Return to the Smoky Mountains

I woke up unusually early. Maybe it’s because my body is still on Eastern time even though Alabama is on Central. I didn’t rush, but I also didn’t hurry to wake up, make coffee, give Lister some outside time, and get back on the road. I’d planned a longer day on the road than usual, heading from Leeds, Alabama all the way to Cherohala Mountain Trails Campground in Tellico Plains, Tennessee.

This may sound familiar to readers who have been around a while. It’s the same place where Trisha and I stayed almost two years ago to fulfill my bucket list item of riding the Tail of the Dragon. It’s close enough to on the way to New England that I wanted to come back for more. My V-Strom 650 is much better on the road than my KLR was, so it should be even more fun. There are also many other fun roads in the area that I didn’t get to see because we were short on time during the last visit. Instead of two days, this time I’m staying for five. It helps that the cost for a “tent” site — in other words, parking in the grass without hookups — is $12, per person, per night. There’s only one person this time, so my money stretches twice as far! With a stay this long, it was worth disconnecting the trailer and setting up a little camp area of my own, like I did in Quartzsite.

The drive here was uneventful, which is a good thing. I stuck to highways more than usual. I wanted to make sure I’d get there, get in, and get set up early enough that if I ran into any problems, I’d have time to come up with a new plan. But everything went great.

The Transit just gobbles up highway miles, especially with cruise control. Now that I’m getting into some actual mountains, I’m pleasantly surprised at how easily it handles them, despite a much smaller engine than my previous van. The four or so hour drive went by quickly and comfortably. I could definitely spend much longer behind the wheel in a single day now. Amazingly, so can Lister. While he used to get antsy after about two hours and want a break, now he just sits in the front seat, enjoys the air conditioning, and sleeps. Covering long distances on the highway isn’t how I normally prefer to travel, but it’s good to know that I can do a six or even eight-hour highway slog if I have to.

I got a little bit confused while clipping the northwest corner of Georgia, though. I saw an exit sign for New England, and thought I’d reached my eventual destination early! It turns out there’s a town called New England in Georgia. The Transit drives well, but I’d be concerned if I’d missed several states along the way!

The last six miles of the drive reminded me why I came back to this area. The road got narrow, twisty, and hilly. The Transit and trailer handled it fine, but were definitely out of their element. They can stay parked for the next few days, and I can give the bike some exercise.

One important difference between this stay and my last one is that I have internet this time. There is just about no cell service at the campground. WiFi is available, but only inside the office, which is where I worked last time. But thanks to Starlink (and parking on the south side of the field to give me the best view of the north sky), I have all the internet I need in the van this time. I’ll continue to work during the week, but I’m going to plan my days around bike rides, and avoiding the daily afternoon thunderstorms the forecast is calling for. This time, I’m doing this visit my way.

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