Eastern Tennessee

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Richard Rothermel

Sometimes a tour takes on a life of its own before the wheels even roll from the driveway. Unexpected, odd themes will bubble to the surface, acting as catalysts of sorts for the entire journey. Looking at the map, it dawns on me that I'm leaving the Triad of North Carolina for the Tri-Cities of Tennessee aboard a Triumph Tiger. Oh boy, here we go.

Be it Ts or threes, I just can't stop the word tease as I roar west from Winston-Salem heading for the Eastern Tennessee trio of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City. The chuckles and puns, many too painful to share, continue unabated across the Piedmont and into the mountains. Only the tour's track, beginning in earnest at the split of Routes 421 and 321 west of Boone, North Carolina, stanches the flow of paronomasia that's streaming beneath my visor.

The wide, familiar sweeps of 321 rush beneath as the September sun slowly chases the chill from the mid-morning mountain air. With home base just a two-hour ride east, I've become intimately versed in this road's tendency to challenge the right-hand restraint. Though it's easy and entertaining to hustle along, I'm careful in the process of exorcising the apathy brought on by the four-lane. Fortunately, the big cat's surefootedness has the Interstate imps running for cover in record time. Not long after crossing into the Volunteer State, I begin catching the solar sparkles dancing off the surface of Watauga Lake. This indicates that my first turn is not far away. The northward trek of Route 67 bisects a wide valley and would normally be relaxing and uneventful except for an urgent stop in a church parking lot to do the Honeybee Twist. I'll learn to cinch down my collar one of these days. Now sporting a throbbing welt on my chest, I take it as a reminder that winged stingers aren't the only critters capable of a nasty "bite" around here.

In Mountain City, I turn left onto one of the greatest stretches of moto-tarmac in the United States. This particular section of Route 421 (a.k.a. "the Snake") is said to have "one valley, three mountains, and 489 curves." Take that, Dragon. The onslaught of riotous hairpins has me snickering and slinging the Tiger to and fro like we're bringing up the rear in a game of Crack-the-Whip. This ride is a blast, and the absence of traffic makes it even better. And since I'm riding here on a weekday, my snake charming stands a lot less chance of being evaluated by "the man." At the run's midway point, I pull in at the Shady Valley Country Store for my "usual," a Co' Cola, pack of Nabs, and a spell on the porch swing. Though traffic is thin today, I still manage hellos with a fellow middle-aged patron, riding a VFR, a couple of burly, bearded types on Harleys, and two attractive young ladies on supermotards. An eclectic mix, I'd say, for a midweek stop.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2009 back issue.