Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I awakened this morning with the urge to ride the bike up into the mountains.  There isn't much real close to where I live to investigate and discover so I elected to head for Hot Springs, North Carolina.  The ride lasted 10 continuous hours and the scenery was beautiful.  
I headed out Route 25/70 from Dandridge, (named after Martha Dandridge) at 8 AM this morning.  Oh, Martha Dandridge was Martha Dandridge Washington - George Washington's wife.  Blue skies and hot sun greeted me when I pushed the bike out of the garage.  The route leads through the town of Newport, TN and continues on past Del Rio, TN.  The bridge that crosses the French Broad River is under construction and I had to get creative in order to cross the French Broad and continue on to Hot Springs, NC.  As usual, I selected the incorrect route to attempt the crossing.  There aren't many roads out there toward Del Rio.  This error in judgement created a marvelous motorcycle ride I had not planned on.
Del Rio is located in Coche County, Tennessee.  Its a town of around 1700 people, most spread out through the surrounding mountains.  The town is situated in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.  Del Rio has , shall we say, a rather flowery background.  There are many storys associated with Del Rio dating back to its beginning in the late seventeen hundreds - 1784 I believe it was.  The French Broad River flows right past Del Rio.  It is surrounded by Snowbird and Stone Mountains and a bald called Max Patch Bald.  Balds are neat to read about and amazing natural occurrences.  I won't go into them here but, look up the term.   Hot Springs and Newport are two of the largest towns within a 20 mile radius.    The first settler in the area was John Huff who was an American Revolution veteran granted 400 acres for his efforts in the war.  His farm was operational in 1784.  His place became known as Huff's Fort.  A community arose around him as settlers moved in.  Many small block houses were built on the banks of the French Broad River in that period as the Indians reeked havoc on the settlers.  John Huff built the first block house in the string of block houses that would follow.  Del Rio was also a haven for army deserters, thieves and highwaymen of the day.  Cock fights and deadly card games played late at night in mountain cabins are part of Del Rio's folklore.  The Barbarossa Saloon of today has a seedy reputation from the past but has transformed into a reputable establishment over the years.  There's more to Del Rio but the above should suffice for this entry.
A guy told me of a good paved road that would take me around the bridge construction and lead me right on into Hot Springs.  So, there I went following the instructions from some guy I talked to who was fiddling with something under the hood of his 1977 Ford truck.  I didn't care.  I had a full tank of gas and was in the mood for a ride.  Good thing I had a full tank of gas.  I ambled down the road past the post office in Del Rio and on past the old general store and the two old men sitting on barrels beside the entrance to the place.  Bib overalls, long silver hair, beards and puffed out cheeks full of chewing tobacco described them as well as any verbal interview could.  They looked like civil war relics sitting there discussing the last stand at Vicksburg.  I rode and rode and saw no trails with the description I was given.  I would take the next left I came to.  I found it odd that I never past one vehicle for over half an hour.  
I made the left and was instantly catapulted into what seemed like early 1960.  Gone were the modern upscale homes of the rich and there were no fancy this or fancy that.  This was the real Tennessee I was driving through.  There was no Gattlinburg, Dolly World, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville out here.  These were farms run by people barely hanging on and the remnants of farms of those who couldn't.  The monuments to their toils and failures marked the land in the form of buildings long empty.  Fences that once held in the reasons for farming in the first place were in radical disrepair.  They were merely broken sticks of wood that marked the coming and going of families who tried, failed and moved on.
The road was winding up into the mountain and I had a feeling I messed up big time.  Then, I thought, so what!  Full tank of gas - good mount - no place I had to be so, I'll just keep going and get lost.  That's just what happened.  I got very lost.  This road lead to a turn onto another and yet another turn until the asphalt pavement narrowed into what I feared would be a dead end.  Not so.
The asphalt gave way to gravel and then appeared again to continue on.
The terrain and old farm properties are beautiful.  They roll right on up to the forests.  The real estate agents would have a field day up here.  I wondered why that never happened.  A couple reasons are that the interstate never exited here.  It was designed on paper to roll right up to Del Rio but last minute changes ruined any claim to fame for the town.  Probably the biggest blessing in disguise is that Del Rio is in the Pisgah National Forest.  Thank heaven for that!  Sometimes government does pull a rabbit out of the hat.  Usually though, its a three legged rabbit.
Above:  A hand made bridge spans a little stream to add access to - what?  The home is no longer visible.  That little wooden bridge reminds me of Scona Lodge.  Only a set of 13 hand laid stone steps remains to mark her passing.   

I had been driving on gravel road for the past twenty minutes and the road kept going up and up.  I love adventures.  These situations are where excellent equipment and preventative maintenance pays off.  Mechanical issues are headed off at home and the likelihood of problems on the road are diminished.  I've traveled alone all my life and have avoided major mechanical issues by purchasing the best I could afford and taking extremely good care of it.  The meadow land look was departing and a more mountainous terrain was becoming prevalent. 
Every now and then an interesting structure would appear.  I liked the fact that everything was old and appeared hand made.
The above is a spring house.  I guess my appreciation for self reliability stems from my early years on the farm in Pennsylvania.  I'll never forget the day my uncle broke the flywheel in the old John Deere "B" model tractor while in the field.  He and my dad took timbres and jacks to the tractor and split that monster in two halves.  They removed the broken clutch and the cracked flywheel and replaced them with new parts and never moved that tractor to the shed.  Dad fired it up and finished plowing.  They could have called the dealer to come and get it but they didn't.  Farm folks were very frugal in those days.  Most all I knew never financed as much as a pencil throughout their entire lives.  Thats pretty amazing.
The road I was on did a sharp climb.  This thing was going to the top of a mountain.  I did not know which one.  No map.  Hate em.  Daniel Boone didn't use a map and he said he had never been lost in his life but, he did admit to being mighty confused more than a few times.
There is a mix of kudzu and climbing ivy all along this road.  Kudzu is a deplorable plant but, when combined with ivy - they can take over a forest in no time at all.  The scary thing is that there appears to be no effort to control kudzu by the national forest people.  Its a monster to control,  with bulldozers about the only sure way to remove it forever.  Poisons are effective but prove only temporary measures with little long lasting affects.
I noticed someone recently cut a tree that had fallen across the road with a chain saw.  Its a good thing because there was no place to go around a fallen tree.  It was straight down the vertical cliff on the right side of the road.
I saw him sitting on a log whittling a stick as I rounded the bend in the road.  I stopped and bid him "good day."  He returned the greeting and I asked him if I could get to Hot Springs on this road.  He said its a long way and that I could.  He explained I had to drive another seven miles to Rattlesnake Gap and turn left.  He was most adamant about the turning left because the right fork continued on into nothingness after about ten miles.  I wanted to take his picture very badly but I have this aversion to pointing a camera at someone I don't know.  It seems to be an invasion of space to me.  Its a problem I've always had.  This old gentleman just sat there whittling his stick and awaited some exclamation from me.  It was plain he wasn't going to talk first.  It would be rude to just drive off.   I said something about that big ole tree across the road and he looked up and said it was a poplar - a proper tree in these hills.  He further indicated that poplars covered most of this side of the mountain and have been popular in building most of the houses in the area.  That sentence hit me funny.  I laughed out loud and he turned his face up to me.  

"Oh, I said - poplar is a popular and proper tree to build houses with.  Get it?"

He did instantly and smiled.  My name's George Stokley.   I gave him mine.  He then asked if I was lost.  I replied that I wasn't but simply trying to hunt up Hot Springs.  He asked me if I was from the river and I said I lived way down near Cherokee Lake.  He had never been there.  This guy was probably 80 years old and hasn't been to Cherokee Lake.  It gets better.  He appeared apprehensive toward me just a little and I tried to figure what would remove that invisible barrier between us.  I thought about just driving away but, what the heck.  BS is fun sometimes.  I know another guy who is a pro at it and I consider myself a novice compared to him.  He didn't seem satisfied with my explanation of just trying to get to Hot Springs.  This was a heck of a route to pick and he knew it.  I then told him a white lie.  They're different than black lies.  Black lies come out of Washington these days and are of design.  White lies are extensions one way or the other of a truthful fact.  I said I am a photographer taking pictures of the real Tennessee to combat the fictitious images that tourist companies publish to fool the public.  I said that everyone flocks to Gattlinburg and Pigeon Forge thinking that's the real deal.  Then its off to the Smoky Mountain National Park for a quick drive through.  They, the tourist, has no idea what Tennessee looks like because it isn't over there.  He got up and walked over to the bike and said, "You ain't bringing those tourists over here are ya?"  

I said that I wasn't.  I told him that the folks who have clawed the earth for planting and left their families in farm graves have been overlooked for too long and I was just using photographs as an awareness thing and also to show the real beauty of the countryside. He seemed satisfied with that.  I asked him how long he lived here.  That did it.

"Been here close to 84 years."

"How old might you be?"

"I'm about 84 years there bout."

He said, "I was born up over this hill here.  Folks built the cabin in 19 and 37.  I never left it.  Its rotted down three times since but I kept it up."  (nineteen and 37)

I asked, "There's a road up there?"

He said, "A hundred more feet and this road bends to the left and it sits down over the hill there."

He then said, "There was another log house started - you passed it on the way here - owned by Mitch Owendale.  He never finished it.  Had a cold, cold winter years ago and when the snow cleared and the road opened they found him in the spring laying beside his porch dead."

I told him I saw the place.  I wish I had a picture of this tall, lanky white haired gentleman.  I don't know why that bothers me so much.

I don't know why I asked but, I asked him if he was ok here or needed anything - as if I could produce anything this guy could possibly need.   He said he was doing OK.  He mentioned during the conversation that he had not been further from his mountain than Del Rio his entire life, except for a stint in the Army.  Unbelievable!  I wished him well and waved.  He returned it and walked across the road to sit once again on his log.  I more than liked him.
 Note the lack of tin on the roof of Georges house

I had to get rolling.  Rattlesnake Gap, huh?  We'll see.

This road was in great shape.  It kept going up though.  I'll have to check this thing out when I get home.

Then, far up the mountain the gravel disappeared and it was dirt.  I'm sure glad it wasn't wet or raining.

 I rounded a bend and saw a beautiful spot with a log cabin on it.  A sign said Lily Trail.  I thought it was a public trail head.  I pulled right on up through the opening in the gate.  The cabin looked uninhabited so I put the side stand down and heard someone say hello.  Oops!  A lady with a female lab on a leash walked out on the porch and asked if she could help me.  I apologized for my intrusion and told her I thought this was a public spot but, now saw its not.  I explained how beautiful I found this place.  She said that indeed it was beautiful.  I asked how long she lived here and she said she was one of the caretakers.  The hippy years popped into my mind.  To make a long story short - five families take care of the mountain fields that lie just ahead over the edge of the flat where the cabin was located.  They all take part in planting, harvesting and tilling.  I noticed an unusually large field with what appeared to be dill.  She said one of their mainstays is growing natural herbs and selling them.  Again, I have no picture of this lady.  I only took one quick shot.  Its below:  It doesn't show you much I'm afraid.  Once again I've let my readers down. (tongue in cheek)

You'll remember that I earlier stated that Del Rio was surrounded by mountains and a particularly interesting formation known as a bald.  Max Patch Bald is below.
Balds are rather bare round areas on mountain tops that are void of trees and shrubbery, for whatever reason.  A geologist could give the reason.  Settlers in early Tennessee set up farmsteads on the balds of many mountains.  It was a tough life as corn and most farm harvest- able crops would deliver low yields and oftentimes would die out before harvest.  These balds were free to the settler so, the price was right.  Balds are located far from civilization and many of the settler ladies would never come down off the balds for as long as six or seven years.  The men folk would visit the tiny communities with their produce in the spring with melons, squash and pumpkins later on.  The tenacity of those early settlers is amazing.  Imagine if a kid today displayed the same effort at getting an education as did the settlers trying to stay alive long ago.  Wow!

I had to pick up the pace a bit.  I still wasn't sure where I was but, I had a feeling a hard road would appear soon as I started down the other side of the mountain.

At last - the gravel was back and shortly it turned to asphalt.  

Gotta love the road signs.  I haven't seen a sign in hours. 

I'm still fairly high up on this mountain.  Check out the view below:  Spectacular!

I was rolling along pretty good after the shot above but, an old shed stopped me in my tracks.  Look what the siding is made of.

Look who came out from around the corner.  I wanted to hug em.  They were obviously well cared for and so sweet!

It was going just as George told me.  I came to a stop sign and another sign pointed to the left for Hot Springs.  What an experience I just had!  Some good scenery was ahead but, what I just drove through was real agricultural and historical Tennessee.  It was wonderful.
The little bike had been running almost ten hours with the longest shut down of about half hour when I met George Stokley.  She deserved a bit of a cool down so I pulled over for a Kodak moment and to sit on solid ground for awhile.

Hot Springs was just ahead.  As with Del Rio, Hot Springs sits on the bank of the French Broad River.  The actual springs run one hundred degrees and more and are known for their  therapeutic properties.  Actually the Indians had always known about them.  The town was really called a town in 1831 when a James Patton bought the springs and built a 350 room hotel on the site.  The entire history is a good read and is suggested.  I'm not really interested that much in this town as it is a community that is trying to get tourist dollars and has nothing but the natural hot springs going for it.  It lacks the glamore of Del Rio - to me anyway.  Take the French Broad River away and Hot Springs would disappear because the white water rafting companies would go under.  (No pun intended)
I rode on down into Hot Springs and out the other end.  It was late afternoon and I had to make tracks.  The French Broad River flows between the mountains and past the town below:

I know - I know - there always has to be a kayak on any fast river that is painted a psychedelic color with bright yellow paddles.  Oh well ----
The rest of the day is history.  The ride back was uneventful.  George Stokley made my day.  I'll never forget him and probably we'll never meet again.  That is part of the mystique of motorcycle touring.  I hope you enjoyed the ride.  Remember - we have a camp out coming on Calderwood Lake.  You won't want to miss that one.  Thanks, as always, for looking in.