After months of preparation and anticipation, the drivers along with their cars gathered in Mount Airy , North Carolina for the first annual RTT10.
The RTT10 adventure was a 5-day driving event covering approximately 1,000 miles of scenic and challenging roads in the states of West Virginia , North Carolina , Kentucky and Tennessee . Over the course of the event, there were both technical routes with thousands of high speed turns and long downhill rides.
Most of the participants arrived early, some of whom traveled from as far away as Toronto Canada , Cypress Texas and St. Petersburg Florida . A number of participants visited the many tourist attractions in the surrounding area while others spent a relaxing day in the sun soaked North Carolina hills close to Mount Airy where the Vintage of the Vineyards BMW car show took place.
Prologue: Saturday May 29, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Drivers spent the day checking the cars over and some took the opportunity to shake down their equipment for the first leg of the journey.
The event team then briefed the drivers on the planned route and made special note that the RTT10 adventure is a self-guided tour and participants will not be required to sign a release agreement prior to the event. Participants were also reminded there would not be fast and slow groups, drivers were free to set a pace that best suited their skill and comfort level.
A late afternoon thunderstorm could not dampen the spirits of the participants and as the day turned to night the exchange of larger than life road trip stories with unbelievable elements continued into the early hours of the morning.
During this time, the bonding among the drivers was fuelled through the consumption of “just a few” cuba libre’s.
The rest of the evening will have to be left undocumented.
Day One: Sunday May 30, Welch, West Virginia
Miles Covered: 183
The drive took the group into Virginia , moving northwest across the Appalachian Mountains . Among some of the highlights, the route passed though the Jefferson National Forest in the Blue Ridge Highlands which offered spectacular scenery.
Twisting, curving, and climbing on some sections of the route as high as 3,000 to just over 5,000 feet the drivers encountered sudden and rapid descents of 1,000 feet or more.
Long technical stretches, often with multiple reduced speed turns, including genuine hairpins, were interspersed with the occasional high-speed romp. The pace set by the drivers was constant and quick until an unexpected turn of events just south of the West Virginia state line.
This 30-mile stretch climbs into the mountains and traverses an unspoiled farming valley, however the cars would need to pass over a gravel road for 10-miles or so. The maps and GPS did not indicate the road surface, for a short stretch, was loose gravel.
Driving on such a surface would prove to be a challenge both for the drivers and their cars. Following a short meeting, instead of backtracking, the decision was to forge ahead. As one participant said, “these cars are meant to be driven under all conditions.”
The climb was slow and treacherous with little wind velocity and mostly dust passing through the engine bays. It did not take long for the heat and dust to claim its first victim.
The group stopped to assist an RTT10 driver. The car in distress appeared to be fuel starved and could not continue.
After diagnosing the problem, the general conclusion among the group was a defective fuel pump. That’s when a young and wise man stepped forward with a solution. This was no ordinary man. This man was born and raised in New England . Guided by wisdom and real life experience passed down from his father, a seasoned shipbuilder by trade and shade tree mechanic for over forty years, the young man reached into the trunk of his car and passed a spare fuel pump to the driver of the car that would not run.
This selfless act along with the foresight to carry a spare pump embodied the good fellowship and true spirit of RTT10.
After wishing the driver of the disabled car luck, the main group continued on its journey with the exception of one driver who volunteered to remain behind and assist with the installation of the new fuel pump.
The gravel climb and its associated descent were a study in vehicular control.
A slick and steep surface coupled with the gravel made for a memorable trip over that ridge.
As wonderful as that portion of the drive was, the view back to ridge after the trip was outstanding, simply a truly breathtaking moment. What followed was more than thirty miles of undulating farm roads contouring the landscape as RTT10 headed for its third state, West Virginia .
Once in West Virginia , the cars rolled through some of the most technically demanding roads in the eastern United States before arriving at the City of Welch . Despite the reduced demand for coal over the second half of the 20th century, the City of Welch still proudly proclaims itself “The Heart of the Nation’s Coal Bin.”
As soon as the drivers checked into the motel, they exchanged stories from the first leg of RTT10 over a well deserved brew. Shortly thereafter, the two cars left on the dusty, windswept gravel road in Virginia showed up at the motel. Joined by the proprietor of the motel, an expatriate Canadian, the entire group raised their glasses in a toast to the lost sheep who rejoined the RTT10 flock.
Day 2: Monday May 30, Somerset , Kentucky
Miles Covered: 240
The next leg of the RTT adventure took the drivers, in three separate groups, on a westerly route into the state of Kentucky.
Less technical than the drive the day before, low-speed switchbacks gave way to long, sweeping esses as the route passed through some of the most picturesque countryside in the state of Kentucky , namely the Daniel Boone National Park.
The park extends from the northern to southern part of the state and covers the eastern Kentucky mountains.
In the southern point of the forest, the hills are not very steep and ridge tops are, for most part, flat. Traveling along the Daniel Boone Parkway , drivers stopped in small towns along the way and were treated to some of the best old Kentucky BBQ in the state.
Before reaching the Somerset District, one of three RTT10 groups encountered a breakdown. A young fellow and his wife pulled over to the side of the road because their car lost its alternator mounting parts.
An RTT10 driver rolled up behind the disabled car to offer assistance. The driver, a tall lean Texan, with a gold tooth and a slight limp, emerged from his car with a coat hanger in one hand and plug of chewing tobacco in the other.
The Texan handed the chewing tobacco to the driver of the disabled car to calm his nerves. What happened next was truly remarkable. With the sun reflecting off his gold tooth, the Texan fashioned a coat hanger alternator bracket.
Within minutes, the RTT10 group was rolling again to the nearest hardware store. The Texan replaced the coat hanger bracket with a more permanent solution and the car never skipped a beat for the rest of the trip.
Once again, this act of good fellowship embodied the true spirit of RTT10.
With the smell of burning hickory wood and distilling spirits in the hills, the drive concluded in the city of Somerset , located close to Lake Cumberland , one of the largest manmade lakes in the U.S.
Day 3: Tuesday June 1, Tullahoma , Tennessee
Miles Covered: 196
Split into two groups, the drivers began day three of the RTT adventure motoring southwest into the state of Tennessee . The pace was unhurried and relaxed, which seemed to match the rolling countryside and character of the small towns the cars passed through along the way.
The day would not have been complete without tasting some Memphis-Style pulled pork that was cooked with a dry rub seasoning. After lunch, the groups picked up the tempo and continued in a south westerly direction which descended onto the Cumberland Plateau and onto the Highland Rim.
The meeting of the Caney Fork and the Collins River is an area called Rock Island because there’s an island in the Caney Fork River .
It was around this time one group of drivers broke free on a spirited push along a lonely stretch of interstate. Urged on by a local Tennesseean behind the wheel of vintage muscle, the roar and resonance of twenty four value inline six motors of German ancestry could be heard throughout the hills. Unfortunately, the sight and sound of the motors and exhaust notes caught the attention of a local law enforcement officer.
Shortly thereafter, traveling down the interstate at the posted speed limit all three cars of German ancestry were joined by four big brawny American law enforcement interceptors. What a sight indeed!
Keeping pace at the posted limit the interceptors kept a close eye on the RTT10 cars, providing an escort toward the county line.
The driver of the lead RTT10 vehicle was no ordinary man. This man was a flatlander from Florida . Fluent in the French language and culture, the flatlander’s roots trace back to St. Augustine , one of the oldest European settlements in the U.S. To this day, the flatlander proudly flies the French flag or les couleurs from the stern of his crabbing boat on the Gulf of Mexico .
The flatlander’s co-pilot, known as “The Amego” was a celebrated expert on compass and map navigation. His nickname came from the famous Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, in whose honour the Americas were named.
The true essence of “motor sport” is the sharing of different routes and experiences with fellow drivers. RTT10 was no different. With this in mind, the flatlander and The Amego veered off the interstate with two Canadian drivers in close pursuit onto what was one of most exhilarating roads in the state. In several sections, the lane narrowed to a single car’s width with little or no warning.
Caught off guard, the escorts quickly followed, however the American iron slowly faded into the distance and the flatlander could be heard over the two way radio singing “alouette, gentille alouette, alouette, je te plumerai.” At this point in time, the RTT10 drivers waved a fond farewell to the escorts before crossing the county line.
Following a brief stop for a tour of the most famous Tennessee whisky distillery in the U.S. , the third leg of the RTT10 adventure concluded in City of Tullahoma .
Day 4: Wednesday June 2, Fontana Dam, North Carolina
Miles Covered: 248
Following a hearty breakfast of eggs cooked to order, roasted breakfast potatoes, smoked bacon, country sausage and biscuits with sausage gravy, the RTT10 adventure switched course in an easterly direction back across the Appalachian Mountains, just south of Chattanooga and through the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Later on in the day, the route changed direction once again for a loop through Tellico Plains, the entryway to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest . The tour followed the rugged mountains in the eastern section of the Smoky Mountains staying within rolling foothills.
A final turn to the south east and the drivers tracked along black ribbons of asphalt that swept over the crests and summits of the oldest mountain range in North America .
With the absence of drama in the form of break downs or foul weather, the drivers took in the scenic and natural beauty of the region.
Crossing into North Carolina , the final leg of the journey sped along U.S. 129, often described as one of the most isolated, least populated and technically challenging roads in the state.
The final destination, Fontana Dam, is one of the tallest dams in the east where the Appalachian trail crosses directly over the massive structure.
Day 5: Thursday June 3, Fontana Dam, North Carolina
The Tail of the Dragon
And behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth… — Rev 12:3,4,7,8
Much has been written and documented about drivers experiences on the Tail of the Dragon and many websites and blogs have been dedicated to U.S. 129. Some describe the experience as the hardest and most intense driving they have ever done.
Others have said the Dragon is maybe the twistiest road in the Western Hemisphere and the effort of piloting a car around so many corners in such a short distance as trying, even in a totally agile well balance vehicle.
It was only fitting the RTT10 adventure concluded at the Fontana Village Resort, only a stones throw away from the Tail of the Dragon. After settling in, the drivers broke out into their chosen activities such as taking romps along U.S. 129 and the surrounding area, sight seeing or simply stopped to enjoy the amenities provided at the resort. The resort, a first class facility, offered the best in local cuisine and wine, entertainment and featured panoramic vistas from the outdoor pool.
In the evening something extraordinary happened. Before leaving Tennessee the day before, the Canadians dropped by the Ole Smoky Distillery and purchased some of the best shine in the region. The Canadians, born and raised on Newfoundland screech wanted to experience the “kick” of genuine southern shine.
For the Canadians, screeching is a time honoured custom. For someone visiting Newfoundland for the first time screeching is a tradition where a person drinks a shot of screech, kisses a codfish on the mouth, and answers the question “Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?” and responds by saying “Indeed I is me ol’ cock, and long may your big jib draw.”
After just a few shots of the Ole Smoky shine, one of the Canadians pulled out a fiddle and broke into fiery celtic melodies. It was not long before a visitor at the resort from Kentucky joined in playing the banjo. A crowd of visitors from the resort gathered around, clapping their hands and stomping their feet.
Instead of a codfish, the chef from the kitchen brought out a big old catfish.
The rest of the evening will have to be left undocumented.