Atlanta Motorcycle Schools

Adventure Tour—October 15, 2006

Yogi Berra’s famous quote notwithstanding, I try not to overuse the term “deja vue.”

But here we were, on a beautiful fall morning, the same group on the same motorcycles leaving the same n.e. GA restaurant behind the same leader (that would be me). Will we never learn?

Apparently not. Our plan was to link as many gravel roads together as possible (connecting by means of narrow twisty paved roads where necessary) to where we had reservations in the Nantahala Gorge between Bryson City and Robbinsville, NC.

Again, just like last year.

I hoped to sufficiently confuse the route by choosing alternate roads so it wouldn’t seem like the same old same old. Unfortunately, there are only so many roads left in their original gravel state which actually go anywhere; most have been blacktopped to get county commissioners re-elected. I’m relieved when during the morning break JoAnna asks if any of these roads should seem familiar. Heh; so far, so good. We’re at Low Gap, just south of the Seed Lake dam on the Tallulah River. Not a speck of blacktop mars the view.
Since we’re breaking, it would be a good time to introduce the group. Aboard a Honda Transalp like myself is Laura, a lady with years of unpaved roads in her mirrors. Following her come Don and Esther on a BMW R100GS. Last year’s tour was Don’s first off-road foray. His adventuresome spirit and above-average height allow him to handle that big bike just fine, in spite of his being the only rider with a passenger (who I’m to discover later is a delight on pillion). Bookends for the group are Ken and JoAnna, straddling a Suzuki DR650 and BMW F650GS, respectively. The only member missing from last year’s intrepid band is my ladyfriend Donnie on her Honda NX250, who has other fish to fry this weekend.

Breaktime over, we’re off on a tangent. If you’re going to get anywhere, you can’t spend the day running rabbits down side trails, but we are close to one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, accessible by, yup, a nice gravel spur. The dead-end road to Tate City (population 32, plus or minus) follows the Tallulah River toward its origins in the wilderness that separates Georgia from North Carolina. A pristine trout habitat, the river is so clear that you can see to the bottom of its deepest pool. We are drawn to it like the Millennium

Falcon trapped in Darth Vadar’s tractor beam. More than a pretty face, the river also features a challenging water crossing where a branching Forest Service road fords across. Not too deep, not too many greasy bowling-ball rocks to dodge, but still worthy of careful attention. Don sheds his passenger and attempts it (successfully) while Ken takes a few digital hero shots for the website. Then, we’re off through a maze of narrow twisty back roads which continually change names, but eventually deliver us to a main highway west of Franklin, NC.

Tallulah River Crossing

Immediately, however, we’re tracking another trout stream on another Forest Service road -- a stream so private and heavily patrolled you’re almost forbidden to look. Harumph; so much for rich folk and gated property! We’re having so much fun playing leapfrog from one gravel road to the next, we wouldn’t stop to fish if they begged us. Finally, after following yet another riverside bit of dirt, we end up in the Nantahala Gorge, where it’s a crooked shot to the yurts.

Ever stay in a yurt? Originated by nomadic folk in the vast plains of Mongolia, this primitive but ingenious tent is a simple round affair with a self-supporting roof. Our particular yurts are far from primitive, each having hardwood flooring, a queen bed, refrigerator, ceiling fan……..and a path to the nearby central bathhouse (also quite comfortable). We return from a mile sprint to dinner to enjoy a campfire, chuckling that we conveniently run out of firewood and energy simultaneously, and retire to our accommodations.

Frost on the saddle greets us the next morning, and we’re thankful to gulp down Waffle House coffee after a chilly 25-mile run to breakfast. We’re in Anderson, just a stone’s throw from a well-maintained gravel segment of the infamous Trail of Tears. Originally built by the Army to get rid of Native Americans (one of our less-proud historic moments), today it shamefully facilitates the disposal of unused appliances and worn out couches as it winds its way across Tatham Gap to Robbinsville. Ignoring the eyesore of discarded items,

Tatham Gap—Trail of Tears
we climb to the road’s beautiful crest at the gap but find the road barricaded shortly beyond. Peculiar; it was open two weeks earlier when I scouted this route. My curiosity is satisfied by a group of bear hunters, camped higher up a side branch, who relate the occurrence of a landslide a day after my previous visit. They aren’t optimistic about our trespassing beyond the barrier to pick our way through the rubble, which leaves us no choice but to return downhill to Andrews.

First to return to pavement, I’m quickly anxious as to why the group didn’t arrive soon behind me. Trouble? Well, yes; sort of. Don, smelling burning rubber, had stopped to discover he had thrown up a stone which defied all odds by lodging between his shaftdrive housing and rear tire. While the tire still held pressure, the sidewall was grooved somewhat, and it was impossible to know what actual structural damage might have occurred. Don was comfortable continuing the ride, but, to be on the safe side, we decided Esther should transfer to my bike.

There are passengers and there are passengers, and some are a whole lot better at it than others. Esther sat light as a feather, swelled my ego saying my riding was smooth like buttah, and our helmets never turtle-kissed once. (Don’s tire made it just fine the remainder of the trip) So, we’re now backtracked to Andrews, and running a little behind schedule, which had us following the gravel alternative to the Cherohala Skyway into Tennessee. We weenied out on the TN portion of that tasty gravel, enjoying the panoramas and quicker pace of the Skyway itself, and soon were caught up once again enjoying lunch in Tellico Plains. One final treat remained.

The group’s farewell took place atop a bald, a totally treeless mountain top, some miles south of Tellico. Under a perfect blue sky, the weather crisp and clear, the uninterrupted 360-degree view was as good as it gets. Northeast of where we stood was the southern rump of the Smokey Mountain National Park; to our south the haze of Atlanta; to our west Tennessee. It was easy to imagine the early settlers contemplating such a vista, wondering what hardships and danger lay ahead as they forged ever westward, seeking fortune and adventure.

Victory dance—Buck Bald

I personally was happy to be heading home to familiar and comfortable surroundings, thankful for good friends with whom to share some of my favorite places.

View all photos from this tour.

Tour write-up courtesy of Pete Tamblyn—our wonderful Tour Guide!

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