Riding a loop from Erwin, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina
I like starting my southern excursions in Erwin, Tennessee. From here there are several roads to choose from. You can head toward any of the compass points and find yourself on secondary roads that will thrill you. I’m about to send you on a trip that will do just that. It’s a grouping of roads giving you mountains, cities, valleys and so much more! Climb on board: it’s God’s country around her. Even if you’re atheist; you’ll have to admit something big has happened here in the Appalachian Mountains.
Here is the route I ended up taking. Please keep in mind; I don’t ride with maps or GPS on these types of exploratory outings. I wing my way around the countryside working off memory and wander-lust. It’s a most gratifying way to travel. It leaves you with doubts and worries, but not of the everyday cares of your work-a-day world. This is the cool worry things like: are ya going to make it to the next fuel stop. Or how about realizing the pavement ends and becomes gravel, but how far do ya have to ride that? Will the road become soft? Will it dead end? Will the pavement return? Or how about those washed out bridges and new detours? Yes, this is a wonderful way to ride and explore the region! I can’t get enough of it.
Leaving Erwin on US-23 South, I cross over to the west side of I-26 where I flow easily into Tennessee on SR-352. This road runs a south-westerly direction through little rural areas such as Rocky Fork Tennessee. Eventually we will cross over the North Carolina state line, where the road becomes known as North Carolina SR-212. The road becomes very hilly here, with big sweepers and curves as you roll down the hillsides of Tennessee’s mountains. The terrain becomes less rocky and a smidgen flatter. Farms are starting to dot the view. You have to remember; these are not your flatlander farms. These farms are slivers of land, plowed and no wider than a football field, but generally about a ¼ mile long or shorter. You’ll also be riding through National Lands, The Pisgah National Forest lies here. When you get to Belva, North Carolina, SR212 ends. You’ll be picking up SR-208 South into Hurricane, North Carolina. and once more the road will morph into something else, you want to be on US 25/70 South now since we are heading into Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall serves the mountain community and provides needed stores such as hardware and grocery, county services, neighbors in need, holiday events, and the home offices for the county libraries.
Instead of going into the town of Marshall, turn right after the Citgo Station and get yourself on SR-251 South. The locals call it River Road. It runs next to the French Broad River for many miles. This river is full of rock shelves causing whitewater rapids. It’s great for the camera, so why didn’t I take any pictures of this? I guess I thought I had too many pictures of water? Who knows? There are several county parks along the road to stop at, one has restroom facilities. They have real nice facilities. You’ll know it when you see the park. It has picnic tables and a walking trail. You’ll find this a good place to pull over and relieve your cramping muscles. Stretch your legs or empty the bladder. It’s a good rest stop for this leg of the journey. All along this route, you will find abandoned homes, businesses and great photo opportunities for wild life and river life. This is a wonderful river route to follow!
At the end of River Road, you will find yourself in Woodfin. It’s a suburb of Asheville, North Carolina. You’ll have to take US-70 south to I-40 east exit. It’s also US-70 exit. Staying on US 70 until you see the Blue Ridge Highway exit. Get off 70 and get on the Blue Ridge. If you’ve never been on the Blue Ridge, you’ll enjoy the fact you’re on a great scenic road running along the ridge lines of the Appalachian Mountains. If you have been here before, it’s the same old thing, over and over again. I want to get off as soon as I come across a road that appears promising. It wasn’t long before I came across an exit marked for Ox Creek Road. Promising name, the signage also promised a landmark area known as “Vance Birth Place”. I didn’t know who Vance was, but what the heck. Let’s learn some history. Ox Creek Road is a nice little road snaking up hill for about five miles before you connect (T) with Rheems Creek Road. More hilly roads leading north. It’s here you will find Vance Birth Place. Turns out Vance was an early Governor of North Carolina. I didn’t do anything more than make a circle in the parking lot and leave. The grounds appeared beautiful, with a large covered picnic area. Up the little rise a bit is a log cabin with a few out-buildings surrounding it. It all appeared too contrived, been there, done that. I wanted to continue to ride. But it’s a really nice place for a respite. The information building has bathrooms and cold soda. You can stop here for a soaking of NC history, a bathroom break, and a cold drink.
Rolling north, still on Rheems Creek Road, you’ll come finally to the town of Beech. Its here I see SR-197. I know of this road. I’ve been on it a couple of weeks ago a bit further north. It’s a great curvy, scenic ride as you cross into North Carolina from Tennessee. I figured it would be just as good south of US-19E. It was too…with a bit of a twist. There was the usual signage warning truckers to find another route due to hairpin turns. Wait! There’s more to the warning! This road has sections of steep gravel grades! HUH? OK, I figure it won’t last long, I can do this as long as this as long as the road isn’t “soft”. I ride this road for about five miles, no gravel. I’m thinking the sign was wrong. That’s what I get for thinking. I come on the warning sign for gravel road. Sheesh, ok here we go! It’s not that bad, it starts out hard pan graded road. I can do this easy. Then here come the washboard, damn, I should have pee’d back in Beech. Now I’m on a road with washboard ripples, my kidneys are ready to burst. So what do ya do? Quit yer whining and keep on riding.
After about a mile, I pull off the road. There is a car behind me, and I can tell she wants to get around me. She stops, rolls down her window and tells me I only have about two miles left off the gravel. I smile and thank her. I’m sitting at 66 miles on the odometer, and I’m starting to fret about gas stations. Although, with slow speed, I know I will get about 100 miles on the tank; without a gauge, YOU NEVER KNOW! I smile and thank her for the information. I allow her to get a bit ahead of me. She’s leaving a dust trail behind her and I’m not willing to choke for no one on this ride. I travel about a 1/8 mile when I come across this waterfall. Yeah, this is what it’s all about for me!
After almost three miles of gravel road (with sections of huge rock the size of a child’s fist,) I finally arrive at a tarmac. It’s at the top of the mountain, and I’m heading down mountain! I soon realize this part of the road is like looking at how a bootlace winds it’s way up the eyelets. This road is a serpentine road. You can look down over the edge of the road and see it wind it’s way down the mountain side: right angle turn, left angle turn a hundred feet later, “Twist and Shout“, Chubby Checker was singing about this road! What a fun ride so far! Great scenery, wonderful skills testing from the road! Great people met along the way! Now this! About six miles of serpentine roads. At the bottom of the mountain is a little general store and a derelict building.
Still heading north on SR 197 I found an old barn/antique store/derelict abandoned building. I am so pleased for the photo shots at this barn! For the photography end of this trip, well this made up for all the rest I had either missed or passed up due to no shoulder to pull off on. There was so much more to the ride, but I’m leaving ya here. Be sure to follow SR 197 to SR 226, where it will later turn into Tennessee 107 into Erwin and Johnson City TN.
By Marilyn Elmore Bragg