The Devil’s Triangle
Points of Interest
Brushy Mountain Prison, Grey Wolf Campground
Watch Out For
Rough asphalt, mudslides
Depending on where you live, this is another ride that can easily be done in an afternoon or morning. Despite being relatively close to Knoxville, this is one of the most remote rides you can tackle. It’s also one of the more serious rides you can make. Not trying to scare anyone off, but this is not a good road for beginners.
I have no idea who gave this stretch of Highway 116 the name “The Devil’s Triangle,” but if you look at a map you can see why. Highway 116 makes a sharp point into the middle of nowhere, and since it is a highway it stands out on the map. Funny thing, but to be called the Devil’s Triangle it has more churches per mile than any road I have ever seen.
Anyway, I started this ride at Lovell Road and Pellissippi Parkway. Getting to the good roads is easy: follow Pellissippi Parkway (aka 140) all the way to Oak Ridge, where is becomes 62. Stay on 62 all the way to Oliver Springs. As you come into Oliver Springs, 62 turns off to the right. The next stretch of road of 62 is pretty unremarkable, but when you turn onto 116 at Petros, things get interesting.
Just a few miles up the road you round a corner and up against the mountain you see the imposing sight of the 116-year-old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Brushy Mountain closed just this past month, but that doesn’t affect the way it looks. The thought that behind those walls men spent years of their lives, some of them the rest of their lives, is something to consider. But if you’re on a bike you better not think about it long, because as soon as you pass the prison the road gets real twisty, real quick.
Everyone knows about Highway 129, the Tail of the Dragon; well, this first section of 116 could be a carbon copy. Lots of dramatic elevation change, lots of decreasing-radius turns, and lots of turns that you can’t see your way through. Carry too much ego through these turns and your bike is liable to be carried out by a wrecker. That is assuming that somebody finds it.
This is also one of the most lightly traveled roads in this area. When I left out of Petros, I rode for over 25 miles, on a Saturday morning, and never had a car in front of me or behind me. The vegetation along the road is thick and green, and the mountainside steep in places. I was riding solo on this day and found myself thinking about the value of one of those “Spot” emergency GPS transmitters. Slide off the wrong side of the road up here and it may be a day or two before you’re found.
The combination of the remote location and lack of traffic also means that the road doesn’t get scrubbed clean by other vehicles. There had been several severe storms the week before my ride, and there was more than one location where mud and gravel had washed across the road.
Asphalt condition varies throughout the length of 116. At places, it’s smooth and flat and it tempts you to grab a big handful of throttle. At about that time, you’ll round a corner and find a large patch of rough asphalt where a road repair has been made. There is a fair amount of coal truck traffic on 116, and it’s not uncommon to come across rough patches where the road has been fixed.
If you’ve read this far you’ve probably decided, “The heck with this road!” But honestly, it isn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound. For each turn that has a potential problem spot, there are 20 that don’t. It’s not unlike any other road you travel: If you’re going so fast that you can’t avoid a hazard, you’re probably going too fast anyway. But let’s be clear, this isn’t a ride where you kick your mind out of gear and just cover miles.
At little past halfway on 116 (going from Petros), there is a concrete bridge that crosses the river. On the other side of the bridge is a railroad track, and the road makes a 90-degree turn. This it the peak of the Triangle you see on the map.
Not long after you make this turn you will see a small sign for Grey Wolf Campground. Turn off the road here and you drop down to a concrete creek crossing. Cross the creek and look off to your right you will see the snack shed across the clearing. I wasn’t sure if anyone was home until I saw someone wave. The owners Tony “Odie” Oldham, and his wife Starr were there, so I stopped for cold drink and some good conversation. Odie and Starr are fellow bike riders and welcome anyone to stop by for quick break; you don’t have to be camping. They’ve got plenty of picnic tables in the shade along the creek, and a good selection of drinks and snacks. It’s a great place to take your helmet off and relax for a while. They also have “I survived the Devil’s Triangle” T-shirts.
When you climb the mountain on your way out, you’ll see a large gravel road that crosses at the top. This is G-1, the main gravel road for the Coal Creek/Windrock riding area. Look out for ATVs crossing. From here you only have a few miles to the bottom of the mountain. Be extremely careful going down this part. There are several tight turns that tend to have gravel on the inside, and the asphalt is patched in quite a few places.
At the bottom of the mountain you can follow 116 to Lake City, and I-75, or to complete the loop, turn right on 330, which takes you back to Oliver Springs; 330 is a smooth, easy cruise. There is one T intersection where you turn right, but you are still on 330.
When 330 ends in Oliver springs you are right next to the Kountry Kitchen, a rustic-looking place with an overhanging porch that appears as if it could be on the set of a Clint Eastwood western. I knew I liked the place when I saw a picture of an amateur road racer hanging on the wall inside. Turns out that it’s the owner’s brother. The staff inside was super friendly, and they serve up some good food. Gets my recommendation.
After I scarfed down my grilled cheese with the works, I got back on 62 and headed back home. It was good ride. Riding a memorable road that keeps you on your toes, and meeting new folks always makes for a good day. If you ride the Devil’s Triangle don’t be scared by the name. Just pay attention, be careful, and enjoy the ride.