At the Iron Horse – Horizons Unlimited NC 2017

I like riding through the Smokey Mountain National Park (Or Sugerlands, or whatever the bits and peices are called). The road is in good condition, the views are nice, and while there is traffic it’s nothing compared to other national parks I’ve visited (though I understand people complain anyway).

As a reminder, I was traveling with a medium format film camera and my iphone. Black and white images are from film, and the color ones are off the phone.


Once through the park, it’s small, winding roads to get near Robbinsville, and then to Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge – the official home of HU NC for, well, ever I think. I really do think it’s always been held there. Anyway, it’s the only place I’ve ever gone to it. I had a reservation (always a good idea), and went off to set up my hammock for the weekend. Yes, hammock. I like hammocks, they’re comfortable. 

Once I was done with the business of arriving and checking in, I set about finding old friends and seeing if I could make any new ones. I have to admit, while I do often give a lot of talks at HU events and occasionally pick up some local fame, it’s nice when no one knows who I am. They talk more freely about what they’ve done and dream to do, without the need to impress me or look for advice. I know I’m supposed to be there to help, and I try to make sure I do, but being able to just chat to people about travel and trips without them knowing I was there to present or sell books or do anything other than hang out is nice.

Mike, who runs the HU NC event, keeps it lower key than other events, at least the ones in North America that I’ve been to. Schedules for the day are written out on a dry-erase board, appearing around breakfast so people have an idea of what is going on that day. There are three presentation locations, two large ones (inside and outside) and a small room used for check in early in the event. All the inside rooms have incredibly comfortable seats, which is almost a problem for some of the drier presentations.

Once things are rolling the weekend usually flies past entirely too quickly. There are good presentations and panels, and always things to learn or re-learn. This year there was also a walkabout to look at camping setups, which was made even more interesting when a gorilla showed up. The gorilla then got a ride in a sidecar, off to tame the dragon which isn’t far away.

If there is a problem with the Iron Horse location, it’s that there is so much good riding in the area (the Dragon isn’t my favorite, by the way. Honestly, I’d say it was only an average road for the area, but all the traffic on it sucks). I usually try to discourage people attending HU events from going on rides instead of attending the talks – the roads will be there later – but I understand the draw. 

All of the sudden it was Sunday morning and time to pack up and start the road north again. Goodbyes were said, contact information shared, radar and weather checked, then everyone was off until the next time.

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Getting DIstracted, also Lunch – HU North Carolina 2017

I get distracted easily. I’ve always been honest about this, and I think it’s a very positive feature in a traveler. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t anywhere I need to be, or that I have time to indulge my distractions. When I am on the road, I try to make sure there is time in the schedule for me to indulge my distractions.

Again, for people arriving late, on this trip I was traveling iwht both a film camera, and an iPhone. Images in black and white were taken with a Koni Omega Rapid on Ultrafinextreme black and white film. Color images were taken with my iPhone.

So, I had taken I-65 through Indiana, but when I had the change I got off the interstate and onto smaller roads. I’d decided to cut through the Smokey Mountain National Park, which also meant riding through Pigeon Forge. Now, I know some people have strong feelings about this tourist town, but really I don’t mind it all that much. I don’t have strong feelings about most places, prefering to see the good and bad everywhere withouth judging too much.

I enjoy people watching at tourist stops, and of course tourist stops exists for a reason. I wanted something for lunch, and sitting on the main drag while watching people go by seemed like it would be fun. What I didn’t know was that wthere was going to be a sweet car show going on.

I hadn’t made a real plan for lunch, and most of the parking lots were full, either of classic cars or other visitors. At it turned out, this was the Shades of the Past car show, an annual event which I could have learned about if I’d known to look. If I’d been in a car, parking would have been an issue, but on the motorcycle I was able to find somewhere to squeeze the bike into. I locked up my coat and helmet, grabbed my camera, and started walking around. I was aware that I could spend the rest of the day in town, but I still wanted to get to Iron Horse that evening, and had the national park to ride through. Also, I wanted lunch.

It wasn’t all cars in lots – there seemed to a regular rotation of them cruising the main drag through town, sometimes almost filling the road with classic goodness. 

I found a BBQ place with outside (shaded) seating, and settled down to eat and watch. The food was okay, the tea was cold, and I was fun to listen to others. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know there was an event in town, and the grumbling over parking, crowds, and other difficulties struck me as amusing, given the state Pigeon Forge was usually in. Others, though, were excited by the cars, and I heard a few “I used to have one of those” as things cruised slowly by.


After lunch, I walked back to the bike and got moving again. While traffic was heavy, it was moving and I didn’t mind, even though it was getting hot, and jacket vents don’t work as well when you aren’t moving. Once I was out of town, my speed picked up. Over the mountain ridges, then back down to the other side and along the small roads into the small valley Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge was nestled into.



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Down I-65 Again – Horizons Unlimited North Carolina

I love HU events. I really do. They are entertaining, the people are cool, and getting to hang out in the smokies is usually a pretty good time.

In 2017, due to scheduling things, Horizons Unlimited had two events going the same weekend. That isn’t usual, and I had been planning on going to the Ontario event (rather than the NC one). A few things happened, kinda last minute, and going to NC worked out better. Also, when I switched, I was keenly aware that the weather in North Carolina in the fall is generally better than the weather in Ontario (sorry, but true).

I had spent a lot of time on I-65 in 2017, and I was getting a little tired of it. Normally I’d get off the interstate and look for some state roads, but I had a lot of work going on at the same time in Milwaukee, and the extra few days away was going to be a struggle. So, the interstate, but I kept my eyes open for things to stop and look at, which I might have passed on other trips. One was Danial Boone’s Tavern in Kentucky.

Looks more up-scale than I'd expected

A quick note, I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy shooting film. On this trip I brought a Koni-Omega Rapid from the late 50s or early 60s. It’s a “press” camera, which I think has more to do with form than anything else. Well, and it can shoot a roll of film very quickly. I don’t usually go that fast when shooting film, since the process is supposed to slow me down.

I don’t exclusively shot film while traveling, though, since I also have an iPhone and it takes some pretty good pictures. During this ride report, the pictures in black and white images from film, and the color are digital. So, now you know.

I’d stopped at Boone’s Tavern in Berea Kentucky. There was a conference going on, and the place was fancy.

I didn’t see a lot of people, only the signs for where things were going to be. Actually, the whole town was pretty dead. I guess there is a university right next to the ‘tavern,’ (which didn’t appear to actually have a tavern inside), but even that didn’t have a lot of people about. Maybe it wasn’t in session yet. The few blocks around the tavern had a little shops, including a sweet dulcimer place.

I don't know how to play a dulcimer, but I like how they sound

It seemed like an oddly niche market, but it also looked like it had been there for a while. I hope it still is.

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Not Really Racing To The Finish – Mountain Madness 2017

I checked the bike over in the faint light of the morning, and it seemed to be in good shape. I hadn’t dropped it the day before, so I wasn’t expecting damage, but it just seemed prudent. When I’d gotten back to camp the night before it’d been dark – that really deep dark you get when there are no lights anywhere and the sky is covered in clouds. Honestly, I felt a little bad riding back in, even though Rabbit isn’t a loud motorcycle (as motorcycles go).

With the bike checked I headed to the casino. Since we’d worked out our ride plan the night before, we hoped to get a lot more miles in today, and Jeff (one of my team) was going to be bringing some subs for our lunch (Thanks Jeff!).

The day was bright and sunny this time, which meant the trails were going to be drying out – which was good. While Mike and I loitered at the start, he started to get text messages that Jeff couldn’t find he keys. The allowed start time kept creeping closer, and finally we got news he’d found them and was on his way.

While we were waiting, we learned one of the riders had to withdraw the day before after hurting his back. W offered the other half of that team – a guy named Carl –

the chance to ride with us, if he wanted. One of the HUMM rules is no one can ride alone, so we thought this would let him get out on his bike. Carl agreed, but waiting until Jeff was there to get geared up (So Jeff could have a say on his coming with), and then it turned out that Carl – who hadn’t expected to be with a team – didn’t have any gas in his bike…so we did end up being a little late out of the gate. Being in first place had put some pressure on us as a team, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I hadn’t expected to win, and was just trying to have fun. Once we were riding, everyone relaxed and we started to just enjoy the day.

One of the tags we near an old graveyard, overlooking a valley. Some of the graves (which still even had markers) dated back to the 1800s.

When we were getting ready to leave this tag a group of riders, two-up on harleys, appeared. They stayed up the road for a few minutes, watching us, and I wondered if they were okay. Eventually they left their motorcycles and went into the bushes for a bit, all in a bunch.

Now, the road to get up here wasn’t what you would expect the average “biker” to be excited about.

Carl, who was kinda from the area, mentioned to the rest of us that he’d seem some mushrooms growing other there which sold for crazy money in local markets. The other riders were probably worried we would raid their patch, and maybe they relaxed when they saw none of us had local plates.

We found s nice spot for lunch and sat talking for a while – I guess we forgot about that whole “need to get points thing,” and were just four riders out on a day ride. I don’t ride with groups, I mentioned that in the previous post, but this was actually okay.

One thing that was on Jeff and Mike’s todo list was a water crossing. There were bonus points at a few of the tags for a picture of one of the team riding across a nearby river, but when we’d looked at one the day before it was moving pretty fast and deep (since it had been raining like crazy). Now the streams looked a little safer, and they decided to have a go.

Mike First

Then Jeff

No, I didn’t ride across. I was a long way from home, and have done enough water crossings they’ve lost some of their luster – especially when there is a perfectly good bridge right there.

We arrived with some time to spare at the casino for scoring. A few other teams were also already back, cleaning up their information before taking it to the scoring table.

Steve photobombing

We’d maxed out the bonus points again, so it was going to be a matter of waiting to see what the other teams had done during the day. The scores were going to be announced at the closing dinner, so I had time to kill after the last of the teams came in. The people staying at the hotel showered and changed, which I could really do since I was camping, so I watched some of the teams who’d trailered their motorcycles load up – I might have been hoping for excitement but I was out of luck.

It's a good thing smells don't go through the internet

With our entry, the casino gave us all a coupon for $10 to gamble. To get it, you had to sign up for their player’s club, which gave a bonus of money money (I think I got $7). I had to kick in a dollar of my own, but then I played some slots. When I was just short of $50 up, I ran out of time and had to head back for the dinner. I’d like to claim some sort of skill, but all I did was sit there and hit a button – if there was more a situation of beginners luck I don’t know what it is. Maybe the machines are nicer to you when just start, just to get you hooked?

Back in the room we’d been using for planning and scoring, there was now food.

And soon it was time for everyone to load up and eat.

The winners were announced, and we were in second place. It had been close, but the second place team had gone for higher value tags on day two, and had learned from day one and maxed out their bonus points (which had been the difference on day one). By strange coincidence, they were also at our table, so we could threaten them with violence and other fun. In truth, it meant we didn’t have to carry the cool-but-not-small trophies home with us. And we had a good time, so I am going to say it all worked out.

Also, cake. Well, Tiramisu

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