Friday, March 23rd
I woke to the sound of my own teeth chattering. I’m not entirely sure when and for how long I actually slept. Hands exhausted from holding my sleeping bag closed with a death grip, I frantically fumbled to put on my already frigid riding gear in the dark. Shivering from the frozen surfaces of my armored gear, I stuffed myself back into my sleeping bag, hoping the extra layers would be enough to weather the rest of the night.
Thursday, March 22nd
After rummaging through the house to get my gear set, transfer routes to my GPS, and set up my latest SPOT messages, I finally loaded the bike for the long ride south. I had originally planned a scenic route through the bluegrass state, but with a 7 AM temperature of 22°F, I decided perhaps it better to delay and conserve a little energy. It started getting late and apparently 26°F was about as good as it was going to get so I set out for the 400 mile trek to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, for March Moto Madness.
Having combated the cold for the last 110 miles through Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, I needed a break. Pulling to the side of the road I couldn’t help but be captivated by the heavy snow that blanketed most of Kentucky the previous day. Topping off at the local Love’s station, I scarfed down a sausage biscuit and selfishly clutched a cup a coffee hoping to absorb whatever warmth there was to be had as the temperature finally rose to about freezing.
After 4 grueling hours on the highway, I finally ducked off I-75 in Corbin, Kentucky, to do a little sightseeing.
About seven years ago, I did some rafting just down river from Cumberland Falls. Since attaining my motorcycle endorsement, I’ve had a return trip to Cumberland Falls on the Moto Bucket List. At 125 feet wide and dropping 68 feet, with an average flow rate of over 5,000 cubic feet per second, Cumberland Falls is the second largest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, and the 2nd place on earth where you can see a Moonbow with regularity (only place in the western Hemisphere, Victoria Falls in Africa being the other… “with regularity”).
After snapping photos and video of the falls from all angles, along with letting the temperature rise a little, it was on to the backroads for the rest of the journey to the campground in Tellico Plains. KY-700 leaving Cumberland Falls was a welcome taste of solemn bluegrass pavement before finding myself on US-27 for the vast majority of the last leg.
Winding down the hill into the valley toward the campground, off in the distance I caught the shape of what I, at first, thought was just a bunch of grey clouds. After my eyes focused, I realized that the grey shapes in the distance were actually the peaks along the Cherohala Skyway, covered in snow (more on that later).
I met up with my buddy Jeff along with Jason and Nico from Hugo Moto. It’s beer-thirty.
Friday, March 23rd
Finally stirred by the “Ring-da-ta-ting-ting-ting” sounds of two-strokes firing up, I reluctantly emerged from my tent after a frigid, sleepless night. Unzipping the tent’s rain-fly, I found more frost on the inside of my tent than the outside.
“29°F… Coffee… I need coffee…”
After grabbing a pancake and sausage breakfast, huddling around the fire, and otherwise loitering around the campground in search of warmth, I finally got my crap in order to take a ride. Having seen bikes of all shapes and sizes pass by, I figured I would check out the local trails.
I take the Dirtster, “Ripley”, for the first (serious) off-road run.
Jason and “Chinnie” want to take a ride out to some local trails to take some photos of the latest World Tour Kit build (HD2 Enduro). Despite being exhausted, I came to Tennessee to ride trails; they let me tag along.
I get schooled off-road.
After chasing two Harleys down local forest service roads, back at the campground I get my second wind. I tackle the local trails a little harder and test the new Avon Trekriders in more dirt and mud.
Saturday, March 24th
07:45 (ish) AM
It’s a cold, rainy, morning. I’m again in no hurry to go anywhere. I debate when to get dressed to ride over coffee and breakfast burritos while again huddled next to the fire.
With a short window between passing storms, I decided to head over to Bald River Falls for a photo.
Arriving at Bald River falls a lot sooner than expected, I felt froggy enough to tackle a little bit of “Gravel-Hala” (North River Road) solo. Oh yeah… about that snow…
Finding the forest service road into Robbinsville closed, I decided to get up on the Cherohala Skyway and beat it back to the campground before I got rained on. Naturally I find the Skyway lined with snow and fog. It’s not the notorious pea-soup mess I’ve heard stories about, but instead proves to be the quiet solace of solitude I enjoy so much.
I get back to camp just in time to watch Jason from Hugo Moto participate in the heavy-weight hill climb. Turns out he’s one of only a few that made it to the top and I catch his first run-off attempt.
Despite the “sketchy” first run, he made it to the top on his last two attempts, and it’s down to him and one BMW R1200GS for the win.
The 1200 GS loses traction and takes a dirt nap… twice…
To his credit, the BMW rider was incredible, it was like watching moto-ballet, I have no idea how that bike ever made it up that hill. Nonetheless, a Harley wins the heavy-weight hill climb event… at a GS rally.
BMW guys want to see this “Enduro” Harley up close
I’m huddled under a pop-up tent holding a beer and trying to keep a cigar lit despite the (second) heaviest rain I’ve ever encountered while camping. That’ll make for a long night…
Sunday, March 25th
Miraculously, the tent is still dry; apparently I learned something in the Army… Time to pack and go home… it’s going to be a muddy mess…
I shake hands with Jeff and the guys from Hugo Moto, and start the long ride back to Dayton. The temperature hovers around the 40°F, and with my late start, that means spending more hours on the highway…
Fed up with the interstate, I drop off onto the side roads in London, Kentucky, looking for the tail end of KY-89. With no specific route planned, neither my GPS nor Waze seem to want to take me to the starting point of 89 near Livingston. Despite my best attempts to manage two navigation devices without touchscreen gloves and otherwise trapped by hand mitts, the GPS directions seems to be sending me in a more “fun” direction.
Apparently the GPS knows me better than I realized; cresting a hill I’m confronted with a creek crossing that I dare not attempt solo (if at all…).
I finally hit KY-89; 47 miles of twisties, sweepers, and Appalachian bliss.
Over a thousand miles later, I pull back into the driveway. Exhausted and coated with mud, sand, and road grime, it was an incredible un-planned adventure.
Commentary on March Moto Madness
I’ve never seen so many off-road enthusiasts in one place before. This year’s event had attendance somewhere around 700 people if I understand correctly. There were trucks, RVs, campers, trailers, jeeps, and tents of every variety packed into this campground. Every morning was a symphony of two-stroke dirt bikes and twin-cylinder adventure mammoths firing to life as folks set out for the day’s ride. Just an eclectic crowd of “adventurous” motorcyclists; I didn’t meet a stranger the entire weekend.
Per my previous comments, I knew I was going to attend the event way back before Christmas, but that was about the extent of my plans. Leaving the house Thursday morning, my extremely detailed route went right out the window, after which I was flying by the seat of my pants until I returned home on Sunday. As the perpetual planner, it was an odd feeling. The weather was “less than ideal” (it sucked… pretty bad), so I just went with it. Between that, the diverse crowd, the good company, and the endless miles of twisty Appalachian solitude, it was one of the best motorcycle trips I’ve ever been on.