The fifth day of my cross-country adventure was probably the best for a few reasons. First, I was having a blast riding through the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Second, I had a general idea where I wanted to go but I didn’t really have a plan to get there so I just went in whatever direction I thought would work. Third, it wasn’t too hot and the riding weather was perfect.
After a good night’s sleep at Lake Cumberland State Park I packed up and started heading east on Kentucky State Road 80 which I used to work my way to Highway 25E. Kentucky State Road 80 was a pleasant road and is a main east-west route in southern Kentucky, it also had quite a few amenities in the Russell Springs and Somerset areas. This was kind of nice since the day before I made the rash decision to stretch the KLR’s range a little more then I wanted. After about an hour and a half I made it towards Highway 25E just east of I-25. Highway 25E was a little bit busier than I expected especially near the interstate however once I got away from its things settled down and it was a very nice road to ride on. When I was planning the days ride the night before I made the decision to stop at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. I figured at this point I should continue to take advantage of the trip and check out places that I haven’t seen before.
To me Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is very underrated in the National Park System and seemed like it was one of the least visited. The park was right off of 25E and it had a nice visitors center which was a great place to refill my Camelbak and pick up a snack. The visitors center had several exhibits explaining the history of Cumberland Gap as well some of the animals that also called the area home. One of the things that I enjoyed about the visitor’s center was how they had several cannons from the Civil War and an exhibit on why the area was so important during the conflict. Another great feature of the park was riding up a narrow road to an overlook where you could look at Cumberland Gap as well as the topography of the Appalachian Mountains that the gap crossed. As I was wrapping up an older gentleman came by and checked out the KLR and told me about some of his past adventures in this area when he was younger and how he used to ride a Suzuki DR650. He asked me where I was planning on spending the night and I told him that I really had no idea. After this he suggested Hot Springs, North Carolina and continued to tell me that it was a small mountain town on the Appalachian Trail and how it catered to hikers, rafters, and mountain bikers. He had previously ridden through that area numerous times and said it was perfect for a dual sport or adventure bike. At this point in the day I figured why not and thanked him for his recommendation and headed off towards Hot Springs.
I continued riding on 25E and got to ride under Cumberland Gap in the tunnel that the National Park service had built in the mid 1990’s. The tunnel was kind of neat and it was a lot longer than I expected but overall, it was something different to experience on the trip. Once I crossed into Tennessee, 25E passed through some rural areas and crossed quite few lakes and rivers on the way. As nice as the scenery was it was kind of dull ride and the traffic had increased quite a bit outside Morristown. Most of the traffic was heading towards the tourist havens of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. Initially, I wanted to head towards those areas and try to ride the famous Route 129 to Deals Gap. Route 129 is known all around the world as “the tail of the dragon” and has 318 curves over the course of 11 miles. However, this area is usually packed with traffic and at this point I was flying by the seat of my pants when it came to finding accommodations for the night. While I didn’t get to ride Route 129, I did get to ride 25-70 along the French Broad River. For roughly 25 miles this road followed the course of the river and had plenty of winding curves as it ran through a narrow valley. It eventually broke away from the river for the last few miles as it crossed into North Carolina and shortly after that my destination of Hot Springs.
The recommendation to stop at Hot Springs was a great one and one that I will gladly pass along to others. This quiet little town is a major stop on the Appalachian Trail which literally runs right through the middle of it. The town was named for mineral hot springs that were in the area in 1788, over the years the area was seen as a mountain getaway and several luxurious hotels were later built. Today, only one of the original hotels remain however the town has slowly transformed from a mountain getaway to an outdoors paradise. Hot Springs is now home to several operations for white water rafting, fly fishing, and mountain biking. Since this was the second to last day of my trip, I decided to stay the night at a hotel instead of roughing it in the tent. I ended up staying at the Iron Horse Station, an old train station that had been restored into a restaurant and inn. The nightly rate was very affordable and the inn keeper made sure that I had everything I needed and assured me that no one would steal the KLR during the night. I ended up having dinner across the street at the Spring Creek Tavern and then settled for in for the night. It was nice to have a warm shower and bed before embarking on the final day of my cross country trip.