Day 9
October 15th, 2004
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

After a good nights sleep, Ron and I finally began stirring about around 8am.  Both of us are NOT really morning people, so we had to encourage each other to get out of bed.  After years of shift work we sometimes get confused on when to rise.

We don't have far to ride today.  Just over the hills to Stecoach, North Carolina to hook up with a few other ST riders at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Resort.  I guessed the distance at 70 miles, and I was pretty close.

While looking over the map I noticed our present location was not far from Tn 31.  I instantly recognized it as the route to a small encampment called Sneedville.  Not long ago I was reading something in Reader's Digest (waiting in the eye doctor office) about the town, located on SR 31.  The area is home to a clan of people called the "Melungeons," who have lived in the hills for a loooong time.  The article went on to say no one really knows where they came from, even the Melugeons.  When the first white settlers came through, the Cherokees advised a group of pale faces were already here, living high in the mountains.  The Indians basically warned the settlers, "those jokers are badasses, we don't go up there, and we avoid them when they come down."

I did some research on the internet, and when it was all done, I decided I'd get Uncle Phil and we'd ride up there one day.  I read it was an interesting experience, but best not to go alone, but 2 southern boys, including one who knows the customs, might be ok.  We definitely can't make the trip when those boys from up north are with us.  Further reading told me some think the Melugeons are the lost colonists from the Roanoke Island area.
But that is a ride for another day.

I flung the door open to another gray and overcast day, but thankfully the temps were in the 50s.  Weather-guessers made dire predictions a few days ago, but that isn't going to pan out according to the local guesser in Knoxville, he said we might even see some sun later in the day.

After loading the bikes, we sat on the room furniture snacking.  I had a half granola bar and a diet drink, Ron had a candy bar.  Breakfast of champions. 
​Ron Epperly loading his ST 

We went to the Exxon next door and topped off the tanks, I was anxious to get started, because I was anticipating some great riding.

With gas tanks full we left Pigeon Forge on US 321 South.  Shortly after leaving the city limits we passed 2 Harleys riding 2 up.  They couldn't do much with the twisty road.  Morning traffic prevented us from any spirited riding, but the scenery was good, and it was fun being back on the road.

We passed a couple shacks near Maryville, and it caused me to think.  In America to be white and impoverished really takes some doing.  Of course I'm speaking of poor by American standards.  A recent survey noted 80% of the poor in this country own a car, and 40% of them were bought new.

Just east of Maryville we took a left turn on the Foothills Parkway.  The last time I was here was on the TTT tour in 2002.  I slowed and waved Ron around me, thinking I might stop for a picture or 2.  

The Foothills does not have the intense riding most roads in this area are famous for.  The curves are good, and the surface smooth, but something is lacking that I can't put my finger on.  It might be the elevation, or the landscape, not sure.  It was clear we were climbing but the woods all around us were so dense we had no views.  But crossing the summits the trees parted like curtains, and provided us spectacular views over the valleys on the other side.  Temps dipped as we went higher, but nothing I'd call cold.

Following Ron's 1100 I could tell the difference in the bikes.  I was able to take lines to his inside because I had better ground clearance, and anytime a gap opened I was able to quickly close with the 1300s greater horsepower and CCs.  The new Metzllers also felt good, the only problem was the load I had on the back.  Ron is the superior rider, but the 13 allows me to ride with him, something I can't do on the 1100.

The Foothills deposited us U.S. 129, otherwise known as Deal's Gap.  We took a moment to gather ourselves and took off for the Dragon.  
​This sign is located on US 129.  Unfortunately a few
ignore this warning and fall to the Dragon, sometimes taking
out a rider along the way.

So much has been written about this road, I don't know what else I can add.  It was great.  The curves came at me in a relentless line of snaky smooth asphalt.  The state recently resurfaced the road, and brothers this is one smooooth tarmac.  I'd forgotten how much fun this road is.  Wet leaves dampened the curves in many places so I refrained from anything extreme.

Traffic was minimal on the Dragon and it was a fun ride to the Circle of Time, where we pulled in to check things out.  I've always liked stopping here to look at the bikes and accessories on sale.  Since my last visit they've added a nice snack bar.  A great atmosphere.  

It was time to head for the campground.  We took SR 28, another all time great road.  I matched Ron's lines as we leaned the curves along the creek.  It was the best riding I'd done in a few years, I was off the brake and just let the 13 choose the lines he wanted.  The color was good, and it definitely felt like fall.  Falling leaves drooped lazily down as we rode the last few miles to the campground.  Is it no wonder I love coming here every fall.  

We followed the signs on 28 down a local road to the Iron Horse.  Let me say now I was very impressed with the Iron Horse.  It has a great ski lodge like great room complete with couches, wood stove, and a big screen tv.  Lots of tables for riders to gather and talk, no need to stand in the cold.  The resort also has nice camping cabins and bunkhouses, and RV hook ups.  The facilities are superior in every way to those in Crusso at the Blue Ridge.  The other bonus it is located close to the best riding.  It was only 10 bucks to put my tent up.

The owner checked us in and pointed, "Y'all's boy is camped over there."

With the check in completed we tooled around the creek and set up camp next to Sal.  He was no where to be found.  With so many great roads nearby, he was no doubt out leaning somewhere.

It took about an hour to set up camp, when I finished I strolled over to Ron, " Lets ride over to Robbinsville, get something to eat, and head back to Deals Gap."  I wanted to tackle the Dragon without a touring load.
"Sounds good."

Robbinsville is short ride from the campground.  We breezed into town and began looking for a place to eat.  We passed on the fast food places settling on a good local place called Lynn's near the courthouse.  The burger and service were good.  I was off my diet, but what the heck, I'll eat light tonight.  I did skip the fries though.  I'll be back the next time through.

After lunch we jetted back to the Circle of Time and stopped when we saw a red ST 1100 out front.  I noticed it had Alabama tags.  Ron said, "thats Andray Hubble's bike."  We went inside and behold there he was, eating a burger with his wife at the snack area.  Talk about good to see someone.  Everyone smiled big and slapped hands. 
"Anyone else?"

"Well Sal Landa is here, but outside the 4 of us I dunno.  But I'll say this- WE'LL have a good time."

I told Andray we were heading back out to the Dragon, he advised he was going to pass, and would wait for us. 
Ron and I charged back out, and instantly the 1300 felt like a different bike.  For all its versatility, the 1300 does not like my touring load.  I still need to trim it down further.  The unloaded 13 cut the curves of the Dragon like a hot knife in butter.  The wet leaves of earlier were gone, making it even more fun.  Ron and I carved to the dam lookout and pulled off with the other bikes.   We took some pictures and mounted back up.  I told Ron I was going slower this time because I wanted to take pictures of the Dragon.
With the 1300 shining in the fall color, I carved
the Gap  through  the magic of Autumn.  

The slower pace suited me.  I scanned the shoulders looking for a suitable place to land.

I found an opening and pulled off to take a few pictures.  Ron came behind me and I said I'd like a picture of him leaning the Dragon.  He obliged and I took a couple of him going in both directions.  
​Ron Epperly on the Dragon.....
I was waiting for Ron to make a pass when a black ST came into view,  I was looking in the view finder so didn't see a lot of details.  Ron came in a few minutes later and said, "HEY didja see Sal?"  "Where?"  "He just passed, that black ST was him!"  A few minutes later, Sal rolled in and a reunion took place right there on 129.  I hadn't seen Sal in a couple of years, it was great to be riding with him again.

......A few minutes later I caught Sal Landa
"Dayum brother where ya been?  I see ya made it through the hurricanes ok."

Sal Landa is one of my favorite people.  He even has a Bush/Cheney sticker on his ST. 
​Sal Landa, Coral Gables, Florida, 1998 ST 1100
We chatted on the shoulder watching bikes of all kinds go by.  Cruisers, dressers, customs, and sport bikes.  
"We better get back to Deals Gap and pick up Andray.  It's gettin late"

Back at the Circle of Time we found Andray and his wife waiting patiently.  We hung around the parking lot a few minutes longer, then took that gem of a road called SR 28 back to the Iron Horse.

Leaning the curves of 28 again was fun.  I followed my friends as we formed up single file for the run to the campground.  I watched the 3 1100s as my friends negotiated the curves and twists, sm
​​  I found this piece of work on SR 28 
The ride to the campground went by too quick.  I slipped the 1300 down the entrance in the late afternoon, after a 130 mile day.

Another great thing about the Iron Horse is the covered parking for your ride just outside the lodge.  We lined the Hondas up and went inside to sign up for supper.

The lodge was warm and cozy, and it was fun sitting around the stove.  The big screen went on but I was disappointed it was Nascar, and not football, but this is North Carolina.   It was good to be inside because the night was cold.  

The four of us found a table for supper, and I had a steak sandwich plain and so did Ron.  It was excellent.  The company was good and our laughter filled the room.  I enjoyed seeing my friends again.  After supper we hung around the lodge planning tomorrows ride.  We nominated Andray as the ride captain.  He knew the area best, and after last years debacle he deserved it. 

I tried to call home but for some reason could not get a signal, but Ron had one so I borrowed his.  I gave Debbie a short report then adjourned to the well kept shower room.  Yes, I like the Iron Horse.  Andray was in a motel in Robbinsville, and it was time for him to head back.  He advised he would be back at 9am the next day.

With the details of tomorrow's ride worked out, I started moving for my tent.  I was concerned about the cold, so stole a blanket from the lodge to use on my sleeping bag.  I said good night to everyone and got in my tent.  I threw the blanket on top of my sleeping bag and zipped in.  I hooked the radio adapter to my phone and listened to several stations as I drifted off to sleep.  Good thing I had the extra blanket, the night was cold and a brief rain blew over in the wee hours, but I was warm and dry.  I slept well.