"There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell."
—G. K. Chesterton
I had an idea when I started out that I would stay at Indian Boundary near Tellico Plains the first night, but I at least wanted to check out the motorcycle campground. Cherohala Motorcycle Resort was way more fun than any regular campground, even though there were only two other people there for the two nights I stayed: Cyrano and Penny. What a great pair! They had ridden down from Illinois and were heading on to Memphis to visit friends. Like me, they liked CMR so much they decided to stay an extra day.
Cherohala M/C Resort is fairly new, very clean, and well-kept. The main tent-camping area is flat and grassy with a gravel path circling around a covered pavilion, fire pit, and six cute little log cabins. There are several individual baths at the end of the main building. The camp store has two or three of everything you might have forgotten or didn't have room to pack. As a matter of fact, they can set you up for the night if you just rode in on a whim with nothing more than a half a tank of gas.
The next day, I rode south via back roads and hooked up to 68 around Coker Creek, found a gold-mining place, and stopped and gave the guy $15 to show me how to pan for gold. I swished around my bucket of dirt for an hour in the tub outside, standing there in the hot sun, and found about $10 worth of gold and a tiny garnet. I was starting to realize I was really "on vacation," and still had days and days of this ahead. I wandered back "home" and Penny cooked our steaks while I sat and talked to the owner and his friend and Cyrano. Could it get any better than this?
Cloudland Canyon State Park near Chattanooga was my next stop. I went for dinner after I set up camp and before I showered. There wasn't a soul in the place. I was early and they only served dinner. The hostess sat me next to the kitchen and the server never smiled. I was getting ready to say, "You don't put Baby in the corner!" when I thought I just better get my dinner to go. Non-motorcycle people just don't get it.
I found out about the Twisty Sisters' Rally at Two Wheels Only in Suches, Ga. and just had to go. The place is a little run-down, but very accommodating. A whole lot of good times have been had at TWO over the years. If you want to go, go soon. That's all I'm going to say about that.
On to Cruso, N.C. and the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground. I pitched my tent next to a clear running stream, a most excellent place to cool hot feet. The shower house is nice, there's a laundry room, a beautiful little pond stocked with hungry fish, cute little rows of cabins, a very comfortable lounge in the back of the office, and free coffee. And, oh yeah, Phil got a haircut.
My ninth day on the road was a real adventure. I was headed for High Country Motorcycle Camp near Ferguson, N.C. Someone on a website had said you shouldn't try to find it after dark. Someone at Blue Ridge had told me that the place was on past where the pavement ended. So, of course, I got there after dark, and of course, went on up the gravel road. How was I supposed to know they had paved the road since the someone at Blue Ridge had been there?
I started on my 120-mile (approx.) journey about noon, stopped at the visitor center, then at the Folk Art Center. Coming up on Mount Mitchell, I debated whether or not to go on up, since I was there. Or should I play it safe and try to keep ahead of the storm that I could see coming up behind me? Spike wanted his picture, so I gave in. We got wet on the way down. Not bad, just a light rain. Then it started getting foggy. I pulled in at a campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, fully intending to spend the night. I even pitched my tent. In the rain.
At 5:30, the rain had stopped, the sun was out, it was hot, I had had my supper of a can of Vienna sausages, and I was ready to go. The mountains showed me what I would have missed if I had stayed. The white clouds were lying low in between the mountains below the parkway, and the blue sky above showed me how easy it is to make a beautiful photograph when you're in the right place at the right time.
I thought I'd be smart and take my own detour instead of following the signs for the official one near Boone. That added some time. I really didn't know how far I had to go, since I hadn't gotten clear directions to High Country before I left. Not a big deal, in most cases.
The closer I got to Ferguson, the more I realized I had better get there quick. "Don't try to find it after dark!" kept whispering in my head. I did stop and ask directions, twice. The first person directed me to Rider's Roost. I didn't want to go to Rider's Roost, I wanted to go to High Country. The second person tried the same, but I told her I didn't want Rider's Roost, I wanted High Country. "Second paved road on the left," she said. Four miles, long miles. Then a seven-mile stretch in the dark, with mist rising up from the road (where does that stuff come from, anyway?), clouds of bugs hitting me in the face, my face shield up because I had smeared bug guts when I wiped away the raindrops, and the feeling that I was never going to get there. Then the end of the pavement. I saw the sign, but missed the teeny little arrow pointing to the left. I just knew I had to go on past the pavement. It's just around the next curve. Maybe the next one. Oh, shit. There's no place to turn around; I had to keep going. A mile and a half in the dark on a gravel road seems like 30.
I finally had to stop where the bridge was out, and thought about pitching my tent right there in the road. I bet there's bears out here. So back I went another mile and a half, in first gear, going as slow as I could go without falling over, down the twisty gravel road to the sign, down the lane, over the bridge, up the hill 'til I ran completely out of road and stopped in the grass. Pitched my tent with my flashlight in my teeth, peed in the wet grass, crashed, and woke up in paradise.
Carol Watkins lives in Knoxville's Cedar Bluff area in a condo with a one-car garage—make that one-motorcycle garage. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.