I went to my neurosurgeon on Fri for a check up, the appointment was at 930 AM and I was out by 11. It was a warm fall day and I took a notion to take a ride. I called Lisa, she asked where we were going I said North, she said when are we coming back, I said I dont know but I will pick you up in 30 minutes pack for the weekend, and pack a coat and gloves.
I like Lisa she is like me in that she loves an unplanned adventure. She is 24 and adorably cute at 5’1″ and maybe 105 lbs. I like riding with her because she just instinctively knows how to just go with the bike, it’s easy to forget she is back there sometimes and there’s the added benefit that every so often she will rub my shoulders and neck and on a long ride thats a really nice feeling.
I pick her up and we head north to hwy 441. We stop off at Tallulah Gorge. She is looking across the gorge and she reads about Karl Wallenda who walked across the gorge at age 65…on a tightrope.
She looks at me quizzically and asks “Did he wear a parachute?”
“No”, I answered.
She looks out across the gorge “was he attached to the wire?”
Again “no” I said.
“That’s insane” was her final analysis.
We got back on the bike and headed North past Clarkesville and up into Franklin, North Carolina from there we follow the highway into Cherokee and the Indian Reservation, the scenery is starting to be pretty, the mountains are exploding with color, the sky is deep blue and the temperature is a dry and comfy 72 degrees. the low humidity is amplifying the colors to the point that the mountains appear to be on fire.
I haven’t been up here in many many years.
We get to the town of Cherokee and it’s still the same little tourist trap it always was, the streets lined with stores selling “indian crafts” that are in fact made in China. Not a stereotype goes unexploited, stores with “wigwam” in the name, Indians on a stage doing “authentic cherokee indian dances” in colorful polyester costumes. One eatery proclaims that it serves “Buffalo” as if Native American Indians ate Buffalo. For the record they didn’t Buffalo are indigenous to Asia and Africa and have never been in America except maybe in a zoo. What the native indians hunted were Bison but it isnt likely there were many in the mountainous regions of North Carolina.
Another restaurant proclaimed to serve “Indian Tacos” i resisted the temptation to try one.
I stopped and suggested to Lisa that from here on out we would be going through about 40-50 miles of steep inclines, declines and sharp turns and that she will likely want to put on the coat and gloves. She seemed skeptical but took my advice.
We entered The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The road through this part is a narrow two lane road cut through the forest, the trees overhang the road and it runs alongside a fast moving stream that cascades downs rocks, it is picturesque to say the least. Lisa was quiet as we rode the first 25 miles taking the turn off to Clingmans Dome.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
When we get to the top Lisa takes off her helmet and she looks at me and says “That was incredible, the colors are so vivid, that was like riding through a painting.”
I couldnt have said it better really, the low humidity and the clear cool day made for perfect weather even though the temperature at the Top of Clingmans Dome had dropped to 45 degrees.
On the ride back down to the main Highway we went through a rather pungent odor. Lisa asks me “What’s that smell? It’s awful”
“That’s a Pole Cat” I shout back to her, not dare taking my eyes off the twisty road, “better known to city folks as a skunk.”
She said she had always wondered what one really smelled like, said she thought it would be worse.
I suggested it would be a lot worse if it was us that got sprayed and that smell was probably coming from a quarter mile or more away
We got back to 441 and a more comfy 65 degrees, the rest of the trip was a steady decline until we hit Gatlinburg.
Now Gatlinburg has changed, what used to be a kitchy little tourist town has become invaded by national chains like North face and Texas Roadhouse.The traffic was a mess but we stopped off and took the cable car up to the top of the mountain and ate at a German joint called “Ober Gatlinburg” It was getting near dark now so we headed out of town through Pigeon Forge.
Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood and its image isn’t unlike that of Ms Parton. As she says “it costs a lot of money to look this cheap” and as we ride through Pigeon Forge I can’t help but hear that in my mind because I see it everywhere. Putt Putt, Go cart racing and bumper cars are everywhere…after all this is NASCAR Country. There’s a dinner theater that has two shows nightly about the Hatfields and McCoys, I wouldn’t think anyone who knows anything about the bloodiest feud in American History would think it dinner entertainment. Down the road a stretch is the “Titanic” another dinner theater in a replica of the aforementioned ship, complete with an American Flag on her mast…..hmmm someone missed that day in history class I guess. everywhere you looked was “moonshine” this or “hillbilly” that. A store named “9.99 or Less” boasts that everything in the store is 9.99 or less. 20 yards down the road another store is named 9.98 or Less. A new dinner theater under construction boasts a biblical themed show, complete with “A feast of Biblical Proportions” Its about a three mile stretch of this stuff littering both sides of the road.
Pigeon Forge, the town Dolly Parton built. You can see that at one time it was a scenic place, nestled in a flat area surrounded by The Great Smoky Mountains. Now you cant see much mountain for all the clip joints and tourist traps. A building the size of a small grocery store promises a ” jungle boat ride through a prehistoric jungle”, It makes me sad.
As we finally pull out of Pigeon Forge I cant help but be glad to be out of it. We continue to a beautiful highway 92 that rides alongside Douglas Lake and we stop in Dandridge TN for the night. We are exhausted from the long ride but happy, it feels good sometimes to just leave with no plan, no agenda, go where the road takes you. We fell asleep in each others arms in a hotel in a little town where nobody knew us and we didn’t know anybody. All we had was each other and that was plenty, it was all we needed. We shared a memory of one of those rare days when you woke up ready for another day of the usual and went to bed having never imagined that morning that you would be 400 miles and as many memories away when you went back to bed. She thanked me for bringing her and giving her a day she will never forget. Her head snuggled into my shoulder and her hand on my chest felt good. I think how perfect my life is, I am not rich or anywhere near it but I am happy, more happy than I have ever been in my life. I fell asleep on that note.
A Wild Turkey eyes us warily