TOTD – Robbinsville, NC

I have returned from my motorcycle trip to the Tail of the Dragon along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. The trip was a great success in the most important of ways, as we had no crashes, failures, breakdowns, or injuries. After clocking over 800 miles in five days, that is the best anyone can ask for.

And the weather was just as cooperative. We had light rain one morning which made us wait about an hour or so until the rain ended, and the roads dried enough to be relatively safe. Other than that, we had clear or partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 80’s.

I will attempt to provide a short series relating our adventures during the trip. I know this is most relatable to other riders and may not hold interest for some of my other followers, but I will continue to post other writing in between. For interested readers, the series will be titled as TOTD (Tail of the Dragon) and then list the area or road being covered.

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Pop & Nana’s Kitchen, Robbinsville, NC

Most mornings started at Pop & Nana’s Ice Cream Shop. A little hole-in-the-wall place you could easily ride by without notice. But this was our second trip and we had already found this gem of a place for breakfast. The southern hospitality and farm-fresh country cooking is beyond description. The grits are real cooked grits, not the instant grits we think of here in the north. The bacon was thick-cut, the country ham large and smoky, and the sausage hand-made on a local farm. The French toast was so delicious, that I had to forego any syrup for fear that it would mask the nuanced flavor of cinnamon and nutmeg laced throughout its delicate texture. Nana (Loretta) was there each day to greet us and tend to any culinary desires. We could finish our coffee at some outdoor tables while we discussed that day’s plans for riding. Occasionally, we had the company of locals who were happy to talk about all the best local places for everything, and sometimes other riders who would stop and swap stories of the riding we had all done so far.

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Pop & Nana’s Kitchen, Robbinsville, NC

It also had Wi-Fi and some spotty cell service, which is not common everywhere in the mountainous terrain. It is a welcome opportunity for some to make those digital connections we all seem to hold so dear. It sits in Robbinsville, North Carolina, among several gas stations, restaurants, and the only grocery store or hotel for many miles. Although it is a very small town (population was 597 in 2016), these amenities make it a hub of activity for everyone riding in the area.

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Wheeler’s Performance, Robbinsville, NC

It is also home to Wheeler’s Performance, a small motorcycle repair shop. Wheeler has been there for a very long time and is known for his ability to work on and fix any make or model. They will do whatever it takes to get you and your bike back out on the road. And again, it is a place so small and easily missed, that most people find it by word of mouth or dire need. Although he could charge most anything he would like, Wheeler’s prices for repairs are always very reasonable. I have heard many people who used his services talk about how they would have had to pay twice as much back home at their regular shop. We stopped by to say “Hi” to the guys, as we were lucky enough to complete our trip without any need for their expertise. Last trip, one of the sport bikes blew a front fork seal, and Wheeler had him back on the road in just over an hour. It is a comfort during the entire trip to know they are there if you need them. Thankfully, we did not this trip.

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Town Hall, Robbinsville, NC

Other than those gems, Ingle’s, the only grocery store is in Robbinsville also. It is not the vast supermarkets I have become accustom to in my more metropolitan area, but they do have everything you need. Maybe just not 20 different brands or varieties. The weird part was walking down every aisle to find the things we needed. At home, I walk right to everything and avoid most aisles in my ten minutes of grocery shopping. Impossible to do there, but the staff are friendly and will help you if you can’t find something.

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Lake Santeetlah, Robbinsville, NC

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Cheoah (Fugitive) Dam, Tapoco, NC

US 129 runs right through Robbinsville, though the Dragon is some 30 minutes south of town. If it didn’t, Robbinsville may well not exist at all. Even the ride from Robbinsville to the Dragon is entertaining. A 55-mph speed limit pulls you through long, sweeping turns down through the valley along the scenery of Santeetlah Lake before depositing you at the Cheoah Dam. But don’t expect to hear that name from the locals. Locally, it is called ‘Fugitive’ Dam, as it was where the dam scene from the movie “The Fugitive”, with Harrison Ford, was filmed. It would appear that the glint and glitter of Hollywood stuck to this little-known country edifice.

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The only other road that connects with Robbinsville, is State Route 143. This is a 9 mile stretch that runs into SR 28. Route 28 is a part of the “Moonshiner”, which I will describe in more detail in later entries. Our rental cabin was off Route 28, so Route 143 was our most frequent method of getting in town. It does not have the vast elevation changes or challenging corners that some of the area roads do, but it is an enjoyable ride. Especially, in the morning, knowing Pop & Nana’s breakfast was our next stop. It has a 55-mph speed limit you should stay within 10 mph of, as it is patrolled by Graham County, North Carolina, Sheriffs who are a bit less understanding and forgiving than the Blount County, Tennessee, officers you may meet on the Dragon.

The locals are, for the most part, friendly and welcoming. Even those who may wish all these tourist riders weren’t taking over the roads, realize the economic impact of the tourism and at least tolerate them.

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Huddle House, Robbinsville, NC

So, no matter where you are staying or where you are planning to ride, you will eventually roll through Robbinsville. And though there is a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, and other chain restaurants, I would encourage you to visit the little places that don’t look like much. They are the real hidden gems of places like this. We found Pop & Nana’s through a wrong turn six years ago and have been back everyday they are open for breakfast. They do close on Sundays, and in that event, may I suggest the Huddle House, less than one mile north of Pop & Nana’s. The vibe is not the same, but the food is delicious and the service just as friendly.

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Robbinsville, NC

Anecdote of the Day –

A group of seven of us pull off into one of the gas stations in Robbinsville to fill up before we head out for the day. Not everyone needs gas, so those riders join a large group of bikes parked there, also gearing up and readying for their day of riding.

I pull through a series of three gas pumps, heading of the farthest one, allowing riders to fill in at pumps behind me. Just as I get to the second pump, I see that the third pump is out of order. I locked up the back brake and squeal the bike to a halt at the second pump. I feel the breeze of thirty rider’s heads turning as everyone looks at me, and I am suddenly mortified. To save face, I threw down the kickstand, dropped the bike onto it, then hopped off like I owned the place. It was the only way I could possibly sell them that I meant to do it, rather than I am an idiot who had to stop fast.

Comments
5 Responses to “TOTD – Robbinsville, NC”
  1. How are bikers viewed in the US? Is it true you have a stigma? I mean are you frouned upon or looked at with a bit of disdain?

    • Brad Osborne says:

      Twenty years ago, bikers were very much seen as hoodlums and miscreants. But now, motorcycling has crossed into the mainstream and it is enjoyed by everyone from all walks of life. The true 1%ers that are motorcycle club members, still have a bit of stigma, but nothing like before. Gone are the days when everyone on a motorcycle was considered a “Hell’s Angel”. But you know how it is, most cagers still find a reason to dislike anything on two wheels. Jealousy is ugly in any form.

  2. Totally agree on avoiding chain restaurants/ cafes and going local! Would encourage local eating wherever you go as food is often the best way to get a feel of a place and culture

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