The Most Challenging Motorcycle Ride Found? A day with the map guy.

I am either;

  1. Getting too old and out of shape
  2. Coming down with the flu
  3. Rode harder than I have in a long time

It’s probably a combination of the first point and the last. I awoke last night sore from the chest down due to throwing my bike around all day in my never ending quest to discover the best motorcycle rides in the Smoky Mountains. It was not planned to be such a day but it turned out to be quite an adventure.

I set out around 8AM for Shady Valley, Tennessee, home of “the Snake” motorcycle ride to make a delivery of motorcycle maps to the Shady Valley Country Store. Plan was to ride up, enjoy the Snake, make the delivery, then check out half a dozen roads nearby in hopes to add some to my motorcycle pocket maps. I knew one would just be a connector route. I didn’t have high hopes for many of the others, though a couple held promise.

It was beautiful and cool up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning. Skies were clear and bright. Even the half hour on Interstate 40 to Asheville was pleasant. There’s little traffic before 10AM once you leave the highway and I pretty much had the road to myself. I watched hopefully for bears north of the city, then enjoyed the run up the wonderful new sections of pavement to pass Mt. Mitchell. Looks like they’ve pretty much wrapped that job up. Saw one grouse, a few hawks, but no bruins.

Photo - on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Clear, cool, breezy morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Altapass.

I stopped to tweet my first photo at an overlook where I could count on cell phone reception. Though hurricane Earl was approaching the coast, here in the mountains no impact was expected. Even so it was noticeably breezy.

I hit one brief delay for tree work, and another for guardrail replacement. I surprised a flock of turkeys as I came near Little Switzerland. Passing Linville, I left the Blue Ridge Parkway at Roseborugh Road, one of those handy unmarked crossroads that descends through a series of tight turns to NC 105 at Grandfather Mountain. NC 105 took me north through the congestion of Banner Elk. Broadstone Road led me west of Boone to Valle Crucis. NC 194 led to US 421 which I followed through Mountain City and into Tennessee to reach Shady Valley.

A brief pit stop turned into a decent delay as I took time to chat with several riders, mostly locals, and return phone calls when the intermittent cell reception cooperated. I figured it would take a couple hours to see the roads I wanted, then I’d zip back home as I came.

Photo - Shady Valley Country Store

The sun was still shining at the Shady Valley Country Store though the winds were getting gusty. Things would change as the afternoon wore on.

The first few roads proved less than expected. They were a decent ride for a cruiser maybe, though it was not type of rural scenery that makes a road interesting. I explored another after a couple bikes passed in the opposite direction to find it intersected the fourth road at an unknown point. Still nothing special. I turned to backtrack on the fourth road so I would be sure to ride it end to end and was thrilled to find the short leg wonderful. Nice sweeping turns through pretty countryside. Hopeful, I spun about at the intersection with 197 and headed back. The remainder disappointed. Too much straight and only mildly interesting. It was worth adding to the map but not recommending highly. The natural flow dictated I bypass the next on the list meaning another backtrack to explore the better alternative.

The last of the most promising roads was accessed from US 321 near Watauga Lake. It was tight, it was twisty, but it didn’t appeal. It was then that serendipity  struck. Rather than continue on my planned path, instinct told me to detour onto another road. I followed it through turn after turn after turn and it went on and on and on. All the while I expected it would peter out  into a goat trail but it just kept going without letting up. Mile after mile on narrow, sometimes poor, blacktop it climbed through the mountains finally dumping me out at Banner Elk Highway. I pulled into an abandoned gas station to take my notes and decide how to describe it.

I kept asking myself, “But was it fun?” There was no doubt it was challenging, very challenging. It kept you on the edge the whole time. It never let up. I ride the Dragon routinely and this road is much more difficult and sustained. I’d come up on some traffic and had to simply ride behind it, no room to pass, so I didn’t feel I could give it an accurate evaluation. Nor was I sure what lay at the other end. Only choice was to ride it back and see where it came out.

As I turned about my heart sank. A school bus turned onto the road ahead of me. While it looked empty, this would still be an exercise in pain as it could only crawl through the narrow serpentine climb ahead. What a relief when it pulled off within a few hundred feet. It wasn’t long before I had my answer. This road WAS fun.

Unimpeded I rode it enthusiastically back as I’d come. A few miles in I remember thinking, “If you get out of second gear on this road, look down – you’re riding a moped”. I reached the point where I’d first turned on to it and continued past. The road name changed, but its character did not. I continued mile after mile carving through the exquisitely tight turns, dodging gravel patches, potholes, and debris now falling on the road from the increasing wind. I was so happy when US 321 appeared at the margin of the screen on the GPS. I’d found a new way to link a couple major roads. Awesome.

That ride was worth the trip. I stopped and entered the notes in my Blackberry. From there I turned onto US 321 to head on to check out the last couple roads. The weather was deteriorating. Skies dark, winds gusting, it didn’t bother me a bit. Shortly, I came up on another biker who suddenly veered off on another road back in the area where I’d just been riding. I circled back out of curiosity to see what business this cruiser guy had in such a rugged area. The road he chose was a superb cruiser road and I caught up to him just as he pulled into his yard at the junction with the first great road. Bonus! Instinct paid off again.

I returned to US 321 via the cruiser road to make time. It was getting late and the weather would soon add more to the challenge of these tight roads. After a short ride on US 321, I started down the last of them which turned out to be a disappointment. A few miles in I spied a road connecting to it I felt needed exploring and eventually found a better approach though I did waste a good bit of time on dead ends and gravel lanes. Plan was to take this road a few miles, then turn onto another to make my way back towards Mountain City. As I approached the turn, instinct took over again and I purposefully rode past it.

The GPS showed the road I was on getting tighter and twistier and it was climbing higher into the mountains. Thats usually a pretty good indication it’s going to deteriorate to nothing once it nears the top and the road grew narrower and more challenging as it went on. I considered just giving up on it, but something made me go on. The smell of fresh rain on a dry road filled the air and I started hitting dark patches of pavement. I was really questioning myself when I emerged  atop a pass with a rugged valley stretched below and signs warning of a steep descent and switchbacks appeared. It would have been beautiful in nicer weather, but the dark and angry clouds only hastened my urgency to continue on, dreading the thought of having to retrace my steps.

I’ve ridden a lot of miles in the mountains yet never seen switchbacks as tight as these. I plunged down through the valley wondering where I’d end up, hoping I’d find some landmark to steer me back to something familiar. When the road ended, I looked at the sign ahead to see I was on the road I’d meant to explore next. Another great ride found, and I was ready to wrap things up after this last road.

It was longer then I thought and I reached US 421 south of Mountain City. It was now 5 PM. Rain was coming down in sheets. I turned south towards Boone. The Friday evening traffic before the holiday weekend crawled and stalled in the rain. I dreaded the idea of going into Boone and  veered off on 194 to bypass it. More traffic. I stopped near Banner Elk to top off the tank and called home to let my wife know I wouldn’t be there for dinner. We discussed the weather, the traffic, and decided I’d prefer the exposure to the elements on the Blue Ridge Parkway over the hazards of this crazy traffic. It was the right choice. The rain let up once I got up high.

I coursed through the mountains in the twilight relatively unimpeded. It got cold but I made good time. Reaching Asheville, I merged into the traffic jam that clogged Interstate 40 all the way home. Arriving in my driveway as darkness fell, I’d had a successful day. I’d discovered some great roads. I had reason to go back with hopes of more. I had money in my pocket. Sometimes, a cartographers life is to be envied. I wish I had more photos, but I got swept up in the riding. Maybe next time.

America Rides Maps – from north Georgia to north Virginia, the best motorcycle rides


Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer


– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here –



Motorcycle Friendly – Shady Valley Country Store and My Video of The Snake

Photo - The Tower at the Shady Valley Country Store

If you miss the tower at the Shady Valley Country Store you've been riding way too long. Time to stop for a rest.

I passed through Shady Valley, Tennessee on my motorcycle earlier this week and finally took the time to stop in at the The Shady Valley Country Store , see the place, and meet Kimberly and David Dail.

Photo- Shady Valley Country Store

Just look for all the motorcycles at the Shady Valley Country Store. Everyone stops here, it's the best place for miles and miles.

Don’t worry about having difficulty finding the Shady Valley Country Store while you’re out motorcycle touring. If you miss the tower in the parking lot at the crossroads of US 421, TN 133, and TN 91, your probably fixin’ to die in some horrible accident, you’ve been out in the sun too long.

Photo - Snake Burger

Three bites wide and thick as your thumb, a Snake Burger will satisfy. It was really good.

Come inside the spacious building, find a table, and get Kimberly or Dave to fix you up with something to cool your brain. While you’re at it, try a Snake Burger. They’re huge, they’re good, or you might want to try a heaping fried bologna sandwich instead. David’s not stingy when it comes to portions, you get your monies worth.

Photo - Inside view of the Shady Valley Country Store

Plenty of room, lots of tables, good food, a great place to either cool off or warm up inside the Shady Valley Country Store.

I filled the tank with Snake Venom at the pump outside, then headed back to finish my motorcycle ride home. I shot a little video of the section of US 421 between Mountain City and The Shady Valley Country Store to give you a taste of the kind of motorcycle riding you’ll experience on The Snake. There are some better videos at the store as well as T-shirts and other Snake charms to help you remember your visit.

While I was there I got an education on The Snake and learned it encompasses more roads than I’d thought. I’m amending the maps now and new versions will be available at The Shady Valley Country Store. There’s some great motorcycle riding found here and The Shady Valley Country Store sits at the crossroads of it. Add it to your list of places to visit and ride on your motorcycle vacation. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, exit at Boone and follow US 421 north.

Photo - Kimberly and David Dial at the Shady Valley Country Store

Kimberly and David are friendly and will insure you get what you need. Come see them.

The Shady Valley Country Store


Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer


– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here –



Motorcycle Friendly – The Shady Valley Country Store at The Snake

There’s a reason my wife rarely tags along with me while I’m out working from my motorcycle – I only stop for two things, one is fuel. The other can be remedied at any clump of shrubbery. Rarely do I ever stop to eat, drink, or grab photos. It’s all about covering the miles. Those creature comforts can wait until I retire for the evening when darkness makes any further progress futile. I think that’s about to change and one of the first places I’m going to visit is the Shady Valley Country Store the home of “The Snake”.

Photo - Shady Valley Country store

Shady Valley Country Store serves thousands of motorcycles weekly who come to ride "The Snake" and surrounding roads.

Located at the junction of NC 133, NC 91 and US 421 (a.k.a. “The Snake”), the Shady Valley Country Store is at the hub of some of the best motorcycle rides found in the Smoky Mountains where North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee meet. Serving thousands of motorcycles every week, it provides a convenient fuel stop with regular as well as premium “Snake Venom” for your thirsty motorcycle. I’m told the 1/2 lb. black angus burgers, the thick bologna sandwiches and great chili dogs will keep you going full speed as well.

Backbone Rock on TN/NC 133

Backbone Rock on TN/NC 133 not far from the Shady Valley Country Store

I’ve blasted past the Shady Valley Country Store enough times. Next time I’m up there I’m stopping in to check it out, maybe get me a T-shirt or some other Snake memorabilia. Expect to get a first hand report ASAP.

The Shady Valley Country Store


Scenic Motorcycle Rides – Backbone Rock, TN

photo - motorcycle cruises through Backbone RockI went back to Virginia this weekend to revisit and explore some of the sights I’d passed while mapping the area

I’m pretty much all business when mapping – I only stop for three things; gas, to take notes, and when “nature” forces me to do so. Eating is a luxury typically left for the evening to make the most of the time on the road. This trip was to go back and savor some of the gems I’d just blown by previously.

One of my favorite loop rides is found near the point where North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee meet, a 103 mile jaunt that takes you on some of the twistiest and most scenic roads. It’s listed on America Rides Map #4 – “Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock.

Heading south from Damascus, Virginia, on SR 133, you soon enter the National Forest in Tennessee and signs for Backbone Rock Park start appearing along the road. Round a curve and you find yourself zipping through the quick yet dramatic tunnel through Backbone Rock.

I stopped in to investigate.

The Empire Mining Company blasted through Backbone Rock in 1901 to lay train tracks for the Tennessee Lumber Company. Long gone, the rail bed became the roadbed which continues on towards Mountain City.

The ridge is about 75 feet high and 20 feet thick, though it narrows near the top. There is a steep trail from the parking area on the right just after you pass through the rock, though if you have any aversion to heights and walking near the edge of a cliff, you’ll never make it to the section of rock which straddles the road.

There are several hiking trails, picnic tables and campsites, a waterfall is about 0.4 miles on a foot trail. The area is popular for fishing and kayaking.


Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

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– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here –

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech

America Rides Map #4 – “Great Roads Near Boone, Banner Elk, and Blowing Rock