GRMA Day 1: A Good Beginning
Click here for the link to GPS Tracking Map. (Good for 7 days) Zoom in to see more specific locations. Click on any of the reference points for more information. Remember that the GPS only records where I was every 10 minutes; it may not follow roads exactly. I’m not sure what happened in the one section that seems to backtrack across the mountains.
Finding a better send-off than the one I had in Maggie Valley this morning would be difficult. Friends and neighbors at Raven Ridge stood on their porches and waved and shouted best wishes as I made a “parade lap” around our neighborhood with “On the Road Again” blaring from my bike’s speakers. It was a great way to begin a six-week adventure and I appreciated the sincere gesture of friendship. Today’s ride began in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, a mountain range considerably older than my ultimate destination out west. At least six times older, in fact. The Appalachians were formed nearly 500 million years ago, while the Rockies are geologic upstarts at only 50-85 million years old. And the Appalachians were once as tall as the Rockies at more than 20,000 feet, but now rise only about 4,000-6,000 feet, the result of hundreds of millions of years of erosion.
Rolling south on the modern Smoky Mountain Expressway and carving through the shady curves on NC 28 along Fontana Lake was a good first-hour warm-up for the riding highlight of the day: The Tail of the Dragon. US highway 129. 318 curves in 11 miles. The “Dragon” is always crowded and today was no exception. But I waited until three slow Harleys in front of me had a four-minute head start before I took off on my dragon-slaying adventure and had the road to myself. I promised I’d behave and a three-bike, double-yellow-line pass would probably not have met the expectations of the Maggie Valley-bound holder of my promissory note, so I held back. I kept the bike “near” the speed limit for the entire run and only scraped my floorboards a half-dozen times. Still, it was a good run and an exhilarating way to start the GRMA.
I covered 360 miles today and could have made the trip to my current location in Dickson, Tennessee, in about 5 1/2 hours if I had taken the Interstate. But the purpose of this ride (and all rides) is to enjoy the adventure, and riding the Interstate is definitely not enjoyable. Instead, I took back roads across Tennessee, avoiding all the big cities (Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville) and reveling in the gorgeous scenery that defines the soft beauty of the Cumberland Plateau. While not technically part of the Appalachian Mountains, the Cumberland Plateau is largely made up of sandstone that eroded from the once massive Appalachian Mountains and settled as sedimentary rock in a large inland sea in North America about 350 million years ago. About 50 miles east of Nashville, the Cumberland Plateau ends and the flat lands of middle and west Tennessee begin. And so did the heat. Temperatures went from a comfortable low 80s to a decidedly less comfortable low 90s. But by the time I got to Murfreesboro where I once attended college and later taught at MTSU, I had less than two hours left on today’s ride and the rolling middle Tennessee countryside, dotted with working farms and “gentleman” farms, made for a pleasant finish to the day.
No Great Adventure ride is complete without a (nearly) daily dose of pie. So, today’s selection was Coconut Cream at “Sweet Thang’s Cafe” in Spring City, TN. I asked the portly proprietor who “Sweet Thang” was and he responded that it was himself and his wife in the kitchen who baked my pie. “I’m sweet,” he said, “and she’s a thang.” Tomorrow I head through the flat land of west Tennessee and east Arkansas, bisected by the mighty Mississippi River. The bridge over the river will be the lowest elevation I’ll see this trip. Thanks to everyone who’s left messages, comments, emails and texts and also to those who have signed up to receive e-mail notifications when I post.
Note: I’m having trouble loading the full size images and you’re liable to see an error message. I’m going to work on this over the next couple of days. Sorry for the glitch. Two more pictures I like today: