The Road to Reliance

A scene along the trip from Knoxville to Tellico Plains to Reliance and back.

A scene along the trip from Knoxville to Tellico Plains to Reliance and back.

Destination

Webb Bros. Texaco in Reliance, Tenn.

Round-Trip from (downtown) Knoxville

210 miles

Riding

Sweepers and twisties

Points of Interest

Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Burra Burra Mine, Ocoee Whitewater Area

Eat At

Downtown Creamery, Hog Heaven BBQ

Watch Out For

Busloads of rafters, cattle with no lane discipline, cephalopods

I hope Knoxville riders know how good we have it. My friends in D.C., Chicago, and Philadelphia lament that they have to slog through hours of urban and suburban sprawl just to get to half-decent riding. Even from the heart of downtown Knoxville, great riding is just a few minutes away. If you’ve got 210 miles to spare, the unlikely general store/raft rental/post office at Reliance, Tenn. is a fine destination. In his essay Self-Reliance, transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the often-quoted line, “Travelling is a fool’s paradise.” Traveling to Reliance? Not for fools, but the roads around Reliance are a motorcyclist’s paradise.

Not too early on a Sunday morning I left downtown to meet some friends at the Topside Road exit off Pellissippi Parkway. From downtown, a few miles of Alcoa Highway were all the slogging I had to do before I was on relatively empty two-lane roads, starting with 333 at the Lakeside Market. Except for brief stretches on 321 and 411, the ride just gets better all the way to Reliance. Riders coming from West Knoxville can use Pellissippi Parkway or Highway 321 to intersect this route.

Route 333 runs southwest alongside several coves off Fort Loudon Lake, and ends up in Friendsville. It’s one of my favorite ways to get out of town to the west, and traffic is usually light. We hopped on four-lane 321 for a few miles towards Lenoir City, and hung a left on SR 95 and headed toward Greenback, rolling south through the farmland alongside Tellico lake. Excellent pavement, sweeping curves, and rolling hills make 95 a joy for sightseers and sporting riders alike, but watch for slow farm equipment.

At Greenback we hung a right onto Morganton Road. You can take 95 all the way down to 411, but the Morganton road detour shaves off some of the four-lane time on 411, and cuts through more gorgeous farmland. Morganton ends at the Tellico River, and we turned left onto East Coast Tellico Parkway, which dropped us onto 411.

A few miles droning south on 411 brought us to Vonore, where gas, fast food, fireworks, and fishing supplies are available. We were set on all accounts, so we just turned left onto SR 360 and motored south, past of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and over various fingers of Tellico Lake. There are two 90-degree turns on 360, so it pays to watch the signs.

Variously named Ben Kennedy Road, White Plains Road, and Ballplay road, for most of its length, 360 follows Ballplay Creek around the south of Harlan and Bullet Mountains, and the river valley floor is a sweeping swath of pasture. By the time you read this, the wildflowers should be starting to pop up. The road was resurfaced less than a year ago, and initially the pavement felt a little “nibbly” in the curves. The grip level has become a bit more uniform as the surface has seasoned, but occasionally some uneasy feedback still comes back from the tire patches.

The first part of this ride is not exactly a secret, so don’t be surprised to encounter other bikes on the road, heading for Tellico Plains or the base of the Cherohala Skyway. Route 360 actually ends at the Skyway (TN 165), and a small Shell station with the narrowest men’s room I have ever seen. At the junction with 165, a left turn takes you over the Skyway, and a right drops you into Tellico Plains proper. We hung a right.

Tellico Plains has gas, camping, cabins, and motorcycle gear, and several excellent options for food, but the Downtown Creamery’s Coney Dog is my current favorite eats in town. Across the street from the Creamery is Tellico Motorcycle Outfitters, with an excellent selection of apparel and other gear. Both are located right off the main square in downtown Tellico Plains, which also has an honest-to-goodness hardware store, and the Town Square Cafe & Bakery, which makes a mean stack of pancakes.

Scott Street off the square is the old way to get to Highway 68, and although the pavement is a little broken up, the “rustic” structures hard by the road are an alternative to the shiny visitors center on the new road to 68. We turned left onto 68 and in minutes were leaning into some of the finest curves of our ride. Other than some sparkly dried salt dust, the road was clean and smooth as we passed through the small communities of Coker Creek, Farner, Turtletown, and Ducktown. The history of this area is plated with copper, and outside Ducktown is a monument to the Burra Burra Mine.

At Ducktown there are several options for gas, food, and of course fireworks, and cloverleaf exits onto Highway 64/74, the Old Copper Road. A short section of four-lane narrows to two lanes as the road tracks the Ocoee River, passing several powerhouses and the 1996 Olympic whitewater course. In the summer, 64/74 can be congested with buses ferrying rafts and rafters back from the take-out point, and some of the curves are tight and blind due to the rock wall on one side. This section of the route demands your undivided attention.

A little ways past the whitewater site you’ll see the signs for Route 30. Turn right and enjoy nine miles of twisting, turning asphalt, with plenty of elevation changes to keep you attentive and smiling. We passed through the wide spot in the road called Archville before arriving in Reliance, marked by a handful of historic structures and the junction with Route 315, at the bridge crossing the Hiawassee River. We stopped at the old Webb Brothers Texaco station, circa 1936 (that no longer sells gasoline). Right on the river, it’s the post office, general store, raft and tube rental shop, fishing tackle store, and a great place to have a coffee and a Moon Pie and watch the water. A guardrail in the parking lot, beside a metal glider, marks the location of a long-gone older bridge.

After some quiet navel-gazing, we hopped back on the bikes and crossed the river on 315 for another 16 miles of twisty road, some tight and some more sweeping, through the southwest section of the Cherokee National Forest. Traffic, as usual, was very light, although we did encounter a large black cow lumbering along in the wrong lane, with no operational brake lights. On this stretch we were “rapidly overtaken” by a Ducati Hypermotard and a Honda CBR (I think). This road is no secret, either.

Between Tellico Plains and Reliance, there are at least four motorcycle-specific campgrounds, some with cabins and on-premises food. Two in particular, the Cherohala Motorcycle Resort on State Route 315 and the Hog Heaven Resort on SR 39, are located right on the best part of this particular ride, and would make an excellent base from which to spend a weekend exploring other area roads, both paved and otherwise.

At Jalapa, 315 ends and we turned right onto Mecca Pike (State Route 39), for the four miles back to Tellico Plains. The topography opens up a bit as you near Highway 68, and the 315/68 junction is just a half-mile north of town. From there are several routes back to Knoxville: 68 north to 411 or all the way to I-75, or back the way we came, which was my choice. Both 360 and 95, on the return leg to Knoxville, are even more fun than on the way out.

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