The Honda Hoot is like a wheel: If the vendors, demonstrations and demo rides at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville each day are its hub, and the winding Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina roads encircling the area are the rim, then the scads of special events that take place are the spokes holding it all together. This is a mighty big wheel, too—even if it were rolled out over two weeks, you couldn’t do everything there is to do at the Hoot.
I had my reservations when Honda moved the Hoot from comparatively serene Asheville to larger, bustling Knoxville on the Tennessee River. Getting to the prime riding areas in and around the Smoky Mountains from the latter can be a longer slog on busy commuter highways, and the traffic through touristy Pigeon Forge and Sevierville is often a nightmare, even when the weather is cooler than the usual southeastern June. Once you learn the tricky ways of getting to where you’re going, though, it’s relatively painless, and these two cities offer the kind of Dolly, Dixie and Bear country shows that many riders like. Glistening Knoxville has a bright side, too. More restaurants and hotel rooms mean more riders can attend—more than 17,000 this year—which leads to a larger variety of events and things to do at the rally.
Back at Chilhowee Park, home of the Knoxville Zoo, the Hoot is headquartered in a big auditorium surrounded by vendors inside and out spread around the lake, nearly 200 in all. A short walk away are the demo teams, nine in number this year including BMW, Buell, Victory, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi and, of course, Honda. Plan on spending at least a day here—I did on Wednesday, right before Bike Night in Knoxville’s Old City Historic District (sponsored by the very magazine you’re holding), which was complete with a live band and a screening of the movie Dust to Glory.
From Tuesday, June 21, when Early Bird registration and the Welcome Party took place at the Marriot Hotel, to Saturday the 25th, there was a party every night of the Hoot, with dances, dinners and fireworks. In addition to all of the area attractions, the Hoot officially put on a poker run, ice cream social, whitewater rafting, a metric cruiser bike show and a special event for Honda Riders Club of America members at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. One lucky winner went home with the Honda motorcycle of choice. Additionally, many door prizes were awarded, and both the city of Knoxville and a number of charities benefited greatly from the event, as well. I enjoyed a lot of those things; however, like any rally in an area such as this my favorite part was the riding.
American Honda arranged to loan me a 2005 Interceptor and I spent two full days exploring parts of just about every recommended ride (they are all self-guided) from the Cumberland Gap up north to the Cherohala Skyway and Highway 129 (aka The Dragon) through Deals Gap, even over the main drag through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Once you’re out of the greater Knoxville area, the back roads are relatively quiet and almost deserted. I highly recommend quiet, bucolic Highway 360 as an alternative path to the must-ride rollercoaster Cherohala Skyway rather than continuing on manic 129 through Deals Gap—you can always ride 129 south to north to get your Dragon hat or T-shirt at the Crossroads of Time store and gas station.
My only regret is not having the time to detour to the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, on my way over the Smokies. Dale Walksler’s labor of love has grown from a small building with a few bikes and cars into a full-fledged trip back in time, with more than 250 vehicles from the past, many in dramatic exhibits that help tell their story. It’s a great destination for any ride during the Hoot—and more than a good enough reason to come back in 2006, June 21-24.
(This article Keeps on Rollin’: The Honda Hoot was published in the November 2005 issue of Rider magazine.)