This year I headed out on Wednesday, October 5 at just after 8:00 am for Iron Horse Lodge in Stecoah, NC. It was a 310 mile trip down via US27 and a few others, including the famous roads of US129 (Tail of the Dragon) and US28 (Moonshiner28). I arrived after an uneventful trip at 3:15, give or take. Wednesday night was pretty easy going, with not a whole lot going on. It was nice to relax a bit after a pretty long, non-stop ride.
Thursday I spent at the lodge, for the most part, where I waited for someone to show up who I was splitting a room with. I didn’t have anywhere to stow my gear until he got in, so I just hung about. As per the laws of Murphy (that Irish bastard) as I sat down to eat lunch, he came in. I offloaded the gear into the room, and headed out on a beer run. And the 15 minute trip for beer turned into 90 minutes. I made the wrong decision and turned the wrong way on the main road, and didn’t realize it until I was about 15 miles out. Now, “Wrong Turn” may not be the right phrase. It turned out to be a beautiful ride. I got to where the road came out of the mountains, pulled over, got the helmet cam out and turned around and headed back. Finally, with beer in hand, I headed back to the lodge to get it on ice. That night was spent talking and trading stories and drinking beer.
Friday morning was spent talking and getting ready for a ride up the Cherohala Skyway (US143) to Telico Plains for some BBQ. There were 7 of us who started out, but we met up with 3 more at the restaurant. It was a phenomenal ride out, and a blast. However, we didn’t stop anywhere for photos or overlooks. That’s ok, I had decided to go ahead and ride it back, stopping at the various overlooks and photo spots. Look below for the photos from the ride. I was about 10 miles from the Lodge when it started to rain. I pulled off, zipped up the vents on the jacket and pants, donned my waterproof gloves, and finished out the ride. Again, the Klim gear proved its worth by keeping me bone dry (save for some sweating). After getting back to the Lodge, I got changed and decided to grab a beer and relax a bit.
Friday night consisted of BBQ and a couple talks from some interesting trips. One guy talked about his travels and adventures in Equador and Peru on a small 250cc motorcycle, and the other about part of his trip from Korea through Russia, Mongolia, Kasakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Both were interesting, had great stories, and the common thread on all the stories here is to get out, experience the world, and just meet people. The more people we meet, the smaller, and friendlier the world will become.
Saturday was, like last year, all about the seminars. From minimalist packing to iPhone photography to prep work to Around the World travel and Africa. Even an Around the World film presentation. The first two presentations were great. One was the RTW from London to Magadan, Russia. It was very close to the same route that “Long Way Round” took so many years ago. The second was from a young Canadian who took 3 months to travel throughout Vietnam and Cambodia on a tiny Honda Win 90 clone he bought for $270 and sold for $200. After lunch was another presentation on minimalist packing. I saw this one last year, and learned a lot. I am hoping to learn some more, and pick up some new tips so I can start carrying even less. I have managed to drop my load down to pannier bags and a top box, where before I would have another bag in front of the top box as well as a backpack. We’ll see.
Sunday was an early day to rise and hit the road. I had to decide which or two routes to take back home. On one hand, I could go home the way I came, through Moonshiner28 to Tail of the Dragon and then US27 to home, OR, I could go east on 19 to 441 through Gatlinburg and then home via 25 through Cumberland Gap. There is about an hour difference in the routes, 40 miles. As one of the presentation’s subjects was “Why Not?” I decided to go the new route, through new roads, even though it would be longer. You know, why not? Besides, I was already here, and it would be a while before I would be this way again. The biggest question was whether or not I would beat or meet the legendary Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge traffic.
It ended up being a good decision and traffic was fairly light for the trip through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I was lucky not to have anyone in front of me for most of the way through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and in taking the bypass around Gatlinburg, I missed the town traffic. The traffic in Pigeon Forge was negligible when I went through it (around 9:45 am) which was probably due to most being in church, or still waking up from partying the night before. I was up and through Cumberland Gap by 11:30 AM and making great time. I got home pretty much at 3:00 PM on the dot. It was a great weekend, and I am already looking forward to next year.
Here is my travel, for those who like seeing routes and maps.
Below is are the photos from this trip. While fewer in number than last year, they are just as spectacular. Some taken from the same places, others from new ones. Especially the new ones from 441 through Gatlinburg. Click the image below for the gallery.