Tennessee

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5/9/2007

 A.M. – Today’s the day… off to Tellico Plains, Tenn to stay at the Cherohala Motorcycle Resort with our friends, Mark and Renee.  We have been visiting Mark for the past 3 years as we progressed through travel ideas and different motorcycles.  The resort is comfortable and clean and truly a labor of love for Mark and Renee.  We have enjoyed watching their dream slowly grow into a reality and their increased success each year. 

              

Some of our GA friends have indicated that they may come up to Tellico Plains this weekend and camp with us at the Cherohala Motorcycle Resort.  We would love to see anyone who can make it! 

There are a lot of nerves about leaving, but we keep reminding ourselves that once we set off, everything will come together and feel right.  I am sure the nerves are even greater for me since this is my first motorcycle trip.  I am really looking forward to having the simple things work themselves into our routine – like loading the bikes up each morning or cooking dinner each evening.  Right now those little necessities still take lots of time and thought. 

 P.M.- Wow!  We left Atlanta about 3:00 pm.  We really have a lot of weight on these bikes!  My front tire was wiggling when riding slow and when riding over 55 mph!  We stopped at a gas station to put air in the tires.  There was so much weight that my lowered bike could not be put on the side stand or it would simply fall over, so I held the bike while Darren pumped the tires.  He was also having a bit of a struggle handling his weight – which was far greater than mine since he was carrying all the spare parts.  We both realized that we had way too much stuff and would have to re-evaluate our gear when we reached Tellico Plains. 

Then we hit traffic and both of our bikes got very hot…Darren’s bike was close to overheating.  So we took a break at a gas station to assess the situation.  After inspecting the coolant fan on his bike, Darren decided that we should also hardwire the fans to be able to turn it on manually. 

After getting out of the traffic and into the mountains, I got very comfortable with riding again and began to really enjoy the ride.  I could imagine this being my daily life – wow – what an amazing thought! 

We arrived at Cherohala Motorcycle Resort at about 8:00 pm.  We’d only ridden 5 hours and we have already learned some valuable lessons.  The next few days will be an attempt to fix these problems.  It was great to spend the night in a cabin rather than the tent after such a demanding day (emotionally and physically!).  We stayed up late posting blogs and sending emails with the great new WIFI amenity that Mark & Renee added to their facility. 

 5/10/2007

Unfortunately Mark had to travel for his job and would not be here for our visit.  We both regret not being able to see him before we leave, but hope to meet up with him again either on the road or whenever we return to this area. 

We spend the morning sorting through all our gear to determine what could be shipped forward, what could be thrown out and what should be sent back home for storage.  We decided to send most our stuff forward to Colorado, where we will be meeting up with some new friends.  In the end we shed about 40 lb of weight and a full pannier of space. 

It was stifling hot (about 90*F).  We spent much of the day using the Internet to research & purchase travel insurance – what a nightmare!  We had to purchase a domestic plan for the US portion of the trip because none of the international plans would insure U.S. residents in the U.S.  

 5/11/2007

In the afternoon Darren hardwired both bikes to manually operate the cooling fans.  Then we lowered my front forks ½ inch to help get my feet a bit further on the ground. 

Tim Stephenson, a local rider we have ridden with before, dropped by.  He is a great guy that helped plant the dual-sport seed.  He rode with Darren on his first off-road ride and also rode with me on my first ride.  He is amazingly patient and a generally good-natured fellow – not to mention a very quick rider.  He volunteered to go riding with Renee and us tomorrow. 

 5/12/2007

We adjusted the suspension on my bike so that I would be more comfortable riding without the gear on the bike. 

Renee wanted to go for a ride on her Suzuki DR200 to get more off-road experience.  Tim Stephenson (riding his XR650) came by with his wife, Connie, who was riding a Yamaha XT225 and we all went for a ride on some of the gorgeous trails around the Tellico Plains end of the Cherohala Skyway.  As a new rider (only about 7 months in the saddle and only 2 of those off-road), my nerves were really getting to me.  I had to push through it to regain my confidence.

We stopped at Bald River Falls and took some touristy photos before heading up a small mountain to a beautiful bluff with a view of mountains in all directions.  Tim and Connie shared their picnic lunch of sausage, cheese, cranberries and crackers with us.  We walked over the bluff to take a look at a small serene pond.  I have been making an extra effort to really appreciate the scenery of the area – the smell of the pine trees, the bubbling streams running through the forest, the grassy valley areas and the amazing vistas when you top a small mountain pass. 

The group headed back towards the camp and Darren and I split off to continue riding.  We rode a dirt road that parallels much of the Cherohala Skyway.  It is a fairly level track, often wide enough for 2 lanes, but some areas narrow to one lane.  Most of the track runs beside a small river where locals and weekenders fish from the rocks along its edges.  There are quite a few very nice camping sites along the river.  We rode for about 6 hours.  This is the average amount of riding that I expect to do each day on the TAT – so it was good practice, although I expect the TAT to be much harder with loaded bikes and less maintained trails. 

We relaxed around the pavilion with Renee and the other guests for a few hours.  Mark (aka Flux Capacitor) and Steve (aka Lucky Strike) rode up from Georgia to hang out with us for the evening and go riding in the morning.  We stayed up pretty late around the campfire.  They both have a great sense of humor and are very funny. 

5/13/2007        

Tim came back around to ride with Das, Mark and Steve.  I opted to stay at camp so as not to slow them down and to give Das some ‘boy time’.  Darren and Steve rode on the Cherohala Skyway and up to Deal’s Gap, since Steve was on a SV650S.  Tim and Mark rode the dirt roads since Mark was on a KLR.  They left our about 10 am.

I started to get a little concerned when Darren wasn’t back in the afternoon, but true to form, he rolled up at 4:00 behind the first lap of the World Superbike race on the television.   Some other guests left a cooler of beer and offered it to us – there were at least 7 or 8 Bud Light beers in ice.  Darren was a happy man – free beer!  Then Renee surprised us by cooking some eggs and cheese with salsa rolled into tortillas – it was a great treat!  After watching the race, we spent some time repacking our gear and preparing for the ride out tomorrow.  Renee has been a fabulous host and it is bittersweet leaving this place, but we must get moving. 

5/14/2007

Renee treated us to breakfast in the morning before we headed off.  We rode along minor roads to the town of Jellico, the official starting point for the TAT. We found a camp spot along a gravel road that looked like it had been visited by some other campers over the weekend – freshly emptied beer bottles laying in the fire pit.  It was still very close to the road and was probably private property, but there was nothing posted. 

We made Sloppy Joes with corn for dinner.  I did the dishes in the river.  We pulled out the little radio we had brought to see if we could find anything.  There was a radio show that was actually quite entertaining to listen to – I think it was called ‘Just for Fun’.  It was a one-man show with a 62 year old host playing all kinds of old funny tunes about Space.  He played a few tunes from Frank Zappa and Ray Stevens.  We went to bed about 10 pm.

5/15/2007

We slept a long time; woke up about 8:30 am.  We loaded up the bikes and Darren realized that he had left one of his clothing bags at the Cherohala Motocycle Resort.  It was his summer clothes – including all his socks and underwear.  We made the quick and easy decision to just purchase the missing items along the way and have our friends at Cherohala mail them to us down the road.  We headed off down some nice little one lane roads that constantly alternated between packed gravel and paved surface. 

I was having significant trouble with slow riding and tight turns (not uncommon for newbies).  Otherwise, I was feeling pretty confident about things when I came into a left turn with a lot of loose gravel.  I cut it much too tight and didn’t keep my eyes on where I wanted to go.  I was headed the wrong way and didn’t know how to stop it.  The bike tipped over at about 15 mph in the gravel.  I scrambled to my feet to reconnect the bike-2-bike to tell Darren that I needed his help.  He came back and we pulled the bike upright together.  I was okay – the bike had quite a few scratches.  The front fairing was bent crooked and the headlight would no longer work.  Luckily we had installed the auxiliary lights and used those as riding lights in order to be legally compliant.  We headed off again.  

It wasn’t long before the road entered a National Forest Area that was simply gorgeous.  There were no other vehicles for miles and miles.  The forest and clearings were so natural!  It was really a lovely ride.  We continued on to Ozone, home to Ozone Falls.  We stopped in hopes that they would have camping, but it was prohibited.  So we walked down to the falls anyhow, just to take a look.  My only regret for today is that we did not take a photo of the falls.  It was a respectful height and fell into a shimmering greenish blue pond.  The path we took led to the top of the falls, but I think other paths led to the bottom. 

We check the GPS to find the closest campground and headed to it.  It was an RV oriented private facility run by an old couple that was quite grumpy.  They charged us $15 to tent camp by the lake.  Overall, it was a good day – even with dropping my bike.  I am sure it won’t be the last time and I have a lot of work to do to get used to riding again, but it will come.  So far we have been very lucky – with the weather on our side and the roads very, very manageable.  I am sure all this will change, so I am careful to appreciate it now!

 5/16/2007

What a day!  We awoke to the sound of rain on the tent – which made us want to roll over and continue sleeping!   But we had to get moving at some point and we didn’t want to stay in the grotty campground another night.  The rain lightened up and we took our time getting packed up.  I was surprised to find that it was noon (flashing on a bank sign) when we rode into town.  Darren stopped at a Dollar General to purchase some underwear and socks to replace what he had left behind.  I am finding the Dollar General to be a very handy store in these little towns.  They are like a mini Wal-Mart where you can get all kinds of household items, general groceries and very modest clothing. 

As we headed off the rain was not bad.  Most of the roads were paved and the ones that weren’t were wide and well traveled with a compact surface.  As we continued, the rain became pretty yucky and made my visor completely useless.  I couldn’t see anything, so I had to raise it and let the rain hit me in the face.  I was grateful for the big goofy glasses I chose for this trip, but the rain pelting my face was still miserable.  I told Darren to keep a look out for some shelter for us to take a lunch break.  Moments later we found a great spot at an old cemetery at the top of a hill.  It had a covering with two picnic tables and enough room for the bikes to be pulled under as well. 

We turned on the radio.  One of the best investments we made for this trip was the small radio we purchased from REI.  It picks up all kinds of stations, but we have found it easy to pick up local radio so far.  It is a real spirit lifter to have music playing during lunch or at camp.  We both appreciated the break.  The rain lightened up a bit and we decided to head out again. 

It didn’t take long before the rain stopped and we were passing through the some of the most picturesque valleys.  The colors were bright and clear after the passing storm.  The road was a gray-blue color winding through the vibrant green hills dotted with cows and horses.  The sky was a soft blue again – giving hope to a previously miserable ride. 

We passed over a long wooden bridge that was part of a Dam system to the river under it.  We camped at Rock Island State Park.    It was quite nice and only cost $13 per night.  

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We took a walk along a path.  It was good to give our legs a workout and get some cardio activity into the day.  The trail led down to a lookout over the lake.  The view was not the best, but the lookout itself was impressively dangerous!  No signs, rails, etc – just a massive drop that would certainly seriously injure anyone who stepped off – if not kill them.  Darren snapped a few photos.  Then we walked down to the water.  There was a boat dock and a little beach area.  Huge birds were circling in the sky.  Unfortunately I do not know very much about different types of birds, but there were quite a few of them – it was quite lovely.  Directly across from the beach area was a huge rock face – presumable ‘Rock Island’.  

As we listened to the radio after dinner, we realized that we had the time wrong.  It had not really been noon when we left camp this morning; it was most likely about 10 am.  We had ridden about 6 hours to arrive at camp about 4:30 pm. I am happy with the amount of riding and with the early stop that allowed us to enjoy the scenery here.  

 5/17/2007 

We hardly hit any dirt today at all.  We have been averaging about 100 miles per day.  We are going much slower than the marked days for the TAT, but we see no reason to be in a hurry and don’t want to burn ourselves out by trying to do lots of miles in the beginning.  The weather was comfortably cool as we set out.  The roads were mainly small paved one-lane roads leading through small farms and wooded areas.  Darren had to stop when we came upon a small farm with two emus wandering around.  While taking a break and watching the big birds, we saw that the eclectic Tennessee farm also had quite a few peacocks and at least one llama.  Who knows what else would have walked out of those woods if we’d hung around longer! 

As we continued further along, we came to our first river crossing of the TAT.  The road was paved leading up to the river and afterwards.  Although the water was pretty shallow and not moving very fast, the rocks were extremely slippery from the moss growing on the rocks.  There was a path that trucks use to travel across that would have been less slippery, but the path was deeper and therefore not a good option.  Darren crossed first and I walked behind him to help catch the bike if it slipped.  Then he came back across to follow me.  About midway across, the bike started to slip and would have probably fallen if Darren had not been there to help stable the bike. 

With our boots wet with river water, we both agreed that it was time to find accommodation.  We checked out the GPS and headed to another state park.  It was a nice quite camping spot for a modest $11.  The bathrooms even had blowers to dry our boots!  Darren built a small fire using the few pieces of wood he could find.  It was nice considering that it was actually quite cold in the evening. 

 5/18/2007

 Once again I expected to be on more dirt today, but found that there was hardly any unpaved roads on the trail today.  As we rode through the farms on single lane paved roads I noticed a significant amount of horse droppings on the roads.  As I was following Darren to make a right turn at the top of the hill, I saw an Amish man driving his horse and carriage toward me.  This explained all the horse crap on the street!  The farms were very quaint and impressive when you consider the amount of backbreaking labor that these simple people use to tend to their land.  The Amish homes had carriages parked behind the houses and clotheslines filled with laundry that was blowing in the heavy wind.  It was a very windy day.  Most of the Amish homes had signs hung over their mailboxes that advertised their crafts – bees wax, eggs, preserves, wood furniture, etc.  As we passed one large barn, there were 3 young Amish boys (average was probably 9 years old) wearing the traditional hats and clothing and building what looked to be a very impressive front gate.  When I waved to them, I was a little disappointed that none of them waved back.  As we continued through the area, there was an Amish woman and her young son working in a field together.  I waved again and he waved back in a slightly confused way – as if he wasn’t sure if he was meant to respond.  We rode a bit further and camped in a State Park in Lawrenceburg, TN. 


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