Big South Fork
We took another couple of days off after the hard working summer of 07. We were still clearing our heads from the Tennesee Highway Patrol fiasco of July, August and September. We decided to explore the Big South Fork area of Tennessee and Kentucy. We had been in the area a number of times, but never with our bikes. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we found some great and unusual places. It was just what we needed for a quick break. Of course our weapon of choice was once again the KLR 650s.
BIG SOUTH FORK – Day One
Nancy entered the Knoxville Track Club Big South Fork trail run for about the tenth time. This 17 mile “out in the woods” trail event is one of her favorite now that she has all but given up on the hard surface street races. She and five friends, all members of the unofficial Quick Chicks Running Club, usually make a weekend of this event by camping, running and then celebrating after the race. Nancy and I decided to combine a motorcycle trip along with the camping trip so I arrived late Saturday afternoon after the race and helped the girls celebrate around the campfire that night. They all stayed up later than I did !!
Sunday morning the Chicks were recovering as Nancy and I unloaded the bikes from the FunMover and prepared maps for the day’s ride. We didn’t have much of an idea of where to ride, so we just picked a direction and used MapSource to plot a course. Sometimes this works and sometimes we have to recalculate when we hit a trail instead of a road.
Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area is a 125,000 acre State Park located in northern Tennessee/southern Kentucky between Jamestown and Oneida just off TN 297. The area is extremely popular for horseback riding and 90% of the visitors bring their horses. Motorcyclists need to be aware of this and be ready to pull over and stop to let horseback riders pass safely.
We stayed in the Bandy Creek Campground which has 180 campsites with 100 sites with water/electric available. Another camping area, Blue Heron Campground, is located on the Kentucky side with 45 water and electric sites. You can make reservations on-line or by calling 877-444-6777. Campgrounds are open April – October.
We headed out of the Campground on the West Bandy Creek gravel entrance and made a quick stop at the old Oscar Blevins Farm. Life was not easy on these old homesteads.
Back on the KLRs we came to the paved TN 297 and took a right westbound. After a few miles of country sweepers in horse country we came to TN 154 and took a left southbound. Staying on 154 through Pine Haven we bypassed Jamestown and came to TN 52. For the next 16 miles 52 offered some good and okay riding. There was a real mix along this route with straights, sweepers and ever a few sections of tighties.
At Alpine we took a right on Alpine Road which is also shown as Dogwalk Road on some maps. Heading farther north on these well maintained backroads we were soon on McDonald Road and then TN 111 which is also shown as TN 42. This boring road took us northward through Wirmingham, Midway, Boom and Sunset where we came to the Dale Hollow Lake. This place had a big marina, restaurant and vacation rentals which looked to be quite popular. Much of the lakefront which extends for many miles and crosses into Kentucky in part of the Dale Hollow Wildlife Management Area. A large portion of the Kentucky lakefront is Dale Hollow Lake State Park which offers a lodge with guest rooms, restaurant and a small camping area.
Crossing the high bridge we continued north on TN 42/TN 111 through Smyrna before jumping back onto the backroads at TN 325 eastbound to Byrdstown. We almost stopped at the main street diner for lunch, but something kept us going. A few miles farther and we took a Red Bull break at the big curve at Mount Airy. A photo looking back at the way we had come showed a couple of great curves.
At US 127 we took a right and stopped at the interesting looking Forbus General Store, Established 1892. The front porch was scattered with pumpkins, several crude weathered Indian carvings, signs from the past, the omnipresent temperature gauge, a couple of political stickers, and a roughly drawn map indicating the distance to several cities including for some odd reason Muncie – 325.1 miles. There was also a sign for the “World Pig Championship” to be held the last Saturday in February. We wanted one of the entry forms and rules, but they had all been taken. No telling what this could be.
Inside the store we found many items that had likely been there on opening day in 1892. Behind the counter the cook was working over the grill wearing a Jimmy Buffet T-shirt that said “If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane”. The “Everyday Special” was advertised as a “Fried Bologna Sand. – $1.59” but on the overhead menu it was shown as $1.39. So don’t ask for the Special and save some money. At the back of the store a group of men were engaged in an animated card game of some kind.
Since we were getting hungry we decided to try the Forbus BLT. The cook pushed the Special BLT with egg and cheese added and we fell for it. The sandwich, which we planned to split, set us back $1.95. It was so good we wish we had ordered two. We should have grabbed a piece of fudge too. If you are ever in the area look up this store. As the T-shirt says, it is located between Possum Trot and Hippie Mountain. That’s 325.1 miles from Muncie. Just look for the snoozing hound dogs.
NOTE: Clark, who read the article and emailed us, says that “after WWII many locals fled this paradise for good paying jobs in Muncie. It became sort of a joke after a while …. go to Muncie and get a job.”
Coming out of the store we took a left and headed north on TN 200 AKA Caney Creek Road. In 4.5 miles we crossed into Kentucky. At Powersburg we took a left onto KY 1009 and took it all the way to KY 90, a 4-lane. All of these country backroads had been rather uninspiring except for the rural scenery.
Racing northeastward to Monticello we jogged over to KY 167 south which took us through Number One, Wray Gap, Oilton, Sumpter, and Mount Pisgah where we entered the Daniel Boone National Forest and spotted smoke ahead. KY 167 had terrible pavement and there was a small construction zone near the Tennessee line. We spotted quite a bit of smoke as we headed south.
As we crossed back into Tennessee on TN 154 we saw the forest fire and many Forest Service personnel on the scene. A little farther south we pulled into Pickett State Park for a Red Bull.
A few more miles to the south and we were heading back to camp on TN 297. We forgot to bring eggs for breakfast so we made a quick stop at the small backwoods store. As I scanned the dates on the cartons, the most recent ones were six months old. The woman behind the counter piped-up and said the eggs were all fresh from yesterday from a local farm. Our favorite, when we had chickens we really enjoyed the free-range fresh eggs. Nancy was quite excited when I told here.
Back at the campground we took a little walk before dinner to see the horses in the nearby stables. Back at the FunMover we started a campfire and discussed the days highlight …. the Forbus BLT Special.
TOTAL DISTANCE: 136 miles
TOTAL TIME: 5.5 hours
HIGHLIGHTS: Bandy Creek Campground
Several good sections of twisties on TN 52
Forbus General Store and their BLT with egg and cheese $1.95
Big South Fork – DAY TWO
After being somewhat disappointed with the roads that we found on Sunday, we worked hard on the computer trying to map out some really exciting looking roads for today. We had a hardy breakfast of fresh farm eggs, thick pepper bacon and pan fried toast just to make sure that we didn’t run out of fuel. Of course we packed a six pack of Red Bull along with emergency rations in case we couldn’t find another place for lunch like the Forbus General Store.
We planned for some good gravel backroads today and we got a lot more than we bargained for. Another good lesson for using the GPS units. Be sure to see this page for more hints.
Off we go as the horse were whinnying in the stables eager to go with us. Out of the campground and then west on TN 297 to TN 154 and then north a quick two miles and right onto the gravel of Divide Road. The next 18 miles were like a gravel turnpike. The road was more or less straight, rather flat and groomed perfectly to the point a sports car could have negotiated it with no problem. This is a big hunting area with various sections marked for hunters. There were several side roads that we had considered taking, but we didn’t think we’d have time to do too much exploring. We saw no one for most of the morning.
On these back roads it is advised to have a good GPS unit or at least a good map of the area. Even with GPS we had to stop at some of the intersections to make sure we took the correct turn.
We stopped and took some great photos at the Tennessee/Kentucky State Line. The shot-up sign and bikes in the background were perfect.
Once in Kentucky the road became Peters Mountain Road in the Daniel Boone National Forest. After three miles we took a right onto Devils Creek/Beech Grove Road. The gravel route became more interesting with some elevation changes and twisties. It was not as flat and well groomed as it had been in Tennessee. The farther into Kentucky we got the more challenging the road became. One section at Stepping Rock was quite steep with some switchbacks that were a little tricky.
We stopped at the small Blevins/Kidd Cemetery next to what appeared to be an old family homestead that was now used as a hunt camp. We strolled among the headstones as we sipped a Red Bull and contemplated the lives of those long gone.
Back on the bikes we commented that we were already having more fun than the day before. The gravel forest service road continued into higher elevations with glimpses now and then of distant mountain views. We finally came to an intersection with the GPS showing that we should take a left onto Trace Branch Road. Looking at the overgrown trail that was supposedly a road we took a few minutes to alter our planned route.
We continued a mile or two and then took a left onto Beech Grove Road where we began to see occupied residences for the first time in twenty miles. The gravel was now improving and eventually turned to asphalt with some rough sections and then to good pavement as we neared KY 1363. Coming around one corner I was nearly taken-out by a rural mailman taking-up most of the road. Good thing we ride close to the edge in blind corners always expecting such idiots to avoid.
We made a quick stop on the bridge over Rock Creek at the intersection for another Red Bull jolt. Then we took a left onto KT 1363 which had great new pavement, wisked through Oz, and then took a quick right onto Andy Wilson Road. We suddenly came to a foreboding sign “IMPASSBLE DURING HIGH WATER”. We forded two branches before the road suddenly ended. The GPS was showing it going through so we back tracked thinking we had missed a turn, but the road the GPS was showing was nothing more than a creek bed heading up the mountainside. Once again we saw that we couldn’t rely completely on the GPS.
Backtracking to KY 1363 we tried to resume the planned route by heading back easterly and taking a left onto Rattlesnake Ridge Road. This route had good pavement, but some of the locals were giving us a strange look from the front porches. Guess they don’t see too many motorcycles in these parts.
At the western end of Rattlesnake Ridge we hit KY 1363 once again and took a left giving up getting back on track in this particular area. We decided just to head east and get on KY 92 to resume our previously planned route. We did crank it up a bit on this section of newly paved 1363 which had some great sweepers and no traffic. Our KLRs are very responsive on fast twisties with our increased horsepower and Scorpion tires.
After blowing out the pipes a little we came to KY 92 and took a right crossing the South Fork of the Cumberland River. Nancy was quite taken with the old concrete bridge with a twist in it. We took a break under the bridge in a small parking area and decide to try to find a place to eat at Whitley City six miles distant.
As we crested a rise on KY 92 at Hilltop we spotted smoke off in the distance. We assumed it was the same forest fire that we had seen the day before. Along this section we hit traffic for the first time all day. When we got to Whitley City it got worse. We were getting pretty hungry so we made a quick stop at Subway and took off for the backroads again hoping for a quite place to picnic.
We headed out of town easterly on KY 478 through a residential section which quickly improved into a great road with sweepers and good pavement. We found a small pull-off with a footbridge over Bridge Fork Branch which appeared to be a trailhead into the Daniel Boone National Forest. The branch was nearly dry as were most of the area waterways after the severe drought of 2007. After a quick sandwich I took a short nap on the pavement next to a new found friend. Needless to say there was no traffic on the road.
Back on the seat we continued east on KY 478 through the Daniel Boone National Forest. There was absolutely no traffic at all. I don’t think we even saw another vehicle. And there were some good sections of riding through here too. The metal railing certainly makes us slow it down a bit. We’ve seen too many riders seriously injured on the Cherohala Skyway when there lay it down into a metal railing. In places the shadows made it a little difficult to see any debris in the roadway, and we were very alert for deer since this was a heavily wooded area. But oddly, after all the backwoods that we rode on this day we saw no wildlife. We did encounter a tree across the road. Evidently we were the first to come along since it was still spanning both lanes. We didn’t have the chain saw along so we had to leave it for someone else to clear.
After 12 miles of good riding on KY 478 we took a right onto Rocky Point School Road at Duckrun. A short time later we took another right onto Newt Lovitt Road and pulled over to get our bearings. Old Newt himself came by on a tractor and stopped to make sure we were okay. Good folks out in these farming areas.
Around a couple more corners and we took a left on the gravel of Newman Campbell Road. Within half a mile the road began to roughen. There was one particularly difficult section on a steep downhill with a sharp curve where rain had rutted-out some good size rocks. We should have known to turn around here, but we continued on. At the T we took a right following Jellico Creek to the south. This rutted out dirt road started-out okay but after a mile or so it narrowed to almost a single track through tall weeds and then turned to loose rock up a rather steep uphill. It was a good thing the road was dry. It would have bee an impassable mud hole in the rainy season. We were 2.5 miles in on this hellhole, but at this point we decided to retrace our way back out of the deteriorating trail rather than taking a chance of dumping a bike and risking injury in such a remote place. Here again was another lesson not to completely trust a GPS unit. We also made-up a new rule of thumb for these type of back road adventures ….. “if a dirt road begins to get bad it will get worse before it gets better”.
We breathed a big sign of relief when we got back to the pavement. There had been some apprehension about some of the difficult spots coming out but we just gunned it through the tough parts and survived.
We took a left onto Kidd Road and then another left onto KY 1693 south. These paved roads were quite relaxing after the tenseness on Newman Campbell. We zipped through the twisties on good pavement down to KY 92.
We still had a lot of planned backroads to the south on our GPS, but it was getting late and were a little beat after the offroading. We decided to save the rest of the planned route for the next day.
We headed back to the west on KY 92 all the way to US 27 and then US 27 south into Tennessee and Oneida. On the way back to the FunMover we made a quick stop at the Overlook with a beautiful view of the Big South Fork River Gorge. It is truly amzing how deep this gorge is after traveling on level terrain coming each way. It is just a sudden chasm that must have been some surprise to the first explorers who came this way.
Back at camp we eagerly began planning the next days ride. It would be our last day and we wanted to make the best of it.
SUMMARY: Great mix of gravel and pavement
TOTAL DISTANCE: 129 miles
TOTAL TIME: 6.5 hours
HIGHLIGHTS: The morning gravel adventures in Big South Fork and Daniel Boone National Forest.
Some great paved twisties mixed in all day
The real challenge of Newman Campbell Road
Getting back to camp safe and sound … bikes intact.
BIG SOUTH FORK – Day Three
We had to cut our ride short on Monday after running into to unforeseen difficulties on our planned route. We had ridden ourselves into a hard place finally having to stop to regain our senses and plan an escape. We ended-up backtracking on some fairly challenging mountain dirt to get back on track. By that time it was getting late and we both had expended excessive energy in the weeds.
We planned to hit some of the roads that had been scheduled for the day before. We hit the bikes early making arrangements at the camp office to stay a little later before checking-out if necessary …. just in case we ended-up in the weeds again.
We headed east into Oneida and then went south on US 27 and took a left onto W. Jeffers Road which led into Dexter Laxton Road . We then took Pine Hill Road north toward Winfield. A quick right on Pine Grove Road brought us to Chitwood Mountain Road . We rode about ¼ mile up Chitwood before turning around and reconsidering our route. It looked good on the map, but in reality this was one rough and rocky road at the outset.
Coming back out we were chased by some little ankle biters as we made a loop on Pine Grove and Pine Hill Roads before ending-up where we had been ten minutes before.
After replanning on the GPS we continued north on Pine Grove and took a right on Bethlehem just flying by instinct. We took paved Clay Hill Road which looked interesting and it turned out to have some good farm scenery all the way to Gum Fork Road .
Taking a right onto paved Gum Fork we seemed to continue to get deeper into red neck territory. We passed one house with some twenty pigs and piglets having a down-home cat fight close to the road in an unfenced front yard. Squawking guinea hens were running amid the ruckus with heads bobbing. My grandmother from West Tennessee used to joke that you could never shoot a guinea in the head because it moved so fast.
Then we see a hand painted sign in country scrawl on the other side of the road for Bugs Buggy Car Sales. We now realize we are getting back there! But we’ve been places like this before and we know just to keep moving. Stop and you just might get a warning shot over your head if it’s your lucky day. If it’s not your lucky day you’ll never know it. Throttles open we head farther east on Gum Fork hoping that we don’t have to retrace our path past the potential shooting gallery. We’ve never encountered anything risky in the backwoods but no sense taking any chances.
The scenery eases and we come to what is shown as Ketchen on the DeLorme Maps. Don’t know why – there’s nothing here except two county employees chewing and spitting next to their grader. We can tell by looking at the map that we don’t want to go south on Upper Jellico Creek Road . That dead ends into the already encountered Chitwood Mountain Road that shouldn’t be called a road and Thompson Trail. A word to wise …. never take a dashed route that is called a trail on the GPS. We are close to the Kentucky border and no roads head north from here so we have two options. One is to retreat and hope we can safely skeet through Bugs place and the piglets, or Two continue easterly on Capuchian Mountain Road which we can see begins as gravel just across the bridge where the chewers are chewing.
Unlike most men I’m not afraid to ask directions, especially when I’m out here in Podunk land without a weapon. These guys must be okay if the county lets them have a $200,000 piece of equipment and a pick-up truck to drive. Being real friendly-like I inquire about the road ahead. They say “Oh yeah no problem. Cars take that Capuchian Mountain Road all the time.” They add “It’s pronounced like Cat Machine.”
I’m feeling better and ask for some detailed directions. I get several points and grunts while I’m trying to find the road on my GPS unit. All I hear is turn at the big house at the next intersection. Okay, and we are off feeling much better.
Three miles down this well maintain gravel road we come to the intersection. I think the road guys said turn so we hang a right and take what the GPS says is Capuchian Creek Road . All is well for a few miles other than getting chased by an ankle biter as we passed one home place.
Then we are suddenly riding through what looks to be completely dry creek beds. It is hard to even follow the road as we cross a hundred yards of creek rock hoping not to misstep and drop our new KLRs. Once across a couple of these potential roadblocks we see that we are off the GPS track that I had programmed back at the two-man road crew.
The road is getting worse and suddenly we are in a deserted hunt camp. Thank God it was deserted. We get nervous when there are a lot of guns around. We did a quick turn-around and headed back to the north hoping to find the GPS path once again. We found it and took a right. Soon we crossed a couple of branches and suddenly the road angled upward and turned nastily rocky. I made it up a hundred yards before coming to an abrupt halt. It was so steep that as I hung onto the front brake the front wheel kept sliding backwards and my bike was nearing Nancy’s who was stopped not ten feet behind me. Luckily the wheel finally grabbed and I came to a complete stop. I don’t like going backwards on a motorcycle.
Time to re-examine the GPS and get the Fudge out of Dodge. Backtracking past the ankle biter once more we find the error of ways. We were supposed to have turned left at the intersection, not right. Now we are on a well manicured gravel road that we could do 80- mph on if we wanted to.
Oddly the GPS shows all three roads as Capuchine Creek Road , so now I don’t feel so bad about the wrong turn. After a little more than three miles we T-Bone into Whistle Creek Road . A left would take us into Kentucky in just ¾ of a mile, but it’s a long way loop out that direction. So we take a right heading south along Whistle Creek for Newcomb and TN 297. There was very little traffic on the super-gravel highway. We did get behind a car dusting us from ahead, but luckily it was the postal service delivery that stopped at the next mailbox.
Three miles later we come to the watering hole in this idyllic mountain setting. Out here in the middle of Podunk is the Rooster Scratch Bar. By the looks of the front parking area they can have some good old times here. There are a couple of burned out RVs in case you have to spend the night, a road department tractor/backhoe with engine parts scattered in the dirt, a warehouse forklift, used tires randomly discarded, a partial roll of chicken wire, several pick-ups, a horse trailer and one skittish bulldog.
Near the front door is an outdoor gathering area with auditorium chairs, benches made of 2x10s on concrete blocks, a home-made BBQ, tables fashioned from cardboard beer crates, an old plastic deep-sink, a dirty plastic rooster, a weathered Pepsi machine topped with beer cans, a trash can and a couple of 5-gallon buckets filled to overflowing with beer cans, another 50 or so cans scattered on the ground, a burn pit made from a piece of drainage pipe, and a pile of cardboard beer crates that didn’t get burned the night before. Signs on the side of the building argue for Bud, Bud Light and Miller. Another proclaims Wednesday as “Ladies Night – Beers $1.00” and “Welcome 4-Wheelers”. It’s early October and the Scratch has its Christmas wreath and icicle lights already hung. Over the front door is the welcoming sign that says “GO-BRALESS IT HELPS PULL THE WRINKLES DOWN FROM YOUR FACE” and a small US flag.
Inside we met the barmaid and her daughter and one guy at the bar introduced to us as one of the regulars, John. It’s barely noon and all three are slugging down beers. The barmaid tries to get us a couple of brews, but it’s way too early for even me. She tells us a lot of 4-wheelers come by here on the weekends. “It’s not legal but the law doesn’t like to come back here and get their cars dusty.”
Like a real Irish pub the patrons of the Rooster Scratch have plastered the wall with personally autographed dollar bills. There is a jukebox of course, Christmas lights, a Tennessee Football flag with the 2007 schedule on it, a sign that say “HE RULES THE ROOST BUT SHE RULES THE ROOSTER”, and a multitude of beer plaques, mirrors and pennants. They even sell their own T-shirts which I forgot to get!
The Rooster Scratch is so great it should be on the National Register of Historical Places. We were welcomed by the gracious country folk and we always find these differing cultures of interest. We simply report what we see at these unique places. These are real people and we enjoy seeing politically incorrectness such as this after experiencing the exact opposite in our more urban lives.
We hated to leave before Happy Hour, but we had to get back to the camp and check-out. Another three miles and we regained the pavement. Turning south onto TN 297 we found 14 miles of scenic twisties passing through Elk Valley and Pioneer. Then TN 63 took us back west to US 27 for the return to Oneida .
Back at the camp we reminisced about the great riding we had unexpectedly found here in the area of Big South Fork. There was a little bit of everything from dirt bike trails, to tight twisty, to long sweepers. And the people were all friendly and unique, from the Forbus General Store to the Rooster Scratch Bar. Want to really see the world? Get on some of these backroads and explore.