10.19.2007,12:03 PM
Cherohala Skyway: Legend in the Sky
"Damn, it's cold....."

Sunday. Snug and warm in my down bag, I didn't want to leave the tent. But it was time to get coffee; the brain was yelling at me. Slipping on sweat pants and Duofold undershirt, unsteadily walking down to the coffee machine at the end of the building below, grunting: Coffee.........

Grabbing a quick breakfast, Ed and I geared up for the day's ride. Considering the chilly air and my general weenie-ness for 'lack of heat' [my term for 'cold'], I wore UnderArmors under the MX pants and pulled on four layers to cover my upper body. Living in Maine quickly taught me to wear layers; one layer at a time can be shed or added depending on temperature changes and activity-generated body heat. Since we were riding pavement today, I wore the mesh jacket with the liner zipped in to shelter me from the wind. The Sherpa was cold, too, but I was warned they were cold-blooded.

First item on the agenda was a stop at Tellico Motor Outfitters in the small quiet town of Tellico Plains. Inside was a well-stocked store with luggage, gear and other items for the adventure and cruiser rider. Unknown to me, that Sunday was the last day of an AdventureRider gathering, an Eastern Regional rally. Several stragglers were parked down the street and preparing to depart, a few were in the store and we chatted a bit. One rode a BMW with a side car. I was impressed with the set up and thought of Ara and his similar steed.


Armed with directions to find a detailed map of the area we rode into the visitors' center at the very start of the Cherohala Skyway. Luckily we found and bought a National Geographic map of the Cherokee National Forest (Tellico & Ocoee Rivers region, Map 781). Included are the Hiwassee Scenic River, Cherohala Skyway, Ocoee Whitewater Center and several wilderness areas. Our main interests were the trails and forest roads throughout the Forest area.

Starting the ride on the Skyway, we stopped for lunch at Cherohala Crossing, a small but delightful restaurant catering especially to motorcyclists. I smelled smoked meat and glimpsed one of the staff opening a long iron grill top to turn chicken and other meats. Jack and Lori highly recommended the place: good food, pleasant deck on the back overlooking the river, and friendly staff.



By then the sun was high, hot and harsh. I had already shed a few upper layers and sitting on the shaded deck with the river trickling underneath us was a delight.
Now replenished with food and liquids, we were ready to hit the road.

Ryan, a good friend and riding buddy that grew up in this area of Tennessee, recommended I ride the Cherohala Skyway after I voiced my disinclination and indifference for the ever-popular Deal's Gap and Tail of the Dragon. A very short distance of nothing but very tight curves, dealing with hordes of bikes and cars, possibly trucks and RV's, not to mention the recent harassment of riders by the local law officers, left me........ cold. Everyone rides the Dragon; this is one rider that cared less. Ryan knows my style of riding, he knows why I like to ride, and what I treasure during my rides; he knew I would enjoy the Cherohala much more.

And he was dead right. It was love at first ride.

The legendary Cherohala Skyway traverses mountain ridges and gaps, runs along the Tellico River (elevation 900 feet) and through two states, Tennessee and North Carolina, and two national forests, the Cherokee and Nantahala. Spanning nearly 43 miles, sweep after glorious sweep titillate the rider and reveal breathtaking vistas over the rivers and the Appalachian Mountains. Winding up the mountains to a mile-high point (54,000 feet) in North Carolina, it slowly descends with twists and sweeps to the town of Tellico Plains in the Tellico River Basin, Tennessee.

After 34 years of construction and over a million dollars the skyway was completed in October of 1996. A recent estimate of ten cars and fifty motorcycles a day enjoy the snaking road and the abundant vistas and overlooks. It was wonderful to see more bikes than cars and I enjoyed this alternate universe of two-wheels.



We rode this skyway three times during our trip and never once was it boring. The first ride was frequently broken by stops for photographs and the last ride was sheer and absolute enjoyment of the road in all its splendor. With a sweet fondness for sweeps, this skyway was pure joy as I flicked the little 250cc side to side, leaning and rolling, occasionally shifting up or down and hardly braking except for a slower moving car in front of me. Despite the maximum speed of 40 and 45mph, I didn't exceed it more than five or six mph. There was no reason to.


Roads like these instill a feeling of flying, undulating on the back of a winding snake as we glide over the terrain. Pushing my rear end back on the saddle, leaning over the mid-section of the bike, arms relaxed and wide over the bars, slaloming side to side on the sweeps, round and round on the tight twists, I was grinning widely: flying in a blue dream. Yes, this is the endorphins of riding a bike.

All the rest of you riders can have the Dragon. The Cherohala Skyway is mine. I could never tire of that skyway. Never.


For more information on Cherohala Skyway, click on this link.

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posted by Macrobe
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