We kicked off my new Great Roads series last week with a drive on a deserted oceanfront highway in Nova Scotia. For the second instalment, we have something completely different: a ride through a collection of back roads set in a remote, vine-covered corner of Georgia.
The Great Roads series is intended as an eclectic guide for passionate drivers. It will grow and become a valuable, ongoing resource for people who love the road. And we want you to be part of it – if you have a favourite road, tell us about it in the Comments section. Even better, post photos on my Facebook fan page (you can join it by clicking the Like button at www.fb.com/cheneydrive) Who knows? I may drive your road and make it part of the collection.
A great road is more than a connection between two points. It can be a physics lesson. It can be a cathedral. And sometimes it's therapy. I went to Lookout Mountain for the first time in 1986, in the early, high-pressure days of my adult life. My wife and I lived with our new baby in a tiny apartment in downtown Toronto, and I was working overnight shifts as a reporter, covering murders and car crashes.
On the spur of the moment, I decided to go hang gliding at Lookout Mountain, a flying site just south of Chattanooga. It was early spring, and as I arrived at the flying site, I realized it was also a driving paradise, with roads that deked and curved through the hills. The valleys were green, thick with trees and hung with kudzu vines. Redtail hawks and hang gliders circled overhead.
I've been going to Lookout for more than two and a half decades now, and the roads still get to me. On top of the mountain along Route 189, there's a set of three perfect curves that are strung back to back, like sections of a roller coaster, and each is perfectly cambered, with a slight gradient that lets you pull G's like an F16 on afterburner.
Down in the valley, I like to cruise along Sarah Chapel road, arcing through the long curves and drinking in the scenery. Then it's on to Creek Road, where you can go days without seeing another car. After that I head back to the top of the mountain and down the Ochs highway, a spavined concrete ribbon that twists its way down to Chattanooga. It never gets old.
The area has a series of tourist attractions, including Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the site of a famous Civil War battle, but I've never been to any of them. I spend my days flying and driving the incredible roads. One of my favourites is Route 136, which climbs from the valley to the top of Lookout in a series of switchbacks. I took a supercharged Lotus Exige up and down 136 a few times, and it was crack cocaine on wheels.
But you don't need an exotic sports car for these roads. I've driven them in pickup trucks, beater Hondas, and even a motor home. And I loved it every time. Lousy car, awesome drive - that's the true test of a great road.
The Drive – Lookout Mountain
Where: The Tennessee-Georgia border near Chattanooga
Distance: 25 to 150 kilometres, depending on route choices
Road Style: Twisting mountain roads and scenic valley secondary routes
What you see: Trees, mountains, small southern towns, Civil War battle sites, gliders, and more kudzu vines than anywhere else
Reason to go: It’s undiscovered, it’s beautiful, and the driving is world class (and you can see the most active hang gliding site in eastern America)
How to get there: Start in the St. Elmo neighbourhood of Chattanooga, Tennessee. From there, take the Ochs Highway to the top of Lookout Mountain, then make your way to the Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway (Route 189 south), which runs along the ridge of the mountain. Turn right on Burkhalters Gap Road, then right again on Creek Road. From there you can explore the Lookout Valley. There are many options, all of them good, but make sure to drive Sarah Chapel Road and Old Birmingham Road. After driving the valley, head into the town of Trenton and take Route 136 up the mountain again toward Cloudland Canyon.
You can see more photos and video clips from Peter Cheney's drives on his Facebook fan page at www.fb.com/cheneydrive
Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/