Kentucky    North Carolina    Tennessee   

In June 2019 I drove a nice loop through Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee for 10 days. The main purpose was to get to the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMWMOA) National Rally in Tennessee, taking the scenic route.

I left work early to get some distance behind me. The BMWMOA Rally this year is in Lebanon, Tennessee. To get there, I would have to drive through Lebanon, Indiana. I was going to take a picture of the Lebanon, Indiana welcome sign and post it to the rally website with a caption 'Oops, wrong Lebanon!'. Unfortunately, this year they didn't have a rally app. So, I pretty much just drove straight through Indiana. With Indiana under my belt, my first real tourist stops started in Kentucky.

Question: Which came first, the Colonel or the chicken? I saw several billboards for the birthplace of Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame in Corbin, Kentucky. Well, actually the birthplace of the chicken (you youngins know it today as KFC). I'm not one to pass up a birthplace, of any kind. This was the first restaurant location he ever opened, Sanders Cafe, and it is now a museum and restaurant. Lunch! Since most of my driving had been on the Interstate to this point, it was a pleasure to get off the main road. In southern Kentucky, I took a scenic drive on the Cumberland Gap Parkway and through the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Even though I ran into a little rain, it was still a pleasant drive. In the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, I was able to do a little hiking. Technically I hiked from Kentucky to Virginia since the park straddles the state border. I then continued driving into Tennessee. I eventually got to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee right on the foothills of The Great Smoky Mountains.

I was planning on spending several days in the Pigeon Forge area. It started out a bit drizzly, but what was supposed to be a 50-70% chance of thunderstorms all afternoon, turned out sunny and gorgeous. I noticed Pigeon Forge had a shuttle. I thought, rather than driving such short distances in somewhat heavy traffic, what can the shuttle do? It turned out great! For $3 you get a day pass from 08:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. It had multiple routes and went everywhere in the area. Coincidentally, the shuttle terminal was only a 5-minute walk from my hotel. This worked out nice since you could only get the day pass at the terminal, plus there was the advantage of all of the buses being at that one location. Pigeon Forge area is a lot like Branson, Missouri in that it has a lot of things to do and a main strip you go up and down to see everything. I ended up walking along most of it the several days I was there.

Pigeon Forge is home to the Dollywood amusement park, of Dolly Parton fame. The park really is nice, with lots of trees, water, rides, places to sit down, and it is spread out over a large area. There are also a ton of shows throughout the day, these are also great just on their own. It is about on par with Disneyland in terms of set up and family friendly. The only 2 things missing that step it down from Disney, the first being some of the behind the scene areas are visible to the public, the second being the staff is not always in character when they're walking around. Like any park like this, the food and drink are really expensive. A bottle of water is $3.50, I got a footlong hot dog with fries and that was $10. I got to the park a little after they opened at 10:00 a.m., and stayed the whole day until they closed at 07:00 p.m. Overall, a really great place.

As I mentioned, this is Dolly Parton country. Sevierville, Tennessee is where she was born and they have a statue of her in front of the courthouse. I took the trolley as far as I could, then I walked the rest of the way to the Sevierville town center. Surprisingly, there is not anywhere near the number of touristy things there as in Pigeon Forge. This particular day, The Great Smoky Mountains area was holding up to its name. Throughout the day there were variations of rain, sun, and clouds. Luckily, I brought an umbrella. Despite some rain, it was still warm all day. After spending part of the day in Sevierville, then getting back to Pigeon Forge, I went to see a show at the Comedy Barn. They had music, stand-up comedians, story telling, ventriloquists, some dancing, and overall, very entertaining.

My timing couldn't have been any more perfect. I woke up early the last full day in Pigeon Forge since the weather was supposed to be phenomenal. Despite my hotel being right on the foot hills of the Great Smoky Mountains, they had been clouded over the last 3 days I've been here. In Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, the weather has been all over the place. No more! I could finally see the mountains from my hotel! I took the opportunity with this perfect weather and spent most of the day driving the bike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road surfaces were really nice, and surprisingly, the traffic wasn't bad. The speed limit is either 35 or 45 mph (56 or 72 kph) through the whole park. The only place there was major congestion was at the Clingmans Dome. It's a one-way up and the same way down road to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at 6,644 feet (2,025 metres). Since there is limited parking at the top, the Park Rangers would let 1 car in the parking lot when one car left. It's a long climb/walk to the observation point, which caused a major traffic backup. I ended up parking the bike on the side of the road at a viewpoint and just walked the mile or so to the scenic observation point. Part of the park is in Tennessee, but I also crossed the border into North Carolina where a good portion of the park is located. There were quite a few places to stop and take pictures. The Smokies were in full form on this sunny day. On the way back, I drove through Gatlinburg. That is, I just drove through Gatlinburg. It was a madhouse, with no place to stop. Tons and tons of tourist traps: candy stores, sign shops, hotels, ice cream stores, souvenir shops, amusement rides, restaurants, t-shirt shops, you name it. There was no place on the streets to park, all the parking was $5 to $10 in specific parking lots. I didn't even think it was worth a photograph, so I kept driving. So, after a long enjoyable day riding the bike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I ended the day with a show of a different sort. I went to see the Pirates Adventure Dinner Show, it was a Dolly Parton project (phenomenal multi-course meal). It was sort of a Cirque du Soleil with pirates. Yeah, that describes it.

Time to move on from Pigeon Forge and get to the rally. There was a bit of rain about halfway to Nashville, then as I got closer to Nashville the sun came out. I made a stop at the BMW motorcycle dealer in Nashville. Most of the shelves for displays were empty, as they will be at the rally selling their wares. Going to the BMW dealer in Nashville? Hey, it's my vacation, I can go where I want. After I arrived at my hotel for the night and had dinner, I drove to a nearby self-service car wash and cleaned up the bike. Getting it ready for presentation tomorrow at the rally.

I finally arrived at the first day of the rally in Lebanon, Tennessee. It has to be held on some sort of County Fairground since it needs to be large enough to hold 5000+ motorcycles and allow for camping. They also need large buildings and outdoor areas to allow for motorcycle related vendors. Every day they also have seminars running throughout the whole day on a variety of topics. I always go to a bunch of seminars throughout the event. I normally also spend a good part of the time walking around, looking at the motorcycles, and talking to people about their bikes. Since the bikes are spread out over the whole fairgrounds area, it takes a while to see them. The first couple days there are also a lot of motorcycles coming and going, so you don't see them all in one pass. I always get comments about my bike, especially because of the excellent condition it is in, the age of it, as well as the rarity of it. I stopped at the gate to register, and just as I got off the bike, I was already approached by somebody. Out of all the bikes there on the first day, I only saw 4 other bikes similar to mine.

For one of the days of the rally, I took the option of a half day city tour of Nashville. The rally made arrangements for a couple of tours of the city, I took the early tour because I wanted to get back in the afternoon for a seminar. They arranged a couple buses from the rally site to downtown Nashville, about a 30-minute drive. Once in downtown Nashville, we shifted over to an open top tour bus for an hour tour of downtown Nashville. Afterwards, I had a couple hours on my own to walk around before the bus would return to the rally. The downtown historic Nashville area is pretty small and easy to walk around. I went to the State Capitol, Ryman Auditorium, Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Johnny Cash Museum. I also managed to get in some barbecue for lunch on Broadway Avenue, where all the music is. I got back in time for the afternoon Airhead seminar I wanted to attend. Afterward, I went to where the Airheads Beemer Club was hanging out and talked to a bunch of people there for a while.

BTW: They have several raffle drawings every day during the rally. My number came up for a winning ticket. I went to claim my prize, and won a BMW coffee mug. Woohoo!

An Airhead seminar??? An Airhead Club??? What's this all about? An Airhead is a 2-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine that is air cooled (as opposed to being cooled by oil or water). Airheads were built from 1923 until 1993. BMW started using oil cooling (Oilheads) on their 2-cylinder motorcycles in 1994 until 2012. Then from 2013 on for their 2-cylinders, they are using the standard water-cooling radiator (Waterheads). As you could imagine, it meant completely redesigning the 2-cylinder engine to accommodate the oil and water-cooling methods. The 'head' in the names refer to cylinder head. So, the Airheads are the older BMW motorcycles built between 1923 and 1993. It's a select breed of person who wants to ride that type of motorcycle. They are, overall, a lot easier to maintain, but also require more maintenance. They have very few, if any, high-tech electronics. Most of what's on the bike is mechanical, but has been in use by BMW for years, which also means these engines are extremely reliable. Airheads Beemer Club slogan is 'Simple by design'. I hope that explains some things.

For the last full day of the rally, I had a couple more seminars as well as still wanting to walk around and look at all the bikes. They had closing ceremonies in the evening, which ran very long. As part of the rally registration, you fill out raffle tickets. At the closing ceremonies, they hand out the really big prizes such as $1,500 to $6,000 in various motorcycle company offerings (my coffee mug did not qualify as a big prize). The big prizes include riding gear, motorcycle tours all over the world, and a motorcycle. Incredibly, the guy sitting directly, literally directly, behind me won the motorcycle. Of course, his name was drawn out of the basket of names, so my proximity to him had nothing to do with it. But it's probably the closest I would ever come to winning a big prize. I also, coincidentally, ran into the guy I bought my current motorcycle from. I know when he sold it, I don't think he was expecting me to buy it. But he did mention he was glad someone like me had it and was taking care of it. They announced at the closing ceremony the total attendance was 6,018 riders.

After I left the rally, my plan was to drive half way home the first day along with seeing some sites, then the next day just drive the rest of the way home. I read Clarksville, Tennessee had a historic Old Town with a number of buildings from the 1800s. It's a small Old Town, only about 6 square blocks, along with an old historical residential area just off of the center which has small homes built around 1900. Clarksville was also the birthplace of Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter from the show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.). They have a statue dedicated to him, and I saw his birthplace house. Cool! It happens to be in the old historical residential area. I also couldn't resist going to the Clarksville train station, but did not see the last train. I crossed into Kentucky shortly after leaving Clarksville and stopped in Paducah, Kentucky. Similarly, this town had a historic Old Town and happens to be on the Ohio River. The buildings were not quite as architecturally advanced as Clarksville, since it was a port city, many of the buildings are actually old warehouses now converted. So, it had a different kind of charm.

It was a good thing I didn't plan on seeing any sites the final day of the trip, as it rained quite a bit. It was such a heavy rain for part of the journey that I received a severe weather warning on my phone. Scary. It eventually stopped and I had the chance to dry out before getting home. The total mileage for this trip was 1,734 miles (2,791 kilometres).

USA flag .gif3k Kentucky map .jpg20k
Kentucky - kentucky2019_000.jpg11K

Corbin, Kentucky - The original KFC, the Harland Sanders Cafe and museum.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_001.jpg12K

Corbin, Kentucky - I can finally cross going to the original KFC off my bucket list.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_002.jpg11K

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Kentucky - The park covers 24,000 acres and 85 miles of hiking trails.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_003.jpg11K

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Kentucky - Or, you can take it all in from the 2,440 foot (744 metre) elevation Pinnacle Overlook.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_004.jpg11K

Paducah, Kentucky - There are many historic buildings in this city.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_005.jpg12K

Paducah, Kentucky - As a result of a 1937 flood, The Floodwall Murals were created to protect the city from the Tennessee and Ohio rivers.


Kentucky - kentucky2019_006.jpg11K

Paducah, Kentucky - Yes, it's a gorgeous site to see.


USA flag .gif3k North Carolina map .jpg20k
North Carolina - northcarolina2019_000.jpg12K

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina - So, which state am I actually in for this photo?


North Carolina - northcarolina2019_001.jpg11K

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina - The Newfound Gap is a mountain pass with an elevation of 5,048 feet (1,539 metres).


North Carolina - northcarolina2019_002.jpg12K

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina - Clingmans Dome provides stunning panoramic views since it is at an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 metres), the highest peak in the Smokies.


North Carolina - northcarolina2019_003.jpg12K

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina - Built in 1886, the Mingus Mill still operates (for tourists) and provides fresh ground cornmeal.


North Carolina - northcarolina2019_004.jpg12K

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina - Gorgeous to look at!


USA flag .gif3k Tennessee map .jpg20k
Tennessee - tennessee2019_000.jpg13K

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - The Little Pigeon River runs through the older part of this touristy town.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_001.jpg12K

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - Dollywood amusement park is set in a natural woodsy setting, with lots of rides, shows, and food.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_002.jpg12K

Sevierville, Tennessee - The Dolly Parton statue in front of the Sevierville County Court House, she was born not far from here in Pittman Center.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_003.jpg12K

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show was just one of the several shows I went to, great way to spend an evening or break up the day for lunch.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_004.jpg12K

Lebanon, Tennessee - Made it to the 47th annual BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMWMOA) National Rally. Let the fun begin!


Tennessee - tennessee2019_005.jpg11K

Lebanon, Tennessee - The Vintage BMW display was always a hit, and it didn't hurt it was in an air-conditioned building.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_006.jpg11K

Lebanon, Tennessee - A large selection of vendors, some neat stuff to look at, and some things for me to buy.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_007.jpg12K

Lebanon, Tennessee - I won! True, only a Bob's BMW coffee mug, but I walked away a winner!


Tennessee - tennessee2019_009.jpg12K

Lebanon, Tennessee - There were 6,018 people that attended this year and a wide variety of BMW motorcycles.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_009.jpg11K

Lebanon, Tennessee - It wouldn't be a BMW Rally without some German food, how's a pork schnitzel sound?


Tennessee - tennessee2019_010.jpg10K

Lebanon, Tennessee - Always on the look out for fun license plates.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_011.jpg11K

Nashville, Tennessee - The Nashville skyline on the banks of the Cumberland River.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_012.jpg11K

Nashville, Tennessee - I took an optional city tour of Nashville, and it dropped me off right in the heart of the city, on Broadway.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_013.jpg11K

Nashville, Tennessee - The Ryman Auditorium is the original home of The Grand Ole Opry.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_014.jpg11K

Nashville, Tennessee - The Tennessee State Capitol is only 1 of a few state capitals that does not have a dome. Road trip!


Tennessee - tennessee2019_015.jpg11K

Clarksville, Tennessee - Yes, this is the birthplace home of Frank Sutton. I'm only glad I got here before the crowds.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_016.jpg11K

Clarksville, Tennessee - That's Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton) telling me to 'Move it, move it, move it!'.


Tennessee - tennessee2019_017.jpg11K

Clarksville, Tennessee - Well I'll be a Monkees, I just missed the Last Train to Clarksville.