Day One (July 27, 2002)    Cincinnati - Maggie Valley, NC (472 miles)

Our course for opening day had us blasting down I-75 south to the Sweetwater exit.  The first destination was the Cherohala Skyway.  This road was completed shortly after our 1996 visit to the area.  We had heard and read that the Skyway was similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), but was more open and more importantly less patrolled.  After two quick gas stops on I-75 we stopped and ate the pinto bean special at the local Sweetwater diner (KMZ) just off of the exit.  Now both the bikes and ourselves were gassed up and ready to hit the Skyway.  After riding through Madisonville we hit the Skyway.  After only a few miles I glanced in my mirror and noticed a pack of sport bikes had come upon us.  Before I mentioned a word to Steve two of them were around us; a Triumph Trophy and some Ducati.  Before I could say a word, Steve told me to hang with them if I wanted but to stop around the 25 mile mark (roughly halfway of the 52 mile long road).  Off I went following the two speedsters.  Within a few short miles I had caught them and rode with them for the 25 miles, which took only about 15 minutes (you do the math).  After I pulled over at an overlook (KMZ) Steve was quickly behind me with the balance of the group in tow.  What an exhilarating start!  I found myself in an unusual situation while riding with these guys; I was following.  I was able to read off of their lines and was easily able to keep up.  I wonder what they thought with the seemingly less sporty and agile BMW hanging with them.  The entire ride was perfect, the Skyway did not disappoint it was open with many sweeping curves.  As we approached Robbinsville and the end of the Skyway the road narrows as it transgresses into the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.  Once in the forest we stopped at Snowbird Pass along Snowbird Lane for another break (KMZ).  As we reached Robbinsville we headed south on US 129 to Topton (KMZ).  There we headed north on US74/19 for a few short miles to our next destination; Wayah Road.  The approach to Topton dropped us into the Nantahala Gorge.  The Gorge is home to many whitewater outfitters and is a mecca for whitewater rafters.  Needless to say traffic was heavy on a Saturday afternoon.  Turning right onto Wayah Road we passed the entrance to one of the river outfitters, but within one mile all of the traffic was left behind.  Wayah Road makes wild cutbacks across several bridges over the Nantahala River as it claws its way up the Gorge.  We almost had the feeling we were riding in a cave, with the rocky faces of the gorge walls as the sides of the cave and the trees overhead appearing more like stalagmites than the hemlock and rhododendron they really are.  We also noticed many people fly fishing along the river, I'm sure they thought how glad they would be to trade places with us.  After climbing out of the gorge, we passed Nantahala Lake.  Wayah Rd. follows its eastern shoreline, allowing great views of the large lake.  We could not manage too much viewing of the lake as the road became even more twisty.  After passing the lake we came upon the entrance to Wayah Bald, the 1.3 mile road to the top is gravel so we decided to take a pass (KMZ).  Once beyond the entrance the road begins it descent down Wayah Mountain.  We made a stop along  Wayah Creek to better capture the scenery (KMZ).  Hairpin turns and fun sweeping curves greeted us on the way down as we came into the town of Franklin.  There we caught US441 north toward the town of Cherokee.  This road is of the four lane variety and we were not quite ready for the superslab-like road so early into the trip.  We referenced the DeLorme map and identified a shortcut to US19 east that would lead us into Maggie Valley.  Sunset Camp Creek Rd (KMZ)., and Olivet Loop Rd (KMZ). provided just the thing.  While the road wasn't terribly interesting it was better than four lane.  Traveling east on US19 we came upon The Abbey Inn (KMZ) before getting down into the heart of Maggie Valley.  The Abbey Inn does not exactly cater to motorcyclists but they were more than hospitable to us.  We went down into town grabbed a Subway sandwich and headed for the BRP.  We stopped and ate our dinner at one of the overlooks (KMZ) before we began our assault on Balsam Mountain Road (KMZ).  This road can only be accessed from the BRP and dead ends at the top of Balsam Mountain where there are several trail heads (KMZ).  The road was much like the rest of BRP but with tighter turns.  It was starting to get dark so we decided to head back to the motel.