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Northbound in Mid-October—Part Eight

South to Georgia then North to Tennessee Again

There was a bakery at the highway on the edge of Andy’s land that tempted me with pastries and coffee, but I decided to get out on the road for a while before stopping for breakfast.

I de-camped and reloaded the bike. I considered taking a route back out on the grassy field we had taken the night before in the side by side, but I didn’t want a little gravel to intimidate me, so I climbed back up the driveway instead, telling myself that riding up a gravel path was much easier than riding down one. I stayed in the middle of the driveway and wobbled my way up, this time making sure to not let the Tiger wander too far to one edge or the other. At the top on the pavement, I stopped to congratulate myself and punched in the next stop on the GPS.

It would not be a long ride that day, so I tapped the “Curvy Road” button on the GPS, instead of the normal “Go” button. Very soon I was weaving along twisting minor roads through the Tennessee mountains. The roads became so minor that I double-checked to make sure that the “Avoid Unpaved Roads” choice was selected, before I was sent, not only up and around, but also off pavement.

I was heading to the home, or really the complex, of the author I had visited at the Vintage Festival, who I was either going to publish, or at the least, help get his book printed that he had written. The place doubled as his BMW motorcycle repair shop and his home. The rambling house and outbuildings were all built on top of wooden piers, and unique rooms were added here and there as needed.

My Hosts, David and Emy

When I arrived, I first got a shower, the first since I’d had one since South Bend. During and after dinner and wine, we discussed his book, and I looked over the materials he’d collected to get an idea of what it would take to get it in print.

Once finished with book business, we opened more wine and watched old footage that was featured years ago on the BBC with a segment of their travels, then wound up the evening watching footage from One Man Caravan by Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., who had ridden a Douglas around the world in 1932.

Soon, we were all sleepy, and after crawling into a comfortable bed in their guest room, I was serenaded to sleep by a thunderstorm lullaby.

A knock on the door in the morning announced breakfast, and because the day’s ride would be just a few hours, after breakfast we leisurely walked from building to building and shop to shop while I was shown the collection of mostly vintage BMWs, with a few British bikes mixed in.

The Door to Barnsley Motor Werks

A Few of the Motorcycles at "BMW"

I eventually loaded the Tiger again and headed back north, the way I had come, all the way to Rome, Georgia, where I caught another highway running northeast past Interstate 75 and into the Blue Ridge Mountains of eastern Tennessee. The day was sunny and pleasant, with the temperature hovering in the mid-60s. I didn’t bother with maps that day and just let the GPS make the route while I did its bidding. The last turn took me east, directly into the mountains from Etowah, out of the valley through which flowed the Little Tennessee River and Chickamauga Lake, and into Tellico Plains, Tennessee, planted at the western end of the Cherohala Skyway that started further east in North Carolina, at Robbinsville.

It was a happy coincidence that my return south coincided with a camping weekend organized by my friends I had met through Horizons Unlimited, who had decided, when the annual “Travelers’ Meeting” in North Carolina had been cancelled, to stay in touch with each other through the Covid-19 pandemic and to get together when we could. We had gathered at Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground, in Tellico Plains, back in April, and this weekend another campout had been planned at the same place. It would be a nice touch to finish up my ride seeing old friends before turning toward home.

I arrived mid-afternoon, with most of the group already there. While many went out on road and off-road rides together, I hung back and took the opportunity to take a break from the road and catch up on my journal, before leaving on the two-day final push to home in central Florida.

The day was warm, with just a slight edge of chill in the air as the day grew late. We sat down around a fire, and as evening dissolved into night, the Maker’s Mark was installed atop a large log, where anyone who cared for a sip could partake. As the cold set in, more people joined the ring, until twenty or so were crowdedaround a roaring, warm fire. Being used to going to sleep when the sun set by then, I retired early, leaving them to the fire, the night, shared stories, and the whiskey.

Our Campfire at Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground

I climbed out of the tent early enough for coffee and breakfast in the campground’s combination office and dining room the next morning. Having not eaten the day before, other than a breaksfast of toast, coffee, and a granola bar, I ordered a large plate of eggs, biscuits and gravy, and bacon. The rest of the morning was spent catching up on writing and enjoying the warming sun, while clumps of riders came and went or returned from various group rides.

A little before noon, I caught wind of a group, some riding their motorcycles and some going in cars, heading into Tellico Plains, where a Cherohala Festival was being held. I tagged along in a car, not wanting to put all my gear back on for the short ride to and from town. After exploring the little festival, complete with a town beauty walking around in a huge silk dress and posing for photos and bluegrass music being played vigorously on an adjacent stage, our group gathered at a Mexican restaurant for lunch.

Beauty Queens and Bluegrass

Back at the campground after our repast, there were a few hours to relax, have a beer, and chat. Later in the afternoon, the campfire was renewed, and arrangements got underway for our group evening meal. Between conversations with fellow campers scattered around under the pavilion and adding logs to the fire, the aroma of hamburgers began to permeate the air, while people bustled in and out, bringing side dishes and dessert. While the activity was coming to a boil, Annette, our organizer, was collecting funds to cover the meal costs and for raffle tickets supporting Rally for Rangers, a group that provided resources, particularly motorcycles, to forest rangers in far-flung and impoverished parts of the world. In return for the raffle funds raised, Rally for Rangers supplied some cups and a grand prize of a bottle of special Mongolian vodka for the lucky winners.

With afternoon giving way to dusk, dinner got underway, and we all scattered from the food line back to our perches in the pavilion to eat. When everyone was satisfied and busy digesting the meal, the pulling of the raffle tickets began, with me, alas, receiving neither cup nor vodka, but the charity receiving a couple hundred dollars toward their mission.

From the pavilion, the group migrated to the blazing campfire as darkness fell. Our friend, Dale, who’s husband, Mike, was there with us, had died recently from Covid. As we settled into our new locations, Annette began to recount stories of Dale and reminded us of her vivacious way of living and how she always wanted others to be happy. Dale had been the life of the party and founder of the “Tequila Swilling Whores,” a tongue-in-cheek name for a bunch of us who had been initiated into the group. Mike next told the story of how the name and tradition came about when he had come home after Dale and her friends had been together at their house and he had returned to find his tequila shelf empty. Chuckles and tears followed, being slowly replaced by light banter into the chilly night, while the flames licked the cold air.


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