2017 Gathering of Eagles: Part 1

Originally Published in Southeastern Rider Magazine, December 2017

Monday, June 19th, 2017

For nearly the last two decades, I have made a once a year trip to gather with my fellow brother and sister riders who make up Cruiser Club, USA. Gathering of Eagles started out being hosted by the chapters of the club that dotted across the country. As the event matured, so did our planning, and recently we moved to holding the event at a vacation destination. For the twenty-first edition, the Eagles Gathered in Fontana Damn, North Carolina.
Even though this meant the event was in the same state that I reside, don’t go thinking that I can’t figure out a way to leave the state on my way there. As you are about to find out, we would spend most of the day across the border. This is also Kasey and I’s vacation for the year, and in that spirit, my riding partner decided she needed a break from making meals, so our first stop would be breakfast. We left Locust, North Carolina and headed south to the adjacent town of Stanfield, which is also home to one of the area’s editions of The Wayside Restaurant.
Your passenger lofting a balloon full of water over a post, just
one of the biker games that await us at Gathering of Eagles.
We were already being casual about the time, as we had a reservation at Fontana Village Resort, and had no worries we would get there in time. Mother Nature would be our only racing competition, with a chance of rain forecast to roll down the mountains. With our bellies full, we suited up, and continued south on Highway 200. The digesting protein and the weaving road woke me up as we tracked through the countryside. It was a Monday, after nine in the morning, so the traffic was non-existent.
A right turn at State Road 218 pointed us west. Starting east of Charlotte meant anytime we wanted to head west toward the mountains, we have to go through, or around the Queen’s City. For this trip, we decided to dive south of town, which meant crossing into the other Carolina. First though, we had to make our way there. With a turn south on Indian Trail Fairview Road, we made our way through Hemby Bridge, and into the Charlotte Suburb of Indian Trail.
Several jogs in the road got us through town, and eventually crossing the state line. I would have taken a picture, but the crossing was as absent of all marques. It was one of those places that it is only marked by the change in pavement.
We found our way to SR 460, and passed over Interstate 77. This highway is the north-south route that divides Charlotte. Shortly after, we would return to the Tar Heel State, but only for a few miles. Forty-Nine took us over Lake Wylie. I looked for a spot to stop and take picture, as it was a scenic area, but the traffic was heavy, and it was a bridge. Somewhere while rolling over the water, we made our way back to South Carolina, too. 
Roads 46/27 led us into Bowling Green, where we nearly kissed the border once again. We turned south and west on SR 55, where we would wind our way across the South Carolina landscape for a while.
Highway 5 joins up near Kings Creek, and continues into Blacksburg. We turned left on US 29, pointing us further south. We avoided downtown Gaffney, and moved onto SR 11, known as the Chesnee Highway. The beginning of this route was marked with I-85. Not a road I want to take, but a sign of progress westward.
After we passed by Chesnee, the road turns scenic, and it proudly proclaims it in its name: Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. We took in the sights of this roadway through Campobello, Cleveland, and to near Sunset. Along this stretch we could see moisture in the air, compressing against the rise, forming rain clouds over the Smoky Mountains ahead. We were hoping that the rocky rises would squeeze the moisture it got over them, and to us.
Some of the bikes during our Ralph Barnard Poker Run,
this one was on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We decided to make a Mother Nature Detour, and head north on US 178 to Rosman. We had an interesting fuel stop as the owner of the establishment, who was on duty, led us in an interesting conversation about motorcycling in other countries. He hailed from India, and told us stories of riding there. In between listening, I checked the radar. It looked like light rain, but not much of it. We pushed westward on US 64, through Lake Toxaway. I guess this is a fitting name for a town in Transylvania County. The lake is actually privately owned and North Carolina’s largest held by a company. In 1902 E.H. Jennings filled the lake. The potential he saw became realized as several resorts popped up. The area became known as the “Switzerland of America”.
US 64 was also giving us our first clues as to the road ahead. We were climbing, and winding, our way up the Smokeys. By the time we rolled into Franklin, the rain began to pour a little harder. Up to this point, we had moved in and out of sprinkles. We hadn’t even stopped to put on our rain gear. In addition to taking a break in town, we also decided to slip on our Frogg Togg Rain Pants.

Courtesy of Microsoft's Streets &
Trips, here is a map of our route
across South Carolina.

The bike was fueled up, and the day was winding down. With what we thought was a break in the rain, we headed north out of town to join the Moonshiner 28. During the mostly straight run up SR 23, the air was dry.
Once on the twists and turns of SR 28? The drops began to fall more frequently. I had to speak inside my head to remember to stay loose, ride slower, and weave my way along this ribbon of asphalt. The road, combined with the elevation change was challenging enough, but I guess Mother Nature thought I needed a tougher test.
Once we joined up with US-74 I could breathe a little easier. You guessed it, dual lane highway with sweeping corners, and the liquid was replaced with rays of sunshine. Maybe it had been that I was distracted by the curves, and feeling whether the tires were still gripping, but once we got this wide expanse of asphalt, the saddle felt hard. I shifted on the seat to find another position, which would ease the pain for a few miles. We passed Stecoah, a sign that we were close. Tighter curves returned to the road leading up to the Fontana Village Resort. It also made the soreness disappear.
Once in the resort, we found our way to the front desk. The pain was returning as we wondered about, but there was no stopping until we rolled under the overhang. Parked there were a couple of bikes we recognized. As we eased ourselves off the saddle, we greeted our fellow Cruiser Club Members. The greeting extended, as we were covertly trying to walk off the day’s ride. After checking in, we made our way to our cabin. The only other riding we would do was to make our way to another cabin to enjoy a cookout and registration.

For more information:
Cruiser Club, USA: www.CruiserClubUSA.org
Fontana Village Resort:
Southeastern Rider Magazine: www.southeasternrider.com


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