GRMA Day 40: End of the Ride
After 40 days and 11,023 miles, I’m back where I started in Maggie Valley, looking out my cabin window as a bright sunset paints the clouds a pale orange and heightens the contrasting greens on the mountains. It’s good to be back.
Staying off the Interstate for the final 300 miles was also good. I rode several hours across the Cumberland Plateau until I came to its eastern edge and could see the wide valleys opening up before me and separating the plateau from the Appalachian Mountains to the east. I crossed a valley which featured a large lake and found myself at the Tennessee end of the Tail of the Dragon. I made a run of those “318 curves in 11 miles” at a more sedate pace than 40 days ago when this adventure began, perhaps because I was trying to extend the ride by a few minutes more. As I leaned into the curves, the bike seemed to kiss the mountain road as the chrome floorboards caressed the rough asphalt below me. Each time the floorboards scraped the road, I said a heartfelt thanks to all the magnificent mountains that made this ride so special.
The Tail of the Dragon was busy this Saturday as bikes and cars of all sorts made their runs back and forth over the mountain and the drivers paused at Deals Gap to compare notes and talk about how reckless the OTHER riders were. It’s a great road and I like to ride it, but I’ve been on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming, and the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. I’m spoiled.
As I finished the Dragon and headed to Maggie Valley, the clouds which had been hovering above me all day grew darker and heavier and the rain gear came out of the saddlebags for a final time on this trip. For the last 40 miles of the ride I was pelted by moderate rains that kept the roads slick and the face shield difficult to see through. But the road was familiar and I probably could have ridden that final 40 miles with my eyes closed.
As I rode into our cabin community, several neighbors were on their porches to wish me Welcome Home, just as they had been 40 days ago to wish me Bon Voyage. It’s good to be back among friends. A Welcome Home sign on our front porch was the perfect finishing touch for the ride.
All that was left was to unpack the bike, put gear away to be used again on another ride, and perform the ritual Trimmin’ Of The Beard. Eight months of hair-growing effort was wacked off in a matter of minutes, transforming a grizzled old biker into——well, a less grizzled old biker with a handful of grey beard.