Sometimes you go to an event and you just know you're going to have a great time. Well, this was one of those days. The first day of the Slate Creek Adventure ride (April 18-19) was one of those times where everything came together. The weather was absolutely perfect, the route was lots of fun, and the organization of the event went way beyond what you usually experience at a first-time ride.
One reason that I expected this to be a great day—and the reason why it was so well organized—was that the man in charge was John Strange. I've known John for more than a few years, and in those years he has put on everything from dual sport rides, to enduros, to hare scrambles. This wasn't his first rodeo (or dual sport ride), so I was confident he would show us a good time.
This was the first round of the BMW National Adventure Ride Series, and with a quick scan of the parking lot I saw tags from Indiana, New Hampshire, Virginia and Georgia. Most of the participants rode their bikes to the event, and I overheard someone say that they rode over 400 miles to get here.
That is the definition of an "adventure" bike. It's big enough to be worthy of long-distance travel and highway speeds, but is still capable of getting dirty when needed. Despite being a BMW Series, the ride was open to any brand of bike. The Saturday group included BMW GSs, Kawasaki KLRs, Suzuki DRs and V-Stroms, and the KTMs from our group. Granted, our bikes were more dual sport than adventure, but they got the job done. My "adventure bike" is my regular KTM 400MXC, made street worthy (and legal) by adding a taillight, mirror, turn signals, and DOT dual sport tires. It will happily run 60 mph, and that's more than enough for a ride like this.
John held a riders' meeting around 9 a.m., welcomed the crowd, and gave everyone a brief idea of what to expect. The route was 160 miles, which included paved back roads, lots of gravel roads of various condition, and a little bit of dirt. After he reminded everyone to obey the traffic laws in Cocke County, he turned us loose.
Everyone was fired up and ready to ride, and I was too, but of course my bike wasn't. I have this thing about never leaving the house until I start my bike. Well, I had started it the night before, but the *^#$ thing wouldn't start now! After more than a few minutes of kicking and cussing, my good friend Bob jumped off of his bike and pushed me down the road until it bumped off. If you don't know the difference, a friend will help you kick-start your bike, and a GOOD friend will push you down the road!
After only few miles, it was evident that this ride was well worth the money. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and as we cruised along country roads you could feel the coolness off of the rivers, and take in the smell of newly plowed fields. We passed pristine little country homes with freshly mowed lawns, and old men out front who waved as we went past. During the day, we had more than one older gent stop what he was doing and wave as we rode by, and I couldn't help but wonder if they themselves used to ride. Heck, they all probably still had a bike in the garage, and if it wasn't for getting their "Honey Do" lists taken care of, would probably be leading the way.
As we got further from the thriving metropolis know as Newport, the roads got smaller and rougher, and there was a feeling of anticipation as the mountain got closer. Finally we saw the sign we had waited for: Pavement Ends.
Forest Services roads are not trails, but the condition varies from smooth gravel to not much gravel at all. The comfort level on these roads depends on the size bike you are on, the type of tires you have, and how much off-pavement riding experience you have.
Being able to ride these roads allows you to go to places you typically can't with a pavement-only bike. We rode up mountains to fire towers that gave us spectacular views, and past backcountry campgrounds that I never knew existed. The guys in front saw a bear cub cross the road at one point, so that gives you an idea for how remote the area was.
One of the coolest places along the route was Max Patch. Max Patch is a huge, grass-covered mountaintop that was cleared by settlers in the 1800s so that they would have a place for their cattle to graze. These days, the forest services keeps the forest from reclaiming it by using controlled burns. When you hike to the top you are treated to a 360-degree view from 4,629 feet. It's located on the Tennessee/North Carolina line, and the Appalachian Trail runs across it.
After 168 miles, including our "alternate" routes, we got back to the start where John and his wife Kim had an absolutely great meal ready. I had eaten my share of dust that day, but that didn't keep me from scarfing down some of the best ribs I've ever had. To top it off, John's lovely daughters Savannah and Aubrie waited on us like we were celebrities in a five star restaurant. You just can't beat it when you end a great ride with a great meal.
"We still have lots of options for different routes, so we can change it up for next year," John says. This was the first year for this ride, and plans are to do it again next year. I know I'll be there. (John also wanted to be sure to thank the sponsors, Cycle Gear and Miller's Adventures, who donated tons of door prizes. )