Atlanta Motorcycle Schools

This was boring, I sarcastically thought to myself as I was riding on I575 on the way to N GA for what I knew would be a great weekend of riding. It was Friday evening and leaving Atlanta with the normal Friday evening rush hour was… well slow and boring, and not so safe. But the weekend promised to be quite different, as it was organized by Atlanta Motorcycle Schools and was scheduled to include not only lots of twisties but more importantly (and I really looked forward to this part) lots of off-road riding in TN, NC, and GA mountains, all following in the
Amir with his BMW F650GS Dakar
tracks of Pete Tamblyn. I was particularly excited about the off-road portions as I had recently taken the off-road rider class from AMS, and while I have my INFO-MAP, and had ventured off-road with a friend before, I was expecting quite a different experience from this weekend. Now that it’s all but a glorious memory, I can say with confidence that I got more riding pleasure, got to see more vistas, and simply got more pleasure from this one weekend than I had in the previous 6 months of riding…

While it was probably the toughest road, the "Winding Stairs" were very memorable. It was quite the unusual sight to see the 6 of us snake up the steep mountain side where I could see the wheels of a rider above my head, and just bellow me the helmet of the rider behind me… I think the steps are appropriately named.

Our luck for weather was great, and while it was cold in the mornings, we all wore appropriate warm layers or heated clothing, so nobody complained (too much) about the cold.

We started the ride after a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, and we proceeded to ride for no more than 10 miles on major roads, and then started our meandering to Iron Horse Motorcycle resort in Stecoah, TN. Had we taken the path “as the crow flies” it would have only been a 50 mile trip, but thanks to all the roads and paths Pete knew, the mileage was nearly tripled. On one particularly wide and pact segment, I found myself in the middle of a falling leaf storm—where literally hundreds of yellow, orange, red and brown leaves were in midair as I was riding through them. I’m glad it was only a short section as the view and feel of riding through such a colorful and serene moment was intoxicating.

Most of our weekend's nearly 70 miles of off-road riding were expectedly packed with the first hunters of the season, and we had passed quite a few trucks and jeeps, and kept a sharp lookout for all oncoming traffic. Thanks to good rider spacing and keeping with the practice of staying on the correct side of the road, we had no close calls. In addition, thanks to the rains earlier in the week, the dust was down to a minimum, so while our motorcycles still needed a good washing, we didn't fill our lungs with sand and dust.

The group refreshing on the Cherohalla Skyway

We took a moment to refill our human gas tanks, with granola bars and apples atop the "Cherohalla Skyway", and for those of you that know about this road, I don't need to tell you how great a ride it is, but I was surprised to suddenly find myself in its middle, for we took the less-known but equally awesome off-road paralleling ride. Those trails are on the same mountains and until we came out of the trails, we enjoyed near complete privacy and amazing views.

Our band of riders was mounted in pairs with two riders on Honda Trans-Alps, two on Suzuki DR650's and two on BMWs F650's (me on a GS Dakar and a standard GS). All our motorcycles worked flawlessly, and proved their worth as versatile and reliable machines. At one point we compared “preparedness” notes, and found that we had coincidentally brought two or more of most emergency supplies, including air pumps, replacement tubes, repair kits, tools, and first aid kits, and I think we where all comforted that our small six person group was properly prepared for most minor mechanical issues. For me, knowing that I rode with other riders who plan and think ahead gave me comfort that we're going to have a safe and fun weekend.

Pete had promised us a few dead-ends, and true to his word, we did get to ride/explore a few new roads with him. One indeed turned out to be a dead end, but as you know, riding the same road backwards, is not the same road, so it was welcomed and truly adventuring off-the beaten path only added to the ride.

Saturday night we stayed at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, TN. We had opted for the wood cabins (with showers, heaters, beds, and great pillows), but for those who like to rough it a bit, Iron Horse also has a tenting area. We dined at the resort’s mess hall, and I had a wonderful prime-rib steak, while others enjoyed a bite of salmon. The meal really hit the spot after the long day of riding.

After the meal, we retired to the outside deck (where you could see your breath) to could enjoy our conversation. We finished the meal with ice cream and brownies, overlooking the creek and under a star filled night. I'm always awed by the site of the stars as seen from the blue-ridge mountains, where the air is clear and the views are spectacular. Seeing the stars this way, perpetually reminds me why our galaxy is called “the milky way.”

After a hot shower and a solid night’s sleep, we met for breakfast, bought souvenirs, and started our ride back to GA. Again, the shortest GPS path's showed about 50 miles, and again Pete was able to stretch this into another 100+ miles of roads and paths—including the Winding Stairs.

One of our first dirt roads on Sunday included a few miles on a wide and packed dirt road—about three or five feet above the water line of a river. This road was simply a joy to ride and every curve provided an awesome view. Later we had our only separation/split in the ride, as the day was warming up I had stopped to remove some layers and the other riders went ahead to a nearby snack stopping point. Somehow I missed the immediate left turn (too obvious) and rode for another 5 miles before realizing my error and returning to the group at a secluded sports field with bathrooms and running water. Our return to GA was as
One of the wonderfule gravel roads of the tour

eventful (without any incidents) as our departure along many miles of curvy roads and frequently empty unpaved roads, and we finally stopped in Hiawassee along GA 515/76 for our lunch/farewell meal.

The only thing I can think of that would have possibly made the weekend better, would have been 1 or 2 more riders with the group (but no more).

View all photos from this tour.

Tour write-up courtesy of Amir Gilboa!

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