Leaving Pretty Place, we dropped down the mountain and wound up at Huntin’ Camp Barbecue in the aptly named town of Traveler’s Rest. With two of the three of us having no air conditioning, we trudged in sweaty, overheated, and nominally dehydrated, and pretty much stayed until we recovered. Well-decorated with guns and mounted animals, including an alert-looking bobcat surveying one of the stalls in the men’s room, it had decent barbecue and was a much-appreciated respite from the road.
Intending to start the third day of the trip in Walhalla, South Carolina, the beginning point of Highway 28, we headed toward it on 183, making a big loop past where we’d come off of 276. Unfortunately that long, straight stretch of 183 is best described as “death by ennui.” Without a functional radio, I idly texted back and forth with Phillip and watched John use the broken centerline as an impromptu cone course, nonchalantly swinging his motorcycle from one side to the other in mesmerizing fashion, without hitting the paint.
With no vacancy in Walhalla, we detoured to a hotel in nearby Seneca, and promptly deposited ourselves in the pool. Morning, as always, came early: we knew the scenic 28 would be prime tourist territory on a holiday weekend, and didn’t want to be caught in it.
Known in motorsports parlance as “Moonshiner’s 28,” Highway 28 stretches from Walhalla to U.S. 129, where it dead ends at Deal’s Gap near the entrance to the Dragon. It’s not just a catchy name: In 1885, when a revenuer held two bootleggers prisoner in Highlands, North Carolina (which is along the route), their hometown of Moccasin, Georgia, declared war on Highlands and sent armed men to free the captives. The skirmish became known as the Moccasin War. It’s hard to imagine now, there amongst the trendy shops and sylvan beauty of Whitesides Mountain, but at least one man was killed.
We made it through Highlands before the tourist traffic picked up, then followed 28 under Bridal Veil Falls and northwest to Franklin through the narrow-but-striking Cullasaja Gorge. Out of Franklin, Moonshiner’s 28 passes through the small towns of Iotla and Mill, then through a good, curvy stretch with some pretty good uphill twisties. I have a distinct memory of seeing a snake that had stretched out into the roadway recoil suddenly upwards and back as John zinged past him. I have no doubt John felt the same way.
After a break for a Red Bull and a Moon Pie where 28 turned left onto a four-lane stretch, we followed as it tapered back down to two lanes, then hit one of the truly technical portions of road, where it climbs 300 feet in a half-mile. This part found me at the handlebars, and happy to hand them back over to John after surviving it without falling over.
Due to increasing traffic, we opted not to continue on to the road’s dead end, which would have also brought us through the Hellbender, another technical section between Fontana and the Dragon. A madhouse on most weekends, we knew the Dragon, with its 318 curves in 11 miles, would be even more raucous on a holiday. Instead we diverted to the Fontana Dam, which I’d never seen.
Built in the space of a mere three years or so of round-the-clock construction, Fontana Dam was created in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Its role was to provide electricity to support the war effort being put forth by the nearby Alcoa Aluminum and Oak Ridge laboratory, which had been sited in East Tennessee for security reasons. At a massive 480 feet high, it’s the largest concrete dam east of the Rockies, and the most-visited one in the TVA system. No wonder about that: It dwarfs the nearby Cheoah Dam, and its size is difficult to process unless you’re actually standing near it. On one side are the broad waters of the Little Tennessee River; on the other, a sheer concrete wall plunging down at an angle to where the river resumes, far below.
From Fontana, we backtracked down 28 to 143, which took us over a steep pass and then down into Robbinsville, North Carolina, for lunch. Pulling into my favorite Mexican place in Robbinsville, which is located on 129 a half-hour or so south of the Dragon, we watched as an ambulance went shrieking by, headed north. I mused we’d made a good call in giving the Dragon a miss. An hour or so later, as we got ready to pay the tab and head south back to Georgia, where we would all disperse again, another made its way north through a road now crowded with motorcycles.
All told, in three days we covered roughly 600 miles of some of the most beautiful and technical roads this corner of the Carolinas has to offer, all in enjoyable but responsible fashion. No tickets, no wrecks, no regrets. All in all, a pretty good run.
So, gentlemen…where are we going next year?