hear about it and help support it. They do meetings and meetups all over the world, all year. This one happened to be in North Carolina about 340 miles away – an easy days ride in. Included in the meetup were seminars on border crossings, packing light, financing the trips on less than $60/day (one of the guy’s showed how he was able to do it on less than $7 a day, including fuel.) and there were many talks about overland travel throughout the world.
October 7, 2015 – I left the house at 8:00 AM. I ran down US60 for about 40 miles and then turned south on US127 through Danville where I picked up US27 and ran it down into Tennessee. From there, I twisted and turned on a few smaller roads heading south and east, picking up US95 for a bit which dropped me off on US129, just north east of North Carolina. Once on 129, I ran for about 14 miles before I saw the first of the signs of the Dragon: “No trucks allowed.” My skin started prickling and I started to get jazzed up. Tail of the Dragon is one of the more famous and technical rides in the area. There are those who will say it is overrated, too busy, too technical, too easy, however, they have also done it. Well most of them, anyways. Some people just have to blast something they either have not done, or chickened out of and need to save face.
So I head into the Dragon, 329 curves over 11 miles. Switchbacks, blind curves, barely any straightaways. I am still a relatively new rider (first year, even though I have over 10,000 miles on my bike and myself). Tail of the Dragon is a very technical ride, requiring concentration over the entire 11 miles into Deals Gap (the way I was headed). And I paid attention, white-knuckling the whole way. One thing that does help is the speed limit is between 30 and 40 miles per hour. I did run into an issue with some guy and his wife in a minivan. They could not keep the thing on their side of the road, nor would they pull off (plenty of places to do so) to let everyone by. The whole time they were in front of me they straddled the line, as if it was the guide to keep the center of the van in the middle of the road. Dangerous… Finally they get the hint and pull off. Just after I take back off I get the signal from another rider coming the other way cops were ahead and radaring. A though enters my head – let them know about the people in the white van. So I do, with a quick gesture of my thumb, and just as I am getting ready to round the next corner, I see them gesture to the van to pull over. Score! A few minutes later I cross into North Carolina and into Deals Gap.
Deals Gap consists of a motorcycle lodge, gift store, gas store, grill and the headquarters of Killboy’s photo group. It also has the famous Dragon. It is also the start of the Moonshine Run as well, which I found out when I got there. I got the obligatory photos, picked up my stickers, talked to a few people and then headed on my way down 28, Moonshine Run, on the last leg of my trip into Stecoah and the Ironhorse Lodge. It was nearly 3:00 PM when I pulled out from Deals Gap, with 90% of the trip down over and about 30 minutes to go.
As I pulled out from Deals Gap onto 28, the van finally showed up, and the wife was colorfully gesturing and yelling at the husband. Wow, guess he should have not driven like a dick. Well, off I went down Moonshine and while it wasn’t nearly as technical as the Dragon, there were some spots that, if you were not paying attention, would have had you in the river or melded in the rocks. A few 10 mph hairpins were enough to wake one up to the fact that we are still in the mountains and following a river. It was a blast, and while tired from over 300 miles already run, it was enough to get the adrenaline going again to finish the ride. I turned off 28 onto Lower Stecoah Road and into the Ironhorse Lodge less than 30 minutes after leaving Deals Gap. And it was a welcome site to be able to pull in and check into the lodge. I was ready for a beer and some relaxation. 30 minutes after dropping the kickstand, I was checked in, bags off-loaded and cloths changed with a bit of bourbon in hand. I took it easy and turned in early this night – was just plum tired, but it was a well-earned tired.
October 8, 2015 – Today came in quick. My plan was to head out at a leisurely pace and hit the Cherohala Skyway, which, if driven properly, would take most of the day with a finish through Deals Gap again. Boy, was this ride something else. I ended up running about 140 miles doing the entire loop, which included the Dragon again – this time without asshole white van. I finished up by taking 129 into Robbinstown instead of repeating 28 again. It was also a nice run, though not nearly as technical as the previous 11 miles. From there I went on a search for beer. I had plenty of bourbon, but no beer. This is where I put an extra 50 miles or so into the next county where I could get alcohol. Hence the box on the back of Raven to the left. The end of this day included planting in a comfy chair in the meeting room with my cooler next to me for 3 seminars after dinner. Man was it good. Got taken on 3 different trips around the globe, with photos and some great stories.
October 9, 2015 – Today was going to be a short ride to Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Maggie Valley is like a little Gatlinberg. It sits in/near the Cherokee reservation and boasts some nice skiing. Can’t take me word on it as there was no snow and I have never skied there. The ride in on 19 was something else. It had rained overnight an was threatening the whole trip in (50 miles or so) so I took it slow. The road itself was still damp, and god-forbid I hit some wet leaves and slide out. Only took just over an hour to get there, but it was worth it. Once I got into the museum, I can see how it could take a whole weekend to go through it. There were vehicles everywhere, and all of them could be started an run. The owner was walking around talking to everyone who was there and even started a few of them I didn’t think would even hold oil, much less turn over and idle. Most of the day was spent here, with a break for lunch in the middle. I got back to the lodge around 3 or 4. Literally minutes before it started raining. The rest of the day and evening were spent drinking beer and listening to more stories about world trips and other seminars. It was a good day.
October 10, 2015 – Today was set aside for seminars and relaxing so I would have enough energy to head out first thing in the morning for home, again along the Moonshine Run and through Deals Gap into the Tail of the Dragon. Started off the day with some breakfast and talking to a few guys about their trips and bikes. After lunch, I planted in the meeting room for a couple technical talks and a seminar on what to expect at different border crossings and what kind of documentation is needed in order to enter and leave the different countries. In a word, complicated. From there, we stepped outside and had a hands on demo of packing light as one of the guys went through everything he took on his round the world tour – 3 rear bags and a tank bag… It was great inspiration and some great tips on how to pack enough for extended trips and not be overloaded. I have some pairing down to do before my next trip (October 23-25). The evening culminated in a trip to Africa, which went way over time, and I stepped out of in order to get packed and get some rest. My plan was to get everything packed up and ready to load before I went to sleep. And for the first time in a LONG time I took a shower before going to bed so I could pack everything up.
October 11, 2015 – Yep, somehow I met my goal of being up, bike loaded and kickstand up before 8:00 AM. I said good-bye to my bunk mates and started off on the 340 mile ride home. It was chilly, the sun still not yet up. I took the reverse home (28 -> 129 -> 95 -> 27) right up until I got into Kentucky. I ended up having to stop and get my Freeze-Out jacket on under my shell as it was downright cold. From there I veered off onto a few smaller roads, largest of which was 70. On 70 I got passed by a couple bikers on Suzuki GSXRs as we were going through the hills (mountains well south now) and farmland. A few miles later, I roll up on them sitting on the side of the road. One of them had missed the turn and put his bike into the ditch. No one was hurt, apart from ego, and the bike was fine as well. A group of us got him back on the road and upright and we all took our separate ways. Had to grin at the though of how it must have felt to have passed someone and then wreck and having that same person stop to help. Would have felt an inch big, if it was me. Just glad no one was hurt and no one was left without transportation.
I continued on north, taking other roads after 70 was closed to through traffic. I ended up coming up into Bardstown instead of through Danville. Total miles ended up being slightly less overall, but the time was slightly more. I finally rolled into the garage at 3:15 PM. Total miles driven since Wednesday: 1091. I passed the 10,000 mile mark on the bike about an hour before hitting Bardstown. It was about 4:30 PM before I got the bike unloaded and bags unpacked. From there, I did nothing strenuous and just ordered a pizza for dinner.
October 12, 2015 – Today was a day of recouping. I got the laundry done, bike washed, gassed up and stickers applied. I did my chain maintenance (a little overdue, but tolerable). Now, I need to get the riding gear in the wash and get all the bugs and dirt washed up so I can get it all dirty again. It was a good week in some of the best riding country in the US, if not the world. I cannot wait for next year, and to do it again. For now, however, I have the trip to Spring Mill in Mitchell, IN over the weekend of October 23-25 to look forward to. Different riding and some camping (no bunks at Spring Mill). The whole HU group has me thinking about how to pull off a “4 Corners” trip in the US as well as the Pruedo Bay ride in Alaska. I know it is all doable, with certain sacrifices, but it would definitely require a lifestyle change.
Until the next trip, here are the photos I took during the ride. The first group are from the rides themselves, the 2nd group is from the Wheels Through Time museum.