A Tail of One Dragon

Having been itching to do something this summer and disappointed with a couple cancellations for trips this

summer I decided to take a long bike trip. I went to the “Tail of the Dragon” in Deal’s Gap, North Carolina. It’s a stretch of road that make bikers come to ride for it’s sharp and numerous curves. It’s about 11 miles and has 318 curves. My friend Jay couldn’t come so I decided to go by myself. Over two weeks I created a checklist of everything I could possibly need. After obsessing over it and ensuring nothing was forgotten I was finally ready. A couple change of clothes, a carefully selected selection of music on the limited space of my Ipod Nano, video camera, rain gear and a couple changes of clothes. Gotta keep your feet dry, wise words from Lieutenant Dan.

 

Saturday morning I hit the road. I pull out onto the main road, visor up and BAM! rock in the eye. Woo hoo, what a way to start. After mimicking Peter’s “Ahhh *inhales through clenched teeth*” 7 times I chuckled it off and turned on some music. “Everybody Hurts” is randomly selected. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”, ok that’s better. First stop, Indianapolis. I didn’t look around much. I just took the first exit that didn’t look ghetto and got something to eat. I went into Ohio near Cincinnati and only stopped on the shoulder for a much needed smoke break.

Next stop Lexington. Going on hour 7 on the bike, I just wanted to reach my destination so I missed out on all the fun stuff that I’m sure Lexington has to offer. It was just another hour or two to Knoxville where I would stay for the night. I started to hit some mountainous regions about 50 miles north of Knoxville which was nice change of pace. However as soon as I hit higher elevations the warm air turned bitter cold. I stopped to throw on some warmer pants. It was starting to rain but the water being kicked up from the cars was worse. After riding for about 8 hours already and fatigue setting in, I stopped short of Knoxville in Lake City. I grabbed a room, dined with a book and vegged out watching TV for the rest of the night. I wanted to hit the road early tomorrow.

60 miles away from the Dragon. I passed through Knoxville but got a glimpse of the “WigSphere.” After that I traveled mostly through back roads filled with a thick morning fog and scattered with children every few miles waiting for the school bus. I finally reach the “Tail of the Dragon”. I was excited at first, but very weary soon after I realized that the roads were still wet and slick. This is what I had traveled 600 miles for so I ignored my anxiety and took it easy on my first run. Traffic was somewhat heavy but didn’t slow me down much for the speed I was going. Riding the road required complete focus. Watch your speed as the curve ahead might be sharper than it lets on. Watch for cars and riders behind you if they want to pass. Watch for gravel and fallen debris on the road. Watch for oncoming traffic, like semis, that come veer into my lane on sharp curves. Amidst all this, focus on your proper riding technique as well. It was incredibly intense.

I reached the end of the Dragon at the main meeting place for all the riders. There was at least 200 bikes there. About half cruisers and the other half sportbikes. Half of the sportbike riders there had a full racing leathers on. I felt like a squid riding in a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops compared to them, even with my full gear (padded jacket, waterproof pants, boots, gloves, helmet). By noon the curves had dried up and I got to take the curves faster.

A local photographer (KillBoy.com) sits and takes pictures of all the riders on the road, all day. He got about 10 shots of me, 6 of which I kept. They look pretty professional. I’m going to be getting the originals in the mail soon which have a HUGE resolution.

On my third run I caught up to an R1 with a girl on the back. I was about 10 feet behind him and he wasn’t taking the curves too bad. But on this one curve, which probably wrapped around 270 degrees he hit the painted lane line and the bike slid out from under him. They went into the ditch onto the side of the road. They had some road rash on their sides and arms, but besides that nothing too bad. I helped the guy lug his dirt filled bike out of the ditch, bummed’em a smoke and I was on my way.

I explored the surrounding areas. Their novelty faded pretty quickly though and I heading back to the main meeting area to try and get a couple more runs in on the Dragon. While taking a break with all the other 200 riders around me, a guy came out of the local store and shouted “TV is out, that means rain is coming!” People were scattering like cockroaches in the light. At least 50 engines started up within 30 seconds of the announcement and another 100 trickled out within the next 15 minutes. I wanted to ride the road once more and it was on my way back to the hotel anyways. I got a hotel and watched the weather reports carefully. Rain was expected tomorrow in the afternoon. After hearing that, I went to sleep at 8pm.

I wake up at 5am like a kid on X-Mas day. At this point my mornings have turned into a ritual of repacking, resecuring my luggage, resuiting up and refueling. I head back to the Dragon at sunrise. A fog hung over the lake and above the tree lines. These was best scenic areas I had encountered so far. I make a stop at the area that overlooks the Tail of the Dragon. A red truck is parked and a fellow rider from New York pulls up a few minutes later. A local appears from the brush and starts chatting with us. Half of what the man said was lost to the New Yorker and I in his thick redneck accent. I hit the tail and reach the resort at the end. There were about 5 bikes there compared to 200 on the previous day. The roads were dry and free of other drivers and riders for the most part.

 

I decide to try take the curves a little faster and lean a little more. About 5 minutes into the ride I reach a curve at a speed which I thought to be too fast for me. I hit my rear brake too much and my wheel locks up. This freaked me out a little so I start looking in front of me instead of ahead of me into the curve. I get a case of target fixation on the side of the road and I run off into the dirt ditch. My bike goes down, and slides for a couple feet. It pinches my ankle only for a moment until my foot slipped free from under the bike. I tried picking up my bike but couldn’t the way it was positioned against the ditch. I waved down a passing local and he helped me get it up (ok I can hear the jokes already). I managed to get all this on video and I learned a lot from it. I wasn’t properly sweeping across the lane at its apex, I was favoring my rear brake over my front and my confidence wasn’t as great as I thought it was.

After regaining my composure I rode back to the resort to eat and take a break from riding. I think general mental fatigue may have played a part in my crash so I wanted to get some rest from the road before I get back on it. I couldn’t let myself leave without riding the Dragon at least once more. I set aside my anxiety and ran the road two more times just as aggressively and without fault. I slayed the Dragon…but he left marks. Oh shutup, just be thankful that I haven’t been playing that Dragon metaphor this whole time.

Rain was expected for the afternoon so I decided to start heading back home. The next city I would pass would be Nashville, but I decided to take some scenic backroads before I get on the expressway. So I took the Cherohala Skyway west for an hour or so. The road wrapped around the edges of the mountains reaching elevations beyond 5000 feet. It was a nice way to wind things down.

I passed through Nashville around 5pm. The ride was pretty grueling and I forced myself to keep riding until my low fuel warning light turned on. I was considering driving through the night. I was sore, tired and just wanted to be home. But once the sun went down I decided that I was too fatigued to ride safely for an additional 5+ hours in the dark. I managed to ride about 250 miles back that day, which made the next day’s ride much easier. I stopped in some no-name town and I pulled into the parking of a motel where only two additional cars were parked. I asked for a single and the man behind the counter said “Oh yes I believe we have one available” in a surprised tone.

 

I wake up at 7am. Repack, resecure, resuit, refuel. After a half hour of riding I already felt exhausted, and I had 350 miles to go. I pass through Louisville and Indianapolis for a second time. I don’t remember much from that day’s ride. Just a billboard with a black background that said “Hell is real.” I thought, “Yes, and it’s called Kentucky.” Also tourist attraction that claimed to have 100 life sized dinosaur sculptures. I kicked myself for not stopping to see it, but I have no idea why I would want to see it as I think about it now. A sign labeled “Chicago 90 Miles” lifts my spirits and the ride seems to be passing more quickly. Before I know it I’m lane splitting miles through traffic on the wretched Tri-State and I make it home early in the afternoon.

Overall I enjoyed my trip. I’ve been in the need of doing some thing, going somewhere and I think this quenched that for now. After this experience I think I’m more open to the idea of traveling alone. I tend to be doing more and more things solo this summer anyways and have gotten used to it. Would it have been more fun with another, sure, but life gets in the way and priorities don’t always coincide. Thus ends this documentation of a unique experience I fear I’ll forget.

  • Bucky

    Looking where you want to go has worked every time I have tried it.

    Looking where you DON’T want to go works equally well…you just end up in the wrong place!

    Your little “off road” excursion reminds me of mine. Just about quit riding as a result. Took a long time to regain confidence.

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