Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Panther Creek State Park, Tennessee

The motorcycle resort at Deal's Gap, Tennessee, home of the famous highway named "The Tail of the Dragon".

This campground is less than an hour northeast of Knoxville. I had to finally tear myself away from Deal’s Gap and the new acquaintances I had met. I could just keep playing there forever. But the tires are seriously worn, and the air is growing chilled. If I’m going to make the Maritimes, it had better be soon.

Up between 7:00 and 7:30. Autumn weather has arrived! Crisp air this morning and ragged clouds hanging over the mountains. Actually shaved for the first time on this trip. (Trying to make a favorable impression?) Uncertain if I’d even see my friend. I think she was going somewhere to have tires installed today. Many riders who come to Deal's Gap make certain they have fresh tires, even having them installed at one of the local shops.)

Returned to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort, where I took the opportunity to photograph the infamous "Tree of Shame", which is "decorated" with the debris of countless mishaps along "The Tail of the Dragon". Many are inscribed with messages from the unfortunate riders. Many comments are humorous. Some riders didn't survive to joke about it.

The famed "Tree of Shame" at Deal's Gap. A sobering reminder of the conceit "I've got it under control".

As I was putting the camera away, Tara arrived with Francois. She had stayed over with him and his girlfriend. I told her I had stuck around because I have to go to the Tellico Plains Bistro she had told me about. Maybe that wasn't the entire reason.

Tara and her friend Francois. He works at the motorcycle resort. (Just can't get enough of motorcycles!)

At Deal's Gap Resort. Photo by Tara O'Brien.

But I set off on my own for the Cherohala Skyway. A perfect day (I use the term often!), though pretty cold up at the higher elevations (over 5,000 feet). Wore fleece under the Aerostich and my winter gloves.

The Bistro was closed today, but their patio restaurant, The Cascades Grille (alongside the Tellico River) was open. A friendly staff consisting entirely of young women. Ordered the "Bratwurst and Wild Boar Sausage" plate. Very good, served with grilled bell peppers. Their use of plastic utensils, however, is ill-advised.

Returning over the Skyway, I came to a scenic turnout and a group of motorcyclists. It was Tara with three other riders. She invited me to join them. Though they were going in the opposite direction, I said "no problem".

She introduced me to Mike Parkinson of Windsor, Ontario, an accountant (controller) by trade, Cindy Bedell of Florida, who works at a prison (and rides an 1150GS) and Kevin Bansfield of Paris, Ontario, a guard at a women’s prison.

Riding buddies relaxing before another assault on the "Tail of the Dragon". Cindy Bedell of Florida (note the great riding boots), Mike Parkinson of Windsor, Ontario and Kevin Bansfield of Paris, Ontario. Cindy works at a Florida prison, and teaches motorcycle safety courses on weekends, Mike's a company controller when not biking and Kevin is a guard at a women's prison.

We rode over the top of the range and back down to Tellico Plains. Returned to The Cascades Grille.

“Hey, weren’t you already here?”

“That was my brother.”

I ordered a soda, while the others had lunch.

Tara led us back to "The Dragon" via highway 360, a winding rural farm road.

Tara gives the boys some pointers on riding "The Tail of the Dragon". I said farewell at this point and continued my ride north.

The Great Smoky Mountains southeast of Maryville, Tennessee. the mountains in this region reach over 6,600 feet.

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