Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Smoky Mountain Motorcyle Ride Coming Soon

Ahh, fresh tarmac. I wasn't long into the serpentine climb up the mountain I realized this road was better than I'd expected. It had taken an hour to get here, but then I didn't take the fastest route. Instead, I took the fun route, revisiting some of my favorite and most enjoyable rides on the southeast course towards Franklin, North Carolina. Taking the highway doesn't save that much time anyway. There is no direct route from Waynesville to Franklin through the mountains of western North Carolina. There are no direct routes anywhere. That's what makes it motorcycle heaven. You're not going to save much time taking the four lane, might as well take the back roads and enjoy the ride.

Photo - A view of Onion Mountain Road

"A section of Onion Mountain Road which has been paved."

I'd already accepted the disappointment that Onion Mountain Road was not yet completed having passed the eastern end of it on my way down. I could only afford a quick glance at the junction while keeping focus through the screaming tight descending hairpin curve, but even a brief view was enough to reveal this end was not yet paved. Knee down, bike laid over on the edge of the tires, it was far more important to concentrate on just how much throttle to roll on coming out of the turn before I jumped to the other side of the motorcycle and laid it into the next curve. I was having way too much fun to circle back, I'd check it out from the other end.

Photo - Where the pavement ends and the road beyond

"2.1 miles in the pavement ends but the roadbed has been laid. The remaining portion should see asphalt with warmer spring weather."

Every time I ride through here I find myself thinking I don't come this way often enough. These roads are stellar in quality, some of the most challenging found anywhere. There's rarely anything you could call traffic. Most travelers choose the "main" roads to pass through this rugged area of high peaks and forests leaving the back roads delightfully empty and welcome to enjoy at your own comfortable pace.

I turned west when I reached US 64 the principle east-west route through the area and headed towards Franklin, then turned north on 441 to make my approach to Onion Mountain Road and select the best connections. The detour and construction signs were still up, though obscured by black plastic now that the road was open to traffic again. Another hint the project was still in the works. While I'd hoped to find it completed, the road reports were cryptic in saying the road would be closed for paving until December. Once the cold weather sets in, the asphalt plants shut down. Come spring, they'll pull the plastic off the signs and resume work (I hope).

I assume the situation will be similar to the section of NC 281 which was paved last year and is now part of one of my favorite loop rides. They get as much done as they can preparing the roadbed before winter. When things warm enough, it's fairly quick work to come back and lay down the asphalt. Judging by what they've done so far, it's going to be eagerly awaited. It's the prep work that takes the time, cutting into the embankments and filling the road, adding culverts and bridges where needed.

Photo - A view from the roadside.

"The panoramic views are some of the best found in the area. They should get even better higher up."

Only 6.2 miles long, you might wonder why I'm so excited about this road. It's isolated from any towns, just a remote section going from nowhere to nowhere else. Once fully paved, it will make a strategic connection between other great rides that will allow you to avoid the traffic on US 64 and open options to link them together, more ways to bypass the four lane highway and town traffic. There's that, and then there's the road itself. Making the climb up Onion Mountain is one beautiful arc after another. As you gain altitude the road frequently follows a narrow ridge dropping precipitously on both sides. The views, especially with the leaves off the trees are some of the best panoramic sights in the region. It will be one of those roads where you pull over and take out the camera to remember it. When coupled with the other fabulous rides in the surroundings, it will be one you not only treasure but want to come back to and ride again.

2.1 miles of it are paved, then it abruptly turns to gravel. I didn't ride it through, though I could see the 4.1 mile section remaining had been prepped. From the end of the paved section it continues to climb up the mountain and I expect the views will get even better. I'll keep watching it for progress and make another visit in the spring. As soon as it's ready, I'll add it to the map of this area with the best connecting roads, probably another 15 miles of great riding for you to enjoy. With luck, it will be climbing the list of classic rides by summer and I'll be frequenting the area more often.

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Cross posted to Motorcycle Heaven Blog

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