Boaterz ‘n Bikerz of America Unleash the Dragon’s Roar
Boaterz ‘n Bikerz of America Unleash the Dragon’s Roar
By Wanda Kenton Smith
In May, a group of 36 boating industry execs and friends gathered from eight states in the Great Smoky Mountains to celebrate our love of boating and motorcycling as part of the fifth annual Hull of a Tour series, with this year’s theme aptly dubbed the “Dragon’s Roar.”
The week-long adventure followed four previous national events including the original Hull of a Tour, a 3,000-mile cross-country ride from Florida to California; the Freedom Ride, from Florida to Washington DC including participation in Rolling Thunder; Pacific Coast Rush, from Seattle to San Francisco; and The Lobster Roll, featuring four New England states.
The unique aspect of our tour is we combine a taste of boating infused with a steroid injection of motorcycling to whet the appetite and unleash the spirit of our riders. Besides experiencing some of the best roads in the nation, we’ve enjoyed chartered harbor cruises in San Francisco and Newport, RI, toured regional hotspots in sexy sport boats, taken a sunset toast aboard a 90’ houseboat in TX, and watched a command performance of the Blue Angels aboard a fleet of Freedom Boat Club powerboats in Annapolis, among others.
BRIEF TOUR BACKGROUNDER
My partner in the Hull of a Tour series is Jim Krueger, a former boating industry sales and marketing exec who retired earlier this year after a stellar career. He took me for a casual spin on his Harley a dozen years ago and changed my life forever. I took the classes, bought my first bike and was raring to ride across America. I pestered Jim until he finally gave in and planned the route. We invited a few boating friends to come aboard. The success and industry buzz grew, as did the interest, demand, and participation.
Jim serves as route planning guru and road captain, while I handle event marketing, PR and sponsorships. While it’s always a lot of work, it’s been nothing short of a labor of love to produce each Hull of Tour.
IRON HORSE HEADQUARTERS
Unlike previous tours that required advance booking of overnight stops, we did something different this year. We chose to headquarter our crew at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge & Resort in Robbinsville, NC, which caters exclusively to the biker community. From this hub, we launched day trips into three states. Based on my experience as a meeting planner and from the feedback from tour attendees, this decision was a winner!
The Iron Horse offered a mix of private cabins, motel rooms, RV and tent camping plus a bunkhouse, all spread out on a spacious, private compound. The accommodations were clean, comfortable and perfectly suited our group needs.
One of the best features is the lodge itself which houses a fun game room with card and pool tables; a private movie room (we hosted a movie night complete with popcorn and watched Wild Hogs); group meeting space; a large dining room with big screen TV; plus a great outdoor firepit situated adjacent to Stecoah Creek which runs through the property. The opportunity to relax around the roaring campfire was a big hit!
The lodge also offers optional meal service; the food was priced right and tasty. In addition, I booked three private catered parties through Iron Horse that were awesome. The opening night feast sponsored by Evinrude/BRP featured traditional North Carolina barbeque with all the trimmings; the family-style dining night with Southern fixings was held at neighboring Wolf Creek Café right down the road; and a grand finale steak cookout sponsored by Sea Tow featured mouth-watering, aged rib-eyes that dwarfed the plates. Food & Beverage Manager Blake Orr and his service crew are rock stars!
In fact, kudos to the new ownership and management at the Iron Horse. The team was top notch and responsive to our needs.
THE DRAGON’S ROAR
Enough about the background, awesome venue and the staff. We all came for one primary purpose and that was to get our fix and fill of adventure; we came to ride!
While this year’s tour was the shortest in our series – five full days of riding – it was action-packed. Jim spent months researching boundless options as there are dozens of spectacular roads in the region.
Day One – North Carolina
Our first day was designed to get our sea legs beneath us. The warm-up featured an easy mountain run in prep for more challenging twists and turns ahead.
We rode North Carolina through the quaint towns of Topton, the famous Wayah Road, Franklin, Highland, Cashiers, Sylva and Robbinsville. We throttled beneath dappled, canopied trees and tight winding roads all along the scenic Nantahala Forest, enjoying a refreshing breath of coolness from the adjacent Ocoee River. We hiked down to Dry Falls, located three miles north of the Highlands, and discovered the majestic waterfall you can walk under that cascades over a cliff. We wrapped up the ride along the storied State Road 107.
Day Two – Georgia Dragon
We set out to conquer the first of two dragons: the Georgia Dragon is also known as the Suches Loop. Our 236-mile round trip rendezvous took us from base camp along Highway 190 through Topton, Andrews, Marble and Murphy, NC to Blairsville, GA and the legendary Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. We rode 14 miles along SR 348 through the Chattahoochee National Forest, climbing to its top elevation of 3644 feet. We cruised alongside lush greenery, catching occasional glimpses of the Nottely River. We experienced 50 miles of exhilarating twists and fast turns all along Blood Mountain, coupled with steep elevation changes. Yeah, baby … seven sweet hours of riding nirvana!
Day Three – Tail of the Dragon & Tennessee
We specifically planned to ride the infamous Tail of the Dragon mid-week to minimize traffic; it was a smart move as we virtually owned the mountain! More than 30 riders from our group from as far away as Illinois and Wisconsin climbed on their trusty steeds — including Harleys, BMWs, Yamahas, Hondas and a Can-Am — to take care of business. Among the group were five designated “dragon virgins” who came prepared to slay the beast.
We stopped first to grab souvenir trinkets and to take obligatory photos in front of the tree of shame and metallic dragon art. After a series of high fives, riders set out one by one to face the Dragon in all its glory … 11 winding miles with 318 thrilling curves and switchbacks. All rose to the occasion!
Our dragon slayer victory celebration included a robust buffet luncheon at Calhoun’s Restaurant on the waterfront in Lenoir City, TN, hosted by our boating sponsor, Malibu Boats. To get there, we cruised 1.5 hours along the lazy Tennessee River on Highway 72, and then shot up to 95 and 321amid gentle hills and cow pastures, quite a stark departure from the morning’s heart-pumping terrain.
Following lunch, our group boarded several top-of-the-line Malibu models including the Wakesetter 24 MXZ and experienced the best wake surfing this side of Hawaii! Malibu provided a top-notch instructor and surfer to show us how it’s done. Several adrenaline junkies took on new thrills … and we saw plenty of spills! Offshore boat owner and avid Poker Runner Jim Archambault of Georgia emerged the kingpin; he took home bragging rights for the best – and only – successful wake surf of the day!
After cruising Lake Tellico a few hours, it was time to pack up and hit the highway. We cruised through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, along the spectacular Cherahola Highway (my fave!). Here we reached the stunning 5400-foot summit while breathing in the beauty of seemingly endless vistas and fresh mountain air.
Day 4 – Maggie Valley & Wheels Through Time Museum
We rode over and spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, dubbed “the museum that runs,” since 99 percent of the exhibits are in running condition.
I’ve biked and vacationed in this area previously but never carved out time to visit. So glad we did! Our group was treated to a vast collection of fabulous eye candy including more than 320 vintage through modern American motorcycles and automobile. All the exhibits were bona-fide museum-quality and each told amazing stories of the machines and the people who built and rode them. Founder Dale Walksler has created a truly stunning collection and one that is well worth your time.
Following the tour and lunch, we took our time and lazily ambled through Cherokee and the surrounding mountains.
Day 5 – Clingman’s Dome
Our final ride was slated to run through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Clingman’s Dome and then on to Gatlinburg and back. However, the weather forecast was iffy so we settled for an early ride to Clingman’s Dome. It was fantastic!
We shot up 19 and 441 to the intersection of North Carolina and Tennessee, then challenged seven curvy miles on Clingman’s Dome Road. We parked and set out on foot to hike to the summit, huffing and puffing all the way, straight up a very steep, half-mile trail.
Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower is perched at the highest peak of the Smokies at a lofty elevation of 6,643 feet. It is the highest point in the state of Tennessee, the third highest in Eastern North America and the pinnacle of the Appalachian Trail. At the observation deck, we were able to view 100 miles in some spots, while in others, we were literally blanketed in clouds. It was awesome!
Our last hurrah home was a joyful mix of easy sweeps coupled with a few tantalizing twists and turns. It was the perfect way to wrap a fantastic week.
SPECIAL THANKS & RECOGNITION
Hull of a Tour 5 is now in the history books, but once again, it brought together a group of passionate people who love their bikes, boats and epic adventures in the great outdoors. Old friendships were renewed, new friendships were made, and memories were created on the open roads and waterways that will never be forgotten,
Special thanks to our tour sponsors who allowed us to thoroughly live life to its fullest for five fun-filled days. Perhaps the Sea Tow custom tour banner best captured the spirit of our tour: “On a Bike or on a Boat, No One Ever Asks, ‘Are We There Yet?’ Enjoy the Ride!”
Hull of a Tour 5 was powered by Title Sponsor Evinrude/BRP; additional sponsors included Sea Tow; Malibu Boats; Emerald Coast Marine Group; Boogey Lights; Jim Krueger Photography; Kenton Smith Marketing; and this year, we were especially pleased to welcome aboard Born To Ride magazine!
Wanda Kenton Smith loves nothing more than to ride “Purplicious,” her Harley Davidson CVO Fat Boy. She is co-founder and event producer of Boaterz and Bikerz of America Hull of a Tour; owns Kenton Smith Marketing; is president of Marine Marketers of America and writes the national marketing column for Soundings Trade Only. Info: www.kentonsmithmarketing.com
Best Hull of a Tour Grub Stops
With a group our size, we always plan lunch and dinner in advance to ensure we can keep things rolling without lengthy delays. We search to find cool dives, great vibes and really great grub.
Since we’re always looking for recommendations, we thought we’d share our fave food stops with Born to Ride readers!
Downtown Mountain Fresh Grocery and Deli; fresh food and plenty to choose from!
BRYSON CITY, NC
The Everett Hotel & Bistro – amazing downtown boutique hotel housed in a former bank with vault. Bistro features an on-site chef with an inspired menu featuring award-worthy seasonal cuisine that changes daily. BEST meal of the tour here!
Tapoco Lodge Resort on the banks of the magnificent Cheoah River; awesome location with plenty of menu items to choose from. FAVORITE venue for a sunset toast!
Wolf Creek General Store & Cafe offered outstanding Southern-style comfort foods with plenty to go around! BEST family fixings!
Iron Horse Motor Lodge & Resort offers breakfast and dinner by advance reservation only. Awesome catering available,
MAGGIE VALLEY, NC
Guayabitos Mexican Restaurant authentic cuisine, great service!
The Soda Fountain Café – exactly the tasty fare you’d expect at a classic soda fountain!
LENOIR CITY, TN
Calhoun’s on the Water – Great daily buffets and a perfect waterfront perch to view Tellico Lake and Dam.