At last year’s Raid, I only traversed “The Skyway” once, and only from Stecoah into Tellico plains (during most of which I had no idea where I was). I was hoping to take the Skyway as part of the route home last year, but due to the cold temperatures, it just didn’t make sense. This year, just because of the way the chips fell, I have a whole new appreciation for the Cherohala as I crossed the mile high legend 4 times.
After tackling the Dragon Tuesday morning, my buddies and I continued down US-129, past Cheoah dam, and down to the outskirts of Robbinsville to pick up the tail end of NC-143 as it leads to the Cherohala. The south end of US-129 from Deal’s Gap to Robbinsville is another unsung hero down that way. I recommend riding it north from Robbinsville since uphill is usually more fun than down, but either way it’s a good ride as it hugs the hillside along the edge of Cheoah Lake. Assuming that you don’t get stuck behind a dump truck (more on that in a moment), the “access road” section of 143 that leads to the Skyway is a nice, twisty, technical section of roadway that bends between the creek beds that feed Santeetlah creek (and subsequently Lake Santeetlah). From the fork at Santeetlah Road, the Cherohala runs (virtually) unobstructed from intersections and residential traffic for almost 40 miles until it nears Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
There are limited number speed markings for a few of the 25 and 35 MPH curves along the Skyway, I assume because the speed limit is marked at 45 MPH (at least in North Carolina). Following my buddy on his shiny new 2016 Thruxton R, I quickly realized why sport bike riders appreciate the high-speed, long sweepers of the Skyway versus some of the more technical roads in the area. I imagine liter bikes can regularly reach triple digits on this stretch (and many do…), however my horsepower limitations became evident on the uphill straights as I chased the new Triumph 1200 mill.
North Carolina had actually repaved their section of the Skyway this year, and were actively adjusting the grade level of the shoulder to match the freshly pressed asphalt. Unfortunately that meant stopping for a “pilot vehicle” to lead us through the construction zones as work crews laid fresh dirt at the edge of the road, pressed it even with a steam roller, and swept up the mess. I assume this is some sort requirement for State or even Federal roadways; kudos to North Carolina for at least using dirt, in Ohio they tend to use gravel… which naturally finds its way back into the road in all of the curves as cars cut the corner. While freshly minted asphalt is normally a very welcome sight to motorcyclists, the shiny new blacktop on the Skyway appeared a bit oily to me, compounded by the fact there was a fair amount of “dust” left behind by construction, so I found myself much more comfortable on the “gritty” Tennessee sections.
After lunch at Krambonz BBQ in Tellico plains, it was another spirited ride across the Skyway back to the Iron Horse. As I reached an intersection at the end of the Skyway, I pulled over to wait up for a buddy. In the few moments I stood there, a neighborhood dog wandered up to greet me. Reminiscent of other stories, that’s one of those things I love about rural America, dogs that don’t know strangers, and always know where home is and therefor don’t need fences. Moments after taking a “selfie” with my new friend, it became evident I was on the verge of getting wet, again. Fortunately, after the hard lesson from the night before, I was dressed for battle. If I hadn’t mentioned it before, I’ve discovered that one, Rosie is apparently the “Rain-Maker”, and two, I don’t mind riding in the rain as long as I’m dressed for it. Donning my hood and helmet, my buddy rolled up, back to the lodge we went, day two in the books.
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