Lost in Grainger County

Destination

Grainger County

Round-Trip from (downtown) Knoxville

88 miles

Riding

Narrow country lanes, farm roads, switchbacks on Joppa Mountain

Points of Interest

Buffalo Springs WMA and trout hatchery, Joppa Mountain Pottery

Eat At

Breeding's Restaurant, Willie's Market and Deli

Watch Out For

Rodents, horse-drawn sulkies, hay wagons

One of my favorite head-clearing early morning rides is to head into Grainger County and get lost on some of the narrow roads on either side of Highway 11W. Traffic is nonexistent, the countryside is gorgeous, the roads are not straight, and there are all kinds of interesting things to see in backyards and up in the woods. In early June the farmers are haying the fields, the wildflowers are blooming, and this year we've had enough rain that everything is green. This route connects some of the better-marked roads in the area, and there are many poorly marked options, but it's hard to get lost for long without bursting out onto a decent road with signage.

I exit town on North Broadway, and take the right onto Tazewell Pike just past the I-640 underpass. Hang a right at Pratt's Country Store and head out of town. After about 5 miles I take a right on Ridgeview Road, which provides a great early-morning view of House Mountain and the farmland around it. Ridgeview Road has houses along both sides, so be a good neighbor and try to minimize speed and noise. The nice lady in whose driveway I parked to take photos was very sweet and wished me a good ride from her Buick.

At the bottom of the hill on Ridgeview, I took a right on Maloneyville Road, which is shady and cool under a canopy of huge trees. Maloneyville crosses a set of railroad tracks and becomes Cardwell. Cardwell makes an immediate hard left, past an ancient barn and then a few houses before ending at the intersection with Boruff to the right and McGinnis to the right. I turned right on McGinnis, which took me to Washington Pike just southwest of Little Flat Creek.

A left on Washington Pike really gets you out into the country, past several of the smaller roads that meander around House Mountain. At the four-way stop at the junction with Emory Road, make a right onto Emory and you'll pass a house on the right with a complete historic filling station in the back yard, along with the Chapman Highway Drive-In Theatre neon sign that I wanted to steal back in 1992. It's a long way from Chapman Highway now, and sadly, some of the glass tubing is broken and missing, so seeing the sign lit up again after all these years might be impossible.

Emory Road will take you into Blaine, and the junction with Highway 11W. Take a left on 11W and go maybe a quarter of a mile before turning right onto Indian Ridge Road. Breeding's Restaurant sits at the intersection, and opens at 7 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and at 8 a.m. on Sundays, making it an excellent meeting place for a small group ride or a lunch spot for a post-ride debriefing. Locals I spoke with recommended the roast beef and gravy for lunch, and the fried egg sandwich for breakfast. Health food.

Indian Ridge Road heads roughly southeast until the turnoff for Nances Ferry Road, where Nances Ferry continues southeast and Indian Ridge makes a hard left and heads northeast and uphill (and no, there's no longer a ferry at the end of Nances Ferry Road, just a gravel lot and some fishermen standing in the river). Indian Ridge has some awesome vistas as you crest the numerous hills, and it swoops down to run beside the Holston River for a short distance. The early sun lights up the green fields perfectly. As you pass the river and start to climb back uphill, Willie's Market and Deli and the adjacent Willie's Hair and Tan sit on the right. The deli parking lot was full of farmers' pickup trucks the day I passed by, but it didn't appear that anyone was working on his farmer tan.

Continue on Indian Ridge about six more miles and you'll come upon the Buffalo Springs Wildlife Management Area and trout hatchery on the right. There is a shady picnic area and tanks full of fingerling trout, destined eventually for someone's dinner table following a day of corn dunking. Another mile or less brings you to end of Indian Ridge Road and the junction with Owl Hole Gap Road. Turning right will take you out to Highway 92 and Cherokee Dam, but I turned left and headed for smaller roads. Two miles later I was faced with a dilemma: stay on beautiful Owl Hole Gap or head into the country on New Corinth Road. Owl Hole Gap loops back to 11W, so I took a left on New Corinth.

In places, New Corinth Road looks like a cart path, and cuts through some picturesque farmland. The scent of fresh hay filled my helmet, and I was glad Claritin is now over-the-counter. Of course, the road also passes some less picturesque trailers, dead cars and crumbling farmhouses, but that stuff is half the fun. At a four-way stop adorned with a trailer seemingly inches from the road, hang a right on Smith Hollow Road and roll about three miles to Little Valley Road. All these roads have well-maintained pavement but tend to be narrow in spots, often with trees close by the road. I kept the KLR I was riding in the double digits.

Like most of this ride, Little Valley Road is a landscape painting whizzing by to a one-lung soundtrack. Little Valley ends back at Indian River Road, closing a pleasant 21-mile loop. A right on Indian Ridge takes me back to Blaine, where I turn right on 11W and buzz seven or eight miles northeast to Joppa Mountain Road on the left, passing a farmer's odd replica wild-west-town row of faux storefronts on the right. If you are not a fan of tight curves, the Joppa Mountain Road segment might be one you choose to skip. The pavement is excellent and the road is plenty wide enough, but it is tight and steep.

If you'd like to stop and buy a little pot on your ride, this is the place. You'll pass the arty Joppa Mountain Pottery sign on the right and then the studio down a driveway to the left (www.joppapottery.com). Someday I'll stop, but I don't know the hours, or if they accept drop-in visitors. Joppa Mountain Road crawls right over the mountain, through a little neighborhood right on the top, before twisting its way down the other side to Highway 131.

Even more twisty skinny roads lie on the other side of 131, but I needed to get back home and my head was clear. I took a left onto 131 and followed it all the way back to Knoxville, through Luttrell, Plainview, and Harbison Crossroads. I took a KLR650 dual sport bike on this ride, but the pavement is good, if narrow in spots, and I wouldn't hesitate to take any street motorcycle. If you leave early you can be home before the paid programming goes off network television.