This day's ride was our last in Tennessee. It was one of the best.
Our total mileage for the day was 112 miles; 80 or more was on gravel roads. It was also on one of my favorite roads: Kimsey Mountain Highway, aka FR-68. It used to be a major trail for the Cherokee and grew into a major road for everyone. I fell in love with this road, and the area, when riding the eastern part in October of 2007. This time we rode it in its entirety: west to east. (the map below is only Kimsey Hwy, not our entire route for that day)
We began not on Kimsey Hwy, however. We left Hwy 68 south of the river and headed west on McFarland Rd. (all gravel), entering the Cherokee National Forest, then north to the river continuing on gravel roads. I watched on the GPS where the road parallels the river and slowed down. Somewhere through the trees and down the mountainside was the Hiwassee River and a railroad track.
Finally I could glimpse through the trees something shiny. I stopped the bike, got off and walked the side of the gravel road. Trees crowded the road and it was so quiet, I could hear myself breathe. Searching down over the bank I found what I was looking for. The tracks and the river. Well, parts of it. The road was above both and tree hid each of us.
I wondered if the tracks were still used and while Ed was talking, I heard something. More like felt it. It was like a glutteral short moan, loud but muffled, and in rhythmic pulses. My hearing and senses were pulled to the sound because I could feel it more than hear it. My head turned and then I realized what it was: a train. And a bright red train it was!! Chugging and slithering between the mountainside and the river, right underneath us.
I tried to catch the beautiful red and black engine but the light was too poor and I wasn't prepared in time. All I caught was the cars as they moved below, a spot of sun shining on the red side of a car. Next time we are back there, I want to ride the train
We followed the maps to Lost Creek Campground, which is on, guess which creek..... We found it nestled under large trees on the side of a creek and found a campsite we liked (#12) right on the bank. Everything was still wet from the storm two days ago and that musky smell reminded me of so many years ago living and hiking in the forests. We decided to take a break here.
Only two campsites were full, one with a small RV. We chatted with an older man who was retired and spending most of the summer here. He's been coming here for many years. This is like home to him. While they were chatting, I went exploring.
The campground and most of the creek were in deep shade, but sunlight filtered through in a few places. Where it did, light glittered off the rocks and water, and the reflected trees turned the water green.
I could have happily spent several days there. Next time, we're camping here for a night or two on the bikes.
Then it was time to move on again. We would be riding west some more, crossing Hwy 30 and up on some big mountains, riding along a few ridges.