10.22.2007,8:41 PM
Riding on Water in Tennessee

"Hey, I want to go this time!!"

Rubbing my eyes, wishing for some coffee, it was time to get up, get out of bags, drag a helmet across my head. Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.... Oh, it was Wiley.


I was eager to get on the road early this time. Last day for riding; this time, the long awaited off-roads around Tellico Plains. The start-up routine was the same as the day before, but the anticipation was overflowing. It was like a bad itch that needed to be scratched.
Camelbac full of diluted Gatorade, gear on and tail pack crammed with camera and helmet cam, Wiley was ceremoniously strapped into the top of the tail bag.

Ed and I once more perused the forest service map, highlighting our route for the day with yellow. We intended to follow a route recommended by Python over on ADV. He lives and breathes all those forest roads in that area; he lives nearby. And he's ridden this route several times. He was going to join us for the day's ride but his chain and sockets were 'toasted' and couldn't be replaced in time. Hopefully next year we can share a ride.

Full of eager impatience, we were on the road. The gas station in Tellico Plains was our first stop and I was glad to be riding south shortly thereafter. I wanted to get away from the tourists, bikes, and everyone else. Just be out in the woods. It has been decades since I rode any forest roads; I was a twitching bundle of 'NOW!'

We learned quickly that the roads there are schizophrenic: they have many aliases. I had in my head 'Whitt Road', but on some maps it is also marked 'Old Hwy 68', or CR341.
The sign at the intersection reads 'Connesoga Falls'. We ran into this several times. I named a few roads myself, but I doubt those names will ever make it onto a map other than the one in my head. (I named a few "Sweet Road", 'Holy Shit! Road' and another 'Zen Trail'; you will learn why later.) I dubbed Whitt Road, "Woohooo! Road'.

Turn onto gravel and let the fun begin.

According to Python this road was hard-packed dirt and recently graveled. He was right, although the gravel was scattered haphazardly rather than deposited consistently. I tried to keep my lines on sections of dirt for a smoother ride. He also mentioned four water crossings, so we expected those. The first one was merely a big puddle. Because of the drought in most of the southeastern states, this section is probably a larger puddle in the spring and in wet seasons.

The second crossing was wider and deeper. I pulled out the helmet cam from the tail bag; time to try it out. And it was the first time using it, so this entire venture was going to be trial and error. There is no view finder, thus no way to confirm position on the helmet for viewing. Ed strapped it onto his helmet and we rode through it easily enough; like it was just that: a puddle.

Instead of stopping before the second 'puddle', Ed rode right through it in second gear, he got wet, his bike got wet. Big splash! Water splashed all the way over his head which looks really cool on the helmet cam.


On the other side of that crossing the helmet cam slipped off Ed's helmet and I strapped it onto my helmet. We positioned it as best we could but it proved later to be less than optimal. The angle was diagonal across my riding path and too far down. Most of the vids are of the road and to the right of my lines.

The third crossing was a real creek this time. Pebbles under the water, wider and deeper. Ed rode through first again after scouting the best line. I rode through with my rear wheel fishtailing on the pebbles. Stern determination insisted I roll the throttle open enough to keep us going ahead, my sides sprayed with water and dribbling down into my boots. But I was laughing too much to care.


"Hey, I'm all wet!!! I don't like water!"

Behind me I heard Ed say, "Wiley got wet." I giggled.

I followed Ed again, my feet feeling a bit wet, but it was warming up nicely. I didn't care. I came around a bend to find Ed stopped and off the bike, walking towards Crossing #4: the Big One. This time, ridges of ledge crossed the creek and stuck up like ridges on a dinosaur. This one would require a bit more scrutiny. Ed surveyed the crossing and picked his line in between two ridges on the right. On the other side he pointed to two options: pick one line or the other between the three ridges on the right.

I entered the second line to the left and half way through saw the ledge formed a cup shortly before the other side onto dry dirt. In a split second decision I decided to veer off that line and onto the one in the middle of the two ridges on the right. I suspected that cup could deflect the front tire out from under me and I didn't really want to land on wet sharp rock ridges. We maneuvered the new line with a slight slide, up to dry bank and I rode up the top of the hill before stopping, yelling out "Well that was a 'Holy Shit!" moment!!".


(Ed's camera needs upgrading.......)

I rode by Ed grinning like a drunken teenager. Jack told us later that the crossing to the left gets suddenly deep and could be dangerous. Good thing we crossed where we did.

Continuing on, the road was now mostly dirt except for pockets of deep gravel on a few turns. Instinctively I used a booted foot to stabilize the bike on a few of those. Funny how decades don't erase some motor patterns; I remember doing that when I rode my bicycle on dirt roads down to Casanova Creek when I was a kid, and later on Maine woods roads riding a 125cc dirt bike (sometimes on no path other than that made by deer). Now I realized how serviceable and protective the MX boots are. Much more so than the old leather steel-toed Dunham boots I wore way-back-when.

Now full of fun and vinegar, our 250's swept side to side on the hard-packed dirt and gravel road with the creek our companion. Bright sun occasionally filtered down on us through the green tree canopies, splashed here and there with muted reds, oranges, browns and bronzes. Fall colors hadn't marched their way through here yet alongside the creek. I was enjoying the sewing machine-like hum of my little Sherpa and letting it sweep side to side as I changed lines behind Ed.

Soon the road surface gave way to broken combination of gravel and scattered asphalt. Roadside trees and plant life seemed to become more 'tame' with larger clearings, and we came upon pavement in between two small and older houses. The woods that we rode and felt so comfortable in now became scattered houses, old trucks, and garbage. I felt that old and familiar regret of returning to the land of humans after being immersed in wonderland.

Stopping the bikes at a 'Y' where three roads converged, we consulted the maps to orient ourselves. I was totally disoriented; all I knew was we were looking for a 'T' in the road bearing the name 'Epperson'. After my now familiar "Where the hell are we?", Ed and I deliberated on which way to turn. We had the topo map (Cherokee National Forest, Tellico Plains area; National Geographic) in Ed's tail bag map pouch, but we still weren't clear on where we were. Sometimes the actual roads don't exactly match those depicted on the maps. The only real outstanding landmark was a small church on the right with a stone marker bearing the name "Epperson".

We finally gambled on Ed's intuition and turned left on pavement, and then right on gravel (CR6313). It was then that I knew I at least needed to carry a good compass on me on these off-road adventures. At the end of the trip was when I was convinced that a GPS is not a frivolous investment.

About a mile later on the fun winding gravel road we spotted a welcome view ahead: black tarmac with white and yellow lines. We were both confident that we had reached Hwy 68.
Following Python's cues and the map, we found Buck Bald Road, also known as CR311 on the maps, a few miles south on Hwy 68.

I was ready for the next exploration!


Next: Buck Bald Mnt.

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posted by Macrobe
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