Many times have I ridden the backroads around Tellico, coming an going to somewhere else – beyond. Always on the way to the mountains, or coming back – Tellico always seemed to be the “portal” to another space – the mountains of Tennessee, or North Carolina. I had always heard the dirt around the area was as good or better than the roads. Hard to believe, because the roads are the best I have ever ridden. Elevation, rise and fall, curves, many many curves. Mountains, creeks, rivers, this place has it all. But I have always ridden on the street.
Then I heard about a trip to ride some of the twisties in the dirt – Count Me In!!
After trailering up to the mountains, we found our cabin – much more of a 3-bedroom chateau than a cabin, with a hot-tub on the deck, overlooking the mountains. It was gonna be a good weekend, even if the weather looked horrible. Forecasts for cold, windy rain Fri-Sun is all it looked like. Be we had a hot tub and a fridge for beer.
Friday morning was cold and wet – 28 degrees, and a misting light rain hovering over the hills. We mounted and rolled down the mountain, looking for adventure piercing into the clouds and muck. Weather-proof gear helped defeat the elements, but I was hoping the temps would rise a bit faster than they were. A few miles into the journey, we were crossing our first creeks. It was deep, and had some tricky, slippery shoals to navigate in the shallow parts – not an easy crossing for a novice, or a rider that is not quite awake yet. The water topped my boots, and it was cold. As soon as we all crossed, I promptly found a rock to empty the 1/4 cup from each boot, and wring out the socks – it would be a much longer day riding with an aquarium sloshing around my feet.
Feet cold, we mounted and continued, reaching further into the forest. Well groomed roads took us up and down the hills around Cherokee National Forest . The dirt was moist, but not slick, making speed possible, grip excellent, and dust clouds minimal. The day was shaping up well. The cold on my toes was becoming un-noticeable as the grins produced by the sights, and adrenaline-twist produced the narcotic I needed. Mid-day we approached the much anticipated moto-trail #82 – and unbelievable single-track trail, marked and maintained by the FS? Boy was I excited – singletrack in the midst of the land of Dragons and Moonshiners – oh joy.
Entry onto the trail itself is from the FS road, up a narrow ramp, that quickly gives you an idea of what you are in store for on many parts of the trail – a narrow, 2 foot wide path. On the right, trees, on the left, a 5 foot drop-off that would certainly hurt if taken, and may end your journey on two wheels, and start a journey to a hospital. The path becomes even more narrow, with some sections at 6-8 inches, and the tumble much greater, at 40-50 feet. Although much of the trail was fairly non-technical, the margin for error was very small at less than a foot. The consequences for loss of balance and inattention were high in those sections. Add in the occasional obstacle, tree, rocky stair-steps, and washes, and it gives the trail the extra squirts of adrenaline to make it a BLAST to ride. One of our riders did lose the rear navigating around a downed and cut tree that partially blocked the trail. His bike was caught by the tree, and made the bike rescue MUCH easier. I believe his body actually bounced off the tree, but he was mostly uninjured, as was the bike.
We also found another trail that was even more challenging – trail 81, more singletrack, with a slick-ass hill climb that is less than 2 feet wide. These small technical challenges, combined with the small widths, and very large consequences for losing balance, traction, or momentum is what makes these trails exciting and a bit overwhelming for many riders. These are NOT for new riders. They are not for big bikes, especially wider machines, unless you are an expert rider – there is no margin.
The trails, the roads, the riders, made it an awesome weekend, one that I hope to repeat soon.