A team works to clean a downed tree and other debris from the Tail of the Dragon.

Texas Express – Day 4

Mother Nature drops a grenade in my plans to ride The Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway.

Before the Ride

When I finished yesterday’s ride to Fontana Village, I was confident that the nasty storm front had passed and I was going to be blessed with a sparkling clear day to ride the tail of the dragon and the Cherohala Skyway.

Before I finally went to sleep, I could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. Over the course of the night, I lost count of how many times I was awoken by the sound of nearby thunder. A few middle-of-the-night glances out the window revealed heavy rain to match that thunder.

I began to get concerned.

When I woke up shortly after 8am, the rain was gone and the sky had a thin, high, overcast. The parking lot was still wet after last night’s deluge.

I adjusted my expectations a bit. The ride on the Dragon would not be as much fun, but I’ve ridden it in the wet before; it’s still good practice and the scenery is excellent.

I was trying to hit the road a bit earlier today since I was due to visit my friends Android and Effie down in South Carolina later that day. I was packed up and on the road just after 9am.

The Dragon

I started west on NC28 towards the Deal’s Gap resort. It didn’t take long to feel the impact of last night’s rainfall. The ditches on either side of the road were often full of rapidly running water and in some places that runoff flowed across the road. These minor washes left dirt, grass, gravel, and branches on the roadway, and this is not conducive to a spirited ride on a twisty road.

About five miles down the road, I was stopped briefly by a road crew that was cutting up a tree that was partially covering the road. Ugh. When I reached the Deal’s Gap resort, it was dead; very little movement at all. I did notice, however, that the tenting area at Deal’s Gap was basically a big puddle. My decision to splurge on the room at the Fontana Village Lodge was instantly justified… in spades.

Even though the road was wet and sporting new rainfall-induced challenges, it was still a fun ride. I was getting more confident in my Michelin Road 6 GT tires and starting to lean into the corners a little bit when I was forced into an abrupt stop.

A team works to clean a downed tree and other debris from the Tail of the Dragon.
A team works to clean a downed tree and other debris from the Tail of the Dragon.

A road crew and a Tennessee state trooper were handling a turn where the runoff from the mountain dragged a bunch of mud, gravel, and a few tree trunks onto the roadway. They had a skid-steer (behind the truck in the photo) pushing the trees down the mountain and scraping the mud off the asphalt. After about 10 minutes, they cleared a path and motioned me through.

Along the rest of the Dragon, I saw several other places where there had been mud on the road. Other places had a scattering of sawdust from tree-clearing operations from earlier in the morning. Last night’s downpour was beginning to look like a big deal.

I made the obligatory stop at the dam overlook and snapped a few pictures.

While the rest of the ride down the mountain passed without incident, I didn’t notice that every body of water I passed (lake or river) looked either full or flooded.

Turning south on TN360, the road was a bit drier and my pace picked up. I saw a few more places where downed limbs/trees were cleared from the roadway. Pretty soon, I was approaching the intersection at Tellico Plains, where the Skyway would take me back east towards my destination.

The Cherohala Skyway

When I reached the intersection with TN165, I noticed two things:

  • A highway worker was putting cones around a programmable road sign that was blocking eastward travel on the Skyway. I couldn’t read the sign from this angle, but it was an ominous sign.
  • Looking at the park northwest of the intersection, you could only see the tops of the playground equipment sticking out of the water. Just north of the park, towards the river, I saw the cab of a pickup truck, floating downstream.

Turning away from the Skyway towards Tellico Plains, I read the programmable sign in my rear view mirror: “Skyway closed 5 mi flood”.

I guess I’m not going that way.

Author’s note: The following link is to a news story about the closure.


What Now?

In this part of the country, there are only so many ways to cross the mountains back east so I could get to South Carolina:

  • I could go back east through the Dragon, but I already knew that route would be slow and risky.
  • I could go south to US64, but I’ve ridden that before and it takes forever to get anywhere on that road because, for the towns along it, it’s their Main Street. That means you expend your efforts to make time while everybody else is out running errands.
  • I could bail for the Slab. North on I75, through the combat drive around Knoxville, and then east on I40.

As much as I hated it, there was really only one real option if I was going to get to Android and Effie’s before 8pm.

I turned north towards I75.

For posterity, here is the route I wanted to ride today.

The original Day 3 route before the Cherohala Skyway closed.
The original Day 3 route before the Cherohala Skyway closed.

And here is the route I actually took.

Slab Blast to Spartanburg

By now, the waning cloud cover left over from last night was gone, leaving the sparkling blue-sky day that I’d been hoping for all along. It also wasn’t debilitatingly hot, so I made good time.

The convergence of I75, I40, and I81 around Knoxville is always a bit of a clusterfuck and today’s traverse wasn’t any more enjoyable than other experiences here. At least it wasn’t 95ºF. As I exited Knoxville to the east, I waved back toward my friends to the north in that area and turned east into the mountains.

In spite of the need to watch the truck traffic like a hawk, the I40 ride through the Great Smoky Mountains is a fun ride. Just be careful of road conditions, you don’t want to be near the limit in the middle of a Sweeper when you encounter a portion of roadway chewed up by the plows in winter.

Heading south of Asheville, US26 is under construction… and it sucks. It lasts forever and diverts the two lanes of traffic all over the place.

As I finally approached Spartanburg from the north, I noticed darkening rain clouds to the southwest. I maintained the weak hope that I would successfully push south past those clouds before I had to exit to the southwest to reach my destination.

Oh, nay, nay, nay, whispered Mother Nature.

When I exited I26, I was a mere four miles from my destination… and headed directly at the meat of the coming storm.

I mean, it’s only four miles, right?

Mother Nature waited until I was 1.8 miles from my destination before she finally decided to kick my ass. The rain fell in buckets, and the wind threatened to push me off the road into the median. The wind was strong enough that, when the shape of a tall water tower emerged from the storm, I thought it was a funnel cloud.

I somehow found my next turn and headed southeast.

By the time I found Android and Effie’s driveway, the wind had died down and the rain let up slightly. Android directed me to a garage where he’d cleared space for me and while walking back to the Bike I could hear storm sirens howling in the distance.

The last two fucking miles. <roll-eyes>

Author’s note: One again, I’m stung by the problem of raindrops being read as touches by my iPhone. This time the rain somehow managed to cancel my day’s ride without saving it, which is why I don’t have a nice interactive map to share with you. Blame it on the rain (isn’t that a song?).

After the Ride

I spent a very pleasant evening catching up with Android and Effie. We took one trip into the nearby burg of Woodruff for dinner and then another trip for ice cream. The rest of the time was largely spent gabbing on their back porch and enjoying the setting sun as it painted the evening’s cloud cover.


Head west to visit another Netscum biker friend outside Huntsville, Alabama. There’s also a possibility of lunch with yet another netscum biker friend as I try to bypass the Metromess of Atlanta (we’ll see).

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