Flashback Friday: Motocamping in the Great Smoky Mountains

Last July, my brothers and I went motocamping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I load up my Harley

seth gray packing his harley

Ben and Nathanael pack their Harley and Victory, respectively. About noon, we ride South, down to the Great Smoky Mountains. Not much better than motocamping in the mountains. Ben and I probably should’ve gotten new front tires first. But here we are. Still alive. Whew.

three guys on motorcycles

It’s sunny and about 80 degrees. Beautiful ride. We stop for gas and food just south of Cincinnati. And Nathanael’s new-to-him bike wouldn’t start. He traces the problem and finds the battery has a loose connection. Tightens it, no big deal, and off we go again. Well, after about 45 minutes.

From home to Cade’s Cove Campground is a little more than 400 miles. In a car that’d take 6-7 hours. But we stop a lot– fuel, food, hydrate. Take our time. Roll in to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just past dusk. Ranger station is closed, so I fill out the paperwork on the beat-up clipboard hanging on the door, and get our camp site number.

Turns out Cades Cove is a family kind of campground. Or, at least, there are mostly families camping. No other motorcycles. Nobody else motocamping. We pull in to the campsite, pitch tents, start a fire, drink some beer, and make some food. So hungry. I bring a frozen steak from home (old biker trick). Last stop before the campground, we’d bought beans, booze, some junk food… and SPAM. Yeah. SPAM. So, of course, we fry it up with the steak while Nathanael busts out his camp stove and some Mountain House survivalist/backpacking beef stroganoff rations. Oh, and jalapeño Cheetos and nacho cheese dip.

We feasted like kings. A ribeye topped with SPAM, Jalapeño Cheetos, and nacho cheese sauce. Ok, we feasted like raccoon kings.

At this point, the pictures pretty much stop. See, the reason they’re called the Great Smoky Mountains is because of the clouds… and rain. The next morning, we get up, gear up, and ride to breakfast. It’s amazing how well a morning ride through the mountains makes a bad hangover not so bad. Plus, we’re excited to ride US129, the Tail of the Dragon– 111 curves in 11 miles. It is an incredible ride. Still partly sunny, but heavy gray clouds lurk everywhere. We get to the top of US129 and it starts sprinkling.

We ride down the Tail of the Dragon a bit, and it’s still raining. And there’s nobody else on the road. Except the photographers.

seth gray riding his dyna down US129

ben gray riding his dyna down US129
nathanael gray riding his Victory down US129

It rains. All day. And not just sprinkles. Buckets. But we ride on through the curvy mountain roads, enjoying/hating every minute of it.

A couple hours before sunset, we stop for provisions (Gatorade, whiskey, and food), and the rain stops too. It stops just long enough for us to get a fire going. Then the clouds piss on us again. Don’t care. Hungry. So, we cook over an open fire… in the rain. One of the families next to us brings over some watermelon. Nathanael teaches them how to properly/disgustingly eat it

The next day, it’s raining. Still. pack up camp, ride to breakfast. Ride home.

Somewhere south of Louisville, it’s tornado weather: trees thrashing like high schoolers at a metal concert, 50-gallon drums of water dumping out of mean green clouds. When the cars start pulling over, we decide it’s probably a good idea.

Sitting.

Waiting.

Fuck it. Let’s go. So, we ride on at about 25 MPH for what seems like forever. We go from buckets of water to a trickle. Then blue sky.

A 6.5 hour trip has turned into 9 so far.

We’re 40 miles south of Columbus, it’s dark now. And chilly– maybe 65 degrees? And here comes the fucking rain again. At this point, we’ve long since abandoned our rain gear, and just keep going in our leathers. And something is wrong with the electrical system on my FXDX– when I go over 80, the backlights on the tach and speedometer turn off. But I have Waze (has a GPS-based speedometer) on my iPhone, which is glowing at me from the handlebars.

We go our separate ways on the South side of Columbus. 25 minutes to home. 15 minutes to home. 10 minutes.

10 hours from when we left Cades Cove, I pull into the driveway. Home. This big yellow house with the barn out back. And the people I love inside it.

******

It took 2 days for my leather gear to dry out completely. And that electrical problem was the stator, which also killed the voltage regulator. But I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Nothing beats riding motorcycles and motocamping in the mountains with your brothers.

Life isn’t easy. Even when you’re doing the things you love, there are struggles. But, if you keep slogging away, you’ll find small moments of joy everywhere.

******

But now it’s time to get up the barn and my leather shop. Have some pretty rad new leather goods to finish up. Here’s a sneak peak at a leather cross body bag or cross body purse that we’re calling The Alaina:

leather cross body bag - cross body purse from Beauty and the Biker

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