6.25.2009,7:53 AM
Tennessee: Mudholes and Snake Roads
Our second to last day Jack led us on another ride. This time we rode the back country north of the Cherohala Skyway. I can't remember all the roads; I was like the fly on a motorcycle: along for the ride. That's all I wanted to do: ride the back country and remove myself from time and space.

We began the day riding a narrow country barely-paved road (the one road for which I remember the name: Rafter Rd.) which followed the creek and snaked parallel to the Skyway.....above us. We stopped at a whimsical building for which his sister is responsible for 'decorating'. I like her sense of humor.

Like many of the country roads here, they snake in between farms, gigantic vegetable gardens, cow and horse pastures, small humble farm homes and lots lots of very green trees. Some of these roads are barely wide enough for a car or truck and 'pavement' is a misnomer. Invariably, many of them change into gravel roads, especially when entering the national forest land. We rode most of roads like these for the rest of the ride that day.

If there's anything I miss from the east it is the rivers, creeks and streams. Here they are pristine, clean and pure. We saw and crossed many of these.

We stopped a few times to just soak it in.

We continued riding on these gravel roads. Contentedly.

And climbed higher. Stopping for a break and a photo op here and there.

The storm the day before had watered the gavel down really well. Everything was still moist, if not wet. My nose was inundated by moist earth and leaves. Debris scattered the roads here and there, several trees had blown down but were already cut and moved. A few mudholes appeared but nothing unnavigable. Best of all, dust was non-existent. This was the first day off-road I wasn't eating dust; I rode in the rear all the time, which I prefer to do. Then I can go at my own pace. It was only the last day off-road (Saturday) that my speed picked up; I wasn't in a hurry, I felt full of it (playful) for some reason.

Gravel roads snaked up mountain sides as if they were snake tracks in between giant trees. Occasionally a gap would present a view.

And then we rode the snake roads down. All through the week riding in these forests, I was amazed and enchanted by the dense stands of rhododendrons. Only in the Doug Fir forests of the Oregon mountains have I seen them so large and densely packed. They are easily distinguished by their large broad evergreen leaves, but clusters of their wonderful flowers were elusive. That day, we caught sight of a few, but they were difficult to photograph: either too deep in the forest, down or up a hillside, or way up high in the canopy. Finally Jack was able to bend one branch to his will, offering me an opportunity to capture their large flowers.

I love these forest roads. These back country roads here, and those in the desert, are really why I ride a bike. It's not the speed, the chase, or to see how many miles I can cover in a day. It is the ability and opportunity to immerse myself in the surroundings. To take the road or trail that is less traveled. To go where few wheels go. It's the stillness, the solitude, the remoteness and serenity, the pastoral and sublime. The only better way to traverse these trails is on a horse. And, in some respect, my two bikes are my horses.

Eventually we rode down near Citico Creek and Indian Boundary areas. These areas were once hunting grounds for Cherokees of the Overhill Towns. Many of the sites upon which those towns stood are now under water. Yet soon we would be riding on an old Cherokee trail, later used by the British and revolutionaries, the Unionists and Confederates, and now spinning wheels from all over the country.

Soon we would leave the forests and gravel for tarmac and history.


posted by Macrobe
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