Motorcycle Touring - South East

Riding North Georgia's Viper

If you like 117 miles of wide, sweeping curves on well-maintained asphalt, followed by tight, tortured, hairpin curves with elevation changes, then this ride is for you.

Start your trip in rural north Georgia, in downtown Helen. Jump on Highway 17, across the river, and head north out of town. At Mile 1.4, turn left on SR 75, ride to Mile 9.5 and turn right on U.S. 129/SR 11. At 16.5 miles, you'll pass Turner's Corner Cafe, a 1928 vintage restaurant and popular motorcycle gathering place. Once operated as a gas station and rural country store, Turner's no longer pumps fuel or sells grocery items. It's still a favorite meeting place for the local motorcyclists, however, and the food is quite good. You can sit inside or outside on the balcony overlooking the Chestatee River. Try any of the homemade pies (pronounced "paaahz") for dessert.

As you leave Turner's Corner, continue north on U.S. 19/129 up Blood Mountain.

Local folklore has it that the mountain got its name after a great battle between the Cherokee and Creek nations-so many braves were killed that their blood ran down the mountain, turning it red. This seems to be a truly war-torn area, as violent names were also given to nearby Slaughter Creek and Slaughter Gap. To the Cherokee, Blood Mountain was sacred because it was the home of the Nunnehi, the spirit people who watched over hunters and hikers.

On my last trip in this area, the Nunnehi must have been watching over me. I was enjoying a spirited ride up SR 129 in the mid-morning hours; traffic was light and I had become one with my motorcycle, leaning into the curves and using both northbound lanes to carve the road as I never had before. I was feeling quite good when something unusual caught my eye and I immediately slowed down to see what it was. As I rounded the next curve at half speed, I rode headlong into a patch of sand covered with diesel fuel. I knew it was diesel by the smell. I stayed upright, but couldn't believe my dumb luck-there's no doubt I would've gone down had I not slowed to see what the source of my initial distraction was (I never did find out).

At Mile 27.1, you'll turn left onto SR 180, also known as Wolf Pen Gap Road. I remember "discovering" Wolf Pen Gap Road quite by accident a few years ago. I was scouting a route for a poker run, came upon this road, and decided to see where it would lead me. When I arrived at SR 60 almost 12 miles later I'm sure I shouted something like "YES!"

I'd ridden Deals Gap (The Dragon) in North Carolina and immediately decided that my new find was worthy of being named "The Viper." There are two man-made lakes, constructed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) on this stretch of premium motorcycle blacktop. At Mile 27.5 is the entrance to Vogel State Park and Lake Trahlyta (www.ngeorgia.com/parks/vogel.html). This 20-acre lake was named for the Cherokee maiden who's buried at Stonepile Gap, at the intersection of U.S. 19 and SR 60. At Mile 33.7, you'll also pass the entrance to Lake Winfield Scott (www. georgia trails.com/places/winfieldscott.html), the highest lake in Georgia.

At Mile 38, CR 180 dead-ends at SR 60 in the town of Suches. Just south of this intersection is the well-known motorcycle destination, TWO (Two Wheels Only) Motorcycle Resort. Operated by GT and Britt Turner, TWO offers camping, a four-bedroom lodge and a fully furnished two-bedroom mobile home. They also boast of having the only Wi-Fi Internet connection for miles around. Closed during the winter months, TWO usually opens around the end of March for the riding season. If you're coming to TWO, heed their firm policy that states all guests must either be riding a motorcycle or towing one. If you're hungry, ask about the Big Ass Sirloin Burger. Lunch is available on Saturday and Sunday, dinner on Friday and Saturday, and you can check their Web site (www.twowheelsonly.com) for other info. If you're there in the fall, try to time your visit for the 50cc rally in October, called the True Grits Fun Run. This event raises money for the local volunteer fire department. Watching grown men and women almost speeding for 60 miles around the North Georgia mountains is worth the trip.

When you leave TWO, head north on SR 60 toward the town of Mineral Bluff. Stay on 60 through a couple of turns until you reach U.S. 76/SR 2/515 and turn right. At Mile 87, you'll turn right onto U.S. 129/SR 11, and at Mile 92, you'll pass Pappy's Trading Post, an eclectic blend of businesses with a certain feel of roadside kitsch. The parking lot is gravel and sometimes soft, as the proprietor of Pappy's informed me one fine day. "The EPA won't let us pave the lot because of the river that runs directly behind the lot, so all we can do is keep putting gravel in every year. I estimate we now have about 20 feet of compacted gravel beneath your motorcycle, but every year the clay rises to the top and we have to add more." If you're uncomfortable on gravel you can park at the south entrance on the asphalt there and walk. At one time, Pappy, a retired firefighter from Florida, owned all the buildings at the Trading Post, but as he approached retirement, he began to sell off parts of the complex. Now almost each business is individually owned. There's a restaurant on site, but in the winter, the Trading Post keeps a fire burning in the outside fireplace, and the homemade cider mull is a welcome warm refreshment while you sit on the back porch and watch the Nottely River flowing by.

Return to U.S. 129 and head south to Mile 94.5, where you'll turn left on SR 180. At Mile 107 turn right on SR 75/17 and enjoy the last few miles of this journey on the twisty section of the Unicoi Turnpike. It's a nice ending to a ride you won't soon forget.