Little Tennessee

Fall weather has finally arrived in the Smoky’s. Although we haven’t had a frost yet, morning temperatures have dropped down into the 30’s. Monday was a crystal clear day with highs in the upper 60’s. It was a perfect day for a ride on the bike with a short hike thrown in.

We headed down Needmore Road which meanders along the Little Tennessee River and is an alternate route to Franklin, NC. There is a short section where the road turns to dirt but it’s not too rough and still rideable on the Harley.

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About halfway down there is a cool little suspension walking bridge. The double span bridge stretches 275 feet across the Little Tennessee. The bridge was built in the 1950’s to give residents of the village of Needmore access to both sides of the river in this isolated location. The power company bought up all the land for a hydropower project that never materialized and the village eventually disappeared.

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The bridge swings and bounces as you walk across it and with only a four person limit you have to wonder if the old weathered boards will really hold.

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We did make it across and had a nice walk down the dirt road on the far side.

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The fall colors are starting to show depending on the elevation. They leaves still have a way to go down in the valleys but we doubt they can rival the bright reds and oranges we are used to seeing in New England.

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After our walk we continued on our ride through the Nantahala Gorge on a nice twisty road along the river. We ended up staying out a little too long and with the sun setting behind the mountains it was cool and shady. By the time we got home we were pretty well frozen but had some nice hot soup waiting for dinner that helped warm us up.

Our time here is nearing an end with only two weeks or so left to the season. As promised, October has been pretty busy with large groups coming in on the weekends. We have consistently serving right around 100 dinners for our Saturday night prime rib dinners.

We were treated to an end of season party at the casino up in Cherokee. We had a nice lunch at Brio, an Italian restaurant, with Ironhorse owners John and Charlene and twelve other workampers and local staff members. It was very nice to be appreciated and thanked for all of our hard work and to celebrate a successful season. We have been working with a great, friendly group of people who all seem to work well together and get along well.

 

 

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Wanderings

Here are some pictures from our random wanderings around the Smoky Mountains.

The Cherokee Tribal Museum in Cherokee, NC had a well designed telling of the Cherokee story, including the Trail of Tears, from past to present.

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The Nantahala Outdoor Center, site of the 2014 Freestyle Kayaking World Championship, is the hub for rafting and kayaking on the Nantahala River. They have a restaurant overlooking the river and a kayaking practice course set up on the river.

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Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower – Highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a unique spiral ramp up to the observation platform. We were here on a nice clear day and could see forever once we survived the STEEP (I mean REALLY STEEP) walk up the path to the top of the mountain.

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Clingman’s Dome Visitor Center

 

Sunburst Falls passes under Route 215 through this stone arch bridge.

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Saco Falls near Maggie Valley.

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Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

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Bald River Falls near Tellico Plains, TN

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Unique diagonally sided barns in the neighborhood around Ironhorse. We stopped and chatted with an old farmer who said the siding was put on that way for added strength and bracing for when the barns were loaded up with the burley tobacco harvest. Tobacco is no longer grown here, since the government subsidies were cut off,  leaving the farmers without a decent cash crop.

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An Appalachian log cabin in a beautiful setting.

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The Road to Nowhere during Scott and Sandy’s weeklong visit. The road was started to provide access to the south side of the National Park left isolated by the construction of Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake. The project was abandoned and the road stops at the end of this enormous tunnel just a few miles in from Bryson City. The only access to the National Park past here is by boat or on foot.

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We visited this winery, just over the Georgia border, with Scott and Sandy. A nice afternoon in another beautiful setting with good friends.

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We also toured the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley with Scott and Sandy. They had a mind boggling collection of antique motorcycles and memorabilia set up in interesting displays such as this vintage Harley dealership which was moved and rebuilt inside the museum. They had a wide variety of bikes including board track racers, hillclimbers, speedway and flat track racers, 1970’s choppers and some of the rarest production motorcycles found anywhere. It is worth a visit if you are anywhere close to here.

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Dry Falls near Highlands, NC has a walkway that takes you behind the waterfall as it cascades off the overhanging rock cliff.

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Of course the highlight of our travels has been sharing a lot of it with friends who have come to visit. Jim Cunningham, Scott and Sandy and our old friend Monika from our college days at Virginia Tech , along with her fiance Mark were all able to make the trip and spend some time with us here at the Ironhorse.

 

Jack Daniel’s

We had another two hours or so from Chattanooga to our campground at Tims Ford State Park. The park is on another huge reservoir built to bring stimulus to the local economy through recreation and development. There were marinas, walking paths and trails and a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course on the grounds. We settled into a nice lakeside campsite, set up our tent and relaxed for a bit in the shady woods. The campground was mostly empty so it was very quiet and peaceful. 

Later on we had dinner at the Bluegill Grill which was on a built on a barge floating at one of the marinas. It was a cool little place with friendly service, good food and cold beer. It looks like it really gets hopping on the weekends when everyone is out boating on the lake.

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We packed up the next morning and headed over to Lynchburg, TN for our visit to Jack Daniel’s. We went into town and coffee and a muffin at a coffee shop on the town square. Lynchburg is the county seat for Moore County and the impressive county courthouse sits in the center of the square. It’s a quaint setting with the square lined with a combination of touristy stores, a few restaurants and some local businesses.

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The Lynchburg General Store is owned by Jack Daniel’s and features every conceivable Jack related merchandise you could imagine, except for the whiskey itself. Moore County is still a dry county so you can’t buy their famous product or get a drink at any of the restaurants. The exception is that you can now buy whiskey right at the distillery which I understand is a fairly recent change.

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The visitors facilities at the distillery are top notch and very impressive.

The visitors center has tons of information on the whiskey making process, the life story of Jack Daniel and the history of his distillery. There are shuttles that run from the parking lots to the visitors center and reserved parking for Tennessee Squires (more on that later).

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The visitor’s is where you buy tickets for the various distillery tours. There are some souvenirs available here but nothing like the general store back in town. The White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the visitor’s center is the only place in the county to buy the actual whiskey. 

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We had already purchased our tour tickets online so we had plenty of time to check out all of the displays before our assigned tour time.

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Were introduced to Jed, our guide for the afternoon, loaded on a bus and brought way up the hill overlooking the distillery.

Jed first explained the aging process, pointing out one of the many barrel houses on the grounds in addition to many others scattered throughout the county. The barrel houses contain stacks upon stacks of oak barrels filled with whiskey and left to age naturally in the varying temperatures which help force the whiskey into the wood and give it its mellow color and flavor. Summer temperatures at the top of the barrel house can reach over 140 degrees and workers are only allowed to work in those conditions for fifteen minutes at a time.

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Jed did the math for us and said that this one barrel house would be converted to millions of dollars in tax revenue once the whiskey was finished, bottled for sale and Uncle Sam took his cut. That’s not even counting the value of the whiskey sold to the consumer.

We meandered down the hill to the rickyard where stacks of hard maple are carefully burned and converted into the charcoal used to filter the whiskey. This charcoal filtering is what defines Tennessee whiskey and differentiates it from bourbon. A cannister of 140 proof whiskey is kept close by to spray on the wood and get the fires roaring along with a couple of rocking chairs to keep the crew comfortable while they monitor the fire and wait for the piles to burn down to charcoal.

The next stop was a shed housing some old fire engines. Jed emphasized that alcohol and fire are not a good mix and with all the fumes and liquid all over the place the distillery takes fire safety very seriously.  Jack Daniel’s maintains its own fire brigade with the most modern equipment.

Just beyond was Cave Spring. As we walked back into the damp coolness of the cave, Jed explained that this was the source for every single drop of water that goes into Jack Daniel’s whiskey and was the key factor in Mr. Jack’s decision to locate his distillery here.

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The natural limestone filtering makes the water pure, fresh and clean. Perfect for making whiskey. This spring is so important that a statue of Jack Daniel stands guard over its entrance. The statue is affectionately named “Jack On the Rocks”.

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We were led on through Jack’s old office building and then the main distillery where the mash is cooked, fermented, distilled and filtered through huge vats of charcoal. Jed was a great guide with lots of interesting facts and stories about the company, workers and the area around Lynchburg. It seems like a great place to work with many families having multiple generations of experience in crafting whiskey here.

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We passed by the bottling line where  bottles of Gentleman Jack were being filled, inspected and packed. Next was the Single Barrel Room where multiple plaques designate individuals or groups who have purchased an entire barrel of whiskey selected and custom bottled just for them. The cost: $9,000-$10,000 per barrel which will fill approximately 240, 750 ml bottles.

The tour ended in another barrel house where we saw the massive oak barrels lined up in rows and stacked to the ceiling.

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This is the only spot in Moore County to get a taste of Jack. The tour includes a sample tasting of five different varieties of Jack Daniel’s products.

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Jed warned us against gulping the entire sample like doing a shot, taught us the proper tasting technique and talked us through the subtle differences of each variety. Our sampling included Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Select, Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire.

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We bought our commemorative bottle of Red Dog Saloon Old No. 7 and were given a ride over to the Squire’s House which is reserved for members of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Squire Association, of which I am a proud member.

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A Squire must be nominated by an existing member and is granted a ceremonial one square inch undeeded plot of land in Lynchburg. We receive a nice calendar each year and an occasional amusing letter about maintaining our square inch so the neighbors bull doesn’t wander over or chastising us about keeping the grass mowed. If anyone would like to be nominated please contact me for consideration.

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We received some nice souvenirs, had a cool drink of lemonade and enjoyed a nice chat with our friendly hostess about the distillery and life around Lynchburg. She shared some fun stories about Squires believing they actually owned the one square inch and how the lawyer for another Squire delayed settling his estate after finding the souvenir deed for his square inch of land.

The entire experience was a lot of fun. We learned a lot and were very impressed by friendly atmosphere of our visit to Lynchburg and the Jack Daniel Distillery.

Catching Up in Chattanooga

You all must have been thinking I’ve given up on the blog due to the recent lack of new posts. Not so, but we’ve had a busy few weeks with little time to get things done. Also, our internet connections have taken a turn for the worse lately making it difficult and frustrating to work on blog posts and get pictures uploaded.

We watched the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and Irma and waited here for the residual effects of the storms to reach us. Harvey brought us a lot of rain and moderate wind gusts but nothing serious. We were expecting more wind from Irma but were surprised by the calm conditions throughout the two days of steady rain. Everyone we know in Florida seems to have made it through the hurricane without any major damage. One exception is a fellow blogger, Technomadia, who recently switched from a vintage bus to a yacht. They were located in Marathon on the Florida Keys and were forced to leave the boat behind and evacuate. We are still waiting to hear the outcome of their situation.

On the lighter side, we had a near disaster at work. Saturday night is usually the busiest night of the week because our signature prime rib dinner is on the menu. Things were going along smoothly with nearly 100 people expected for dinner. About an hour before we were due to start serving I noticed the rib temperatures were a bit low so I turned the oven up by 50 degrees.

Checking again in fifteen minutes the temps were barely creeping up. It was then that we realized that the oven and pilot had somehow gone out. There we were with four nearly raw prime rib roasts with only 30 minutes until dinner. Panic set in! We quickly switched ovens and cranked the heat up to 400. We ended up being a half hour late but several people mentioned that the prime rib was extra delicious that night. Lesson learned to keep a closer watch on the rib temps in the future.

Back in August things slowed down at the lodge and we were scheduled for three days off in a row. We took the opportunity to take a little road trip out through central Tennessee to visit Lynchburg, home of the one and only Jack Daniel Distillery.

We packed up our tent and sleeping bags into the truck and headed out early Monday morning. We were close to Chattanooga, TN around lunchtime so drove into the city to take a quick look around.

We found free parking alongside the riverwalk and sat and ate our sandwiches on a bench overlooking the Tennessee River which runs through Chattanooga.

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Chattanooga is the home of many attractions including Rock City, Ruby Falls and an incline railway on Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga Choo-choo, riverboat and duck boat tours on the river, a zoo, aquarium and lots of museums.

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Lookout Mountain in the background

Chattanooga is also home to the International Towing and Recovery Museum which is fitting since the tow truck was invented here by Ernest Holmes in 1918.  Incidentally, Chattanooga is also the home of the MoonPie.

We only had a few hours so we concentrated on the riverwalk area. We found the ultra modern Hunter Museum of American Art perched high on a bluff overlooking the river and the nearby Walnut Street pedestrian bridge.

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It is quite a contrast to the original, pillared museum building.

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We walked the entire bridge, which is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, over to the North Shore neighborhood and enjoyed great views of the city and river.

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There were information kiosks all along the bridge highlighting the history of Chattanooga as a major shipping port and military objective during the Civil War.

The bridge led us to the north side of the river where there was a beautiful riverside park with an old carousel.The North Shore neighborhood has been revitalized with old warehouses and industrial buildings repurposed into cafes, restaurants and boutiques. They also had these cool little dance step patterns imbedded into the sidewalk. We practiced our waltz without breaking each others toes.

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It was a quick tour but we had a nice time in this cool, little city on the Tennessee. It would be worth spending more time here some day but we had more important things in mind for now…Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey!

 

Post Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse did not disappoint. We had a perfect day here at Ironhorse with a beautiful blue sky. There were a few puffy white clouds drifting about but they did not interfere with the sun for the entirety of the eclipse. We had lunch with Moon Pies for dessert and then gathered with our fellow workampers to watch. A lot of the conversation revolved around experiences with past eclipses we had witnessed back in the 60’s or in the 80’s.

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There was a definite sense of excitement with several groups gathered around the property. One of the campers had Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon blasting through the speakers to add to the party atmosphere. We patiently waited as the moon progressed slowly across the sun. The eclipse glasses that we had worked perfectly and gave us an impressive view of the event.

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In spite of all the previous hype, news stories and photos, I don’t think anyone was prepared for totality. The moment the disc of the moon totally eclipsed the sun was incredible. It got eerily dark and quiet. The temperature dropped by ten degrees. The black moon was ringed by the glow of the sun against a dark sky. It was truly magical. You could hear people exclaiming their wonder all around. Some of the comments we heard were “This is the work of the Lord” and the more comical “Now I know, I’ve never seen THIS before”. Maybe it was because of the availability of the eclipse glasses but this was beyond compare to any eclipse we had ever viewed before. Those pinhole cameras we used as kids just don’t cut it! This was the real deal.

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It was over way too soon and there were more shouts as the first blinding ray of sun reappeared from behind the moon. The crescent of light soon progressed and the shadow receded. We witnessed the crescent shaped shadows on the ground as the sun shone through the trees. Soon it was back to normal and the birds started singing again as if it were a new morning.

We can now understand how people become hooked on this and become eclipse chasers. I would definitely go out of my way to experience this again. Luckily we may not have to wait half a lifetime to try it again. The next total eclipse will be visible across  the U.S. and northern New England in 2024. Seven years is not too long to wait for an experience of a lifetime.

The Great American Eclipse


Like everyone, we are looking forward to the total eclipse tomorrow. When we decided to come here we had no idea that there even was an eclipse happening this summer. To our great surprise and good luck, we are in the narrow swath that will experience the full totality of the moon moving across the sun.

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The area has been gearing up for a huge influx of eclipse viewers and are expecting traffic delays, lack of EMS availability, overloaded restaurants and hotels, and lack of food and supplies at stores. The town of Robbinsville is planning for an influx of 70,000 people. That is huge for a tiny town with a population of 2000. 

Ironhorse has been busy all weekend. We served over 100 for dinner both Saturday and Sunday nights and all of the campsites are filling up. It should be about that busy trough mid-week. We are even serving lunch tomorrow for guests who decide to hang out here to see the eclipse instead of venturing out into the traffic. Burgers, dogs and Moon Pies for dessert. We have a bunch of approved solar glasses for employees and guests.

Hopefully the weather will hold. The forecast calls for sunshine in the morning with increasingly cloudiness in the afternoon. We hope the clouds will hold off until 2:30, the time of totality for us here in the Smokeys.

Fontana Dam

One aspect of the beauty of the Smoky Mountains is the amount of water features. There is water everywhere. The entire area is criss-crossed by creeks or branches, as they are called down here, rivers and lakes. The mountains act as funnels concentrating the water as it flows down to the valleys and into the bigger rivers such as the Nantahala, Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee.

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Most of the roads follow along the creeks or rivers flowing along the valleys, gorges and hollows until they make their way up and over the mountain gaps, making for some very scenic roadways. The vegetation enveloping the roads is always lush and green. There is an abundance of wild mountain laurel and rhododendron down in the valleys which transitions to more alpine habitats as you climb the higher mountains up to the ridge line. The steep terrain and abundance of flowing water also provides the ideal conditions for lots of whitewater and waterfalls.

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Surprisingly, there are a large number of lakes for such a mountainous area. Most of the lakes exist due to a large network of dams built for flood control and the production of hydro-electricity.

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The steep mountainsides provide ideal natural reservoirs for the dammed rivers . The largest lake in the area is Fontana Lake which is practically in our back yard. It is approximately 17 miles long and with numerous coves and arms has 238 miles of shoreline. The lake is a natural border for the southern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Fontana Lake was formed by damming the Little Tennessee River with Fontana Dam. This dam is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and at 480 feet is the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The TVA was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and brought numerous jobs and a better quality of life to a large portion of the South.

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The main objectives of the TVA system were to provide flood control, electricity and navigable rivers to the rural Tennessee Valley while providing much needed jobs during the Great Depression.

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Fontana Dam was built during World War II, mainly to provide electricity to the Alcoa Aluminum plant in Knoxville. Construction began in 1942 and continued nearly around the clock until completion in 1944. A new town, which was later transformed into the Fontana Village Resort, was constructed to house over 5000 workers and their families brought in to build this massive project.

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We paid a visit to the dam where they have a nice little information center and viewing platform. The TVA also provides a hiking shelter and hot showers  at the dam for Appalachian Trail hikers. The path of the AT follows right across the top of the dam making its way over Fontana lake before winding up into the National Park.

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We walked out across the dam enjoying views of the lake and the gorge, powerhouse and spillway far below. The concrete spillway tunnels used to divert water and control the water level of the lake were very impressive dropping steeply out of sight. After dropping 480 feet nearly straight down, the water shoots out of tunnels at the base of the dam like a cannon.

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The lake has several marinas, boat launches and campgrounds and is providing many opportunities for boating and fishing. We took the kayaks out on a nice sunny day and explored some of the coves and railroad trestles along the shoreline. The one negative is that the mountains running down into the lake are so steep that the shore is pretty much inaccessible to getting out of the boat to stretch or to go for a swim to cool off.

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The dams also provide a controlled release of water into the rivers which supports opportunities for whitewater rafting and tubing. We were lucky enough to meet a former river guide through Ironhorse who treated us to a very low cost rafting trip down the Nantahala River. The river is fairly tame with only one Class III set of rapids but was a great way to spend a day off. We got to enjoy the scenic river with a few thrilling rapids along the way while getting to know our new friends a little better.

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We are totally into the groove of our jobs at Ironhorse now. We are very comfortable with the menus and have been cruising through dinner service. It has been fairly slow, which is normal for this time of year. We have served as few as 20-25 on some nights and a few meals have been cancelled for lack of people signing up ahead of time. This week we hosted a HOG Chapter from Bergen County in northern New Jersey. I’d have to admit it was a little refreshing to experience that northern attitude once again. It reminded us of home just a little bit.

We usually go for a nice motorcycle ride on one of our days off, always exploring new territory. We have also managed to get some things done on The Breeze and gave the roof a good cleaning and three new coats of wax. Washing and waxing the rest of the rig is next on our list of projects.

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Moonshiner 28

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We had one more day of riding with Jim before he headed home so we chose do the last of the big three roads in the area, the Moonshiner 28. We rode to the southern end of the route and took it all the way north back to Ironhorse. We put on a lot of miles so didn’t make too many stops for pictures and sightseeing. We did stop at a couple of waterfalls along the way, one of which was Whitewater Falls. Whitewater is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies but unfortunately the wooden stairway to access the best views were burned up in the forest fires last fall so we only got a limited view. The contractors were in the process of rebuilding the stairs so it may be worth a trip back in the fall.

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After being disappointed at Whitewater, we followed the signs for Licklog Falls a little further down the road. The signs led us miles down a side road before directing us for another few miles down a gravel road. The road got narrower, rougher and more rutted as we went and even had a couple narrow stream crossings. Unfortunately, the signs stopped and we had no idea where the falls were. We went as far as we could, until the road turned into more of a trail through the woods than a road, before we finally turned around without ever seeing any sign of a waterfall. We were 0 for 2 on the waterfalls so far.

We hooked into The Moonshiner in South Carolina and dipped a few miles into Georgia before heading back into North Carolina. The twisties on this road rival the Dragon and went on for miles and miles. We had lunch in the cool little town of Highlands, NC (elevation 4117 feet). The cool temperatures at that elevation have long been a draw to southern tourists looking to escape the heat and humidity of the long summers.

A few mile north of Highlands we finally had success with the waterfalls. Bridal Veil Falls are immediately adjacent to route 28 and you can’t possibly drive by and not see it.

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These falls are so close to the road that vehicles used to be allowed to drive behind the water cascading off the overhanging cliff. Vehicles aren’t allowed anymore but you can still walk behind the falls.

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I tried to tempt Jim into riding behind the falls anyway but he didn’t go for it.

The Moonshiner continued north with a very challenging section through Cullasaja Gorge. It would have been nice to sightsee but you definitely need to keep your eyes on the road! The road straightens out a bit as it approaches Franklin, NC then follows the Little Tennessee River for a bit before climbing back toward the Smokies with another twisty section.

Overall, the Moonshiner 28 is was great choice for our last ride. It combines some very challenging roads with great views, scenery and some cool little towns to stop off and explore while the appeal of the Dragon is simply for the high concentration of twists and turns over a relatively short stretch of road.

Riding the Dragon

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Jim and I headed out on Monday morning to ride the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of U.S. 129 which is the most infamous of all the twisty roads in this area. 318 curves in 11 miles and talk around Ironhorse of numerous accidents and fatalities had us feeling just a little bit intimidated by this stretch of road.

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We started out heading up route 28 to get to the Dragon. 28 is known as the Moonshiner 28 or the Hellbender and was a good warm up, getting us comfortable with our bikes on the tight turns, hills and dips.

We stopped at Deal’s Gap which is at the southern end of the Dragon. There is a motel, restaurant, gas and a couple of gift shops where you can get all kinds of Dragon related merchandise like T-shirts, pins, patches and decals. One shop has some cool metal sculptures of the Dragon where many stop to take pictures.

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We were there early, around 10:30 and it was pretty slow with only a few other bikes in the parking lot. That was a good sign that we would have the road mostly to ourselves without running into slower traffic or being pushed from behind by more aggressive riders.

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This is also home to the Tree of Shame. The tradition is that anyone who gets bit by the Dragon and has a wreck leaves a piece of their bike behind tacked to the tree. It’s a sobering reminder of what can happen on the road. Some parts and pieces have become memorials to the many fatalities that have occurred on the Tail of the Dragon.

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We browsed the shop and got our pictures in front of the Dragon before heading north on U.S 129.

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The serious twisties start about a mile or so up the hill and don’t quit for the full eleven miles. The cool part about the road is that the curves are all banked like a race track which helps you maintain traction and really lean into the curves. After a bit of practice, it’s easy to get into a rhythm, slowing or braking for a curve and then powering through it before setting up for the next one. It was fun!

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About half way in, the overcast skies finally let loose with some pretty steady rain. We pulled off, put our rain gear on and waited for the worst of it to pass. We headed out again with the added challenge of the wet road. It forced us to slow down a bit and ride more cautiously which probably wasn’t a bad thing for our first ride on the Dragon.

We stopped near the end and agreed that all the hype was a bit overblown. We had seen roads like this in New England though maybe not to this degree with the concentration of steady curves over such a long distance.

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The banking in the turns was new to us but a welcome change that made the ride easier and more fun. It’s just important to ride within your own ability and respect the challenge of a more technical ride. The problem, as with most riding, is worrying about what the other guy might do. The main problem on this road is probably dealing with aggressive riders or daredevils who push their limits or do stupid things and end up crossing the center line into your lane or recklessly passing slower riders.

Jim and I stopped at the U.S. 129 Dragon Harley dealership at the far end to decide where to go next. It was a pretty easy decision to head right back over and ride the Dragon again. The road had dried and we knew what to expect so it was even more fun heading back over to where we had started.

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We were surprised to see the parking lots at Deals Gap filled up with bikes when we got there.

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We were really lucky to experience the road with as little traffic as we did. We had lunch and  spent the rest of the day riding around on some less famous but just as impressive roads as the Tail of the Dragon.

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Work and a Surprise Visit

Life here at Ironhorse is moving along as we get better acquainted with our new job and surroundings. We are cooking dinners in the lodge five nights a week and will serve anywhere from 30 or 40 up to 90 or 100 guests per night depending on how many are onsite or if a group is in for the weekend.

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We have been through most of the menu items at least twice so Chuck and Deb have been leaving us on our own for the most part. He will stop in to see how we’re doing and answer any questions that come up but we’re handling it pretty well.

There isn’t anything very difficult or technical about the meals we are serving. The hard part is timing everything to be ready and dealing with the constantly changing number of dinners reserved. We don’t like to cook too many dinners to have leftovers or throw food out so we try to cut it pretty tight on what we prepare. Guests pre-order their meals through the front desk so we have a basic idea of numbers when we go in at three or four o’clock but that number can change drastically by the time we start serving at 6:30. The numbers can even change during dinner service for late arrivals or walk-ins until we finally stop serving at 8:30. It’s always a scramble to start more entrees cooking and to make sure there are enough side dishes prepped as the numbers go up during the night. No matter how hard we try to coordinate things we usually come up one short of one entree and two over of something else. We serve desserts until 9:00 and then have about an hour or so of clean up before we head home.

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We went on a nice ride with Chuck and Deb and a few of their friends on one of our days off. We went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway up near Asheville and the rode it south to where it ends in Cherokee, NC.

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We stopped for lunch at the Pisgah Inn, a beautiful park service lodge with an amazing view of the Smokies. As we waited for our table the weather went from partly cloudy and blue skies to stormy, gray and overcast.

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We watched a storm approaching off in the distance and could see the rain getting closer and closer as we had lunch. We felt the first raindrops as we walked out to the parking lot to leave so we put on rain gear and rode the first ten miles or so in a fairly heavy rain. It eventually stopped and ended up being a really nice ride. We stopped at the highest point on the parkway for some pictures.

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Later that week we got a really nice surprise. Jim Cunningham, who I had worked with at Excelsior called to let us know he was coming down to visit and do some riding. He called on a Tuesday and got here just a few days later on Friday night. He was pretty waterlogged after riding 500 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the pouring rain.

It was great to see a familiar face again and we spent Saturday just hanging out, drying his wet clothes and relaxing.

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We caught up on all the news from back home and told him about our adventures on the road. Jim pitched his tent and really enjoyed the biker friendly vibe of the Ironhorse. He said the prime rib dinner on Saturday night was delicious.

He was ready to get back on the bike by Sunday to start exploring our twisty roads. We headed out for the Cherohala Skyway a scenic road that winds through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests into Tennessee.

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It’s a very scenic ride with lots of turnouts to enjoy the endless mountain views. The roadway is in great condition, nice and smooth running up and down the mountains with a combination of wide sweeping curves and sections with tight, twisty turns.

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We stopped for lunch at a little cafe in Tellico Plains, TN and then headed home on some back roads. We went over the Hiawasee Dam before hitting Joe Brown Highway back into Murphy, NC. Joe Brown was a little rough due to a recent tar and grit paving job but was like a roller coaster with quick ups and downs and lots and lots of curves. We had to work dinner that night so after a quick stop in Murphy we continued on back to Ironhorse on some four lane highways.