By Heather Mullinix
Spring is in the air, and on the road. As the temperatures have steadily risen, so have the number of motorcycles you can find on the road any given weekend, as riders take to two wheels to explore the twisting roads that wind through the region.
“There is not anything that I’ve ever done that is more peaceful and relaxing than riding a motorcycle,” said Kevin Dean, of Crossville. “Most of the time, your brain is in the future or in the past.
“When you’re riding a motorcycle, you’re actually in the present. You don’t think about the future. You don’t think about the past. You’re having to live in the moment because you have to be in control of a bike 100 percent of the time. If you don’t, that’s when you wreck.”
Dean isn’t alone. A growing number of people across the U.S. are getting their motorcycle license. In 2011, 8.4 million motorcycles were registered in the U.S. or about one bike for every 36 people.
“It’s different to travel by bike,” Dean explained. “You feel the wind in your face and the sun on your skin. You smell everything.”
Of course, Tennessee has three motorcycle rides that have garnered wide-spread attention that bring bikers from across the country. Tail of the Dragon in East Tennessee offers 318 curves in 11 miles and is considered one of the most famous bike and sports car trails. Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains, TN, to Robbinsville, NC, offers 40 miles along a National Scenic Highway. And just up the road from Crossville you can hop on the Devil’s Triangle winding through Morgan County near the old Brushy Mountain State Prison and travel the two-lane highway over to Oliver Springs.
Dean noted Cumberland County was at the center of many great rides thanks to well-maintained state roads that wind through off-the-beaten path locales.
“We have roads up here that many people outside of the area have never heard of,” he said, telling of friends from Alabama who, after hearing about some of the roads in the area, surprised him with a visit and a question, “Where’s Wilder?”
Wilder is found on Hwy. 82, where Fentress, Overton and Putnam counties collide. Once a thriving mining community, today there is scenery, lots and lots of scenery.
Word is getting out about these lesser-known trails, and the recently established Carve the Cumberland offers 12 rides that showcase the scenic beauty, historic trails and great hospitality of the Cumberland Plateau.
The trails, which also make great driving trails, were developed after Cookeville hosted the 2012 Tennessee State H.O.G. Rally, the smallest city to ever have the honor.
“We have truly found a niche in motorcycle tourism,” said Molly Brown, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Cookeville Chamber. “Our community and region truly welcome riders. We have made Harley-Davidson history by being not only the smallest city to host, but also the first city in Tennessee to be awarded hosting privileges for the rally for consecutive years.”
The state H.O.G. Rally returns to Cookeville May 27-31 and the city will also be the host in 2015 and, on May 19, the Run for the Wall will stop in Cookeville. This is a veterans motorcycle event that travels from Los Angeles to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
“Our goal is to not only bring motorcycle tourism to Cookeville, but for the Highlands and Upper Cumberland region to benefit as a whole. Our area has some of the most beautiful and scenic views, outstanding winding roads and the hospitality is top notch.”
With points of interest noted on each trail, they also make for great driving tours of the region for those who don’t travel on two wheels.
The rides are currently being revised, and Brown said a new brochure will be prepared, though the initial offering has proven to be very popular. The brochure has QR codes riders can scan with their smartphones. The rides feature such interesting names as “The Boilermaker,” “Center Hill Thrill” and “Ride Back in Time,” and they twist and turn throughout the Upper Cumberland region, through numerous state parks and to hidden gems along the way. The routes vary in length, from 67 miles for “Calfkiller Loop” to more than 184 miles on “That Dam Ride.” The mileage assumes a start and finish at the Highlands Visitor Center in Cookeville and use the Harley-Davidson ride planner for GPS coordinates and directions to each destination.
Of course, a planned trip can be great, but sometimes it’s fun to just explore.
“We’ll pick a direction and when we get to a red light and ask, ‘Left or right?’ If you don’t know what’s to the left, you go that way,” Dean said. “Half the fun is the journey to get there.”
And part of the journey is food. Many of these small communities offer unique eateries that become favorite stopping places for riders out for a weekend trip.
Dean has had a motorcycle license for about 20 years, though he gave up riding for many years. When gas prices spiked several years ago, he bought a small street bike to use around town to save money. It was not a bike comfortable for long rides, Dean noted, recalling the pain and stiffness in his knees and back after a 120-mile ride one weekend.
That’s when he started looking at Harley-Davidson. Today, he and his wife, Sarah, enjoy riding with his Masonic riding organization, Widow Sons, and other friends, exploring the many roads around Crossville and through the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond, and checking out the many spots of interest along the way.
Motorists are urged to be aware of motorcycles, which may not be as easy to spot as cars. Remember to “Look twice, save a life.” Those new to motorcycles can take courses to familiarize them with the laws, riding techniques and safety before attempting the Tennessee Department of Transportation motorcycle license test.
Then, it’s time to hit the open road. Learn more about the Carve the Cumberland at mustseecookeville.com/entertainment.php.