The Ups and Downs of My First East Tennessee Motorcycle Ride

Where the grass is greener

East Tennessee motorcycle Ride CFMOTO 450SS Killboy
The CFMOTO 450SS was a pretty good steed to take on my first East Tennessee motorcycle ride. (photo by Killboy)

When I’m traveling and tell other riders that I’m from Tennessee, they tell me they’re jealous. They talk about how lucky I am to live in a state with so many fantastic riding roads through the Great Smokies. However, before last summer, I had to shamefully admit I’d never ridden in East Tennessee.

I got the opportunity to change that in June when I needed some photos for my CFMOTO 450SS review. I’d get to spend a couple days away from the desk, experience Appalachian riding, put some miles on the test bike, and get paid for it! Talk about a win‑­win‑­win‑­win.

As with most trips, this one didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

East Tennessee motorcycle Ride CFMOTO 450SS
The CFMOTO 450SS and I spent a lot of time sheltering from the rain under gas station canopies.

I ran into my first hiccup just past Nashville. When I stopped to pull up directions for the next leg of my journey, my phone’s map wouldn’t load. I also wasn’t able to call or text. I didn’t know where I needed to go other than in a general southeast direction.

Unable to rely on my phone for navigation, I stopped at gas stations along the way to ask locals for directions. Most were happy to help, and some were so happy that they took half an hour to tell me their own motorcycling stories. I enjoyed these interactions, but it was getting late, and I was still a long way from 129 Cabins in Robbinsville, North Carolina, where I’d be staying.

When night fell, I was on the highway that would take me directly to the cabin, and I started to relax. Then I saw a sign that read “Motorcycles: High crash area next 11 miles.” Before I knew it, I was on the Tail of the Dragon.

Those 11 miles with their 318 curves were the longest I’ve ever ridden. It was pitch dark with no other cars, bikes, or signs of human presence. The LED lights on the 450SS are great, but they shine in front of the bike while the road snaked away from where the headlight was pointed. I was also afraid of deer popping out from the woods since they’re a big cause of accidents in my area.

A stretch of road that many riders travel across the world to experience was a nuisance to me. I felt some guilt about that, but all I wanted was to get to my cabin in one piece. And eventually, I did.

After a delightful photoshoot with Killboy the next day, it was time to head home. My phone started working again after a simple restart, but the return trip took just as long as getting there. I dodged storms for hours, ducking into gas stations to keep the laptop in my backpack dry when rain poured down. When the skies cleared, the temperatures rose from 65 degrees to 98 with 100% humidity. Sitting on the interstate in stand‑­still traffic with no airflow in that kind of heat was draining.

Related: Killboy | Ep. 53 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

I finally made it home, and after a cold shower, I felt better. When my husband got home from work, I told him all about the storms and the heat and the traffic, filling his poor ears with complaints. Then I remembered riding along the Ocoee River. The rain had stopped for a while, and the temperature was just right. Mountains were rising on either side of me, and the river rushed by as kayakers navigated the rough whitewater. I remembered all the wonderful roads I’d sampled during the photoshoot, how much fun I had with the photographers, and how welcoming and peaceful the cabin was. And I knew I’d make this journey again, although with a little more preparation next time.

East Tennessee motorcycle Ride CFMOTO 450SS Killboy
I was relieved to reach my destination after a stressful nighttime ride on the Tail of the Dragon, and my room at 129 Cabins did not disappoint. (photo by Killboy)

Riding is living times 10. There’s always something to complain about, but the beauty to be found is worth it.


  1. Please stop calling it the” tail of the dragon”! It’s just “The Dragon”. Lived here my whole life. It has always been called “The Dragon “!!!!

  2. Allison,
    You’ll need more than a weekend to experience the great riding in Eastern Tennessee. The ‘Tail of the Dragon’ is our most famous road, but there are so many other great roads, with great scenery that lead to great destinations.

    I moved to East Tennessee in 1996 from Atlanta for work, but I also knew I was moving to one of the best riding areas in the country.

    The riding here is outstanding. So good, that I’m often disappointed when riding elsewhere.

  3. Well I am glad to say, as a rider from northeast TN, that The dragons tail is a great. But not at night especially the first time. You pack light and get there early not at night it’s a day time ride like she mentioned deer very good observation they are every where. But I commented to say the dragons tail is a great ride whether your wanting to slide your knees through turns or cruise it’s great and a all day ride you go through it multiple times you will want your rest not for the faint of heart, keep your eyes open. If possible ride with others if something does happen your going to wish you was.

    • Thanks for reading, Richard. Since I wrote this story, I’ve been back for a ride in the daylight. I went through it around 8 a.m., and it was a much better experience! So much fun and not at all stressful like it was the first time, and I guess that was early enough to avoid most of the traffic. I’ll definitely be back for more riding in the area soon.

      • I am a park ranger on the Ocoee. I also ride dual sports and sport bikes. If you ever want to come write about it area again, we could definitely get several cool rides in and a rafting trip. Also you could stay at a cool place that has camels and kangaroos in ocoee.

  4. Your first problem encountered is why I always carry a Rand McNaley road atlas. Technology failed you and left you high and dry. I’ve spent many trips eating lunch and reviewing my route. Never been lost. Only requirement is knowing how to read a map.


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